Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – 5.2.18

Aerial photo Florida State Capitol Building

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

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

Say hello to Javier Fernandez and Josie Tomkow, the two newest members of the Florida House.

Tomkow, a Republican, did the expected and cruised to victory in Tuesday’s special election for House District 39. Moments after the polls closed, she had an insurmountable 62-37 lead over Democrat Ricky Shirah.

Congratulations to Josie Tomkow and Javier Fernandez.

For those looking for a November bellwether, the final tally measured in at 60-40. Former Republican Rep. Neil Combee, by comparison, scored a 62 percent win in his 2016 re-election campaign.

While the “blue wave” wasn’t even a ripple in the Osceola and Polk-based district, it did reach Miami-Dade shores for the second time in seven months.

In House District 114, Fernandez was up against Republican Andrew Vargas and unaffiliated candidate Liz de las Cuevas.

A pervasive storyline throughout the election cycle was whether voters, specifically independent ones, would balk at electing another Democrat to replace Daisy Baez, who resigned the seat in disgrace late last year.

It didn’t take long for the Fernandez camp’s fears to dissipate — by 7:45 p.m. the Miami attorney claimed victory. At that point, he held a 51-46 lead over Vargas.

The 5-point win came in a race where Fernandez was outraised, outspent and under constant attack by outside groups smearing his past work as a lobbyist. But while the outside attacks on Fernandez kept coming, Vargas was a no-show on the campaign trail, skipping one debate and showing up nearly 20 minutes late to another.

With the final two special elections before November in the bag, the Florida House has 76 Republicans and 41 Democrats.

— “Gigi Simmons wins runoff election for Gainesville’s District 1” via Andrew Caplan of the Gainesville Sun


— @RealDonaldTrump: I recently had a terrific meeting with a bipartisan group of freshman lawmakers who feel very strongly in favor of Congressional term limits. I gave them my full support and endorsement for their efforts. #DrainTheSwamp

— @GeoffBurgan: I for one am shocked — SHOCKED! — to see a political group dedicated to electing African-Americans doing just that in #FLGov.

— @AlbertEMartinez: @Javierfor114 is a class act and a good man. His colleagues will see it too and soon, and no doubt in my mind leadership is in his future. Only real question is whether he’ll be minority leader or Speaker.

— @Andrew4Duval: A clear trend is forming of Dem overperformance in special elections that is not a one-off thing. Thank goodness the chairman of my party is focused on stopping this by inviting Dinesh D’Souza to the sunshine summit!

— @Nate_Cohn: Over the 1000+ special/general House elections in Dem-held seats in the Obama era, Republicans ran >20 pts ahead of district partisanship in a Dem-held seat just 4 times. Democrats have pulled it off 3 times in 7 shots in ’17/18

— @AmberMariano: The 22-year-old Women’s Caucus just doubled in size!! Welcome to the Florida House, Josie

— @SShawFL: Sooooooooo … the sky didn’t FALL even though the legislature took no action for 2 years on w comp.

— @NewsLordTM: May Day, when the groundhog dances around the maypole to celebrate eight more months of summer in Florida

— @AGlorios: I successfully went on vacation and am going back to work tmw. I know you guys have missed me. Don’t worry, I’ll start dialing your numbers bright and early.

And this tweet aged well:


Close of candidate qualifying for federal office — 2; Mother’s Day — 11; Deadpool 2 release — 16; Solo: A Star Wars Story premier — 23; Memorial Day — 26; Time Warner/AT&T merger ruling — 41; Father’s Day — 46; Close of candidate qualifying for statewide office — 51; Deadline for filing claim bills — 91; ‘The Race for Governor’ Republican gubernatorial debates — 91; ‘The Race for Governor’ Democratic gubernatorial debates — 92; Start of the U.S. Open — 117; Primary Election Day — 118; College Football opening weekend — 120; ‘Before You Vote’ Florida U.S. Senate debate — 174; ‘Before You Vote’ Florida Governor debate — 175; General Election Day — 188; ‘Hamilton’ comes to the Straz Center — 288; 2019 Legislative Session starts — 307.


Alan Grayson comes out ready to brawl” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Grayson is entering the Democratic primary field against his successor U.S. Rep. Darren Soto ready to brawl, already going after the incumbent as someone he said has done nothing meaningful regarding the district, Puerto Rico or Donald Trump. In an interview, Grayson took the fighting stance that recalled his image, during three terms in Congress, as a puncher, and he contended that a fighter is needed now in the time of Trump. And Grayson immediately took swings at Soto. Grayson said his paperwork to run in Florida’s 9th Congressional District, “my old seat,” has been submitted. “I take no pleasure in saying this saying this because my own sense is I want what is best for the people in Central Florida. But I think he’s been entirely ineffective,” Grayson said of Soto. “I literally can’t think of anything meaningful he’s accomplished in the 16 months he’s been on the job.”


