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Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 1.22.19

Your day is better when you start it with a first read on what’s happening in Florida politics.

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

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

Good Tuesday morning. The Florida Politics team is back from the three-day weekend with a trifecta of big news from the influence industry, so let’s get right into it. And note, these are all “First on #FlaPol” items:

Heather Turnbull is now a managing partner of newly-renamed ‘Rubin, Turnbull & Associates’ ” via Florida Politics — The Rubin Group, one of the state’s premier political consulting firms, is becoming Rubin, Turnbull & Associates. That’s to reflect Turnbull becoming managing partner of the firm, founded by its president, Bill Rubin. Turnbull now will oversee all lobbying operations at the firm and lead all of the firm’s client efforts, Rubin said. “Having Heather at my side for the last 16 years has contributed to the growth of our firm and the successes we have achieved on behalf of our clients,” he said. “She has been a trusted adviser to me, our clients and state leaders, and I believe our future potential is limitless.” Rubin now will serve as chairman of the firm. Contributing to the growth of the firm will be Ashley Ross, joining as a senior adviser. 

Congratulations to Heather Turnbull, of the newly christened ‘Rubin, Turnbull & Associates.’

Former Congressman Dennis Ross is joining GrayRobinson law firm” via Florida Politics — Ross, a Lakeland Republican who represented Florida’s 15th Congressional District 2011-19, now is joining the Orlando-based GrayRobinson law firm. The firm was expected to announce the move Tuesday. Ross — who’ll be based in the firm’s Lakeland office — will be “of counsel,” a term that traditionally means working on a case-to-case basis and not as an associate or partner. Ross will focus his efforts on practicing law, advising clients regarding legal, policy, and economic development issues, and working with the state and federal lobbying teams. To comply with federal regulations, he won’t lobby members or staff of Congress before Jan. 4, 2020, the firm said.

Jones Walker’s Tallahassee team is moving to Dean Mead” via Florida Politics — The entire Tallahassee office staff of the Jones Walker law firm is leaving to join the Dean Mead law firm, according to several people familiar with the deal … The value of the arrangement for Dean Mead? Acquiring a team that has familiarity with and access to the Ron DeSantis administration. Jenn Ungru, a health care policy and elections guru, most recently led the DeSantis Election Day and recount operation. Lobbyist Chris Moya became one of DeSantis’ top early fundraisers and landed a seat on the Inaugural Committee. And attorney-lobbyist Marc Dunbar was counsel to the DeSantis recount monitoring effort.

The Monday night rumor mill also revved up with whispers that former Attorney General Pam Bondi finally landed a new gig — and it’s not at Fox News. The Tampa Republican is joining Ballard Partners, leading its new corporate regulatory compliance practice. We’re told the scoop was “promised” to Marc Caputo, so look for details in Tuesday’s POLITICO Florida Playbook.


In addition to the trifecta of scoops we shared above, Sunburn is excited to break the news that Ryan Tyson, the Vice President of Political Operations for Associated Industries of Florida (AIF), will next lead polling and marketing firm Tel Opinion Research as its president.

AIF said it’s not losing Tyson, however. He’ll be the organization’s chief political strategist on a contract basis.

Good things for a great guy: Ryan Tyson gets a new gig as president of polling and marketing firm Tel Opinion Research.

“I am excited to lead such an esteemed team of researchers and pollsters at Tel Opinion Research, while continuing to work with my friends at AIF,” Tyson said in a statement.

“This new chapter at Tel Opinion Research gives me the opportunity to work with veteran pollsters Bill Lee and Barry Zeplowitz, and … provide clients with a high percentage of cell phone-only respondents, reflecting the actual number of cellphone-only voters throughout Florida and other states — all at no extra cost to clients.”

The center-right firm has been the go-to pollster for many of those put out by AIF. It has been in business since 1996, now with a presence in 44 states.

On its freshly updated website, the firm praised Tyson for managing “one of the most efficient polling operations anywhere in the country.”

AIF president and CEO Tom Feeney also lauded Tyson in the announcement, saying he’s “become one of the top political strategists in Florida” in the eight years since he joined the corporate lobbying group.


State of the Union address (maybe) — 7; Super Bowl LIII — 12; Scott Maddox trial begins — 20; ‘Hamilton’ comes to the Straz Center — 21; Pitchers and catchers begin reporting for MLB Spring Training — 25; Valentine’s Day — 23; 2019 Legislative Session starts — 42; Tampa mayoral election — 42; ‘Captain Marvel’ release — 45; St. Patrick’s Day — 54; 2019 Major League Baseball season begins — 57; Final season of ‘Game of Thrones’ begins — 82; Easter — 89; 2019 Legislative Session ends (maybe) — 101; 2020 Democratic presidential primary debates begin — 136; 2019 General Election — 287; Iowa Caucuses — 374; 2020 General Election — 651.


Ron DeSantis calls to end private school scholarship waitlist for low-income studentsvia Ron Matus of redefinEd — DeSantis told about 200 members of the Piney Grove Boys Academy community that he supports defining public education by including publicly funded options beyond district schools. “We don’t want somebody’s potential to be limited because they happen to live in this ZIP code or because their parents only have this much income,” DeSantis said. If a parent can use public funding to find a school that works for their child, “Why would we oppose that if it works?” DeSantis also pledged to work with lawmakers in finding a solution to bridge a gap between supply and demand with the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship for lower-income students. “I would like to eliminate the waitlist so that every parent has the ability to make these choices,” he said. “And that will be a priority for me in this next Legislative Session.”

Ron DeSantis participated in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration Event at Piney Grove Boys Academy, a Christian boys school in Lauderdale Lakes. Image via Governor’s Office.


