Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 1.23.19

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Who's up, down, in and out — your morning tipsheet on 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.

First in Sunburn — A new organization focusing on improving school choice launched this week, and it plans to hit the ground running.

The aptly named “School Choice Movement” is headed up by former Collier County School Board member Erika Donalds, who left her day job to tackle education policy full time.

“The School Choice Movement advocates for the improvement and expansion of school choice in all of its forms,” she said. “We are committed to securing the world-class education options that children deserve, being a resource for the facts, and a bold, honest voice for the school choice movement.”

Some of the group’s goals mirror those of a proposed constitutional amendment Donalds backed as a member of the Constitution Revision Commission. Though that measure was taken off the ballot in a court decision, Donalds said at the time that the roadblock only made her more determined to fight for reforms.

That proved accurate.

“We live in a state where school choices are working. That is undeniable,” Donalds said in a video announcing the Movement. “Yet we can do so much more by improving and expanding those options. We can’t settle for ‘this is how it’s always been, so this is how it should be.’ Absolutely not.”

To watch the video, click on the image below:

Their priorities include instituting term limits for county school board members, changing the charter school approval process, boosting transportation funding so quality schools are accessible to all children and creating “education scholarship accounts” so families can choose the best school for their child, be it public, private or charter.

To get that hefty slate off the drawing board and on the books, the Movement’s membership will need to get the ear of some lawmakers.

That shouldn’t be a problem — the Movement already has the attention of future House Speaker Paul Renner, who said he was “excited to see this group enter the debate as an advocate on the side of students and stand up to those who prefer to defend institutions and the status quo.”

First on #FlaPol — Matt Caldwell joins TM Strategic Consulting — With his Agriculture Commissioner campaign in the rearview mirror, former state Rep. Caldwell is off to greener pastures. The Lehigh Acres Republican announced his next career move — a political consulting gig at TM Strategic Consulting, the Southwest Florida shop Terry Miller has run for a decade. …

Matt Caldwell is getting a new gig — and returning to his old job.

“Matt brings an amazing amount of knowledge and experience to our firm. He has always been a mentor and someone whose opinions I hold in the highest regard. I am excited about the breadth of opportunities he brings to TM Strategic Consulting,” Miller said. … Caldwell is joining the firm as a partner and will focus on advising individuals, corporations and nonprofit organizations on political strategy and public policy. … “This is a fantastic opportunity to build on our successes both here in Southwest Florida and around the State. Our partnership will complement the skills we each bring to the table, and I look forward to continuing to critically engage in the political landscape from this new position,” he said.

Caldwell has returned to a familiar gig as well, resuming his position at property appraisal firm Maxwell, Hendry, Simmons. He held that job before becoming a lawmaker in 2010.


@JohnRobertsFox: @WhiteHouse has sent a letter to the Sergeant-At-Arms, asking to schedule a walk-through for the SOTU address. SAA canceled a walk-through last week at the request of @SpeakerPelosi. @realDonaldTrump still plans to be at the Capitol on Jan 29 for the speech.

@GovRonDeSantis: Great meeting today with President @realDonaldTrump to discuss the crisis in Venezuela and other issues pertinent to Florida. Thank you Mr. President!

@MarcoRubio: Tomorrow will be a very good (and important) day for democracy & constitutional order in #Venezuela.

@DavidAFrench: Last year, conservative wives looked at the furious attack on [Brett] Kavanaugh and thought, “That could be my husband.” Now conservative moms look at the wild attempt to destroy the Covington kids and think, “That could be my son.”

@JebBush: Another outstanding Florida Supreme Court pick by @GovRonDeSantis. Carlos Muniz is one of the brightest legal minds I know, and he will serve Florida with integrity and with the utmost respect for the rule of law.

@MarcACaputo: On politics, policy and law, @carlosmuniz consistently ranks as one of the smartest lawyers in Florida’s Capitol. Now he’s going to be a Florida Supreme Court justice

@ElectionSmith: I have written extensively over the years about populist entrepreneurs; what @JohnMorganESQ is doing to shape the contours of Florida policy and politics via the initiative process is impressive.

@AlAtterbury: (BobGualtieri is bringing the heat today. School districts are playing games with safety, he says, echoing statements from commission meetings. Every school should have one assigned guard each day, period.

@FSUAdmissions: Congrats to @FSUFilm alum @BarryJenkins on his Oscar nomination for “If Beale Street Could Talk”!

@NickKlopsis: Hear me out: A pitch clock, but for awards announcement shows.