Rick Scott campaign tops $5M in early TV ad buys” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida — With the U.S. Chamber of Commerce already spending $800,000 in pro-Scott ads, the onslaught of cash has left Democrats in Florida and beyond scrambling to keep their message from getting buried while Scott continues to gobble up TV time. His campaign is already on its third different ad, including a Spanish-language one, which has given him a head start in the important task of setting the race’s narrative. His first ads focused on accomplishments, and federal term-limits, his one big policy position so far. The latest ad, titled “results,” features Scott talking about inaction in Washington. Unwilling to spend on television this early in the election cycle, national Democratic groups, which are expected to play a big role in Bill Nelson‘s re-election campaign, have started pointing out that in Scott’s two gubernatorial races he tapped into his personal wealth to outspend opponents, but only eked out small victories and never got more than 50 percent of the vote.

Rick Scott’s fundraising is making waves with Bill Nelson.

New Scott ad expands ‘Washington change’ theme” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — The new 30-second Scott U.S. Senate campaign ad “Results,” which will be airing both on television and on the internet, does not mention Nelson. But like Scott’s first ad it charges that it’s time for a change in Washington D.C., while Nelson seeks a fourth term in the U.S. Senate. In the commercial, after arguing that successful business people focus on results, and how successful business people need to be in Washington, Scott declares, “If you’re not accomplishing anything, you should not be in Washington.”


In bid for Boricua votes, Scott endorsed by Puerto Rico’s congresswoman” via Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida — Puerto Rico’s nonvoting member of Congress, Jenniffer González-Colón, endorsed Scott in his U.S. Senate campaign, giving her fellow Republican a dose of free publicity in Florida’s burgeoning Boricua community. “I am very proud that Puerto Ricans — more than 100,000 — arrived in a time of extreme need,” she said at El Cilantrillo Cafe & Restaurant in Kissimmee. “The governor gave them a chance for assistance. … He gave us a roof, a hug.” Puerto Ricans in Florida have tended to vote Democrat over Republican by a 40-percentage-point margin or higher, experts say — making Scott’s aggressive campaigning in the community a clear effort to move onto Democratic Sen. Nelson’s turf.

In West Tampa, Rick Scott celebrates the U.S. as a melting pot while wooing Puerto Rican voters” via Mitch Perry of WMNF – And Scott is working hard for that vote. In West Tampa’s La Casona restaurant, the governor and now Senate candidate campaigned with Jennifer Gonzalez-Colon, the territory’s congressional representative, who officially endorsed him. “He went to the island five times to help us out,” Gonzalez-Colon said of Scott’s intense focus on helping the Puerto Rican population when most of the nation was without electricity immediately after the storm hit. “Florida was the first state to have an agreement with FEMA to help us out and send a lot of brigades to help with the restoration of the power grid in Puerto Rico.” … “We live in the greatest melting pot in the world,” Scott said, praising Puerto Ricans who come to the U.S. to create opportunities for themselves and their families. And while Scott campaigned in 2010 on an anti-immigrant platform (embracing Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 bill), he’s now all in on championing the diversity of Florida and the U.S.

Assignment editors: Scott will be announcing a new proposal to “bring change to Washington and make D.C. actually work for American families and job creators, rolling out specific proposals on what must be done to reform Washington.” Billed as a “major announcement,” it’s set for 9:45 a.m. Wednesday, at Tropical Textiles, 10701 Northwest 107th Court, Medley.

Tweet, tweet:


Billionaire activist rallies Miami teens to ‘remake America’ at midterm elections” via Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald — Painting the upcoming midterm elections like a pivotal battle in the war to “remake America” in a liberal mold, the billionaire California activist Tom Steyer cut a bellicose figure as he rallied his young foot soldiers inside a cramped Miami-Dade College meeting room on Tuesday. “When I look at the United States, I see a country that is searching for a reason to exist and a meaning behind what we’re trying to create,” the former hedge fund executive told a couple dozen student activists — some as young as 15 who ducked out of class early to attend the meeting. … Steyer was joined at Tuesday’s meeting by city of Miami Commissioner Ken Russell, who recently shuttered his campaign for Florida’s 27th Congressional District, and local political organizers Maggie Fernandez and Sheyla Asencios.

Tom Steyer is leaving a large progressive footprint in Florida.

After inviting Dinesh D’Souza to summit, Florida GOP adds speaker who blocked D’Souza speech” via Danny McAuliffe of Florida Politics — Amid calls from many to reconsider allowing controversial conservative D’Souza to speak at its summer conference, the Republican Party of Florida added one of D’Souza’s critics to its list of speakers. RPOF Chair Blaise Ingoglia said in a news release Tuesday that Matt Schlapp, chair of the American Conservative Union … would be speaking at the 2018 Sunshine Summit in Orlando. Schlapp, however, has demonstrated intolerance for D’Souza in the past. The ACU chair took action against D’Souza after he made insensitive remarks on Twitter regarding survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. D’Souza … was set to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference, organized by ACU. But CPAC, via Twitter, denounced D’Souza and dropped him from its list of speakers … The CPAC account, inextricably tied to Schlapp, tweeted D’Souza’s comments were “indefensible.”

