Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.
By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Daniel McAuliffe, Jim Rosica, and Drew Wilson.
The story of the weekend is not one of fake news, but of a fake diploma.
House District 71 candidate Melissa Howard is being accused of lying about graduating from college and using a fake diploma.
Miami University in Ohio told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that Howard attended the school but never graduated. The school also says the diploma she produced is counterfeit, saying it doesn’t match those issued in 1994.
Her educational background was first questioned last week by the website Florida News Online. She called the accusation false and said she went to Ohio to get the diploma at her mother’s house. After she posted a photo of the diploma, the website took down its story, but the university then said her claim was false.
Florida News Online is a relatively new site and is published by David Bishop, a familiar name to anyone who has followed Florida politics over the last decade. He’s currently a lobbyist for a handful of clients and is still on the payroll of former Sen. Jack Latvala‘s political committee.
Before that, he was a deputy secretary for the Florida Lottery. And before that, he had the unenviable job of directing communications for then-Senate President Mike Haridopolos.
That Bishop’s Florida News Online scooped POLITICO Florida, Florida Politics, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, and the rest of Florida’s political media on what may the down-ballot story of the 2018 election cycle is a testament to the ever-changing shape of the news and information landscape.
As a matter of fact, I thought our outlet — which on Friday had acquired the letter from Miami University debunking Howard’s education credential — was so far ahead on this story that we could let the story wait until Saturday morning.
However, by the time I tweeted out what I thought were the latest updates on this story (including the fresh angle that Howard’s husband, Ian, had had a “cardiac event” on Friday night), Bishop had beat us to the punch.
Bishop texted me Saturday morning that he appreciated #FlaPol giving him the credit for the story. But how could I not? I remember when SaintPetersBlog.com was the new kid on the block, fighting with the rest of the press corps for appropriate credit for the stories we broke.
And just to show you how much life has a way of coming around full circle, guess who was the senior legislative staffer who in 2010 signed off on my first application for a Capitol press badge?
That’s right: David Bishop.
“Prominent Republicans call on Howard to quit race amid degree scandal” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune – Former Manatee County GOP Chair Donna Hayes, who helmed the party for a decade and has endorsed Howard’s opponent, said Sunday that Howard should immediately withdraw from the race. “That’s a very deceptive falsification that she made,” Hayes said, adding: “It makes the Republican Party look very loose and look like they have no principles.” Former Manatee County Commissioner Jonathan Bruce also urged Howard to quit the race. But the Republican Party of Sarasota put out a statement that did not condemn Howard’s actions and indicated she would have the party’s support if she wins the primary. “We’re not prepared to comment on the House 73 primary at this point in time,” the statement said. “We will let the primary process complete on Aug. 28. We look forward to supporting the nominee after the primary.”
— “What if Melissa Howard still wins?” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
—@dlb100b: I’ll be on @tomorrow morning between 7-7:30 discussing the Melissa Howard fake diploma story.
–@RealDonaldTrump: Democrats, please do not distance yourselves from Nancy Pelosi. She is a wonderful person whose ideas & policies may be bad, but who should definitely be given a 4th chance. She is trying very hard & has every right to take down the Democrat Party if she has veered too far left!
—@AlexBurnsNYT: If you’d told me a year ago that a trial lawyer who’s famous on TV would be running against Trump in 2020, making this case verbatim, I would’ve guessed Gov. @of Florida
—@DavidFrum: Obama/Bush/Clinton/ etc. would have already visited California, toured as near disaster as feasible. Press conference in Sacramento w governor. National attention to those who have lost homes, etc etc etc. Trump might as well borrow Melania’s “I dont care Do U?” jacket
—@DWSTweets: This somber anniversary is a time to honor the life of Heather Heyer and spread some of the love that she preached. We can never be silent in the face of bigotry and hate.
—@Fineout: @AndrewGillum finally gets public matching money to help with his campaign for governor. Gillum on Friday got a check for more than $436k. Don’t know why he did not seek to get the money when it first became available. So far taxpayers have given $4.5 million to 9 candidates
–@RosemaryOHara14: Unlike the other three candidates, you don’t get the sense that @sees the job of Agriculture Commissioner as a steppingstone to higher office. Rather, it speaks to her core.
—@GusCorbella: Sad state of affairs at the @at the “Centre of Tallahassee.” Dirty, messy concessions, bathrooms in disrepair. Hope the new movie theaters popping up around town will give them some competition and get them to straighten up and fly right.
—@MearKat00: If you listen very closely, you will hear the sound of the earth crying because soon humans will be selling Pumpkin Spice Lattes again.
—@IdrisElba: my name’s Elba, Idris Elba.
— LATEST TURNOUT FIGURES —
Early voting begins in some counties – Early voting for the Aug. 28 primary elections begins today in some counties before going statewide on Aug. 18. Among the counties where early voting will start Monday is Miami-Dade, the most heavily populated in the state.
