Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 2.7.19

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Here's your morning briefing of what you need to know in Florida politics.

As you start the day, please consider reading my blog post about Gary Fineout, POLITICO Florida, and the state of political journalism in the Sunshine State. 

Please allow me to give a rare Top o’ the Sunburn birthday wish, albeit belatedly, to Joe Clements of Strategic Digital Services. I have had the privilege of getting to know Joe since he left the Florida House. Since that time, he and his partner, Matt Farrar, have built their shop into one of the leading, tech-savvy consulting firms. Joe and Matt are at the cutting-edge of almost everything to do with where politics meets technology — and they’re not even Russian!

Matt Farrar and Joe Clements, two of the brightest minds in Florida politics. And one just celebrated a birthday.

So, Joe, my apologies for not mentioning your birthday in yesterday’s edition of Sunburn, but please know that I consider you one of the brightest minds in Florida politics.

The annual Governor’s Luncheon will kick off the Florida State Fair Thursday in Tampa with some high drama.

Specifically, will new Gov. Ron DeSantis continue putting some distance between himself and former Gov. Rick Scott by taking a turn down the giant slide on the midway?

Seriously, that’s a thing.

During his eight years in office, Scott steadfastly refused to go down the slide. DeSantis may follow Scott in the Governor’s mansion, but he isn’t following in Scott’s footsteps.

Slide, or no slide: As the Florida State Fair opens with its tradition of Cabinet members taking to the big slide, the question is — will Ron DeSantis join in?

DeSantis canceled many of Scott’s last-minute appointees and is striking a much more inclusive tone in the early days of his administration.

So, everyone will be watching.

Slide? Or no slide?

Former Attorney General Pam Bondi and former Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam showed their chops by gleefully taking their trips down the slide during their terms.

DeSantis is expected to headline the luncheon, which celebrates Florida agriculture, along with new Ag Commissioner Nikki Fried.

State CFO Jimmy Patronis confirmed he plans to attend, and new Attorney General Ashley Moody (who grew up in nearby Plant City)  is also expected to show up.

Unlike past years, no Cabinet meeting will be held at the Fair. It’s all fun, games and giant slides — with a heaping helping of fresh Florida-grown chow for lunch.

It’s an annual must-attend event for local political leaders, especially Republicans. The luncheon is sold out, according to a Fair official. 


@ShimonPro: Prosecutor from Mueller’s team, Scott Meisler, who’s part of the ongoing subpoena fight related to the Special Counsel’s investigation, has gone back to DOJ. Meisler’s job shift adds to mounting indications that Mueller’s unit is winding down.

@NateSilver538: States where there’s always “something a little off” about people from those states, ranked: 1. Florida 1 (tie). Virginia [no other states are remotely close]

@BillKristol: The Founders were well aware the people would sometimes make unfortunate choices for their representatives. But even the Founders with the lowest expectations for popular government would have been astonished at the spectacle of @MattGaetz as a member of Congress.

@RonDeSantisFL: Thankful to those in the media covering the financial need of Hurricane Michael victims — now donations are pouring in! Let’s keep up the generosity!

@JeffreyBrandes: One of the most moving moments from President Trump‘s State of the Union address was the story of a man released from prison under the First Step Act.

@KionneMcGhee: UNREAL-We are in 2019 and women are unfortunately still having to fight for #equalpay for equal work. Now keep in mind, every human was birthed by a woman yet her pay is reduced. Real Men Support Equal Pay For Women. Pass the Bill. Congrats to @DotieForFlorida and @FentriceForFL

@CHueyBurns: It’s 2019, how is there not an emoji for dumpster fire yet?


‘Hamilton’ comes to the Straz Center — 5; Pitchers and catchers begin reporting for MLB Spring Training — 5; Valentine’s Day — 7; Federal government runs out of funding (again) — 8; Fat Tuesday — 26; 2019 Legislative Session starts — 26; Tampa mayoral election — 26; ‘Captain Marvel’ release — 29; Players Championship begins — 35; St. Patrick’s Day — 37; Jacksonville municipal first election — 40; Scott Maddox corruption trial begins — 50; Major League Baseball season begins — 50; Final season of ‘Game of Thrones’ begins — 67; Easter — 72; 2019 Legislative Session ends (maybe) — 85; 2020 Democratic presidential primary debates begin — 120; 2019 General Election — 271; Iowa Caucuses — 358; 2020 General Election — 635.


In a good economy, report reveals grim news for Florida families” via Christopher O’Donnell of the Tampa Bay Times — Almost half of Florida households still struggle to pay for basic needs, according to a new in-depth study of the working poor released by the United Way. That is also true of the Tampa Bay market where 43 percent of households are struggling to afford housing, child care, food, transportation and health care, an increase of nearly eight percent since 2010. Most of that hardship is the result of stagnant wages and an economy dominated by low-wage and entry-level jobs. About 67 percent of the state’s jobs pay less than $20 per hour, equivalent to a salary of about $42,000. Yet, the “household survival” budget for a family of four runs to almost $60,000 per year. “That is not a $20 an hour job; that is multiple jobs,” said Doug Griesenauer, the director of financial stability initiatives for the United Way Suncoast. “Those high paying jobs are not very prevalent.”


