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Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 1.31.19

Get scorched with the day’s first ‘hot takes’ 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 — The Florida Democratic Party is announcing its 2020 “Path to Power” commission, a panel made up of elected officials, party and community leaders as well as progressive activists. The goal is to devise a strategy for Democrats to take back Florida in 2020. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried will serve as honorary chair, with state Sen. Audrey Gibson and state Rep. Kionne McGhee as honorary co-chairs. Also leading the panel are prominent Florida Democrats such as Dr. Cynthia Chestnut, former state Rep. Sean Shaw, and former state Sen. Jeremy Ring. Members include U.S. Reps. Darren Soto and Ted Deutch, state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez and Gary Farmer, as well as state Reps. Amy Mercado, Carlos Guillermo Smith, Anna Eskamani, Ramon Alexander and Shevrin Jones.

FDP Chair Terrie Rizzo said in a statement: “Democrats had a lot of bright spots in this election: record turnout for a midterm including African Americans and young people, two Congressional seats flipped, flipping 8 legislative seats, Democratic control of the five largest counties in the state and we elected our first cabinet member in more than a decade. We also had some tough losses and as a Party and we need to examine and assess the 2018 outcomes. We have put together a group of Florida’s most experienced and talented leaders who will be crucial in our efforts to forge a ‘Path to Power’ in 2020.”

AP Day at the Capitol brought put the state’s top elected officials in front of the media to announce their plans and priorities for the upcoming Legislative Session.

The annual event may not have featured any great surprises — those looking to scan Gov. Ron DeSantis’ first budget will have to wait a little longer — it did set the tone for several 2019 food fights.

Here are the main takeaways from the event:

— DeSantis may face an uphill battle on “no-smoke” repeal: The Guv’s demand to “implement the will of the people” by legalizing smokable pot has some traction in the Senate, but it’s also drawn a powerful opponent. House Speaker José Oliva, whose family owns a cigar company, said he’s unconvinced combustible cannabis is the right thing for patients.

— DeSantis has “moved on” from 2018: DeSantis said his election battle with Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum is in the past. When asked about the Florida Commission on Ethics finding probable cause his opponent violated ethics laws, the new Guv took the high road, saying he’s “not rooting for him to fail,” that Gillum’s “a talented guy” and that “he’s moved on.”

— Fried tells MMJ patients that help is on the way: The newly minted Ag. Commish said she would bring on a Cannabis czar a few weeks ago, and on Wednesday she announced a pair of new boards — one on hemp and another on medical marijuana — to support her new Director of Cannabis.

Jimmy Patronis launches volley in AOB fight: When it comes to assignment of benefits, a process where policyholders can sign over their insurance benefits to contractors, insurers have an ally in the CFO’s office. “What you have done is taken this law on the books with the assignment of benefits, and you’ve twisted it. You are doing nothing but driving up rates and driving out insurance carriers,” he said.

CFO Jimmy Patronis speaks with reporters at the annual #FLAP Day pre-Session event. Image via Twitter.

— Oliva wants to focus on health care price gouging, not Medicaid expansion: Nobody with their ear to the ground expected lawmakers to expand Medicaid this year, but the House Speaker did detail what could happen this year. “We did nothing to control the cost of health care,” he said. “All conversations around health care should center around cost, access and equality.” Anything beyond that is just special interest appeasement, he said.

Kionne McGhee to unveil “protest budget” next month: DeSantis’ budget release can expect some competition, even if it’s in name only. McGhee, the House Democratic Leader, said the minority party would unveil its own state spending plan. Expect “tax exemptions and other benefits that have been given out to corporations for years” to be on the chopping block.

Ashley Moody is coy about Florida First Step support: The Attorney General said she’ll be taking a close look at 2019’s slate of criminal justice reform bills but said: “Whether or not I can support specific individual legislation is another question.” At the end of the day, keeping Floridians safe “will always be [her] primary concern.


@SpeakerPelosi: The racist, homophobic attack on @JussieSmollett is an affront to our humanity. No one should be attacked for who they are or whom they love. I pray that Jussie has a speedy recovery & that justice is served. May we all commit to ending this hate once & for all.

—@RonDeSantisFL: We are leading the charge to restore and protect Florida families, businesses, and the environment! That’s why I am calling for $625 million in funding for Everglades restoration, water quality, and other environmental priorities across Florida.

—@Daniel_Sweeney: Not long after Senate President @BillGalvano calls for new infrastructure, we learn of a tunnel project in Pembroke Pines.

@VISITFLORIDA: Not today, #PolarVortex. #LoveFL

@oliverdarcy: Starbucks sent employees guidance on how to talk to customers if they ask about Howard Schultz.