Assignment editors — Gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum and Miami-Dade leaders Councilwoman Felicia Robinson, Councilman David Williams, Commissioner Betty Ferguson, and School Board Member Dr. Steve Gallon will kick off the first day of Early Voting in Miami-Dade County. That’s at 6:45 a.m. North Dade Regional Library, 2455 NW 183rd St, Miami Gardens.
— DAYS UNTIL —
Start of the U.S. Open — 14; Primary Election Day — 15; College Football opening weekend — 17; Labor Day — 21; Gubernatorial candidates must choose a running mate — 24; NFL regular season starts — 24; First general election mail ballots go out — 40; Future of Florida Forum — 44; FSU vs. UM football game — 54; ‘Before You Vote’ Florida U.S. Senate debate — 71; ‘Before You Vote’ Florida Governor debate — 72; General Election Day — 85; 2019 Legislature Organization Session meetings — 99; Black Friday — 102; Florida Chamber Insurance Summit — 106; ‘Hamilton’ comes to the Straz Center — 183; 2019 Legislative Session starts — 204; 2020 General Election — 813.
— NELSON VS. SCOTT —
“Rick Scott demands Bill Nelson back up claims that Russia hacked Florida voting systems” via Patricia Mazzei of the New York Times — Cryptic comments from Nelson this week alluded to a secret Russian plot to tap into Florida’s election systems. “They have already penetrated certain counties in the state, and they now have free rein to move about,” the Democratic senator told The Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday. He declined to elaborate or offer any proof. A day earlier, he had described details as “classified.” On Friday, Scott … accused his opponent of scaremongering and demanded that he back up his claims with evidence. “Either Bill Nelson knows of crucial information the federal government is withholding from Florida election officials, or he is simply making things up. So far, no one seems to know what Nelson is talking about.” … before Nelson’s comments, there had been no indications of any successful meddling this year. … Nelson’s comments prompted worried voters to contact some of the state’s 67 elections supervisors. … “Everyone wants to know what we’re doing to secure the elections,” said Paul Lux of Okaloosa County, president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections. He noted that Florida voters cast paper ballots, and the attempted 2016 breaches targeted voter registration databases, not election tallies.
“Scott left St. Lucie River without meeting with the public so he could campaign” via Ali Schmitz of TCPalm – There were no “security concerns” that kept Scott from addressing the public or media on a toxic algae boat tour of the St. Lucie River Friday, his office admitted Friday evening. Instead, there were “timing issues,” his staff said. Scott was scheduled to be in Tampa in two hours for a campaign event in his election bid to unseat Nelson. “Due to timing, the governor was unable to speak with media as he did when he toured the algal blooms in the Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers in July,” spokesman John Tupps said in an email to TCPalm. “He remains focused on this problem.” … Before Scott’s office admitted what a staffer called “an honest mistake,” a former Treasure Coast congressman had stronger words during a news call organized by the Florida Democratic Party. “If you are uncomfortable about a situation and know you are wrong about something, you probably don’t want to answer questions on it,” Democrat Patrick Murphy said, referring to Scott’s gutting of the Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management District. … A spokeswoman for Scott’s campaign said Democrats are overreacting. “Leave it to the Democrats to focus on the governor’s schedule instead of real solutions to improve our environment,” Press Secretary Lauren Schenone said.
“Scott rules Florida’s airwaves, but Bill Nelson is about to respond” via Ledyard King of USA Today – After months of being overpowered on the Florida airwaves by Scott, Nelson is about to start punching back. The Democrat and his political allies have reserved about $42 million in broadcast, cable and satellite television ad buys in the state’s 10 markets from August through Election Day—more than twice the $17.4 million Nelson’s side spent on TV spots prior to August. Scott and independent groups supporting him so far only have $18.3 million queued up for the general election campaign. But by November, he is expected to be outspending Nelson by a wide margin. “It’s the Scott playbook,” said Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes Senate campaigns for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “We saw him do it in two gubernatorial contests. There’s no reason to think he’s going to shift strategies at this point. And despite the help Nelson will get from outside groups … they’re not going to be able to match him dollar for dollar.”
Assignment editors — Scott will join Florida manufacturers for an announcement. That’s at 9:45 a.m. Central time, Threaded Fasteners Inc., 3839 Hopkins St., Pensacola.
— FRESH POLLING —
New poll shows Michael Waltz breaking away in Republican field — A new survey from St. Pete Polls, conducted Aug. 10, shows Fox News personality Michael Waltz is the pick for 40 percent of likely Republican primary voters in Florida’s 6th Congressional District, which covers a stretch of Florida’s east coast from southern St. Johns County to New Smyrna Beach. Following in a distant second was businessman John Ward at 21 percent support with former state Rep. Fred Costello taking third at 16 percent. The remaining 23 percent were unsure which of the three candidates would get their vote. Ward’s massive lead held firm among the 23 percent of Republicans who said they had already voted in the election, as well as the 77 percent who said they hadn’t cast their ballot yet but planned on doing so. The trio are running to succeed current CD 6 Congressman Ron DeSantis, who is running for Governor. The St. Pete Polls survey had a sample size of 528 and a margin of error of 4.3 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.
