Peter Schorsch, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 of 246

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

Tom Rooney backs Ben Albritton for Florida Senate

Ben Albritton is receiving the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, who represents Florida’s 17th Congressional District.

Albritton is seeking the District 26 seat in the Florida Senate, now held by Denise Grimsley, who is running for Agriculture Commissioner.

“Ben Albritton is a tireless and dedicated servant leader committed to strengthening our communities,” Rooney said in a statement Friday. “I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with Ben on issues important to our region, and I am confident he will continue the tradition of excellent representation Denise Grimsley has provided.”

Rooney was elected to Congress in 2008, and he sits on the House Appropriations Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. He chairs the Subcommittee on the National Security Agency. His district includes nine counties, spanning from Florida’s Heartland to the Gulf Coast.

“I am honored to have the support of Congressman Rooney,” said Albritton. “When it comes to defending agriculture, reining in big government, and supporting small businesses, there is no question we have a champion in him. I plan to fight for those same issues in the Florida Senate.”

In 2010, Albritton was elected to the Florida House of Representatives, where he has been a staunch advocate for entrepreneurs and children in Florida’s foster care system. He is also known for his strong conservative record on Second Amendment rights and protection for the unborn. He is the Chair of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee and Vice Chair of the House Natural Resources and Public Lands Subcommittee. He also sits on the Appropriations Committee, the Agriculture and Property Rights Subcommittee, and the Government Accountability Committee, and he currently serves as the Chair of the Polk County Legislative Delegation.

With Grimsley’s decision to not seek re-election, District 26, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 43 to 34 percent, is an open seat. Centered in Florida’s Heartland, the district covers parts of Charlotte, Lee and Polk counties, as well as all DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands and Okeechobee counties.

Ryan Duffy

Personnel note: Ryan Duffy joining U.S. Sugar

Ryan Duffy, who joined Hill+Knowlton Strategies after serving as former House Speaker Will Weatherford‘s spokesman, now will be heading to U.S. Sugar as its Director of Corporate Communications, the company announced Friday.

“We are pleased to add Mr. Duffy to U.S. Sugar’s leadership team, where he will help articulate the company’s positions and share our vision of sustainable American food production with all of our stakeholders,” said Judy Sanchez, the Senior Director for Corporate Communications and Public Affairs.

“Through his corporate and political work, Duffy brings a wealth of talent and experience communicating for a variety of audiences that will be an asset to our company,” she added. His first day is Aug. 1.

He will “assist in managing the company’s media relations and public outreach efforts while providing strategic counsel on all public-facing corporate initiatives,” according to a press release.

Duffy joins Eric Edwards, the longtime Tallahassee-based legislative assistant to Republican state Sen. Don Gaetz, who is now the Clewiston-based company’s Assistant Vice President of Governmental Affairs.

“It is truly an honor to work for an agribusiness that is not only steeped in history, but is also setting the standard in innovation among America’s sugarcane farming businesses,” Duffy said in a statement. “I look forward to joining a team of professionals that have helped to make U.S. Sugar as successful as it is today.”

He is currently a Vice President at Hill+Knowlton Strategies in Tallahassee and has been a speechwriter to former U.S. Sens. George LeMieux and Mel Martinez and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Duffy has a graduate degree in Political Management from George Washington University and an undergraduate degree from Florida State University.

Duffy, once named a Florida Politics “30 Under 30” rising star in Florida politics, and wife Danielle have two children, 4-year-old Cormac and 2-year -old Donovan.

U.S. Sugar, with over $1 billion in annual revenue, stokes envy among other agribusinesses and roils controversy among the state’s environmentalists.

It got its start in the early part of the 20th century, when businessman Charles Stewart Mott “invested millions of dollars of his own funds in a sugar cane farming operation and convinced others that the dream of growing in the rich muck soils around Lake Okeechobee was not only possible, but it could be profitable,” the company’s website says.

It now farms nearly 190,000 acres in Hendry, Glades and Palm Beach counties, creating jobs and contributing to America’s table. But it’s regularly been criticized, usually unfairly, for agricultural practices that cause runoff into the state’s “River of Grass.”

In 2013, the conglomerate got a measure passed by lawmakers and approved by Gov. Rick Scott that saved the industry millions of dollars on Everglades pollution cleanup.

U.S. Sugar’s political contributions average approximately $1.5 million per year. When you subtract dollars spent in years involving a constitutional amendment related to their industry, that average is significantly lower.

Jacksonville Bold for 6.16.17 — Clique

Despite ideological differences, the people in a given legislative process tend to bond — and a vivid example was rendered this week when a gunman took shots at a Congressional baseball practice.

One Northeast Florida Republican, as you’ll see below, was close to being part of the wave of shots that led to the injury of Rep. Steve Scalise and others.

Despite the acrimonious tone in national politics, Republicans and Democrats both understand their shared reason for being in office: love of country, as all the public statements said.

Moments of a unity of purpose, however, are fleeting. Especially given how high the stakes are nationally right now, with a President prone to unexpected actions and upturning established precedents.

That said, we see other examples of unity — currently, Gov. Rick Scott is barnstorming the state for mutual admiration rallies with State Reps. Who called that a few months ago?

Ultimately, politics is a game of shared purpose. The means to achieve ends diverge, as do the donors. But the reality is that governmental bodies succeed or fail as much on the ability to coalesce internally as any external factor.

Close call for Ron DeSantis

Rep. DeSantis narrowly missed being part of Wednesday’s apparently targeted shooting of GOP congressmen, he related after the incident.

The Marineland Republican told FOX Business Network hours after the shooting that the “guy … walked up [to him and colleague Jeff Duncan] … Asking whether it was Republicans or Democrats out there.”

Ron DeSantis was a highly sought guest in the wake of Wednesday’s incident.

DeSantis continued: “we left about ten after 7. I think shots began you know within 3-5 minutes after that.

“We reported to police that there was a gentleman that confronted us when we were going to our car, and he wanted to know whether it was Republicans or Democrats that were out there. We said it was Republicans and he kind of started walking to the field.

“I don’t know if that was the guy, but I think it’s important to put that information out there and it was a little bit different than someone would do that. He was really interested in wanting to know who was out there.”

John Rutherford on House Judiciary Committee

Former Jacksonville Sheriff Rutherford, a Capitol Hill freshman, was appointed to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

Rutherford is “excited” about the appointment “to a strong committee focused on upholding the Constitution,” per a statement from his office.

John Rutherford prioritizes the “rule of law” on Judiciary.

“As a former Sheriff, I have committed my life to strengthening the justice system in Northeast Florida, and I am grateful for this opportunity to support the rule of law across our nation,” Rutherford said.

Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte spoke favorably of his fellow Republican also.

“As a former law enforcement officer and sheriff of Duval County, Florida, Congressman Rutherford brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the Committee. His expertise on our criminal justice system makes him particularly well suited to serve on the Judiciary Committee. I look forward to working with John to advance our pro-growth agenda, focused on growing the American economy and ensuring that our laws are efficient, fair and enforced,” Goodlatte said.

It is Rutherford’s third committee: he also is on Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs.

Divisions in D.C. ‘frustrating’ Rutherford

Rutherford, new to D.C., told Roll Call he was surprised by divisions in the GOP caucus itself this week.

“I think what’s probably surprised me most is the differences within the Republican caucus. You think that everybody comes from the same experience and background. In some places, I’d be a staunch conservative, and in other places of the country, I’d be a moderate. It’s interesting to see how that works in the family,” Rutherford said.

The family, said Rutherford, could be more unified: “to come from the executive side, or at least what feels like the executive side, to the legislative branch, is a little frustrating because I’m used to, as a sheriff, I say, ‘Take the hill’ and my team would come together and take the hill.”

A former House Speaker likened the job to ‘herding cats.’ John Rutherford would agree.

“Heck, they’d even take a bullet to take that hill because they believe in something bigger than themselves. Up here, the speaker says, ‘Take the hill,’ and somebody says, ‘We’ll take ‘that’ hill ‘[indicating a different hill].”

Speaker Paul Ryan, Rutherford noted, “said one time that being the speaker is like walking through a graveyard — you’re above a lot of people but they ain’t listening to you. That’s been an interesting situation.”

Al Lawson files bill to protect Social Security solvency

Rep. Lawson, along with Democratic co-sponsors, filed a bill this week to protect Social Security until 2049.

“Social Security plays a critical role in our economy as it provides for over two-thirds of our nation’s retirees, and provides financial security to millions of disabled workers and their children,” said Rep. Lawson.

For Al Lawson and Dems, protecting Social Security is a winning issue. Where’s the House GOP on this one?

“However, as the program is currently operating, the Social Security Trust Fund will be depleted by 2034. That’s why I’m proud to introduce the Social Security for Future Generations Act of 2017, along with 17 co-sponsors and support from six organizations, including Social Security Works and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare,” Lawson added.

Bad motion rising for Corrine Brown?

Count attorney Anthony Suarez — who represents former Brown co-defendant Ronnie Simmons — as skeptical of Brown’s motions for acquittal and a new trial.

“I’ve examined the motions and believe they’re not strong enough because they don’t cite a lot of case law,” said Suarez. “They’re not going to be successful.”

Anthony Suarez, like Corrine Brown’s lawyer James Smith, is better known in the 407 than the 904.

Simmons struck a plea deal with the feds in February, pleading guilty on two counts, with his sentencing contingent on substantial cooperation with the feds.

Predicating Brown’s motion for a new trial was a claim that the juror who got bounced because he was compelled in decision-making by the Holy Spirit was removed erroneously. And the motion for acquittal was predicated on essentially re-litigating the trial, to again make the case that Brown was Simmons’ patsy — a case that didn’t fly with the jury the last go-round.

Northeast Florida Fundraising Roundup

Though Rep. Paul Renner’s political committee was the clubhouse leader in Northeast Florida fundraising in May with $261,500, donors didn’t shy away from other committees and candidates.

Below are those who have reported thus far with May numbers.

Among committees of note: Lenny Curry’s “Build Something That Lasts” brought in $27,000. Sen. Rob Bradley‘s “Working for Florida’s Families” brought in $20,000 (keeping it over $400,000 on hand). And “Pledge This Day,” Rep. Jay Fant‘s committee devoted now to his run for Attorney General, brought in just $9,000 in May.

On the hard money front, Fant did better, with $79,575 of new funding; of that sum, $8,000 came from Fant and $3,000 from the committee.

The Fants appear delighted with their first month’s haul.

Sen. Aaron Bean brought in $3,500 of new money, bringing him to just over $20,000 on hand. Rep. Clay Yarborough‘s $6,100 of May money gives him over $14,000 on hand to defend a safe Republican seat in House District 12. on Jacksonville’s Southside.

In HD 17, St. Johns’ Rep. Cyndi Stevenson saw $750 of new money. In HD 24, Rep. Renner saw $2,500 in hard money, with all the action on the committee level.

State Reps make up with Rick Scott

Break up to make up? The joint appearance of three State Representatives hammered by Gov. Scott during the regular session in Jacksonville Beach Tuesday reveals that politics is a transitory business.

Reps. Jason Fischer, Cord Byrd, and Travis Cummings showed at the Governor’s rally, and all had glowing things to say.

ProTip: When appearing with Rallyin’ Rick Scott, make sure your blue shirts match.

Byrd discussed the transformational education bill. Fischer quipped that “the Governor signed most of the budget into law.” And Cummings?

“The Governor vetoed a project or two of mine, but that’s OK,” Cummings said, given the need for tourist funding via VISIT Florida — a remarkable shift in position.

One of those projects was big for Jacksonville: $15M in money for septic tank removal that didn’t make the cut.

We asked Cummings about the anomaly of being feted by a Governor who just months back aimed robocalls at him.

“Politics is a strange business,” Cummings said.

GrayRobinson talks Tallahassee

The Jax Daily Record offered a fascinating look into GrayRobinson’s state lobbying team, as it prepared for “extra innings,” via the Special Session.

This week, the lobbyists had a “panel wrap-up” of the regular Legislative Session, flush with interesting quotes.

GrayRobinson panelists served up real talk about the Legislative Session this week.

This from one panelist, shareholder Chris Carmody: “The House gets in line and takes orders from the top. The Senate is more a group of individuals.”

And this, regarding Rick Scott’s active veto pen, which seemed most targeted at legislators who bucked his call for economic incentives during the spring.

