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The Delegation for 10.5.17 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Las Vegas tragedy reawakens calls for gun control

The horrific mass murder that took place in Las Vegas late Sunday night will not soon be forgotten. Like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, this one will long remain in the minds of most Americans, mostly for its random cruelty.

The Florida delegation reacted like most Americans, expressing shock, horror and gratitude. Like most Americans, Democrats and Republicans are divided on the cause of the rampage and what to do going forward.

Panama City Republican Neal Dunn exemplified the GOP response by expressing feelings of being “heartbroken” while thanking the police and first responders “who took immediate action.” Republican Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach and Daniel Webster of Orlando, among others, also praised first responders “and the brave men and women who risked their own lives,” whom Webster described as “good Samaritans.’

In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, praise for first responders, renewed calls for gun control.

Not one from the GOP mentioned guns, but Democrats from across the country made access to guns an important part of their responses together with condolences and thanks to first responders.

Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach tweeted a photo of her colleagues gathering on the steps of the Capitol saying “Prayers & moments of silence are not enough — we need action NOW.” Ted Deutch of Boca Raton said when loved ones “die of cancer, we vow to eradicate cancer. Today, we must vow to eradicate gun violence. And mean it.”

Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy said to Las Vegas “From one community touched by senseless gun violence to another — we’re here for you.” She pointed to her bill in the House of Representatives that would facilitate research into gun violence.

In calling for a ban on assault weapons, Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens said: “I cannot think of a single justification for allowing civilian individuals to own semi-automatic assault weapons.”

Alcee Hastings of Miramar said, “Republican Members of Congress have a bad habit of ignoring the devastation brought by gun violence, siding instead with the extreme voices of their party.”

The public pronouncements show that even on an issue such as the senseless murders of 58 of their fellow Americans, opportunities for division are not wasted. Calls to just “do something” are not likely to bear fruit, while Wilson’s request to ban assault weapons will have some bipartisan support, at least while the tragedy is at the forefront of conversation.

On Wednesday, Sen. Bill Nelson introduced a bill banning “bump stocks,” the device used by the Las Vegas killer which, in effect, turned a semi-automatic rifle into a machine gun. Frankel indicated she would announce a similar bill in the House Friday, while news reports indicated Republican Carlos Curbelo of Kendall was also working on a bipartisan bill to do the same.

Until then, all we have is shock, horror and gratitude.

Rubio, Nelson push legislation to provide more emergency responders

The second term Republican, along with several of his colleagues who have seen firsthand the enormous damage left behind by hurricanes and natural disasters, is looking to get quickly obtain further assistance from the federal government. He has proposed bipartisan legislation to allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to fill vacant emergency response positions temporarily.

“With two months left of hurricane season and ongoing threats from regimes overseas, we cannot afford to be ill-prepared to quickly and efficiently respond to another emergency,” said Rubio. “Due to natural attrition and devastating hurricanes this year, our emergency response personnel are exhausted and stretched thin, and there are worries that we would have difficulty deploying the medical response teams necessary to adequately aid Americans should the need occur in the near future.”

The bill would give HHS direct hiring authority, for a limited amount of time, to fill the vacant positions. Rubio points out Congress gave HHS similar power last year to respond to the Zika virus.

Ironically, with last week’s resignation of Tom Price, the position of Secretary of HHS is also vacant.

The bill is co-sponsored by Democrat and fellow Floridian Bill Nelson, Texas Republican John Cornyn, and Louisiana Republican Bill Cassidy.

Rubio not looking to be next Foreign Relations chair

Florida’s junior senator is not looking to leapfrog over a GOP colleague to become the new Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. With the announced retirement of Tennessee Republican Bob Corker, the current chairman, the committee will see a new leader in January 2019.

Rubio is the third-ranking Republican on the committee by service. Immediately behind Corker is Idaho’s Jim Risch.

Rubio’s name was mentioned as a possible successor to the chairman after Corker announced his plans not to seek re-election. No one would be surprised if Rubio expressed an interest in the post, but said he would not be part of an effort to shuffle Risch aside.

Marco Rubio has no interest in leapfrogging to be the next Foreign Relations chair.

“If Jim Risch wants to be chairman, I’ll support him,” Rubio told reporters last week.

For his part, Risch is noncommittal.

“Right now, I’m a committee chairman of another committee. I’ve got 15 months left to serve there,” Risch told Capitol Hill reporters. “I’m totally focused on that. When we’re done with this, you all will know exactly where this is going.”

There is a recent precedent for leapfrogging. When Utah Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz recently left Congress and his role as Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the most senior member was not chosen.

South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy was handed the gavel over Ohio Republican and Freedom Caucus stalwart Jim Jordan.

Nelson asks Senate committee to look into nursing home deaths

The three-term Democrat wants the Senate Finance Committee to investigate the deaths of 12 residents of a Hollywood nursing home. The tragedy occurred when the facility lost air conditioning during Hurricane Irma.

While the state is also looking into the tragedy, Nelson is asking the Senate panel to look into the facility’s certification and if the state properly monitored its emergency plan.

Bill Nelson is calling the Senate to investigate deaths of 12 Florida seniors due to Hurricane Irma.

“Because the certification for a skilled nursing facility is subject to CMS (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) approval, and the Senate Committee on Finance has jurisdiction over the Medicare and Medicaid programs, I urge the committee to use its authority to conduct a complete investigation into the State of Florida’s certification of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills to determine what led to the death of 12 seniors there in the wake of Hurricane Irma,” Nelson said in a letter to committee chairman Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican and ranking member Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat.

“The findings of such an investigation by your committee will help us understand what went so terribly wrong in Hollywood and what needs to be done to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again,” he wrote.

Nelson is a member of the committee.

Instagram of the week


Delegation splits on House late-term abortion ban bill

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, mainly along party lines. H.R. 36 would ban abortions after 20 weeks, stating “an unborn child is capable of experiencing pain at least 20 weeks after fertilization, if not earlier.”

“By passing the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and banning late-term abortion, we stand to protect the innocent and defenseless,” said Republican Neal Dunn of Panama City. “As a doctor, I believe in science, and a substantial body of research has found that unborn babies can feel pain at 20 weeks and that late-term abortions pose significant health risks to the life of the mother.”

The bill contains exceptions to protect the life and physical health of the mother as well as an exception for victims of rape.

Arizona Republican Trent Franks sponsored H.R. 36, co-sponsored by 182 colleagues, including 9 Florida Republicans. Delegation co-sponsors included Dunn, Matt Gaetz from Ft. Walton Beach, John Rutherford from Jacksonville, Ted Yoho from Gainesville, Daniel Webster of Orlando, Gus Bilirakis from New Port Richey, Dennis Ross of Lakeland, Tom Rooney of Okeechobee and Francis Rooney of Naples.

“Today, I was proud to cast a vote for life,” said Rutherford. “The United States is one of only seven countries worldwide who allow elective abortions after 20 weeks; we should lead when it comes to life.”

Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman-Schultz tweeted that the bill is “the latest attack on a woman’s right to chooseIt’s dangerous, unconstitutional and cruel.”

The final vote was 237-179 with three Democrats voting in favor and two Republicans voting against. All delegation Republicans voted in favor, and all Democrats voted “no.”

 The bill now moves to the Senate, where it faces an uphill climb.

Mast, Curbelo to receive another round of GOP-friendly ads

The American Action Network, who has run numerous advertisements supporting the positions of endangered GOP incumbents, is back with another round. This time, the six-figure buy continues their full-throated support for tax reform, including the recently introduced Republican bill.

The ads will run on a number of digital platforms including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. The districts of Floridians Brian Mast and Carlos Curbelo will be among the 42 targets.

“For too long, middle-class families have been living paycheck to paycheck and have struggled to make ends meet,” said AAN Executive Director Corry Bliss. “It’s time for working families to see tax cuts that will give them peace of mind and help them save for the future.”

Mast and Curbelo have been frequent beneficiaries of AAN’s activities. Both are considered to be in highly-competitive districts for the 2018 election.

In addition to GOP moderates like Mast and Curbelo, other targeted districts include those of Speaker Paul Ryan and conservative Freedom Caucus members Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Dave Brat of Virginia, Jim Jordan of Ohio, and Mark Sanford of South Carolina.

Lawson proposes ‘Feed America’ initiative

The first-term Democrat from Tallahassee has launched a campaign designed to combat hunger. By launching the Let’s Feed America Campaign, Lawson seeks to “address and alleviate hunger in North Florida, and America, through several proposals and initiatives.”

Lawson launched the initiative on the 40th anniversary of the 1977 Food Stamp Act. Food stamps are now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

“Hunger and food insecurity is a huge problem in our area,” Lawson said. “One in every four citizens in Florida’s 5th Congressional District has been on SNAP benefits at some point over the past 12 months. “This is nearly twice the national average and the second highest rate among Florida’s 27 congressional districts.”

The 5th District stretches from Gadsden County west of Tallahassee to Duval County and Jacksonville.

Last week, Lawson joined with New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand to introduce the SNAP Standard Medical Deduction Act of 2017. Gillibrand submitted a similar bill in the Senate.

This bill offers seniors a medical expense deduction when applying for SNAP benefits, among other things. Among Lawson’s House co-sponsors are fellow Democrats Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens, Alcee Hastings of Miramar, and Darren Soto of Orlando.

Lawson is a member of the House Agriculture Committee, which, along with the Department of Agriculture, has jurisdiction on the SNAP program.

Soto visits Puerto Rico, assesses needs and federal government performance

The first-term Democrat from Orlando visited Puerto Rico this week to meet with Commonwealth officials and FEMA representatives. Soto, the son of a Puerto Rican father and who represents a district containing a large block of Puerto Rico natives, prepared a report of his findings.

While he witnessed “numerous personnel from FEMA, US military, as well as other federal and Puerto Rico agencies,” reports of an inadequate response by the Trump Administration were in the background of the report.

After touring Puerto Rico, Darren Soto declared the island is in emergency need of robust emergency federal funding,

FEMA briefed Soto on difficulties they encountered while providing emergency response. Soto listed each of those problems preceded by the word “alleged.” He reported that Puerto Rico’s Senate President told him “the federal response had been far more robust after Hurricane George(s),” a Category 3 storm that hit the island in 1998 causing $2 billion in damages.

Governor Ricardo Rossello shared with Soto estimates the island sustained damages totaling somewhere between $40 billion and $70 billion. The Congressman also visited mountainous rural areas, including a tour by helicopter.

“While in the air, I saw no other helicopters flying, no military vehicles driving around, and no federal personnel,” he wrote. “Rural towns will continue to suffer if resources and personnel are not dispatched to these areas.”

In an interview on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal Tuesday, Soto was blunter:

“The Trump Administration has been slow off the mark, and now we’re paying for it.”

FEMA Director Brock Long defends the relief effort, claiming the devastation is so vast, even the most basic services are being ramped up daily as the military becomes more involved in relief operations.

“We’re basically reconstituting local government in Puerto Rico,” he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “The local governments were at a much-diminished capacity. The people they would normally rely on to drive trucks were victims or disaster survivors.”

Webster touts tax House reform plan

With storm damage and the Las Vegas tragedy rightfully dominating the news, the Republican from the 11th District talked to his constituents about the recently unveiled plan for tax reform. While it contains provisions that Democrats hate and some Republicans will need to explain, Webster is all-in on the idea.

“The past eight years have given us nothing but a crawling economic recovery, stagnant wages, and slow growth that has hindered our families and our businesses from achieving their potential,” Webster wrote in an email to constituents. “The plan released last week emphasizes small businesses and working families, which are the drivers of our economy.”

Super-investor Warren Buffett calls it a “tax cut act” and “not a tax reform act.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer brings out the usual Democratic line of “tax cuts for the rich,” while urging Speaker Paul Ryan to “get real.”

Perhaps fortifying Buffett’s claim, the title of Webster’s email message was “Proposed tax relief.” However, Webster still spoke of reform.

“America’s economic competitiveness depends on getting this right, which is why I am excited to work with President Trump toward overhauling our tax code for the betterment of our small businesses, individuals, families and our nation’s economy,” he said.

T. Rooney, Crist team up on child protection program

The first-term Democrat from St. Petersburg and the Republican from Okeechobee have teamed to introduce a bill empowering parents to protect their children’s sensitive information. Last week, they launched the National Child Identification Assistance Act which would provide parents and guardians with ID kits to be stored at home for use should that child go missing.

“The National Child Identification Assistance Act highlights the importance of the National Child Identification Program, a national community service initiative which provides inkless, in-home fingerprinting kits to parents so they can proactively collect and store their child’s vital identification in the privacy of their own homes,” said Rooney. “It also decentralizes the process for law enforcement agencies that may lack the resources to collect and centrally store information related to individual children.”