Gayle Harrell leads Belinda Keiser 48-26 in fresh SD 25 poll — Despite being massively outspent by Keiser University vice chancellor Belinda Keiser, a new poll shows state Rep. Gayle Harrell with a commanding lead in the Republican primary for Senate District 25. The St. Pete Polls survey, conducted Aug. 8, found Harrell with 48 percent support among voters who said they had either already cast a ballot or that they planned to vote in the Aug. 28 election. Keiser, who has juiced her campaign with $925,000 in candidate loans, was the pick for just 26 percent of those polled, with a slightly higher share saying they were still unsure which of the two candidates they would vote for. … Another piece of good news for Harrell: Voters who know about her tend to like her. About 51 percent of Republicans offered their opinion on the term-limited state representative, handing her a plus-13 in favorability. … Keiser, the poll found, holds a double-digit lead when it comes to name ID, but there weren’t too many fans of the Broward Republican. Of the 65 percent of Republicans who gave their opinion, she scored a minus-16 in favorability.
— NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL —
“Ron DeSantis adds another $1M as Adam Putnam’s money machine slows to a crawl” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics – DeSantis, whose chances surged following an endorsement from President Donald Trump, brought in more than $1 million between July 28 and Aug. 3. Putnam, meanwhile, brought in $191,901. DeSantis’ cash mostly came in from this time around, with his campaign receiving $399,031 and his affiliated political committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis, adding $635,100. Putnam’s comparatively anemic campaign haul included an $81,170 matching funds disbursement, nine max checks and just over 300 contributions overall. Both the campaign and committee reports are tiny compared to the numbers Putnam has pulled down throughout most of his campaign. The last time Florida Grown raised less than $54,250 was the week before the Election Day 2016, when Putnam was not on the ballot.
Happening today – DeSantis, joined by Republican Attorney General hopeful Ashley Moody and Ag Commish candidate Mike McCalister, will likely attend a meeting of the Palm Beach County Trump Club. That’s at 7 p.m., Palm Beach Kennel Club, 1111 North Congress Ave., West Palm Beach.
“A GOP candidate denounced Trump’s comments about sexually assaulting women and insulting Gold Star parents. Now he’s paying for it” via Aaron Blake of The Washington Post
“Jeff Greene plays instigator as Florida’s Democratic primary for governor gets ugly” via David Smiley of the Miami Herald – The relative kumbaya that was the Democratic primary for Florida governor is dead and buried … After spending much of June and July promoting a softer image from the one he portrayed during his 2010 U.S. Senate run, Greene has pivoted since absentee ballots went out late last month and thrown his millions into attacks against Gwen Graham and Philip Levine. Greene, who’s poured more than $18 million of his own money into his campaign, spent the past week blasting Graham on TV over her connection to the American Dream Miami mega-mall. On Friday he took aim at Levine, unleashing a commercial across the state that attacks the former Miami Beach mayor’s sea-rise platform by comparing his city’s vaunted flood pumps to open sewers … The ad stretches and misstates some of the facts, and led Miami Beach’s top administrator to issue a rushed memo Friday explaining that the city “does not have sanitary sewer outfalls to Biscayne Bay” … Levine’s campaign began running its own statewide commercial highlighting Greene’s flattering statements about Trump following his election as president. … “They’ve hit rock bottom and they’re starting to dig,” said Steven Vancore, a Democratic strategist who is not involved in the governor’s race.
“Biscayne Bay is a ‘latrine,’ Greene says. But the images he points to are from Russia” via Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald – Levine’s campaign expects to challenge a new “misleading” attack ad that uses stock footage of polluted waters from around the globe to question the former Miami Beach mayor’s environmental record. The commercial, paid for by Greene’s gubernatorial campaign, begins by comparing an image of Greene’s opponent — “This is Philip Levine” — to an image of Biscayne Bay — “This is a latrine.” Unflattering newspaper headlines then flash on the screen as especially putrid images of polluted water are seen in the background. The problem, Levine’s campaign points out, is that those images are not from Biscayne Bay. Christian Ulvert, a senior Levine adviser, slammed what he called a “false narrative” being perpetuated by Greene, and said the campaign expected to challenge the commercial with TV stations. He said using foreign images to prove a point can potentially mislead voters.
“Greene not likely to drop out” via Diane Rado of the Florida Phoenix — It isn’t likely that Greene will get out of the race for Florida governor, despite demands from the Florida chapter of the National Organization for Women, which is expressing concern by allegations in a 2013 police report. The recently-surfaced report obtained by CBS Miami states that a former hotel cocktail waitress in Palm Beach told police she was “smacked on the arm” by the owner – Greene – who asked her to turn the music down. … “I haven’t seen any indication that he (Greene) is even acknowledging it,” said Florida NOW president Terry Sanders. … Greene’s spokeswoman, Claire VanSusteren, said on Twitter that “this is a coordinated attack on Greene over political ads he ran on Graham’s poor environmental record. Nothing more, nothing less. The police report speaks for itself. No injury, no sex, no violence, no fighting words.”