@MarcACaputo: “Florida Governor Ron DeSantis weighs medical marijuana” … So does DeSantis have a triple beam or a digital scale?

@gbennettpost: #Florida CFO @JimmyPatronis speaks at @AP forum in Tallahassee. Green bucket — only prop brought by today’s 9 speakers — is decontamination kit to combat cancer in firefighters.

@DeFede: BREAKING: Last @SFWMD member, Brandon Tucker, just submitted his resignation. In a letter to @SenRickScott, Tucker said: “I am at peace today knowing that I have served the people of South Florida with honesty, dignity and respect.” @CBSMiami

@RobTornoe: Pittsburgh CBS affiliate @KDKA has fired an employee for labeling Tom Brady a “known cheater” during its Monday newscast

@KathyCastorFL: America’s top intelligence chiefs, including the Director of National Intelligence, CIA, & FBI provided Congress w/ their annual assessment of nat’l security. It was striking, but not surprising, that they advised that Russia & China are attempting to influence the 2020 election.


Super Bowl LIII — 3; State of the Union address — 5; ‘Hamilton’ comes to the Straz Center — 12; Pitchers and catchers begin reporting for MLB Spring Training — 12; Valentine’s Day — 14; 2019 Legislative Session starts — 33; Tampa mayoral election — 33; ‘Captain Marvel’ release — 36; St. Patrick’s Day — 45; 2019 Major League Baseball season begins — 57; Final season of ‘Game of Thrones’ begins — 73; Easter — 80; 2019 Legislative Session ends (maybe) — 92; 2020 Democratic presidential primary debates begin — 127; 2019 General Election — 278; Iowa Caucuses — 365; 2020 General Election — 642.


AP Day: Ron DeSantis isn’t ‘rooting’ against Andrew Gillum” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — Gov. DeSantis is willing to let bygones be bygones. Speaking with reporters after his remarks at The Associated Press’ pre-Legislative Session briefing in The Capitol, he said he bears no grudge against Democratic candidate Gillum. The Florida Commission on Ethics last week found probable cause that Gillum, now a CNN political commentator, violated ethics laws when he accepted certain gifts from lobbyists and vendors while he was Tallahassee’s mayor. “If you’re doing that, you’re going to run afoul,” DeSantis said. “There’s going to be a problem. But I’m not rooting for him to fail … Look, the process will work, but I mean, I don’t have any ill will. I think he’s a talented guy. I’ve moved on.”

Moving on: Ron DeSantis shares no ill-will toward Democrat Andrew Gillum, despite the Florida Commission on Ethics finding probable cause he violated ethics laws. Image via Twitter.

Jimmy Patronis seeks accountability for benefits scammers, identity thieves” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — “The assignment of benefits process has become very deceiving,” Patronis said. “We have a law on the books that is being legally exploited.” He labeled as scoundrels those abusing the claims process in Florida now. He said since Hurricane Michael made landfall, the Panhandle airwaves feature out-of-region contractors promising work on area homes. But with work often done without insurance avenues already explored by homeowners, it’s leading to more insurance companies refusing even to offer policies in Florida. Patronis pounded on the problem and committed to helping lawmakers develop a solution. “It is a law on the books that is being used in ways that are perverted,” he said. “The intended use was to protect the consumer and give them greater access.”

AG Ashley Moody says she wants opioid lawsuit wrapped up ‘as soon as possible’” via Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times — But when that might happen, and whether it would end with a jury trial or a settlement, is still up in the air. Moody said she’d often been meeting with the lawyers leading her office’s lawsuit, which was filed last year but hasn’t set a timeline for it. The case against companies such as OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma and Walgreens could result in millions — or even billions — of dollars for Floridians and communities suffering from an epidemic killing 17 people a day in the state. Speaking to reporters at “AP Day” in Tallahassee, Moody reiterated that opioids are one of her top priorities. Her husband is a Drug Enforcement Agency agent, and she said she’d seen the effects of the epidemic firsthand while serving as a Hillsborough circuit judge. “I literally had mothers cry on my shoulder,” she said.

Wrap it up: Ashley Moody wants to end the lawsuit against OxyContin makers ‘as soon as possible.’ Image via the Miami Herald.

Moody open to ‘improving’ criminal justice” via Danny McAuliffe of Florida Politics — It’s possible that Florida’s new top cop will play a role in criminal justice reform efforts. Moody told media that she believes leaders shouldn’t shy from “improving how we’re doing things.” Reporters questioned Moody on what’s been described as the Florida First Step Act. … “I’m in the process of seeing and reviewing all of the bills that were filed,” Moody said when asked about the two pieces of legislation, versions of which could appear as parts of the Florida First Step Act.

