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Emails & Opinions

Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 12.10.18

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

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

We have asked you to donate hams and turkeys to those in need of a decent holiday meal. And we’ve asked you to drop off jackets and stuff busses for children with less than what they deserve.

Each time, the readers of Florida Politics have come through — and then some.

Well, we need to make one more ask this Christmas season.

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For years, a gentleman in Panama City named Mike Jones has been known around Panama City as “Salvage Santa.” He takes donations of toys and used bikes, repairs the bikes, and distributes the bikes and toys to families that need them for Christmas. He’s helped thousands of families over the years. Mike Rowe from Discovery Channel did an episode of his Facebook-only show “Returning the Favor” about Salvage Santa last year

Panama City’s Mike Jones takes donations of toys and used bikes, repairs them and gives them the needy families, earning him the name ‘Salvage Santa.’ (Image via MikeRowe.com)

Like most people in PC, the storm destroyed his home (and his workshop). Obviously, Panama City needs his help more than ever this year, so we are helping Matt Farrar, Joe Clements, and the rest of the team at Strategic Digital Services to bring some awareness to the issue.

Right now, they are taking donations of new, unwrapped toys and contributions at the SDS office. This week, they hope to fill a truck and deliver it to Panama City.

But only if they can get your help.

Here’s a Facebook video that has some of the details on what to do, where to send, and so forth.

You can drop off the toys at the SDS office at 487 E Tennessee St.

We’re sure you are being bombarded with holiday and year-end requests for assistance, especially for our hard-hit brothers and sisters in the Panhandle. So we want to do a little something extra to encourage your participation in this particular drive.

For every contribution donated to this drive, we will enter your name in a drawing for some #FlaPol bennies we think you might enjoy, including an original cartoon drawn by Bill Day to your specifications, a weeklong digital ad in Sunburn, or a quarter-page ad in the next edition of INFLUENCE Magazine.

So, as you make your donation, please email us the details to Peter@FloridaPolitics.com or tweet a picture of your gift with the hashtag #SalvageSanta.

Merry Christmas.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@VP: Over the past 2 years, John Kelly served the @POTUS Administration with great distinction as Sec. @DHSgov & @WhiteHouse Chief of Staff. He will depart at the end of the year with my utmost respect. Thank you General Kelly. We will always be grateful for your service to our Nation

@NickAyers: Thank you @realDonaldTrump, @VP, and my great colleagues for the honor to serve our Nation at The White House. I will be departing at the end of the year but will work with the #MAGA team to advance the cause.

@TheRickWilson: The Trump media guys are really having a bad weekend. Their swing at [James] Comey was a complete whiff. The one COS candidate with any political sense is saying no to the gig. His own DOJ and SDNY have tagged him in criminal activity. The trade war isn’t delivering politically.

@JohnMorganEsq: The riots in France over taxes in a socialistic country is why @BernieSanders’ democratic socialist party doesn’t work! And it seems half @TheDemocrats party identifies that way now. Another reason why I am out! We have to live within our means. Free is never free. #GDI

@JebBush: I commend @RonDeSantisFL for his forward-thinking appointment of @richardcorcoran as Florida’s next Commissioner of Education. Richard is one of the state’s most experienced leaders and has long been a trailblazer in #edreform

@Rob_Bradley: Thank goodness our state set aside $3 billion in cash reserves in this year’s budget. It allowed us to aggressively respond to Hurricane Michael. Looking to next year, @FLSenate will continue to fight for healthy reserves. $3 billion is the target again.

@AnnaForFlorida: Whew, just went through 300+ Instagram messages that we received since November 6th. Majority were sweet and kind, many included meeting requests and calls for help on specific issues. Some were inappropriate due to their sexual language and/or asks for my hand in marriage.

@Susie57: @JoeGruters is the right person at just the right time … great friend.

@FloridaState: “This is where I get to shoutout my @FSUFilm school at the illustrious Florida State University, where I learned most of the things I know about film.” — Barry Jenkins. Thank you @BarryJenkins, director, producer, screenwriter and Academy Award winner!

— DAYS UNTIL —

2019 Session Interim Committee Meetings begin — 1; 116th Congress convenes — 24; College Football National Championship — 28 Florida’s gubernatorial inauguration — 29; Office of Insurance Regulation’s OIR Summit begins — 36; Super Bowl LIII — 55; ‘Hamilton’ comes to the Straz Center — 64; 2019 Legislative Session starts — 85; Tampa mayoral election — 85; ‘Captain Marvel’ release — 88; Iowa Caucuses — 420; 2020 General Election — 694.