The issue is not new to Crist. While governor, he joined with the American (College) Football Coaches Association to promote the program.

“We must do all we can to protect our children,” said Crist“I am proud to join my friend, Congressman Rooney, in introducing the common-sense bill to do just that, promoting a proactive approach to address the growing issue of missing and exploited children.”

The National Child Identity Program was officially recognized by Congress in 2001 for its dedication toward protecting children. It has long partnered with college football programs.

“I am so proud that Congressman Rooney and Crist are leading the effort to help protect our greatest asset, our nation’s’ children,” said Florida State’s legendary former coach Bobby Bowden. “I was one of the coaches that helped start this program, and to date with 57 million ID kits distributed, it is the largest child ID program in the world. What a blessing,”

NFL teams are also part of the program’s support group.

“It is a great initiative that I have been involved with since 1997,” said Jim Caldwell, coach of the Detroit Lions and longtime program board member. “This is another positive way that we can protect one of our most important natural resources that we have, and that’s our children.”

Buchanan polls constituents on Gaetz bill to strip NFL of tax breaks

Last week, Republican Matt Gaetz of the 1st Congressional District became lead sponsor of the Pro Sports Act, which would strip away tax exemptions currently enjoyed by the headquarters of the National Football League. In response to the leaguewide protests, condoned by the NFL, Gaetz wishes to strip those exemptions.

“It’s just ludicrous that the NFL league office gets tax breaks and special exemptions and loopholes that aren’t available to regular businesses on Main Street in my district,” Gaetz said in an interview on One America Network. “So, now we’ve got an NFL that is embracing unpatriotic behavior and at the same time not allowing players to express support for breast cancer awareness or other patriotic activities going on in this country.”

Vern Buchanan is polling constituents online, asking “should the tax-exempt status of the National Football League be revoked in response to players refusing to stand for the national anthem?”

It is no secret that NFL telecasts are losing viewers over the past year and the protests are drawing significant signs of displeasure – otherwise known as booing – from fans in the stands. What do people think of Gaetz’ goal of stripping the NFL of their tax exemptions?

While not scientific, his GOP colleague and delegation co-chairman, Vern Buchanan polled his constituents online. He asked them “should the tax-exempt status of the National Football League be revoked in response to players refusing to stand for the national anthem?

As of Wednesday, 63 percent of respondents answered “yes,” while 37 answered “no.”

“If players want to protest, they have that right,” Gaetz said, “but they should do it on their own time and on their own dime.”

Second Democrat announces run against Mast; Aronberg out

The first-term Republican from the 18th District always knew his re-election would be difficult. On Monday, former Obama Administration official Lauren Baer became the second Democrat to announce she wanted to take on Mast next November.

From 2011 and 2017, Baer served as senior adviser to Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, as well as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power. Human rights and international law were her specialties.

Former Obama Administration official Lauren Baer became the second Democrat to announce she wanted to take on Brian Mast next November.

“America’s ability to project strength around the world begins with a strong foundation at home,” Baer said in a statement Monday. “That means focusing on job creation and economic policies that preserve and expand the middle class; protecting our environment and our coastline; ensuring that all children have access to first-rate public schools; and guaranteeing that all people have quality, affordable health care.”

The Palm Beach Gardens native raised over $250,000 since launching an exploratory committee in August, with more than $200,000 in the 21 days since she filed her candidacy statement Sept. 12.

Baer’s extended family owns and operates Baer’s Furniture, founded by her great-grandparents in the late 1960s. After spending time in the family business, her father founded a commercial real estate company based in Palm Beach Gardens.

One potential opponent said he is not running for the seat. Palm Beach State Attorney Dave Aronberg, a moderate Democrat, said he would not run for the seat.

“I’m focused on the opioid epidemic and a number of important issues as State Attorney, and so I have no intention of running for any other office in 2018,” Aronberg told the Palm Beach Post.

Attorney and U.S. Navy veteran Pam Keith is the other announced Democratic candidate. Keith sought the nomination for U.S. Senate in 2016, losing to eventual nominee Rep. Patrick Murphy.

F. Rooney talks Irma recovery with local business leaders

As Florida communities continue rebuilding after Hurricane Irma, the first-term Republican from the 19th District joined a roundtable of 25 business leaders from Collier County last week to discuss impact and recovery. Representatives from the hospitality, health care, agriculture and nonprofit industries addressed the next steps with Rooney.

“The small business community is the cornerstone of our southwest Florida economy,” Rooney said. “As our area prepares for tourist season, we want to ensure that we are open for business in Collier County.”

Francis Rooney, background right, meets with Dunbar High School officials, left, as they open the school to shelter evacuees after Irma. Photo via Naples Daily News.

The group discussed areas where the community was bouncing back from wind and flood damage to the area. They also recognized that areas including Immokalee and Everglades City continue to face challenges.

“It was beneficial to hear feedback not only from our chamber members, but from our community members,” said Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Michael Dalby. “Our discussion spurred great ideas on how we can rebuild and support one another through this time.”

Deutch: Gerrymandering a ‘national scandal’

The Democrat from Boca Raton weighed in on a highly-anticipated U.S. Supreme Court case this week involving the redistricting practice known as “gerrymandering.” Deutch co-authored an op-ed with Common Cause Florida State Chair Liza McClenaghan urging the Court to “end this national scandal once and for all.”

The case, Gill v. Whitford, involves a federal court in Wisconsin ruling the state’s legislature drew unconstitutional Congressional district maps. The high court will determine, among other things, if the lower court’s intervention was permissible.

Deutch and McClenaghan begin the op-ed by quoting former President Ronald Reagan, who also referred to gerrymandering as “a national scandal” in 1987 when it was the GOP who was in the minority.

They opine that the case “could have a significant impact in Florida,” offering the example where the legislature was found to have violated the Florida Constitution when redrawing maps in 2012. While the district court and the Florida Supreme Court stepped in, Deutch and McClenaghan argue that a favorable opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court would hold legislatures “accountable for delivering district maps without the need for court orders.”

“We hope President Reagan’s words will ring loudly and clearly in the Court,” they wrote.

Diaz-Balart praises designation of Collier County to help fight drug trafficking

The Republican from the 25th District announced that Collier County was recently designated as part of South Florida’s High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA). Diaz-Balart wrote to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy in November in support of local requests for the designation.

Diaz-Balart praised the efforts of local officials to combat drug trafficking and for their pursuit of additional resources.

“Collier County has some of the finest law enforcement officers in the country, and I am grateful for their service,” he said in a statement. “I thank Sheriff Kevin Rambosk and Captain Tom Storrar for their commitment to acquiring this designation. I also want to thank Mr. Ed Morton for his leadership and assistance on this issue.”

“Drug trafficking is a national problem that has to be addressed on the local level, and adding these counties to the HIDTA program is a critical part of this effort,” said Richard Baum, Acting Director of National Drug Control Policy.

Paulson’s Principles: Will the Supreme Court turn the political world upside-down?

Every few years, a Supreme Court Case comes along that has the potential to completely alter the political world. The Court heard oral arguments Oct. 3, 2017, on Gill v. Whitford, a case directed at Wisconsin’s political gerrymandering. If the court strikes down partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin, it will strike down similar gerrymanders in one-third of the states, including Florida.

Both Republican and Democratic States will be impacted.

Gerrymandering has been around for over 200 years and, although the courts have ruled racial gerrymandering violates the constitution, they have never struck down a partisan gerrymander. They came close in 2004, when the court split 4-4 on a case involving a Pennsylvania political gerrymander.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who voted not to overturn the gerrymander, said he “would not foreclose” the possibility of relief “if some limited and precise rationale were found to correct an established violation of the Constitution in some redistricting cases.”

Since the Pennsylvania case, University of Chicago law professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos and political scientist Eric McGhee have developed the “efficiency gap,” that they believe does what Justice Kennedy requested.

The “efficiency gap” purports to measure “wasted votes” in elections. All the votes of the losing candidate are considered wasted votes, as well as all votes over 50 percent plus 1 for the winning candidate.

Stephanopoulos and McGhee argue that Republicans are advantaged by 25-30 seats in the 435 House seats in the 2012 congressional election and 11 to 17 seats in the 2016 election. In Florida, the Republican advantage was 2.6 seats in 2012 and 1.5 seats in the 2016 election in the 27-member Florida delegation. The smaller gap in 2016 was due to court redraws of districts in 2016.

For over 200 years, gerrymandering has been viewed as a “political question,” beyond the reach of the courts. More recently, increasing numbers of judges believe the courts should intervene if they find that partisan gerrymanders result in “equal protection” violations, preventing voters from having an effective choice in elections.

Democrats have argued that the fact that 49 percent of Wisconsin voters could elect 59 of the 99 members of the legislature was proof of a constitutional violation.

Republicans argue that the fact that Democrats controlled the assembly for 40 years and never proposed a change in partisan gerrymandering, simply proves their complaint is simply sour grapes.

Plus, the fact that Republicans won after 40 years of Democratic control shows the limitation of partisan gerrymanders. The Republican National Committee, in their brief to the Supreme Court, argues that the “efficiency gap” was merely “a tool that advances the partisan interests of Democrats.”

In Florida, Democrats dominated the state for 120 years and drew district lines after the 1990 census, but Republicans were in complete control of the state within a few years.

Will the Supreme Court throw out partisan gerrymanders after over 200 years, or will the court find that, in the digital age, the precision in drawing legislative district lines impedes the will of the voters?

There is an old saying in politics: “Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.” Have both parties become such political hogs concerning drawing political district lines that they need to be slaughtered?

Wasserman-Schultz part of a good news statistic

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. During their lifetime, women living in the United States have a 12.4 percent, or one-in-eight, chance of being diagnosed.

Just recently, actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who currently stars in HBO’s “Veep,” was diagnosed, prompting former Vice-President Joe Biden to tweet his support saying “We Veeps stick together.”

Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Democrat from the 23rd Congressional District and a breast cancer survivor, is a leader in the fight against the disease.

HBO’s “Veep” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus recently announced her diagnosis of breast cancer.

“As a breast cancer survivor, I consider it my responsibility to share my story,” she said in a statement. “As a legislator and Member of the Appropriations Committee, I consider it my obligation to help make lifesaving resources and information available to those battling this disease.”

There is good news to report. According to the recently released semiannual report from the American Cancer Society, deaths due to breast cancer decreased by 39 percent over the last quarter century.

Awareness and action appear to be paying off.

Ballard Partners joins forces with European firm

First, it was Washington, D.C.; now it’s Europe.

Ballard Partners, the Florida-based government affairs firm with strong ties to President Donald Trump, has formed an international strategic alliance with Alber & Geiger, a political lobbying powerhouse in the European Union, in efforts to leverage both firms’ governmental expertise in their respective countries.

Brian Ballard leads Ballard Partners. He was an early supporter of Trump who is also a regional vice chair of the Republican National Committee, where he helps leads the party’s fundraising.

Brian Ballard’s influential firm is expanding its reach to Europe.

Seeking to do more business with European interests is likely why Ballard has struck a partnership with Alber & Geiger, which has offices in Berlin, Brussels, London and Washington, D.C.

“Ballard Partners and Alber & Geiger share an unwavering dedication to the needs of our clients and a proven ability to influence top governmental decision makers, so our new strategic alliance is a natural next step for our firms,” said Ballard. “Our clients with international interests will benefit significantly from Alber & Geiger’s expertise and contacts in the EU, and we are pleased to form this mutually-beneficial partnership with such a reputable company.”

Alber & Geiger’s team combines former top EU officials, leading EU politicians and high-profile EU attorneys to represent clients’ interests on the highest diplomatic and political levels in Brussels and member states’ capitals.

“By aligning our two firms, we will be further equipped to continue helping our clients achieve their legislative and diplomatic goals,” added Dr. Andreas Geiger, the firm’s managing partner.

Former Ros-Lehtinen Chief of Staff joins D.C. lobbying firm

Art Estopinan, the former Chief of Staff for the retiring Miami Republican, has joined the Washington, D.C. lobbying firm Avenue Strategies Global as a partner. Estopinan will lobby for Qatar, which is involved in a five-month diplomatic standoff with other Middle East countries, including Saudi Arabia.

Estopinan’s former boss is a one-time chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the current chair of the subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa.

“Right now, it’s just the Qatar project, but my guess is we’ll be fully integrating him into the firm,” Barry Bennett, the firm’s co-founder, told POLITICO. Bennett’s other co-founder was former Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who has since left the firm.

Estopinan will continue to run his own firm, the Estopinan Group. According to POLITICO, Qatar is paying Avenue Strategies Global $500,000 per month.