Nikki Fried announces more help for marijuana patients” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — Agriculture Commissioner Fried announced she was creating two new advisory panels — one on hemp and another on medical marijuana — to support her new Director of Cannabis. She’s now the lone Democrat on the Florida Cabinet and the first woman elected to the post. Fried said she’s already interviewed several of a dozen or so applicants for the directorship, including Eric Stevens, managing director of Florida for Care, the nonprofit founded in 2014 “to advocate for the implementation of a strong, well-regulated, medical marijuana system under Amendment 2.” She declined to say who her top choices are but said she’s close to making a hire.

Eliminating pot smoking ban faces questions” via Dara Kam of the News Service of Florida — Whether Florida lawmakers will do away with the state’s prohibition against smoking medical marijuana remains up in the air, despite an ultimatum issued by Gov. DeSantis. DeSantis this month ordered lawmakers to eliminate a ban on smokable medical marijuana and, if they don’t comply, threatened to drop the state’s appeal of a court ruling that found the prohibition violated a 2016 constitutional amendment. But House Speaker Oliva and Senate President Bill Galvano raised doubts about whether the governor will get what he wants, at least concerning legislation. DeSantis gave lawmakers until March 15 to act, just 10 days after the 2019 legislative session begins. The short timeline already injects uncertainty into the issue. But Oliva, whose fortune is built on a cigar company, expressed concern that allowing patients to smoke the marijuana treatment amounts to a de facto authorization of marijuana for recreational use.

José Oliva hungers for free-market health care, hasn’t mellowed on smoking marijuana” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — “The greater the government involvement in something,” Oliva said, “the less that there’s true free market, the less there’s competition, and the higher that price will go up.” But he’s not ready yet to legalize the smoking of medical cannabis. While acknowledging the intense requirements on that industry don’t sound too laissez-faire, lawmakers must regulate marijuana as a medicine, he said. Oliva, speaking to reporters for the annual AP legislative briefing, said the top budget expenditures this year will continue to be health care and higher education. The common denominator? Government interference in the marketplace. Keeping tuitions artificially low will continue to create pressure in Tallahassee, he said. And the same goes for health care subsidies. “Allowing them to continue to increase at the rate that they are continuing is something not acceptable,” he said.

Kionne McGhee says he’ll release House Dems’ own budget” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — Call it a protest budget. House Democratic Leader McGhee says the chamber’s minority Democratic caucus will unveil its own 2019-20 state spending plan around the third week of February. McGhee said he “found the money” to fund much of Democrats’ policy wish list items. Asked later to clarify, the Miami Democrat — first elected in 2012 — said “there have been tax exemptions and other benefits that have been given out to corporations for years, recurring funds sitting there, and hasn’t been really touched. “So we’re going to redirect those funds, and we’re going to put them in a place where they actually belong. We’re going to give them to the people that actually deserve them.”

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DeSantis pushes to bolster workforce education” via Ana Ceballos of the News Service of Florida —DeSantis signed an executive order that directs the state Department of Education to do an internal audit on its career and technical education programs and to coordinate with the state Department of Economic Opportunity and business interests to ensure students are trained to meet market demands. “I think looking at the (economic) needs of the state and then crafting our educational opportunities to reflect that and to fulfill that makes sense,” DeSantis said. To ensure the state’s workforce is “nimble and responsive,” DeSantis has asked Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to help him secure $36 million from the Legislature for workforce programs — $10 million to seed “high-quality workforce apprenticeships” and industry-specific opportunities and $26 million for workforce programs housed within the state college system.  In addition to his executive order, the governor also wants to put a greater emphasis on computer science classes. He is asking lawmakers to consider a proposal that would put in state law that computer science classes can count as a science requirement toward high school graduation.

During a visit to Tampa Bay Technical High School, Ron DeSantis issued an executive order with plans to create more workforce education opportunities for Floridians.

DeSantis wants to lower Lake O to deal with toxic algae. Is that a good thing?” via Jenny Staletovich of the Miami Herald — DeSantis said levels should be reduced to 10.5 feet, about two feet lower than a management plan put in place in 2008 after Hurricane Katrina forced engineers to revisit aging flood control structures across the country. Lowering the lake could help reduce rainy season discharges that often bomb the coasts with too much fresh water or leave the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers slimed with algae blooms from the polluted water. But environmentalists have often warned that lowering the lake could damage its fringes, prime hunting grounds for bass fisherman and home to protected snail kites. Farmers and utilities also worry that lower winter levels could hurt water supplies. As Everglades restoration projects are completed, a lower lake might also impede efforts to send more water south to wilting marshes., according to a 2018 University of Florida report that looked at differing lake levels.