Assignment editorsDeSantis will make a “major announcement” with Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez. That’s at 10 a.m., Governor’s Mansion, Tallahassee. Credentialed media are invited to attend and are asked to arrive at the mansion by 9:30 a.m.

DeSantis touts African-American appointees following heated campaign against Andrew Gillum” via David Smiley of the Tampa Bay Times — “I don’t want to just be putting people in from some good ol’ boys network. I want to be putting people in from all walks of life,” DeSantis told a largely black audience gathered in the sanctuary at First Baptist Church Piney Grove in Lauderdale Lakes. “And I think if you look at my total appointments, I don’t think there’s any peer recently, at least in Florida, of the number of African-Americans we’ve put in.” DeSantis noted his appointment of Ken Lawson to lead the Department of Economic Opportunity, Jamal Sowell to oversee Enterprise Florida and Simone Marstiller to run the Department of Juvenile Justice. He was flanked by Gregory Tony, whom he appointed this month as the first black sheriff in Broward County’s history. Said DeSantis: “It has nothing to do with race. I’m looking for the best people. But I’m not just going to fall into this rut of only choosing from the same little pool.”

LaNorris Chapman received the Unity Heritage Award in honor of his mother, Hazel Betty Edwards Chapman, a distinguished teacher and civic leader. In the photo, Chapman shakes the hand of Gov. Ron DeSantis while Jamal Sowell, President and CEO of Enterprise Florida Inc. (sitting) and Winter Park Mayor Steve Leary look on.

— “DeSantis decries ‘good old boys network’ in touting his picks” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics

Tweet, tweet:

DeSantis’ suspensions shake up South Florida politics” via David Fleshler and Gray Rohrer of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The Governor suspended Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher, a move that followed his decision to remove Broward Sheriff Scott Israel. Republicans defended Bucher’s suspension as the necessary removal of a bungling administrator, while Democrats expressed concern that the Republican governor was abusing his authority to override the choices of voters. “I’m deeply concerned,” said Cynthia Busch, Broward County’s Democratic chairwoman. “They’re testing the limits of their power. I’ve never seen elected officials removed just because somebody didn’t like the way they did something. It was always because they were indicted or under investigation.” “I think this governor is asserting control,” said George Moraitis, Broward County’s Republican chairman. “He feels a mandate to hold our elected officials accountable regardless of the political party, and he’s going to take action, whether it’s on the environment, the conduct of elections, school safety. He’s just going to take action where he sees failures.”

DeSantis withdraws 46 last-minute appointments made by Rick Scott” via Ana Ceballos of the Naples Daily News — Scott made a flurry of almost 100 appointments during his final days in office. The unusual move frustrated the incoming DeSantis administration, and the new governor said he likely would yank some of them and fill the posts with his own appointees. He sent Senate President Bill Galvano a letter saying, “I am writing to inform you that I have retracted the following appointments.” DeSantis focused on appointments Scott made two days before he left. The posts included state regulatory board members who oversee professional licensing, the citrus industry, real estate, regional water issues and construction, as well as numerous members of state college boards.

—“DeSantis goes shock-and-awe in his first 10 days as Florida Governor” via David Smiley of the Tampa Bay Times

DeSantis poised for his own immigration battle over E-Verify” via John Kennedy of the GateHouse Capital Bureau — Defying Florida’s most powerful industries — agriculture and tourism — DeSantis plans to make good on his campaign pledge to require all businesses in the state to use the federal E-Verify database to assure that new hires are legally eligible to work in this country. DeSantis’s predecessor, U.S. Sen. Scott, also talked tough about using E-Verify but limited its use to state government agencies after drawing a firestorm of opposition from farming giants and tourism officials who rely on cheap labor, some of it undocumented workers. “I’ve spoken directly to the governor — he knows we need this,” said Sen. Aaron Bean, a sponsor of the E-Verify legislation. “He said he’d sign this when he was on the campaign trail. I think he might make the difference this year.” Still, getting E-Verify through the Legislature — and a related bill barring so-called “sanctuary” policies, another favorite with the GOP voting base — could prove challenging for the new Governor.

ICYMI from this weekend’sTakeaways from Tallahassee” — For the first time in a half-century, it’s time for baby gates and Plexiglas wall shields at the Governor’s Mansion. That’s because new Governor and wife Casey have moved in with their small children, Mason and Madison … “It’s an honor, and it’s a privilege, but I’ll say this: Two kids under the age of 2 in the mansion?” Mrs. DeSantis told reporters at a pre-inauguration event. “The first thing I said was, ‘We need to take all of Florida’s irreplaceable, historic artifacts and move them up 4 feet.’”

DeSantis family -- AP Photo

Ron DeSantis’ next big challenge: Babyproofing the Governor’s Mansion. Image via AP.

Ashley Moody: We’re ‘upping our game’ on fraud” via Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times — In one of her first interviews since taking office, Moody pledged to get better at going after people and corporations defrauding Floridians, vowed to take the lead on the state’s opioid epidemic, and said she wanted to do it without the stain of partisanship that has blemished other attorneys general across the country. “I think there’s a tendency these days, for whatever reason, to view every action or decision through a partisan lens,” she said. One of her battles over the next four years, however, will be shaking off accusations that she’s “Pam Bondi 2.0.” Already, Moody has cast a different tone. She hasn’t been on Fox News. (She laughs that she hasn’t been invited on.) And she hasn’t been dominating the headlines.