Anti-DeSantis group, Adam Putnam dump more cash into ads — The National Liberty Foundation, a dark money group with ties to political consultant Roger Stone, is dumping another $337K into ads blasting Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis. The media buy listing indicates the ads will run from May 2 through May 8, with $250K of that money buying time on broadcast stations in Jacksonville, Tampa and Fort Myers. The other $87K spent to air ads on Fox News. Also this week, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam spent another $72K on broadcast ads in the Tampa, Fort Myers, Tallahassee and Orlando markets. To date, National Liberty Foundation has spent $1.38M on ads, while Putnam’s campaign and committee have spent a combined $3.63M. H/t to Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida.

Roger Stone, the man behind the dark money blasting Ron DeSantis.

Philip Levine adds Central Florida Regional Director — The Levine for Governor campaign announced it is adding Karen Green as Central Florida Regional Director. “From her experience on President Obama’s 2008 campaign to her work for Hillary Clinton in 2016, Karen has the expertise and the work ethic to help Team Levine build a strong presence in Central Florida and connect with voters in the region,” said Levine campaign manager Matthew Van Name. Green served as a Field Organizer for President Obama’s campaign in 2008, overseeing more than 2,000 volunteers. During Charlie Crist’s gubernatorial run, she again worked in Orlando as a field organizer, managing four campaign offices. Green also worked on Clinton’s 2016 campaign serving as Statewide Caribbean Coalition Director.

Levine releases ad chronicling gubernatorial bid” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — The aptly titled “Philip Levine: 6 Months on the Trail” chronicles the campaign from its launch in November to today … Christian Ulvert explained in a news release: “The ad showcases the campaign’s growth and momentum, taking a look back to when Mayor Levine launched his campaign on Nov. 1 in Miami. The ad features the campaign’s travels to every corner of the state, the regional campaign office openings and Philip Levine’s upward climb in the polls to become the leading candidate.” The clip highlights his bus tour, his participation in the post-Parkland march on Tallahassee, the opening of his St. Petersburg and Kissimmee campaign offices, and a poll showing him leading the primary field. The final frames of the ad tout Levine’s 22 staffers across the state, his offices in St. Pete, Kissimmee, Tampa, Miami and Fort Lauderdale, as well as his $11 million in campaign funding — much of it from his own checkbook, but still millions more than the next closest Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

Click on the image below to watch the ad:

Assignment editors — Levine will hold a meet-and-greet beginning 2 p.m., Hampton Inn & Suites Lady Lake, 11727 NE 63rd Dr. in The Villages.

Who funds the group bankrolling this Democratic candidate for Governor?” via Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times — Dedicated to helping black leaders win political office, the Collective PAC has contributed $231,000 to an [AndrewGillum-associated political committee, Forward Florida, since December. Quentin James, the founder and executive director of The Collective, did not respond when asked about the identity of the major donors to Collective Future. But he did write in an earlier email, “The Collective has received over 13,000 individual contributions from over 6,000 people. We are a grassroots-led and funded organization.” Collective Future donated $100,000 to Gillum’s associated political committee … each of the past two months — about a third of the Tallahassee mayor’s total fundraising haul in that time. The Tampa Bay Times looked through campaign finance records for the other major Democratic candidates for governor and did not find anything close to that degree of support from a 501(c)(4).

Assignment editors — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King continues his two-day tour of Florida’s Treasure Coast beginning 9 a.m. at Sanspirit Park, 3443 SE St. Lucie Boulevard in Stuart. At 1 p.m., King will hold a roundtable with community leaders at Cobbs Landing, 200 N. Indian River Dr. in Fort Pierce.

Ashley Moody picks up the endorsement of another top Republican in bid for AG” via John Lucas of The Capitolist — Moody picked up the endorsement of state Senate President Joe Negron … Moody, a former judge in Hillsborough County, is running to succeed Pam Bondi, who is being forced to leave due to term limits. “The next Attorney General of Florida should possess a keen legal mind, understand the rich history of Florida and protect the rights of all citizens of our State,” Negron said in a written statement. “The best predictor of future success is past performance. Ashley Moody has excelled as a commercial litigator in private practice, a federal prosecutor and a state circuit court judge.” The endorsement is just the latest in a series for Moody. Bondi has already given Moody her support, as have 37 Republican sheriffs from across the state.

More sheriffs endorse Denise Grimsley for AG Commissioner — Republican state Sen. Grimsley, running for Agriculture Commissioner, announced another 10 Florida sheriffs are endorsing her campaign. Martin County Sheriff William Snyder said: “With her core values, expertise and background, I am confident that she is the best and only choice to be Florida’s next Commissioner of Agriculture.” Other sheriffs on the list include Baker County Sheriff Scotty Rhoden; Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith; Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummell; Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter; Hardee County Sheriff Arnold Lanier; Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper; Putnam County Sheriff Gator DeLoach; Taylor County Sheriff Wayne Padgett; and Wakulla County Sheriff Jared Miller.

Happening tonight in the ‘burg:

Sam Killebrew endorses Ross Spano for Congress — State Rep. Spano on Wednesday announced an endorsement from state Rep. Killebrew, one of his legislative colleagues, in his congressional bid. “Ross Spano is a good man and a principled Conservative who will be a strong member of Congress,” said Killebrew. “I know without a doubt that he will be a fierce advocate for Polk County as well as the rest of District 15 and I am proud to offer him my endorsement.” “I’m deeply appreciative to receive my friend Sam Killebrew’s endorsement and support, even more so because he knows this District and has strong connections with the residents and voters here,” said Spano. Spano announced his candidacy in mid-April with a promise to champion conservative values for CD 15. He has pledged to support the Second Amendment, traditional family values and an end to illegal immigration.