State of the Union address (maybe) — 6; Super Bowl LIII — 11; Scott Maddox trial begins — 19; ‘Hamilton’ comes to the Straz Center — 20; Pitchers and catchers begin reporting for MLB Spring Training — 20; Valentine’s Day — 22; 2019 Legislative Session starts — 41; Tampa mayoral election — 41; ‘Captain Marvel’ release — 44; St. Patrick’s Day — 53; 2019 Major League Baseball season begins — 56; Final season of ‘Game of Thrones’ begins — 81; Easter — 88; 2019 Legislative Session ends (maybe) — 100; 2020 Democratic presidential primary debates begin — 135; 2019 General Election — 286; Iowa Caucuses — 373; 2020 General Election — 650.


Ron DeSantis picks Trump administration official for high court” via Gary Fineout of The Associated Press — DeSantis picked Carlos Muniz, who had been working as general counsel for the U.S. Department of Education under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. The pick was unusual since Muniz has never served as a judge, but he worked as a top attorney for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and was chief of staff for former Attorney General Pam Bondi. DeSantis called him a “top-flight intellect” and said his past jobs in Florida government gave him a “useful perspective.” “He really understands the separation of powers, and he understands the proper role of the court,” DeSantis said during a brief news conference outside the governor’s mansion.

‘Top-flight intellect’: Ron DeSantis nominates attorney Carlos Muniz as his third Supreme Court pick.


Nikki Fried, lawmakers eye wildfire risk months after Michael” via Danny McAuliffe of Florida Politics — Fried told the Senate Agriculture Committee that downed trees and other debris from Hurricane Michael make wildfire prevention a priority, as “we get into a dryer season.” “If we don’t clear those fields and replant, the amount of devastation from forest fires is going to be something that we want to prevent,” Fried said, adding that “fast-tracking” cleanup is a priority. Jim Karels, Director of the Florida Forest Service, reiterated the risk of wildfires to the panel. “If it gets dry, it’s a huge threat,” Karels said. Karels said that already there have been many fires since the storm, but one last week occurred in a “blowdown … a heavy timber area … It took us two hours to get to it.”

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried addresses the Senate Agriculture Committee ahead of the 2019 Legislative Session.

Jimmy Patronis wants state to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital” via Danny McAuliffe of Florida Politics — The proposition comes one week after DeSantis threatened sanctions against Airbnb over its decision to not list vacation-rental properties in the West Bank. Patronis released a drafted resolution, and it’s already slated for consideration Jan. 29, the date of the next Cabinet meeting. The document recounts the Sunshine State’s relationship with Israel and “proclaims” Jerusalem the capital of the foreign country. “I look forward to standing firm with our ally and friend,” Patronis wrote in an accompanying letter to DeSantis, Republican Attorney General Ashley Moody and Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Fried.


Bob Gualtieri to lawmakers: Schools need more armed staff, punish districts that move too slow” via Emily Mahoney of the Tampa Bay Times — When Pinellas County Sheriff Gualtieri stood up to give his presentation to the House Education committee, he had harsh words for school districts whom he said are “not moving fast enough” and are “playing games” with SB 7026, the law passed last year in response to the Parkland shooting that mandated sweeping school safety requirements, including requiring an armed guard on every campus. “The Legislature did a herculean thing in a short amount of time,” Gualtieri said. “I think to some degree (the Department of Education) talked about how things are being done and being done well. Well, guess what? They’re not.” He raked school districts over the coals, enumerating what he said was: “no sense of urgency” by districts to train teachers on how to respond to active shooter situations, that staff is not taking advantage of behavioral threat assessments to identify troubled students, schools are slow to submit reports on their emergency readiness and that districts are dragging their feet to train and arm school staff to increase the presence of armed guards on campus.

House panel may seek sworn testimony in UCF funding scandal” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee Chairman Tom Leek wants to know who at the University of Central Florida was behind decisions to misspend $85 million in state money and he hopes to put witnesses under oath as his committee investigates. Leek raised questions about whom at UCF knew what, and when they know it, as the university somehow turned a $5 million building renovation proposal into a $38 million new building, Trevor Colbourn Hall, using education money. The university also apparently misused another $14 million — and planned to misuse another $32 million — on other construction projects, according to reports presented to Leek’s committee Tuesday. “It is my hope that once we learn all we can from the documents and the interviews, witnesses may testify before this committee to answer important questions under oath,” Leek said.

Convicted murderers still can’t vote. But what makes a ‘murderer’?” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — The just-passed Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative, better known as Amendment 4, specifically excludes those convicted of murder. But there’s significant disagreement about what that means. Forgiving interpretations of ballot language say only those convicted of first-degree murder still face a lifetime voting ban. But a broad reading of Florida’s homicide statutes includes those convicted of, say, partial birth abortions. “It’s an important point we have to wrestle with here,” said state Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, at a Tuesday meeting of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

Semantics: Jeff Brandes wants some more specifics on what constitutes ‘murder’ in Florida.

