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Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – 4.30.18

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

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Daniel McAuliffe, Jim Rosica, and Drew Wilson.

While the D.C. political crowd spent the weekend navel-gazing, Florida’s political aficionados did what they do best — live life to the fullest. There are several highlights from the weekend worth sharing:

— Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine tied the knot, marrying his “best friend” Carolina. Spotted at the intimate ceremony was political consultant Christian Ulvert and his husband, Carlos Andrade.

— Also getting hitched this weekend was the incredibly talented Sarah Proctor of Bascom Communications and Consulting. She’s pictured here with her husband and her colleagues, Lyndsey Brzozowski, Kristin Bridges, Sarah Bascom, Rebekah Stamps, and Kelsey Swithers.

— Amanda and Brewster Bevis, she of the Adam Putnam campaign and he of Associated Industries of Florida, welcomed their third child to world, Crawford James Bevis. Dad tells us everyone is happy and healthy.

— Soon to be making a move from man-defense to zone coverage is state Rep. Danny Burgess and his wife, who announced they are expecting their third child:

For the record, the Schorsch family spent much of the weekend in the water, whether it be on the boat or in the swimming pool.


— @MaggieNYT: That @PressSec sat and absorbed intense criticism of her physical appearance, her job performance, and so forth, instead of walking out, on national television, was impressive.

— @MegKinnardAP: If the #WHCD dinner did anything tonight, it made the chasm between journalists and those who don’t trust us, even wider. And those of us based in the red states who work hard every day to prove our objectivity will have to deal with it.

— @NeilTyson: When did it become okay to be more offended by what someone with no power says than by what someone with power does?

— @SenBillNelson: Beautiful day at the Puerto Rican Parade and Festival in Orlando! It’s an honor to march alongside local community leaders and war heroes in celebration of Puerto Rican culture, which help makes Florida the strong and diverse state it is today.

— @DrNealDunnFL2: It’s Small Business Week. I’ve heard from optimistic small businesses owners in the Second District who are now able to invest more into their people, increase benefits, buy and update new equipment, and create more jobs — all thanks to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

— @Fineout: .@adamputnam sends out fundraising pitch that asks “what kind of pinko communist” would be critical of BBQ

— @ArekSarkissian: Today I celebrate 5 years clean. If you’re struggling, know this — if I can do it, anyone can do it. One second, hour, day, month, year …


Close of candidate qualifying for federal office — 4; Mother’s Day — 13; Deadpool 2 release — 18; Solo: A Star Wars Story premier — 25; Memorial Day — 28; Father’s Day — 48; Close of candidate qualifying for statewide office — 53; Deadline for filing claim bills — 93; ‘The Race for Governor’ Republican gubernatorial debates — 93; ‘The Race for Governor’ Democratic gubernatorial debates — 94; Start of the U.S. Open — 119; Primary Election Day — 120; College Football opening weekend — 122; ‘Before You Vote’ Florida U.S. Senate debate — 176; ‘Before You Vote’ Florida Governor debate — 177; General Election Day — 190; ‘Hamilton’ comes to the Straz Center — 290; 2019 Legislative Session starts — 309.


First in Sunburn – ‘Ban Assault Weapons Now’ names steering committee for 2020 assault weapons ban via – Ban Assault Weapons NOW announced the first wave of members for its steering committee as it ramps up efforts to put an amendment banning assault weapons on the 2020 ballot. U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch and Coral Springs Mayor Skip Campbell will serve as campaign co-chairs, while nine individuals – four with ties to those slain at Marjory Stoneman Douglas Highschool – will serve on the steering committee. … “I am proud to join Mayor Campbell and our leadership committee at the outset of this incredibly necessary effort. Our mission became unfortunately clearer last week when yet another mass shooting took place in Tennessee. Like Parkland, like Pulse, the murderer there was armed with a military-style assault weapon.” … On the committee: Florida League of Women Voters President Patricia Brigham; former Republican state Sen. Paula Dockery; Fred Guttenberg, father of Parkland victim Jaime Guttenberg; Debbie Hixon, widow of slain MSD athletic director Chris Hixon;  Robert Kelley, Founding Partner at Kelley/Uustal; Christine Leinonen, mother of Pulse victim Drew Leinonen; Gail Schwartz, aunt of Alex Schachter, who was killed at MSD; Philip Schentrup, father of Parkland victim Carmen Schentrup; and Philip Shailer, former Republican State Attorney for Broward County. … BAWN is currently working with attorney and Florida constitutional expert Jon L. Mills to draft a proposed amendment for the 2020 ballot. It plans to begin collecting petitions by mid-summer.