Three more SFWMD board members resign, giving Governor full control” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — The final dominoes of the South Florida Water Management District board have fallen, with three more members deciding to tender their resignations. The moves come after DeSantis told the full nine-member board to resign to give him full control over the panel. With three more members’ terms set to expire this March, DeSantis will now get his wish. Chairman Federico Fernandez says his resignation will take effect following a Feb. 15 meeting of the board. The same goes for board member Brandon Tucker, while board member Jaime Weisinger has resigned effective immediately. “While I have enjoyed serving the citizens of the great state of Florida, particularly those representing those on its Southwest Coast, I respect your wish for a fresh start in leadership, and I’m excited about your resolute commitment to Florida’s environment,” Fernandez wrote in his resignation letter to DeSantis. “I therefore respectfully tender my resignation.”


House and Senate leaders signal openness to infrastructure bonds — House leaders are open to issuing bonds to expand state infrastructure, reports Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida. House Speaker Oliva said he’s opposed to the state taking on debt to pay for university buildings or new roads, but conceded that bonds could be an option if general revenue won’t cover the state’s infrastructure needs. “That is a conversation you have down the line,” he said. “First you figure out with all that money we have taken from the taxpayer, are we putting it to the right priorities?” … the last few years have been marked by the House’s opposition to bonding, which was in line with the position of former Gov. Rick Scott. The Senate, however, has been more receptive. … “If we are going to move the third largest state in the union to address this and water infrastructure and environmental infrastructure, we have to be more open to utilizing [bonding],” Senate President Bill Galvano said Wednesday. Galvano said there’s no commitment from the House, but that he believes much of the opposition “was generated from the former governor’s office.”

House Speaker José Oliva is firmly against taking on more debt for university buildings and roads but concedes that bonds may be used to help pay for infrastructure. Photo via AP.

Bill Galvano looks for action on gambling” via the News Service of Florida — Galvano wants to take action on sports betting and a new deal with the Seminole Tribe following warnings from Florida’s top legislative economist that the future of state gambling revenue is uncertain. “We are in a dubious state right now, and I think it is worthy of us to create stability with the Seminole Tribe,” Galvano told reporters. With no clear path forward on a future deal, it is hard to predict if the state can depend on the estimated $343 million it receives from the tribe every year from casino revenues, according to Amy Baker, coordinator of the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research. The ambiguity over gambling revenue also comes after Floridians voted to phase out greyhound racing by 2020 and approved a constitutional amendment that gives voters control over casino expansion in the state, a move that limits the Legislature’s power over what it can do with gaming.

Galvano may seek Florida Supreme Court advice on Fair District amendment — Galvano said he might ask the Florida Supreme Court how lawmakers could best comply with the Fair District amendment passed by voters in 2010. POLITICO Florida reports that Galvano wants to avoid the uproar surrounding the state Senate and Congressional maps drawn by lawmakers in 2010. After a yearslong court battle, the Florida Supreme Court agreed with the plaintiffs, requiring the Legislature to hold a special session to approve new district lines. … “I don’t think there is a desire to challenge the maps,” Galvano said. But to prepare for redistricting, “it might be time for declaratory action and ask the court: ‘How do we best meet the requirements of Fair Districts?'” … The state will redraw the state House, state Senate and Congressional maps after the 2020 census. The new districts would take effect in the 2022 election cycle.

Legislators could OK a tax break for senior citizens — to the detriment of schools” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — A pair of companion measures from GOP lawmakers would provide seniors with an exemption from taxes aimed to benefit local school districts. The proposals, from Rep. Anthony Rodriguez (HJR 317) and Sen. Manny Diaz (SB 562), would take effect on Jan. 1, 2021, if successful. Democrats have criticized Diaz for pushing for more school choice options, with the worry public schools would be left behind. That criticism will likely occur here with a measure designed to cut down on school districts’ tax revenue. But Diaz believes the bill can be crafted in a way where school districts aren’t hit too hard. “This could be crafted in a manner where it provides relief without hurting the operations of schools,” Diaz told POLITICO Pro (subscription required). “It’s a high-wire act.”