“There’s no doubt the governor didn’t hold back his frustration on certain House votes,” Carmody said.

As seen above, at least three of the legislators made their peace with the veto pen.

JaxPort, City Councilors talk dredging costs

There are knowns and known unknowns when it comes to dredging the St. Johns River, reported the Florida Times-Union this week.

“The city’s share of the cost for deepening the St. Johns River for cargo ships could be as high as $150.7 million or as low as $47 million, according to scenarios for how to pay for the $484 million project,” writes David Bauerlein.

As deepening approaches, cost projection ranges widen.

Hopes are that the city will see federal money defray much of the estimated $484M cost, and these hopes are bolstered by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, who told us about his trip to DC last week.

Trump, Cabinet officials, and staffers were “soliciting ideas from states and cities on how to get things moving,” Curry said.

“Relationships are evolving,” Curry added.

Katrina Brown ‘no comment’ on default suit

Councilwoman Brown is title manager for two companies subject to a default motion from the city for incentive funds, a $210K clawback for creating zero jobs since grants and loans in 2011. What did she have to say about it this week?

Regarding a town hall this week, she wasn’t worried about questions: “They won’t be able to bring it up,” Brown said.

No, Katrina Brown isn’t ducking questions. She just has a microphone allergy.

She didn’t want media questions either.

“I continue to tell you no comment. You can ask me a thousand times and I would still say no comment,” Brown said.

Luckily for Brown, the companies are LLCs. And this is Jacksonville, where a certain amount of lagniappe goes into the sauce.

The Feds may feel differently about the SBA loan though.

Katrina Brown has a challenger

2019 is just around the corner in Jacksonville politics, as Diallo Sekous challenge to Katrina Brown indicates.

Sekou, a community activist, thinks Brown has flopped as a counselor.

“The people deserve better than what’s been ‘sitting and not sitting’ in that seat,” Sekou said.

Diallo Sekou and Lenny Curry size each other up, with Katrina Brown in between them.

“This district is in need of serious economic development and restructuring to help create a better situation than what’s been taking place for the last 50 years,” Sekou added.

Katrina Brown’s entropy, Sekou said, isn’t helping.

“There’s nothing being done that’s impactful or sustainable. Her first two years are things the last councilperson set in place, or the mayor has set forth. District 8 cannot be seen as just ‘some area.’ It is in serious need and requires a great deal of attention, and by missing half of the [City Council’s] meetings she’s showing the concern the council person has for her district.

Sekou faces challenges. Brown will have support from the public-sector unions and other sources, and Sekou will have to run a grassroots campaign.

Gaff Gaffe?

Katrina Brown’s BFF on Council, Reggie Gaffney, has some issues of his own.

Community Rehabilitation Center — best known for its cameo appearances in the Corrine Brown trial and a Medicaid overbilling scandal — is back in the news this week.

The subject this time: a late-May whistleblower lawsuit in Florida’s 4th Circuit, filed by an employee who alleges that she was “unlawfully terminated” by the nonprofit … after she was allegedly exposed to risk from HIV-positive clients without proper training and licensure. [Complaint against CRC].

Reggie Gaffney took a council seat in 2015. His most interesting coverage has been nonlegislative though.

When she went to Gaffney for recourse, she was frustrated, and told by a superior that he would say anything “to get you out of his face.”

She was fired soon after that, and the case has been filed in Florida’s 4th Circuit.

Big rip-off Down Under

Despite the efforts of Florida politicians ranging from both Senators to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, it appears that an Australian bank may get away with stealing $44M from an energy company with Jacksonville ties: APR Energy — as an Aussie kangaroo court sided with the bank Down Under over the foreign property owner Thursday.

In early 2014 APR leased tens of millions of dollars’ worth of U.S.-manufactured General Electric Co. turbines and other equipment to Forge Group, which went bankrupt weeks later.

APR still owned the equipment, and the lease stipulated the equipment would be returned. However, ANZ seized the equipment, exploiting bad Australian law.

APR can get the equipment back — after three years of depreciation — by posting a $44M line of credit to the bank.

Money lacks personhood, yes. But this is a hostage crisis, and a very real provocation to Jacksonville, Floridian and American interests.

Former Clay schools Superintendent Charlie Van Zant Jr. cleared of ethics violation

The Florida Commission on Ethics cleared former Clay County Schools Superintendent Van Zant of accusations by a former high school principal. Former Keystone Heights Junior/Senior High School Susan Sailor accused Van Zant of plagiarizing her research to get a professional certification resulting in a pay raise.

Charlie Van Zant, recently cleared of plagiarism by the Florida Ethics Commission.

Sailor accused Van Zant of taking her research to produce a paper without attribution to earn a leadership certification from the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. That certification led to a pay raise for Van Zant, an elected official with a salary set by the state.

The Florida Times-Union reports that the ethics commission determined there was no probable cause to believe Van Zant violated state law by using public resources to receive the certification.

For Jacksonville, Donald Trump means White House access

Trump barely carried Duval County in 2016. Yet, for Jacksonville power brokers, the Trump era has meant access to the White House. The most recent manifestation of that, reports AG Gancarski, was just this week, as a JAX Chamber delegation was received by one of the more influential people in Trump’s orbit: Omarosa Manigault.

Manigault has a Jacksonville connection. She recently married Pastor John Newman, and she is spending many weekends here in Duval County. (Newman was also at the White House event).

Kellyanne Conway visits the JAX Chamber delegation.

Marty Fiorentino, of the Fiorentino Group, has done significant work already with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao — a relationship worth its weight in gold as Jacksonville’s crumbling infrastructure may get a restorative reprieve from the Trumpian infrastructure plan.

Susie Wiles, as campaign chair during the stretch run, arguably won Florida for Trump, rescuing a Sunshine State operation that couldn’t get out of its own way. The president and his staff won’t forget that.

Fiorentino, Wiles, Manigault: no one would have predicted that troika as having a direct line to the executive branch in 2016, when Trump’s political obituary was written daily as he battled Hillary Clinton.

Legislative staffing merry-go-round 

Via Lobby ToolsOff: Garrett Mann has stopped being the district secretary for Jacksonville Republican State Rep. Jason Fischer.

What’s Aaron Bean doing this week?

Fernandina Beach Republican Sen. Bean will be the keynote speaker at the Jacksonville PACE Center for Girls graduation and receive PACE’s Believing in Girls award in recognition of his leadership in the Legislature. The event begins 10 a.m. at the JU Swisher Theatre, 2800 University Boulevard North in Jacksonville.

On Tuesday, June 20, Bean (will address participants of the 74th Session of the Florida American Legion Boys State leadership program. The event begins 1:40 p.m. at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center, 505 W Pensacola Street in Tallahassee.

UF Health intensive care unit honored for nursing excellence

The UF Health Jacksonville medical intensive care received a Silver Beacon Award from the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses for improved patient care for some of Jacksonville’s sickest patients.

“We care for adult patients with complex medical conditions requiring advanced treatment modalities, so we see some of the worst cases,” said Jackqulynne Stratton, RN, nurse manager of the MICU. “Patients admitted to our unit often require complex assessment, high-intensity therapies and interventions, and continuous supervision.”

With 28 beds in the MICU, patients are transferred there from the Emergency Department and Post Anesthesia Care Unit after surgery. The unit also regularly attends to patients transferred from other areas of the hospital.

“We typically work 12-hour shifts three days a week and an on-call shift once a month,” Stratton said. “also, we have to complete mandatory continuing education courses and rely heavily on our specialized knowledge, skills and experience. We also work hard to provide a nurturing and healing environment for our patients and their families.”

Jumbo Shrimp celebrates ‘You might be the Father’s Day’ by giving pregnancy tests

If being named the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp was not enough to garner attention, the minor league baseball team adds something special to its regular Thirsty Thursday promotion — You Might Be the Father’s Day.

“You’ll know if you need to return for Sunday’s Father’s Day game,” with “an evening filled with suspense, intrigue and manila envelopes.”

In honor of Father’s Day, the Florida Times-Union reports that the Jumbo will distribute free pregnancy tests at Thursday’s game.

“So you’ll know if you need to return for Sunday’s Father’s Day game,” the Shrimp website says. “It will be an evening filled with suspense, intrigue and manila envelopes.”

Unusual promotions like this, a staple of minor league baseball, has made its mark on the former Jacksonville Suns — so far this season, General Manager Harold Craw told the Times-Union, the team averages about 5,600 fans a game, an increase of 1,500 over last season. But Thirsty Thursdays are the team’s third most popular day, after Friday and Saturday.

Armada break historic losing streak with stunning 4-1 win in Indianapolis 

The Jacksonville Armada FC said goodbye to its winless history against Indy Eleven with a club record 4-1 win in Indianapolis Saturday, reports Kartik Krishnaiyer. The Armada’s win keeps them on the heels of Miami FC atop the NASL Spring Season table.

“Indy [is] a top team,” said Armada FC head coach Mark Lowry. “Even at 3-1 and 4-1, I couldn’t relax. They have a lot of weapons on the field and credit to those guys; they didn’t stop.”

Jack Blake opened the scoring for the Armada only four minutes into the game. Taking a penalty after Derek Gebhard was fouled, Blake’s initial shot was deflected off Indy goalkeeper Jon Busch, but Blake was quick to find the rebound and the back of the net.

“We have to keep our wits about us, staying aware to be disciplined and do our job.” — Armada Coach Mark Lowry

Indy Eleven was able to equalize six minutes later when 2016 NASL leading scorer Éamon Zayed headed the ball in past Caleb Patterson-Sewell following a corner.

Both sides then struggled to convert an opportunity until the 41st minute when Gebhard ran the ball down. After meeting fierce defense, he sent the ball to J.C. Banks, who found the space to get it in and put the Armada back into the lead.

An altercation in first half stoppage time led to a yellow card given to Blake and Indy’s Lovel Palmer being ejected from the match. The teams went into halftime with Armada FC leading by one goal and Indy being down to 10 men.

Banks kept the momentum going into the second half and netted his second goal in the 50th minute. Following a corner kick, he found himself in front of the net to tap in a shot fired by Jemal Johnson around the 18-yard line.

The final goal for the Armada FC came in the 60th minute by Gebhard. Johnson was there again with the assist and sent the ball toward the net. It then only took one touch by Gebhard to give Armada the fourth goal.

“They put us under a good bit of pressure but luckily we had a good lead before we lost our goalkeeper,” said Lowry.

Patterson-Sewell was ejected in the 68th minute from the match after a handball outside the penalty area. With both teams down to 10 men, Jemal Johnson was subbed out so Kyle Nasta could fill the goalkeeper position.

Nasta held strong right after taking the pitch in his NASL debut. He immediately faced a free kick but saved the ball by knocking it out. Five more shots were sent toward the goal, but he saved each one and kept Indy Eleven from notching another goal.

“[Nasta] went in and made some great saves,” said Lowry. “He showed the composure, and we believe in him. In terms of shot-stopping, he’s fantastic.”

The Armada victory was the first over Indy Eleven in Indianapolis, and the second loss Indy faced at home this season. The wins secured Jacksonville’s second place seat and set the stage for another top-of-the-table battle against the Miami FC Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Ricardo Silva Stadium in Miami. If the Armada win, they will jump to within two points of Miami FC atop the NASL standings.

Meanwhile, at Patton Park, the Armada’s U-23 team beat Boca Raton FC 4-0. The win allowed the Armada U-23 to leapfrog Boca Raton into fourth place in the NPSL Sunshine Conference Standings. In a game largely controlled by the home team, Boca Raton hung around until the dying minutes when a Ciaran McKenna brace, the second scored a floating finish of world-class quality sunk the hopes of the visitors.

Sunburn for 6.16.17 – POTUS to MIA; Donkey gathering; Landmark education bill signed; Tim Canova’s back; Happy Dad’s Day

Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.


Stopping short of a complete turnabout, President Donald Trump is expected to announce a revised Cuba policy aimed at stopping the flow of U.S. cash to the country’s military and security services while maintaining diplomatic relations and allowing U.S. airlines and cruise ships to continue service to the island, reports the Associated Press.

In a speech Friday at a Miami theater associated with Cuban exiles, Trump will cast the policy moves as fulfillment of a promise he made during last year’s presidential campaign to reverse then-President Barack Obama’s diplomatic re-engagement with the island after decades of estrangement.