History says support from a Republican U.S. President should benefit a smaller campaign within the party — but times have changed.

As the Tampa Bay Times’ Alex Leary notes, Gov. Rick Scott likely will avoid most things Donald Trump during his bid for the U.S. Senate.

“The stream of controversy threatens to turn off the women and independent voters Scott will need to overcome Sen. [BillNelson, a three-term Democrat who’s counting on anti-Trump feelings to help in what is expected to be a close election,” explained Leary.

Scott has what he needs: Former Scott aide and conservative publisher Brian Burgess told Leary that voters “know Scott is an ally … he’s got all the mileage he needs from the relationship. He doesn’t need to keep ringing the Trump bell. He’s going to run on his jobs record.”

Love and war: Scott has a history of a close, working relationship with Trump. They’ve both helped each other raise funds, and Scott endorsed him in his quest for the Oval Office. Scott had also criticized the President, though, including after the Access Hollywood incident and when Trump disrespected the Muslim father of a slain serviceman.

High hopes: Sarasota Republican state Rep. Joe Gruters, whose relationship with Trump is no secret, told Leary, “I think Rick Scott probably wants to be the president and would not be surprised if he tried to follow in those footsteps once that opportunity became available.”

Meanwhile … “Trump’s role in midterms elections roils Republicans” via Jonathan Martin, Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times — Congressional and party leaders and even some Trump aides are concerned that the president’s boundless self-assurance about politics will cause him to ignore or undermine their midterm strategy. In battleground states like Arizona, Florida and Nevada, Trump’s proclivity to be a loose cannon could endanger the Republican incumbents and challengers who are already facing ferocious Democratic headwinds. Republicans in Washington and Trump aides have largely given up assuming the president will ever stick to a teleprompter, but they have joined together to impress upon him just how bruising this November could be for Republicans — and how high the stakes are for Trump personally, given that a Democratic-controlled Congress could pursue aggressive investigations and even impeachment.


Scott’s Senate campaign nets $3.2M in first three weeks – The first three weeks of fundraising brought in about the same amount as Democratic Senate opponent Bill Nelson raised in the entire first quarter of 2018, Scott’s campaign announced. Leading the fundraising is Florida Finance Chairwoman Darlene Jordan and National Finance Chairman Thomas Hicks. “It is clear that Americans are ready to see a change in Washington,” Scott said in a statement. “I appreciate the support of everyone who has helped us reach this incredible announcement … but this is just the start.” Over $3 million of this total came from individual contributions, the campaign said.

Scott seeks extension to disclose personal finances” via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times – “Scott requested an extension of time for filing the annual Public Financial Disclosure Report. The report was originally due on May 15, 2018,” reads a page on the Senate financial disclosure website. “Pursuant to section 101(g) of the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, as amended, a 75-day extension was granted and the new due date for the report is no later than July 29, 2018.” Scott spokesman Ryan Patmintra said: “As always, we’re complying with all of the necessary rules and deadlines. We will keep you posted on when it’s filed.” Assets in the name of First Lady Ann Scott are not required to be disclosed under Florida’s blind trust law, but would be for a U.S. Senate candidate or senator. Likewise, Scott no longer would be allowed to use a longtime business associate and partner to manage his blind trust because the Senate requires a “completely independent” trustee.

— “Editorial: Democratic pols, scorched by Sunburn, offer a lesson on following the news” via the Gainesville Sun

Poll: Majority of voters in Vern Buchanan’s district disapprove of Trump’s performance” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — The poll, taken April 16 and 17, found that more people in Buchanan’s District 16 disapprove of Trump’s job performance than approve, although the gap is within the poll’s margin of error. The automated telephone survey of 655 likely voters was commissioned by Patriot Majority USA, a political action committee that supports Democrats, and conducted by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic polling firm … The survey indicates Trump could be a drag on Buchanan’s campaign. Buchanan starts out with a significant advantage over David Shapiro based on poll results … Buchanan leads Shapiro by 12 percentage points in the poll, according to the memo. The survey also found that significantly more people in Buchanan’s district approve of his job performance than disapprove. Buchanan’s advantage over Shapiro narrowed to five points after survey respondents were given negative information about Buchanan’s record on health care and taxes. That’s a sign Buchanan could be vulnerable if Shapiro raises enough money to put pressure on the six-term incumbent.

Vern Buchanan is popular, but Donald Trump could weigh him down.