Stage set for Greg Steube-Julio Gonzalez primary fight” via the News Service of Florida — State Rep. Gonzalez qualified to run for an open congressional seat, setting up a Republican primary battle with state Sen. Steube, who in Florida’s 17th Congressional District, which became open when U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney announced he would not seek re-election. Avon Park Democrat Bill Pollard also had qualified for the race. Gonzalez could have sought re-election to the state House this year, and Steube could have run again for his Senate seat in 2020, but both decided to jump into the congressional race.

Happening tonight:

Steube Invite 5.2.2018

Javi Manjarres rips ‘hateful slurs’ in CD 22 race with ad using … hate-filled slurs” via Florida Politics — A new campaign ad offers some harsh words for Republican congressional hopeful Manjarres. In the ad, Manjarres is called a “bigot,” a “racist,” and an “attempted murderer.” It’s got all the makings of a smear-filled attack ad … only it was released by the Manjarres campaign itself. In the ad posted on YouTube, Manjarres quotes several Twitter trolls spewing those attacks against him and attempts to tie them to his possible Democratic opponent, Ted Deutch. However, it’s not quite clear what Deutch has to do with a bunch of cherry-picked Twitter bullies. Manjarres claims Deutch “fully embraces and defends his extremist supporters and the hate-driven racial slurs that they’ve made against me.” It’s just not quite clear what Deutch has to do with it, despite Manjarres’s best efforts to blame the congressman. What’s ironic is that in an ad lashing out at over-the-top smears and slurs, Manjarres closes by doing the very thing he’s supposedly criticizing. To see for yourself, click the image below:

Happening tonight:

Danny Burgess Fundraiser Invite 5.2.

Appellate judges ready for November ballot” via the News Service of Florida — With the addition of four judges from the Tallahassee-based 1st District Court of Appeal, 17 appellate judges had formally qualified for merit-retention elections in November. The four latest judges were 1st District judges Harvey JayStephanie RayKemmerly Thomas and Allen Winsor. While Winsor qualified for the ballot, he also has been tapped by Trump to become a federal district judge … The other appellate judges who qualified earlier were Brad Thomas of the 1st District Court of Appeal; Anthony BlackDarryl CasanuevaEdward LaRose and Susan Rothstein-Youakim of the 2nd District Court of Appeal; Kevin EmasIvan FernandezNorma Shepard Lindsey and Robert Luck of the 3rd District Court of Appeal; Burton ConnerJeffrey Kuntz and Carole Taylor of the 4th District Court of Appeal; and Eric Eisnaugle of the 5th District Court of Appeal. Also qualifying was Florida Supreme Court Justice Alan Lawson. The qualifying period for judicial races will end at noon Friday.


Across the nation, Republican candidates and surrogates are sporting their criminal records like a red badge of courage.

The Washington Post’s Michael Scherer’s recent story suggests the phenomenon could mark a break from the “law-and-order Republican” archetype. Instead, a niche of supporters riled up by the possible politicization of the justice system.

In short, it’s the kind of story you would never expect to read before November 2016.

Michael Flynn: The most high-profile example given is the former National Security Adviser. Flynn, who’s awaiting sentencing for lying to the FBI, is the “unexpected star on the Republican campaign trail.”

Joe Arpaio: The hard-line immigration sheriff of Arizona who was pardoned by President Trump is campaigning for Senate.

Michael Grimm: A felon who has admitted to hiring undocumented workers, tax evasion and lying under oath, is running for a congressional seat in New York. He told WaPo the convicted criminal approach can only be used by some: “You can’t say a guy that was an ax murderer can use this,” he said. “It has to be that you only were criminalized because of the politicization of the Justice Department.”


Corrections agency cuts programs to fill budget hole” via Dara Kam of the News Service of Florida — Blaming the Legislature for not fully funding the state prison system, Florida corrections officials are slashing substance-abuse services, transitional housing and re-entry programs — services and programs launched to keep inmates from returning to life behind bars — in an attempt to fill a $28 million budget hole. Department of Corrections cuts are focused largely on doing away with or dramatically reducing substance-abuse, mental-health and re-entry programs to plug a $28 million health care services deficit. With an annual budget in excess of $2.4 billion and about 100,000 inmates, the corrections agency makes up one of the state’s largest spending areas. But the agency is running an overall deficit of about $79 million, after budget reductions imposed by lawmakers over the past two years and escalating health care and pharmaceutical costs. The corrections agency has been struggling to keep up with the cost of health care for the majority of the state’s inmates after one private vendor quit years before its contract was up and the state fired another. Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones, in a statement announcing the cuts, said she hoped the reductions are temporary.