Senior White House officials who briefed reporters Thursday on the coming announcement said Obama’s overtures had enriched Cuba’s military while repression increased on the island. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the policy before Trump announces it, despite the president’s regular criticism of the use of anonymous sources.

President Trump traveling on Air Force One this week. Photo credit: AP.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen backs Donald trump Cuba policy but won’t attend Miami announcement” via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami HeraldRos-Lehtinen, who is retiring next year, has been critical of Trump. But the White House invited her to attend Trump’s policy event in Miami’s Manuel Artime Theater. Ros-Lehtinen, however, said she has family plans that will keep her in Washington. Marco Rubio and Mario Diaz-Balart, and Rep. Carlos Curbelo, will join Trump, along with Florida Gov. Scott. Vice President Mike Pence, who was in town for a conference at Florida International University, might also attend. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez is out of town, but the county will have the representation of Chairman Esteban “Steve” Bovo and Commissioners Bruno Barreiro, Jose “Pepe” Diaz, Joe Martinez and Javier Souto.

Wait for Donald Trump’s decisions is personal for south Florida’s Cuban, Haitian immigrants” via Alexandra Glorioso of the Naples Daily News Trump is scheduled to announce new policies toward Cuba during a visit … returning to the city where he promised Cuban-Americans during the campaign that he would reverse President Barack Obama‘s actions. Trump is expected to tighten restrictions on travel and trade with the communist country, although many younger Cubans celebrated Obama’s move to open relations. Trump also is considering changes that could affect another significant immigrant group in South Florida. His administration has extended temporary protective status for Haitian refugees until January, although he has signaled a likely end to the policy is coming. Both South Florida groups are watching Trump closely, believing that the actions he takes affecting their communities will offer insight into his administration’s approach to broader issues affecting immigrants across the country.

Cuba power play with Colombia draws Marco Rubio’s ire” via Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida – In a final effort to stall a new U.S. trade and travel crackdown, Cuba pressured its ally Colombia to suggest it might boycott a Latin American security summit called by U.S. officials if Trump went forward with announcing his new policy targeting the Raul Castro government. The complicated international power play started to unfold following a national security principals meeting, according to congressional and senior government sources. Colombia began to express misgivings about how Trump’s Cuba announcement in Miami would coincide with the two-day U.S.-led Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America, also in Miami, and suggested it might just skip out on the conference if Trump didn’t delay his announcement by a week, said an aide to Sen. Rubio. Rubio, who has spent months quietly helping Trump craft his plans to restrict trade and travel with Cuba, was “appalled” at the news — although he knew the White House wouldn’t succumb to any threats for a delay, his aide said.

Inside Marco Rubio’s campaign to shape Trump’s Cuba crackdown” via Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida – Any effort by Trump to make good on his campaign promise to roll back former President Obama’s historic accord with Raul Castro would be delayed, Rubio cautioned—not just from the Castro government and from outside business interests, but from within. It would be studied to death by government analysts who favor more engagement with Cuba, not less. It would be leaked to the news media. Stillborn with a thousand excuses by the bureaucrats. So go it alone, Rubio told the president during their May 3 meeting. “What you’ve committed to do on Cuba, what you want to do on Cuba, is never going to come from career staff. It’s going to have to come from the top down. You’re going to have to tell them what to do,” Rubio recalled telling the president as his fellow Miami Republican member of Congress, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, nodded in agreement.

“Central America more important than Cuba – despite Trump’s Miami visit” via Tim Padgett of WLRN – “I don’t usually feel sorry for Central American heads of state. Too many of them, right-wing or left-wing, have done their damnedest to perpetuate the image of the corrupt, tin-pot strongman. If you needed any reminding: U.S. marshals arrested Panama’s former President Ricardo Martinelli in Coral Gables this week. The wealthy, authoritarian right-winger is wanted back in Panama for pilfering millions of dollars intended for the poor and using it to spy on opponents. (At his extradition hearing in Miami federal court, Martinelli denied the charge.) But I gotta admit I feel sympathy for the presidents who are in Miami for the Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America.”

Assignment editors – U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor and representatives of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, University of Tampa, Florida Aquarium, Florida Orchestra and Cuba One to talk about United States/Cuba relations. Event begins 3 p.m. At Tampa International Airport, Main Terminal, between Airsides A and C.

Meanwhile – “Trump taps Broward GOP leader for Costa Rica ambassadorship” via Tonya Alanez of the South Florida Sun Sentinel Sharon Day of Fort Lauderdale, was re-elected as a Broward state Republican committeewoman in the party primary in August. Day has previously served three terms as co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, where she worked with Trump’s current Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. Day first was elected to that role in 2011 and then re-elected in 2013 and 2015. She has also served as national party secretary.

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This weekend the Florida Democratic Party hosts its fourth annual Leadership Blue Gala (formerly known as the Jefferson-Jackson dinner) from the ultra swanky Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood, with over 1,200 Democrats expected to event the event.

Saturday night’s speaking schedule kicks-off with comments from the new FDP regime: Chair Stephen Bittel and President Sally Boynton Brown. Party officials are touting the $800,000 they’ve raised this year for the event though ticket sales and sponsorships to fund the FDP’s new community engagement program, aimed at growing the party’s grassroots infrastructure in advance of the 2018 election cycle.

While Bittel has been traversing the state in getting himself acquainted with grassroots party members since his election in January, this will be the first time for many Dems to hear from Brown, the former Idaho Democratic Party executive director who elicited charges of elitism and being too focused on identity politics after a controversial speech she gave in Broward County last month.

Senator Bill Nelson, DNC Vice Chair Michael Blake and a handful of state legislators are on the agenda scheduled to speak, leading into the keynote address by former Joe Biden.

Some analysts say the former Vice President’s speech has taken on greater relevance after it was reported late last month that he has launched a new PAC called American Possibilities, a vehicle to provide him a way to support Democrats running for office while keeping his own options open for a potential 2020 presidential run.

Not listed as scheduled to speak is DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. A rumor that the she would address the Democrats on Saturday night led to her once and future congressional challenger, Tim Canova, to use the opportunity to attack her and the pasty, saying they were giving a platform “the most divisive Democrat in the country.”

As usual, there will be meetings by the various party caucuses throughout Saturday, as well as a panel featuring the three announced gubernatorial candidates, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham and Winter Park businessman Chris King.


Miramar mayor backs Andrew Gillum for Governor — Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam has thrown his support behind Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in his race to replace Gov. Rick Scott in 2018. “As a Mayor who has fought hard to bring high-paying jobs, innovation, access to healthcare and a clean environment to my city, I have a full appreciation and respect for what Mayor Andrew Gillum brings as a candidate for governor,” said Messam in a statement. “I stood by Andrew when he fought the gun lobby and we stand together in support of the Paris Agreement to protect our environment. I ask every Floridian to join me and stand with Mayor Gillum for Governor.” 

In mulling gubernatorial run, Gwen Graham deleted two years of Twitter messages” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – At the end of her term in Congress and before launching her 2018 gubernatorial campaign, Graham took down her congressional Twitter account, which included more than two years of content. Though no longer publicly available, the tweets have now been archived by her campaign staff … She closed her Twitter account in January after leaving Congress. Past social media posts often serve as a treasure trove of opposition research for political rivals, but the campaign says that’s not the reason the tweets were taken down, which is not at odds with any congressional rules. “We took it down to avoid confusion between Gwen’s congressional account and her non-congressional account, which happened frequently — because she’s no longer a member of Congress,” said Matt Harringer, the campaign’s communications director.

Assignment editors: Chris King will speak to a meeting of the Florida Education Association at 9:30 a.m. at the Sawgrass Marriott, 1000 PGA Tour Blvd in Ponte Vedra Beach.

Hillsborough County Sheriff backs Ashley Moody for AG — Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee announced Thursday he was endorsing Ashley Moody in the race to replace Attorney General Pam Bondi. “Ashley Moody’s career is one of service to her community and the rule of law,” said Gee in a statement. “Her experience as a federal prosecutor and a circuit court judge have demonstrated an unyielding passion to keep our community safe and strengthen our criminal justice system. As our next Attorney General, I have no doubt she will serve with distinction and honor and be an Attorney General that keeps our state safe.” Gee joins Bondi and five Hillsborough County commissioners in endorsing Moody, a former federal prosecutor and circuit court judge, in the Attorney General’s race. “I’ve had the pleasure to work with the men and women of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office for many years,” she said in a statement. “Their professionalism and commitment to public safety is embodied in their Sheriff who has made a career out of keeping our community safe. I am thankful for his endorsement of my campaign and for his friendship.”

Matt Caldwell kicks off #2LaneTravels Work Days Tour — The North Fort Myers is launching his #2LaneTravels Work Days Tour at Key Largo Fisheries on Friday, where he’ll spend the day working in their processing facilities. The tour, according to Caldwell’s campaign, is meant to highlight the industries Caldwell would oversee as Agriculture Commissioner, and will give him a chance to spend the day working at a Florida business that is vital to the state’s economy. “I am going to be highlighting the jobs across our state that may not be glamorous but are critical to moving Florida’s economy,” said Caldwell. “While processing seafood isn’t easy, and you’re certainly going to get yourself dirty, our great state wouldn’t be what it is today without the hard working men and women that are responsible for the wholesome and delicious food that is served on tables across America.”

Tim Canova announces rematch against Wasserman Schultz” via Amy Sherman of the Miami Herald – “A year ago the eyes of the nation were on this race and the stakes were very high,” Canova said at a Broward Democratic progressive caucus meeting in Plantation Thursday night. “I say the stakes are still very high. We’ve got a president right now and a Congress, Republican dominated, that are pushing the most rabid inhumane radical type of agenda that I could have ever imagined.” In 2016, Canova tapped into Bernie Sanders’ small donors and anger at the political establishment to raise about $3.8 million in the race for South Florida’s 23rd congressional district. A Nova Southeastern University law professor, Canova ran to the left of Wasserman Schultz by bashing her for taking money from corporate donors and big Sugar.

Republican Chris Anderson, deputy sheriff, Army veteran, enters HD 28 race” via Scott Powers of Orlando-Rising — Anderson, 35, enters the race professing an unusual background for a house candidate in Seminole. As a child raised by a single father who abused drugs and died of AIDS, Anderson graduated high school, joined the U.S. Army, served in Afghanistan, and then came home to start a family and serve in the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office. “There’s every reason why I should have been in the back seat of a police car, rather than as a deputy sheriff in the front seat today,” Anderson stated in a news release issued by his campaign. “I attribute the difference to faith, hard work and the belief that we live in a country where anyone can achieve the American Dream if we set our minds to it and never give up.” He’s facing Winter Springs businessman David Smith for the Republican nomination. Lee Mangold, chief executive officer and co-founder of GoldSky Security, is running for the Democrats, for a seat being vacated by term-limited Republican state Rep. Jason Brodeur.

Bobby Olszewski talks West Orange, future speaker’s race, teamwork, education” via Scott Powers of Orlando Rising – “This community is my home as everywhere I look I see a friend, memory, or story as I have already invested decades to serving my community. I was blessed to have been elected to two-terms as a Winter Garden Commissioner where I have been tested as a public servant. I worked with my constituents to ensure all voices were heard. I have walked and visited with every community within District 44 and know what makes each neighborhood uniquely special. I am running to serve a community that I have invested my blood, sweat and tears, as I have no other interests or motivations in becoming a state representative except to serve our hometown.”


Rick Scott signs HB 7069, shifting education from ‘traditional public schools’” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – While the education omnibus bill offers changes for all kinds of schools in Florida, from requiring recess to reducing mandatory testing, it accelerates state tax dollar funding for-profit and nonprofit charter and private schools, expands parents’ abilities to choose schools, and tightens Tallahassee’s controls over what local school boards can and cannot do. Democrats almost universally opposed HB 7069, to the point of declaring it to be sabotage of Florida’s public-school system. Joined by public school teachers, parents, PTAs, administrators and many school board members, they had urged for weeks that Scott veto the bill. “What this legislation does today is it helps all students, which is important,” Scott declared … ending weeks of speculation of whether he would sign or veto the controversial measure since Corcoran and his team pushed through a dramatic rewrite on the last day of the Legislation Session.

Gov. Rick Scott signs HB 7069 which provides nearly $419 million to Florida’s K-12 education system, expands teacher bonuses, increases funding for the Gardiner Scholarship for students with unique abilities and ensures Florida’s students can get a great education at the school of their choice.