— TOP STORY —

Florida schools cover up crimes: rapes, guns and more” via Scott Travis and John Maines the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Many serious offenses — and even minor ones — are never reported to the state as required. A staggering number of schools report no incidents at all — no bullying, no trespassing, nothing. The state largely takes the districts at their word, and state law provides no penalties for administrators who allow the lies to continue. Several districts pledged to change their ways only when confronted by journalists. No one told the state after a registered sex offender trespassed at the Deane Bozeman School in Panama City in 2016. Or that police charged a woman in 2014 with trying to choke and kidnap a student at Eccleston Elementary in Orlando. Or that a drunk Tampa Bay man brought a Glock pistol to a Seminole High football game in 2015 and threatened to shoot a teacher. Even murder has been ignored.

— TRANSITION —

Ron DeSantis says Donald Trump told him about his Attorney General pick ‘a couple days ago’” via Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times — DeSantis called Trump “a couple days ago” to talk about the direction of the president’s administration, the governor-elect said. During that call, DeSantis asked Trump who would replace Jeff Sessions as the new U.S. Attorney General. Trump gave him the answer, William Barr, before he made the announcement public. DeSantis’ inside knowledge of the major personnel decision underscores the close ties between DeSantis and the president, who endorsed him before he even announced he would run for the state’s highest office.

Ron DeSantis knew about the nomination of William Barr as Donald Trump’s Attorney General before almost anyone else.

DeSantis Supreme Court choices could secure Florida’s Republican reign” via John Kennedy of GateHouse Capital Bureau — One of the new governor’s early moves will be to replace justices Barbara ParienteFred Lewis and Peggy Quince, whose terms end on Inauguration Day, Jan. 8. Some, though, worry about the potential impact of a Tallahassee triumvirate — where actions by a Republican governor and GOP-led Legislature are endorsed by a conservative high court. Often, Republican policy measures have been struck down in 4-3 rulings, with Justice Jorge Labarga — who remains on the court — sometimes proving the swing vote in helping Pariente, Lewis and Quince form a majority. But a more Republican-friendly court is almost certain to emerge with DeSantis’s appointments in the coming weeks.

Jeanette Nunez, Alan Levine to lead Ron DeSantis health panel” via Dan McAuliffe of Florida Politics – Chairs Alan Levine, former Secretary of the state Agency for Healthcare Administration, and Nuñez will be joined by more than 50 other health care professionals, regulators, and former officeholders to help develop and implement DeSantis’ health care vision … The committee includes three former members of the Florida Legislature … The committee is packed with leaders from various private health care providers, like longtime HCA executive and native Floridian Bryan Anderson, recently promoted to VP of Government Affairs at HCA.

League of Women Voters to Board of Education: Just say no!” via Dara Kam of the News Service of Florida — The man who castigated troubled schools as “failure factories” is poised to become the state’s next education commissioner, as Governor-elect DeSantis made clear he wants former House Speaker Corcoran to take over the post. Not so fast, the League of Women Voters of Florida said in a missive. In a letter to Board of Education Chairwoman Marva Johnson and the rest of the board, the League urged the panel to conduct a national search to find the replacement for Linda Stewart. “At a minimum, Floridians expect you to carry out a due diligence process aimed at ensuring Florida’s students that an individual of the highest possible caliber oversees public education. We urge you to take this important duty seriously and not simply ‘rubber stamp’ a politically motivated choice,” LWV Florida President Patricia Brigham wrote in the letter.

Richard Corcoran

‘Wait just a minute,’ says the League of Women Voters for Florida on the more-than-likely nomination of Richard Corcoran to be Education Commissioner.

Melinda Miguel returning as Chief Inspector General under DeSantis” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Miguel left the Governor’s Office in the spring of 2017 after 28 years in government to run her own consulting service, the last six as the state’s Chief Inspector General, saying she wanted to have more time for her family, and to leave before the arrival of a new governor. Now she’ll be returning with that new governor. “Accountability and transparency are critically important to me and are key components to running state government efficiently and fairly,” DeSantis stated in a news release. “Having previously served in the inspector general role, Melinda knows best practices and has the professional auditing and investigative skills needed to ensure Florida is running smoothly and operating with the highest degree of integrity.”

—”Current budget director will stay in Ron DeSeantis administration” via Dan McAuliffe of Florida Politics

Happening todayDeSantis‘ Transition Advisory Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources & Agriculture will meet. That’s at 1 p.m., Turnbull Conference Center, Florida State University, 555 W. Pensacola St., Tallahassee.