David Richardson raises money with fear-inducing emails” via Alex Daugherty of the Miami Herald — For Richardson‘s congressional campaign, every day is doomsday, at least if you read his fundraising emails. Here’s a recent sampling of email subject lines from the Miami Beach state representative who is running as a Democrat to replace retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: “We cannot afford this again” … “we just REALLY SCREWED UP!” … “REALLY REALLYYY BAD for Democrats!” The emails, sent twice a day, eventually ask the recipient to give money to Richardson’s campaign, and though the strategy has led to thousands of small-dollar contributions in a competitive Democratic primary, some Democrats question the ethics and long-term viability of sending dire emails every few hours.

Kristen Rosen Gonzalez told her rivals she ‘can’t win.’ She’s still running” via David Smiley of the Miami Herald — Give the Miami Beach Commissioner credit for being bold: She’s resigning her seat to run a congressional race that even she recently said she can’t win … In text messages and emails, Rosen Gonzalez urged other Democrats to get out of the race to replace U.S. Rep. Ros-Lehtinen. Claiming that front-runner University of Miami president Donna Shalala was a “monster” candidate who could not be beaten… “None of us can beat Shalala,” she texted Rep. Richardson April 5, noting that she, herself, was considering her options. “Statistically you can’t win. Me either, unless Shalala gets out.” Despite that, Rosen Gonzalez announced she intends to resign from her city commission position to comply with Florida’s resign-to-run law, which she unsuccessfully sued to block. She’s said she’ll turn in her resignation at 3 p.m., although it’s not clear yet when she’ll make the resignation effective.

Happening today — Former state Rep. Fred Costello, an Ormond Beach Republican seeking Florida’s 6th Congressional District, hosts a campaign event 5 p.m., Breakaway Trails clubhouse, 16 Breakaway Trail, Ormond Beach.

Tom Lee frees up PAC money for Congress run, but could he use it?” via William March of the Tampa Bay Times — Lee, who’s considering running for the same congressional seat, may be seeking to use some $2.4 million in his political committee, called The Conservative. Lee filed papers Thursday disbanding the committee, without saying where the money will go. That could be the first step in converting it into a super PAC to conduct independent expenditures for a congressional race. That would make Lee the heavyweight in the race, but there could also be legal hurdles. Federal law doesn’t allow coordination between a campaign and a super PAC, and the timing of the conversion could be considered in deciding whether there was coordination, said Jessica Furst Johnson, a campaign finance lawyer.

Happening today — North Port Republicans Linda Yates and Nicholas Trolli are each holding campaign kickoff events in their bid for House District 74, which opened when state Rep. Julio Gonzalez announced a run for Congress. Yates’ event begins 5:30 p.m., Historic Venice Train Depot, 303 East Venice Ave., Venice. Trolli’s is at 6:30 p.m., Olde World Restaurant, 14415 South Tamiami Trail, North Port.

Andrew Vargas says he’s standing up for homeowners, but critics say he’s raising insurance rates” via Alexandra Glorioso and Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida — Vargas is campaigning to stop “abuse and frivolous lawsuits that lead to rate increases” from insurers, but state records show his South Florida law firm is a leader in a cottage industry of trial lawyers blamed by experts for higher homeowner premiums. Vargas’ law firm has been the top litigator against Citizens Property Insurance Corp. for a relatively new and controversial type of lawsuit linked to “Assignment of Benefits” contract cases, filing 644 of them from 2014 until 2018 … Vargas personally signed the complaints in at least 298 of his firm’s AOB suits against Citizens, in which customers hand over the rights to their insurance benefits to a contractor who does repairs on the damaged property. The AOB cases can lead to higher rates because they give contractors an added incentive to make costlier-than-needed repairs that can be too challenging for insurers to fight in court, thereby inflating costs, according to insurance companies and the state’s insurance commissioner. Critics say it’s riddled with fraud and abuse.

— “Joe Biden endorses Javier Fernandez in special House District 114 election” via David Smiley of the Miami Herald

Javier Fernandez has slim cash lead in HD 114” via Florida Politics — In the final reporting period, Fernandez raised and spent substantially more than Vargas, and entered the final leg of the race with a slim lead in cash on hand. Vargas, however, still leads in overall fundraising by tens of thousands of dollars. Fernandez raised $126,197 during the special reporting period, which covered March 23 through April 26 … with $19,218 in the bank five days before the May 1 special election. He’s raised $267,721 since he filed for the race Nov. 17. Vargas, a Republican, brought in $16,550 across 21 contributions in his final report, including nine max checks. He also received more than $37,000 worth of “in-kind” support from the Republican Party of Florida. His total fundraising is now just shy of $354,000, including the loans, with $18,289 remaining in his account at for the final days of the campaign.