State offers framework for pot licenses” via the News Service of Florida — The Florida Department of Health has released a proposed rule outlining an application process for potential operators in what could be one of the nation’s largest cannabis markets. … The Legislature last year gave state health officials until Oct. 3 to grant 10 new licenses to marijuana operators who meet certain requirements, including applicants who were involved in litigation before January 2017. The proposed rule released Tuesday mirrors an emergency regulation floated by the state Office of Medical Marijuana Use late last year, but it also incorporates elements included in a law, passed during this year’s Legislative Session, aimed at addressing legal and regulatory concerns that have plagued state officials since the Legislature first approved non-euphoric cannabis for a limited number of patients four years ago.

First on #FlaPol — “Republican lawmakers earn high grades on Associated Industries’ report card” via Florida Politics — The conservative business group’s 2018 Voting Records report found a slight uptick in lawmaker support for AIF-backed legislation, with 78 percent of the Senate and 91 percent of the House voting in favor of its priorities. Though lawmakers scored higher marks in 2018 than years prior, the scorecard results don’t paint a complete picture of the session according to Brewster Bevis, senior vice president of state and federal affairs for AIF. AIF’s five 2018 Champions for Business: Republican Sens. Rob BradleyKathleen Passidomo and Dana Young, and Republican Reps. Joe Gruters and Mike Miller.

Rob Bradley
Rob Bradley gets high marks from AIF.

Death penalty won’t be sought in Florida airport shooting” via Curt Anderson of The Associated Press — Esteban Santiago agreed to plead guilty, serve a life sentence and give up all appeals rights under a plea deal between his attorneys and federal prosecutors that was announced in court. His actual guilty plea and sentencing would occur at a later date. Santiago, 28, of Anchorage, Alaska, is charged in a 22-count indictment in the January 2017 shooting in a baggage claim area at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. The trial had been set to begin June 11. U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom asked Santiago, dressed in a tan jail outfit and in chains, if he understood the agreement he was making. “Yes, your honor,” he replied.

Mom of Parkland shooting victim upset by $36,000 bill for urgent charter flight” via Lisa J. Huriash of Sun Sentinel — The mother of Parkland shooting victim Scott Beigel was panicked and desperate to get to South Florida. Her son had been shot in the attack Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where he was a geography teacher and cross-country coach. One airline after another told her no last-minute seats were available, so Linda Schulman booked a charter flight from New York. She handed over credit-card information to Talon Air Inc. but found the charge staggering: $18,229.56 for the trip to Florida — and then the same amount to fly the empty plane back. Talon Air sympathized and apologized. Talon said it would reimburse Schulman $18,229 of the $36,458 bill she already paid. The company … would then donate the $18,000 remainder of it to the Scott J. Beigel Memorial Fund to provide scholarships to send children in financial need to summer camp.

Pro-Second Amendment student walkouts planned” via Ashley White of the Tallahassee Democrat — The national event, called “Stand for the Second,” was started by a New Mexico high schooler. Students will walk out at 10 a.m. and return to their classes 16 minutes later. Montford Middle School registered to indicate its participation on the Stand for the Second site. Leon County Schools spokesman Chris Petley said the district isn’t aware of other participating schools. “If there are students that are planning to participate, they should work with the administration to make sure there aren’t disruptions to their campus,” he said. As long as students work with the administration and don’t disrupt classes, they won’t be punished, Petley said.

Health plans challenge Medicaid contract decisions” via Christine Sexton of the News Service of Florida — A dozen health plans have told Florida officials they are challenging newly awarded Medicaid contracts. The challenges could complicate plans by the state Agency for Health Care Administration to transition to new five-year contracts for Florida’s massive Medicaid program by Jan. 1. Some of the bid protests were expected because several managed-care plans currently providing Medicaid services would not have their contracts renewed. Some of those who filed challenges included Molina Healthcare of Florida, Prestige Health Choice and UnitedHealthcare of Florida. “There’s a lot of investment that has happened over the last five years, so I don’t find it surprising there would be protests,’’ said Audrey Brown, president and CEO of the Florida Association of Health Plans, which represents the managed-care industry. The health plans challenged contracts ranging from providing the full range of Medicaid services to specialized contracts for long-term care, services for HIV/AIDS patients and mental-health services.

Workers’ comp premiums going down again” via Florida Politics — Florida employers will see another workers’ compensation insurance rate decrease on June 1. The Office of Insurance Regulation approved a 1.8 percent decrease Tuesday. The move had been sought by the National Council on Compensation Insurance, which proposes workers’ compensation rates in the state. NCCI lowered insurers’ profit and contingency factor — essentially, their cut on premiums — from 1.85 percent to 0.5 percent. The company credited the GOP’s federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, including top corporate tax rate decreases, changes to reserve discounts, and other factors.

TIKD fights back against Bar’s effort to shut it down” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — A Miami firm that fights people’s traffic tickets for them is fighting back against The Florida Bar’s effort to brand it as the unlicensed practice of law, or UPL. In a document filed late Monday with the Supreme Court of Florida, TIKD said The Bar “has yet to explain how (our) activities actually run afoul of the purpose of UPL regulation, namely, ‘to protect the consuming public from being advised and represented in legal matters by unqualified persons who may put the public’s interest at risk.’ ” The Bar regulates the state’s more than 100,000 lawyers and prosecutes the unlicensed practice of law.