Meanwhile … “Ashley Moody: Groveland Four will be ‘one of the first things I look at’” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Asked about how her office will address the pardon for the Lake County men falsely accused of raping a woman in 1949, Moody said she will look at the case after taking office. “It’s going to be one of the first things I look at when we get to work,” said Moody. “It’s something I’m very interested in.” Moody spoke at the first stop in DeSantis’ “Thank You Tour” following the success of most Republican candidates in Florida statewide elections in November.

— RACE FOR FLORIDA GOP CHAIR —

DeSantis praises Joe Gruters for state GOP chair” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — “The one guy that has really come out is Joe Gruters,” DeSantis said. “He would be a great pick. We have 67 county chairmen and Joe has really been a first among equals in many ways in what he’s done with the Sarasota Party. They always have excitement going on there. They have people engaged in the Party, and they did a good job of turning out voters in Sarasota for us. He’s somebody who’s proven he can be effective.” The support of the state’s top Republican elected official likely assures Gruters will succeed outgoing chair Blaise Ingoglia as the leader for the state Party, who announced this week he will not seek another term.

In his bid for RPOF chair, Joe Gruters has the full backing of soon-to-be-Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Bob Starr plans to offer alternative in race for GOP state chair” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Starr, a Republican state committeeman for Charlotte County, has no interest in getting into a fight with the next Governor, but as he prepares to run for state chair for Republican Party of Florida, he’s more concerned with the opinions of party activists around the state. “We have to get back to where the grassroots matter,” said Starr … the first candidate this year to announce intentions to seek the state post, appears to be the only candidate for chair who didn’t fold up shop after word spread the governor-elect had a choice in mind. Still, it can’t be the sentiment of any one man who will run the Republican Party of Florida.

— CALM IN THE CHAOS —

It hasn’t gotten the credit, but the Tallahassee staff of the Jones Walker firm played a key role in the election and recount that led to DeSantis’ winning the Governor’s race.

Chief among them is lobbyist Jenn Ungru, better known as a health care policy guru. But in the election law world, she’s the one Republicans turn to when a race is too close to call. She’s now been involved in statewide recounts in four states: Ohio, Virginia, Minnesota and now Florida.

Few people know more about close elections in Florida than Jones Walker’s Jenn Ungru.

Firm partner Marc Dunbar, better known these days as a top gaming lobbyist, relived some of his experience from the 2000 presidential recount, acting as counsel to the DeSantis recount monitoring effort last month.

And Director of Government Relations Chris Moya, who befriended DeSantis when he launched his first congressional run, has become one of the Governor-elect’s top fundraisers and landed a seat on the Inaugural Committee.

For the rest of the story, click here.

— ROAD TO SESSION —

Senate Democrats don’t want to talk about new rules criticized by sexual harassment expert” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida -POLITICO asked all 17 state Senate Democrats why they supported the changes. Only five responded and just one gave a direct answer. Michelle DeMarco, communications director for the Senate Democrats, acknowledged that she had received questions from POLITICO, but never responded. The silence from the caucus, including its leaders, comes in the wake of a sweeping rewrite of the process that governs potential misconduct investigations, including those related to harassment. Those changes were quickly passed last month during the chamber’s post-election organizational session. Rules changes, which are proposed by new presiding officers, are often viewed as purely procedural in nature and generally get approved quickly. … Katie Betta, a Galvano spokesperson, said that no Democrats expressed concerns about the rules changes, and that each change suggested by Democrats was included before the rules were passed by the 40-person chamber.

Happening today — The Duval County legislative delegation — Sen. Aaron Bean of Fernandina Beach; Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville; Reps. Cord Byrd of Neptune Beach, Kimberly Daniels of Jacksonville, Tracie Davis of Jacksonville, Wyman Duggan of Jacksonville, Jason Fischer of Jacksonville; and Clay Yarborough of Jacksonville — meets ahead of the 2019 Legislative Session, 9 a.m., Jacksonville City Hall, City Council chamber, 117 West Duval St., Jacksonville.

— STATEWIDE —

Rick Scott’s gift to state workers: Off on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve” via Florida Politics — Yes Virginia, there is a Rick Scott. The Governor announced Friday that state offices “will be closed on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve in recognition of state employees’ hard work throughout the year, including the response and recovery from Hurricane Michael.” Office closures on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve are in addition to regular office closures on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. “I’m proud to give state employees Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve off this year,” Scott said in a statement.