Was Gardiner scholarship a pawn or a principle in passage of HB 7069?” via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – The setting chosen by Gov. Scott and House Speaker Corcoran to sign the controversial HB 7069 school reform bill is a telling example of how it doesn’t matter how you get there in Tallahassee if in the end you can claim credit. The media advisory announcing the event highlighted the fact that the bill will be signed at 3:45 p.m., at “Morning Star Catholic School in Orlando, which serves many children who recieve the Gardiner Scholarship.” (We assume the misspelling of “receive” was a mistake.) But while Corcoran and Rep. Manny Diaz will be in attendance to take credit for including the program in the bill, expansion of the Gardiner Scholarship was not included in the House’s original version of HB 7069 or in its original budget. The Senate did include $100 million in its budget for the program. Opponents blasted the strategy as an attempt to use vulnerable children as “pawns” to gain support for the controversial legislation.

Assignment editors: Gov. Scott will announce jobs numbers at 9:45 a.m. at Dusobox Corporation, 2501 Investors Row, #900 in Orlando.

“Hearing set in lawsuit against Pam Bondi over unregistered charities” via Florida PoliticsA Leon County judge has set a hearing in a lawsuit against Attorney General Bondi that says she forces businesses to pony up millions of dollars to unregistered charities as part of settlements in consumer protection cases. Circuit Judge Charles Dodson ordered the hearing for July 10 in Tallahassee, court records show. The plaintiff, Orlando entrepreneur John D. Smith, was investigated on a consumer fraud allegation by Bondi’s office in 2015. He invented Storm Stoppers plastic panels as a “plywood alternative” to protect windows during storms. Smith argues that some of the unregistered charities Bondi makes settling parties give money to is her own “Law Enforcement Officer of the Year” award and various “scholarship funds designated by the Attorney General.”

Jimmy Patronis to be named CFO” via Florida Politics – Public Service Commissioner and former state Rep. Patronis will be named state Chief Financial Officer to replace the outgoing Jeff Atwater, sources close to the Governor’s Office tell An announcement is likely the week of June 26. “CFO successor has been identified and known since Atwater originally resigned,” a source familiar with the workings of the EOG told “Has only been one name the entire time, regardless what others have said, reported or assumed.”

– “Gov. Rick Scott said to consider Jimmy Patronis to be next CFO” via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times

Cabinet votes to buy springs that were saved by love affair” via Craig Pittman of the Tampa Bay Times – Florida’s Cabinet voted to acquire 407-acre Blue Springs Park in Gilchrist County, a jewel of a spring that’s been privately owned since 1958 — thanks to a long-ago love affair involving a St. Petersburg business mogul and his faithful assistant. The Cabinet approved the purchase for $5.25 million … 10 percent below the owners’ asking price … The parcel includes a set of six springs and a mile of land along the Santa Fe River. In the 1950s, Blue Springs belonged to a St. Petersburg business mogul named Ed C. Wright, who owned some 20,000 acres in 20 counties. Wright made a fortune investing in municipal bonds, railroad stock and radio stations. Wright’s longtime secretary was a petite, reserved woman named Ruth Kirby … Kirby’s duties included listening in on all those calls and taking notes. Soon she was trading bonds and buying land too, and she proved to be as savvy an investor as her boss. When he died, unmarried and childless at age 77, his will named her executor of his $50 million estate. became one of the most powerful wheeler-dealers in the state, negotiating with U.S. Steel over land for condos on Sand Key and flying to Tallahassee to pressure the governor into buying Weedon Island.

“Don’t estoppel believing: Now it’s a law” via Florida PoliticsAfter years of unsuccessfully fighting its way through the Legislature, the estoppel bill is now law. Gov. Scott Tuesday signed the measure (SB 398), which overhauls the legal process of estoppel letters. It goes into effect July 1 … Estoppel letters, or estoppel certificates, are an obscure part of some real estate closings … Title agents and Realtors have wanted to shift the cost of preparing such letters from themselves back to (homeowners) associations … The measure allows an association “to charge a maximum fee of $250 for the preparation and delivery of an estoppel certificate, if there are no delinquent amounts owed to the association (and) an additional maximum fee of $150, if there is a delinquent amount owed to the association.”

Assignment editors – House Speaker Corcoran is the featured guest at Café con Tampa’s breakfast meeting starting 8 a.m. upstairs at Oxford Exchange, 420 W. Kennedy Blvd.

Assignment editors – Tampa Tiger Bay Club presents “Legislative Session Wrap Up” at noon at the Ferguson Law Center, 1610 N. Tampa St. Speakers include Sens. Tom Lee and Darryl Rouson and Reps. Shawn Harrison, Wengay “Newt” Newton and Dan Raulerson.


As the Speaker’s race speeds toward a June 30 vote, the five announced candidates — Byron Donalds, Randy Fine, Erin Grall, Jamie Grant and Paul Renner — are trying to make the case why they are the best person for the job.

While three of those Speaker hopefuls have been in the running for a while now, two Speaker hopefuls — Grall and Donalds — are relatively recent entrants into the leadership race. In interviews this week with Florida Politics, both said they had been thinking about trying their hand at leadership, and credited the changes to the GOP conference rules as what spurred them to seriously give it a try.

“When the rules changed, I saw it as an opportunity to work really hard … and get to know my classmates and let them get to know me,” said Grall in an interview Wednesday.  “I feel like that’s the best approach to servant leadership.”

If elected, Grall would be the first female to serve in the position. That isn’t the only reason why she’s running, but she acknowledged that she would offer a “new and different perspective.”

“I very much believe that role models are important. To the extent that I could get other women involved in the process, I think it’s important (they are involved,)” said the 39-year-old Vero Beach attorney. “Our perspective is a little different. I think that it is lost in the process. It is important. I believe I was successful, but I think some women don’t feel there is going to be support.”

Neither Grall nor Donalds, a 38-year-old Naples resident, were eager to handicap their chances. But both indicated the move to a secret ballot, instead of the traditional method of collecting pledge cards, would allow their classmates to vote for who they feel is best for the job.

Donalds said he thinks he has been warmly received, and plans to keep talking to his classmates about his vision for the House. Like Grall, he said he thinks he can offer a different perspective on some of the issues facing Florida’s future.

“In our political world, the messenger matters, it just does,” he said. “I’m a little different. I’m not the prototypical Republican. It shows the depth of our party and it shows the depth of our Legislature.”

— “Could Erin Grall become ‘Madam Speaker?’” via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics

— “Rules changes sparked Byron Donalds to seek Speakership” via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics


USF’s path to ‘preeminence’ is restored after Rick Scott vetoes higher education bill” via Claire McNeill, Kristen Clark and Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – The University of South Florida’s quest to become “pre-eminent,” an official status that could elevate the school’s prestige and send millions of extra dollars its way, received a positive jolt as Gov. Scott lifted a key barrier. Scott vetoed a sweeping higher education reform bill that was one of Senate President Joe Negron‘s top priorities … saying that the measure “impedes” the ability of state colleges to provide access to low-cost, quality education. USF had been focused on other language buried deep within the bill’s text that dramatically affected its fortunes. Becoming a pre-eminent university requires that a school meet several requirements, and SB 374 had moved the goalposts on one of them — the graduation rate.

FSU Zika expert awarded $1.8 million as part of NIH study” via Byron Dobson of the Tallahassee Democrat – Leading some of that research is Florida State University professor Hengli Tang, who is in line to receive $1.8 million to conduct further study. The money is part of a $7.7 million National Institutes of Health grant to conduct Zika and West Nile research in conjunction with University of Pennsylvania, Georgia State and Emory University, FSU announced … The grant money will be used to determine how fast the Zika and West Nile viruses target human brain cells and how the brain reacts to infection at different stages of development. “This work will provide a direct impact on the mission to understand Zika disease mechanisms and to develop effective countermeasures to curb Zika virus infection,” said Tang, a professor of biological science.

“Commentary: As Disney reports drop in guests, is Orlando’s post-Pulse embrace of LGBT too tight?” via C. Britt Beemer in the Orlando Sentinel – Reports say that attendance at Disney World is down. Well, as the late Paul Harvey used to intone on his radio broadcasts, here’s ‘the rest of the story’: For 30 years, as a consumer trends and research expert, I have surveyed more than 12 million Americans. I’ve helped more than a thousand businesses achieve their goals and overcome financial challenges. … Since the Pulse nightclub shootings a year ago in Orlando, I’ve observed a significant number of evangelical Christians shift their vacations plans: They will see the Ark instead of visiting Disney in their own backyard. After the Pulse tragedy, some in the news media speculated that Orlando could see a drop in tourists because of personal-safety concerns. Nothing in my research uncovers any concerns. As I survey these future visitors to the Ark, however, what I do find is genuine concern about how children might be influenced by the pro-gay/lesbian movement in Orlando.


Black Almanac with Dr. Ed James on WWSB, ABC 7 in Sarasota: James’ topic is “Congressman Steve Scalis, Congresswoman Gabby Gilford – Are you a Republican or Democrat? Your answer might get you killed,” with political analyst Dr Lawrence Miller.

Facing South Florida with Jim DeFede on CBS 4 in Miami: The Sunday show provides viewers with an in-depth look at politics in South Florida, along with other issues that affect the area’s citizens.

Florida This Week  on Tampa Bay’s WEDU: Panelists this week include attorney Jessica Ehrlich, political consultant/columnist Chris Ingram, Tampa Bay Times reporter Steve Contorno and freelance journalist Brendan McLaughlin.

In Focus with Allison Walker-Torres on Bay News 9: The topic — “Where do we stand right now when it comes to cyber security?” Guests include St. Cloud Republican State Rep. Mike La Rosa and professor Gary Leavens from the University of Central Florida Computer Science, Cyber Security and Privacy Department.

Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando and Bay News 9 in Tampa/St. Pete: Al Ruechel talks with Chris King, Democratic candidate for Governor. Caitlyn Jones talks with Orlando trial attorney John Morgan, backer of the 2016 medical marijuana Amendment 2, about the current state of medical marijuana legislation in Florida and how he is moving forward with that, as well as his thoughts on considering a run for governor in 2018. PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter rates a claim about voter registration and whether the Department of Homeland Security compared data with voter registration information.

Political Connections’ Al Ruechel talks with Chris King, Democratic candidate for Governor and newcomer to statewide politics.

The Usual Suspects on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Host Gary Yordon talks with attorney and lobbyist Sean Pittman and Dr. Ed Moore.

This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice on Channel 4 WJXT: This week Justice will speak with State Rep. Travis Cummings on budget, working with leadership and Gov. Scott, HB 7069 protests and more. Other guests include Rick Mullaney, Director, Jacksonville University Public Policy Institute; St. Johns Riverkeeper, Lisa Rinaman talking dredging/expansion at JAXPORT and environmental concerns and Nancy Rubin, Senior Director of Communications for JAXPORT on new plans to shorten distance of dredging, reduce costs and increase volume, business and jobs.

— ALOE —

Florida retailers expect record Father’s Day spending” via Florida Politics – The Florida Retail Federation … predicts consumers will spend an average $134.75 for the holiday, up almost $10 from last year’s $125.92. Spending nationwide is also expected to reach $15.5 billion, the highest in the survey’s 15-year history – nearly a billion more than 2016. In the annual survey from the National Retail Federation … consumers will spend $3.3 billion in 2017; 48 percent say they will take dads to outings such as dinner, brunch or other “fun activity/experiences,” clothing (46 percent) and gift cards (43 percent), making up $2.2 billion. Next most popular is consumer electronics (21 percent) at $1.8 billion.

SeaWorld unveils virtual reality version of Kraken Unleashed” via Terry Roen of Orlando Rising – SeaWorld Orlando launches a new version of its 17-year-old roller coaster with a new name and the option to use virtual reality headgear or ride old school. Kraken Unleashed begins at a mythological seabase and rises up 149 feet as riders experience near misses with giant sea creatures. Orlando’s only floorless roller coaster is themed after a massive, mythological underwater beast unleashed from the depths of the sea. Riders strap on headsets that cover their eyes and ears to see and hear the bioluminescent-colored creatures with tentacles that seem to reach out and grab them.

SeaWorld Orlando introduces an updated version of its 17-year-old Kraken roller coaster, which gives riders an option to use virtual reality headgear.