Javier Fernandez holds a slight lead in the HD 114 money race.

Sunburn exclusive – Inside the HD 114 numbers via Matt Isbell – “HD 114 was solidly for Clinton, 55-41, but is much more divided further down-ballot. Rubio won the district by 5 points that same day while former-state Rep. Daisy Baez won the district by 2. The district’s Cuban population, located in the western Miami communities, keep the district in play for the Republicans. This block becomes even more important in special elections thanks to older Cuban’s having stronger absentee request and return rates. Right now, the GOP absentee ballot return rate sits at 53 percent compared to Democrat’s 40 percent return rate. The result is that of ballots cast, the GOP leads Democrats 45-36.  This dynamic was actually similar in SD 40 last year, where the GOP had a 9 point absentee edge. However, in SD 40, Democrats had a solid early voting margin and had a 12 point election day turnout advantage. This time, early voting hasn’t been as high a share of the vote and Democratic edge there hasn’t been as strong. Democrats will need strong Election Day turnout to make up their deficit and it is not clear their ground game, which is not nearly as robust as the SD 40 special, can cover that gap. Democratic enthusiasm, which we have seen across the state and nation, may aid Democrats. As cliché as it sounds, it will come down to election day. If Democrats don’t turn up on election day, they are likely to lose the seat, baring strong independent margins and GOP crossover.

David Straz is now a Democrat. Is a mayoral run one step closer?” via William March of the Tampa Bay Times — The philanthropist took another step toward a potential mayoral run week, changing his voter registration from no-party to Democratic. However, Straz didn’t confirm a report by a political adviser that he plans to announce his candidacy next month. “My decision is based on the fact that my core political philosophy, fiscal conservatism coupled with more progressive views on social issues, was more in line with the Democratic Party,” Straz said in a statement announcing he switched his registration.


Gov. Scott selects three for Civil Rights Hall of Fame” via Florida Politics — Marvin Davies, Dr. Rev. Willie Oliver Wells Sr., and John Dorsey Due Jr. were selected for addition to the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame, Gov. Scott announced Friday. Scott chose the three from a list of 10 distinguished nominees selected by the Florida Commission on Human Relations “for making significant contributions to the improvement of life for minorities and all citizens” of Florida.

Gov. Rick Scott attended the Florida Puerto Rican Parade and Festival in Orlando Saturday.

Legislature raised funding by 47 cents per student. Here’s how Florida schools are coping.” via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — As officials across the state crunch the numbers, the impact is becoming real, with reductions as high as $54 million in one district. Among the proposals to make ends meet, school boards are considering: Allowing larger class sizes (Polk); ending courtesy bus rides (Duval); eliminating teaching and support positions (Levy); cutting gifted programs (Santa Rosa). Several districts have discussed asking voters to increase sales and property taxes to help cover revenue gaps. Teacher and staff raises appear out of the question for even the least affected school systems. “It has become increasingly difficult to provide the level of service with the dwindling resources and unfunded mandates,” such as required security enhancements, said Martin County superintendent Laurie Gaylord.

Construction on Capitol grounds, underground nears completion” via Florida Politics — Work on the grounds of the Florida Capitol and its underground parking garages is nearing an end after the Senate garage was first closed in May 2016 … “Structural work inside the Senate parking garage was completed last year, and crews are finishing the installation of lights and fire suppression equipment,” said Nina Ashley, spokeswoman for the Department of Management Services, the state’s real estate manager … Crews are now working on … installing the “hardscape” and landscape features that will be included in the park above and outside the garage. The hardscape will consist of benches with trellises, and the landscaping on the garage will have light grasses.

ICYMI from last week: “Health Department sends ‘warning’ to Joe Redner’s marijuana doc via Florida Politics — The head of the clinic where Tampa strip club mogul Joe Redner‘s doctor works says he’s concerned whether medical marijuana regulators are “trying to go after Dr. Barry Gordon because of his involvement in the Redner case.” Redner is a lung cancer survivor who is in remission, and Gordon recommended juiced marijuana as the best way to keep his cancer in check. Redner later sued and won a recent ruling from Tallahassee-based Circuit Judge Karen Gievers to grow his own marijuana for juicing; that decision is being appealed by the state’s Department of Health, which includes the Office of Medical Marijuana Use (OMMU). Patrick DeLuca, CEO of the Compassionate Cannabis Clinic in Venice, confirmed the content of emails independently obtained this week by Florida Politics between Gordon and the OMMU. “You should know that … for the first time in 18 months, the OMMU sent a ‘warning’ email to Dr. Gordon,” DeLuca said.