Rick Scott is giving state workers one last holiday present.

Florida Senate President’s new job with private prison operator doesn’t surprise advocates” via Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times — When news that Joe Negron took a job with the massive private prison operator Geo Group, it did not come as a shock to criminal justice reform advocates. “I hate to be cynical like this, but it’s not a surprise,” said Panagioti Tsolkas, a founder of Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons, an advocacy group. “I think it’s pretty disgusting.” Negron’s support for private prisons — and their support of him — had been written about for years. And Negron voted for private prison interests and was instrumental in getting the company millions more in taxpayer dollars. A spokesman for the Boca Raton-based Geo Group justified the hire by touting Negron’s “30 years of experience in business law and complex corporate and commercial litigation.”

Adoption fight pits great-aunt against child welfare worker” via Daphne Chen and Nicole Rodriguez of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Three-year-old Ryleigh continues to live with Safe Children Coalition employee Jolee Grobleski despite her great-aunt Kathleen McGinty’s repeated attempts to gain custody and despite the recommendation of a neutral committee siding with McGinty. Employees of child welfare agencies are permitted to foster children. But they must avoid conflicts of interests that could result in preferential treatment in the placement or movement of a child, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families, which oversees the Safe Children Coalition. McGinty, claims the Safe Children Coalition and its subcontractor, Youth and Family Alternatives, concealed the fact that an employee was housing Ryleigh with the intent of adopting her. Experts say the case is an example of the ethical quandaries rife in the child welfare system and how they play out in secretive adoption proceedings.

VISIT FLORIDA ponies up for Panhandle, Big Bend — Gov. Scott rolled out two VISIT FLORIDA Hurricane Michael assistance programs to offer “critical relief and support” to storm-ravaged Panhandle and Big Bend counties. Via a media release: “The Tourism Recovery Grant Program for Hurricane Michael and Hurricane Michael Recovery Marketing Program are available to Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Leon, Liberty, Taylor, Wakulla and Washington counties, and are designed to assist the areas to market their destinations once hurricane-damaged areas are open to visitors.” VISIT FLORIDA rolled out a $9 million commitment in October; these monies follow that commitment, with $5 million in marketing funds for the affected areas.

Panama City to plant 100,000 trees after Hurricane Michael” via The Associated Press — Panama City officials say they’re committed to planning 100,000 trees by 2025. Joe Littleton, president of Landscapes Inc., lost “every single tree” in his yard to the Oct. 10 hurricane and plans to donate four trees as a symbolic gesture. The first is a 15-year-old, 30-foot (9-meter) cathedral live oak, which was planted this week in the Cove neighborhood, where Littleton lives.

— LOCAL —

’Dirty’ DEA agent facilitated drug influx to Jacksonville, complaint says” via Anne Schneider of First Coast News — According to the complaint, former Jacksonville-based Special Agent Nathan Koen used his position to assist large-scale drug transactions, warning dealers of pending investigations and otherwise enabling shipments of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. The 21-page document says Koen, 42, accepted $62,000 from one particular drug dealer, and sought an additional $17,000, though it’s not clear if that particular payment was made. Koen worked in Jacksonville for 12 years before being promoted to a Group Supervisor position in Little Rock, Arkansas, in September 2016. The complaint is largely based on alleged interactions between Koen and dealer turned informant, Francisco Benitez, between late 2016 and October 2017.

DEA Special Agent Nathan Koen was arrested for accepting payment from a drug dealer in exchange for information. He is also accused of facilitating drug shipments into Jacksonville.

Sarasota prosecutor fired over social media posts” via Chris Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Assistant state attorney Joshua Schueneman, who unsuccessfully ran for DeSoto County Judge in August, was fired from his position because of a racially insensitive remark that was “liked” on his campaign Facebook page. The derogatory comment made against Hispanic people appeared on the “Joshua Schueneman for DeSoto County Judge” Facebook page on March 27, five months before he lost the judge post to Danielle Brewer. “As a minister of justice, prosecutors have a solemn duty to avoid any action which calls into question their impartiality,” State Attorney Ed Brodsky said in a statement. “The material that was posted on Mr. Schueneman’s judicial campaign social media page, regardless of its author and created while Mr. Schueneman was on leave from his employment, violates the high standards of the office of the state attorney.”