Twitter unveils new look, which users quickly mock” via The Associated Press – The San Francisco company says the new design emphasizes simplicity, making it faster and easier to use, with bolder headlines and more intuitive icons. It also changed users’ profile images from square-shaped to round. Twitter users immediately responded by tweeting jokes and memes critical of the changes. There were almost 30,000 tweets about the new user interface, or UI, within hours of the change, the vast majority of them either complaining about the new look or mocking it. A popular image was a suddenly round SpongeBob SquarePants.

Happy birthday to Omar Khan, campaign manager to Chris King and the voice-over talent for Christian Bale in “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight.”

Rick Scott to sign controversial education policy bill

Gov. Rick Scott will sign a contentious education policy bill that critics fear will hurt traditional public schools in favor of privately-managed charter schools.

The Governor’s Office on Thursday morning announced he will approve “a major education bill” at Morning Star Catholic School in Orlando, “which serves many children who receive the Gardiner Scholarship,” one of the programs affected by the legislation.

The bill signing is slated for 3:45 p.m., a press release said. It did not mention the bill by name or number, however, though the Governor’s daily schedule does list it as “HB 7069 Signing And Budget Highlight Event.”

The bill’s approval is widely believed to be in return for House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s support of Scott’s priorities, including full funding of Visit Florida and money for an economic development fund, passed in the recent Special Session.

But it’s been met with vigorous opposition from Democratic lawmakers, newspaper editorial boards and public schools advocates, including the Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers union.

Among other things, the bill (HB 7069) steers more money to charter schools through a “Schools of Hope” initiative, requires recess in elementary schools, and tinkers with the state’s oft-criticized standardized testing system.

The legislation—a top priority for Corcoranbarely edged out of the Florida Senate on a 20-18 vote where some Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the measure.

The Senate vote came after intense debate in which opponents contended the legislation was a give-away to charter schools—public schools run by private organizations and sometimes managed by for-profit companies.

Corcoran has said that the changes are even more dramatic than the A+ plan put in place by former Gov. Jeb Bush nearly two decades ago. It created the state’s first voucher program and created the state’s current school grading system.

“It is the greatest public school bill in the history of Florida,” Corcoran said after the bill was sent to Scott.

The nearly 300-page bill includes a long list of education changes that legislators had been considering. But the final bill was negotiated largely out of public view. Some of the final changes drew the ire of the state’s teacher unions, parent groups as well as superintendents of some of Florida’s largest school districts.

Included in the bill is a requirement that elementary schools must set aside 20 minutes each day for students in kindergarten through fifth grade for “free-play recess,” although at the last minute charter schools were exempted from the mandate. The bill includes more than $200 million for teacher and principal bonuses.

Bowing to criticism about Florida’s testing regimen, the measure eliminates the Algebra 2 end-of-course exam and pushes back the date in the school year when students must take Florida’s main standardized test.

Another major part of the bill creates the “Schools of Hope” program that would offer financial incentives to charter school operators who would agree to take students who now attending chronically failing schools, many of them in poor areas and urban neighborhoods. Additionally, up to 25 failing public schools may receive up to $2,000 per student for additional student services.

It extends the Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program, expands eligibility for the Gardiner Scholarship Program for disabled students, and requires 20 minutes of recess each day for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

The bill also requires school districts share capital project tax revenue with charter schools, which Corcoran argued is one of the reasons why some school district officials have come out in opposition to the bill.

Background from The Associated Press was used in this post.

The Delegation for 6.15.17 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Pulse remembrance was poignant pause from politics; capital shooting jolts silence

While Capitol Hill is still engulfed in Russia investigations, life on Main Street America goes on, especially in Orlando. This week, Orlando and fellow Floridians remembered 49 individuals whose lives did not go on past the early morning hours of June 12, 2016.

For a while on Monday, what James Comey said, or what President Donald Trump tweeted, or who leaked what was on the back burner – at least in Orlando. It was a day to come together.

“While 49 voices were forever silenced here one year ago, hope, as Harvey Milk once said, hope will never be silent,” said Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy at the remembrance event. “We must honor the lives and legacies of the Pulse victims by putting aside that which divides us and rededicating ourselves to treating one another with love and respect.”

A runner wearing a gay pride rainbow flag pauses in front of the Pulse nightclub during the CommUNITYRainbowRun 4.9K road race in Orlando, Fla. The race was one of many events commemorating the one-year anniversary massacre at the Pulse nightclub, which left 49 people dead. (Photo via the Associated Press)

Orlando’s other representatives in Congress, Democrats Val Demings and Darren Soto, joined with Murphy to introduce a resolution in Congress honoring those lost. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio did the same in the Senate.

“We will not forget the 49 men and women who were killed on June 12, 2016,” said Demings, whose district includes the Pulse nightclub. “Our community is still healing, family and friends are still mourning the lives of their loved ones, and survivors are still recovering from tragedy.”

Some have noticed the absence of major GOP elected officials at the public events. Whether or not they were invited, several Republicans did issue statements or tweeted messages recognizing the anniversary, including President Trump.

Rubio delivered his personal recollections on the Senate floor. He recalled immediately driving to Orlando from Miami when first learning of the attack last year.

“There’s no doubt this was a community that was heartbroken, but it was also a community that was unbroken that I believe woke up stronger and more united than when it went to sleep the night before,” said Rubio. “And I think ultimately, the man who committed this attack, and the people who inspired him to do so, would have been horrified at what they saw. I think they would’ve been horrified to see First Baptist Church in Orlando, a pillar of the Christian evangelical community, opening its doors to the LGBT community and welcoming in them and their families and holding services there.”

Just two days after remembering the Pulse victims, a nut job tried to kill members of the Republican Congressional baseball team and managed to shoot Louisiana Republican Steve Scalise. Without the professionalism of the Capitol Police, we would be witnessing a memorial for murder victims a year from now.

Will the shouting resume shortly, or will these two events have any effect on the atmosphere surrounding political discourse? For a few hours on Monday, some took the time to remember the lives of those taken away by hate. For a few minutes on Wednesday, a gunman apparently believed people needed to die because they were Republicans.

If this doesn’t elicit a pause in the hostilities, what will?

Meanwhile, here are this week’s insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State.

Delegation reacts to Scalise shooting

Wednesday’s shooting on a Virginia baseball field of House Republican Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and three others shocked Capitol Hill and the nation. Scalise, practicing for Thursday’s Congressional Baseball Game with some of his GOP teammates, was playing second base when he was shot. Members of the Florida delegation were present.

Okeechobee Republican Tom Rooney had just left practice as had Ponte Vedra Republican Ron DeSantis. The alleged shooter asked DeSantis if the team on the field was the Republicans or the Democrats.

After such an emotional incident, the delegation offered comments via a statement or through Twitter. Panama City Republican Matt Gaetz, a member of the GOP team, was not at Wednesday’s practice, but tweeted “praying for my friend @SteveScalise.”

“I am praying for friends, colleagues, congressional staff, and Capitol Police, as well as any others who were injured or in danger this morning,” said Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor in a statement.

“Today is a sad day for our country,” read a statement from Panama City Republican Neal Dunn. “Leah’s and my thoughts are with Congressman Steve Scalise, the Capitol Police and staff involved in this morning’s tragic shooting.”

Texas Republican Rep. Joe Barton, center, and other members of the Republican Congressional softball team, stand behind police tape of the scene of a multiple shooting in Alexandria, Va., where House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was shot, on Wednesday. (Photo via the Associated Press.)

“My thoughts are with Congressman Scalise and all those injured in today’s ballpark shooting,” said Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy in a statement. “This type of senseless violence against any American is unacceptable.”

“We are all Americans first, regardless of party. We are all on the same team. And we’re praying for those injured in this heinous attack,” tweeted Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

GOP Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted “My prayers to @SteveScalise, staff and @CapitolPolice.”

“Joining @RepRutherfordFL to stand strong together for #NorthFlorida as we wish a swift recovery to @SteveScalise & @CapitolPolice & others,” tweeted Democrat Al Lawson of Tallahassee.

Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan tweeted “My staff and I are safe. Praying for @SteveScalise, congressional staff and @CapitolPolice officers involved.”

“Praying for @SteveScalise and others shot @ baseball practice. There are too many damn guns in America!” tweeted Miami Gardens Democrat Frederica Wilson.

“Sending thoughts & prayers to @Steve Scalise @CapitolPolice & others shot this morning. We must stand together in face of this terrible news, tweeted Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch.

The Congressional Baseball Game will be played as scheduled Thursday night.

Magazine: Trump hotel Washington’s newest “bog”

Time Magazine is using this week’s cover story to present the opinion President Trump’s pledge to “drain the swamp” is a failure with the recently-opened Trump National Hotel in Washington serving as Exhibit A. The magazine describes the hotel’s opulence in great detail, including prices for amenities such as cocktails and a “couples massage.”

The cover includes a view of the hotel’s atrium with “THE SWAMP HOTEL” emblazoned in all-caps.

According to the story, “People pay these prices for more than just booze, caviar and back rubs. That’s partly because a president who once promised to ‘drain the swamp’ of influence peddling now owns the city’s newest bog.”

Photo via Time Magazine

Foreign dignitaries and diplomats, lobbyists and some administration insiders are frequent patrons, prompting a claim from the story that “the potential conflicts of interest are dizzying.” The story quoted law professor Kathleen Clark of Washington University of St. Louis.

“Of course, it’s a scandal,” she said.

Upon his inauguration, Trump turned over his business interests to his adult children, but the billionaire is still dogged with stories like this. He has pledged to turn over any profits from foreign governments – hotel or otherwise – to the U.S. Treasury.

“This plan offers a suitable alternative to address the concerns of the American people,” said Sheri Dillon, his lawyer.

Nelson: Zika vaccine needs to be “affordable to all who need it”

As federal officials consider granting a French drug maker the right to sell a Zika virus vaccine, Sen. Bill Nelson wants to make sure the vaccine is affordable and accessible to those who need it.

In a letter to U.S. Army Acting Secretary Robert Speer this week, Nelson, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called on the U.S. Arm to address the issue of affordability before granting Sanofi Pasteur an exclusive license to sell the Zika vaccine. The request comes after reports that the company has refused the Army’s request to set an affordable price for the vaccine.

“If the Army chooses to move forward with its plan to provide Sanofi Pasteur an exclusive license to sell this vaccine, it must first obtain assurances that the vaccine will be affordable to sell to all who need it,” said Nelson in his letter. “Providing a single drugmaker exclusive control over a desperately-needed vaccine could create an environment in which the vaccine is unaffordable to those who need it most.”

Nelson said given the “considerable federal investment and the need for the vaccine,” he believes it is critical that the vaccine be “available and accessible to the taxpayers who already invested in the research and development of the vaccine.”

There were 1,122 cases of travel-related Zika virus and 285 locally acquired cases of Zika reported in Florida in 2016. So far this year, there have been 75 cases of Zika reported — 59 of which are travel-related, while 4 are locally acquired cases.

“Until we have a vaccine, the Zika virus will continue to threaten families and babies in Florida and across the nation,” said Nelson in his letter. “I urge you to consider the impact that an exclusive license could have on the affordability of the Zika vaccine. Failure to limit the vaccine’s market price could make it inaccessible to thousands of Floridians who need it.”

Rubio joins bipartisan coalition to combat human trafficking

The second-term Republican joined several of his colleagues from both parties to address the crime of human trafficking and helping the victims of that crime. A bipartisan coalition has come together to introduce two bills which concentrate on the issue.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act would reauthorize important programs designed to prevent trafficking plus promote justice for survivors, provide services for victims and increase and enhance the federal government’s response to the crisis.

Those joining Rubio in sponsoring the bill include Republicans John Cornyn of Texas, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and Bob Corker of Tennessee. Democratic co-sponsors are Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Diane Feinstein of California.

The Abolish Human Trafficking Act would reauthorize federal programs that provide support and resources for the victims of this form of modern day slavery.

Nevada’s Dean Heller and Utah’s Orrin Hatch joined their GOP colleagues from the previous bill as co-sponsors. Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, Delaware’s Chris Coons and Oregon’s Ron Wyden also joined their colleagues from the other bill.

“Victims of human trafficking need help from their communities as they reclaim their lives,” Rubio said in a release. “I’m proud to join my colleagues in fighting against traffickers and doing everything we can to protect and support their victims.”