Assignment editors: Chris King is holding a fundraising reception. That’s at 6:30 p.m., Acropolis Greek Taverna, 3023 West Kennedy Blvd., Tampa
“Frank White ad sees sheriffs tout him as a ‘conservative we can trust’” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Attorney General candidate Frank White is rolling out a new TV ad Monday saying he, not fellow Republican Ashley Moody, has a record county sheriffs can trust. The 30-second ad, titled “Florida Sheriffs Support Frank White,” apes a recent ad by Moody by bringing in some backup from the county sheriffs who have endorsed his campaign — Moody, a former circuit court judge and prosecutor, has the support of 90 percent of Republican county sheriffs and current Attorney General Pam Bondi, which she touted in an ad released last week. Thanks to studio magic, White’s handful of sheriff backers produced the same effect in the new spot. Click here to watch the ad.
“Denise Grimsley adds dozens of local endorsements for Ag. Commish bid” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics – Grimsley expanded her list of backers in her statewide bid for Agriculture Commissioner with a bulk endorsement from three dozen local elected officials from all corners of the state. The additions came in from mayors across the I-4 corridor, from Temple Terrace to Melbourne; school superintendents stretching from Gulf to Hendry; tax collectors in from the Panhandle to the Treasure Coast; school board members from Duval on one end of I-10 to Okaloosa on the other; county clerks spanning from Suwanee to Martin; and county commissioners from the Florida-Georgia line in Baker to Miami-Dade. … In addition to those 34 pols, Grimsley added another pair to the already well-stocked quiver of county sheriff endorsements: Hamilton County Sheriff J. Harrell Reid and former Highlands County Sheriff Susan Benton. For those keeping score at home, that makes for 36 sitting county lawmen.
— NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL, PART 2 —
“Disney, Seminoles sink $10 million into gambling amendment” via the News Service of Florida – Disney Worldwide Services, Inc. and the Seminole Tribe of Florida continue upping the ante as they try to pass a constitutional amendment that could make it harder to expand gambling in the state. Disney and the Seminole Tribe each contributed $5 million on July 30 to the political committee Voters In Charge, which is leading efforts to pass the constitutional amendment in the November general election, according to a newly filed finance report. The committee had about $20 million in cash on hand as of Aug. 3.
“Casino stakes anti-Amendment 3 group with $525K” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics – The political committee fighting against a proposed constitutional amendment to limit gambling expansion brought in $525,000 from the parent company of Miami’s Magic City Casino. The committee, Vote NO on 3, received the check from West Flagler Associates on July 31. That stack is the only contribution the committee has reported since it was formed early last month. Vote No on 3 spent nearly all of that cash shortly after the it cleared by way of a $523,600 radio buy through Miami-based IGT Media Holdings on Aug. 3.
Seriously, who cares? –“Mike Huckabee endorses Florida’s proposed greyhound racing ban” via Arek Sarkissian of POLITICO Florida — The former governor of Arkansas, who lives in Santa Rosa Beach, submitted his official endorsement Wednesday afternoon through the campaign website, said Carey Theil, executive director of national anti-dog-racing group GREY2K USA. … The campaign announced last week an endorsement — first reported by Florida Politics — by Lara Trump, daughter in-law of Republican President Donald Trump. The city of Hallandale Beach, which sits in the deeply Democratic Broward County, voted unanimously Aug. 1 to offer its endorsement. The Hallandale Beach resolution formalizing the endorsement notes a statewide survey by McLaughlin & Associates predicting the ban will receive support from 70 percent of voters if it appears on the November ballot.
— “7 questions with Lindsay Cross, the Democrat running for Florida Senate District 24” via Cathy Salustri of Creative Loafing
“Leon County Commissioner Bryan Desloge ‘seriously’ considering a state Senate bid” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat – Desloge said Friday his gut is telling him to run for the Florida Senate, but his mind isn’t there yet. “I’m not opening a campaign account, I’m not announcing or anything, but I’m getting enough questions from people who say, ‘Are you interested in this?’ So I want to let people know I’m seriously leaning that way,” Desloge, a Republican, told the Tallahassee Democrat on Friday … Rep. Loranne Ausley … already has filed to run for the Senate District 3 seat currently held by Sen. Bill Montford, who is term-limited in two years. “Desloge is definitely the strongest Republican candidate who could run,” said Matt Isbell, Democratic political consultant and owner of MCI Maps, which analyzes voting trends and results for candidates.
“House candidate Anna Eskamani featured in the ‘The Atlantic’ magazine” via Xander Peters of Orlando Weekly – The story, which highlights young progressive candidates across the country, touches on how the 2018 midterms helped harvest a new generation of leaders out of progressive groups and community organizations nationwide, and how they’re now stepping up and running for office. Harkening back to the 2010 midterms, The Atlantic’s David Graham compares the potential 2018 Democratic blue wave to the Tea Party’s run almost a decade ago, in which the conservative movement managed to capture the U.S. House and control of 20 state legislative chambers. From The Atlantic: Eskamani is 28, the same age as the newly minted progressive star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Like Ocasio-Cortez, who cut her teeth as an organizer for the Bernie Sanders campaign, Eskamani is not a political newcomer.