Nikki Fried closing in on choice for state cannabis director” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — Eleven people have applied to be Agriculture Commissioner Fried’s newly-created Director of Cannabis, according to information provided after a public records request. One of those applying was involved in the effort to pass the constitutional amendment that now allows medical marijuana in Florida. The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services released cover letters and resumes for the position that had been sent to Fried’s transition website. She said on Jan. 11 that she will announce her pick “in the coming weeks.”

Choosing a new pot chief: Nikki Fried is closing in on her choice for the newly created Director of Cannabis. Image via the Naples Daily News.

Kevin Thibault named FDOT chief” via Danny McAuliffe of Florida Politics — Thibault had worked at the agency for two stints combining to 16 years. During his tenure at the Department of Transportation, Thibault served as the assistant secretary for engineering and operations and as interim executive director of Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise. But POLITICO Florida previously reported that Thibault had a role in an illegal billboard permitting process during his time at the agency. DeSantis, in a prepared statement, called Thibault a “proven leader” in both the public and private sectors: “One of the most pressing issues facing our state is the need to relieve congestion and continue modernizing our transportation system.”

Clay Ingram to leave Greater Pensacola Chamber to lead Volunteer Florida” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News-Journal — Ingram confirmed to the News Journal that Gov. DeSantis had tapped him for the position to lead the state agency that coordinates volunteer organizations across the state and administers more than $30 million in federal and state funding for national service and volunteer programs. Ingram said DeSantis called him Tuesday night to offer the job. Ingram said after talking with his wife, he decided to accept the position. “As much as I love the Chamber and what I’m doing here, it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” Ingram said. Ingram became CEO of the Greater Pensacola Chamber in 2014. The chamber serves as the main advocacy organization for the Pensacola business community.

Ron DeSantis tapped former state Rep. Clay Ingram for a new role: Leading Volunteer Florida. 


Bill Montford finds money for Michael restoration” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat — Montford filed SB 376 that would set aside up to $50 million a year for 14 North Florida counties that sustained damage by the October storm. The hurricane counties would get a share of Land Acquisition Trust Fund money along with projects for the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, and the Southwest Florida Water Management District. The trust fund receives money under a 2014 constitutional amendment that sets aside a portion of documentary-stamp taxes for land and water conservation. The provision raised more than $870 million for conservation programs in this year’s state budget.

Anna Eskamani’s guns post draws wildfire of responses” via Scott Powers of Orlando Rising — Quite a few people didn’t like it when Orlando’s Democratic state Rep. Anna Eskamani posted a Facebook picture of herself signing the proposed “Ban Assault Weapons Now” amendment to the Florida Constitution. And they are Letting her know what they think of her. “So much vitriol,” she said. More than 1,200 comments had arrived on the Facebook post by midafternoon. Her post was shared more than 430 times. She also received more than 70 direct messages via Facebook. The vast majority of the comments and direct messages, clearly more than 1,000 of the comments, were intended to tell Eskamani what she could do with such a proposal. More than few spared no profanity in drawing that picture. “Despite the fact that the Republican Party of Florida thinks I’m vulgar [an issue brought up in the 2018 election campaign], some of these words are even hard for me to say,” she said.

State funding for lagoon will be regional, not partisan, battle, as Randy Fine’s bill gains momentum” via Dave Berman of FLORIDA TODAY — There were lots of positive comments at a community meeting about Fine‘s proposal for the state to provide $50 million a year in matching funds for certain categories of Indian River Lagoon rehabilitation projects. The bill also calls for significant increases in the fines for illegal raw sewage spills. But there also was a warning during the meeting from Fine, who said Brevard and other Indian River Lagoon counties will face intense competition from other regions of Florida for state money to help waterways. “It’s my belief that the water battle this year is not going to be a partisan one,” Fine said. “Democrats and Republicans agree. We all want the lagoon cleaned up. What it’s going to be is it’s going to be a regional one” — pitting sections of the state against one another.

AFP-FL calls on lawmakers to raise felony theft threshold to ‘at least $1,000’” via John Haughey of Florida Watchdog — Newly appointed AFP-FL Director Skylar Zander said the justification for raising that monetary benchmark will be evident once legislators can analyze comprehensive statistics compiled through a new data-sharing law adopted last year. Senate Bill 1392, a joint measure that passed the House and the Senate with one dissenting vote, requires counties to collect extensive criminal justice data and make it available in a publicly accessible database. It is the first law of its kind in the nation. The bill is regarded as a “first step” in gathering evidence to support the creation of a task force to identify ways to reform the state’s $2.4 billion courts-correctional industrial complex, a criminal justice initiative that enjoys bipartisan support in Tallahassee as well as in Washington, D.C. Forty-seven other states in the country have a felony theft threshold higher than Florida. The state last raised the felony threshold to $300 in 1986.

Assignment editors: Legislative committee meetings

— The Senate Criminal Justice Committee will hold a workshop about Amendment 4, which restores the voting rights of felons who have fulfilled their sentences, 10 a.m., 37 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.

— The Senate Health Policy Committee will hear an update from the state Agency for Health Care Administration about the Medicaid program, 10 a.m., 412 Knott Building, The Capitol.

— The House Education Committee and the Senate Education Committee will hear presentations on a report by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission. House committee: 11 a.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building, The Capitol. Senate committee is at 2:30 p.m., 412 Knott Building, The Capitol.

— The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee will hold a workshop on SB 122, a bill that seeks to restrict the assignment of attorney fees in insurance disputes, 12:30 p.m., 412 Knott Building, The Capitol.

— The Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee will consider a series of issues, including a bill (SB 176) to offer sales-tax exemptions on items that can help seniors live independently, 12:30 p.m., 301 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.

— The Senate Judiciary Committee will take up proposals (SJR 74 and SJR 86) that would impose a single-subject requirement on amendments placed on the ballot in the future by the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, 12:30 p.m., 110 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.