Critical Puerto Rico infrastructure contractor lacks history of results

Whitefish Energy Holdings, the Montana-based company charged with the critical task of rebuilding Puerto Rico’s decimated power transmission lines, has little history demonstrating its ability to complete the Herculean task for which it was hired.

Nevertheless, the company has made significant promises of performance in its brief, two-year lifespan.

Based on reporting uncovered by, what Whitefish has failed to do is deliver on those promises, raising further questions about the wisdom of the decision by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) — following the guidance of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) — to trust the two-employee subsidiary of a Brazilian transformer manufacturer with such a critical project in storm-ravaged Puerto Rico.

Founded in 2015, Whitefish is a tiny, untested company with merely two employees and a paltry $1 million in annual revenue. Since its inception, the firm has been awarded three meager federal contracts, one of which was valued below $40,000.

Despite the company’s brief and unproven track record, the USACE and PREPA have chosen Whitefish to repair some of the most critical components of Puerto Rico’s electrical grid, an immense task that is central to the island’s overall recovery efforts. In addition to its remarkable inexperience, Whitefish’s history of empty promises and unseen results prompts questions about its ability to carry out such crucial work.

In 2016, Whitefish made much of its lofty plans to construct a transformer-manufacturing facility in Montana’s Flathead Valley. The plant, CEO Andy Techmanski held, would create 1,000 new jobs and produce quality large-scale transformers for the U.S. market. Ultimately, despite the company’s talk and claims, Whitefish failed to deliver on its hollow promise, due mainly to its inability to obtain financial backing for its project.

Whitefish, which shifted its focus to the production of transformers after being acquired by Brazil-based Comtrafo, was unable to secure the local and regional utility contracts and preorders needed to justify and fund the construction of its proposed facility. To date, it seems, there has been no mention of or progress on the Montana plant.

So, while Whitefish Energy cannot secure regional contracts for its primary line of work — producing large-scale transformers — the USACE and PREPA have charged the company with, arguably, the most important aspect of Puerto Rico’s recovery. Such a decision should raise concerns about the federal government’s commitment to Puerto Rico and its people.

An obscure, inexperienced company — one that cannot even find work and deliver results in its own backyard — should not be tasked with such a pivotal role on the Caribbean territory. Puerto Rico, an island of 3.4 million U.S. citizens, cannot afford empty promises at such an urgent time.

Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 10.5.17

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

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.

Barring a last-minute reprieve, which almost certainly won’t happen, Florida will execute Michael Ray Lambrix at 6 p.m. tonight.

The 57-year-old, also known as Cary Michael Lambrix, was convicted of the 1983 killings of Clarence Moore Jr. and Aleisha Bryant.

Prosecutors say he killed them with tire-iron and by strangling after an evening of drinking at his trailer near LaBelle, about 30 miles from Fort Myers.

He met them at a bar, then invited them home for dinner.

This week, he asked the U.S. Supreme Court to halt his execution because Florida’s death penalty sentencing method was found to be unconstitutional, according to The Associated Press. The state has since required a unanimous jury vote in death cases.

The jury was not unanimous in either of Lambrix’s death sentence decisions, but Florida’s Supreme Court has said the new rules do not apply to cases as old as his.

Lambrix has been on the state’s Death Row for 33 years

 — “Florida Death Row inmate gives rare interview before execution” via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times


@MaggieNYT: The five living former POTUSes will take part in a hurricane relief concert, per inbox. Striking how it’s separate from White House efforts

— @GBennettPost: .@VP in Orlando Thursday…

@FEMA_Brock: Spoke w/ @LouisianaGov @PhilBryantMS @kayiveyforgov and @FLGovScott each about our shared interests in track of this storm

@GrayRohrer: .@FLGovScott spent his morning telling tourists to come back to the Keys. This afternoon he’s warning Panhandle/Gulf residents of new storm

— @TroyKinsey: As for @FLGovScott‘s Navy cap, word is it’s currently down for its 100-hour inspection but should be ready in time for #Nate‘s arrival.

— @Swampette: Tallahassee status: already tuned into The Weather Channel 24/7

@SkipFoster: Great news for Tallahassee — 0z Euro shifts way west — takes weaker Nate over La./Miss.

@JebBush: Puerto Ricans deserve consistency and compassion in both action and tone from the Trump Administration. It’s about them, not about @POTUS.

@TheFLBar: Several U.S. law schools — inc. 8 from FL — will help P.R. law students transition to cooperating mainland school & continue their legal ed.

— @JimRosicaFL: Can’t take any more bad Press Corps news. @fineout is in my prayers, wishing him speedy recovery

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A tale of two Puerto Ricos: What Donald Trump saw — and what he didn’t” via Arelis Hernández and Jenna Johnson of The Washington Post — The Puerto Rico that Trump saw during his four-hour visit Tuesday afternoon was that of Angel Pérez Otero, the mayor of Guaynabo, a wealthy San Juan suburb known for its amenity-driven gated communities that was largely spared … where high-speed winds had blown out some second-story windows and knocked over a few trees — but where life seemed to be returning to normal, thanks to assistance from the government. If the president had traveled a little deeper into the island, to the communities that sustained some of the heaviest damage, he would have witnessed a very different Puerto Rico. Just 10 miles southeast of Guaynabo is this mountainous city of Caguas, nestled in a valley ringed by steep sierras and narrow mountain passes, with homes built densely on the edges of gravity-defying slopes. These hills were stripped naked by Maria’s malicious winds, leaving the trees without leaves and fruit, their bare branches contorted in painful postures. Houses that withstood tropical rain and wind for decades were blown off their foundations and destroyed by toppled vegetation. Twisted metal roofs landed in creeks all over the once-lush region.

Donald Trump hands out food to people affected by Hurricane Maria at a disaster relief distribution center at the wealthy Puerto Rican town of Guaynabo.

Jeb Bush criticizes Trump on Puerto Rico” via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay TimesBush criticized Trump’s words and actions toward Puerto Rico, effectively saying his former rival has not shown enough compassion: “Puerto Ricans deserve consistency and compassion in both action and tone from the Trump Administration. It’s about them, not about @POTUS.”

Darren Soto: Congress must quickly approve robust relief package for Puerto Rico” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — … not just to assure full federal relief efforts from Hurricanes Maria and Irma, but to keep the commonwealth’s government operating in a place where almost no one can work. “The stories that you’re reading and seeing from Puerto Rico are all true,” the Orlando Democrat, who is of Puerto Rican descent, stated in a release. “Our fellow American citizens are facing unthinkable tragedies. I saw people all over the city waiting in long lines for groceries and gas, most areas lacked electricity, cellphone service and functioning traffic lights. Debris still covered many roads. Most buildings sustained minor or major damage. Hopefully, President Trump’s visit will tell him what I already saw firsthand: the damage is real and people need our help.” Soto issued a lengthy report on his findings that ranged from the obvious widespread problems [an island without electricity, cellphone service and massive destruction]; to pending issues, such as the government’s anticipation that it will run out of operating money in two to three weeks; to minor issues that could result in public health matters, such as ad hoc trash dumps appearing everywhere because there is no refuge service.

Major Puerto Rico power restoration project awarded to small, untested vendor” via Florida Politics — The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) — per the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) guidance — has selected a tiny, two-man company with fewer than two years of experience and merely $1 million in annual revenue to repair its massive and critical 230KV electricity transmission line. Whitefish, Montana-based, Whitefish Holdings, LLC lists two employees and $1 million in annual revenue … Founded in 2015, the firm has previously been awarded three Department of Energy contracts for amounts ranging from under $40,000 to a little over $1,000,000. That’s hardly the sort of track record one might expect for the firm responsible for a project so critical to the Puerto Rican recovery and rebuilding efforts. While it is important for governments to contract with small-and-minority-owned-businesses, Whitefish Energy Holdings does not appear equipped to address Puerto Rico’s unprecedented energy catastrophe quickly, efficiently and effectively.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will visit Florida and the Everglades this week.

Assignment editors — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will travel to Florida to “conduct on-the-ground assessments of hurricane damage at National Park Service locations and to receive a briefing on Everglades Restoration.” He will be in the state through Saturday. On Friday, Hill tour hurricane damage at Big Cypress National Preserve. Saturday, Zinke will hold a media event with Sen. Marco Rubio and members of the state’s congressional delegation.

Hurricane Irma causes $2.5B in damage to Florida crops” via The Associated Press — Irma dealt Florida’s iconic orange crop the most devastating blow causing more than $760 million in damage. Beef cattle and dairy were next with $237 million and nearly $12 million respectively. Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam released the preliminary assessment. The powerful hurricane damaged nearly all the citrus fruit in some Southwest Florida groves and seriously damaging groves in Central Florida. Growers talked of trees standing in 3 feet of water, which is a death sentence for a crop already under a decade-long siege by citrus greening disease. Much of the fruit was young, and it’s too late in the season for a new crop.

— “Debris cleanup still a slow slog across Tampa Bay” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times

Rick Scott says Florida’s ready to help Puerto Rico, but critics see little action so far” via Steve Bousquet and Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times – Scott’s six-hour tour Thursday was dismissed as a photo opportunity by state Sen. Victor Torres, a Democrat whose Orlando-area district will soon welcome tens of thousands of hurricane evacuees. “Talk is cheap,” said Torres, who finds Scott’s response long on platitudes and skimpy on specifics. “I don’t have the power. If I was the governor, I would move, I would make things happen. We need to step up our game.” Torres, a former Marine and New York City police officer, said that if Scott had access to a state aircraft to fly to Puerto Rico, he should have packed the plane with relief supplies.

Rick Scott tours JAXPORT to view supplies being loaded onto ships to assist response recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.

Trailers to house storm victims are here, but no one’s in them” via Larry Kahn of — A week after the first travel trailers to house displaced hurricane victims arrived in the Keys, they remain in storage in Key West with no apparent immediate plan to get people in them. The Florida Division of Emergency Management said that “the temporary housing units in Monroe County are staged in Key West for just-in-time delivery to ensure that empty units are not sitting in the public eye. As for a timetable, it is ongoing. As pads become available and survivors are approved by FEMA, we are then able to match them.” … “It’s not like anyone can get on a list and sign up for a travel trailer,” FEMA spokesman Nate Custer said. “Rental housing is the preferred option, then we put people in hotels.” For trailers, “We have callers managing applications from the Joint Field Office that are reaching out to registrants as quickly as possible,” state Emergency Management said. Trailers are “a last resort, it’s the best way to describe it,” Custer said. “It’s not always easy to place these units. You need to have electricity, you need to have utilities.”

FEMA trailers in the Florida Keys waiting to be occupied.

After Irma, pummeled Everglades shows signs of resilience” via Maddie Stone of — After doing an aerial flyover of Florida Bay after the storm and spotting enormous racks of dead seagrass, Everglades Foundation wetland ecologist Steve Davis was worried. The scene reminded him of a seagrass die-off that occurred in the summer of 2015, when the bay — a shallow estuary bounded by the Everglades wetlands to the north and Keys to the south — became too salty, owing to high temperatures and a dearth of rainfall. The die-off precipitated enormous algae blooms, triggering fish kills and dealing a major blow to Florida’s commercial and recreational fishing economies. But when Davis went out on the bay with some fishing guides and a handful of reporters last week, what he saw was quite different. “We did see some large floating mats of grass, like we saw a few weeks prior in overflight,” he said. But, rather than creating a vast dead-zone, all that detritus appears to have triggered a feasting frenzy. “You’re seeing lots of things like shrimp and crabs associated with those [dead seagrass] mats,” Davis said. “The fish,” particularly tarpon, “were just in heaven eating the shrimp.”

Florida fishing villages, famed for smugglers and stone crabs, dig out from Irma’s mud” via Jenny Staletovich of the Miami Herald — Three weeks after Hurricane Irma lashed Chokoloskee and Everglades City, the small fishing villages as well-known for stone crabs as their outlaw past are still digging out from a blow that brought powerful winds but also something much worse — a storm surge awash in deep, foul mud … when the skies ominously darkened and sent another round of pounding rain last week, a carpet of mud surrounding the RV now serving as Everglades City’s temporary town hall turned slick again, sending the mayor slipping and sliding in his crabber boots. While the damage from Irma’s landfall in the Lower Keys was severe, the impact in this isolated pocket of Southwest Florida may be worse. So far, about 100 homes have been condemned, but countless others are barely habitable, their sodden insides stripped by owners or sprouting mold and mildew as damaging as any hurricane.

Miami School District will request delay to state testing due to Irma” via Jessica Bakeman of WLRN Miami — In a letter to Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho asked if the district could get an extra week before state English language arts and math tests take place this spring. Under Carvalho’s proposed schedule, third grade English tests would begin April 16 and run through April 23. Fourth through eighth-grade tests would be administered April 23 through May 18. Tests are later this school year because of a new state law that recently went into effect. “It certainly makes sense to delay it one week to afford those additional days of academic exposure,” Carvalho said during a school board committee meeting.