“Vito Sheeley fined for sloppy financial record” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — State House candidate Sheeley this month got slapped with a fine from the Division of Elections for sloppy financial reporting. The St. Petersburg Democrat blamed the issue on a transition to a new campaign treasurer but doesn’t believe the hiccup will deter his attempt to defeat incumbent state Rep. Wengay Newton this month in state House District 70. … “I was going through a situation where a new treasurer wasn’t up to date on what to file,” Sheeley told Florida Politics … Bureau of Election Records Chief Kristi Reid Willis sent a letter outlining that records due to the state on July 13 did not get filed until July 30. Sheeley was fined $748.45, a levy he must pay from personal funds and not his campaign account. … Newton said voters should take note of the oversight. “Somebody wants to represent you in Tallahassee with $88.7 billion in taxpayer resources and money,” Newton said, “but he can’t even keep a campaign account straight.”
— EDITORIAL ENDORSEMENT ROUND-UP —
The Miami Herald released its list of primary endorsements on Saturday. Republican top-ballot picks include DeSantis for Governor, Moody for Attorney General and Matt Caldwell for Agriculture Commissioner. Top-tier Democratic picks from the newspaper include Levine for Governor, Sean Shaw for Attorney General and Nikki Fried for Agriculture Commissioner. Read the endorsement list in its entirety here.
The Palm Beach Post editorial board recommends voters back Graham in the Democratic primary for Governor “for her principled, pragmatic approach that will be indispensable in working with a Republican-dominated Legislature to produce laws and policy that work for all Floridians.” In the Democratic primary for Attorney General, the Post recommends Shaw for his “wide experience.” In the Republican primary for Attorney General, the Post recommends Moody, “who appears to be better at keeping her eye on the ball when it comes to how the AG’s office can best serve Floridians rather than President Donald Trump.” In Congressional District 20, the Post recommends Democratic primary voters pick incumbent Alcee Hastings, writing that “Hastings remains one of the key voices for Democrats in Congress on issues ranging from immigration to foreign affairs to health care.”
The Sun Sentinel is backing Fried in the Democratic primary for Agriculture Commissioner, noting Fried is “high-energy, focused and solutions-driven.” On the Republican side of the Ag Commish race, the Sentinel is backing Grimsley. Calling her “the next Pam Bondi,” the Sentinel is recommending Republican voters pick Moody in her bid for Attorney General. On the Democratic side, the Sentinel recommends Shaw. In the Democratic race for CD 22, the Sentinel recommends voters pick incumbent Ted Deutch. On the Republican side, the Sentinel recommends Javier Manjarres, “a flawed but savvy political operative who makes his living producing a blog called Shark Tank.”
— GOOD TO BE THE QUEEN —
According to the data gurus at FiveThirtyEight, women are having greater success than men in Democratic primaries this year.
Data collected on Democratic primaries for U.S. Senate, House and Governor show that “women have won 65 percent (90 of 138) of decided open Democratic primary races featuring at least one man and one woman.” Though that’s excluding races featuring a Democratic incumbent.
Authors at FiveThirtyEight note that the women sampled on average have more experience than their male counterparts, which could help explain the data, although, “even looking only at candidates with previous experience as elected officials, women are still outperforming men.”
Race?: Twenty-four percent of nominees were identified by FiveThirtyEight as nonwhite. But, “nonwhite candidates had a winning record of 28 percent in open Democratic primaries.”
LGBTQ?: The win rates for LGBTQ candidates and candidates who did not disclose their sexual orientation have so far been nearly identical.
Military?: “In open Democratic primaries so far this year, veteran status doesn’t seem to make much of a difference in how a candidate performs.”
— STATEWIDE —
Good riddance – “Mike Carroll quits as head of Florida’s child-welfare agency” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – Carroll, Secretary of the Department of Children and Families (DCF), will quit his post effective Sept. 6, Gov. Rick Scott‘s office announced Friday. “Mike embodies the ideals and mission of the Department … and has devoted nearly three decades to improve and change the lives of Florida’s vulnerable children and families,” the governor said in a statement. “Mike’s tenure as secretary is the longest in DCF’s 21-year history,” he added. Carroll was appointed in December 2014. “Many of these kids have cracks … they’re broken, they’re in pieces,” he once told a Senate committee. “We’re charged as a state agency to put those pieces back together. And we aren’t always able to do that. And that’s the most tragic thing about our work.”.
“FDLE closed Jack Latvala case without gathering new info” via Mary Ellen Klas of the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau — Documents released this week in the now-closed investigation into the sexual harassment and corruption claims against Latvala show that state investigators did not expand their review beyond the information provided to them by the Senate, stopping short of interviewing new witnesses or soliciting additional documents before they cleared the veteran lawmaker of wrongdoing. Leon County State Attorney Jack Campbell chose not to file corruption charges against Latvala, 66, on July 26, after receiving the Florida Department of Law Enforcement report … The state agency spent six months reviewing the evidence, questioning Latvala and McLeod under oath, and delaying release of its findings to address last-minute questions by Campbell’s office. … The report noted that no other witnesses came forward voluntarily to corroborate [Laura] McLeod‘s allegations but, the documents show, FDLE also did not subpoena witnesses … the FDLE report excluded several text messages McLeod provided … “We could have talked to other people, that’s true, but there was nobody we needed to talk to to further clarify the issue,” [Campbell] said. “I was very comfortable with the information.” … But, Campbell said, he was limited by the narrowly drawn state law … “I leave it to the Legislature whether they want to make sexual harassment a crime,” he said. “Right now, the only thing we’ve got is bribery.”