Mike Chitwood says he contacted FBI about county corruption concerns” via Dustin Wyatt of the Daytona Beach News-Journal — Chitwood said he met with two agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation “several months ago” at a training facility in Daytona Beach and asked them to look into what he believes to be corruption in county government. His mention of the FBI came amid a weeklong fight over Amendment 10 — a measure approved by Florida voters that could give Chitwood more authority, including budget and personnel decisions, but would replace Volusia County’s form of government, which was approved by local voters in 1970. The County Council voted 6-1 to ask a judge whether the amendment’s provisions apply to Volusia County, after County Attorney Dan Eckert said he’s preparing an argument that the amendment failed to specify whether its effects are retroactive. Chitwood, a leading proponent of Amendment 10, immediately took to social media, calling the majority of council members “scumbags.”

Lafayette County to ban medical marijuana dispensaries” via Jesse Box of the Suwannee Democrat — The ordinance, if passed, will prohibit medical marijuana dispensing facilities within Commercial, Neighborhood (CN) Zoning District; Commercial, General (CG) Zoning District; and Commercial, Intensive (CI) Zoning District. The county currently has a moratorium prohibiting the operation of medical marijuana treatment centers and licensed dispensing organizations within the county. The second public hearing will be held at the Monday meeting before the ordinance will be voted on. The meetings are held at the Lafayette County Courthouse at 9 a.m.

Tweet, tweet:

Enthusiasm grows for a Virgin trains station in Stuart — but will we get one?” via Gil Smart of TCPalm — Stuart City officials took the tour from West Palm Beach south to Miami and back. The group included City Commissioner Mike Meier, City Manager David Dyess and City Attorney Mike Mortell. “It was a nice ride,” said Dyess — and it helped dispel some of the objections raised by opponents of the train’s proposed path through Martin County. “There were all kinds of comments during the commission process from citizens about the detriments of the train and crime,” said Dyess. In other words: the train comes through, and Stuart turns into dystopia. Stuart officials saw nothing of the sort.

State, federal officials missed warnings at All Children’s heart unit” via Kathleen McGrory and Neil Bedi of the Tampa Bay Times — The state Agency for Health Care Administration cited the hospital for not properly disclosing the two errors. But it didn’t impose any fines or act on the subsequent warnings. The agency won’t say if it investigated the increase in deaths. Federal officials did even less. They performed a routine review of transplants, which make up a fraction of the program’s cases, then stalled for months. They ultimately left a broader review up to a private organization that keeps the details of its inspections secret. The death rate for heart surgery patients at All Children’s tripled between 2015 and 2017. The hospital’s Heart Institute performed worse in 2017 than any pediatric heart surgery program in Florida had in the past decade. “It is unusual that so many levels of regulators would drop the ball,” said Robert Field, a health care regulation expert and professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Marco Rubio: ‘Terrible mistake’ for Donald Trump to pardon Paul Manafort” via Quint Forgey of POLITICO — “I think it would be a terrible mistake if he did that. I do,” the Florida Republican told Martha Raddatz during an interview on ABC’s “This Week.” Rubio continued: “You know, pardons should be used judiciously. They’re used for cases with extraordinary circumstances.” According to a filing from special counsel Robert Mueller‘s office, Manafort breached the terms of his September guilty plea by repeatedly lying to federal prosecutors about his contacts with Trump administration officials. Rubio also warned that if Trump were to grant clemency to Manafort, “it could trigger a debate about whether the pardon powers should be amended, given these circumstances.”

Campaign finance fraud accusations haunt Ross Spano, congressional office” via Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida – U.S. Rep.-elect Ross Spano is struggling to hire office staff as he relies on a controversial adviser: one of the friends at the center of a campaign finance scandal that is rocking the Florida Republican Party. … Of the two donors, Carreno loaned the most — $110,000 — and has the closest relationship with Spano. Carreno has been a friend of Spano since sixth grade, a onetime legal client of Spano’s, a longtime Spano contributor and a donor to a super PAC helping Spano. Since the election, Carreno has acted as a sort of employment agent for the congressman-elect; he told the campaign’s treasurer she was fired, and is now helping interview prospective job hires, even as opponents from both sides of the aisle have called for a criminal investigation of Spano. … But Carreno’s unofficial involvement with staff hires is “really weird,” according to one congressional job applicant in Washington who told POLITICO that one of Spano’s campaign staffers was helping coordinate interviews between Carreno and potential employees. The applicant did not want to be named for fear of reprisal. Carreno could not be reached and did not return a message seeking comment. Hunt couldn’t be reached, either.