Miami Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho is asking for more time for testing.

Polk veteran awaiting FEMA help still lives without power weeks after Irma” via Corey Davis of WFLA — Hurricane Irma sent a massive tree through Jonathan Bonney’s roof that knocked out the power. The Army veteran, whose wife died a few years ago, said he has nowhere to go. It’s just him and his dog living in the house at 1250 Fairview Avenue. Bonney doesn’t have insurance, but he applied for financial assistance from FEMA a couple of weeks ago. He needs help paying the security deposit along with first and last month rent at an apartment he found. Right now, he’s waiting for an inspector to come to his home. Bonney lives less than five minutes from the FEMA Disaster Recovery Center at the Stuart Center in Bartow. A FEMA official tells me that the waits for assistance are long, but they’re trying to get to everyone as quickly as possible.

Assignment editors — Gov. Scott will provide updates on Tropical Depression 16 and its potential impact on Florida beginning 9 a.m. CDT At the Escambia County emergency management offices, 6575 North W St. in Pensacola.


Is Adam Putnam indirectly in bed with Germany’s far-right?” via Florida Politics — According to recent campaign finance reports, Putnam paid Austin-based Harris Media more than $76,000 for advertising … Harris — founded in 2008 by Vincent Harris — was on board with the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which entered Parliament after the nation’s Sept. 24 elections. Harris was in charge of the populist group’s successful online advertising blitz. As a result, AfD became Germany’s third biggest party, taking 13.3 percent of the total vote … a “seismic shock” … Moving to the right may be understandable for a primary race. But getting in bed with Harris Media and Germany’s radical far right? Say it ain’t so, Adam Putnam.

Save the date:

Matt Caldwell snags endorsement from Matt Gaetz” via Florida Politics — … for his campaign for Agriculture Commissioner … Gaetz said was backing Caldwell “because he is a consistent conservative.” The first term congressman represents likely the most conservative U.S. House district in Florida and his endorsement looks to drum up Caldwell’s right-wing bona fides in what is shaping up to be a hard-fought GOP primary in the Cabinet race. “He has never voted to support things like Obamacare expansion, the Charlie Crist tax increases, and Big Brother-style red light cameras,” Gaetz said. “And, he’s the only candidate in this race who has refused to take public tax dollars to finance his campaign.” Some of those jabs seem to be directed at Caldwell’s primary opponents: Sen. Denise Grimsley, Paul Paulson and former state Rep. Baxter Troutman — all three of whom are leading him on the fundraising trail.

— “Pam Keith gets backing of VoteVets in CD 18 race” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics

Carlos Curbelo claims Democrat ‘demanded I be deported’ from immigration event” via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay TimesCurbelo claims a top Democrat “demanded I be deported” from an immigration event and activists fired back that he was grandstanding. The event focuses on Senate legislation to help Dreamers, young immigrants brought to the country illegally by their parents. Curbelo is sponsoring a different version and claims Sen. Dick Durbin, of Illinois, tried to block him from attending. “Attempting to exclude someone with a long history of supporting Dreamers is petty, counterproductive and selfish,” Curbelo told The Hill. On Twitter, Curbelo said Durbin “demanded I be deported” from the news conference but he‘d attend anyway. Durbin’s office denied the allegations and some immigration activists said Curbelo’s use of “deported” was self-serving and offensive given real people face the threat of being thrown out of the country. In the Hill, organizers with backed up Durbin, saying there was a miscommunication with Curbelo’s office.

Carlos Curbelo claims a top Democrat “demanded I be deported” from an immigration event this afternoon and activists fired back that he was grandstanding.

Keith Perry challenger boasts $73K September haul” via Florida PoliticsKayser Enneking, M.D., filed for SD 8 on Sept. 1 after mulling a run for Florida’s 3rd Congressional District, which is much more favorable to GOP candidates than SD 8. “I’m honored by the outpouring of support since announcing my candidacy less than a month ago. Voters are ready for a leader who understands the importance of access to health care and public education. We need thoughtful solutions in Tallahassee. The legislature should be working on problems faced by their constituents not the issues of special interests. Our campaign is about giving a voice to every family and making Tallahassee finally work for us,” Enneking said. Enneking’s first report is not yet available through the Florida Division of Elections, but her campaign touted the $72,900 haul, as well as Enneking’s Gainesville roots in an email.

Ed Hooper nabs Mike Fasano endorsement for SD 16” via Florida Politics — Pasco County Tax Collector Fasano, a former Republican state lawmaker, has been a longtime political force in West Pasco County. Hooper, who served in the House from 2006 to 2014, is running in Senate District 16, covering parts of Pinellas and Pasco counties. “I know Ed Hooper to be an honest and thoughtful person who cared about how laws affect the people he represents,” Fasano said. “Hooper has my full support and endorsement for state Senate.”

Save the date:

Grand theft charges against Winter Haven candidate for state House dropped” via The Ledger — Democrat Carmelo Garcia was arrested May 26, the same day he filed to run for office … Charges were dropped by the Osceola County State Attorney’s Office Aug. 31. Winter Haven police arrested Garcia on a Kissimmee police warrant from a 2016 case, police reported. Kissimmee police accused Garcia of writing bad checks totaling $800 in July 2016. Garcia filed to run for the District 41 state House seat against Republican incumbent Sam Killebrew.

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“Constitution review panel could tackle ‘write-in loophole’ ” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — A Constitution Revision Commission committee on Wednesday began considering whether to change Florida’s primary election system, including buttoning up what’s known as the “write-in loophole.” That allows a write-in candidate to close a primary. The commission’s Ethics and Elections Committee heard from advocates and some of the state’s elections supervisors, but took no action. Here’s how it works now: A Florida primary is open to all voters if candidates from other parties don’t qualify to run. But state elections officials have opined that a write-in candidate qualifying for a general election in a race keeps a primary closed. And here’s how political parties and others have gamed the system: They’ve been known to line up a political novice to file as a write-in to close a primary, which usually benefits the incumbent.

Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee plans hurricane talk” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — … Chairman Bill Montford announced … That is assuming the committee’s hearing is not postponed because of a hurricane. Very early projections of Tropical Depression 16 forming off the coast of Central America have it becoming Hurricane Nate and hitting Florida — right near Tallahassee — Sunday. Montford … set the discussion with Hurricane Irma in mind, taking place roughly a month after that storm hit Florida. “Hurricane Irma was a catastrophic storm, the likes of which Florida has never seen,” Montford stated in a news release issued by the Senate Democrats’ office. “We continue to face the long and complicated process of recovery statewide, from our businesses and tourist industry, the school systems, to agriculture and infrastructure, there was not an entity left untouched.”

Sen. Bill Montford will hold a meeting of the Commerce and Tourism Committee, weather permitting.

“Ben Albritton, Jeff Brandes again push for a review of government procurement” via LobbyTools — Rep. Albritton, a Wauchula Republican, and Sen. Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, will team up again in 2018 to create a task force that would evaluate state and local procurement laws and policies. HB 111 would create a 14 member group headed by the secretary of the Department of Management Services, joined by seven local government and industry leaders appointed by the governor, two each from the Senate president and House speaker, the CFO and the state’s chief information officer. A similar bill (SB 368) does not include a CFO or CIO and gives the governor six appointees. Both require the task force to submit final recommendations by July 1, 2019. Albritton’s identical bill last session unanimously passed the House and a comparable measure by Brandes died in its last committee of reference after passing the first two unanimously.

“Bill would rein in community redevelopment agencies” via Florida Politics — A measure to overhaul community redevelopment agencies (CRAs), a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, has been filed for the 2018 Legislative Session. Rep. Jake Raburn, a Lithia Republican, is sponsoring the bill (HB 17) … Under the bill, CRAs would have to conduct ethics training, open competitive bids, and file annual performance reports … Most recently, the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office sent subpoenas to the city of Tallahassee and the City/County Community Redevelopment Agency over deals that body has made, the Tallahassee Democrat reported. “The subjects of the subpoenas included prominent business people and financial documents and communication with city officials,” it said.

Al Jacquet files repeal of chastity defamation via Florida Politics — The Lantana Democrat filed legislation in the House Wednesday to repeal state law making it a crime to defame a woman on the grounds of she’s unchaste. Current law, passed in 1883, makes it a first-degree misdemeanor to “falsely and maliciously imput(e) … a want of chastity” to any woman. The same bill (HB 6019) also would repeal a law, first passed in 1915, that created a first-degree misdemeanor of “willfully and maliciously” making a false statement or suggestion affecting the “solvency or financial standing” of a bank or “building and loan association.”

Assignment editors — Medical cannabis dispensary Surterra Wellness will celebrate the grand opening of its Tallahassee Wellness Center with a “Party for the Patients” starting 10:30 a.m. at 1639 Village Square Boulevard in Tallahassee.


Survey says Floridians feeling financial stress” via the News Service of Florida — With many people worried about a lack of high-paying jobs, 60 percent of Floridians say they feel financial stress in their households, according to results of the 2017 USF-Nielsen Sunshine State Survey … six in 10 Floridians feel at least some financial stress, though that is down from 71 percent in 2015. The most financial stress was found among unemployed people, households with incomes under $35,000, African-Americans, people without college educations and women. The survey also found the most stress in South Florida, where costs of living are higher than in other parts of the state.

Florida to seek death penalty against killer clown suspect” via The Associated Press — Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg issued a statement saying the death penalty is the appropriate punishment for 54-year-old Sheila Keen Warren, who was ordered held without bail at a court hearing. She was extradited from Abingdon, Virginia, where she lived with her husband Michael Warren for years. Defense attorney Richard Lubin told reporters Sheila Warren “vehemently denies” killing Marleen Warren and will plead not guilty. She was arrested last week after a grand jury issued a first-degree murder indictment. Investigators say new DNA testing gave them what they needed to make an arrest. Michael Warren, 65, has not been charged, but detectives and prosecutors have refused to rule him out as a suspect. He has not responded to phone messages left at his home. He and Sheila Warren married in 2002. Marlene Warren was killed in May 1990 by person dressed as a clown who handed her carnations and two foil balloons. Her son, who witnessed the killing, said she replied, “How pretty!” The clown then pulled a handgun, shot her in the face and drove away. Marlene Warren died two days later.

Sheila Keen Warren (left) is accused of dressing as a clown to kill Marlene Warren in 1990.

Court overturns state board on charter schools” via Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida  — The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal was a victory for the Indian River County School Board, which in 2015 denied two charter-school applications filed by Somerset Academy, Inc. Backers of the charter schools took the issue to the State Board of Education, which rejected the decision of the Indian River board and said Somerset Academy should be allowed to move forward with the schools. The ruling by the appeals court said the Indian River board had “clear and convincing evidence” on a series of issues that supported the denial of the proposed charter schools. As an example, the appeals court said the Indian River board showed that the applications failed to meet financial requirements included in state law. “The School Board painstakingly pointed out how Somerset’s applications patently showed that Somerset’s intended budget was financially unrealistic and untenable,” said the 10-page ruling, written by appeals-court Judge Carole Taylor and joined by judges Melanie May and Cory Ciklin.


Avenue Strategies adds former top staffer for Ileana Ros-Lehtinen” via POLITICO — Avenue Strategies Global, started by Corey Lewandowski and Barry Bennett, is adding Art Estopinan as a partner. Estopinan, a former chief of staff to Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, will help Avenue lobby for Qatar, which is paying Avenue $500,000 a month as it tries to win friends in Washington as its diplomatic standoff with Saudi Arabia and its allies enter the fifth month. “Right now, it’s just the Qatar project, but my guess is we’ll be fully integrating him into the firm,” Bennett said in an interview.

New and renewed lobbying registrations

Brian Ballard, Carol Bracy, Ballard Partners: Enchanted Rock

Amy Bisceglia, The Rubin Group: AECOM Technical Services

Hayden Dempsey, Greenberg Traurig: Solix

Tanya Jackson, PinPoint Results: The Presidio Corporation

Kim McDougal, GrayRobinson: IMG College

Richard Pinsky, Akerman: Affordable Bio Feedstock, Affordable Bio Feedstock of Jacksonville, Affordable Bio Feedstock of Port Charlotte, Florida Biodiesel Fuel

Jason Unger, GrayRobinson: National Lightning Protection Corporation

— ALOE —

SpaceX’s next rocket could see Florida’s Space Coast add activity” via Marco Santana of the Orlando Sentinel — A component of SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s plan to establish spaceflight to Mars gained a critical component recently when he announced how he intends to pay for it — and part of the plan involves more frequent flights that can use smaller rockets. By developing a smaller vehicle, with a booster and ship that could replace the company’s Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and Dragon spacecraft, SpaceX could more frequently launch into low-earth orbit, increasing revenue opportunities. That money could then be poured into the development of the BFR. Musk’s plans could bring more work to Central Florida and the Space Coast, a state official said … “This location remains the spot in the U.S. that makes the most sense to do any serious deep-space exploration from,” said Dale Ketcham, Space Florida’s chief of strategic alliances.