“State has spent $2M on legal bills for medical marijuana” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – As it defends a slew of cases over medical marijuana, the state of Florida has spent close to $2 million on outside lawyers. Nearly all of that went to one firm. Records reviewed last week show at least $1.9 million approved by the Department of Health (DOH) going to two law firms – mostly Vezina, Lawrence & Piscitelli, but also Shutts & Bowen … Meantime, medicinal cannabis advocates – including Orlando attorney John Morgan – have called on Gov. Rick Scott to drop appeals of cannabis-related rulings that went against the state. That includes a case that Morgan backed, challenging the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana.
“School districts defying hazy rules on the use of medical marijuana for students” via Keona Gardner of TCPalm – School districts across Florida continue to defy state law with their policies of banning students’ use of physician-recommended medical marijuana. Districts in Brevard, Collier, Indian River, Lee, Martin and St. Lucie counties, for example, say they simply are complying with federal law, which still classifies all marijuana, whether medicinal or recreational, an illegal drug. Florida Statutes require every school district to write a policy for how it will allow administration of medical marijuana. At the same time, the Florida Constitution … exempts schools from providing “any accommodation of any on-site medical use of marijuana.” “State law doesn’t trump federal law,” explained Mitchell Teitelbaum, general counsel of the Manatee County School District, who has led workshops on the issue for the Florida School Boards Association and the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.
“Judge sides with Florida GOP in absentee ballot dispute with Broward County” via Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida – The declaratory injunction, ordered Friday, prevents Broward County Election Supervisor Brenda Snipes from opening the mail-in ballots in secret or before the county’s three-member Canvassing Board meets to determine the ballots’ validity. The board can begin meeting on Monday to handle absentee ballots, more than 75,000 of which have been cast in Broward ahead of the Aug. 28primaries. … The ruling is the second major loss for Snipes’ office in court this year. In May, a judge criticized her office for breaking the law by destroying ballots too soon in the 2016 congressional primary between Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Tim Canova. Snipes earlier won a federal case concerning voter-roll maintenance. Broward has nearly 1.15 million voters, second only to Miami-Dade’s voter population of nearly 1.4 million.”
“Justices block execution in Miami-Dade murder” via the News Service of Florida – The Florida Supreme Court has indefinitely put on hold Tuesday’s scheduled execution of Death Row inmate Jose Antonio Jimenez, convicted of killing a 63-year-old woman nearly 26 years ago in Miami-Dade County. A unanimous order by the court, issued Friday evening, did not give a reason for granting the stay of execution requested by Jimenez’s lawyer, Marty McClain. … In a motion for a stay of execution filed this week, McClain raised several issues, including the fact that he discovered 80 pages of records related to the investigation into the Oct. 2, 1992, death of Phyllis Minas that the North Miami Police Department had not previously provided to Jimenez’s lawyers. McClain was first given access to all of the records — more than 1,000 pages — on July 30, just two weeks before his client, who maintains his innocence, was scheduled to be executed. … “Mr. Jimenez has found, to his mind, surprising and downright shocking information contained in the previously unseen notes,” McClain wrote in a five-page motion filed in Miami-Dade County circuit court Friday. “It appears that the notes of Detective Ojeda, the lead investigator, and Detective Diecidue if not lied, endeavored to deceive when they were deposed by Mr. Jimenez’s trial counsel.”
“In South Florida, $2.1 million no longer makes you ‘wealthy.’ Here’s the new benchmark” via Rob Wile of the Miami Herald – In its latest Modern Wealth Index study, brokerage giant Charles Schwab found that area residents now say it takes $3.1 million to be considered “wealthy.” That’s up from South Florida’s 2017 benchmark, which was placed at $2.1 million. To be considered financially comfortable in 2018, South Florida respondents said, takes $1.5 million. (That question was not asked last year.) Nationally, Schwab respondents said it takes $2.4 million to be considered wealthy, and $1.4 million to be considered financially comfortable. The 2018 study, which surveyed approximately 500 South Florida residents in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metro region, found that only 42 percent of respondents feel “financially stable.” Fifty-eight percent said they live paycheck-to-paycheck. Both are about even with Schwab’s national averages.