Lawmakers balk at ‘bundled’ ballot measures” via Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida — The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a proposal (SJR 74) that targets the type of bundled ballot proposals that came out of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission last year. Sen. Rob Bradley, who is sponsoring the proposed change, called his measure a start. But he’s also interested in a separate measure (SJR 362) by Sen. Brandes that would eliminate the commission, which meets every 20 years and has unique powers to put proposals on the ballot. “I would be interested in abolishing the CRC. I haven’t made a final decision about whether I’m going to support that bill,” Bradley said after the committee meeting. “What I do know is that if we’re going to have a CRC, they need to stop the bundling.”

Senate debate opens over restriction of one-way attorney fee” via Michael Moline of Florida Politics — Not every member of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee is sold on Chairman Doug Broxson’s plan to make it harder for contractors holding assignment of benefits agreements to sue insurance carriers. The bill would nix the one-way attorney fee provision, which is intended to even the power imbalance between deep-pocketed insurance companies and consumers by requiring the former to pay the latter’s legal costs when carriers lose claims disputes. … Democratic Sens. Daryl Rouson and Sen. Perry Thurston both expressed skepticism that trial attorneys are the villains behind rising insurance rates. … If that’s true, Rouson asked, why does Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state-backed last-resort insurer, lose 80 to 90 percent of its claims litigation? … Proponents of the bill, including CFO Patronis, showed up en masse to make a case for AOB reform before the committee, arguing the law encourages unnecessary litigation that boosts payouts and consequently premiums. … “These bad actors have exploited loopholes that have allowed them to come between the insurance policyholder, the homeowner, and their insurance carrier for the benefits they’re entitled to,” Patronis said.

Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis spoke at the Florida Senate Banking and Insurance Committee Tuesday to address Assignment of Benefits abuse.

AOB fights cost Floridians $1.1B last year, lawmakers hearBarry Gilway, the head of the state-backed insurer Citizens Property Insurance Corp. said “assignment of benefits” lawsuits cost Floridians more than $1 billion last year. Assignment of benefits, or AOB, is a process that allows policyholders in need of repairs to sign over the benefits of their insurance to a third-party who makes the repairs and goes after insurance companies for reimbursement, often through the courts. As reported by Alexandra Glorioso of POLITICO Florida, Gilway estimates those lawsuits cost Floridians $1.1 billion by way of massive rate increases for homeowners’ insurance policies. That estimate is based on the difference between what an insurer would pay for a repair with and without litigation being a factor. “It is a tax,” Gilway told the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee. “In southeast Florida, there are companies that for the second year in a row have double-digit rate increases.”

Citizens Insurance head Barry Gilway says assignment of benefits abuse costs Floridians more than $1 billion last year. Image via the Tallahassee Democrat.

Janet Cruz wants Education Commissioner back on the ballot” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — “Floridians deserve the right to vote for who is leading our education system,” the Tampa Democrat said. “Voters currently have no direct influence on state education policy and this resolution seeks to put an end to that.” Cruz’ bill (SJR 422) comes after former House Speaker Richard Corcoran was selected as the state’s education chief. Corcoran is a proponent of school choice, making him an unpopular pick among Democrats, many of whom believe state funds should be reserved for the traditional public-school system. Corcoran was recommended for the job by Gov. DeSantis. The State Board of Education, a body made up of gubernatorial appointees, confirmed the pick in a unanimous vote last month. That system doesn’t sit well with Cruz.

Proposed ‘One Orlando’ plate would help Pulse attack survivors” via Greg Angel of Spectrum News 13 — State Sen. Linda Stewart filed a bill to create an “Orlando United” tag to honor to the victims and survivors of the Pulse nightclub shooting, as well as to recognize the community response to the tragedy. Revenues from the plate would also create a permanent funding source to continue providing mental health services to those impacted by the nightclub shooting. “We are going to have a greater need for probably 10 years,” Stewart said. “We need to continue to support them and not forget.”

Nick DiCeglie files bill allowing online property tax notices” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — DiCeglie‘s bill would allow county property appraisers to make “Truth in Millage” (TRIM) notices available online. Making the notices available online could save counties a heap of cash. … “As a small-business owner, I always look for ways to cut costs while still providing value to my customers,” the Indian Rocks Beach Republican said. … “Utilizing technology will save millions of taxpayer dollars throughout the state, and Pinellas County will save over $200,000 annually.” HB 399 would let property appraisers “announce his or her intent to post the notices and present a plan to make notices available on his or her website at a public meeting of the board of county commissioners.” They would still need to mail out notices to property owners who request them.

Bill seeks fines, jail time for lying to lawmakers” via The Associated Press — Lying to Florida lawmakers could become punishable by a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail under a bill unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The measure would make “disorderly or contemptuous conduct” while appearing before a legislative committee a second-degree misdemeanor. The bill says that includes deliberately making false statements while testifying before a committee. No House companion bill has been filed.