’A freshman, but not a rookie’: Donna Shalala starts her new career in Congress” via Alex Daugherty of the Miami Herald — She’s used to Washington. Shalala, 77, who will become the second-oldest first-year member of Congress in U.S. history, greets constituents and fellow lawmakers with the slogan, “I may be a freshman, but I’m not a rookie.” She claims to have found a 15-minute commute from her Georgetown condo to Capitol Hill, a product of her years of working within the highest levels of government and preference for rising early. After a long career as President Bill Clinton’s Health and Human Services Secretary, leading the University of Miami and a stint as the head of the Clinton Foundation, Shalala is excited to become a low-ranking cog in a 435-person lawmaking body that recently earned a lower approval rating than cockroaches and traffic jams. “I’m the only one walking around saying this is going to be fun. Everyone else looks tense,” Shalala said.

She may be a novice congresswoman, but Donna Shalala is an old hand at the inner workings of Washington D.C. (image via The Associated Press)

Air Force wants to house three F-35 squadrons at rebuilt Tyndall, move Raptors permanently” via Stephen Losey of the Air Force Times — Nearly two months after Hurricane Michael devastated Tyndall Air Force Base in Northern Florida, the Air Force wants to rebuild the installation — so it can station three squadrons of F-35 fighters there. But the change in plans, if approved, would mean operational F-22 Raptors from the 95th Fighter Squadron would not return to Tyndall. The Air Force is asking Congress for supplemental funding to repair Tyndall’s damage, the service said in a release. A preliminary evaluation showed Tyndall could accommodate up to three F-35 squadrons, the Air Force said. If Congress grants the supplemental repair funds and the F-35 basing is approved, F-35s could be based there beginning in 2023.

Happening today — Former Trump administration official and political commentator Sebastian Gorka will speak at a meeting of the Palm Beach County Trump Club, 7 p.m., Palm Beach Kennel Club, 1111 North Congress Ave., West Palm Beach.

— EPILOGUE —

Dennis Ross departs with concerns about division” via Gary White of the Lakeland Ledger — “The Bush funeral, I think, really opened a lot of people’s eyes to what civil discourse was like by some of our great leaders, and George H.W. Bush was a great man,” Ross said the following day. “Say what you want about his politics, but he was a person of character, of integrity, of tolerance — and we need that. We’re not seeing that in our leaders anymore, and that’s what concerns me.” Ross said he leaves with disappointment that Republicans didn’t accomplish more during eight years with a majority in the House and the past four with control of the Senate.

’Trumpism isn’t the future.’ Ousted Miami Republican reflects on election loss” via Alex Daugherty of the Miami Herald — Carlos Curbelo couldn’t win a two-front war. “I think the number one factor in my race was spending,” Curbelo said, as he worked out of a Washington coffee shop during his final weeks in office. “We got outspent significantly and a lot of the casual voters that showed up, especially late, voted straight ticket Democrat and I’d say that was really what made the difference.” Curbelo’s assessment of his race is a hat tip to national Democrats, who considered it a personal affront that he was able to win, by more than 11 percentage points, the most Democratic-leaning seat in the country held by a Republican in 2016. Instead of repeating mistakes like backing Annette Taddeo’s failed primary campaign against Garcia two years ago, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee encouraged Debbie Mucarsel-Powell to enter the race early and began a campaign focused on health care in a district where nearly 100,000 people are enrolled in Obamacare.

In the end, Carlos Curbelo just couldn’t fight a two-front war.

Miami’s ‘big bad she-wolf’ finishes a 29-year run in Congress” via Alex Daugherty of the Miami Herald — As Miami’s longest-tenured congresswoman finishes out her final weeks in office, there’s still plenty of work to do. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s bill that would limit U.S. loans to the government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega until he carries out democratic reforms passed the U.S. Senate, though it still needs final passage in the House and Trump’s signature. Another bill named in her honor would authorize defense and security spending assistance for Israel, and it has an uncertain fate in the final weeks of this year’s Congress. Though Ros-Lehtinen is leaving office, her anti-communist worldview, inspired by a childhood in Cuba, lives on through dozens of former staffers and associates who occupy positions of power in government, notably Sen. Rubio, a former intern. The legacy of her outsized influence on foreign policy and Latin American affairs will continue long after she leaves elected office.

— 2020 —

Randy Fine starts off 2020 bid with a bang” via Florida Politics — A newly filed campaign finance report shows the Brevard County Republican already has $21,500 in the bank. The bulk of that money — $20,000 — marked down as a carry-over from his 2018 run. The other two contribs listed on the report: A grand from Ygrene Energy Fund and $500 from Dosal Tobacco Corporation. Thus far, no challenger has stepped to the plate to challenge Fine in 2020. The Brevard Delegation chair amassed more than $275,000 in hard money for his 2018 run.