Ron DeSantis marks 30th day in office with highlights reel — His press shop noted “a fast-paced but purposeful schedule. Holding more than 30 events and an equally high number of press briefings across the state, Gov. DeSantis recognizes that there is still more work to be done.” DeSantis himself added, “Being Governor is a better job than I could have ever imagined,” he said. “While we have accomplished a lot in these first 30 days, I would like the people of Florida to know there is no intention of slowing down …”

To view the sizzle reel, click on the image below:


Assignment editors — DeSantis will make an announcement on education, joined by Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time, Armwood Senior High School, 12000 US-92, Seffner.

Senate budget chief backs plane for Governor” via the News Service of Florida — Senate Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley lent support to putting the Governor in a new state-operated aircraft, “whether he asks for it or not.” Former Gov. Rick Scott, who had his own aircraft, got rid of state planes is 2011. “It is ridiculous, if we’re the third largest state in the union, that the Governor is having to travel around in the manner he’s traveling around in right now,” Bradley said. “I think it’s completely appropriate for him to have a secure means to move around the state.”

Nikki Fried presents Holly Bell as her Director of Cannabis” via Florida Politics — As expected, Agriculture Commissioner Fried introduced Nashville consultant Bell to be the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Director of Cannabis at a Capitol news conference … Fried went out of her way to portray Bell as connected to Florida; cannabis advocates began criticizing her selection Tuesday night on social media, lamenting that she was an outsider. “She has long family roots in the state of Florida,” Fried said, adding that Bell’s husband attended the University of Central Florida and they have family in Ponte Vedra Beach … When asked at the news conference what her first task as director would be, Bell hesitated: “That’s a great question … I need to do a lot of research, get to know the team. I’ll work with the Commissioner to put an outline together for her vision. Then we’ll be implementing that.”

— “’A super slap in the face.’ Longtime advocates ridicule out-of-state pot czar pick.” via Samantha Gross of the Miami Herald

Ashley Moody appears in court during first hearing on opioid lawsuit” via Ryan Hughes of WFLA-TV — Moody appeared in a Pasco County courtroom to make a bold statement and a big impression. “Good afternoon, Your Honor,” she said to Circuit Judge Declan Mansfield. “Ashley Moody, Attorney General, on behalf of the State of Florida.” The state sued major drug manufacturers and distributors claiming they’re responsible for the opioid crisis. Among them is Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin. The state accuses companies of using deceptive marketing to increase sales. “The opioid epidemic has ravaged the State of Florida,” Moody said after the hearing. “It is not going away.”


CBD, or not to CBD: Is the cannabis extract in a ‘gray area’?” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — The state’s top medical marijuana official told a House panel that the burgeoning line of products with CBD, a substance extracted from cannabis, was in a “gray area.” But U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb sees black and white, saying, it’s illegal under federal law “to introduce food (like gummies) containing added CBD or THC into interstate commerce, or to market (certain) CBD or THC products.” Tell that to the scores of over-the-counter products claiming CBD as an ingredient on shelves in specialty shops, independent pharmacies and even some supermarkets.

No gray area: FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb sees the increasing popularity of products containing CBD in terms of black and white — illegal under federal law.

Lawmaker pursues money for hard-hit district” via Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida — Rep. Jay Trumbull is casting a wide net in search of money for his storm-ravaged Panhandle district. Trumbull submitted 41 bills — worth a total of $253 million — all with an eye on Hurricane Michael recovery. Trumbull, who represents most of hard-hit Bay County, called it “a good start.” “I think the, ‘You have not, because you asked not,’ rings very true in this process,” Trumbull said. “It’s never easy going through this process and trying to get every single project funded. It’s an uphill battle for sure.” Overall, House members had filed — as of Wednesday morning — 452 individual projects, which, if all were funded, would require a little more than $1.02 billion. Trumbull accounts for 43 bills, with all directed at storm recovery, worth $279.4 million.

School board term limits a step closer to statewide vote” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — A joint resolution (SJR 229) sponsored by state Rep. Anthony Sabatini won unanimous approval from the House PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee. Sabatini presented statistics showing broad popularity for term limits. He came armed with a poll showing 85 percent of Florida Republicans favor eight-year limits for school board members, as do 80 percent of Democrats and 82 percent of other voters. “I’m not sure Florida beaches are going to poll that high,” Sabatini said.

House panel hears how state colleges move money to pay for capital, maintenance” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — During a workshop, the House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee found the state’s colleges creatively and desperately moving money around from funds as a matter of necessary routine to pay for capital projects and major maintenance College officials cited restrictions on various funds and the colleges’ inability to count on the Florida Legislature to appropriate Public Education Capital Outlay money for several years running for the buildings they need fixing or construction. As a result, many of the colleges accumulated large unencumbered fund balances. It was such a balance that UCF tapped into in recent years to build a $38 million building that wasn’t authorized by the Florida Legislature. Testimony to the House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee was a panel seemingly convinced the higher education funding systems needs to be carefully re-examined.