Jeffrey Soffer closes deal to buy South Florida’s Mardi Gras Casino” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — The real estate billionaire has closed on a deal to buy South Florida’s former Mardi Gras Casino and Racetrack. The closing was disclosed in a final order filed Monday and released Tuesday by the state’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR). The department, which regulates gambling in the state, withheld a final OK for a slot machine license, pending Soffer‘s 831 Federal Highway Acquisition company paying $2 million for the license fee and a $250,000 “regulatory fee.” Otherwise, “this Final Order approves of the transfer of assets and ownership interests,” the department said. The sale marks an end to the four-decade-long ownership of the Hallandale Beach facility by Hartman & Tyner (H&T), a Southfield, Michigan property management firm. Now named “The Big Easy Casino,” it has been closed since it was damaged by Hurricane Irma, though a poker room has since reopened.

Jeffrey Soffer is closer to owning South Florida’s former Mardi Gras Casino and Racetrack. 

USF consolidation may impact incoming minority freshmen” via Tim Fanning of WUSF — USF St. Petersburg actively uses diversity to attract more minority students who might not get into larger state universities. But those students make up a small portion of the student body. Some worry that might get worse. That’s because of a plan to consolidate the Sarasota-Manatee and St. Petersburg campuses under Tampa control. That will take effect by 2020. The merger would make the USF system a pre-eminent state university, meaning more funding. But it would also raise admission standards. Community leaders in Pinellas County think that would create a “barrier of entry,” particularly for incoming minority freshmen. St. Petersburg City Council mirrored that theme in February in a letter sent to state lawmakers, which cited “questions about enrollment and minority access.”

Tessa Bay now Deputy Executive Director with secretive, Democratic-aligned Florida Alliance” via Florida Politics – This furthers the rumor that Stephen Bittel is reasserting himself via the Alliance into state Democratic politics. He’s the former state party chair who resigned late last year after accusations of inappropriate remarks and behavior toward women. Bay was director of the chair’s office. The group, made of people alienated from the Florida Democratic Party, spends vast quantities in races through friendly nonprofit groups and political committees. They’ve been privately referred to as the progressive version of the conservative Koch billionaire brothers.


Feeling financial squeeze from storm damage, Florida citrus growers to get federal orange aid” via Ledyard King of USA Today — The Trump administration announced Florida will receive $340 million in a block grant to reimburse citrus growers in the state whose groves were torn up and flooded by Hurricane Irma last year. That’s in addition to the $2.36 billion Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program Congress created in December to reimburse farmers and ranchers across the country — including the Sunshine State — who suffered losses from natural disasters such as storms, floods and wildfires. The block grant to be distributed through the state to growers will cover expected losses during the 2018 through the 2020 cropyears for such expenses as the cost of replacing trees, repairing damages to irrigation systems, and other work. The announcement followed a heavy, behind-the-scenes bipartisan push by Florida lawmakers to help the state’s battered citrus industry, notably from Rubio, Nelson, Rep. Rooney … and Rep. Dennis Ross.

Thousands in Puerto Rico march to protest austerity measures” via Danica Coto of The Associated Press — Thousands of Puerto Ricans marched Tuesday to protest pension cuts, school closures and slow hurricane recovery efforts as anger grows across the U.S. territory over looming austerity measures. The Labor Day protest attracted teachers, retirees and unionized workers from both the private and public sectors, as well as the mayor of the capital of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz. The protest remained peaceful until hundreds of young protesters, many with their faces covered, threw rocks and other objects as they clashed with police who fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. Gov. Ricardo Rossello condemned the violence, saying it tarnished Puerto Rico’s reputation. The march comes as Puerto Rico tries to emerge from an 11-year recession and restructure a portion of its $72 billion public debt load while recovering from Hurricane Maria.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz leads thousands in protest against Puerto Rican austerity.

Pro-Second Amendment student walkouts planned for Wednesday” via Ashley White of the Tallahassee Democrat — The national event, called “Stand for the Second,” was started by a New Mexico high schooler. Students will walk out at 10 a.m. and return to their classes 16 minutes later. Montford Middle School registered to indicate its participation on the Stand for the Second site. Leon County Schools spokesman Chris Petley said the district isn’t aware of other participating schools. “If there are students that are planning to participate, they should work with the administration to make sure there aren’t disruptions to their campus,” he said. As long as students work with the administration and don’t disrupt classes, they won’t be punished, Petley said.

Here’s how much the Republican Party pays to meet at Trump’s resort in Miami” via Alex Daugherty of the Miami Herald — The Republican National Committee spent $234,000 on venue rental and catering at Trump National Doral Miami since the beginning of this year, where it will host its spring meeting from May 2 to May 5. Trump’s U.S. businesses have received at least $15.1 million in revenue from political groups and federal agencies since 2015 … The RNC spent $424,000 at Trump-owned properties during the first two months of 2018 … Trump Doral, a sprawling resort with four golf courses, was also used by the Trump campaign for fundraisers and news conferences during the 2016 presidential election.