Randy Fine hits the ground running (moneywise) in his 2020 re-election bid, despite having no challenger. 

Parkland dad Max Schachter considering run for House seat” via Lisa Huriash of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — A state House seat is open after DeSantis tapped Rep. Jared Moskowitz to lead the Florida Division of Emergency Management. Schachter, who lives in Coral Springs, said he could decide whether he’ll run as early next week, after some reflection with his family. “I am just consulting with my family” on the best way “how I can honor my son’s memory,” he said. Schachter got the backing of some other Stoneman Douglas parents. “Run Max Schachter run!” tweeted Ryan Petty, whose daughter Alaina was killed. Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was killed, tweeted: “Would be an honor to help Max get elected Run Max Schachter.”

— OPINIONS —

Qualifications for education commissioner should rise above politics” via Bill Cotterell of the Tallahassee Democrat — On paper, executive appointment affords an opportunity for a governor and State Board to do a nationwide search and, once they decide what they want in a commissioner, hire an expert in education policy, legislative relations and administrative management. The skills needed to win an election are not the same as the ability to run a big department. We have standard qualifying criteria for some executive appointees, in agencies with far smaller budgets and less impact on the lives of Floridians than DOE has. It might be impossible to get politically motivated legislators to define what talents and experience we want for the most expensive and important function of state government. But the criteria should be more than just sharing the governor’s opinions on charter schools and tuition vouchers.

Joe Henderson: More disruption is coming to Florida public schools” via Florida Politics — If you love and support Florida public schools, there is a bad moon rising. Corcoran is all but certain to be the state’s new Education Commissioner, and anyone associated with public education may be tempted to hide their eyes for the next four years. The position carries enormous influence. Corcoran will be in a position to hire the kind of people he wants to staff the Department of Education and use his considerable political skills to communicate ideas and strategy between the DOE and the state Board. Administrators should prepare to have more of their budgets directed to charter schools and voucher programs. They can expect more interference in how their jobs and less cooperation when they need help. When it comes to education policy though, I have no doubt that he will, in the words of pitcher Nuke Laloosh in Bull Durham, announce his presence with authority — probably with more success though. He is really just the next link in the GOP chain regarding education.

— MOVEMENTS —

FAMU’s Larry Robinson rewarded with raise, performance bonus by trustees” via Byron Dobson of the Tallahassee Democrat — University trustees approved a 9 percent pay increase for Robinson, boosting his base salary of $385,000 to about $419,650 … Trustees also approved a 15-percent — $57,750 — bonus for Robinson. “I’m just humbled by this and I hope to work hard enough to earn it,” Robinson said of the unanimous vote following a motion by board chairman Kelvin Lawson. Based on terms of his contract, Robinson’s bonus could have been up to 20 percent of his base salary, depending on funding available from the FAMU Foundation. Robinson’s base salary is in the lower tier of compensation for State University System presidents.

FAMU President Larry Robinson performs and is being compensated for it. (Image via Tallahassee.com)

Personnel note: Florida Sports Foundation adds Kim McDougal to Board of Directors — The education policy expert, with almost three decades of experience, has served in multiple leadership roles at the Department of Education, including Governmental Relations Director and Senior Policy Advisor for several Commissioners of Education. Before joining the GrayRobinson lobbying team in Tallahassee, she was Chief of Staff to Gov. Scott. Jesse Biter, President of the Florida Sports Foundation Board of Directors, said her “perspective and experience in executive management and legislative affairs will greatly benefit our efforts to expand and enhance sports development and tourism in the Sunshine State.”

Personnel note: Ruta Jouniari named COO of Compassionate Cannabis ClinicJouniari is joining the clinic as its Chief Operating Officer, according to Chief Medical Officer Barry Gordon on Facebook. Jouniari, a Democrat, lost a recent bid for Sarasota County Commission and came up unsuccessful in her special election run for House District 72 last year. “Ruta’s experience in both health care and politics will be a great addition to my staff as we continue to provide the top-notch care that Florida’s medical cannabis patients deserve,” Gordon wrote. “Onward we go!