State investigating problems at All Children’s Heart Institute” via Kathleen McGrory and Neil Bedi of the Tampa Bay Times — Hospital leaders said the mortality rate among pediatric heart surgery patients had increased and that a top surgeon had stopped operating. They also said their surgeons had left needles in two children since 2016. The Agency for Health Care Administration … is reviewing each of those issues. In a statement … All Children’s said that AHCA had arrived at the hospital Thursday morning for a “routine, unannounced review” that the hospital “had been anticipating.” AHCA characterized the visit as part of an investigation. The inspectors will issue a report and could recommend sanctions, including fines, if they find violations. Medical experts consider accidentally leaving a surgical instrument inside a patient a “never event” — an error so egregious, it should never happen. “If it happened once, you can say the process didn’t work,” said Alan Levine, AHCA’s top administrator from 2004 to 2006 and now CEO of Ballad Health in Tennessee. “But if it happened twice, somebody would need to say stop and figure out what was wrong with the process.”

Seconds mattered: How BSO’s response at Parkland went wrong in 11 minutes” via Nicholas Nehamas, Martin Vassolo, David Smiley, Chabeli and James LaPorta of the Miami Herald — Much went wrong between the time Nikolas Cruz started shooting at Stoneman Douglas and the moment 11 minutes later when law enforcement officers first entered the building through the same door Aaron Feis used: Broward County’s long-troubled emergency communication system broke down. Some deputies appear not to have followed active shooter training — which they hadn’t received since 2016. And agencies didn’t share crucial information that could have led to a faster response. “It was a cluster you-know-what of errors and mistakes,” said Fred Guttenberg, the father of student Jaime Guttenberg, who died in the rampage. Even though at least three BSO deputies arrived in time to hear Cruz’s gunfire, neither they nor Scot Peterson went into the building immediately to stop him — unlike the unarmed Feis. The first BSO deputies on scene said they could not pinpoint the shooting to Building 12, although Cruz was firing bullets through exterior windows — leaving visible holes — and students were running from the building screaming. Some deputies were said to have taken cover behind their cars as lives leaked onto Stoneman Douglas’ floors.

After Parkland, numbers of children hospitalized for mental health care jumped” via Megan O’Matz of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — On Feb. 27, about two weeks after the Valentine’s Day massacre, 195 children across Florida were taken for psychiatric observation under the state’s Baker Act. The number is the highest single daily total in nearly five years … The data suggest that not only were children upset and fearful after the highly publicized shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, but schools and other professionals were more vigilant in hospitalizing children who might pose a threat to others — like school shooter Cruz, experts said. Between 2011 and 2016, the number of children hospitalized under the act rose by nearly 50 percent, far higher than the growth in the state’s population.

VW has to pay Florida $166M after emissions scandal. How should we spend the money?” via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald — Up to 15 percent of it, or $25 million, can be used for electric vehicle charging stations and infrastructure, and the rest of the money can be provided to state and local governments to replace aging diesel equipment. “It is a lot of money until you see the scope of the mitigation projects and the cost,” said Preston McLane, assistant director of the Division of Air Resource Management, at a public webinar. The primary purpose is to “achieve real environmental benefits through diesel reduction.” Volkswagen admitted in 2015 to installing cheating computer systems in nearly 500,000 vehicles made between 2009 and 2016. In Florida, 33,160 vehicles were affected by the diesel scam, and they emitted more than 500 tons of excess nitrogen oxide, McLane said.

With 76 train deaths in three years, Florida East Coast railroad is more dangerous than reported” via Lisa Broadt of TCPalm — The Federal Railroad Administration in a 2015 report described trespassing on the Florida East Coast tracks in South Florida as an “epidemic,” and since then trespassing fatalities have continued to grow, with 2018 on track to be even deadlier than last year … there have been at least 76 deaths by Brightline passenger trains and Florida East Coast Railway freight trains on the Florida East Coast tracks, between Miami and Jacksonville, since 2015, according to an analysis of news stories, police reports and Federal Railroad Administration data … Railroad Administration data, on the other hand, shows 55 fatalities since 2015. The 76 deaths include eight in the first four months of this year, 23 in 2017, 26 in 2016 and 19 in 2015. The vast majority were pedestrian trespassers struck and killed by trains, according to the federal data and news and police reports.

Brightline trains are deadlier than first thought.