House panel subpoenas UCF president, former president, former chair, others” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — The Florida House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee unanimously voted to bring UCF President Dale Whittaker, former President John Hitt, former Board Chair Marcos Marchena, and former Chief Financial officer Bill Merck for depositions and appearances before the committee. The four will be compelled to testify about what happened when the university illegally spent $38 million on a new classroom building and programmed another $47 million to be illegally spent on other projects. The panel also subpoenaed 10 other current and former UCF executives to give sworn depositions, but not necessarily to sit before the committee.

Tweet, tweet:


House advances measure to push feds for action on Venezuela” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — A measure proposed by state Rep. Richard Stark urging Congress to take further action on the crisis in Venezuela (HM 205) advanced out of its first committee. Stark, a Weston Democrat, put forward a nonbinding House memorial to request Congress. “This memorial requests Congress to urge the government of Venezuela to allow delivery of humanitarian assistance, to continue to intensify financial sanctions against the regime of Nicolás Maduro, and to instruct the appropriate federal agencies to hold the regime accountable for violations of law and abuses of internationally-recognized human rights,” Stark said at Wednesday’s hearing. “This is Cuba-lite.”

Tommy Gregory files bill to honor fallen soldiers — Freshman Rep. Gregory has filed a bill (HB 427) that would officially recognize the “Honor and Remember” flag and allow it to fly at state and local government buildings in remembrance of slain servicemembers. … “This is personal to me. It’s so easy to take the freedoms we enjoy for granted, and it is vital for us to recognize the men and women who pay the ultimate price so that we can enjoy those freedoms,” said Gregory, a U.S. Air Force veteran. … The Honor and Remember flag, designed by an organization of the same name, is meant to fly continuously in recognition of fallen service members. Sen. Joe Gruters has filed the Senate companion (SB 718).

Police drones clear House panel” via Florida Politics — A bill designed to allow law enforcement to use unmanned aircraft as a “tool in the toolbox” passed a House committee. HB 75 would allow law enforcement to use drones to get perspective on traffic accidents, to collect evidence at a crime scene, and to assist in crowd control at public events, such as concerts. The Florida League of Cities, Florida Police Chiefs’ Association, Florida Sheriffs’ Association, and Florida Department of Law Enforcement, along with drone advocacy organizations, waved in support. The ACLU waved in opposition. Sen. Darryl Rouson is carrying the Senate version of this bill. It will be heard by Criminal Justice next week.

Surgical centers could face changes after deaths” via Christine Sexton of the News Service of Florida — Florida’s plastic surgery centers could undergo a regulatory makeover to improve patient safety if state Sen. Anitere Flores is successful during the upcoming Legislative Session. Flores filed a 42-page bill (SB 732) after news reports that highlighted a rash of patient deaths at two Southeast Florida plastic surgery centers. One key proposal would mandate that Florida-licensed physicians own surgical centers in good standing and be registered with the state Department of Health. The bill also would bar physicians affiliated with shuttered clinics from opening new surgery centers for five years and would ban the transfer of center registrations when clinics are sold. Flores said the bill addresses a regulatory void that allowed the two Southeast Florida plastic surgery centers to thrive, despite a mounting death toll.

Lawmakers look to nix ‘fail first’ protocols” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Bills filed in the House and Senate last week would allow doctors to prescribe the medications and treatments that are best for their patients without worrying about protests from health insurers. Currently, insurers have the right to reject paying for certain treatments ordered by a physician. Known as “fail first” or “step therapy,” the process often sees insurers order docs to prescribe one or more inferior meds to see if they fail before greenlighting the treatment the doctor originally wanted. … Sen. Debbie Mayfield’s SB 650 and Rep. Ralph Massullo’s HB 559 would make some changes to that process. Each would require such overrides to be granted “expeditiously” if the insurer-recommended drug would cause further medical problems or is known to be ineffective based on a patient’s medical history. 

Shevrin Jones pushes Governor for panel to study gun violence among minorities” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Rep. Jones, a West Park Democrat, is calling on DeSantis to set up a commission to study ways to prevent gun violence in minority communities across the state. Jones says he envisions a panel modeled off the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission. “The creation of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission fell short when it didn’t include leaders or input from minorities affected by gun deaths,” Jones said. “It’s time for our state to address the elephant in the room: gun-related deaths continue to plague our minority communities at higher rates, and we need to address it head-on. If not now, when?”

If not now, when? Shevrin Jones says the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission failed to include minorities, a group most impacted by gun violence.

Niiiccceee read —Dianne Hart goes to Tallahassee: ‘it’s a dream come true’” via Kenya Woodard of the Tampa Bay Times — She took a chance and jumped into the 2016 race for Florida House District 61 (which covers parts of Seminole Heights and East Tampa) — losing by a mere 101 votes to attorney and former Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate Sean Shaw. Last year, Shaw opted to pass on a second term to run for Florida Attorney General prompting Hart to mount a campaign again. She was successful the second time around, beating out four other Democratic contenders last November for the seat. Hart said the win humbles her. “I guess you could say it’s a dream come true,” she said. “I’m happy to know the community trusts me enough to allow me to represent.”

