Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 3.18.19

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

It’s triple Madness for the state’s Division I men’s college basketball teams. Florida State, Florida and UCF each scored invitations to the NCAA Tournament.

FSU (27-7), runner-up to top-seeded Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, is seeded fourth in the West Regional and will face Vermont (27-6) on Thursday in Hartford, Conn.

The Florida Gators (19-15) are seeded 10th in the West and will play Nevada (29-4) on Wednesday in Des Moines.

UCF (23-8) is seeded ninth in the East and will play Virginia Commonwealth (25-7) on Friday in Columbia, S.C. The winner almost certainly will play Duke in the second round.

The women’s bracket will be drawn Monday night. The women ‘s Final Four will be held in Tampa.


Jeff Woodburn, Jason Maine launch law firm” via Florida Politics — Former Rick Scott administration officials Jeff Woodburn and Jason Maine have joined to form a new law firm in Tallahassee focusing on regulatory and administrative law. Woodburn & Maine will be in addition to Woodburn’s portfolio of lobbying clients at The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners. “Expanding to the legal arena with Jason is an exciting next step because it will allow me to use my legal expertise in government, in addition to my decade of policy experience in the Legislature, Governor’s Office and the Constitution Revision Commission,” Woodburn said.

Good news from good people: Former Rick Scott staffers Jeff Woodburn and Jason Maine are hanging up their own shingle, with a new firm specializing in regulatory and administrative law.


Here’s my latest blog post about the food fight over regulating distilleries — ‘Good intentions’: How legislation is wrongly pitting distributors against distillers” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session,” Mark Twain said. To that, add “or his liquor.” Lawmakers may have the proverbial “good intentions,” but they continue to move irresponsibly forward in changing this state’s alcoholic-beverage laws for the worse. Bills that would benefit craft distillers at a business cost to beverage distributors, who have been around longer and created far more jobs, keeping getting approved. No one has yet, it seems, addressed the fundamental disparity in the way these measures treat distillers and distributors.


Episode 2 of REGULATED is live — The second edition of the new podcast on Florida’s regulated industries from former DBPR official Tony Glover and former medical marijuana ‘czar’ Christian Bax is online. Ep 2 is titled “Alcohol Bills + #freetheflower + More.” This week, the duo “break down pending alcohol legislation, the momentous passage of the smokable medical marijuana bill, and new CBD guidance issued by the state.” Listen here.


@Peter_Wehrner: Trump’s obsession with tearing down John McCain is another demonstration of what a genuinely broken soul the president is. His resentment & utter lack of dignity/empathy for the family of a war hero who recently died is but one reminder of the president’s disordered personality.

@SteveLemongello: A reminder for all Florida political journos/organizers/volunteers to enjoy St Pat’s today, because next year March 17 is the presidential primary

@JamesGrantFL: Because, it criminalizes everything but a six gun. Call it what it is, a gun ban. Because it rips freedom from law abiding citizens. Because criminals and terrorists don’t care about your laws. Our committee has and will put the Constitution first. We aren’t sorry for that.

@MDixon55: If you’re going to fake a poll, why pretend it came from Gravis? Wouldn’t you want people to believe the numbers?

@BryabAvilaFL: Let’s be clear. @MiamiChamber has its own agenda. It often goes against our community’s best interests. You push for taxpayer-funded corporate subsidies. You remain silent on the county’s wasteful spending. Now, you prefer the status quo on transportation. Not surprised.

@JimRosicaFL: PR people, a request: You need to more consistently livestream the press conferences you organize. Please, and thank you.

@FlaCathBps: Happy feast day of Saint Patrick! We ask for his intercession and pray for the leaders of Florida to be bold and courageous like Saint Patrick.

@DavidJollyFL: Happy St. Patrick’s Day folks. Remember these words of wisdom. Hit Mexican restaurants on St. Paddy’s Day, and Irish bars on Cinco de Mayo. No wait times. Always 2 for 1.