State closes midtown Miami school tied to NXIVM ‘sex cult’ leader” via Jerry Iannelli of the Miami New Times — In 2015, Raquel Perera, wife of 17-time Latin Grammy winner Alejandro Sanz, debuted a school called the Rainbow Cultural Garden in posh midtown Miami. Speaking to Univision, Perera bragged that by immersing toddlers in as many as seven languages at once, the school would revolutionize teaching. Univision credited a New York guru named Keith Raniere with developing the unusual plan. Fast-forward nearly three years, and Raniere has now been outed as the leader of an alleged sex cult called NXIVM, which is accused of blackmailing women and branding them with flaming-hot irons. Last month, Raniere was arrested by the FBI on sex-trafficking charges; an Albany home tied to the Rainbow Cultural Garden has been raided by the feds, while British authorities are investigating a Rainbow-affiliated school in London. Now the State of Florida has ordered the midtown Miami school to shut down … officials say the school was not currently licensed to operate.

Florida moving forward with plan to protect estuaries, some groups wary” via Chad Gillis of — An old technology is making its way to the forefront of Everglades restoration as the state moves forward with plans to pump stormwater 3,000 feet below ground during large hurricanes and other heavy rain events. Called deep injection wells, the idea is to send essentially rainwater beneath the surface instead of allowing it to flow to Lake Okeechobee and eventually the west and east coasts. Proponents say the wells will help spare the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and estuaries from devastating releases like those received after El Nino rains in January 2016, when coastal waters were chocolate brown here, and in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Critics, however, say the wells stray from Everglades restoration plans and will waste water that’s needed in other areas of the state, such as Florida Bay. The South Florida Management District is in the process of final approval and design for two test wells.

Assignment editors — The Florida Sheriffs Association holds its annual memorial ceremony to honor those who have given their lives the line of duty. New names on the granite Memorial Wall: Orange County Sheriff’s Office Deputy First Class Norman Lewis — End of watch: Jan. 9, 2017. Cause of death: Motorcycle crash; Hardee County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Sheriff Julie Bridges — End of watch: Sept. 10, 2017. Cause of death: Vehicle crash; St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office Captain Charlie Scavuzzo — End of watch: Sept. 15, 2017. Cause of death: Heart attack; Broward County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Michael Ryan — End of watch: Dec. 31, 2017. Cause of Death: Heart attack. The ceremony begins 1:30 p.m., 2617 Mahan Drive, Tallahassee.


At the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, the buzz was reduced to a snore — until Michelle Wolf showed up” via Paul Farhi of The Washington Post — The sedate and earnest nature of the event was disrupted by comedian Michelle Wolf, the evening’s entertainer, who predictably went after Trump in a routine that swerved from raunchy to downright nasty. She began by saying, “Like a porn star says when she’s about to have sex with a Trump, let’s get this over with.” Wolf vowed to get under Trump’s skin by questioning his wealth, issuing a call and response with the audience (“How broke is he?”). Her punchline included such quips as “He’s so broke … he has to fly failed business class” and “he looked for foreign oil in Don Jr.’s hair.” She was particularly harsh on the women associated with Trump. At one point, she compared Ivanka Trump to a diaper pail, and said Kellyanne Conway has “the perfect last name” because “all she does is lie.” Several cracks about Sarah Huckabee Sanders landed poorly, such as her alleged confusion over how to refer to Sanders’s full name: “Is it Sarah Sanders? Is it Sarah Huckabee Sanders? … What’s ‘Uncle Tom’ but for white women who disappoint other white women? Oh, I know: ‘Aunt Coulter.’” Groans and cold silence followed.

Comedian Michelle Wolf created a lot of buzz at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.

Sluggish recovery from Hurricane Maria reignites calls for Puerto Rico’s statehood, independence” via Arelis R. Hernández of The Washington Post — Talk of independence feels distant to Puerto Ricans still recovering seven months after Hurricane Maria, the worst natural disaster to strike their tropical island. But what Puerto Rico is to the United States has everything to do with why power restoration has been slow, why millions in federal dollars for reconstruction have yet to be disbursed and why so many felt disrespected when President Trump shot paper towels like three-pointers into a crowd of storm survivors. Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and his New Progressive Party advocate statehood as the solution to Puerto Rico’s second-class status. His opponents call for greater autonomy from the United States and, for some, eventual independence. Raising the stakes, Rosselló has refused to implement pension cuts and other austerity measures that a federal oversight board imposed on the bankrupt territory, challenging the panel’s authority over Puerto Rico’s finances.

Happening today — Representatives from the administrations of Trump, Barack Obama and George W. Bush will speak at the 2018 Hemispheric Security Conference, hosted by Florida International University and the U.S. Army War College. Among the issues to be addressed are U.S. security policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean and issues in Venezuela. Event begins 8:30 a.m., Florida International University, Graham Center Ballroom, 11200 S.W. Eighth St., Miami.