— The House Judiciary Committee will hear an update on the transparency of criminal-justice data, 1:30 p.m., 404 House Office Building, The Capitol.

— The House Commerce Committee will receive an overview about issues related to the Florida Building Code, 4 p.m., 212 Knott Building, The Capitol.

— The House Public Integrity & Ethics Committee will hear presentations from the Auditor General’s Office about an audit of the University of Central Florida and about an investigation into UCF construction funding, 4 p.m., 404 House Office Building, The Capitol.

— The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee will take up several issues, including an update on the implementation of the Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act, 4:30 p.m., 37 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.

Governors Club Tuesday lunch buffet menu — Chicken and rice soup; mixed green salad; potato salad; macaroni salad; charcuterie, cheese and bread; fried chicken; BBQ pork ribs; grilled trout; mashed potatoes; green beans almandine; yellow squash casserole; and berry cobbler for dessert.


Tuesday lunch buffet — Chicken and rice soup; mixed green salad; potato salad; macaroni salad; Charcuterie, cheese and bread; fried chicken; BBQ pork ribs; grilled trout; mashed potatoes; green beans almandine; yellow squash casserole; and berry cobbler for dessert.


Those who follow education reform in Florida are bound for a “lightning-speed” 2019 Legislative Session, particularly with Manny Diaz Jr. at the helm of the Senate Education Committee.

“#EdPolicy watchers are going to want to keep an eye on Florida over the next six months. You don’t put @SenMannyDiazJr in charge of ed policy if you plan on standing still,” wrote Travis Pillow, the former editor of redefinED. Pillow now serves as senior fellow at the Center on Reinventing Public Education.

Watch that man: Manny Diaz, Jr. will be the man to watch for education reforms in 2019. Image via AP/Phil Sears.

According to Beth Hawkins of the74 “Diaz’s appointment means an ‘education reform trifecta’ in Florida.”

— Reform champions are now in charge of education policy in both legislative chambers, as well as in the governor’s mansion.

— With such, expect an aggressive push for expanded school choice, both public and private.

— The trifecta: Vouchers, virtual schools and armed volunteers.

However, these K-12 policy changes won’t come without “a few headwinds,” Hawkins writes.

The three will “need to navigate what may be the nation’s highest-profile debate over a series of school safety proposals that include funding for ‘hardening’ schools,” she said.

“We do foresee there’s going to be the need for some legislation to tweak the current law,” Diaz told lawmakers at a recent committee hearing. The most controversial of these tweaks: the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission called for arming volunteer teachers.

Also read —7 things insider expects from Florida education Commissioner Richard Corcoran” via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — Sara Clements, a veteran of the state’s education reform movement, predicts bold action from the former lawmaker: Expansion of private choice programs; continued focus on recruitment and replication of high-performing charter schools; renewed focus on workforce pathways in high school; course correction on school turnaround; increase in fiscal transparency and accountability; revisiting teacher recruitment and retention; more and better information for parents.


Democrats pull lawsuits challenging Florida election laws” via The Associated Press — While the recount was going on, then-U. S. Sen. Bill Nelson, as well as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Democratic National Committee and others, filed several lawsuits. The lawsuits went after the rules that were being used to count ballots. A federal judge refused to grant preliminary injunctions in several of the suits but the actual court cases continued after the recount was over. But federal court filings show that Democrats withdrew two of the remaining lawsuits. One of the withdrawn suits argued that ballots should count if they were mailed before Election Day but received after 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Post mortem: Democrats are pulling out of two lawsuits that supported Bill Nelson’s last-ditch recount effort.

Felons might have to pay hundreds of millions before being able to vote in Florida” via Daniel Rivero of WLRN — Amendment 4, approved by more than 60 percent of votes last November, says most people convicted of felonies in the state will have their right to vote restored “after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation.” But in several state criminal statutes, specific fines are explicitly attached to the sentencing for a crime. In others, fines are tacked on as “orders” from the court. If fines are considered part of a criminal sentence, Florida residents could have to pay at minimum hundreds of millions of dollars in outstanding fines related to felony charges before they can vote. In many cases, paying off the fines could also mean funneling money to private debt collection agencies, which under state law can assess up to an additional 40 percent rate on the amount owed.

Susan Bucher to supporters, protesters: ‘I’m not ready to give up’” via Christine Stapleton and Jeff Ostrowsky of the Palm Beach Post — Surrounded by Democrats chanting “Bring Back Bucher” and “Bring Back Susan,” Bucher said she’ll fight to keep her position as Palm Beach County’s supervisor of elections. “We just can’t stand by and let this happen,” Bucher told about 100 supporters. “I’ve served you honestly and with integrity for more than 18 years, and I’m not ready to give up now.” Gov. DeSantis removed Bucher from office, saying her operation devolved into “Keystone Kops” after November’s tightly contested statewide election. Standing outside the supervisor of elections office, Bucher said she’s “reviewing legal options,” although she didn’t detail how she might try to keep her job.

‘Can’t stand by’: Suspended Palm Beach Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher tells Democrats, supporters that she will not go without a fight. Image via WPBF.

Everglades cleanup: Florida wants to drop federal oversight but is it ready?” via Kimberly Miller of the Palm Beach Post — The South Florida Water Management District wants to end the 1992 federal court order that requires and supervises efforts to clean polluted water before it reaches the Everglades. A hearing in U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno’s Miami courtroom is scheduled for next month. The U.S. Justice Department is against terminating the decree. It asked for a delay in the case because many government experts are on furlough as part of the partial government shutdown and it believes the decree first requires mediation before court action. Moreno denied the request, calling it unreasonable. Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection called the water management district’s action a “unilateral decision” and is asking Moreno to allow for discussions outside the courtroom before making a decision. U.S. Sugar believes federal oversight is no longer necessary but is making a similar request for mediation.