— ALGAE CRISIS —
“Blue-green algae bloom in St. Lucie River 10 times too toxic to touch, DEP tests show” via Tyler Treadway of TCPalm – A blue-green algae bloom in the St. Lucie River estuary contains toxins 10 times the level considered hazardous. The Aug. 2 sample taken at Central Marine on the river’s north shore in Stuart contained the toxin microcystin at a rate of 110 parts per billion, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The only bloom with a higher toxicity so far this year was sampled July 5 at the St. Lucie Lock and Dam, the conduit for Lake Okeechobee discharges to the St. Lucie River. That sample contained microcystin at a level of 154.38 parts per billion. Microcystin, a common toxin produced by blue-green algae, can cause nausea and vomiting if ingested and rash or hay fever symptoms if touched or inhaled.
“‘It’s like a bad nightmare’: Florida water crisis slams wildlife, hurts businesses” via Chad Gillis and Laura Ruane of the Naples Daily News – A particularly strong red tide has gone from lingering to lethal in the past two months, killing hundreds of sea turtles, manatees and likely a whale shark. Beaches have been largely empty in recent weeks, and the local economy is feeling the strain. But how long will those impacts from this red tide last, and what will the coming tourism season look like? More than 3 million people used paid lodgings in Lee County last year, with occupancy rates and rental charges peaking during winter high season. Chris Davison is vice president/general manager at the Gulf-front Island Inn on Sanibel … he estimated he’d lost $125,000 in canceled reservations since July 29. Is Davison worried about high season? “Absolutely.”
Meanwhile … “Rising seas, rising prices… rising risks” via Dinah Voyles Pulver of GateHouse Media – As Scott Yurchison shows potential buyers waterfront properties on the Atlantic Ocean or Indian River in New Smyrna Beach, the real estate agent fields questions about amenities, schools and nearby services. He rarely gets a question about rising sea levels. … most clients aren’t asking how high the nearby waters might rise before their 30-year mortgage is paid off. “People are asking. Is everybody asking? No,” said Yurchison. “In our society today, people don’t look long-term.” … Waterfront property listings can’t keep up with the demand in Miami Beach, even though the city is spending hundreds of millions to stem the incoming tide by raising streets, installing pumps and building better sea walls. … Similarly, county property appraisers across the state from the Panhandle to Daytona Beach said they haven’t seen any downward trend in waterfront prices or values. … “Realistically, I don’t think people are going to be taking this seriously until water is up around their ankles,” Volusia County property appraiser Larry Bartlett said. … At a speech to a regional association for responsible development last year, Bartlett invited his listeners to imagine what will happen in the community when people realize, “Wow, we’ve got to get out of here because the water is just staying.” The response? “Crickets.”
— SURVIVING PARKLAND —
Although the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooter is in custody, the damage is far from done.
Kyle Laman, 15, was fortunate to survive the shooting, but it still haunts him. He is reminded of the massacre daily from the scars on his foot where he was shot.
The Washington Post’s Sarah Kaplan and photojournalist Matt McClain spent some time with Laman and his family after the tragedy. In a new feature, they depict the Laman family’s struggle to return to normalcy.
The injury: Kyle walks today, although the privilege was nearly taken away from him. “The bullet severed the major vessels that carry blood to the foot, as well as his tibialis anterior tendon, which contracts to lift the foot off the ground. Had it struck any deeper, it would have hit bone and ‘exploded his foot.’”
Camera shy: Kyle dissents from some of his high profile classmates, and isn’t seeking a spotlight in the aftermath. “I like guns,” he tells WaPo. “I like shooting at things. But, like, targets. Not people.”
Compelled to testify: Amid the Laman family’s desire to bring back the status quo, Kyle will likely need to give witness testimony at Nikolas Cruz’ trial. “I want him to die,” he tells WaPo.
— OPINIONS —
“State leaders culpable in algae crisis” via The Gainesville Sun editorial board —While focusing on job creation, Gov. Rick Scottforgot that Florida’s natural environment is essential to its economy. He is learning that lesson the hard way during the state’s ongoing algae crisis. Red tide now spans more than 100 miles of Florida’s Gulf coast, killing marine life and sickening coastal residents and visitors … At the same time, blue-green algae is causing similar devastation from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers … the green slime coating waterways is nothing short of an environmental catastrophe. The response by Gov. Scott, who is now running for the U.S. Senate, is to belatedly throw money at the problem and shift the blame. He wants voters to forget that during his two terms in office, the state has fought federal water protections and slashed funding for its own environmental and water-management agencies. … the state has taken a hand-off approach to regulating the pollution from farms, fertilized home lawns and faulty septic tanks that are fueling the problem. … To be sure, Scott isn’t solely responsible for worsening environmental problems in Florida. … It is incumbent upon voters to educate themselves on the candidates’ environmental records before casting ballot in upcoming elections. Voters must elect officials who make environmental protection a priority long before devastating algae blooms force the issue
“John Romano: Two years later, politicians still ignoring Florida voters on medical marijuana” via the Tampa Bay Times – Time after time, the courts have said Florida overstepped its authority by limiting the intent of the constitutional amendment. In the most recent case, a circuit judge said on Aug. 2 that lawmakers erred by trying to limit the number, and organizational structure, of dispensaries. Of course, none of this is surprising. Medical marijuana is a billion-dollar industry, and there is no way that lobbyists and politicians were not going to get a thumb on the scale. Back when the Legislature was first drawing up these rules, Sen. Jeff Brandes … warned his colleagues that they were stifling the marketplace and inviting litigation. “The Legislature has got to get involved because this issue is too important to have all of these questions sitting out there,’’ Brandes said. “There are a lot of people who thought medical marijuana would be available in a certain manner when they voted, and it hasn’t turned out that way.”