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Assignment editors — CFO Patronis will meet with Tyndall Air Force Base leadership to discuss efforts to rebuild the base after Hurricane Michael, 8 a.m. Central time, FSU-PC Holley Center, 4750 Collegiate Drive, Panama City. Media interested in availability with Patronis, contact Katie Strickland at

’It doesn’t look good’: Inside the Florida Ethics Commission decision to find probable cause against Gillum” via Jeff Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat — The deliberations by the Florida Commission on Ethics were made public, along with an audiotape of a 90-minute interview investigators had with Gillum, interviews Ryan Grindler, a co-owner of the Edison Restaurant, former Edison manager Sam McKay and Nick Lowe, a former lobbyist for Adam Corey. What’s missing is any audio files of Corey, who refused to be interviewed by the ethics commission. Instead, he delivered an affidavit on which the state has hung its entire case, said Barry Richard, Gillum’s lawyer. Gillum will contest the findings before an administrative law judge, Richard said. The commission found probable cause that Gillum accepted gifts and “things of value” during the two trips based on the understanding that his official action or judgment would be influenced. The commission also found probable cause he received gifts from lobbyists that he knew or should have known were valued over $100 and that he failed to report the gifts on state disclosure forms. The commission found no probable cause that Gillum solicited a gift from a lobbyist doing business with the city.

Not looking good: The possibility of ethics law violations is not a good look for newly anointed CNN political commentator Andrew Gillum. Image via Twitter.

Hurricane insured losses climb above $5.4 billion” via the News Service of Florida — As of Friday, 143,055 claims had been filed in the Oct. 10 hurricane, with estimated insured losses of $5,411,076,066. Most of the claims, 95,272, involved residential property. Bay County had the largest number of claims, with 86,174. It was followed by Jackson County, with 13,806 claims; Leon County, with 9,716 claims; Gulf County, with 8,124 claims; Gadsden County, with 5,968 claims; Calhoun County, with 4,042 claims; and Franklin County, with 2,235 claims. In all, 74.2 percent of claims had been closed, according to the Office of Insurance Regulation website.

Despite ban, Florida Democrats still indirectly accepting private-prison money” via Jerry Iannelli of the Miami New Times — One of America’s two largest private prison firms, Boca Raton-based GEO Group, is a major donor to both political parties. The Democratic contribution ban was approved despite centrist members’ argument the party needed the money. But GEO Group’s cash has still made it into party coffers. It comes from political-action committees and lobbyists associated with GEO, state donation records show. Most obviously, there’s the Future Democratic Majority PAC, which accepted a $25,000 contribution directly from GEO on October 23. Then on November 1, the PAC donated $5,000 to the Florida Dems. Future Democratic Majority was formed last year by a team of Democratic state Senators including Sens. Randolph Bracy, Linda Steward, Darryl Rouson, and Lauren Book, who is the daughter of ultra-lobbyist Ron Book. The elder Book has long worked as a lobbyist for GEO. And other PACs have contributed to the party after taking his money.

Virgin Trains to issue stock worth $500 million to help finance Orlando track” via Kevin Spear of the Orlando Sentinel — Virgin Trains USA LLC stated it would offer more than 28 million shares of common stock at between $17 and $19 per share. The date when the shares will become available was not disclosed. Coming as the first such offering, the company is about to begin construction of rail infrastructure from West Palm Beach to Orlando International Airport. So far, the venture has relied on private equity and federal tax-exempt bonds to finance its efforts. The company has invested nearly $1.7 billion so far for rail service, stations and real estate development. Further development and establishing service to Orlando will bring the total to roughly $4 billion. Along with the more than 28 million shares to be offered publicly, Virgin said it intends to provide more than 4 million shares to underwriters.

Parkland parents seek to weigh in on state liability” via News Service of Florida — The parents of 18 victims in last year’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are seeking to play a role in a Florida Supreme Court case about government liability for alleged negligence. … That case alleges negligence by the Florida Department of Children Families before Palm Beach County resident Patrick Dell in 2010 fatally shot four of his stepchildren and injured one. The legal issues in the case involve the extent of the Department of Children and Families’ potential liability under state sovereign-immunity law. … The state’s sovereign-immunity law is designed to shield government agencies from large judgments. The sovereign-immunity law that applies to the Dell shootings limited to $200,000 the amount of liability for all claims or judgments “arising out of the same incident or occurrence.” But the legal dispute centers on whether that $200,000 limit should apply as an overall total to the claims against DCF or whether each claim should cap at $200,000.

Weighing in: Parents of the Parkland massacre victims want to have their say about government liability for negligence, and caps on claims set by the state’s sovereign-immunity law.