Homeowners, contractors say insurers hobbling Hurricane Michael recovery” via Patrick McCreless of the Panama City News-Herald — Several area homeowners, contractors, attorneys and public adjusters gathered in Panama City Beach at a town hall-style meeting to talk about their frustrations dealing with insurance companies since the hurricane. They say insurers have needlessly slowed recovery in the county by using tactics to withhold coverage payments. Some insurers refute the complaints, saying while some payouts might be too low at first, as new estimates are made and more damages are found, they will work with policyholders to make adjustments — the process just takes time. Hosting the event was the Restoration Association of Florida, a contractor trade advocacy group. The stated purpose of the event was to discuss recovery efforts and give a voice to homeowners and area contractors who say they’re struggling with insurance companies. There were no representatives for insurance companies at the event.

More than three months after Michael, Florida’s state parks still dealing with damage” via Craig Pittman of the Tampa Bay Times — The storm surge that pushed through T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park in Cape San Blas sliced open two inlets, cutting through the park and connecting St. Joseph Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The largest inlet, now 20 feet deep, separated the main park area on the peninsula from the campground and nature trails on the other side. Instead of a peninsula, there’s now an island. Three parks remain closed: Three River State Park, tucked into the area where Florida meets the southwest Georgia border; Dr. Julian G. Bruce St. George Island State Park, on Apalachicola Bay, which is popular with birders and beachcombers; and Florida Caverns State Park near Marianna, the only state park that offers public cave tours. Florida Caverns State Park, more than 60 miles inland from Panama City Beach, suffered the worst damage.

An island unto itself: Three months later, the T.H. Stone Memorial is still facing significant damage from Hurricane Michael.

St. Joe Company plans a ‘very important role’ in Hurricane Michael recovery” via Ed Offley of the Panama City News Herald —In the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, the St. Joe Company is looking to help rebuild Bay County. The company has announced or reaffirmed its involvement in several projects since the storm, including developing a 592-acre residential community in east Bay County to help alleviate the shortage of workforce housing caused by the storm, continuing with plans to build a hotel at the Panama City Marina and plans to develop a 200-acre retail and residential village in Mexico Beach.

Nikolas Cruz’s medical records an issue” via The Associated Press — Lawyers for Cruz said his confidential medical records were improperly disclosed to a state investigative panel by someone in the Broward Sheriff’s Office. The attorneys asked Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer to hold another hearing on whether the sheriff’s office should be held in contempt of court for providing the records to the state commission investigating the shooting. They say Scherer’s court order limited access to only certain authorized investigators and prosecutors in the criminal case. “Not only is it a violation of the court order, but it’s a violation of federal law,” said Cruz attorney Melisa McNeill. The law “encourages people to get treatment knowing that those records will be kept confidential.”

Worst story you’ll read today — “Investigation into infant’s 2017 death remains stalled” via Jared Keever of the St. Augustine Record — For nearly two years, local authorities have investigated the death of a St. Johns County infant but have said very little about the case to the public. Those same officials remain tight-lipped about the investigation today, but a document found recently on a website maintained by the Florida Department of Children and Families suggests someone charged with his care likely killed the child. The report, called a child fatality summary, has since been removed from the website, but a copy obtained by The Record gives an account of the state agency’s investigation into the death and brief life of Dylan Lopez-Perez. The deputy who wrote that narrative said he found the child on the floor of the apartment and a woman kneeling beside him, crying with a phone in her hands. The child was clothed and had a small “off-white substance consistent with saliva, mucus and infant formula” around his mouth, the report said.

UCF cuts loose John Hitt, considers sanctioning Dale Whittaker in wake of funding report” via Scott Powers of Orlando Rising — The UCF Board of Trustees ended its employment of President Emeritus Hitt in a fundraising role and is considering stripping two years of performance bonuses away from current President Whittaker and all unpaid bonuses to retired Chief Financial Officer William Merck after receiving the report outlining misappropriation of as much as $85 million of state money. That’s in addition to the four top administrators Whittaker announced would be terminated, following Merck out the door in the scandal. The report also found that Hitt, Whittaker, and the trustees were not fully informed about what had gone on from 2013-18 as the money was appropriated, though it suggests they should have been more alert. Hitt was just on a one-year consulting contract, assisting in fundraising and actually requested the termination.


To become mayor, Anna Brosche must impress Democrats” via Christopher Hong of the Florida Times-Union — City Councilwoman Brosche faces a considerable challenge in her race against fellow Republican Mayor Lenny Curry and his well-funded political machine. To have any shot at winning, she must earn widespread support from local Democrats, who for the first time in two decades will not have a candidate from their own ranks to support in the race for Jacksonville’s top elected office. Energizing a party’s base is a heavy lift for any candidate, and it will be especially demanding for Brosche, a moderate Republican who will be courting Democrats from the outside in with limited time — the March 19 election is 58 days from Sunday — and money at her disposal. Jacksonville’s local elections are open primaries, and candidates are identified on the ballot by their party affiliation. As of now, nothing is impeding Curry from winning strong support from Republican voters.