Meet Florida’s newest school choice Democrat” via Ron Matus of redefinED — If you want to know why Florida state Rep. James Bush III supports educational choice, take a ride with him. Just a few blocks from his legislative office, District 109 — which Bush called “one of the largest and poorest and most violent and neglected districts in the state” — is a hodgepodge of industrial zoning and bars-over-windows residential. His support for choice is, on the one hand, practical. His district includes thriving faith-based schools. His district has far more pressing needs than what schools parents choose. As a lawmaker, he said he’s going to fight for more funding for the Miami-Dade school district (and everything else his district desperately needs) at the same time he supports the options his constituents desperately want. On the other hand, Bush’s support is grounded in a belief. When parents are empowered to determine the educational destinies of their children, he said, that confidence in the power to make change spills over into the rest of their lives.

What Jose Oliva is reading — “Stop Socialism Act aims to reduce government competition with private businesses” via The St. Louis Post-Dispatch — A Republican state Senator wants to stop local and state governments from competing with private businesses … Sen. Eric Burlison of Springfield said: “Nothing stops government today from setting up a neighboring business and driving you, with your own taxpayer dollars, out of business.” To counter the competition, the lawmaker’s ‘Stop Socialism Act’ would implement a cause of action for those facing “economic detriment” linked to a public body’s launch of competing services. The bill instructs courts to award the equivalent payment that business has lost. With its current broad language, the legislation could potentially apply to public services from pools to education to broadband internet.

Today’s legislative committee meetings

The House Civil Justice Subcommittee will hold a panel discussion on the controversial insurance practice known as assignment of benefits. Speakers are expected to include state Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier and Citizens Property Insurance Corp. President and Chief Executive Officer Barry Gilway, 8 a.m., 404 House Office Building.

The House Higher Education & Career Readiness Subcommittee will hold a workshop related to “talent development” in the state. The meeting will include presentations by agencies and groups including the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, CareerSource Florida and the Florida Chamber of Commerce, 8 a.m., 306 House Office Building.

The House Children, Families & Seniors Subcommittee will host a panel discussion about the state’s community-based child welfare system, 8:30 a.m., 12 House Office Building.

The House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee will receive a presentation on DeSantis’ proposed 2019-2020 budget, 8:30 a.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building.

The House Gaming Control Subcommittee will receive an overview of the Florida Lottery, 9 a.m., 212 Knott Building.

The Senate Military and Veterans Affairs and Space Committee will receive a presentation from the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs, 10 a.m., 37 Senate Office Building.

The House Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee will receive an overview from the Florida Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Protection about issues related to septic systems, 10:30 a.m., 12 House Office Building.

The House Business & Professions Subcommittee will receive an update from Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears about “Deregathon,” an event held to discuss ways to reduce regulations, 10:30 a.m., 212 Knott Building.

The House Government Operations & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee and the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee will receive presentations about DeSantis’ proposed 2019-2020 budget. Government Operations & Technology, 10:30 a.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building. Also, Health Care, 10:30 a.m., 404 House Office Building.

The House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee will receive a presentation on community partnership schools, 10:30 a.m., 306 House Office Building.

The House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee will take up a series of bills dealing with specialty license plates and transportation-facility designations, 10:30 a.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building.

The Joint Administrative Procedures Committee will hold a workshop on the Administrative Procedure Act at 1:30 p.m., 404 House Office Building.

The Joint Committee on Public Counsel Oversight will receive a presentation from state Public Counsel J.R. Kelly, whose office represents consumers in utility issues, 1:30 p.m., 301 Senate Office Building.

Assignment editors — Sen. Lori Berman of Delray Beach and Rep. Stark of Weston, both Democrats, will hold a news conference on closing a loophole in Florida’s “red flag” gun safety law. Their legislation would allow family members to petition a court directly to temporarily restrict someone’s access to guns when they are a threat to themselves or others. They’ll be joined by members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. That’s at 9:30 a.m., 4th-floor Rotunda.

Assignment editors — State Sen. Joe Gruters and state Rep. Fentrice Driskell join economic development and education leaders for a news conference explaining the importance of establishing cross-industry partnerships and creating a talent pipeline, 10:30 a.m., 4th floor, outside Senate Chambers.

Happening today — Rep. Randy Fine will present a special audit request for the City of Melbourne to the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee. The request comes in the wake of an embezzlement scandal involving former West Melbourne Deputy Mayor John Ticeat. The presentation will take place at 1:30 p.m., Room 110 of the Senate Office Building.

Governors Club Thursday lunch buffet menu — Lentil soup; mixed green salad; Niçoise salad; Caprese salad; teriyaki chicken; sweet-and-sour pork; tempura seafood with Orange sauce; fried rice; stir fry broccoli; cauliflower pakora; tapioca pudding for dessert.


Come on down, Cuomo! — Chief Financial Officer Patronis is offering some southern hospitality to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “I invite Gov. Cuomo to come visit us here in the Sunshine State to understand why so many New Yorkers see Florida as a haven for free enterprise,” Patronis, a Republican, said in a prepared statement. Cuomo, a Democrat, had blamed low-tax states like Florida for New York’s recently anemic income-tax revenue haul. Cuomo also pointed to the Trump tax cuts as a cause for a dip in actual collection. Patronis’ clap back invokes Sen. Scott’s habit of ‘inviting’ companies — and prestigious universities — to come to Florida for more than just vacation.