Some greyhound tracks quit early, breeding slows two months after racing ban passes” via Kate Santich of The Orlando Sentinel — Only 2½ months after Floridians voted to ban commercial greyhound racing by the end of 2020, three of the state’s 11 tracks have already gotten out of the business, and greyhound-adoption organizations report that they don’t have enough retired racers for all the people who want them as pets. Despite concerns before the election that thousands of retired greyhounds would overwhelm adoption groups, making it difficult for them to find good homes, so far the opposite is true. “There’s not this large number available like people think,” said Carol Becker, president of God’s Greyts Greyhound Group in Orlando, which works with kennels to find homes once dogs leave the track. “When Amendment 13 was proposed, the people who were breeding dogs — they just stopped, because their future was in question. So there aren’t a lot of new dogs coming into the system.”


Scott Maddox public corruption trial pushed back” via Jeff Burlew of Tallahassee Democrat — The public corruption trial of suspended City Commissioner Maddox and former Downtown Improvement Authority Executive Director Paige Carter-Smith has been pushed back, with no new date set. Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker on Wednesday agreed to delay the trial after Maddox’s and Carter-Smith’s lawyers said they need more time to review the federal government’s evidence in the case. The trial had been tentatively set for Feb. 11. Walker is expected to set a new trial date during the next status hearing, set for March 29. “When we come back in two months if you can give me some ballpark,” Walker said. “I’d like to come up with a realistic trial date.”

Delay, delay: Scott Maddox’s public corruption trial has been pushed back once again, with a new date expected for late March.

Tiny homes making inroads in Bay County after Hurricane Michael” via Patrick McCreless of the Panama City News Herald — Modular houses typically referred to as tiny homes could be a quick, relatively cheap living option for area residents recovering from Hurricane Michael. Some area officials say that, as long as it adheres to basic Florida building codes, a tiny home can be erected in the county in residential zones. Interest in the topic has ignited on local social media sites in recent weeks after at least one out-of-state tiny home manufacturer started advertising its product in the area to help address the housing shortage since the hurricane.

Former HD 7 hopeful Ralph Thomas backs Jason Shoaf” via Danny McAuliffe of Florida Politics — Thomas briefly toyed with the idea of running to replace Republican former state Rep. Halsey Beshears. But now the Wakulla County Commissioner thinks that’s a task better-suited for Shoaf, one of two Republicans lined up in a race to fill the empty House District 7 seat that opened after Beshears resigned to lead the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. “Wakulla County needs a leader who can represent our North Florida values in the Florida House, and it is exceedingly clear that Jason Shoaf is the best candidate,” Thomas said.

Jason Shoaf holding sign

Wakulla County Commissioner Ralph Thomas is the latest to line up behind Jason Shoaf for House District 7, Halsey Beshears’ old seat.

Mike Fasano endorses Randy Maggard for state House” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Maggard’s campaign for House District 38 is piling on endorsements. The Dade City Republican has unveiled new backers daily since he officially announced his special election bid — Trilby Sen. Wilton Simpson took the Monday slot, followed by Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco on Tuesday. Wednesday saw Maggard land a nod from Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano. … “Randy is a rock-solid conservative with strong principles, and values that stand the test of time. In Tallahassee, we need a leader with the highest integrity to fight for us and to make sure that the vulnerable in our community are provided for and protected. … Randy Maggard will stand up for the little guy and gal and I know we can count on him to do what’s right.” … Maggard is currently the only Republican signed up to run for the eastern Pasco seat, which was vacated by Zephyrhills Republican Danny Burgess, who was recently selected to lead the state Department of Veterans Affairs.

Gillum endorses Lauren Poe for Gainesville Mayor” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics —  “I endorse Lauren Poe for Gainesville Mayor because of his progressive values and proven leadership,” he said. “He has the vision and experience to address local challenges head-on and lead my hometown into the future.” … Gillum was born in Miami though he spent most of his formative years in Gainesville. The news release announcing the endorsement notes Gillum and Poe are both alums of Gainesville high school and served as mayors of their respective cities at the same time. … The new endorsement for Poe adds to a stack that includes five of six incumbent Gainesville City Commissioners and a pair of Alachua County Commissioners. … Poe faces three challengers in the March 19 election, though none have distinguished themselves in the money race.

Spotted – At the kickoff reception for Sam Garrison’s bid for House District 18: State Sen. Rob Bradley, state Reps. Travis Cummings and Bobby Payne. Also, Travis Blanton; Clay County Commissioners Mike Cella and Diane Hutchings; former 4th Circuit State Attorney Angela Corey; Clay County School Superintendent Addison Davis and Board Member Ashley Gilhousen, Jim Horne, Jon Johnson and Joe Mobley.