Fisticuffs threatened in GOP primary for House District 7” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Political power players hobnobbed, and candidates cavorted during the Wakulla Republican Women’s Club State of the Union Ball, much as any other year. But a discussion between two aspiring state lawmakers, Jason Shoaf and Mike Watkins, suddenly grew louder and more hostile. The two men are the remaining Republicans running for a recently vacated HD 7 seat. Watkins made clear a way to settle this dispute before the election. “I’ll take you out that door, and I’m gonna whip your ass,” Watkins said, according to Ralph Thomas, a former candidate for the seat. Neither Watkins nor Shoaf disputed the account, though both men expressed reticence describing the short, personal interaction. Watkins said Shoaf touched his fiancée. That prompted his outburst and suggestion to settle the matter outside. Thomas said Shoaf never touched anyone — “100 percent did not happen.”

Donna Barcomb says she’s ready to challenge Margaret Good in HD 72” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — According to the Republican Party of Sarasota County’s Facebook page, Sarasota business owner Barcomb announced during a Sarasota Republican Club dinner that she is running for the District 72 state House seat, which covers much of northern Sarasota County. Barcomb is a former member of the Sarasota County Hospital Board, which she chaired twice, and currently serves on the Sarasota County Charter Review Board. According to her 2016 candidate statement for the Charter Review Board race, Barcomb is married with four children and owned a physical therapy business for more than three decades. She is a past president of the Junior League of Sarasota, Inc. and the Southside Elementary School Parent Teacher Association.

Now it’s a race: Donna Barcomb is ready to take on Margaret Good in HD 72.

Frank Kruppenbacher blames virtual school for improper release of personal records” via Kevin Spear of the Orlando Sentinel — Kruppenbacher is alleging in court that his former employer, the Florida Virtual School, wrongly released his personal records during lawsuit proceedings and failed to disclose other documents that would back his assertion that he is the target of school retaliation. Kruppenbacher added his allegations this week to a tangled lawsuit filed in December by the Florida Virtual School. At the heart of the suit are workers’ allegations and an investigation last year over a range of workplace misconduct by Kruppenbacher. As alleged by the school in its lawsuit, the legal action was necessary because the Orlando Sentinel had requested investigation records and Kruppenbacher had threatened “legal repercussions” if they were released to the newspaper. The school’s lawsuit requested that a judge sort out which records to release and which to keep confidential.

Gulf Breeze mayor resigns over ‘inappropriate texting’” via Annie Blanks of the Pensacola News-Journal — David Landfair resigned from his position just over a month after being sworn in, citing an “error in judgment by engaging in inappropriate texting with an adult woman.” The mayor tendered his resignation in an email to the Gulf Breeze city manager, writing “life does not always go as planned.” In the letter, Landfair admitted to texting a woman. He did not go into detail about the nature of the texts. “I have caused embarrassment to my family, friends and supporters, and I do not wish to spend my term as mayor defending my texting or dragging the City into a discussion that distracts from issues and projects of greater importance,” Landfair wrote. He ended the letter by writing, “This was my mistake. My family and I appreciate your prayers and your respect for our privacy at this time.”

Inappropriate: Gulf Breeze Mayor David Landfair resigned a month into his term, due to ‘inappropriate texting’ with an unidentified woman.

Jacksonville’s old City Hall Annex brought down with a bang” via Tessa Duvall of the Florida Times-Union — The 15-story mid-century modern building opened in 1960, a time when it was the fifth-tallest building in Jacksonville. It was City Hall until 1997 until the reopening of the St. James Building that is still home to City Council and the Mayor’s Office today. It was where the vote on the city’s consolidation took place, and the one where the deal to bring the Jaguars to Jacksonville was approved. There was no designated public viewing area, but that didn’t stop the party for Justin Hearon and his friends. Hearon, who lives in Jacksonville Beach, scouted the downtown area for a good viewing spot and even tried (with no luck) to get a room at the Hyatt right next to the implosion site.

To view a video of the implosion, click on the image below:

Sarasota Kennel Club prepares for the end” via Nicole Rodriguez of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Soon, famed greyhound racing will wither away after voters in November overwhelmingly passed Amendment 13, which ends greyhound races at dog tracks by the end of 2020. After the ban takes effect, only a handful of other tracks in North America will remain, according to Fast Friends Greyhound Adoption, operating out of the Sarasota Kennel Club, which recently kicked off its 75th and final season of dog racing operated by the Collins family. “We were very shocked and disappointed in the results of the vote. We were especially discouraged when we found out that there were people who voted to ban greyhound racing in Florida without many knowing the effects of their vote,” said Cole Collins, the club’s marketing and public relations director. “Currently we have 700 dogs racing for us and thousands of greyhounds will be up for adoption and thousands of employees around the state of Florida will be laid off.”


Federal employees turn to pawn shops amid shutdown’s financial pinch” via Mihir Zaveri of The New York Times — Televisions. Jewelry. Tools. At Blaine Fortner‘s pawn shop in Billings, Montana, there has been a slow but steady increase in one segment of his clientele pawning these and other items in exchange for cash: employees of the federal government. … As the longest government shutdown in American history continues, federal workers who are not getting paid are increasingly turning to pawnbrokers for short-term loans. The turnout is small — a few people per day — pawnbrokers said, with similar stories emerging from places like Capitol Heights, Md.; Alexandria, Va.; Las Vegas; and Anchorage, Alaska. But many said they expected the numbers to increase amid the stalemate.

The government shutdown has drawn domestic violence shelters to the brink, imperiling life-or-death services to women” via Katie Zezima of The Washington Post — The government shutdown has led organizations that help victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse to cut back on lifesaving services, furlough staff and turn people away from shelters. Many groups are heavily reliant on federal funding that was scheduled to stop being allocated on Jan. 18 amid the nearly monthlong partial government shutdown. Advocates said the Justice Department decided hours before the deadline to extend the money until March 1, a temporary reprieve that allows them to restore services and keep staff employed. Already having come to the brink once during the political stalemate, such organizations across the country are still in flux, fretting that the patchwork solution might not outlast the shutdown.