Busted: In Fort Myers, Jimmy Patronis announces the arrest of 10 individuals in an alleged $42.7 million insurance fraud ring. Jorge Valido, a former Miami doctor and primary figure in the fraud scheme is still at large. Image via the CFO Office.

Florida students top nation in taking advanced placement tests” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — In 2018 55.9 percent of Florida’s high school graduates took at least one AP Exam, the highest rate in the nation, according to the College Board’s AP Cohort Data Report for the Graduating Class of 2018. Passing scores of 3, 4, or 5 mean the students can receive college credits, skipping over college-level entry classes. Nationally, 38.9 percent of the graduating students in 2018 took at least one of the tests. Of the Florida students who took the AP exams, 31.7 percent scored a 3 or higher on those exams during high school, the third best rate in the country. The national average was 23.5 percent. Florida’s high school graduates passage rates on the AP exams improved by 0.9 percent in 2018 compared with 2017 and was 12.4 percent better than the class of 2008. That ten-year progress was third most impressive in the country, behind only Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Moms Demand Action on guns in schools and background checks” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat — Gun control advocates donned red T-shirts and went in search of lawmakers at the state Capitol. The third Moms-Demand-Action advocacy day drew 500 participants — three times the number of last year’s event — to urge the Florida Legislature to reject a proposal to arm public school teachers and support an effort to expand background checks for gun purchases. “We agree that gun violence is a public health epidemic,” said Kate Kile, who organized the Tallahassee chapter three years ago and helped take the gun control effort statewide. “But firearms in a school setting should not be carried by anyone other than a law enforcement officer or a school resource officer.”


Erika Benfield files to run in House District 27” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Benfield, aims to succeed term-limited Republican state Rep. David Santiago. Benfield is an interior designer and owner of Florida Living Quarters Living Design. She’s active in the Orlando Hispanic Chamber, her church, the Rotary Club and other groups. She also is a member of the National Association of Elected Officials. She won a seat on the DeBary City Council in 2016. Last fall she was among those considered by Republican leadership in Volusia and Brevard counties to replace the late Sen. Dorothy Hukill when she died in the middle of her term. Benfield was one of two candidates to be nominated. “I have been successful in business, and we have accomplished a lot for our city by being accessible and an advocate for the citizens,” Benfield said.

The race is on: Erika Benfield, an interior designer, business owner and DeBary City Council Member, is now making a run for HD 27, to succeed term-limited David Santiago.

Gunshots ring out in first Anna Brosche political committee ad” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics — The ad hits on the “Curry Crime Wave” messaging employed by Brosche’s campaign and surrogates, interspersing those disturbing noises with blasts of text damning Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry‘s public safety performance. The quotes are from news articles. “Mayor Lenny Curry promised a safer city. Three years later, Jacksonville’s violence is up … Jacksonville led Florida in mass shootings in 2018.” This sets up a call-to-action: “Stop the Curry Crimewave. Stop Lenny Curry.”

To view the ad, click on the image below:

Tommy Hazouri slams Brosche” via Florida Politics — Jacksonville City Councilman Hazouri made waves last week when he (a former Democratic Mayor) endorsed Republican Mayor Curry in an ad. The buy is big: over $200,000 in total, we are now hearing, from the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee. The Duval Democrats have issued a resolution opposing Curry’s re-election, with many supporting Republican City Councilwoman Brosche. But Hazouri is unmoved. “I respect those who want to support Anna, but I’ve worked with her. I saw no leadership in four years … Some are disappointed that I’m speaking out for Curry, but I want to keep Jacksonville moving forward.”

Poll: Jane Castor crushing the competition in Tampa mayoral race” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — A St. Pete Polls survey puts the former Tampa Police Chief at 45 percent — more than 30 points ahead of her closest competition. That margin has Castor within striking distance of outright winning the election March 5. She’d need 50 percent of the vote, plus one, to do that. Otherwise, there will be a runoff April 23. David Straz has 13 percent support among those polled. The survey was conducted via telephone among 429 likely Tampa voters February 4. The poll also shows just 11 percent undecided. Dick Greco Jr. grabbed the No. 3 spot with nine percent support followed by Harry Cohen at 7.5 percent and Ed Turanchik with seven percent. Mike Suarez and Topher Morrison are at bottom the list at six percent and one percent, respectively.

Scott Israel’s GoFundMe campaign backfiring” via Buddy Nevins of — The goal of the page was to raise $20,000. In a week, it has taken in $415. The page was established January 29 by political consultant Amy Rose, who helped run Israel’s victorious campaigns. Rose’s husband Wally Eccleston reportedly lost his job at the Broward Sheriff’s Office after Israel was thrown out of office by DeSantis last month. At least one of the dozen donors appear to be critics of the beleaguered former sheriff.