Donald Trump Venezuela policy scores in Florida” via Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida — Vice President Mike Pence and top Florida Republicans plan to rally Friday in Miami to support Venezuela’s new interim president and highlight the Trump administration’s aggressive approach to the ongoing political crisis. But it’s also an opportunity to open a door with Hispanic voters in a state that’s critical to the president’s re-election. About 17 percent of Florida’s active registered voters are Hispanic, about a third of whom are estimated to be of Cuban-American descent and a third of Puerto Rican descent, followed by those whose families have roots throughout Latin America: Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Venezuela, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico. Between ongoing strife in Nicaragua under Daniel Ortega and the unrest in Venezuela under dictator Nicolas Maduro — which has also led to troubles in neighboring Colombia — Republicans see a window to message a hardcore anti-socialist message that, some say, helped the GOP win just enough of the overall Hispanic vote in November to carry the state.

With government reopened, Trump heading to Mar-a-Lago for Super Bowl weekend” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — An air advisory issued by the Federal Aviation Administration indicates air restrictions because of VIP travel to West Palm Beach from Friday to Monday. That means Air Force One is headed to Palm Beach International Airport. The FAA posted the notice on its Twitter account Monday night. The restrictions ordered by the FAA can affect air traffic into the West Palm Beach airport, which is less than three miles from Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach The restrictions also virtually shut down flights at smaller nearby airports, such as Palm Beach County’s Lantana airport, during presidential visits. It’s been months since Trump has spent time at his private club in Palm Beach, something he enjoyed doing all the time during winter seasons before he became president and since.

Why Trump’s superfans dig Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez” via Ben Schreckinger of POLITICO — “I aspire to be the conservative AOC,” Rep. Matt Gaetz told POLITICO. Gaetz, an outspoken 36-year-old in his second term who has achieved a measure of prominence as a highly visible Trump defender, said there’s just one problem with that aspiration: “I can’t dance for shit.” “AOC has what I call ‘gameness’ or competitive heart — the combination of grit, determination, fighting spirit that you can’t coach,” Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, told POLITICO. “You either have it or you don’t, and she has it big league.”

Gotta have goals: One of Matt Gaetz’s aspirations is to be the ‘conservative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.’

Robert Wexler setting up Israel issues forums for House members” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Wexler is setting up a series of educational forums on Israel for new members of Congress, an effort that has led him to deregister as a lobbyist representing foreign clients through Ballard Partners. Wexler, who served in Congress representing part of South Florida from 1997 to 2010, is president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. It is through that institute that he’ll be presenting comprehensive reviews and assessments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “We are providing educational tools to new members of Congress regarding Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, all for the purpose of … assisting a negotiated two-state solution to become a reality,’ Wexler said. But Wexler said the effort is important enough to him that he decided to deregister as a lobbyist from any foreign clients in order to assure there would be no questions of conflicts of interest. That will greatly reduce his role at Ballard Partners. “I’m excited for him, and I wish him well,” said Brian Ballard.

Lindsey Graham coming to the capital — The senior U.S. Senator from South Carolina is coming to Tallahassee this Friday evening for a fundraiser at the private Governor’s Club downtown. Tickets for the event are going for $1,000 each. Graham, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, also sits on the Defense Appropriations and Armed Forces committees. He’s seeking re-election to a fourth term in 2020.

Assignment editorsGaetz will deliver the keynote address at the annual Air Force Contracting Summit hosted by the Defense Leadership Forum, 11:30 a.m. Central time, Hilton Sandestin Beach Resort: 4000 S. Sandestin Blvd, Miramar Beach.

Assignment editors — U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, chair of the new House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, will meet with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and state Rep. Ben Diamond, with the media availability afterward, 1:30 p.m. Eastern time, City Hall front steps, 175 5th St. N., St. Petersburg.

Assignment editors — Congresswoman Donna Shalala joins state Sens. Jose Javier Rodriguez and Annette Taddeo, state Reps. Javier Fernandez and Cindy Polo, Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, Mayor Ramon Muchacho from Chacao in Caracas, Venezuela, members of Voluntad Popular, Primero Justicia and Mesa de la Unidad, and Venezuela community leaders for a briefing about efforts to help Venezuela, 4 p.m. Eastern time, El Arepazo, 10191 NW 58th St., Doral.

John Boehner in Collier: ‘Trump, in my view, by and large, has done the right things’” via Devan Patel of the Naples Daily News — “It should be clear to you that Donald Trump has a different style than I do,” Boehner said to the Caxambas Republican Club on Marco Island, where Boehner and his wife live six months out of the year. “I always thought you caught more bees with honey than you do with vinegar. Donald Trump, in my view, by and large, has done the right things.” Boehner pointed first to the 2017 tax bill, which he said had produced good results for the economy. Another area where he agreed with Trump but disagreed with his tenor was on the current trade war with China.