More than closed national monuments: The extended federal shutdown could have a lasting impact on women’s shelter funding, with many already working on tight budgets. Image via Getty.

Assignment editors — U.S. Reps. Charlie Crist and Kathy Castor will join federal workers at Tampa International Airport for a news conference highlighting the negative impact of the extended federal shutdown, 10:30 a.m., Tampa International Airport, the main terminal in front of the airport Marriott.

Assignment editors — U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell will host a roundtable discussion with community leaders and immigration rights advocates to address the Venezuelan political and humanitarian crisis, as well as her efforts to extend TPS to Venezuelans and Nicaraguans in the United States, 10 a.m., 12851 SW 42nd St., Miami.

Assignment editors — On the 46th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the federal decision that legalized safe and legal access to abortion, a coalition of Pinellas advocates will gather for a lunchtime rally, noon, corner of Central Avenue and 3rd Street, St. Petersburg.

What Scott Ross is reading —Justice Department’s reversal on online gambling tracked memo from Sheldon Adelson lobbyists” via Byron Tau and Alexandra Berzon of The Wall Street Journal — The legal reasoning behind the Justice Department’s unusual reversal this week of an opinion that paved the way for online gambling hewed closely to arguments made by lobbyists for casino magnate and top Republican donor Adelson. In April 2017, one of the lobbyists sent a memo to top officials in the Justice Department, arguing that a 2011 opinion that benefited online gambling was wrong. Officials in the department’s Criminal Division, in turn, forwarded it to the Office of Legal Counsel, which had issued the opinion, and asked attorneys there to re-examine their stance that a law on the books for decades didn’t prohibit online gambling, according to documents and interviews with people familiar with the matter. The Justice Department this week announced that its Office of Legal Counsel had, in an unusual move, reversed its position, according to documents and interviews.

Group aims to train Democratic candidates for 2020 and beyondvia Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Democrats may have celebrated after a historic Election Day this past November. But the National Democratic Training Committee (NDTC) has its sights on repeating that success in 2020 — and beyond. “Our goal is very simple: It’s to provide free campaign training to any and every individual who wants to run as a Democrat anywhere in the country,” said Kelly Dietrich, the group’s founder and CEO. “How do we build the systems that help us five years, 10 years, 20 years from now?” The NDTC’s site contains free training and questionnaires available to any Democrat that wants them, with the aim of expanding the pool of Democratic candidates. The NDTC doesn’t make endorsements. So if multiple candidates in the same race want training, they all get it.


Next up for DeSantis: Right the Legislature’s land-buying wrong” via the Orlando Sentinel editorial board — How refreshing. A governor who respects decisions made by Floridians at the voting booth. In the case of the constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana, 71 percent of voting Floridians said yes. Do you know what got even more support from voters than medical marijuana? That would be Amendment 1, approved by voters in 2014 that mandates the state spend one-third of the money it collects from a tax on documents — largely real estate transactions — on buying and maintaining land. It got a whopping 75 percent of the vote. It mandated setting aside money to “acquire, restore, improve, and manage conservation lands …” There’s no ambiguity here. Unless you’re a member of the Florida Legislature. In the same way DeSantis told lawmakers to obey the voters on medical marijuana, he needs to tell them also to do what three in every four voters wanted when they approved the land-buying amendment. In doing so, DeSantis will demonstrate his devotion to the will of the voters is absolute, not limited.

Joe Henderson: Bible study bill for Florida public high schools? Thou shalt not” via Florida Politics — A bill by state Rep. Kim Daniels would require public high schools to offer Bible-study electives. HB 195, to establish what Daniels says would be “an objective study of religion,” won’t pass. Her bill won’t even get out of committee. However, for today’s discussion let’s pretend it will. I am sure Rep. Daniels is a fine, God-fearing, Christian woman. You could bet she believes Florida would be a better place if more people studied the Bible. However, I don’t think she has considered the unholy mess this bill could cause. For example, it estimated that more than 100,000 Muslims live in South Florida. Then Buddhists could say hey, what about us? Atheists would demand a class to get their point across. You also can be certain we would hear from, wait for it … Satanists. There are lines in public schools that cannot be crossed. Everyone’s tax dollars support them, and that makes all the difference.


Personnel note: John Tupps returns to VISIT FLORIDA” via Florida Politics — After his last stint as Gov. Scott‘s top spokesman, Tupps is heading back to VISIT FLORIDA. Tupps, Scott’s last communications director, was tapped by VISIT FLORIDA chief executive officer Dana Young to be Vice President of External Affairs for the state’s public-private tourism marketing arm. (He previously was Vice President of Government Relations for the agency.) “We are pleased to welcome John back,” Young told Florida Politics. “His talent and years of experience make him a valuable addition to our team as we work to welcome visitors from around the globe.”

Welcome back: Dana Young is bringing back Rick Scott alum John Tupps to VISIT FLORIDA.

Personnel note: James Kotas now AHCA’s chief in-house lobbyist — Kotas has become a Deputy Chief of Staff and the Legislative Affairs Director for the Agency for Health Care Administration. Kotas joined the agency earlier this month. The last time Kotas worked the halls of the Florida Capitol, he was a government relations specialist for FCCI Insurance Group. He also has been a legislative aide for Sen. Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican, and former lawmaker Young when she was in House Republican leadership.