Trump to meet with Jeff Miller this week on VA secretary position” via Gabby Morrongiello of Washington Examiner — Trump will meet this week with former House Veterans Affairs’ Committee Chairman Miller, a top contender to lead the Veterans Affairs agency … The former Republican congressman from Florida has been discussed as a potential successor to ousted VA Secretary David Shulkin given his experience on the House panel and the likelihood that he would avoid major controversy during the Senate confirmation process. A senior White House official said Trump and Miller would meet later this week, presumably after the president returns from his trip to Dallas for the National Rifle Association’s annual convention. The same official said another candidate whose name has appeared in the media — former Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove — does not currently have a meeting scheduled with Trump.

Former Rep. Jeff Miller is the latest name floated to lead the Veterans Affairs Administration.

Democrats’ new spokesman to hammer GOP tax bill? Marco Rubio says working class left out” via Ledyard King of USA Today — Democrats have found a news spokesman to slam the massive tax cut bill Republicans passed last year: GOP Sen. Rubio of Florida. In a recent interview with The Economist, Rubio said he’s disappointed that the $1.5 trillion tax bill — which he voted for in December — has yet to deliver the relief he says working-class Americans need and deserve despite the breaks given to Fortune 500 companies. “We couldn’t have said it any better ourselves,” said MattHouse, a spokesman for Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer … Some conservatives voiced their disapproval of Rubio’s comments … “It’s disappointing to see Marco Rubio echo some of the false rhetoric of tax reform opponents, and we hope he clarifies his remarks,” said Brent Gardner, chief government affairs officer for Americans for Prosperity.

Assignment editors — U.S. Rep. Val Demings is hosting a town hall to hear both sides of the debate over gun violence. Event begins 6:30 p.m. at the Holden Heights Community Center, 1201 20th St. in Orlando.



National coverage rates increased following the Affordable Care Act’s passage, but now they’re coming down.

That’s according to research conducted and published by the Commonwealth Fund.

The Fund attributes the reversal to two possible factors: “a lack of federal legislative actions to improve specific weaknesses in the ACA” and “actions by the current administration that have exacerbated those weaknesses.”

The numbers: The uninsured rate among working-age people is 15.5 percent, up from 12.7 percent in 2016. In other words, an estimated 4 million people have lost coverage.

Florida angle: Among states that haven’t expanded Medicaid, the uninsured rate rose to 21.9 percent.

Looking ahead: If national lawmakers can agree to solutions, the Fund said policy ideas should focus on “providing financial support for advertising to improve awareness of coverage options in all states, improving health plan affordability in the individual market, and ensuring each market has a participating insurer.”


John Romano: What are the odds Florida can lead in a good direction for once?” via the Tampa Bay Times — We swear we are better than this. Better than the extremes, and better than the barbs. Too many of us sit atop high horses and claim America’s divisiveness is the fault of the fringes, both left and right. It’s a wonderfully satisfying and snooty position to take. But what happens if somebody calls our bluff? Because that’s what Patrick Murphy and David Jolly are contemplating. They are talking about offering Florida voters a bipartisan ticket for governor, unlike anything we’re accustomed to. If you really do believe the country, and Florida in particular, needs a less ideologically driven vision, then you should be all over this idea. If you believe 48 percent of the voters should not be dismissed for four-year stretches — which is pretty much what we’re used to — then you should give some thought to an alternative route. Naturally, it will take some convincing and educating.


Pam Stuart names first ‘Safe Schools’ director — Education Commissioner Pam Stuart announced Tuesday that she’d tapped FDLE corruption inspector Damien Kelly to direct the Office of Safe Schools, which was created in the school safety act passed by lawmakers at the tail end of the 2018 Legislative Session. “We are thrilled for Special Agent Damien Kelly to join our team. With 25 years of experience as a law enforcement officer specializing in a variety of different areas, he will complement the wide-ranging expertise of our agency’s staff.,” Stuart said. Kelly has worked for FDLE since 2005 and spent the 12 years prior as an officer in City of Memphis Police Department.

Dan Adkins, Hartman & Tyner resolve legal complaints — The longtime head of Hallandale Beach’s former Mardi Gras Casino and Racetrack and the property management firm that owned it have settled dueling lawsuits against each other. The respective cases, filed in South Florida federal court, were closed last month, dockets show. The terms of the settlements were not disclosed. As Florida Politics reported in March, Adkins accused H&T of lying to him that he’d be paid “millions of dollars” upon the sale of the company’s gambling businesses in Florida, West Virginia and Michigan. H&T countered that the 60-year-old Adkins “engag(ed) in self-dealing, corporate waste, and gross mismanagement.” The facility now is owned by billionaire real estate investor Jeffrey Soffer and was rebranded as “The Big Easy Casino.”

Ballard Partners adds Azerbaijan to client list — The firm has added Azerbaijan, another foreign government, to its growing client list. BallardSyl Lukis and former Rep. Robert Wexler will provide Azerbaijan’s government with “strategic consulting and advocacy services” in its dealings with the Trump administration, as well as help celebrate the centennial of Azerbaijan’s independence … The contact lasts six months and is worth $50,000 a year.