Use of Triumph funds for hurricane relief a disastrous idea” via the Panama City News-Herald editorial board — Whether it was an off-handed remark to reporters seeking fodder, a comment taken out of context by state media and blown out of proportion or the actual leaning of Senate Appropriations Chair Bradley, his quoted remarks that he sees no reason that Triumph funds earmarked for the Panhandle after the BP oil disaster can’t be used for hurricane relief should offend every resident in our region and set off enough red flags to create a hurricane of our own headed toward Tallahassee. It potentially sets up, at the worst possible time mid-tragedy, an unnecessary, distracting and ugly scene where all past nightmares are rolled into one and the residents of Northwest Florida and their legislators, for seemingly the umpteenth time, are again put in the position of keeping hands from south and central Florida out of money that was so clearly not intended for them.


Paul Runk Joins Florida Association of Health Plans — Runk has succeeded Mary Pat Moore, who recently retired, as vice president of government programs at the Florida Association of Health Plans. “Paul brings an abundance of knowledge and experience to the Florida Association of Health Plans and, with a long history at the Florida Department of Health, he understands the health care industry, as well as the importance of providing access to high-quality networks of providers through strong relationships with Florida’s health plans,” said Audrey Brown, president and CEO of FAHP. “I am honored to join the Florida Association of Health Plans,” Runk said.  “The association has long been a leader in addressing how to best improve the health of Floridians by working closely with Florida’s policymakers, and I look forward to helping to shape the future of health care policy in the state alongside industry experts.” … Runk comes to FAHP from the Florida Department of Health, where he served as the director of legislative planning.

Congratulations to Paul Runk, formerly director of legislative planning for the Florida Department of Health; he is now with the Florida Association of Health Plans as VP of government programs.

New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Miguel Abad, New Century Partnership: St. John Bosco Clinic

Torey Alston: Department of Transportation

Brian Ballard, Bradley Burleson, Mathew Forrest, Stephanie Zauder, Ballard Partners: City of Pembroke Pines, Teach for America

Ellyn Bogdanoff, Becker & Poliakoff: Univision Communications

Jeanne Boggs: Florida Coalition for Children

Michael Cantens, Flagler Strategies: U.S. Stem Cell

David Childs, Gary Hunter, Eileen Stuart, Hopping Green & Sams: SAS Institute

Carlos Cruz, Jonathan Kilman, Paul Lowell, Converge Government Affairs of Florida: Florida Veterinary Medical Association

Hannah Farber: Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association

Cody Farrill: Executive Office of the Governor

Marnie George, Michael Harrell, Jim Magill, Kimberly McGlynn, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Fidelity Information Services

John Guard: Office of the Attorney General

Frank Mayernick, Tracy Mayernick, Rob Johnson, The Mayernick Group: Aviat U.S., Parenting with Love & Limits

Carlos Nathan: Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services

Preston Robertson: Florida Wildlife Federation

Douglas Russell, D. Russell & Associates: SePro Corporation

Steve Schale, The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners: Florida Public Broadcasting Service, Independent Colleges & Universities of Florida

Alan Suskey, Suskey Consulting: St Petersburg Museum of History

Richard Templin: Florida AFL-CIO

Kevin Thibault: Department of Transportation

Jennifer Ungru, Jones Walker: CEV Multimedia (iCEV)

Michael Williams: White Springs Agricultural Chemicals

— ALOE —

Florida State Fair releases lineup of gut-busting foods coming to midway this year” via Sharon Kennedy Wynne of the Tampa Bay Times — Giant mozzarella cheese stick; red beans and rice funnel cake; grilled cheese four ways — rainbow grilled cheese, jalapeño popper grilled cheese, caramelized onion and pulled pork BBQ, taco grilled cheese; Cuban pizza; black cherry burger; BBQ pork on pork rind nachos; Buffaloaded mac and cheese quesadilla; potato bowls three ways — classic loaded potato bowl, green loaded potato bowl, spicy loaded potato bowl; cooking dough three ways, including “The Birds Nest;” Italian nachos.

Yum: Black cherry burgers are among the new gut-busting treats at the Florida State Fair, which begins Feb. 7. Image via Florida State Fair.


Happy birthday to Gwen Graham, our friend Ryan RayBen Sharpe, and Kelsey Swithers of Bascom Communications and Consulting.

Written By

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

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

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Jim Rosica, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Dan McAuliffe, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
Phone: (727) 642-3162
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St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

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