Liar, liar: A new bill would punish anyone who knowingly lies to Florida lawmakers, making ‘disorderly or contentious conduct’ a second-degree misdemeanor with a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail.

Those tolls you pay on Miami’s highways could come to an end if this bill passes” via David Smiley of the Miami Herald — Some of the busiest — and priciest — highways in Miami could eventually become freeways in more than one sense … State Rep. Brian Avila filed a bill in the Florida House that would dissolve the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, which levies tolls on the Gratigny Parkway and the Airport, Dolphin, Shula and Snapper Creek expressways. Under the legislation, the Florida Department of Transportation would absorb the authority, commonly known as MDX, and the tolls levied on the agency’s five highways would be phased out once all the related debt is paid off in 2045. … The proposal is part of a sweeping omnibus bill that would also change the makeup of Miami-Dade’s regional transportation planning organization and — as a direct result of the pedestrian bridge collapse at Florida International University last year — require that the state’s transportation department approve designs for projects on or over state roads.


— The Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee will receive presentations about nursing-home services, behavioral-analysis services and community-based care services, 10 a.m., 412 Knott Building, The Capitol.

— The House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee will receive a presentation from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Department of Environmental Protection about algae blooms and red tide, 10:30 a.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building, The Capitol.

— The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee will receive a presentation about the impact of technology and surveillance on Fourth Amendment rights that shield people from unreasonable searches and seizures, 10:30 a.m., 404 House Office Building, The Capitol.

— The House Energy & Utilities Subcommittee will discuss electricity-service restoration after Hurricane Michael, 10:30 a.m., 212 Knott Building, The Capitol.

— The House Health Quality Subcommittee will receive presentations on physician and nursing workforce issues, 10:30 a.m., 306 House Office Building, The Capitol.

— The House Local, Federal & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee will take up a bill that would largely prevent local regulation of vegetable gardens on residential property, 10:30 a.m., 12 House Office Building, The Capitol.

— The Senate Agriculture, Environment and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee will receive a presentation from the Department of Environmental Protection about wastewater-incident reporting, compliance and enforcement, 1:30 p.m., 110 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.

— The Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee will receive a presentation about criminal-justice reform, 1:30 p.m., 37 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.

— The Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee will receive an overview of mental-health programs and services in public schools, 1:30 p.m., 412 Knott Building, The Capitol.

— The House Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee will take up issues including an overview of challenges facing the state’s agriculture industry, 1:30 p.m., 12 House Office Building, The Capitol.

— The House Business & Professions Subcommittee will receive a presentation about professional and occupational licensing “reciprocity” with other states, 1:30 p.m., 212 Knott Building, The Capitol.

— Chief Financial Officer Patronis is slated to speak to the House Government Operations & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee, 1:30 p.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building, The Capitol.

— The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee will receive presentations about Medicaid reimbursements for hospitals and nursing homes, 1:30 p.m., 404 House Office Building, The Capitol.

— The House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee will receive a presentation about charter-school governance, 1:30 p.m., 306 House Office Building, The Capitol.

— The House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee will consider a proposal to would eliminate a law that allows red-light cameras, 1:30 p.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building, The Capitol.

— The House Health Market Reform Subcommittee will receive a presentation from the Office of Insurance Regulation about the state’s health-insurance market, 4 p.m., 306 House Office Building, The Capitol.

— The House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee will receive an overview of workforce education, 4 p.m., 212 Knott Building, The Capitol.

— The House Insurance & Banking Subcommittee will receive information about workers’ compensation insurance issues, including the status of litigation and attorney fees, 4 p.m., 404 House Office Building, The Capitol.

— The House PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee will receive presentations about teacher certification and school improvement, 4 p.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building, The Capitol.

Assignment editors — Floridians for Dental Access will address the need for dental therapists in Florida, 12:45 p.m. Eastern time, in front of the Florida Senate Chamber, Fourth-Floor Rotunda, The Capitol.

Save the date:


Queen soup; mixed green salad; egg salad; carrot raisin salad; charcuterie, cheese and bread; seafood jambalaya; grilled pork chop; black and blue sugar steak; mashed red potatoes; corn choux; vegetable frittata; lemon bars for dessert.


ICYMI from last night’s ‘Last Call’ newsletter — The 1st District Court of Appeal denied a joint request to put a hold on the appellate case over the state’s medical marijuana smoking ban. Gov. DeSantis wants lawmakers to write the ban out of state law this Session or else he will drop the appeal. The court’s procedural move was more of a speed bump than a roadblock, however: It allows the state and plaintiffs to refile a “motion to stay specifying the amount of time needed … to discuss (a) potential resolution.”