Happening today — Charlie Crist and business leaders join Lockheed Martin for a ribbon-cutting ceremony and tour of a new assembly facility in Pinellas County. Event begins 10:30 a.m., Lockheed Martin, 300 28th St. N. in Pinellas Park.

T-Mobile, Sprint to merge in new test for corporate mega-deals under Trump” via Margaret Harding McGill of POLITICO — The agreement to combine the nation’s third-and fourth-largest wireless carriers comes after several false starts over the years, including discussions last year that failed to produce a deal. If approved by federal regulators, the merged company would have about 127 million customers, making it competitive with market leaders Verizon and AT&T. It’s unclear how the deal will fare at President Trump’s Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission. Under the Obama administration, top officials at both agencies expressed resistance to a merger of the two companies in 2014 due to competition concerns, because it would have eliminated one of the top four U.S. wireless carriers. The DOJ under Trump’s hand-picked antitrust chief, Makan Delrahim, has taken a hard line against another major telecom-media merger, suing to block AT&T’s $85 billion deal for Time Warner. Closing arguments in that trial are due to take place today (Monday).


… Americans agree on the ideals of democracy, but the nation is falling short on realizing those ideals.

That’s the gist of a recent Pew Research Center study of public views of the U.S. political system and American democracy.

The survey complements Pew’s yearlong effort to study “Facts, Trust and Democracy,” which was “launched in light of current debates about the state of the democratic process and the importance of truth,” according to Pew.

Donald Trump has little respect for democratic institutions, a new survey says. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Here are some more interesting findings:

— The majority surveyed said Trump lacks respect for democratic institutions. Most Americans surveyed also claim it would be too “risky” to give a President more power.

— Both parties believe they’re losing. Sixty-seven percent of those surveyed, in fact. Despite control, more Republicans felt like they were “losing” rather than “winning.”

— Most survey takers indicated cynicism about money in politics, and plenty of Americans support new laws and limits on campaign finance and issue advocacy spending.


For the sake of journalism, stop the White House Correspondents’ Dinner” via Margaret Sullivan of The Washington Post — Trust in the mainstream media is low, a new populism has caught fire all over the Western world, and Trump constantly pounds the news media as a bunch of out-of-touch elites who don’t represent the interests of real Americans. The annual dinner — or at least the optics of the dinner — seem to back him up. Journalists — whose purported mission is to “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted” — were partying with their sources at the Washington Hilton … Journalists do not present false stories. When they get something wrong, they correct it. They do their best to be impartial, and — contrary to what the president told his supporters — they aren’t out to get him but to merely cover him. They are not the opposition party. But far from highlighting that hard work, this annual event sends the opposite message. And it encourages an unfortunate, false impression that the president loves to cultivate … this event sure doesn’t look like truth to power.

Second chances? Not in Rick Scott’s Florida” via the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board — The notion of a second chance is almost antithetical to the policy on restoring voters’ rights that Gov. Scott imposed shortly after taking office in 2011. Under that policy, ex-felons must wait at least five years after completing the terms of their sentences before even applying to the governor and three Cabinet members to get their rights restored. The governor must personally approve every restoration … Statewide, 1.5 million ex-felons have completed their sentences but are still barred from voting. That total includes about one in five African-Americans of voting age in Florida … Giving second chances to ex-felons who have paid their debts to society can reduce crime and enhance public safety. If Scott won’t heed his political ally in Washington, here’s hoping Florida voters will in November.

BSO union misfires with self-serving vote against Sheriff Scott Israel” via the via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel Editorial Board — On the surface, the dangerous divide between Broward Sheriff Israel and the union representing deputies on road patrol appears to be all about money, which it is. This week, the tug-of-war culminated in a “vote of no confidence” in the sheriff, affirmed by 534 of 628 deputies participating. The vote was an unsettling, unprecedented moment in Broward’s history. It means that about 40 percent of the union’s 1,300 members don’t trust their leader and want Gov. Scott to get rid of him. But it’s not that simple. Neither is it appropriate. For despite his flaws, in this fight with the union, Sheriff Israel is on the side of right. By contrast, Deputy Jeff Bell, president of the International Union of Police Associations Local 6020, miscalculated by scheduling a no-confidence vote before awaiting the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s investigation of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Before aiming for someone’s head, shouldn’t deputies first know exactly what happened?