Elon Musk is developing smaller SpaceX rockets for more frequent travel, which could benefit the Space Coast.

Universal Orlando to hire 3,000 employees” via Terry Roen of Orlando Rising — The full-time, part-time and seasonal positions include openings in attractions, operations, culinary, food services and merchandise. The employees are needed at Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, Volcano Bay and CityWalk. Universal will hold multiple hiring events with the first one from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Universal Orlando Human Resources office. Hiring events are by appointment only. Candidates should apply online at

Happy birthday early to Sachs Media Group’s Jon Peck, a gifted writer and one of most enjoyable individuals to work with. Celebrating today are Chris Hart, Trey Price, the brilliant Gregory Wilson, and Joe York, who has been working non-stop directing AT&T’s response to the hurricanes.

Last Call for 10.4.17 – A prime-time read of what’s going down in Florida politics

Last Call – A prime-time read of what’s going down in Florida politics.

First Shot

For a second, ‘Last Call’ thought it had teleported into a parallel universe, where everything is the same—except that Florida’s governor is “Graf Orlok.”

An elevator certificate seen Wednesday in Tallahassee’s Calhoun Street parking garage clearly listed “Graf Orlok, Governor.” It was in the same font as the rest of the text, stuck behind a piece of clear plastic.

Graf Orlok, Governor
Heeeeere’s Graf

It gets more interesting when one learns who “Graf Orlok” is: The name of the main character, based on Dracula, in the 1922 silent film “Nosferatu.” (“Graf” is German for “Count.”)

For the record, the real governor, Rick Scott, has most often been derisively referred to as “Voldemort,” the bald bad man in the Harry Potter books and movies.

The fake paper led to speculation: Did some prankster really go through all the trouble of removing the plastic barrier and replacing the certificate with a doctored document?

Does the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which issues such certificates, have a wiseacre in its midsts?

And – oooh – are there more of these in town?

Requests for comment are pending with the department and the Governor’s Office.

Republic Parking manages the garage for the city. “I had no idea,” general manager Derrick Dunlavy said. “But we’ll get a new one.”

Evening Reads

Jeb Bush criticizes Trump on Puerto Rico” via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times

Florida tourism destinations examine security in wake of Las Vegas” via Katie Warren of NBC Miami

After Irma, pummeled Everglades shows signs of resilience” via Maddie Stone of Earther

Florida to seek death penalty against killer clown suspect” via The Associated Press

Court overturns state board on charter schools” via Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida

Pythons are eating everything in the Everglades, so now mosquitos are forced to feed off diseased rats” via Colin Wolf of Orlando Weekly

Quote of the Day

“And now I’m having the same feedback: ‘Oh, it’s just too early to talk about this.’ It’s not too early. It’s too late.” —Democratic state Sen. Linda Stewart of Orlando on Wednesday, on a bill banning sales of semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines in Florida.

Bill Day’s Latest

Breakthrough Insights 

Wake Up Early

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is scheduled to visit Florida Thursday through Saturday to review hurricane-related damage in the state’s national parks and get updated on Everglades restoration. A detailed schedule wasn’t available, but includes a Thursday briefing on Lake Okeechobee.

The Education Committee of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m., 110 Senate Office Building, the Capitol, Tallahassee.

The Florida Retirement System’s Actuarial Assumption Conference will meet at 10 a.m., 117 Knott Building, the Capitol, Tallahassee.

Staff members for Sen. Denise Grimsley, a Sebring Republican, will hold “mobile” office hours in Lee County. That’s at 10:30 a.m., The Shell Factory, Chamber of Commerce office, 2787 N. Tamiami Trail, North Fort Myers.

The Florida Supreme Court is expected to release weekly opinions at 11 a.m.

Rep. Loranne Ausley, a Tallahassee Democrat, will hold “mobile” office hours in Leon County. They open at 11 a.m., Tallahassee Senior Center, 1400 N. Monroe St., Tallahassee.

Todd Jones, president and CEO of Publix Super Markets, is set to speak to the Economic Club of Florida. Doors open at 11 a.m., FSU Alumni Center, 1030 W. Tennessee St., Tallahassee.

Death Row inmate Cary Michael Lambrix is scheduled to be put to death for the 1983 murders of Aleisha Bryant and Clarence Moore near LaBelle. The execution is set for 6 p.m., Florida State Prison, Raiford.

Major Puerto Rico power restoration project awarded to small, untested vendor 

Nearly two weeks after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, learned the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) — per the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) guidance — has selected a tiny, two-man company with fewer than two years of experience and merely $1 million in annual revenue to repair its massive and critical 230KV electricity transmission line.

After hitting Puerto Rico Sept. 20, the powerful Category 4 storm – the most powerful to reach the island in nearly 100 years – left nearly 3.4 million U.S. citizens without electrical power, with many still waiting for the lights to go back on. As of Tuesday night, Maria’s official death toll on the island is 34.

To date, 125MW of generation online – and about 5 percent of PREPA’s customers — have had power restored. On Wednesday, PREPA released a statement saying it anticipates 15 percent of clients to have electricity restored within the next two weeks.

Industry experts expect repairs to the line, which is one of the primary backbones of the island’s power grid, to exceed $50 million.

The vendor, Whitefish, Montana-based, Whitefish Holdings, LLC lists two employees and $1 million in annual revenue on (kind of a LinkedIn for federal contractors). Founded in 2015, the privately held firm has previously been awarded three Department of Energy contracts for amounts ranging from under $40,000 to a little over $1,000,000.

That’s hardly the sort of track record one might expect from a firm responsible for a project so critical to the Puerto Rican recovery and rebuilding efforts.

Given the magnitude and importance of the work to be done, the USACE’s and PREPA’s decision to contract with such a small, inexperienced firm raises questions about the federal government’s commitment to Puerto Rico’s quick and successful recovery.

Back-to-back hits by Hurricanes Irma and Maria completely devastated Puerto Rico’s electrical infrastructure, a system which was already plagued by poor maintenance and insufficient capital investments.

Before 2014, Puerto Rico’s crumbling infrastructure, blackouts and rising unemployment have resulted in a massive population flight, leaving the island more than $72 billion in debt. The average per capita median income in the territory is about $20,000.

Most notably, Maria’s destructive winds devastated a vital 230KV transmission line that serves as one of the vital arteries of the island’s power system, and the resulting collapse of the territory’s grid has trickled down the infrastructure chain, hampering, among other things, the distribution of water and restoration of communications systems.

As a result, distributing essential supplies to those in need, emergency management experts explain, has proved particularly challenging, and many on the island remain isolated and in short supply of much-needed food, water, medications and fuel.

According to CNN: “The Port of San Juan, where much of the humanitarian aid is arriving, doesn’t have enough truck drivers. Even if it did, many trucks don’t have enough diesel fuel to deliver food, water and other essentials.”

Hampering recovery efforts is the lack of cell service for communications and a limited number of armored trucks to carry cash to banks.

Repairing the island’s transmission and the aforementioned 230KV line is a mammoth project that is central to Puerto Rico’s speedy, successful and complete recovery.

Following direction from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE), PREPA, however, contracted with a remarkably small company that seems unqualified to carry out such vital work.

Whitefish Energy Holding, which will serve as the USACE’s and PREPA’s primary contractor as Puerto Rico focuses on restoring the 230KV transmission line and distribution circuits across the island, is a novice company with merely two employees and a meager $1 million in annual revenue, which lacks the experience necessary to take on such an important and vital task.

While it is important for governments to contract with small-and-minority-owned-businesses, Whitefish Energy Holdings does not appear equipped to address Puerto Rico’s unprecedented energy catastrophe quickly, efficiently and effectively.

Restoring the island’s electrical infrastructure is indispensable to its overall recovery efforts, and therefore, such a task is likely best left to a larger, more experienced company that can, and has, tackled crises of this magnitude.

This is not a time to take risks. The people of Puerto Rico depend on it. will continue covering this story as it develops.


Last Call for 10.3.17 – A prime-time read of what’s going down in Florida politics

Last Call – A prime-time read of what’s going down in Florida politics.

First Shot

Historical sidenote time: It’s a tradition of the Constitution Revision Commission to do a caricature of all the commissioners as a keepsake.

The last one, of the 1997-98 panel, shows each of the members with a text “bubble” over their heads, summing up their main interest in amending the state’s governing document. A similar one was done for the 1977-78 members.

Retired lawyer Martha Barnett, who was a Holland & Knight partner, sat on the ‘97 commission. Her caption reads, “Just building support for my income tax proposal, Mr. Chair.”

Barnett, appointed by Gov. Lawton Chiles, said she still has her copy of the commission caricature in a frame.

I treasure it more than I do the photograph I got of our commission,” she said in a Tuesday phone interview. “Whoever did it ‘got’ us more than the photo … Every (individual caricature) really tells something unique about that person.”

One might also be done of the 2017-18 commission. “We don’t currently have plans but it is something we may consider,” CRC spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice said.

Florida is unique among states in that its constitution allows for a panel to meet every 20 years, “examine the constitution, hold public hearings and … file its proposal, if any, of a revision of this constitution or any part of it.” Its committees are meeting this week in the Capitol.

Evening Reads

— “After Puerto Rico trip, Florida Democrats strike nonpartisan tone” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida

— “Pam Bondi, staff go to Nevada to aid victims” via Jim Turner and Tom Urban of the News Service of Florida

— “Florida response shows familiar sides on gun debate” via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times

— “A call to arms: One bill prohibits assault weapons sales; others loosen gun control” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat

— “Two days before execution date, death row inmate speaks out” via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times

— “CRC panel focused on constitutional rights starts narrowing focus” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida

— “Report: Florida could offer sports betting in 7 years” via

— “Nonprofit consultant Rob Panepinto announces run for Orange County mayor” via Stephen Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel

— “How many Palm Beach mansions does a Wall Street tycoon need?” via Julie Reynolds of The Nation

— “Ballard Partners forms strategic alliance with European lobbying firm Alber & Geiger” via Florida Politics

Quote of the Day

“I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack.” —President Donald Trump, on the ground in Puerto Rico Tuesday, nearly two weeks after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island.

Bill Day’s Latest

Breakthrough Insights 

Wake Up Early?

The state Office of Supplier Diversity will host an event to help small-business owners better understand and seek state and local government contracts. It starts at 8:30 a.m., Agency for Health Care Administration, Building 3, 2727 Mahan Dr., Tallahassee.

Three committees of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission are scheduled to meet:

— 9 a.m., Ethics and Elections Committee, 110 Senate Office Building;

— 10 a.m., Legislative branch Committee, 301 Senate Office Building;

—  2 p.m., Executive branch Committee, 401 Senate Office Building.

All are in the Capitol, Tallahassee.

The Florida Commission on Offender Review is scheduled to meet and discuss numerous parole cases related to crimes committed in the 1970s and 1980s. That’s at 9 a.m., 4070 Esplanade Way (in the satellite state office complex in Southwood off Capital Circle Southeast), Tallahassee.

The Florida Board of Pharmacy is scheduled to meet in Orange County at 9 a.m., Rosen Plaza Hotel, 9700 International Dr., Orlando.

The state Agency for Persons with Disabilities will help host an event to recognize 10 businesses as “Florida Exceptional Employers” because of their histories of hiring and retaining people with disabilities. It begins at 9:30 a.m., City Commission chamber, Tallahassee City Hall, 300 South Adams St., Tallahassee.

Sen. Linda Stewart and Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, both Democrats, will unveil proposed legislation to ban assault-style weapons in Florida at a news conference. That’s at 11 a.m. at the Orange County Courthouse, 425 N. Orange Ave., Orlando.

The Task Force on Involuntary Examination of Minors will discuss issues related to the use of the state’s “Baker Act” for minors. It’s at 1 p.m., Department of Children and Families, 1317 Winewood Blvd., Building 6, Tallahassee. The call-in number is (888) 670-3525 and the participant code is 9592874884.

The Florida Supreme Court will hold a ceremony to swear in new attorneys. Chief Justice Jorge Labarga is expected to administer the oath. That’s at 2:30 p.m., Florida Supreme Court, 500 South Duval St., Tallahassee.

Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – 10.3.17

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

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.