— HAPPY HOLIDAYS —

SpaceX Christmas delivery arrives at space station” via The Associated Press — The Dragon capsule pulled up at the orbiting lab three days after launching from Cape Canaveral. Commander Alexander Gerst used the space station’s big robotic arm to grab the cargo carrier, as the two craft soared 250 miles above the Pacific. It took two tries to get the Dragon close enough for capture. NASA called off the Dragon’s first approach because of trouble with the communication network that serves the space station. Equipment failure in New Mexico for NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite system resulted in a temporary loss of communication with the station. For safety, Mission Control ordered the Dragon to back up.

It’s not a sleigh and reindeer, but SpaceX is putting astronauts on the ISS in the Christmas spirit.

A ranking of 100 — yes, 100 — Christmas songs” via Alexandra Petri of The Washington Post — This is probably a good idea, and I feel fit and confident! I bet this will be an easy, pleasant process. I’m amazed I haven’t already compiled several lists just like this! 100. “Little Drummer Boy.” My hatred for this song is well-documented. I think it is because the song takes approximately 18 years to sing and does not rhyme. The concept of the song is bad. 96. “Silver Bells.” I don’t like songs with bells in them. I don’t like Christmas songs with onomatopoeia of any kind. 50. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” I have decided to make this song the midpoint of the list because the backlash has been so thorough that no joke-stones have been left unturned where it is concerned. It’s a gross song, but at least it rhymes, and it does not include any onomatopoetic bells. 22. “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” I like this song. I mean, I shouldn’t. It is needlessly repetitive. But it is also jolly, and the rhymes work. 13. “Mele Kalikimaka.” This song is great! And so useful for setting an ambiguous holiday mood in period films or TV shows. 1. “Good King Wenceslas.” This is a GREAT song. I never tire of hearing about the only semi-impressive good deeds of this medieval monarch. He made the sod slightly warm! Hooray!

Friends can improve your health and well-being, especially during the holidays” via Juli Fraga of The Washington Post — And at a time when loneliness has become a public health crisis with young adults saying they feel lonelier than older generations, studies show that investing in friendships pays off. According to the Mayo Clinic, these bonds can help reduce stress, increase happiness and bolster self-confidence. With hectic schedules, finding time to nurture these relationships can be challenging. But the holidays provide an opportunity to renew these bonds, giving us a chance to deepen what friendship expert Shasta Nelson calls Frienti­macy: the intimacy between friends where both people feel acknowledged in a safe and satisfying way.

— ALOE — 

The only story that matters — Tallahassee downtown mainstay Jasmine Cafe to shut down — After 17 years, the Japanese cuisine/sushi restaurant announced on Instagram it was closing its doors after dinner service Sunday, Dec. 16. Its end follows those by The Southern Public House, Fat Noodle, and Brew’d Awakenings Coffee, all also on College Avenue and owned by FSU grad and local restaurateur Roger Unger. The Instagram post hinted, however, at a new concept in the same space: “Come get your sushi fix one last time! Big things coming soon, we’re very excited! (You will be too.)”

Goodbye Jasmine Cafe, hello to something ‘new and exciting,’ says restaurateur Roger Unger.

UF AD Scott Stricklin open to playing UCF; Knights AD Danny White suggests neutral-site game” via Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel — The game would pit one of the nation’s storied programs and the state’s flagship university against one of fastest rising programs in college football and a university with the state’s largest enrollment. “I’d be OK with scheduling them — in the right situation,” Stricklin said. Stricklin said UCF athletics director White has never reached out about the possibility of playing the Gators. Stricklin said he would be willing to pick up the phone, too. “We haven’t had a spot where we thought this made sense at this point,” Stricklin said. White suggested it would be unfair to a growing season ticket base to give up an extra home game and it would be financially difficult to give up about $2 million in revenue from a home game in exchange for a Power 5-host payout that generally would be far less than $2 million.

What Kim Rivers is reading — “This American cannabis company crushed it in 2018” via Forbes — … Trulieve, which generated revenue in excess of $28 million in the third quarter, made sales only in Florida, where it has an early leadership position … The top-line success of Trulieve is interesting, but what really makes the company stand out, in my view, is its profitability. In Q3, it reported a net income of $17.5 million, boosting its year-to-date net income to over $32 million … Trulieve’s operations generated $17 million in operating cash flow during the first three quarters of the year.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

A happy belated birthday to a man who knows his way around a menu, our friend Richard Reeves. More belated wishes to Porsche Knight, Fred Maglione, and Joy-Ann Reid. Celebrating today is Dean Cannon‘s better half, Ellen, as well as Justin Bean, Justin Hollis, and the ever-talented Nicole Krassner.

Written By

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

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

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
Email: Peter@FloridaPolitics.com
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

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