“Gary Yordon: Start of football season brings back memories — good and terrifying” via the Tallahassee Democrat –This was no ordinary season. For the first time in the history of college football, a coach would be wearing a wireless microphone. I was a producer at WFSU-TV and the guy who came up with this big idea. Bowden was the perfect person to pull off such an ambitious project. He was charming, funny and brilliantly colloquial. Then Auburn happened. Bowden tried fake punts, trick plays, anything to plug the leak. Nothing FSU did worked. Not because they weren’t well designed plays. Everything FSU did for those five minutes failed because the Auburn coaches heard every play Bowden was calling. It seems our new technology was broadcasting Bowden on FM radio. On 94.6, to be exact.
— MOVEMENTS —
“Tom Rooney throws his hat in the ring for Palm Beach County judge” via Nancy Smith of Sunshine State News – Five-term Congressman Tom Rooney, who surprised Republican Party leaders by announcing in February he wouldn’t run for re-election, has applied for a county judgeship in Palm Beach County. … Rooney and 31 other applicants are scheduled to interview with the Judicial Nominating Commission Aug. 27. The JNC then will send, at most, six names to Gov. Rick Scott and the governor will make the final decision for appointment. … In a telephone interview Friday, Rooney, 47, told Sunshine State News, “I’ve been thinking about this for a while, trying to prepare for life after Congress. And then a few weeks ago this vacancy came up. … I think it would be a great fit for me,” he explained. “I love being in court. I used to be a prosecutor. I thought about joining a law firm, but I like the autonomy of being a judge.”
“Judge will soon reach decision in challenge to Gov. Scott’s City Council appointment” via Christopher Hong of Florida Times-Union – A judge said on Friday that he will soon make a decision on the legal challenge of Gov. Rick Scott’s controversial appointment of Terrance Freeman to replace City Councilman Reginald Brown, who was suspended after being indicted on federal fraud charges. Attorneys for Brenda Priestly Jackson, a local attorney who filed a lawsuit that argues Freeman cannot legally serve on the council because he wasn’t a resident of the Northwest Jacksonville district when Scott appointed him, argued their case before Circuit Judge Waddell Wallace III. Jackson’s suit says that Freeman’s term began the day Scott appointed him last month, and that Freeman, a Republican who owns a home in Mandarin, hadn’t fulfilled the requirements necessary to claim residency in the mostly Democratic district. Brown, along with every other council member to represent the district, is a Democrat. Freeman’s attorneys have asked Wallace to dismiss the case, saying it should be up to the City Council, not a court, to decide whether he’s eligible.
New and renewed lobbying registrations:
Brian Bautista, James McFaddin, Southern Strategy Group: Tallahassee Corporate Center C/O Hall Investments
Amanda Bowen, Nancy D. Stephens & Associates: American Architectural Manufacturers Association, Fenestration Manufacturers Association
Robert Hosay, Foley & Lardner: HealthSmart Holdings
Georgia McKeown, Johnson & Blanton: City of Oak Hill
Will McKinley, Erik Kirk, PooleMcKinley: General Dynamics Information Technology
Diana Padgett: Florida School Nutrition Association
Craig Schorr: AllianceBernstein
— ALOE —
“Parker Solar Probe launches from Cape Canaveral” via Marco Santana and Mark Skoneki of the Orlando Sentinel –United Launch Alliance sent the $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe into the night sky, setting it on a voyage that will bring it within 3.8 million miles of our Solar System’s star at the highest speeds ever attained by a human-made device. The Delta IV Heavy lit the sky over Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on time at 3:31 a.m., engulfing the launch pad with flames as it slowly took flight. Eugene Parker, the 91-year-old retired University of Chicago physicist whom the probe has been named after, said he was excited after watching his first in-person launch. “All I can say is, ‘Wow, we are in for some learning for the next several years.’ ”
“The best meteor show of the year is coming to a sky near you” via Howard Cohen of the Miami Herald – According to NASA’s meteor expert Bill Cooke, the fireball-rich Perseids are on the way, with best viewing on the nights of Aug. 11-13 this year, he told Space.com. The Perseid meteor shower is an August treat every year because the Earth passes through a trail left by the 16-miles-wide comet of dust, ice, rock and organic material called the Comet Swift-Tuttle … The Comet Swift-Tuttle is the largest solar system object to pass close to the Earth repeatedly, according to NASA. How large? According to NASA, twice the size of whatever killed off the dinosaurs. But don’t worry. The Comet Swift-Tuttle isn’t going to crash into the Earth any time soon, if at all, NASA says.
Happy birthday from the weekend to Rep. Matt Caldwell. Celebrating today is the great, brilliant Erika Donalds.