Florida’s elected officials reacted on Twitter to the Las Vegas shooting that left 59 people dead and wounding more than 500. Here’s a selection:

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (@SenBillNelson): “Thoughts & prayers are with the victims of this horrific attack. At some point we, as a society, have to stand up and say enough is enough.”

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio‏ (@marcorubio): “I’m praying for all the victims, their families, and our first responders in the #LasVegas #MandalayBay shooting.”

Gov. Rick Scott‏ (@FLGovScott) “.@FLAnnScott and I are praying for Las Vegas and all the innocent lives senselessly taken.”

Attorney General Pam Bondi (@AGPamBondi): “Heartbreaking news out of Las Vegas — praying for the victims, their families and our country.”

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam (@adamputnam): “Terribly saddened to wake up to news of so many killed & injured in Las Vegas. Prayers for all at the scene, their families & loved ones.”

CFO Jimmy Patronis (@JimmyPatronis): “50 lives are lost, 200+ are injured and countless families are changed forever. Praying for all involved in last night’s Las Vegas shooting.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran‏ (@richardcorcoran): “Our deepest condolences and prayers go out to the victims and families of the tragedy in Las Vegas. #PrayForLasVegas”

“Rick Scott orders flags at half-staff for Las Vegas shooting victims” via Florida Politics – Gov. Scott Monday has ordered flags at half-staff “in honor and remembrance of the victims of the act of violence committed in Las Vegas during the late-night hours of Oct. 1.” The U.S. and state flags will be flown at half-staff “at all local and state buildings, installations, and grounds throughout the State of Florida,” according to a statement from his office. “The flags shall be lowered immediately and remain at half-staff until the expiration of the President’s national directive until sunset on Friday.” “Ann and I are praying for Las Vegas and all the innocent lives senselessly taken in this tragic attack,” Scott said in a statement. “Our hearts go out to every family impacted by last night’s shooting.” President Donald Trump‘s proclamation is here.

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Accused Las Vegas gunman previously lived in Central Florida, brother says” via David Harris and Michael Williams of the Orlando Sentinel – “An asteroid just fell out of the sky,” said Eric Paddock, 57, who lives east of Orlando. “We have absolutely no [idea] why in the world he would do something like this.” Paddock said his brother sold his 2-year-old house in Viera, north of Melbourne, and moved away partly to escape Florida’s humidity. He lived in a retirement community in Mesquite, near the Arizona border, The Associated Press reported. Like his son, Stephen Paddock’s father also had ties to crime, gambling and Las Vegas. Benjamin Hoskins Paddock, who sometimes went by Patrick Benjamin Paddock, was a bank robber who was put on the FBI’s most-wanted list in 1969. A former garbage-disposal salesman and serviceman, according to a 1960 article by the Arizona Republic, he was arrested in Las Vegas that year and tried to run an FBI agent over with his car before he was captured. He made the list after escaping from a federal prison in La Tuna, Texas, on Dec. 31, 1968, having served eight years of a 20-year sentence. The FBI at the time described Hoskins Paddock as a frequent gambler and avid bridge player. He had a wife and four children in Arizona, officials said in 1969.

Vegas gunman was gambler, ‘trusting,’ Brevard neighbor says” via Eliot Kleinberg, Julius Whigham II and Olivia Hitchcock of the Palm Beach Post – Retired hotelier and corporate pilot Don Judy was surprised in 2013 when he went to welcome Stephen Paddock, his new neighbor at their community near Melbourne on the Space Coast. Paddock told him he was a professional gambler who traveled back and forth to Las Vegas, as well as a real-estate speculator. Right away, he said, the man handed him a house key and asked him to check on his home periodically. “That was strange because that was only our first meeting,” Judy told The Palm Beach Post … Judy said Paddock “never said anything about guns” and that the only time Judy saw anything close to anger was when the neighborhood management firm refused to give Paddock a gate pass he could transfer between the different rental cars he’d arrive in. He was denied, meaning he needed to register each car separately. “He said, ‘Dang it. They won’t give me a pass.’” He also said that when Paddock first gave him the house key, he told him, “‘Listen. I’ve bought all this new stuff. Shop-Vac, ladders, tools. If you need anything, feel free to come over.’ I thought, ‘Wow. The guy’s very trusting.’

Kathy Castor: Too many suffer from ‘our country’s gun violence epidemic’” via the Tampa Bay Reporter – “I am shocked and saddened by the horrific act of gun violence in Las Vegas. I am praying for the victims and their families and know many across the Tampa Bay area are doing the same. Day in and day out, too many American families suffer the consequences of our country’s gun violence epidemic. Certainly, we can come together to pass common-sense safety requirements such as background checks and limits on civilian use of military-style weapons, and to enforce the laws on the books. The sorrow that I and so many around the country feel for the innocent men and women whose lives were cruelly cut short by this heartless act of domestic terrorism is immeasurable. We will never allow these acts of terror to control us – but after so many lives lost around our country for so long by public acts of gun violence, we must ask ourselves why this is allowed to continue. We owe it to the victims of these horrible acts of gun violence to take steps that will ensure more innocent lives are not lost to future tragedies.”

Pride Fund blames legislators for lack of gun controls” via Terry Roen of Orlando Rising – The Pride Fund to End Gun Violence chastised lawmakers for failing to ensure citizen’s safety following the shooting in Las Vegas. Another day, another deadly shooting in America,” said a statement released by Jason Lindsay, executive director and founder of the Pride Fund. “Last night’s massacre is another reminder that no one is safe when access to guns is so easy. We’re heartbroken and horrified for those involved as well as the community as a whole.” The nonprofit supports requiring background checks for all gun sales, prohibiting suspected terrorists from purchasing guns and high-capacity magazines, preventing those convicted of hate crimes from purchasing guns, undertaking federally-funded research on gun violence, and restricting access to assault weapons, like the ones used in Sunday night’s shooting “No other country faces the daily onslaught of shootings and murders that the United States does, where 93 people are killed every day by gun violence,” the statement said. “For too long, lawmakers have failed in their responsibility to ensure the public safety by not taking action.”

— “How far-right trolls named the wrong man as the Las Vegas shooter” via Abby Ohlheiser of The Washington Post

— “Las Vegas shooting: Orlando-area doctor hid in store closet for an hour” via Naseem S. Miller of the Orlando Sentinel

— “Two Sarasota women witness horror during Las Vegas shooting” via John Rogers of WFLA


Puerto Rico is getting a surge of aid, governor says” via Richard Fausset of The New York Times – Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told reporters that over the next two days, more than half a million barrels of diesel fuel and nearly a million barrels of gasoline would reach Puerto Rico. The fuel is badly needed to power emergency generators and to distribute food and other supplies across the island. Rosselló said that the Defense Department had increased its footprint on Puerto Rico to 6,400 people, from roughly 4,600 two days earlier, with more coming, and that other federal agencies were also sending more staff to aid in the island’s recovery from Hurricane Maria … The Trump administration’s response to the disaster has become a heated political issue. Some Puerto Rican officials, including the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, have made televised pleas for a faster and more robust response. Others, like the governor, have spoken more positively about federal efforts.

Rick Scott declares emergency amid Puerto Rico crisis” via Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida Scott issued the executive order for all 67 counties to help accommodate people who relocate to Florida due to Hurricane Maria. The executive order includes a series of steps to help prepare for an influx of people from the U.S. territory. For example, it allows the suspension of state laws, rules and orders that could be tied to the emergency and designates Wesley Maul, interim executive director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, as coordinator of the state’s response to the crisis. Also, it directs that public shelters be made available at the request of local emergency-management officials and allows pharmacists to dispense up to 30-day emergency supplies of prescriptions to evacuees. The order allows “sufficient funds’ be made available from unappropriated surplus funds and the state’s Budget Stabilization Fund. It also bars businesses from selling or renting “at an unconscionable price” supplies, equipment or provisions related to the emergency.

Puerto Rico exodus begun; groups struggling to help” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – Monday morning there was a line through the parking lot at the Puerto Rico Family Response Center in Orlando: Puerto Rican families waiting for it to open to offer relocation help in Florida, and LatinoLeadership Inc. President Marytza Senz, who is running the ad hoc center, said she also took 40 calls by 7:30 a.m. That’s in addition to the 150 or more calls that came in over the weekend, she said. “We are overwhelmed,” Senz said … Gov. Scott announced that the state would be opening Puerto Rico disaster relief centers at Orlando International Airport and in Miami to help the still-unestimated number of islanders who are or will be fleeing to Florida … Other agencies are gearing up too, along with various churches and civic groups. Yet coordination and red-tape management are already adding to more fundamental problems, like families who once had decent lives showing up in the Sunshine State not just without paperwork, but in some cases without an extra set of clothes. LatinoLeadership and the Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce have established the Puerto Rico Family Response Center at LatinoLeadership’s modest and hard-to-find center at 8617 E. Colonial Dr.

More than 8,000 stand in line for emergency food assistance from Hurricane Irma losses” via Jason Ruiter of the Orlando Sentinel – The center for Lake and Sumter counties opened Saturday — the first in Central Florida — and will take applications through Wednesday. More than 8,000 people signed up by Monday afternoon. Food for Florida will open locations Saturday at Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimmee and Oct. 21 at Orlando Live Events in Casselberry and Camping World Stadium in Orlando, where officials expect about 10,000 applicants a day. Each center will be open for five days. Bill D’Aiuto, regional director for the Florida Department of Children and Families, which is handling the program, said there were “a lot of tears of joy” at the Leesburg site from people who will receive benefits to help them get back on their feet after Irma. “We’ve heard from some that this is the first help they’ve received since the storm,” he said.

Curfew lifted in Florida Keys three weeks after Hurricane Irma” via The Associated Press – Monroe County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Becky Herrin said in a news release that sheriff’s deputies will be actively patrolling residential neighborhoods and keeping an eye out for suspicious people and suspicious activity. Officials in the Keys have also reopened to visitors three weeks after Irma devastated the island chain. Airline and cruise ship traffic has returned to Key West and traffic is flowing on the Florida Keys Overseas Highway.

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“Gambling amendment now has 600,000 signatures” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – A proposed constitutional amendment aimed at limiting gambling’s expansion in the state now has more than 600,000 signatures, its backers said Monday. Voters in Charge, the political committee behind the amendment, said it’s “over halfway towards its goal of gathering 1.1 million signatures in order to reach the required number of 766,200 valid petitions to appear on the 2018 General Election ballot.” As of Monday, Division of Elections records show the “Voter Control of Gambling” amendment officially has 274,282 verified signatures. “Tens of thousands of Floridians are signing our petition each week and we are on track to accomplish our goal of securing enough signatures for ballot placement by year’s end,” said John Sowinski, chairman of Voters in Charge.

Andrew Gillum hires new finance director to ramp up fundraising” via Florida PoliticsAkilah Ensley heads to the Gillum camp from Invictus Strategy Group, a political and nonprofit fundraising consulting shop she founded. Her past experience also includes a stint as deputy director of major gifts at the Truman National Security Project. “Our campaign is thrilled to add Akilah R. Ensley, a nationally-recognized leader in Democratic politics and nonprofit causes, as our new Finance Director,” said Gillum communication director Geoff Burgan. “She brings a wealth of knowledge to the Gillum campaign, including numerous statewide campaigns in the Southeast. With the Democratic primary under a year away, her addition comes at a critical time, and we’re thrilled that she’ll be leading the charge as we run a strong people-powered campaign to take back Florida.” Ensley does arrive at a crucial time. While the Tallahassee mayor got off to a strong start on the fundraising trail, recent contributions — both to his campaign and his committee, “Forward Florida” — have slowed somewhat.

Democrat Lauren Baer announces run for CD 18” via Ali Schmitz of TCPalmBaer, a Democrat from Palm Beach Gardens, announced her run for Florida’s District 18 congressional seat … occupied by Republican Rep. Brian Mast. Baer served as a senior adviser for Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. She also advised former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power. She currently works as a consultant for the Albright Stonebridge Group, a global strategy firm founded by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Her key issues include job creation and economic policies that “preserve and expand the middle class,” environmental issues, improving public education and health care. If Baer wins, she would be the second person in American history to be in a same-sex marriage while in Congress. She and her wife, Emily Meyers, have an 11-month-old daughter.

Meanwhile … “Dave Aronberg won’t seek Brian Mast seat” via Aronberg ended speculation that he might be induced to challenge Mast. “I’m focused on the opioid epidemic and a number of important issues as State Attorney, and so I have no intention of running for any other office in 2018,” Aronberg told The Palm Beach Post.