Out-of-state buyers flock to Miami” via Laura Kusisto, Arian Campo-Flores and Jimmy Vielkind of The Wall Street Journal — Preliminary data show a jump in Florida home purchases by buyers from high-tax states. Home values in lower-tax areas have been rising faster than those in places where limiting the ability to deduct high state and local taxes eroded some of the savings from the federal tax reduction, according to an analysis by real estate and data firm Zillow. One of the biggest winners from this shift has been Miami. The city is experiencing more activity than usual from buyers living in states like New York, New Jersey and Illinois. They are stepping in after foreign buyers, who helped lift Miami’s condo market out of a tailspin following the financial crisis, have pulled back.

Agency seeks $15 million for first phase of dredging at Port St. Joe” via Tim Croft of the Port St. Joe Star — The agency overseeing the Port of Port St. Joe has submitted a pre-application to Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc. seeking $15 million for the first phase of dredging the federally-authorized shipping channel. Staff must review the pre-application for adherence to Triumph guidelines for disbursing some $1.5 billion in BP fine money to eight Northwest Florida counties. If approved, the proposal would move into the application stage.

Why is Panama City Beach advertising for spring tourism after Hurricane Michael?” via Patrick McCreless of the Panama City News-Herald — In the months since the hurricane devastated Bay County, Visit Panama City Beach, the city’s tourism marketing arm for the beach, has upped its advertising to attract more visitors than ever this spring. “Tourism, pre and post-storm, serves as the main economic driver for Bay County, bringing in $2.7 billion in total economic impact,” Catie Feeney, spokeswoman for Visit Panama City Beach, wrote in an email. “Filling hotels, restaurants, events and activities throughout the beach is providing jobs for Bay County residents.”

Groveland sours on citrus logo, rebrands itself as ‘City with Natural Charm’” via Stephen Hudak of the Orlando Sentinel — The civic change of identity comes about a month after the Florida Clemency Board, led by DeSantis, issued posthumous pardons to four young black men who had been known internationally as the Groveland Four since 1949. They were accused of raping Norma Lee Padgett, a married white teenager. Groveland’s former logo featured an orange, the city’s staple crop from the 1940s to the 1980s. The city’s slogan had been, “City with a future — watch us grow.” City Manager Mike Hein said the idea for a new look and slogan arose from a series of focus groups and citizen vision sessions conducted long before DeSantis’ initiative to extend pardons to Charles GreenleeErnest ThomasSamuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin for the abuse and racial injustices they endured in Lake County.

Key West bans sale of sunscreens that harm coral reefs” via The Associated Press — In a 6-1 vote, the Key West City Commission banned the sale of sunscreens using oxybenzone and octinoxate beginning on Jan. 1, 2021. Mayor Teri Johnston said it’s the commission’s “obligation” to protect the reef, which is the only living coral barrier reef in the continental U.S. Researchers say the chemicals lead to bleaching, DNA damage and death of the corals. The vote followed an hour of public comment, with almost every speaker supporting the ban. Commissioner Greg Davila dissented, saying residents should have the choice of sunscreens they want to use.

Madeira Beach commissioner accused of face-licking, groping city manager resigns” via Sheila Mullane Estrada of the Tampa Bay Times — City Commissioner Nancy Oakley resigned days after being fined by the state ethics commission for sexually harassing a former city manager by licking his face and groping him. City Manager Jonathan Evans has scheduled a special meeting for the commission to accept Oakley’s resignation and consider a resolution that publicly censures and reprimands her for her behavior “as communicated in the Florida Commission on Ethics Final Order.” In her letter of resignation, Oakley insisted she is innocent and said she intends to appeal the ethics violation ruling. Last month, the Commission on Ethics unanimously fined Oakley $5,000 and called on the Governor to issue her a public reprimand.

Quit pooping on these Florida islands, state asks tourists” via Andrew Krietz of WTSP — The many spoil islands in the Indian River Lagoon are one of the state’s natural treasures, but human poop literally is spoiling it. “There is a major problem on the spoil islands with improper disposal of human waste,” said Emily Dark, environmental specialist for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The islands are composed of sand and limestone, lacking the sort of soil to break down human waste. They’re only accessible by boat, making them unique and untouched by development, located along Florida’s east coast. Because of the islands’ isolation, there are no bathrooms or trash cans. The poop issue has been known for some time, as the Indian River Lagoon Aquatic Preserves has been a partner with the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics since 2016.

Oh, poop: Officials are asking visitors to spoil islands in the Indian River Lagoon to take out what they brought in — including human waste. Image via Getty.


Trump vowed to ‘defeat AIDS’ in his State of the Union. Florida is ground zero.” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times — The Department of Health and Human Services has identified 48 counties where about half of all new cases of HIV in the country were reported. The agency intends to aggressively target those counties to help them identify new cases of HIV and AIDS and treat patients and avoid spreading the disease. Seven of those counties are in Florida, more than any other state except California. The counties are Pinellas, Hillsborough, Orange, Duval, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Broward. Federal health agencies will work with providers, governments, nonprofits and advocacy groups to address the underlying causes behind the spread of the disease. “It is not one size fits all, and we realize that,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on a phone call with reporters.