Miami-Dade County delays vote on Ron Book lobbying waiver for puppy sales after he didn’t show up” via Doug Hanks of the Miami Herald — Miami-Dade commissioners were set to vote on stripping lobbyist Ron Book from his county contract if he didn’t agree to drop a puppy-store chain as a client over the industry’s efforts to block local regulations of pet sales. Book didn’t attend the meeting, and that didn’t matter. When Book’s requested conflict-of-interest waiver came up on the agenda late in the afternoon, Chairman Esteban “Steve” Bovo requested a delay until the prominent lobbyist and two associates could be there in person to defend themselves. “I’d like to be able to address this directly with them,” Bovo said. He also noted that with the 2018 legislative session over, the issue of Florida banning local rules on pet sales couldn’t come up again in Tallahassee until 2019 anyway. “There’s nothing that happens right now folks,” he said. “Session is over.”

New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Stacy Arias, Southern Strategy Group: RELX

Brad Burleson, Ballard Partners: Housing Trust Group

Rachel Cone, Southern Strategy Group: Airbnb

Eric Criss, Southern Strategy Group: Southern Strategy Group

Richard Fidei, Greenberg Traurig: The Main Street America Group

William Rubin, The Rubin Group: Pennington

Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas named Nieman Fellow for 2018-19” via Florida Politics — Klas, the capital bureau chief for The Miami Herald, was selected as a Nieman Fellow for 2018-19, the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard announced Tuesday. The Foundation, “home to internationally recognized journalism fellowships, programs and publications,” picked 27 fellows in all. “The group includes reporters, correspondents, editors, photographers, filmmakers, television news anchors, a radio producer and other journalists who specialize in data investigations, digital development, social media, virtual reality and new forms of storytelling,” a news release said. They will begin two semesters of study at Harvard University in the fall of 2018. Klas “will examine the relationship between declining journalism resources and corruption in local communities and more specifically, what happens to government integrity when watchdog reporting declines.”

— ALOE —

Despite Irma, Miami tourism grew in 2017. Will Asia flights make 2018 even better?” via Chabeli Herrera of the Miami Herald — About 15.9 million people visited Miami in 2017, an increase of nearly 1 percent over the prior year. The increase was thanks to a 2.3 percent bump in international visits, which offset a 0.5 percent decrease in the number of domestic travelers who overnighted in Miami. Fewer Canadians visited Miami in 2017 than they did in 2016, but the country retained the top spot as the No. 1 source market for international travelers. In all, Miami tourists spent a record-breaking $26 billion in the region in 2017, an increase of 2.1 percent compared to 2016. Their favorite spots: the beaches, South Beach, Lincoln Road, Bayside Marketplace and Downtown Miami. This year, too, another long-promised deal may finally come to fruition: direct air service to Asia. Leaders from the tourism bureau and the county have met with representatives of Japan Airlines several times already this year, following earlier attempts to woo Asian carriers. They’re optimistic that they will be able to strike a deal soon.

Facebook meets with developers amid swirling controversy” via Kia Kokalitcheva and Ina Fried of Axios – Facebook’s F8 developer conference is just yet started, but CEO Mark Zuckerberg has already announced an upcoming feature for users to have more control over the data about them the company stores … It’s a sign of what we can expect from the company’s announcements — new features centered around privacy and security. It remains to be seen what Facebook will offer developers, who in general have been losing options as Facebook cracks down in the name of protecting users. Zuckerberg began his talk talking about the need to add security and privacy features to protect users, but also for the company and the platform to keep moving forward. He also thanked developers, who have borne the brunt of many of the new restrictions, for their patience. Everything Facebook announces at F8 is going to be viewed through multiple lenses, including what it means for developers, what it means for consumers and what it means from a privacy standpoint.

LEGOLAND unveils massive ‘Star Wars’ MINILAND model display” via WFLA — LEGOLAND will place a new Star Wars MINILAND model display at the center of the Florida resort Friday. The “Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens” model display features moments from episode VII of the Star Wars saga enhanced with lights, sound effects and animation. The MINILAND model display features six scenes with characters like Kylo Ren, Rey, BB-8, Finn and Poe. “Star Wars Days” begin at LEGOLAND on May 5 and run through May 26.

Star Wars Miniland model display at LEGO Club.

Applebee’s Dollarita will be here until Cinco de Mayo. But is it enough to get you inside?” via Sara DiNatale of the Tampa Bay Times — The “Dollarita” — a $1 margarita — was available at the chain restaurant for April, but no worries if you missed out. You can score a Dollarita for five more days, Applebee’s announced … The company’s vice president of beverage innovation (yes, that’s really his title), Patrick Kirk, said the chain bar and grill extended the promotion for Cinco de Mayo. You know, “when folks have margaritas on their minds,” he said … May is also host to the “2 Dollar Dos” or $2 Dos Equis, a Mexican beer. It’s likely an effort to win over millennials — who arguably do love cheap drinks.

Happy birthday to Keaton Alexander and John Finotti of Tucker/Hall.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including 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.


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, Jason Delgado, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Jesse Scheckner, Scott Powers, Andrew Wilson, and Kelly Hayes.

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