Rubio, Diaz-Balart helping craft Trump Cuba policy

Florida’s Republican senator and the Republican congressman from Miami will welcome President Trump to their hometown as the president delivers remarks concerning Cuba, the birthplace of their parents.  USA Today reports Trump will “announce a rollback from relations with the communist island nation 90 miles from Key West.”

Reports suggest it will not be a wholesale rollback from the policies of former President Obama. Experts are confident Trump will neither close the U.S. Embassy nor break diplomatic relations restored in 2016. It will include things important to Rubio and Diaz-Balart.

“I am confident that I will be very pleased with what the president will announce Friday,” Rubio told USA Today. “I want to support the Cuban people and their aspirations for economic and political freedom and I always have been.”

Edwardo Clark, a Cuban-American, holds an American flag and a Cuban flag as he celebrates outside the new Cuban embassy in Washington on  July 20, 2015. President Donald Trump is expected to announce a rollback of relations with Cuba during an event in Miami later this week. (Photo via the Associated Press.)

The Floridians are most interested in ensuring additional resources going into Cuba reach the Cuban people. One of the strategies proposed by Rubio in 2015 calls for a prohibition of financial deals with Cuba’s military and security forces.

“It is not in the interest of the United States or the people of Cuba for the U.S. to become a financier of the Cuban regime’s brutality,” Rubio said at the time he introduced a 2015 bill, some of which is expected to be contained in the Trump policy.

Rubio faces criticism for growing “too cozy with the White House.” They believe Trump’s outreach to his former presidential rival has something to do with Rubio’s place on the Senate Intelligence Committee, who is investigating the Russian attempts to influence U.S. elections.

Gaetz announces USDOT grants for Panhandle airports

Rep. Matt Gaetz is telling constituents he is not just bringing home the bacon, it will be flying in. More than $2.6 million in federal grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation is coming to the 1st District to fund needs at local airports.

The bulk of the grant – more than $2.1 million – is targeted to the Eglin Air Force Base/Destin-Ft. Walton Beach Airport to “rehabilitate” 2,000 feet of combined taxiway.

The Bob Sikes Airport in Crestview and the Destin Executive Airport will share almost $500,000 to address rehabilitation of aprons. Pensacola International Airport receives $43,000 to clear obstructions from land acquired for further airport development.

“Northwest Florida has always been a popular destination for tourism, business, and government travel,” said the Fort Walton Beach Republican. “The $2.6 million in grants from the Department of Transportation will allow Northwest Florida’s popularity as a travel destination to continue to grow now and in the years to come.”

The funding is expected to be received before September.

Rutherford tapped for Judiciary Committee

Rep. John Rutherford received a new committee assignment this week when he was appointed to the House Judiciary Committee. Rutherford, the former Duval County Sheriff and a Jacksonville Republican, brings years of relevant experience.

“As a former Sheriff, I have committed my life to strengthening the justice system in Northeast Florida, and I am grateful for this opportunity to reestablish constitutional order across our nation,” he said in a statement. “I look forward to working with Chairman (Bob) Goodlatte and thank him for appointing me to a strong committee focused on upholding the constitution.”

Among the issues the committee undertakes is criminal justice, patents and copyrights, the law regulating foreign surveillance, and immigration law, among others.

“I am pleased to welcome John Rutherford to the House Judiciary Committee,” said Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican. “His expertise on our criminal justice system makes him particularly well-suited to serve on the Judiciary Committee.”

Three other members of the delegation currently serve on the Judiciary Committee. They include Ponte Vedra Beach Republican Ron DeSantis, Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz and Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch.

With the appointment, Rutherford will now serve on three committees. He currently serves on the Veterans Affairs Committee and the Homeland Security Committee.

Bilirakis: VA accountability bill holds ‘the bad actors accountable’

A bill to reform the Department of Veterans of Affairs is heading to President Donald Trump, after the U.S. House of Representatives approved it this week.

The House voted 368-55 on Tuesday to approve the the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act. Democrats Alcee Hastings, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Frederica Wilson were the only members of Florida’s congressional delegation who voted against the bill.

The bill, backed by Sens. Rubio and Nelson, gives the VA secretary the authority to fire and demote employees. It also adds protections for whistleblowers, by prohibiting the secretary from using his or her authority to fire employees who filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel.

“If a VA employee is involved in misconduct, they should be demoted, suspended, or fired. Certainly not promoted or given a bonus. If a VA employee sees misconduct and wants to report it, they should not fear repercussions,” said Rep. Gus Bilirakis, a Palm Harbor Republican during a floor speech this week. “Of course, the vast majority of VA employees are hardworking and dedicated professionals. At the end of the day, this bill is about holding the bad actors accountable, protecting the whistleblowers, and refocusing the VA on its missions to serve our nation’s heroes.”

Bilirakis said the country is “turning the page to a fresh start for the VA” with the passage of the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act.

Soto publicly neutral before Puerto Rico vote, strong advocate for statehood afterward

The Orlando Democrat had far more than a passing interest in last weekend’s plebiscite in Puerto Rico gauging the island’s interest in becoming the 51st state. He is not only the first Floridian of Puerto Rican heritage in Congress, many of his constituents trace their roots to there as well.

Going into the vote, Soto was careful not to take sides. He and Alaska Republican Don Young led a delegation of election observers.

“The decision on Puerto Rico’s ultimate political status has to come from the people, and it’s not my place to try to tell them how to vote,” Soto said before polls opened.

Sen. Marco Rubio urged a good turnout to “communicate the will of the people to local and national leaders.” Kendall Republican Carlos Curbelo urged “all citizens to participate in this plebiscite” while Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen also urged “the good people of Puerto Rico to make their voices heard.”

Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy openly advocated for a statehood vote, saying “I believe Puerto Rico should discard its territory status and become a state or sovereign nation.” Her remarks are in line with House Democratic Whip, and the House’s second-ranking Democrat, Steny Hoyer who said “I hope they will vote for statehood and remain part of our country as a full and equal member of our union.”

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello celebrates the results of a referendum on the status of the island at the New Progressive Party headquarters in San Juan on Sunday. The governor announced the territory overwhelmingly chose statehood in a non-binding referendum held amid a deep economic crisis. (Photo via the Associated Press)

When the votes were counted, there was good news for statehood supporters mixed with disappointing results. The good news was 97 percent of those voting went for statehood. A major disappointment was only 23 percent of the electorate bothered to turn out.

With the results in, Soto was unhindered to become an advocate for Puerto Rican statehood.

“The people of Puerto Rico have spoken,” Soto said in a statement. “By an overwhelming margin, they have voted for statehood. I said I would respect – and fight for – their wishes and that’s exactly what I intend to do. This is now a matter of civil rights and equality.”

On Thursday, Gov. Ricardo Rossello will be in Washington to deliver the results to Congress. He will take part in an event at the National Press Club to discuss the plebiscite. Joining him will be Young and Soto.

Soto is well aware that the Republican-controlled House and Senate may be reluctant to approve statehood, but he will strongly urge his colleagues to respect the wishes of Puerto Rican voters as well as those of many of his constituents.

War of Words erupts over Dodd-Frank rollbacks

Battle lines are developing on yet another issue on Capitol Hill. This one involves the Republican version of financial regulation, known as the Financial CHOICE Act of 2017, which passed the House late last week, 233-186 along party lines. It now moves to the Senate.

The legislation takes aim at one of the signature bills enacted during the Obama Administration. Congress passed, and then-President Barack Obama signed, the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, which brought sweeping reform and more regulation of the financial and banking industry following the financial crisis of 2008.

Republicans such as Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart spoke for Florida Republicans who feel Dodd-Frank has done more harm than good. That is why they are promoting the Republican plan.

“By making it easier for entrepreneurs to gain access to capital and removing bureaucratic red tape that hinders innovation, the Financial CHOICE Act encourages and incentivizes job growth,” said Diaz-Balart in a message to constituents.

“Without the hindrance of the Obama administration, the Financial CHOICE Act will immediately improve the economy, which has long since been plagued by restricted access to capital and regulatory burdens that make it impossible for small businesses to compete,” Orlando Republican Daniel Webster wrote to his constituents.

Florida Democrats, of course, have a far different take, using Main Street as a launch point. One believes the bill should be renamed.

“Today, we could be working on nonpartisan improvements to Dodd-Frank, making it work for better for Main Street,” St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist said on the House floor prior to voting against the bill. “But instead, we have the Wrong CHOICE Act.”

“Now is not the time to adopt Donald Trump’s dodgy Wall Street de-regulation schemes,” said Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. “Main Street simply cannot afford them.”

Soon, it will be the Senate’s turn.

Delegation goings-on

Save the date:

Spotted: Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Miami Democrat, attended the premiere part for season four of the Starz show “Power,” according to POLITICO. The network hosted the premiere part at the Newseum, and Democratic Reps. Hakeem Jeffries, Yvette Clarke, Lacy Clay, Brenda Lawrence, Lisa Rochester Blunt, Tony Cadenas, Andre Carson and Donald Payne Jr. also attended.

Pace named AP Washington bureau chief

The Associated Press has tapped Julie Pace to serve as its new Washington, D.C. bureau chief, the wire service announced this week.

Pace, who formerly served as the AP’s White House correspondent, is the “right person to lead this team as the Trump administration rocks the nation and the world,” said Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Sally Buzbee.

“Throughout the 2016 campaign and into the early days of the Trump administration, the depth of Julie’s reporting and the clarity of her analysis has enriched our report,” Buzbee said in memo this week.

As bureau chief, Pace will continue to write and report, and guide the overall news bureau with a focus on the presidency – leading a team of four deputy bureau chiefs. Two deputies will focus on newsgathering: one on the White House, Congress and politics, and the second overseeing other beats such as national security and education. A third deputy will handle visual and digital presentation efforts.

The fourth deputy will focus on video newsgathering, working with Head of U.S. Video and Radio News Denise Vance and her team at the BNC during the transition later this year and into 2018, to a cross-format operation in D.C.

Former Trump advisor offers insight into capital priorities

A former member of President Trump’s transition team is set to delve into a wide range of priorities facing lawmakers in Washington, D.C. and Tallahassee.

Scott Mason, a senior policy advisor with Holland & Knight and a former member of Trump’s transition team, is scheduled to speak at a cocktail reception hosted by Holland & Knight at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

The reception, according to the invitation, is meant to give attendees insight into “early days of the Trump campaign, the transition process and President Trump’s agenda.” Mason is also expected to provide perspective on how Trump’s priorities will fare in D.C., as well as the politics surrounding the administration in general.

Those interested in attended the reception should register by Tuesday.

Take a bow

Members of Congress, media personalities, and consultants took to the stage this week to participate in “Will on the Hill,” an annual tradition where notable Washingtonians take the stage and act out Shakespeare’s greatest hits with a twist, reports Will Costello with the Hill.

The annual event is hosted by the Shakespeare Theatre Company. Now in its 15th year, the bipartisan event supports the company’s education, artistic and community engagement programs, including in-school workshops and online learning resources.

The Hill reported the cast — which included Ian Kahn, who plays George Washington on AMC’s spy series “Turn,” Maulik Pancholy, who played Alec Baldwin’s assistant on NBC’s “30 Rock,” and Florida Democratic Reps. Ted Deutch and Darren Soto — poked fun at themselves in a production of “Met by Moonlight,” a riff on Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Rep. Ted Deutch (left) dressed up for the annual “Will on the Hill” performance. (Photo via Rep. Ted Deutch’s Twitter.)

In the “Will on the Hill” performance, Oberon, played by Kahn” and Puck, played by Pancholy, encounter two park rangers, and then the four “try to stem the flow of people fleeing the heat of D.C. in the summer.” The show ended, The Hill reported, when the two park rangers “realized that Oberon and Puck were the real tourists and sent them away.”

The event, according to The Hill, raised $510,000 for the Shakespeare Theatre.

United in purpose, Miami’s Overtown says ‘move on’ with I-395 project

Earlier this month, reported on the outpouring of community support for the “signature bridge” design chosen for the new I-395 overpass through Miami’s Overtown neighborhood.

Despite protests by some with a political agenda, the drumbeat of support for Archer Western-de Moya’s winning design continues to grow in intensity.

After more than a quarter-century of discussion and debate, this final design — one selected by Florida’s Department of Transportation that melds both form and function — comes as a welcome relief for several organizations and residents of the Overtown area.