Attack mailers target House candidate Yvonne Fry” via William March of the Tampa Bay Times –The attacks on Fry seek to tar her as a “liberal” in the conservative district, citing her support for a referendum on the Go Hillsborough transit tax proposal, her supposed opposition to oil and gas fracking in Florida, and her opposition to a proposal by the Legislature for a referendum on increasing the homestead tax exemption. Fry’s campaign consultant, Brock Mikosky, blamed [opponent Lawrence] McClure‘s consultant, Anthony Pedicini, for the attacks, but suggested McClure must have known about them. Pedicini, who has extensive ties to the state Republican Party and GOP legislative leadership, has been linked in the past to the use of outside committees to attack political opponents. McClure denied any knowledge of the attacks and said he considered them inappropriate. But Pedicini didn’t specifically deny Mikosky’s accusation. “The Yvonne Fry campaign needs to stop lying about things,” he responded via text message, declining to answer further questions. McClure said he intended to question Pedicini about that but hadn’t done so by mid-week.

Second Democrat files to take over for Bill Hager” via Florida PoliticsJames Bonfiglio, an Ocean Ridge resident, filed paperwork to run for the Palm Beach County district on Sept. 18. He joins Ryan Rossi, who filed May 1, in the Democratic Primary for the race. Bonfiglio graduated from the Loyola University School of Law in 1979 and was admitted to the Florida Bar shortly after, according to his website for his law firm. Also running for the seat are Republicans Matt Spritz and Tommy Zeichman, who are both attorneys.

Bob Rommel draws NPA challenger in House District 106” via Florida PoliticsKristopher Knudson, a resident of Marco Island, filed for the seat in late July … through the end of August he had raised $150 for his campaign … $50 of that money came from Laura Knudson, who lists her occupation as “waitress/wife to candidate” on the official finance report. The other $100 came from James Corley, a retiree from Champaign, Illinois, who also appears to be close with Knudson. Despite the 27-year-old candidate’s only two contributions coming from friends and family, his campaign lists a $5.20 expenditure for accepting a donation through fundraising support company Stripe.

— “Jack Miles endorses Stockton Reeves in HD 47 race” via Scott Powers of Orlando Rising


Congressman duped into holding sham hearing for Ukrainian TV” via Betsy Woodruff and Andrew Desiderio of The Daily Beast – Former Rep. Connie Mackreached out to the office of Rep. Ron Estes — a freshman lawmaker who won the special election to replace CIA Director Mike Pompeo — to reserve a room in the basement of the Capitol for an event on the Ukrainian banking sector … the fake “hearing” was broadcast in full on Ukraine’s NewsOne and described to viewers as the “U.S. Congressional Committee on Financial Issues.” But not a single member of Congress attended. The network teased the “shocking details” about the “highest levels of corruption in the NBU,” referring to the National Bank of Ukraine. Panelists at the event included Sergiy Taruta, a former politician in Ukraine, Oleksandr Zavadetskyi, a former NBU employee, and James Woolsey, the former CIA director under President Bill Clinton who also served as an adviser to President Trump’s campaign. A pamphlet handed out to attendees was evaluated by a Ukrainian fact-checking website as having “mostly correct” data about the NBU but “manipulated in almost all occasions.” Estes’ office told The Daily Beast that the congressman had nothing to do with the event, and that they reserved the room “as a courtesy” for Mack, who is now a registered lobbyist at Liberty International Group, “to host an event on allegations of corruption in Ukraine.” An Estes spokesman added that the office policy for booking rooms has been updated to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.

Rick Scott, Florida delegation continue to push against the Maduro regime” via Kevin Derby of the Sunshine State News – Appearing at the 2017 Latin American Summit … Scott announced he would bring out a proposal for the Legislature to vote on early next year ensuring state agencies do not do business with companies working with the Maduro regime. This is not the first time Scott has proposed the state government should not work with supporters of the Maduro regime. In the meantime, on Capitol Hill, a proposal backed by a key South Florida Republican offering aid to the Venezuelan people continues to build momentum. U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel the top Democrat on the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, and U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who used to chair that committee, are championing the “Venezuela Humanitarian Assistance and Defense of Democratic Governance Act” which would make the State Department and USAID Administrator provide humanitarian aid to the Venezuelan people. The proposal would also make the American ambassador to the U.N. push that body for assistance for the Venezuelan people. Engel and Ros-Lehtinen have the support of nine other members of the Florida delegation as Republican U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Ron DeSantis and Mario Diaz-Balart and Democrats U.S. Reps. Charlie Crist, Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Darren Soto and Debbie Wasserman Schultz are co-sponsoring the proposal.

Behind ‘grassroots’ campaigns over Airbnb, millions of industry dollars” via Chris Kirkham of the Wall Street Journal – The stakes are high: Closely held Airbnb has a $31 billion valuation … and has more than doubled its worldwide listings over the last two years. The hotel industry stands to lose market share as Airbnb continues to grow. A Morgan Stanley report last year found that nearly half of Airbnb users surveyed said they had substituted Airbnb for a traditional hotel during their travels in the last year. While many top hotel executives have sought to downplay the threat posed by Airbnb, the industry’s lobbying group has sharpened its attack and developed publicity campaigns with affordable housing advocates and other neighborhood groups to sway policy makers. Meanwhile, Airbnb has organized residents who use the platform to show up at local hearings, where they stress how it provides them crucial supplemental income. “As far as the resources going toward this issue, I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson. Troy Flanagan, vice president of state and local government affairs for the American Hotel & Lodging Association, said its relationships with local advocates are “partnerships in a coalition setting,” while Airbnb’s approach is to flood city and state government with professional lobbyists. “Just by the sheer number of corporate employees and lobbyists they have walking in city halls and state legislatures, they’re up there with Wal-Mart,” he said.


Assignment editors – Gov. Scott will address Florida business leaders starting at 9 a.m. at the Gulf Power Economic Symposium at the Baytowne Conference Center, 9300 Emerald Coast Pkwy. in Miramar Beach. At 3 p.m., the governor will then visit volunteers in Orlando at the American Red Cross distribution warehouse at 2200 Consulate Dr. in Orlando.

OJ Simpson’s lawyer blasts Pam Bondi as ‘stupid,’ says Simpson definitely coming to Florida” via Christopher Spata of the Tampa Bay Times Simpson‘s lawyer Malcolm Lavergne is outraged with Florida Attorney General Bondi, blasting her as “possibly the stupidest person on the planet’ … “What a complete stupid b—-. F— her,” Lavergne said in an incensed interview … “She has zero standing to even talk about Mr. Simpson’s case. She’s the attorney general, she has nothing to do with it. It’s virtually a foregone conclusion that Simpson will be moving to Florida when he chooses and once Nevada approves it. That’s handled by the Nevada Division of Parole and Florida department of corrections, not the attorney general.” Lavergne said Simpson plans to live in a private location in Nevada for probably the next few months before requesting transfer to Florida. Lavergne argued Simpson has a right to move to Florida under the rules of the Interstate Compact, which says states must automatically accept transfers if certain criteria are met, such as the offender being a resident of the receiving state, having family in that state and having means to support themselves.

Pam Bondi urges collaboration at human trafficking summit” via Terry Roen of Orlando Rising Bondi stressed the importance of global collaboration to end sexual slavery during opening remarks at Florida’s Human Trafficking Summit in Orlando. “If we don’t tackle this worldwide, we’ll never solve the problem,” Bondi said. “This is a transnational crime and a worldwide problem.” Bondi spoke to an audience of more than 500 attendees that included law enforcement, service providers, human trafficking survivors, health care professionals, educators, legislators and community leaders during the summit at the Rosen Centre Hotel. Bondi urged corporations, businesses, hospitals and schools to train their employees and students about how to recognize human trafficking. She pointed to an Uber driver that noticed in his rearview mirror that an older man and young girl did not look right. His call to law enforcement ended a human trafficking ring, she said. Uber is now training its 40,000 drivers on the signs of sexual coercion and abuse.

What Mike Grissom is reading –Enterprise Florida could give employee pay raises” via the News Service of Florida –  President and CEO Pete Antonacci advised members of the agency’s Finance and Compensation Committee of recommended increases as a way to keep employee salaries competitive with the private market. “Salary adjustments were recommended for retention and marketplace competition purposes,” Enterprise Florida spokesman Nathan Edwards said in an email. The proposal must still go before Enterprise Florida’s Executive Board, which has not set a date for its next meeting. Antonacci … previously recommended against using a bonus program that was approved under his predecessor. In August, Scott sent a letter to the members of the boards of directors at Enterprise Florida and VISIT FLORIDA outlining his opposition to employee bonuses at both agencies. “Employees are the key to success in any organization,” Scott, who serves as chairman of Enterprise Florida board, said in the letter. “But, after a long legislative session where the spending at these organizations was greatly debated, I do not believe that employee compensation should include bonuses at this time.”

Tallahassee gets more time to ready Scott Maddox records for FBI” via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat – The city of Tallahassee has asked the FBI for more time to produce thousands of pages of documents involving communications of City Commissioner Maddox and some of his closest former and current associates. City Attorney Lew Shelley said the FBI granted the request. The subpoena, issued Sept. 6, asked that the records be delivered to a federal grand jury meeting at the U.S. District Courthouse in Tallahassee or to the FBI’s local office. “The city attorney has been in conversation with the FBI and the FBI has agreed to extend the time to provide the documents requested by the subpoena,” Shelley said in an email. “The city attorney will be in further conversation with the FBI at the end of the week as to when the documents will be provided.

— “Beach bigwigs gave $200k to a shadowy PAC. Now, they want a refund.” via Nicholas Nehamas, Joey Flechas and David Ovalle of the Miami Herald

Florida has 40 of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S.” via Sarah Elsesser of the Palm Beach Post – WalletHub looked at 515 cities across the United States and compared them based on 15 key measurements including population growth, unemployment rate and income growth. Out of the 515 cities, 40 of them were located in Florida, the studied reported. Lehigh Acres came in third on the overall ranking. Fort Myers (7), Cape Coral (15) and Boynton Beach (19) made the cut for the Top 20, according to the study. WalletHub also broke down more specific rankings – such as highest poverty rate decrease and highest job growth – and Fort Myers was on both of those lists.


Assignment editor: Senate President Joe Negron and DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein will visit the Caulkins Water Farm Expansion in Martin County on Tuesday, then hold a press conference to discuss its expansion from its existing 413 acres to 3,200 acres. That’s 10 a.m., at 14100-15484 SW Citrus Blvd., Palm City.

“Constitutional panel moves two public proposals” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – The Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) on Monday moved forward on two public proposals to amend the state’s governing document: One to close the “write-in loophole,” and another to repeal a provision on high speed rail. The next chance for commissioners to directly sponsor public proposals will be on Oct. 17, during another meeting of the full Commission. Commissioners also adopted a recommendation from their Rules Committee to extend the public filing deadline to this Friday because of Hurricane Irma … At Monday’s meeting, Commissioner Sherry Plymale sponsored a public proposal turned in by former lawmaker and now Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg. It would open primary elections to all voters in which a major-party candidate has only write-in opposition … Also, Commissioner Carolyn Timmann sponsored another public proposal to remove subsequently repealed language in the constitution that mandated a high-speed rail system in the state.

Happening today – CRC panels at work – Two committees of the CRC will hold meetings, beginning with the Declaration of Rights Committee at 9 a.m., 110 Senate Office Building in the Capitol. The Judicial Committee meets at 1 p.m., 301 Senate Office Building in the Capitol.

“Rob Bradley seeks to beef up Florida Forever” via Florida Politics – The Fleming Island Republican filed a bill (SB 370) in the state Senate to put $100 million a year into the Florida Forever land acquisition fund. The Department of Environmental Protection has asked for $50 million for Florida Forever in next year’s state budget. The current 2017-2018 state budget included nothing for the program. “As a conservative, I believe in absolute fidelity to the Constitution,” Bradley said in a statement. “I am filing this bill because the Constitution demands, and the overwhelming majority of Floridians who voted for Amendment One in 2014 demand, that we protect the natural resources of our state.” The bill appropriates funds under Amendment One, passed in 2014, that mandates state spending for land and water conservation. Bradley chairs the chamber’s Environmental Preservation and Conservation committee.

Proposal seeks to ensure nursing home air conditioning” via the News Service of Florida – Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Chairman Rene Garcia filed the measure … It is the second Senate bill seeking to address the air conditioning issue, which has drawn national attention since the Sept. 13 deaths of eight residents of The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills. Four other residents subsequently died. Garcia’s bill … would require nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have emergency power sources and fuel supplies that would last at least four days. To meet that requirement, facilities could store generators and fuel supplies on-site or contract with companies that could provide them in a “timely” manner when requested. The bill also would require the Florida Public Service Commission to ensure that electric utilities prioritize restoration of electricity to medical facilities with 50 residents or more, including nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

“Grower asks state for edible cannabis rules” via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – Surterra Wellness, the Atlanta-based company with medical cannabis dispensaries in Tampa and Tallahassee, on Monday asked the state to let it begin offering edible products in Florida. Voters last year overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment legalizing medical cannabis, and lawmakers passed legislation in June to implement the amendment. That bill allows patients to use cannabis pills, oils, edibles and “vape” pens with a doctor’s approval, but it bans smoking. Florida law requires the state’s Department of Health to determine “any shapes, forms” edible products can take and what other ingredients they can contain. No medical marijuana provider can offer edibles after the rule goes out.