It’s what you thought: Florida really is among the worst states for highway safety” via Howard Cohen of the Miami Herald — Every year, Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety release The Advocates’ Report to grade the 50 states on how well road safety laws are enacted and enforced. Florida finds itself among THE WORST states, with among the fewest optimal laws. The group gave every state and D.C. a rating in five categories: Occupant Protection, Child Passenger Safety, Teen Driving, Impaired Driving, and Distracted Driving. Florida had 2,922 fatal crashes and 3,112 deaths in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, using the most current figures — the same stats used by the advocacy group. The Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety recommend that Florida, which has five safety laws, needs to enact 11 more to join the green, or safer, states.

Yes, it’s that bad: A new survey ranks Florida as one of the worst states for road safety laws, enactment and enforcement.

Puerto Ricans will surpass Cubans in Florida by 2020, new report says” via Monivette Cordeiro of Orlando Weekly — Puerto Ricans are on their way to become the largest population group of Latinos in Florida by 2020, according to a new report from Hispanic Federation and the ratings company Nielsen. currently, about 1 million Puerto Ricans live in the Sunshine State. From 2000 to 2014, the number of Puerto Ricans increased by 94 percent, while the number of Cubans in Florida increased by 60 percent. Orange County alone contains 18 percent of the Puerto Rican population of Florida. This dramatic influx of Puerto Ricans from the island is mainly in response to the commonwealth’s severe and ongoing economic crisis, solidifying what many are referring to as the Second Great Puerto Rican Migration; the first came after World War II,” the report says. “Facing limited opportunities at home, individuals and families are choosing to relocate to Florida, in particular, Central Florida, instead of the Northeast.”

Andrew Gillum silent as ruling nears in state ethics case over New York, Costa Rica trips” via Jeff Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat — Former Tallahassee Mayor Gillum will learn Friday whether he’s in legal trouble over his travels with lobbyist friends to Costa Rica and New York City, where he took in a performance of “Hamilton” with undercover FBI agents. The Florida Commission on Ethics will decide whether there’s probable cause Gillum violated state ethics laws when he went on the trips in 2016. If probable cause is found, Gillum could contest the allegations later in court or enter into a settlement with the commission. If no probable cause is found, the complaint will be dropped. 

John Morgan moves forward with minimum wage drive” via Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times — Morgan said he has more than 120,000 signatures, 50,000 more than he needs to send it to justices to approve the ballot language. Once they approve it, he’ll work on getting the 700,000 signatures needed to get it on voters’ ballots in 2020, alongside the presidential race, he said. Morgan said income inequality was “the greatest issue” facing the country. And he said raising the minimum wage would be good for taxpayers, who he says are footing the bills for child care and food stamps because businesses don’t pay their employees enough.”

What Lauren Book is reading — “DCF probes Riviera infant’s death amid ‘inconsistent statements’” via Olivia Hitchcock of the Palm Beach Post — State authorities are investigating the death of a 5-week-old boy on New Year’s Day in Riviera Beach, according to Florida Department of Children and Families records. The infant’s mother said she woke up shortly before 9 a.m. Jan. 1 and found the boy unresponsive. However, “inconsistent statements” made to state child-welfare workers muddled the details surrounding the infant’s death. Caseworkers gleaned from those statements, however, that the baby had been sleeping in bed with his mother and a sibling. Records indicate the baby was on his back when the mother woke up. It did not appear that any blankets or pillows had obstructed his breathing, she said. Authorities aren’t sure what caused the baby’s death, and the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner’s Office will complete an autopsy.

Billionaire Stronach family feud heats up with Belinda defense” via Bloomberg News — [Canada’s Stronach Group, operator of Hallandale Beach’s Gulfstream Park racetrack and casino, bills itself as “North America’s largest thoroughbred horse-racing company.”] Belinda Stronach is rejecting claims of mismanagement made by her father Frank, saying she was instead trying to prevent him from pursuing “idiosyncratic and often unprofitable projects” that threatened the family fortune. Belinda Stronach, a former Canadian lawmaker, is seeking about $25 million (U.S.) from her father, including funds “gifted” to Frank Stronach for his 2013 Austrian political campaign, and a subsequent tax settlement … The feud has torn apart one of Canada’s richest families.

Sue and sue again: Belinda Stronach and her father Frank Stronach in 2010. Image via Brent Gundlock/National Post.

Florida State football apologizes after Martin Luther King Jr. Day tweet draws backlash” via Tom Schad of USA TODAY — The program received social-media backlash when an account that bills itself as “the official page of Florida State football recruiting” — @FSU_Recruiting — tweeted an edited picture of King wearing a football glove and appearing to do the tomahawk chop. The graphic also included the team’s slogan (“Do Something”) and a quote: “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” The tweet drew widespread criticism on social media, with users describing it as exploitative and disrespectful to King’s legacy. It was deleted without explanation less than an hour after it was posted.