One such influential voice is that of Irby McKnight, described by the Miami Herald in 2015 as “Overtown’s unofficial mayor and activist.”

In a letter to the editor of The Miami Times, McKnight says he is “ecstatic” about the winning design for the new bridge coming through Overtown.

“Archer Western-DeMoya,” he writes, “have come up with a design that will bring a new look to Overtown – a design that finally frees Overtown from the terrible injustice that was caused when the existing roadway was constructed in the late 1960s.”

For McKnight, I-395 left the Overtown community inaccessible to downtown Miami by way of its dated “low-rise 15-foot bridge.”

Archer Western, McKnight says, offers a “brilliant design” that removes the existing beams and raises the bridge to 60 feet, opening the space and making it better lit for more safety At night.

In addition to a more open space, McKnight praises the new design for celebrating Overtown’s diverse history, a place where the residents can gather at a marker for an “active” Heritage Trail, which honors Miami’s Tequesta indigenous people as well its African-American, Latino and Caribbean communities.

McKnight also commends Archer Western for taking time “to get input from our community before coming up with their design.”

But McKnight is not the only voice calling to move forward with the long-delayed project.

There is a growing list of other local leaders who support the I-395 bridge, a project that not only ranked highest, but also has solid backing in the community, supported by The Urban Construction Craft Academy; The Black Archives; the Southeast Overtown CRA; the Mourning Family Foundation advocacy group and the Omni CRA.

When a neighborhood comes together like this, united in purpose, one thing is clear — it’s time for losing bidders to listen to the community and move on.

Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – 6.15.17

Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.

While seemingly half of the Legislature and lobbying corps was rocking to a U2 concert in Tampa, Gov. Rick Scott lowered the boom on Senate President Joe Negron’s priority higher ed. legislation.

The question is now, what will the Governor do with Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s education reform legislative package. We’ve predicted the Governor will sign it today and in Orlando, but it remains to be seen if we are right.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump is coming to Miami tomorrow and the race to be Speaker of the Florida House in 2022 is speeding towards a conclusion.


Push to bolster college aid vetoed” via Gary Fineout of the Associated Press – Scott vetoed a far-reaching bill that would have boosted financial aid for high school students heading to college while attempting to lift Sunshine State schools into the ranks of elite counterparts. The legislation required the state to cover 100 percent of tuition costs for top performing high school students who attend a state university or college. Florida used to pay 100 percent of tuition for those eligible for the top level of the state’s Bright Futures scholarship, but that was scaled back when the economy soured.

— Scott in his veto letter pointed out that students heading to school this fall will still be eligible for a higher Bright Futures award since that was included in the state budget he signed. But the change is only a one year fix and isn’t permanent because of Scott’s veto.

— Negron disagreed with Scott’s position and contended the bill would have required colleges to focus on their core missions. He also said that the governor’s veto would make it harder for families to save for college.

Governor approves pay raise bill for state workers” via the Associated Press – State employees will get a pay raise this October under a bill signed into law by Gov. Scott. Rank-and-file employees who currently earn $40,000 a year or less will get a $1,400 pay raise, and those earning more than $40,000 will receive a $1,000 raise. The legislation also authorizes 5 percent pay raises to state law-enforcement officers that will kick in on July 1. Judges, state attorneys and public defenders will get a 10 percent raise in October.

Tweet, tweet:

Scott signs tough new mandatory minimums for fentanyl into law” via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times – The measure (HB 477), which passed in the final days of the legislative session, is meant to target drug traffickers and curb the opioid epidemic that is sweeping through parts of the state. … Beginning this October, judges will be bound to sentence people posessing 4 grams of fentanyl to three years in prison, 14 grams to 15 years in prison and 28 grams to 25 years in prison. These minimum sentences are meant to criminalize traffickers of fentanyl, which in recent years has grown to be one of the most prominent opioid killers in Florida.

— “This legislation was my top priority this session — because it gives law enforcement and prosecutors the tools we need to combat the trafficking of fentanyl and save lives,” Attorney General Pam Bondi said in a statement.

“Scott: No hard feelings between him and Richard Corcoran” via Florida Politics – Gov. Scott, speaking to reporters after a bill signing, explained away the open tension between him and House Speaker Corcoran after the House this year tried to gut VISIT FLORIDA and do away with economic development organization Enterprise Florida, his two favored state agencies. By the end of the recent Special Session, however, lawmakers agreed to the creation of an $85 million Florida Job Growth Grant Fund to be controlled by Scott, full funding for tourism marketing, and $50 million to help kick-start repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike at Lake Okeechobee. That deal is said to be in return for Scott’s approval of a controversial education funding policy bill (HB 7069) … “What’s great is that people have passion for what they believe in,” he said. “I know the Speaker has passion for what he believes in; I have passion for what I believe in. Both of us went out there and tried to explain to others (our positions) … but we came together for what is a win for our state.”

— “The lobbyist who got Rick Scott and Richard Corcoran talking” (a great read about Bill Rubin) via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times

“Gary Farmer to Scott: Veto ‘dreadful’ HB 7069” via Florida Politics – A new state senator who is also a prominent trial attorney is telling Gov. Scott to veto a contentious education policy bill, saying it’s a brew of “bad policy” and “a textbook example of a failure in government transparency.” Sen. Gary Farmer, a Parkland Democrat, wrote a 2-page letter to Scott on HB 7069, which critics have said will benefit charter schools to the detriment of traditional public schools. “This dreadful piece of legislation, if signed into law, would dramatically reduce the ability of school districts across the state to devote resources toward improving our public education,” Farmer wrote.

“Scott signs pollution notification bill into law” via Florida Politics — The so-called spill bill (SB 1018) requires companies to submit a notice of a reportable pollution release to the Department of Environmental Protection within 24 hours of the release. That notice must contain a detailed description of the installation, substance and circumstance of the spill. “I am proud to sign this legislation today to strengthen Florida’s pollution notification laws. The sewage spill in Pinellas County and pollution incident at Mosaic last year demonstrated the importance of a 24-hour public notification requirement following pollution incidents,” said Scott in a statement. “Floridians deserve to know about these types of events and every Florida resident should enjoy clean water and a healthy environment. I appreciate the Florida Legislature and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for their work on this legislation.” The state agency is then required to publish the notification to the Internet within 24 hours of receiving it. It must also create a system that allows parties to subscribe and receive emails of notices received by the DEP.

Bill watch – Gov. Scott was presented with the final 63 bills that were passed during the 2017 regular legislative session. All are House measures. He has until June 29, to sign them, veto them or let them become law without his action. They include HB 689, a wide-ranging alcohol bill that would ease regulations on “caterers licensed to sell beer, wine and distilled spirits,” cuts the “annual license fee for a craft distillery from $4,000 to $1,000,” defines the Japanese fermented-rice beverage known as sake as “wine” under state law, and expressly allows minors to work in stores selling beer, wine or liquor so long as someone over 18 is supervising them. As of Wednesday afternoon, 114 bills were on the governor’s desk.

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Florida newborn screening bill signed into Law: What does it mean for babies?” via Jocelyn Beever of WFSU – Florida pediatricians will be able to test babies for more diseases under a new law signed by Governor Scott. Senator Lauren Book sponsored the legislation, and says this law will improve family health. “Newborns and newborn families will have an opportunity to be healthy and safe, which is wonderful,” she says. Following birth, Florida pediatricians will take a blood sample with a simple heel prick and test for several diseases.

Fresh off special session, state reps now competing for social media ‘likes’” via Allison Nielsen of Sunshine State News – House Speaker Corcoran, debuted a new “friendly competition” between state lawmakers to see which one was the most popular on social media. “The FL HOUSE believes in competition,” Corcoran wrote. State representatives were ranked based on the number of likes on their Facebook pages and the number of Twitter followers each one had. Some legislators, like state Rep. Kimberly Daniels, boast over 35,000 likes on their Facebook pages. Other state lawmakers, like Rep. Jim Boyd, who has nearly 20,000 Facebook likes, simply ask constituents to like posts related to President Donald Trump, welcoming discussion on important issues through Facebook.


Andrew Gillum‘s nascent campaign grossly overstated the number of donors who have contributed to the Tallahassee mayor’s bid to be Florida governor, a review of campaign finance documents by Florida Politics found.

On Friday, Gillum’s campaign bragged that it was “excited to have more than 7,000 contributors,” according to a report in the Orlando Sentinel.

However, after Florida Politics reviewed the most recent campaign finance reports and asked the Gillum campaign why its numbers showed a significantly different number than what it was touting, Geoff Burgan, a spokesman for Gillum, admitted that the campaign had “slightly misstated the total in our press release.”

Slightly, of course, is in the eye of the beholder.

Both Florida Politics’ review and Gillum’s campaign agree that the campaign and his “Forward Florida” committee has received a combined 6,933 total contributions, according to the most campaign finance reports.

However, when duplicates are removed from the list of contributions, Gillum received donations from approximately 5,300 people. Florida Politics’ count has Gillum with 5,586 donors.

The claim of 7,000 donors was also rated “mostly false” by PolitiFact Florida, a fact-checking website. PolitiFact noted it found “5,383 unique names on individual contributions and 70 on Florida Forward PAC for a combined total of 5,453 donors.” The total number includes a few donors who gave “in-kind contributions as well for food and beverage.”

— “Democratic candidate for governor Andrew Gillum overcounts campaign donors” via Amy Sherman of PolitiFact Florida


Alcee Hastings backs Gillum — The South Florida Democrat announced Wednesday he was backing Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in the Democratic primary to replace Gov. Rick Scott in 2018. “Mayor Gillum is an innovative pragmatic progressive leader that Florida desperately needs to confront our biggest challenges: attacking climate change, rebuilding our economy, protecting access to healthcare, and revitalizing public education,” said Hastings in a statement. “He has shown the courage to stand up for what he believes in, and he has never hesitated to give a voice to those who need one most. Floridians can trust Andrew Gillum to rebuild our state into one that works for everyone.” Hastings said his support for Gillum should not be “construed as being against others.” His endorsement marks Gillum’s first congressional endorsement. 

Assignment editors: Gillum and Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam will hold a press conference about the state of gubernatorial race at 3 p.m. at 3Z Telecom, 31500 SW 145th Street in Miramar.

Assignment editors: Chris King’s gubernatorial campaign will co-sponsor a phone bank for Jon Ossoff, a Democrat running in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at SEIU 32BJ 14 NE 1st Ave. Suite 905 in Miami. The phone bank will be held in conjunction with the Miami Downtown Dems.

Happening tonight – “John Morgan to raise funds for Richard Corcoran as both consider run for governor” via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times – At the Orlando home of one of his firm’s lawyers, Morgan will be on hand to raise money for Watchdog PAC, a new committee that Corcoran founded last month. The men are friends, as they’ve reminded people in the past. Still, the fundraiser is unusual on two counts. For one thing, Morgan has threatened to sue the state — including Corcoran — over a ban on smoking marijuana, which lawmakers wrote into their legislation. There’s a second wrinkle: Both Morgan and Corcoran are considering running for governor in 2018. Corcoran is a steadfast Republican, and Morgan hasn’t yet said whether he would run as a Democrat or without a party affiliation.


Florida Blue will sell Obamacare plans statewide in 2018” via Daniel Chang of the Miami Herald – The future of the Affordable Care Act may be uncertain, but Florida’s largest health insurer, Florida Blue, announced this week that the company intends to stay in the individual market and sell coverage in all 67 counties next year. Florida Blue executives said they expect the Trump Administration will continue to fund cost sharing reduction subsidies that help low-income consumers pay for out-of-pocket expenses, such as copayments and deductibles. But the insurer will raise premiums about 20 percent on average if those subsidies are discontinued, said Penny Shaffer, market president for South Florida.

“Progressive groups sue over Scott’s judicial appointment power” via Florida Politics – The League of Women Voters of Florida (LWVF) and Common Cause sued Scott, saying he doesn’t have power to name three new Supreme Court justices on his last day in office — only the governor elected after Scott does. Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy A. Quince and R. Fred Lewis are all set to retire the same day his term ends. “A prompt, final decision on this pure question of constitutional law … would pre-empt cynical complaints by anyone dissatisfied with the decision that the case was contaminated by political considerations,” the writ says. To sum up: “The Florida Constitution prohibits a governor from making a prospective appointment of an appellate judge to an existing seat before that seat becomes vacant.”