Happening today – Board of Governors committees meet in Lee County – The Florida University System Board of Governors’ Facilities and the Budget & Finance Committees will meet beginning 9 a.m. at Florida Gulf Coast University Cohen Center, 10501 FGCU Blvd. South in Fort Myers.

Public Service Commission meets, workshops – The Florida PSC will hold a regular meeting, followed by a workshop about electric utilities’ 10-year site plans beginning 9:30 a.m. At the Betty Easley Conference Center, 4075 Esplanade Way in Tallahassee.


“Senate Victory names new executive director” via Florida Politics – Longtime Democratic operative Josh Weierbach has been bumped up to the executive director gig at the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, still colloquially known as Senate Victory, the fundraising panel to elect D’s to the Senate. It’s chaired by Sen. Jeff Clemens. Weierbach, 30, has been Senate Victory’s political director for two years and came through big time during the SD 40 special election last week, which saw Annette Taddeo flip the seat in a surprise 4-point victory over Jose Felix Diaz. His socko performance under pressure in that hard-fought Miami-Dade contest earned him plenty of praise, with one insider describing him as an “air traffic controller and always one of the coolest heads in the room.” In 2015, named Weierbach one of its “30 under 30” rising stars of Florida politics, saying at the time he “is no armchair quarterback, disinterestedly watching elections play out from afar: He spends his time on the front lines of Florida politics.”

Jason Altmire’s new book, ‘Dead Center,’ out today via Florida PoliticsAltmire, a Democrat and former Pennsylvania congressman, said Bill Nelson, Kathy Castor, Ted Yoho and Vern Buchanan are mentioned in the book, which includes a discussion about Florida’s ban on campaign contributions during legislative session. “The introduction to the book focuses on the extreme political reactions to the Pulse nightclub shooting,” he told Florida Politics. “I also highlight the great work done by the Bob Graham Center at UF.“ The Amazon link is here and info about the book can be found on his website, Altmire, a Keystone State native known as a centrist Democrat, represented western Pennsylvania’s 4th Congressional District.

On this week’s edition of The Rotunda – Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum speaks out on the city’s mysterious FBI investigation that he says is making a direct impact on his campaign for governor. The Rotunda host Trimmel Gomes also travels back in time with Democratic Senator-elect Annette Taddeo to her early pledge to never give up after losing three previous elections. Democratic Consultant Steve Schale weighs in on the latest political storms and victories. Plus Gomes looks into a new report that claims Florida’s Public Service Commission has been “Captured” by the utility industry. Ben Wilcox, research director of Integrity Florida and a co-author of the report discusses the reports’ findings.

Happy birthday to Sen. Travis Hutson.

Last Call for 10.2.17 – A prime-time read of what’s going down in Florida politics

Last Call – A prime-time read of what’s going down in Florida politics.

First Shot

No longer a lawmaker, Jose Felix Diaz says he’s now back to being a full-time lawyer—and dad.

The Miami-Dade Republican spoke to capital correspondent Jim Rosica after Monday’s meeting of the Constitution Revision Commission. Diaz, a former state representative, was appointed to the body by Speaker Richard Corcoran when he was still in the House.

The 37-year-old attorney lost a special election to succeed former Sen. Frank Artiles in Senate District 40 last week. Diaz lost by a roughly 51-47 margin to incoming Democrat Annette Taddeo, who’ll be sworn in next Tuesday.

“Right now, my immediate focus is re-establishing my legal practice, working as a member of the Constitution Revision Commission, and spending a lot more time with my kids,” said Diaz, father of two sons. “This weekend, we took them to Disney … Maybe we’ll take them to some spring training games.”

When Diaz realized he had lost, “I was at peace with it immediately,” he said. “It was my first (political) loss, so it’s an unusual feeling … We obviously knew going in that it was a (district) (Donald) Trump lost by 16 points” last year.

But Diaz says he feels like he “left it all on the field,” a sports saying meaning to give it all one’s got. “As soon as I lost, I started getting a lot of calls from people with suggestions as to what I should do next. Right now, thinking again about running for office is a long way off.”

For now, he’s getting back into practicing law at the Akerman law firm, where he handles local government matters, including zoning and land use permitting cases.

“I have enough clients to keep me busy for a while,” Diaz said. “The last couple of months have set me back on billable hours, so it’s an opportunity to catch up. I’m going to focus on being a better lawyer and an even better father.”

Evening Reads

Gun stocks up after Las Vegas shooting” via Paul La Monica of CNN

Accused Las Vegas gunman previously lived in Central Florida, brother says” via David Harris and Michael Williams of the Orlando Sentinel

Vegas gunman was gambler, ‘trusting,’ Brevard neighbor says” via Eliot Kleinberg, Melanie Mena and Olivia Hitchcock of the Palm Beach Post

Las Vegas shooter’s former neighbors in Viera: ‘He seemed normal’” via Tess Sheets and Wayne Price of Florida Today

Las Vegas shooting reminds Orlando of Pulse massacre” via Jeff Weiner of Orlando Sentinel

Florida will open three disaster aid centers for Puerto Rico’s evacuees” via Steve Bousquet and Patricia Mazzei of the Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau

Curfew lifted in Keys 3 weeks after Irma” via the Associated Press

Behind ‘grassroots’ campaigns over Airbnb, millions of industry dollars” via Chris Kirkham of the Wall Street Journal

Tallahassee gets more time to ready Scott Maddox records for FBI” via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat

Tom Petty, rock iconoclast who led the Heartbreakers, dead at 66” via Kory Grow of Rolling Stone

Quote of the Day

“The fact that he had those kind of weapons is just — where the hell did he get automatic weapons? He has no military background or anything like that. He’s a guy who lived in a house in Mesquite and drove down and gambled in Las Vegas.” —Eric Paddock of Orlando, Fla., brother of alleged Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock, in a Monday interview with CBS.

Bill Day’s Latest

Breakthrough Insights 

Wake Up Early?

The Declaration of Rights Committee of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission is scheduled to meet. That’s at 9 a.m., 110 Senate Office Building, the Capitol, Tallahassee.

The Facilities Committee and the Budget & Finance Committee of the State University System Board of Governors will meet in Lee County. The meeting is 9 a.m., Florida Gulf Coast University, Cohen Center, 10501 FGCU Blvd. South, Fort Myers.

The Legislative Committee of the Florida Commission on Ethics is scheduled to meet 9 a.m., at Commission on Ethics headquarters, 325 John Knox Road, Tallahassee.

Sen. Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican, is expected to discuss the importance of financial literacy during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a VyStar Credit Union branch at a high school. The ceremony begins 9:20 a.m., Fletcher High School, 700 Seagate Ave., Neptune Beach.

The Florida Public Service Commission will hold a regular meeting, followed by a workshop about electric utilities’ 10-year site plans. It is at 9:30 a.m., Betty Easley Conference Center, 4075 Esplanade Way, Tallahassee.

Senate President Joe Negron and DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein will visit the Caulkins Water Farm Expansion in Martin County on Tuesday, then hold a press conference to discuss its expansion from its existing 413 acres to 3,200 acres. That’s 10 a.m., at 14100-15484 SW Citrus Blvd., Palm City.

Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is scheduled to deliver remarks at the sixth annual Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute’s (CHLI) Trade and International Affairs Symposium. That’s at 1 p.m., The Embassy of Canada, 501 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.

The Judicial Committee of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission is scheduled to meet. That’s at 1 p.m., 301 Senate Office Building, the Capitol, Tallahassee.

The Florida Board of Pharmacy is scheduled to meet in Orange County. The meeting is 1:30 p.m., Rosen Plaza Hotel, 9700 International Dr., Orlando.

The Florida Board of Osteopathic Medicine is scheduled to hold a conference call at 4:30 p.m. The call-in number is (888) 670-3525, and the participant code is 660 748 5549.

Here’s why Rick Baker’s latest ads are so awful

How awful are mayoral candidate Rick Baker‘s new television ads?

They’re so awful that the Rick Kriseman campaign is paying to sponsor a post on Facebook that essentially promotes them.

Think about that for a moment: Baker’s opponent is so confident that ads designed to make a positive impression on voters actually end up doing the opposite that he’s willing to spend campaign dollars to boost their reach.

Baker released two ads last week. Both stress the former mayor’s accomplishments while leading City Hall from 2001 to 2010.

In the first ad, a group of people sitting at a table in a restaurant chat about all the great things about St. Petersburg including such things as dog parks and the Dali Museum.

“You know that’s all because of the mayor, right?” a waitress asks.


The waitress laughs and says, “No, Mayor Rick Baker.”

She gestures behind her and the video cuts to a picture of Baker in sunglasses. Baker removes the glasses and says, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

Remember that moment during the 2016 presidential campaign when Jeb Bush blurted out, “Please clap” during a speech? Watching these commercials is like that.

It’s cringe-worthy.

A second ad has two people are in a record store and the clerk asks if they’re searching for the Rick Baker records. He points them out — Beach Drive, the Grand Prix, the “great Midtown comeback.”

Then the woman asks, “What’s this?”

The clerk says, “Kriseman record? No one’s buying.”

Baker enters, again wearing sunglasses. The clerk asks, “Hey, Rick, what you got?”

“New releases.”

The second spot is not as bad as the first. But that’s like saying the second Star Wars prequel was not as bad as the one that featured Jar Jar Binks.

Of course, the Baker campaign is proud of the ads. Those inside the campaign say the spots work because they’re giving supporters something new to talk about after Baker underperformed in the primary. They’re relieved that Baker is finally saying something that does not involve the word “sewers.”

Want to know how bad these ads are? Tampa Bay Times political editor Adam Smith likes them.

On Sunday, he wrote that they are “fun, memorable and presumably not intended to be taken too seriously.”

This from the reporter whose last major pronouncement was that Andrew Gillum was the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for governor.

One of Smith’s go-to sources is Adam Goodman, the ad maker who cut these spots for Baker. After Baker finished behind Kriseman in the primary, I argued that Baker should fire Goodman and bring in new creative. I argued that Baker’s ads neither properly introduced the former mayor nor did they offer voters a rationale for giving Baker a third term in City Hall.

Obviously, Baker went in another direction. And that’s his prerogative. I’m sure Baker and Goodman like these ads. Maybe Baker, Goodman, and Smith are right and I’m wrong. But I’ve spoken to consultants and operatives on both sides of the aisle and almost all of them are critical of the ads.

“I can’t stop watching it. So bad,” texted one veteran GOP consultant.

“I bite my tongue on a lot of bad commercials, but this one is just so, so bad,” tweeted Democratic ad maker Kevin Cate.

Even the folks Adam Smith spoke with were taken aback.

“The sunglasses almost make me cringe,” said Richard Hughes, the chief creative officer of St. Petersburg-based ClearpH Design Firm, noting that his younger designers were especially turned off by that and the ads could actually turn off younger voters. (Hughes told Smith he thought Baker’s rebranding effort was “fun and memorable,” which is almost exactly what Smith himself said he thought of the ads … hmmm.)

Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so maybe, just maybe these ads are effective.

I, for one, don’t think they are and now believe Baker is in no man’s land, like a tennis player stuck between the service line and the back baseline.

Baker no longer has the opportunity to introduce (or reintroduce) himself to St. Petersburg voters. He just has a laundry list of projects he worked on (don’t forget about the dog parks!). Voters really have no clue about what he’s done since leaving office, such as his work at USF-St. Petersburg or toward revitalizing Sundial.

But neither is Baker articulating a clear vision for what he’d do. About the future, he says, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” WE KNOW, that’s the damn point.

Meanwhile, the sewage system issue Baker mistakenly based much of primary campaign on no longer seems to resonate with voters (if it ever did), but Kriseman and his allies can continue to tie Baker to Trump because, well, Baker really doesn’t have an effective counter.

But here’s why Baker’s ads are genuinely so awful. It’s not their hipster vibe or flimsy message, it’s their opportunity cost.

To Baker needed to raise more money than Kriseman and then pummel him on the airwaves. Just like Jeb Bush was supposed to do in the 2016 presidential primary.

Instead, Kriseman is, at worse, not losing to Baker on the airwaves, while out-organizing him in the GOTV and field components.

No wonder Kriseman and his supporters are telling each other to “please clap” at Baker’s ads.

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