Like a lead balloon: Florida State football quickly took down a Martin Luther King Day tweet using this image. It clearly did not go over well.


Miami prosecutor probing MLK traffic incident as a hate crime” via Curt Anderson of The Associated Press — A traffic incident in Miami involving a gun-wielding white man and a group of black bicyclists protesting housing inequality on Martin Luther King Day is being investigated as a possible hate crime, prosecutors said. State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said in a news release that she had ordered her hate crimes chief to look into Monday’s confrontation in the upscale Brickell section of Miami. The man with the gun, 51-year-old Mark Bartlett, has so far been charged only with illegally carrying a concealed weapon, which is a felony. Video shot by bystanders and aired by numerous news outlets shows Bartlett swearing and hurling racial insults at the group of black cyclists, while keeping the gun at his side.

Haters gonna hate: Miami police arrested Mark Bartlett for waving a gun at a group of black bicyclists protesting on Martin Luther King Day, a possible hate crime. Image via Miami New Times.

Santa Fe student files to run for mayor” via Andrew Caplan of the Gainesville Sun — Marlon Bruce, a political science major, filed to run against Mayor Lauren Poe last week. Bruce said he decided to run after becoming concerned with public safety issues, primarily the pay and staffing of first responders, the city’s lack of affordable housing and increased GRU utility rates. He moved to Gainesville about two years ago from Ocala to attend SF College where he worked as a senator for student government. He is a first-generation American with two Jamaican immigrant parents. According to his voting record, he was previously registered to vote in Precinct 62, which he did in the Aug. 28 primary. The precinct is outside the city limits. In order to run for City Commission, candidates must live within the city limits for at least six months before qualifying. Bruce said he was unable to change his voter information in time for the primary but that he has been a city resident longer than six months. He said he’d provide a document on Tuesday that proves he meets residency requirements but didn’t send one.


Shutdown’s pain cuts deep for the homeless and other vulnerable Americans” via Glenn Thrush of The New York Times — One month after the government shutdown began, its effects have begun to hurt some of the most vulnerable Americans: not just homeless people, but also those who are one crisis away from the streets. And nonprofit groups dedicated to helping low-income renters are already scrambling to survive without the lifeblood payments from HUD that began being cut off on Jan. 1. That has left a small but growing number of tenants in limbo. Landlords, especially smaller management companies operating on narrow margins, have begun pressuring poor, disabled and elderly tenants who cannot afford to make up the difference.

The ongoing federal government shut down is beginning to hit some of America’s most vulnerable citizens. Image via Robin Lubbock/WBUR.

Trump voters now blame him for the government shutdown” via Matt Viser of The Washington Post — Two years ago, Jeff Daudert was fed up with politics … and, frankly, he liked the idea of a disruptive president. But the 49-year-old retired Navy reservist has had some second thoughts. “What the [expletive] were we thinking?” He asked the other night inside a Walmart here, in an area of blue-collar suburban Detroit that helped deliver the presidency to Trump. … “It’s silly. It’s destructive,” Daudert said, adding that all he knows about 2020 is that he won’t be supporting Trump. “I was certainly for the anti-status quo. … I’ll be more status quo next time.”

Florida Republicans didn’t sign letter on dirty water” via Samantha Gross of the Tampa Bay Times — U.S. Rep Debbie Wasserman Schultz and 12 other members of Florida’s delegation wrote to two top congressmen last week, requesting their committee to press the Environmental Protection Agency on what it is going to do to regulate chemical contamination in drinking water. The letter comes in response to a Times/Herald story revealing that it took four months for state health officials to notify residents in the Ocala community about potentially elevated levels of the chemicals in their well water. Missing from the list of signatures are two notable names: Republican U.S. Reps. Daniel Webster and Ted Yoho who represent Marion County, where the recent contamination issue made news. A spokesman for Wasserman Schultz said her office sought support for the letter from the entire 27-member delegation. None of the 14 Republicans signed on. All 13 Democrats did, including Wasserman Schultz.


DeSantis’ unwarranted removal of Susan Bucher smacks of political opportunism, revenge” via the Palm Beach Post editorial board — There was no fraud. No one stole anything. All that happened was a steadily declining vote count for the Republican as slow-to-arrive absentee ballots were being counted in heavily Democratic counties. Whatever the impressions from outside the county, those of us who have dealt with Bucher in her 10 years as Palm Beach County’s elections chief know that the charge of incompetence is bunk. And so is the notion that she let partisanship, let alone a lack of ethics, mar her conduct of elections in this sprawling county of 1.4 million people. If anything, it looks like the ballot-counting problems of last November gave Republican leaders an excuse to rid themselves of a longtime thorn in their side.