Audit finds understaffing and lax control of medication at state mental hospitals” via Christopher O’Donnell of the Tampa Bay Times – Florida’s state-run mental hospitals are understaffed, some are unlicensed and they are failing to keep track of pharmaceuticals and seized contraband, according to a new state audit. At one North Florida hospital, more than 2,800 antipsychotic drugs and 350 HIV antiviral drugs were misplaced, the report states. Hospital directors were not always told about suicide attempts or, in one case, that a patient had escaped, auditors found.

Conservative group forms to oppose Florida’s death penalty” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – … yet tried hard to distance themselves from controversial and progressive anti-death penalty State Attorney Aramis Ayala. The group Florida Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty is an offshoot of a national group Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty which is seeking to get death penalty laws repealed state-by-state. “We believe the death penalty is inconsistent with our core conservative values,” said Marc Hyden, national advocacy coordinator with the group. They argued that Florida’s death penalty law is on the verge of being overwhelmed as the Florida Supreme Court is remanding as many as 200 cases back for new sentencing phases, after the laws were struck down twice in the past two years.

Medical marijuana advisory board may be formed in Broward” via Larry Barszewski of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel  – As Florida increases access to medical marijuana, Broward County commissioners plan to create their own advisory board on the subject. The board approved Commissioner Mark Bogen‘s request to start the process of creating an 11-member committee that would follow the impact of medical marijuana in the county and make policy recommendations to commissioners.

Pulse gunman’s wife asks for count to be dropped” via Mike Schneider of The Associated Press – Noor Salman is arguing that an obstruction charge against her was filed in the wrong venue. The motion requesting the charge to be dropped was filed as people in Florida and beyond honored the 49 victims at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, exactly one year after the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Salman’s husband, Omar Mateen, declared his allegiance to the Islamic State group during a three-hour standoff with police before SWAT team members killed him in a shootout. Salman was charged with aiding her husband, and obstruction for allegedly misleading investigators. The obstruction charge was filed in a federal district that covers Orlando, but she’s accused of misleading investigators during an interview in Fort Pierce, which is in the Southern District of Florida.

What Richard Corcoran is reading –Ruling against Indian River School District could mean $2 million windfall for charters” via Andrew Atterbury of TCPalm – The School District must pay a group of five charter schools for withholding their fair share of a local tax for education, a Circuit Court judge ruled … The amount each school would receive is yet to be determined, but the ruling could cost the district more than $2 million. Judge Paul Kanarek‘s ruling is a major milestone in a two-year battle between the district and charter schools — Indian River Charter High School, Imagine Schools at South Vero, North County Charter School, Sebastian Charter Junior High and St. Peter’s Academy.

Tampa Electric may join state power pool” via John Chambliss of the Lakeland Ledger – Tampa Electric, which has about 75,000 customers in south and eastern Polk County, may join the state’s power pool. Mark McCain, a spokesman with the Florida Municipal Power Agency, said the utility that serves about 670,000 customers in Central Florida may join a pilot project in the coming months. Tampa Electric would be the 16th utility to join the Florida Municipal Power Pool. Cherie Jacobs, a spokeswoman with Tampa Electric, confirmed the utility is exploring the option. She said it could help save customers money. Tampa Electric would add an additional 4,800 megawatts from 17 generators.


Spotted: Senate President Joe Negron, Sen. Bill Galvano, Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, Sen. Anitere Flores, Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, Sen. Rob Bradley at the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee golf getaway at Torrey Pines. Also in attendance were Chris Clark, Chris Flack, John Holley, Nick Iarossi, Ron LaFace, Frank and Tracy Mayernick, and Kyle Ulrich.

New and renewed lobby registrations: Eli Nortelus, Nortelus Roberts Group: Florida Air Conditioning Contractors Association, Inc. d/b/a  FACCPA

Happy birthday to my old friend, Travis Moore.

Is $44 million worth it to ANZ bank to draw the scrutiny of American regulators?

It’s Thursday afternoon in New South Wales, Australia, where just hours ago, the High Court there (Australia’s equivalent of a federal appeals court) just ruled against Jacksonville-based APR Energy, and in favor of the Australia-New Zealand Bank (ANZ), further solidifying a case of what one Australian parliamentarian referred to as “legalised theft.”

In a long-standing international dispute that has been following for some time, a Florida business, APR Energy appears to be on the precipice of a $44 million taking by a foreign bank, with the full complicity of the Australian system to do so.

In early 2014 APR leased tens of millions of dollars worth of U.S.-manufactured GE turbines and other equipment to Forge Group Power Pty Ltd, a private utility in Western Australia. Within roughly a month of receiving the equipment, Forge went bankrupt.

As with most leases, APR’s agreement with Forge maintained APR’s exclusive ownership of equipment and power generation facilities. The contract further stipulated that in the case of a breach, or bankruptcy filing by Forge, all leased facilities would be returned immediately to APR in Houston, Texas. ANZ Bank ignored APR’s ownership right, as well as Forge’s contractual obligations (more on that later), and seized APR’s property as their own under the then-recently enacted Personal Property and Securities Act (PPSA).

(In what must be a bitter irony for APR, Australian Parliament recent passed a law to reform the very provision of PPSA under which ANZ seized APR’s power facilities.)

In order to get their power generation facility back, APR was forced to post a $44 million letter of credit in favor of ANZ Bank to get its own property back. Five business days after today’s High Court ruling, ANZ can draw down on that letter of credit, in its entirety.

But new evidence obtained by clearly points to potential fraud on the part of ANZ Bank, prior to the execution of the original lease in question.

In August 2013 — nearly 6 months prior to Forge’s bankruptcy and ANZ’s subsequent seizure of APR’s equipment — ANZ issued a letter of credit to Forge on the basis of its collateral at the time, and in full knowledge of the lease it had signed with GE International (acquired shortly thereafter by APR); a lease which explicitly said Forge had no property or security rights over the leased equipment.

This smoking gun potentially proves the fraudulent nature of the entire process by which ANZ has held a Florida company financially hostage for more than three years.

And APR is no shrinking violet, fighting for what is rightfully theirs in both the Australian court system and the U.S. political process.

Numerous Senators and members of Congress from Florida and elsewhere — including both Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson — have weighed in on behalf of APR over the years. But they’ve done so simultaneous to APR’s case winding its way through the Australian civil justice system, and they’ve been respectful of that process.

Now that the Australian courts have spoken, expect that U.S. politicians, too, will speak up clearly, and strongly, on behalf of this U.S. company being robbed in plain daylight by a foreign bank, under a set of newly revealed circumstances that are highly suggestive, if not dispositive of, fraud.

Florida Congressman Dennis Ross recently sent a letter to ANZ’s U.S. executive, Truett Tate, asking for an “explanation of this taking of APR’s … property”, and asking if Tate was willing to meet with the House Committee on Financial Services to answer additional questions on the matter.

That letter, dated April 3 of this year, has yet to receive a response from Tate or ANZ.

Separately, another member of that same committee, Rep. Josh Gottheimer, sent a letter on April 7 to Thomas Curry, the U.S. Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) — the agency responsible for overseeing foreign banks in the United States — requesting his office’s attention to ANZ’s activities. Gottheimer’s letter calls ANZ’s taking a “fraudulent conveyance and transfer of title under U.S. law”, while also reminding Curry of ANZ’s previous sanctions by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and the U.S. Department of Treasury, in relation to ANZ’s business in hostile foreign dictatorships Myanmar, Sudan and Cuba.

Sources from within the House Committee on Financial Services tell us that proposed legislation is already in drafting, and soon to be filed, that would prohibit a financial institution, domestic or foreign, from receiving the proceeds of a fraudulent transfer, such as would occur if and when ANZ drew down on the $44 million credit line with APR. The legislation — modeled after similar laws on the books in 44 states — would also create a private cause of action against the beneficiary of a fraudulent transfer, including the potential for punitive damages. It would also expose the financial institute to disciplinary action by American regulators.

That an Australian court would ultimately rule in favor of an Australian bank in this dispute, was never much in question. Now the question is going to shift rapidly to ANZ Bank, as they consider whether $44 million is worth the ire and scrutiny of U.S. lawmakers, and their potential to make continuing to do business in the United States very, very difficult.

Andrew Gillum campaign grossly exaggerated number of donors

Andrew Gillum‘s nascent campaign has grossly overstated the number of donors who have contributed to the Tallahassee mayor’s bid to be Florida governor, a review of campaign finance documents shows.

On Friday, Gillum’s campaign bragged that it was “excited to have more than 7,000 contributors,” according to a report in the Orlando Sentinel.

However, after reviewed the most recent campaign finance reports and asked the Gillum campaign why its numbers showed a significantly different number than what it was touting, Geoff Burgan, a spokesman for Gillum, admitted that the campaign had “slightly misstated the total in our press release.”

Slightly, of course, is in the eye of the beholder.

Both’s review and Gillum’s campaign agree that the campaign and his “Forward Florida” committee has received a combined 6,933 total contributions, according to the most campaign finance reports.

However, when duplicates are removed from the list of contributions, Gillum received donations from approximately 5,300 people. (’s count has Gillum with 5,586 donors. See below for a spreadsheet listing all of Gillum’s donors through May 31.)

Either way, it’s difference of about 30%.

This is a major discrepancy for a campaign that has been dogged by criticisms of being the gang that can’t shoot straight.

In the months before Gillum launched his campaign for governor, the Tallahassee mayor had been sending several campaign-related and political emails through his City Hall account – revealing an ethical lapse that was dangerously close to violating Florida law.

According to the Tallahassee Democrat, many of those emails involved city staff and interns setting up meetings and other correspondence, both political and campaign in nature – several campaign-related and coming from private accounts during working hours.

Florida ethics rules prohibit public officials from using their position, staff or resources for personal gain. They also forbid public employees from campaigning for candidates while on taxpayer’s dime.

The Democrat amassed more than 13,000 emails coming from the Mayor’s Office between January 2016 to March 2017, outlining what reporter Jeff Schweers described as “a busy and confusing intersection between the personal, the political and the professional.”

Such emails muddy the ethical waters between city and political business, and public employees versus campaign staff, in addition to Gillum’s work as the YEO Network director for the People for the American Way.

The Democrat report featured one email to Angie Whitaker, Gillum’s City Hall assistant, illustrates the gray area: “It can get confusing, but as I have indicated to my PFAWF staff, that I am joining this call as a YEO members and in my role as an elected official – which is the capacity under which my statements were made.”

That email, sent in September, came from his PFAW account and was cc’d to two of Gillum’s top staffers, Chief of Staff Dustin Daniels and Jamie Van Pelt.

However, the ethical lapse seems to go beyond emails, and includes software bought by the Mayor’s Office — using the City of Tallahassee’s money — from a Democratic Party vendor. The emails became public after it was discovered that Gillum purchased software from NGP VAN, a company that produces software and new political media for Democrats and Democratic campaigns.

Since entering the governor’s race, the email issue has dogged Gillum’s campaign, forcing him to return $5,000 to the city, with an apology for unintentional “human error.”

Leon County Republicans have called for Gillum’s resignation over the use of city resources and staff for his political ambition, and the Leon County Sheriff’s office has been investigating whether the political emails and software paid for with taxpayer dollars violate Florida law.

“We’re still getting subpoenaed documents back from the email company and we’ve got to go through all those,” LCSO spokesman Grady Jordan told the Democrat.

The Mayor’s Office promises to cooperate fully in the investigation.

“Our office focuses solely on helping the mayor do the job that he was elected to do, including serving as an ambassador for the city of Tallahassee across the country. Attempts or ideas that detract from that reality are simply misplaced and misunderstood,” said Daniels, Gillum’s Chief of Staff, in an April statement. “We continue to do all we can to faithfully maximize our efforts at the city, and ultimately work toward our goal of moving our community forward.”

Nevertheless, emails show a series exchanges between staff – through private email accounts – and such political entities as the Leon Democratic Executive Committee, the Florida Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee. Many of them were for scheduling the mayor’s appearances and making travel arrangements to political events.

Gillum faces former Congresswoman Gwen Graham of Tallahassee and Winter Park affordable housing developer Chris King for the Democratic nomination.

Andrew Gillum’s Contributors Through May 31 by Peter Schorsch on Scribd

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