Trump says he listens to Marco Rubio’s guidance on Venezuela” via Franco Ordoñez of the Miami Herald — “I do listen a lot to Sen. Rubio on Venezuela, it’s close to his heart,” Trump told a small group of reporters. Since early in the administration, Rubio has been one of Trump’s go-to sources for guidance on Western Hemisphere issues, particularly those involving Venezuela and Cuba. In some ways, the Cuban-American politician has served as an auxiliary Secretary of State for Trump on Latin American affairs. Rubio knows many heads of state in the region personally. And they knew Rubio has Trump’s ear.

Matt Gaetz tries to eject Parkland dad from gun-violence hearing” via Jessica Lipscomb of the Miami New Times — Gaetz took his gun-rights fervor to another level when he tried to get Manuel Oliver, father of Parkland victim Joaquin “Guac” Oliver, kicked out of a House Judiciary Committee hearing on preventing gun violence. “Is there a process in the committee whereby if the very same people are repeatedly interrupting the time of the members, that those people will be asked to depart the committee?” Gaetz said while aggressively pointing his finger at Oliver and the other parents in the crowd. “I’d observe three interruptions of my time by the same individual and that the chair is not utilizing its discretion to remove that individual,” he added. The dispute began when Gaetz stated that a border wall, not background checks, would prevent gun violence. Oliver and Fred Guttenberg, another Parkland father, shouted at Gaetz in protest, according to Mother Jones reporter Kara Voght.

You are outta here: Matt Gaetz tries to have Parkland dad Manuel Oliver ejected from a House Judiciary gun-violence hearing after Oliver shouted in protest over a border wall comment.

Feds to investigate billionaire Jeffrey Epstein’s sex plea deal” via Curt Anderson of The Associated Press — the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility wrote in a letter Wednesday to U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse that it would examine whether professional misconduct occurred in the highly publicized case of Epstein. The letter cited a series of recent articles by the Miami Herald that focused new attention on how the deal came about. Sasse, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who has twice asked the Justice Department to investigate the case, welcomed the news. “Jeffrey Epstein is a child rapist, and there’s not a single mom or dad in America who shouldn’t be horrified by the fact that he received a pathetically soft sentence,” Sasse said in an email.


Free hotel rooms: ‘Corruption’ for some Florida officials, not others” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — The Florida Supreme Court suspended a Miami judge for 90 days without pay for failing to report free stays at luxury hotels — gifts that put her husband, a building inspector, in jail. The inspector is accused of taking “free hotel stays and gifts from the RIU hotel chain in exchange for favors to help speed up renovations at the company’s South Beach resort.” Yet Florida legislators take free hotel rooms — along with free meals and theme park tickets — from theme parks that need legislative favors year after year. Over the past decade, Universal Orlando alone has donated more than $1.7 million worth of hotel rooms, tickets, VIP tours, food, drink and more to both parties. The parties can then turn around and give the freebies to legislators as part of fundraising events. It’s legalized laundering. Republicans get their turn to play at Universal this Saturday.


Avalere Health adds Jason Altmire — Health care consulting firm Avalere Health has hired former Pennsylvania U.S. Rep. Altmire as their senior adviser. Nationally, Altmire is better-known for the four terms he spent representing Pennsylvania’s 4th Congressional District, though he has deep roots in the Sunshine State, too. Altmire was a prized athlete in his youth and made the Seminole football team as a walk-on in the late-80s. After graduation, he worked on former U.S. Rep. Pete Peterson’s successful campaign for Florida’s 2nd Congressional District. The victory netted Altmire a gig in Peterson’s D.C. office, where he was instrumental in drafting several health care bills.

New gig: Former Pennsylvania Congressman Jason Altmire — who has deep Florida ties — will be the new senior adviser for consulting firm Avalere Health. Image via Colin Hackley.

Thomas Philpot now chief of staff at Dep’t of Business and Professional Regulation Philpot has been director of the state DBPR’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco. He also filled in as Deputy Secretary of Business Regulation for Andrew Fier, who left to join the Vezina, Lawrence & Piscitelli law firm in Tallahassee. Before state service, Philpot was an associate at Hopping Green and Sams in Tallahassee. Philpot is occasionally in the news; for example, he rejected a request to install high-tech beer and wine vending machines in South Florida, a proposal opposed by lawmakers and industry groups.

New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Kaitlyn Bailey, Kaitlyn Gardner, RSA Consulting Group: Pepin Academies-Hillsborough

Daniel Beard, John Kuczwanski, Abigail Vail: State Board of Administration

Jose Bermudez, Jose Fuentes, Becker & Poliakoff: National Health Transport

Jennifer Green, Melanie BostockEthan Merchant, Timothy Parson, Liberty Partners of Tallahassee: Holmes County Board of County Commissioners

Bob Burleson, Ballard Partners: Radise International

Jose Diaz, Robert M. Levy & Associates: Dade Heritage Trust

Marnie George, Michael Harrell, Jim Magill, Kimberly McGlynn, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Maura’s Voice

Robert Holroyd, TSE Consulting: Charter Schools USA

Gary Hunter, Timothy Riley, Eileen Stuart, Hopping Green & Sams: Spooner Petroleum Company

Nick Iarossi, Capital City Consulting: Rick Staab

John MacIver: Executive Office of the Governor

Thomas Philpot: Department of Business & Professional Regulation

Carl Punyko, Punyko Consulting: Gulf Power Company

Phillip Singleton, Singleton Consulting: Dickens Sanomi Academy

Mary Thomas: Florida Medical Association

Stephen Uchino, Anfield Consulting: Sea and Shoreline, Town of Cutler Bay

Jennifer Ungru, Dean Mead: Florida Ambulance Association

Personnel note: Mark Puente hired by L.A. Times” via Florida Politics — Puente is leaving Florida’s largest newspaper for a position at the Los Angeles Times where he will cover the Los Angeles Police Department. Feb. 15 is Puente’s last day at the Times. A three-time individual Pulitzer Prize nominee, Puente has made his mark as an investigative journalist. He is currently a Pinellas County accountability reporter. Puente most recently uncovered problems within the CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay job centers.