—“Forget democracy. Florida Governors just oust the local elected officials they dislike” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel

Government shutdown is hurting Florida’s farmers — and the people who eat their food” via Nikki Fried for the Miami Herald — As Americans, we have some basic, reasonable expectations. Among them: Our food should be safe to eat, our businesses should be able to operate, our workers should be paid for their labor and our government should function effectively. That shouldn’t be asking too much. Yet as the federal government shutdown extends past the four-week mark, even those basic expectations aren’t being met — and that’s beginning to have real impacts on our state. The safety of food grown and produced in Florida is critical — yet right now, up to 1,074 food manufacturing facilities in Florida deemed high-risk may be missing scheduled FDA inspections. Florida’s school lunch and breakfast programs, available to 2.9 million students, are funded through March — but without federal funding beyond then, our department might be forced to ask local school districts to foot the bill. Those concerned with defending “the wall” should be equally concerned with defending our state, our people, and our interests — because Floridians expect better than this.

Joe Henderson: Backlash against Anna Eskamani only fuels her determination” via Florida Politics — State Rep. Eskamani must have known what was going to happen when she posted on Facebook in support of an assault weapons ban in Florida. The backlash was extraordinary, even by the standards of these divisive times. Vulgar doesn’t begin to capture it. As we have seen, she is not afraid to speak her mind to cyber bullies or anyone else. On her Twitter page, she calls herself an “unafraid progressive.” “I am reminded that for generations women who are bold and unapologetic are always facing a backlash. I always say that for every act of intimidation, our courage only rises,” she said. We’re seeing the beginning of something Second Amendment supporters better think about. Usually, this is the point in a column when someone in my position decries the breakdown of civility. We’re way past that, though, at least for now.


Personnel note — Greg Ungru named Deputy Secretary and Chief of Staff at Department of Elder AffairsUngru last was state director for Marsy’s Law for Florida, an initiative that successfully added a “victims’ bill of rights” to the state constitution. He also has been communications director for LeadingAge Florida, which represents continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs), nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Before that, Ungru was VP of development for the Florida Sports Foundation and was at the Agency for Workforce Innovation and the Republican Party of Florida. The Ohio State University graduate is married to top lobbyist and Republican political operative Jenn Ungru; they have two children and will remain in Tallahassee.

Personnel note — Brian McManus now Deputy Chief of Staff at DEOMcManus serves under Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Ken Lawson, himself recently appointed by Gov. DeSantis. McManus has a history in state government, most recently as a legislative aide to the former lawmaker and now VISIT FLORIDA CEO Dana Young when she was in the House and Senate. The FSU graduate also has been a legislative analyst for the Senate Republican Office, a Deputy Legislative Director for the Department of Juvenile Justice, and Legislative Director of the now-defunct Department of Community Affairs.

Former Attorney General Pam Bondi now a Washington lobbyist” via Julie Hauserman of Florida Phoenix — Bondi, is heading to Washington, D.C. to join a politically-connected lobbying firm, Ballard Partners. he firm, started by lobbyist Brian Ballard in Florida, is closely tied to the Trump administration. Bondi will chair the firm’s Corporate Regulatory Compliance practice, according to a Ballard Partners news release: “The firm’s new national practice area will focus on serving Fortune 500 companies to implement best practices that proactively address public policy challenges such as human trafficking, opioid abuse and personal data privacy.”

Tweet, tweet:

New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Keaton Alexander, Silver Palm Consulting: Cassidy Holdings

Albert Balido, Anfield Consulting: Florida Policy Institute

Travis Blanton, Jon Johnson, Darrick McGhee, Georgia McKeown, Johnson & Blanton: Phoenix Programs of Florida, SAS Institute

Ron Book, Kelly Mallette, Ronald Book PA: Wellpath Recovery Solutions, Wellpath

Carlos Cruz, Cesar Fernandez, Converge Government Affairs of Florida: Health Insurance Innovations, Lyft, Town of Cutler Bay, Village of Key Biscayne

Kaitlyn Gardner, RSA Consulting Group: Miracles Outreach

Angelina Gonzalez, Panza Maurer & Maynard: PRIDE Enterprises

Jennifer Wilson, Shumaker Advisors Florida: Museum of Science & Industry

Bob Gabordi to retire” via John McCarthy of FLORIDA TODAY — Gabordi, who is also the chief news executive of Treasure Coast newspapers, told FLORIDA TODAY staffers of his plans in a newsroom meeting. “Forty years is a long time to do anything, and I still love it,” he told his colleagues. “But there are so many more things I want to do.” FLORIDA TODAY News Director Mara Bellaby will become editor immediately following Gabordi’s retirement March 1. Gabordi is ending a journalism career that started at the Cranston Herald in Rhode Island in 1978. Most of Gabordi’s career has been with Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper publisher and parent of FLORIDA TODAY and USA TODAY.