Personnel note: Daniel Nordby returning to Shutts & BowenNordby, former Gov. Scotts General Counsel from 2017 till he left office, is heading back to the Shutts law firm’s Tallahassee office as a partner. He joins his wife, Rachel, also a partner there. Nordby, who was last with the firm 2014-17, will be a member of the firm’s Appellate Practice Group. As general counsel, he advised Scott “on the appointment of more than 100 judges to Florida’s trial and appellate courts, as well as representing the Executive Office of the Governor … in three cases before the Florida Supreme Court,” according to his bio. He also was General Counsel to the Florida House under Speaker Will Weatherford, was General Counsel at the Department of State and was outside counsel to the Republican Party of Florida. The “triple-Gator” has three degrees from the University of Florida: a law degree, and undergrad degrees in microbiology and cell science, and in classical studies.

Personnel note: Steve Bousquet now a columnist for South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The veteran newsman left the Tampa Bay Times last year after 17 years at that newspaper. He was most recently co-chief of the Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee bureau. He joined the Times in 2001 after 17 years at The Herald. Bousquet, a University of Rhode Island graduate, also got a master’s degree in history from Florida State University. He has contributed to two editions of The Almanac of Florida Politics.

Personnel note: Lloyd Dunkelberger joins the Florida PhoenixDunkelberger’s first day for the Phoenix — a progressive, nonprofit news site that’s part of the Newsroom network — is Tuesday. The Tallahassee-based political and state government reporting veteran most recently wrote for The News Service of Florida. Before that, he was a contributor for Florida Politics and was longtime Tallahassee bureau chief for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The 1977 graduate of the University of Florida College of Journalism began his career at the Ocala Star-Banner. He later was assistant city editor of The (Lakeland) Ledger, then became capital correspondent for what was then The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group.

Spotted at the home of Robert and Nancy Watkins for a viewing party of the Gasparilla Children’s Parade: former Attorney General Bondi, former House Speaker Weatherford, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, former Sen. Young, Rep. Jackie Toledo, former Rep. Bob Henriquez and wife Carrie, former Rep. Seth McKeel, County Commissioner Sandy Murman, Beverly Austin, Jon CostelloMelissa and Kevin Dempsey, Jan GorrieMelanie and Michael Griffin, Merritt and Rick Lindstrom, Anthony Pedicini, Mark Proctor, Stephanie SmithGina and Chris Spencer, Lucy and J.D. White, and Michelle Todd Schorsch.

— ALOE —

’Hamilton’: What the musical won’t tell you” via Matthew Palm of the Orlando Sentinel — In reading Ron Chernow’s biography of the founding father — which was Lin-Manuel Miranda’s inspiration for the musical — one is struck by how much historical detail can be found in the show. At the same time, there’s so much more to the story that didn’t make the cut. Some of Alexander Hamilton’s more radical ideas — seizing Florida and other parts of Spanish-owned America for the fledgling U.S. — don’t factor into the plot of the stage version. And some of his great achievements — setting a judicial precedent on our modern libel laws, for example — don’t get a mention. Hamilton’s work in fighting slavery was far more extensive than the musical details, and his various illnesses — he survived yellow fever — don’t rate a mention. One feature of his life turned out to be quite appropriate, considering how he galvanized the theater world more than 200 years after his death: Hamilton was a fan of the arts.

‘Hamilton’ got a lot of the historical details right, left out some others. Image via Getty.

— “Make the most of your ‘Hamilton’ night out” via Matthew Palm of the Orlando Sentinel

What Jon Johnson is reading —Next Disney cruise ships may be known as ‘Triton Class’” via John Gregory of Orlando Rising — Three ships will be added to the Disney Cruise Line fleet between 2021 and 2023, and new public documents from Port Canaveral have revealed “Triton Class” as the project name for the new builds. Records include multiple mentions of Triton about projects at two Port Canaveral cruise terminals. In a design attached to “waterside engineering design and permitting services” document, the liquefied natural gas-powered ship is given the placeholder name of Disney Triton, and the new class of vessels is dubbed “Triton class.” The preliminary specs for the Disney Triton list the new ship as 1,119 feet in length. By comparison, the original Disney Cruise Line ships, the Magic and Wonder, built in 1998 and 1999 respectively, are both 964 feet long, while the newer Dream and Fantasy are only slightly shorter at 1,115 feet in length. The new ships will have the same number of staterooms (1,250) as the Dream and Fantasy despite their larger size.

We’re going to need a bigger boat: Plans for new Disney Cruise liners include ‘Triton Class’ ships powered by liquid natural gas. Image via Disney.

South Florida eateries add marijuana ingredient CBD to menus” via Phillip Valys of The Associated Press — South Florida restaurants are buzzing over CBD in recent months, touting the oil’s ability to treat everything from chronic pain to anxiety. Here’s the problem: Some CBD-laced foods contain trace amounts of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive substance in marijuana that produces a euphoric high. The other problem: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says using CBD oil as a food additive is illegal nationwide, says Seth Hyman, a medical marijuana expert with the Plantation law firm Kelley Kronenberg. ″(CBD oil in restaurants) is dangerous to consumers,” says Hyman, a business consultant at the law firm. “You don’t know where the oil is coming from; the FDA clearly states that it’s unlawful to introduce CBD into food or dietary supplements. Period, end of story. What these restaurants are doing is a marketing ploy.”


Happy belated birthday to Sen. Tom Lee, Jon Costello of Ecenia Rutledge, Jim Horne of the Strategos Public Affairs, Christine Knepper of Florida Power & Light, Chris O’Donnell of the Tampa Bay Times, and Bruno Portigliatti. Celebrating today is former Senate President Don Gaetz, Greg Black of Gunster, Tim Center, Georgia McKeown. And a special shout-out to Dr. Jeff Sharkey.

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

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