— ALOE —

Couple says this vegan chef ruined their $20K wedding. He says he was busy ‘#baseling.’” via Madeleine Marr of the Miami Herald — The couple placed the blame squarely on their caterer, Miami vegan chef Joshua Solis, aka Chef Sol, whom they say they paid more than $20,000 to cater their vegan rehearsal dinner, wedding and Sunday brunch. But Solis, who has whipped up food for such celebrities as Jane Velez MitchellCommon and Ty Dolla $ign, was a no-show for the couple’s big weekend. Instead, he took a security job connected to Art Basel and sent over a personal chef from Central Florida in his place — without telling the couple. Solis blamed the personal chef, Luz McCook. She blamed him. The groom blamed both. “We got stuck in the middle, and they ruined our wedding,’’ Craig Denis, the disgruntled groom, wrote in an email to the Herald. “Greedy, terrible people, both of them.” The conflict over the 70-guest rehearsal dinner and 160-guest wedding on Dec. 8 played out on social media and is still not fully resolved.

No-show: Joshua Solis, aka Chef Sol, blew off a high-priced vegan wedding commitment to hang out at Miami’s Art Basel. That didn’t sit well with the bride and groom.

Jimmy Buffett surprises Margaritaville resort Orlando guests with concert” via Marco Santana of the Orlando Sentinel — During a roughly 30-minute set, the 72-year-old icon, dressed in green polo, khaki shorts and New Orleans Saints ball cap, played through a series of hits, including “Volcano,” “Pencil Thin Mustache” and, of course, “Margaritaville.” In a video of the performance, Buffett takes the stage and plays along with the crowd a little bit. “I thought I’d cruise up to Orlando and see Margaritaville Orlando Resort and play for y’all and we’d have a good time having fun and making money,” he said at the mic.

Man who had $150K prosthetic arm stolen in Boynton competes on ‘Titan Games’” via Wendy Rhodes of the Palm Beach Post — Chris Ruden is the type of athlete producers from NBC’s “The Titan Games” sought out to compete on a show hosted by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson that tests the limits of human endurance, strength and mental fortitude. At 28, Ruden has broken numerous records for powerlifting and makes his living as a motivational speaker. He was born with a congenital disability that left the arm shorter than average and with only two fingers. One day last autumn, the prosthetic was stolen from Ruden’s truck when he parked at the Advenir at Banyan Lake apartments in Boynton Beach. “I was devastated,” he says. “That was the thing that let me be me.” “A few detectives from the Boynton Beach police came in of their off day, which I thought was so impressive and so respectable,” Ruden says. The officers found the arm tossed in a nearby bush. “That was the luckiest day of my life, for sure,” Rudin says. “Along with meeting The Rock — both of those were pretty lucky.”

To watch a video of the story, click on the image below:


MLB and players discuss rule changes that could alter game” via Jeff Passan of ESPN — Dueling proposals from MLB and the union covered a wide range of topics, according to sources. Among them include: A three-batter minimum for pitchers; a universal designated hitter; a single trade deadline before the All-Star break; a 20-second pitch clock; the expansion of rosters to 26 men, with a 12-pitcher maximum; draft advantages for winning teams and penalties for losing teams; a study to lower the mound; a rule that would allow two-sport amateurs to sign major league contracts. In the discussions, the possibility of the clock being turned off when runners are on base was raised, sources said.

Star Wars lands ‘will have no problem getting attention,’ Disney CEO Bob Iger says” via Gabrielle Russon of the Orlando Sentinel — “Maybe I should just tweet — ‘It’s opening!’ and that will be enough,” Disney CEO Iger said during an earnings call. Iger spoke off the cuff in a few lighthearted moments as Walt Disney Company’s theme parks performed strongly in another financial quarter. Construction images and renderings of the “Star Wars”-themed lands coming to both Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disneyland. The name of the new lands is Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. “We’re going to end up with incredibly popular and in-demand products with these two new lands,” Iger went on about Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge which debuts this summer in California and late fall in Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios. “They’re large. They’re beautiful, and they’re extremely innovative. And they obviously leverage the popularity of the Star Wars brand.”


Celebrating today are two North Florida politicos: state Rep. Brad Drake and Dr. Rachel Pienta. Happy birthday to our friend Josh Burgin.

Today’s Sunburn was written by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Joe HendersonDaniel McAuliffe, Jim Rosica, and Drew Wilson.

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.


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 @PeterSchorschFL

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