After 40 years in journalism, Bob Gabordi is calling it quits.

Personnel note — Allie Pass, Will Galloway exit News Service of FloridaPass is the general manager; Galloway had been Vice President of Operations at the Tallahassee-based state government and politics news service. Pass’ last day is Feb. 1, to be replaced by Samantha Salyards. Galloway has already departed for Security First Partners. Pass, in an email, said she leaves “with nothing but wonderful wishes for NSF and its incredible team” and said Salyards “will do a wonderful job.” The News Service provides content to many Florida newspapers and to lobbyists, government agencies and political groups.

— ALOE —

Holiday crowds brought punches, pushes and fights to Disney World, Universal” via Gabrielle Russon of the Orlando Sentinel — Law enforcement responded to fights as tensions bubbled up in the crowds in line or after the fireworks. Sometimes theme park employees became the victims after unprovoked visitors hit them or grabbed them, incident reports show. Nobody was seriously injured. At least two of the complaints involved people who reportedly had mental health issues — including a 31-year-old man who had an episode at Disney World and shoved an Orange County sheriff corporal to the ground before he was held for observation under the state’s Baker Act on New Year’s Eve. Only one person appears to be arrested and charged with a crime. “The safety of all who work and play at our resort is very important to us,” a Disney spokeswoman said in a statement. “When the occasional disruption occurs, we respond with safety and courtesy in mind and take appropriate action tailored to the individual circumstance.”

What John Morgan is reading —CBS rejects Super Bowl ad on benefits of medical marijuana” via USA Today — CBS rejected a Super Bowl ad that makes a case for medical marijuana. Acreage Holdings, which is in the cannabis cultivation, processing and dispensing business, said it produced a 60-second ad that shows three people suffering from varying health issues who say their lives were made better by use of medical marijuana. Acreage said its ad agency sent storyboards for the ad to the network and received a return email that said: “CBS will not be accepting any ads for medical marijuana at this time.” A CBS spokesperson told USA TODAY Sports that under CBS broadcast standards it does not currently accept cannabis-related advertising.

For many with disabilities, ‘Let It Go’ is an anthem of acceptance” via Joseph Shapiro of NPR — Since its arrival in 2013, many groups have found significance in the song on a personal level. Stories abound of gay, lesbian and transgender people, people in prison, people with eating disorders and chemical addictions and plenty of others on the margins, all identifying with the tale of a queen in hiding, who learns to shed her shame and accepts the things that make her different. But there is one group for whom “Let It Go” has proved particularly resonant: People with disabilities. The songwriters say they weren’t trying to write a disability anthem, but rather one about the pressure to be perfect.

Anthem: Caissie Levy performs as Elsa in the stage adaptation of Frozen, which opened on Broadway in 2018. Image via Deen van Meer/Disney Theatrical Productions.

No Sweethearts this Valentine’s Day as candy company closes” via Micah Walker of the Detroit Free Press — Sweethearts will be missing from the shelves this year, as the company that makes the candy, the New England Confectionary Co., went out of business. The conversation heart candies are the most popular confection for the holiday, pulling in $1.8 billion in sales. This year, sales for the conversation hearts are expected to drop by more than 80 percent. Necco folded in July 2018 after operating for more than 100 years. Along with Sweethearts, the company produced Mary Janes, Necco Wafers and Clark bars. Necco was later bought in an auction by Round Hill Investments, who then sold the company to Spangler Candy Co. in September 2018. With only five months left until Valentine’s Day, Spangler did not have enough time to produce a large number of Sweethearts.

What Rich Heffley is reading —Dave Matthews Band performing at Pensacola Bay Center for first time ever” via Jacob Newby of the Pensacola News-Journal — Tickets for the band’s show Tuesday, April 30, at the Pensacola Bay Center will go on sale Feb. 22. The show will be the first of the band’s headline tour. An online ticket pre-sale for Warehouse Fan Association members begins at 10 a.m. Thursday. Every ticket purchased can be redeemed for an unreleased live recording from Dave Matthews Band’s 2018 tour. You can head to for more info. Tickets go on sale to the general public at 10 a.m. Friday, Feb. 22.

For the first time ever, the Dave Matthews Band will perform at the Pensacola Bay Center, as well as offering an unreleased live recording from its 2018 tour with each ticket. Image via Tyler Yomantas/ Summerfest.


Best wishes to the woman that keeps ’em all in line, Janee Murphy, as well as Nick Matthews, Jacob Perry, and Tampa City Councilman Luis Viera. And last but certainly not least, happy 50th birthday to one of the best people to have led the Florida Senate, Andy Gardiner.

Peter Schorsch

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


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