Personnel note: Mark Pafford named co-chair of gun violence prevention group” via Florida Politics — Former House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford is taking over as co-chair of The Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, the organization announced Friday. Pafford, 52, originally a West Palm Beach Democrat, served in the House 2008-16 until he was term-limited. He rose to Leader for the 2015 and 2016 Legislative Sessions after being Deputy Whip and Democratic Policy Chair. The group’s “talented members … will help us guide our state to common-sense solutions on firearms and deadly weapons in Florida,” he said in a statement. “I am grateful to be on the team.”

Appointed — Dr. Robert ReedMalcolm KempDavid SummersDonna York, Dr. Darwin Ang, Dr. Glenn Summers, Dr. Nicholas NamiasZeff RossLisa DiNova, Dr. Brad Elias and Dr. Joseph Ibrahim to the Florida Trauma System Advisory Council.


Believe it or not, there are folks in Polk County interlocking Legos from nine to five.

A recent Orlando Sentinel feature by Gabrielle Russon spotlights the operation. Located just 10 miles from Legoland, Merlin Magic Making is responsible for Lego projects around the globe. (The political angle? Merlin’s replacing the U.S. Capitol structure at the nearby theme park.)

Russon writes, “For an outsider, it seems almost unimaginable to spend an entire day — let alone a whole month or longer on some pieces — in the repetition of laying down Legos piece by piece.”

No easy feat: A small building takes 40 hours, a skyscraper needs 300 hours.

Polk’s ‘Silicon Valley’: According to Russon, “it feels less like an assembly plant and more like a hip startup company since employees play video games at lunch and occasionally shoot Nerf guns to relax. A giant moose — made of Legos, of course — is the main art hanging over a stone fireplace.”

— ALOE —

Gerald Ensley’s legacy will live on in book project” via Amanda Karioth Thompson of the Tallahassee Democrat — My dad belonged to this city as much as he belonged to his family. For more than 30 years we shared him with this community, and the terrible aching loss felt by those closest to him is a loss for all of us. Our grief is your grief because he was part of your life, he told your stories and served as a repository for our collective memory. He was a chronicler of Tallahassee history like no other. Over the next several months we will select examples of his writing on our community’s history and compile them into a book. We are proud and honored to have Ron Hartung lead that charge. In his 2015 retirement column, my father wrote that Ron, his former editor, deserved special mention. We want to know your favorite works by Ensley. Feel free to suggest specific pieces we shouldn’t overlook. We won’t be able to include as many as we’d like in the book, but we want to hear your thoughts regarding his greatest hits.

Gerald Ensley lives on … in book form.

Shaquem Griffin finally hears his name at NFL draft” via Barry Wilner of The Associated Press — Players in attendance not selected in the first two days of the NFL draft usually head out of town before the fourth through seventh rounds. Griffin, who sat through 100 names called in the first three rounds, wasn’t in AT&T Stadium on Saturday. Then he was after Seattle spent the 141st overall selection on the Central Florida linebacker who has no left hand. That fifth-round choice, announced in Seattle, drew loud cheers from fans at Jerry’s World. Griffin, whose left hand was amputated when he was young, has become the feel-good story this year and one of the most popular players in this draft because of his perseverance, outgoing personality and, of course, his talent. Griffin helped UCF go undefeated last season, then blew through the NFL combine with a 4.38 in the 40, sensational lifting work with his prosthetic, and a can-do attitude. Exactly the sort of player the Seahawks seem to find; they drafted his twin brother, Shaquill, out of UCF last year.

Where Spring Breaks eternal” via Jen Doll of — It’s only 20 miles from Southwest Florida International Airport to the Lani Kai Island Resort on Fort Myers Beach, but on the last Tuesday in March it takes more than an hour to get there. Beach traffic is already thick at noon, and we slow to a crawl as we approach the bridge to Estero Island. Of course, most people come to the beach to slow down — but spring break is more about speeding up in a new direction, abandoning daily life in favor of having as much fun as possible … Since the Lani Kai’s opening, both spring break and college students have changed dramatically … In the 45 days between late February and early April each year, at least 100,000 of them pass through the resort’s property. Perhaps it’s the vacation equivalent of fast food: tasty but ultimately something you need to recover from or quit altogether. Maybe it’s a manifestation of our obsession with youth, our fear of aging and death. An opportunity to behave badly without repercussions. Or is spring break a valuable, fleeting moment during which you might be who you really are, or who you really want to be?

Happy birthday belatedly to Rob Fields of Suskey Consulting, state Sen. Gary FarmerGary Stein, and photographer extraordinaire Mark Wallheiser. Celebrating today are top-notch lobbyist Lori Killinger and political consultant April Schiff.

Written By

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

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Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Jim Rosica, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Dan McAuliffe, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

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