@MarcACaputo: When I was a kid growing up in Key West, there was a St. Patrick’s Day Beer Run, where contestants would jog from bar to bar and drink beer, usually dyed green. People inevitably vomited. It was pretty disgusting & funny. Unfortunately, it normalized alcohol abuse

@SStaffordTweet: Everything seemed to rim out tonight, but this @FSUHoops team is for real and can beat anyone. Fantastic regular season and ACC tourney. Proud of their grit. Let’s bounce back fast Noles.


Jacksonville municipal first election — 1; Florida Capitol Press Corps skits — 1; Andrew Gillum makes a ‘major announcement’ in Miami — 2; Major League Baseball opening day — 11; Scott Maddox corruption trial begins (maybe) — 10; Final season of ‘Veep’ begins — 13; Masters Tournament begins — 14; Final season of ‘Game of Thrones’ begins — 17 Easter — 34; Tampa mayoral runoff election — 36; 2019 Legislative Session ends (maybe) — 46; Mother’s Day — 55; Memorial Day — 70; 2020 Democratic presidential primary debates start — 81; 2019 General Election — 235; Iowa Caucuses — 322; Florida’s 2020 presidential primary — 365; 2020 General Election — 596.


Andrew Gillum suggests counting more votes could have changed election outcome” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — During an appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher, the Democrat asserted not every voter’s voice was heard in November. “Had we been able to legally count every one of those votes not just in Florida but in Georgia, I wonder what the outcome may be,” Gillum said. The former Tallahassee mayor alluded both to his own close loss to Ron DeSantis and to Democrat Stacey Abrams being edged out of a runoff in the Georgia gubernatorial election. Earlier in his conversation with Maher, Gillum noted he and Abrams both lost by “rounding error” margins.

’This is not normal.’ Gillum caught in active shooter scare at California mall” via Skyler Swisher of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Gillum posted a video to his Twitter account describing how people made a “mad dash” outside the Apple Store, where he and colleague and adviser Kevin Cate had stopped to buy a phone charger and wireless headphones. Gillum said an employee tried to reassure him that everything was normal and not to worry. “They wanted to keep everybody calm. … But I kept thinking …. ‘This is not normal,’” Gillum said. Officers received reports of a gunman about 12:42 p.m. Pacific time at the shopping center, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.


Ron DeSantis hires from Donald Trump’s Washington to drain the Tallahassee ‘swamp’” via Emily Mahoney and Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times — As DeSantis’ transition team considered candidates to run Florida’s state prisons late last year, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz picked up the phone — and dialed Jared KushnerTrump’s son-in-law and key adviser passed along a glowing endorsement of Mark Inch, the former head of the federal Bureau of Prisons and a retired two-star Army general. That’s exactly who DeSantis ended up naming as Florida’s secretary of corrections. The appointment shows how DeSantis draws from a different ecosystem of insiders than the usual suspects in Tallahassee, which he derided as the “swamp” during his gubernatorial campaign. He has instead turned to the world of Trump.

A quick phone call to Jared Kushner, and Mark Inch — the former head of the Federal Bureau of Prisons — is now Ron DeSantis’ Florida secretary of corrections.

DeSantis stands by Ron Bergeron. ‘He bleeds Everglades’” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — DeSantis said he wouldn’t wait for another nominee to go through what he said is a lengthy “ethics clearance” before being formally nominated to the board, something the governor announced his intention to do on Jan. 29. Bergeron is a developer, entrepreneur, conservationist, and sometimes alligator wrestler. But it’s his role as CEO of the Bergeron Family of Companies — a group of businesses including highway construction, rock pits and quarries, agriculture, real estate development, solid waste management and disaster recovery services — that complicate his appointment. DeSantis said he thinks any conflicts will be cleared up and he’ll be able to appoint Bergeron.

— “‘Some of this stuff just takes time,’ Gov. DeSantis on fixing South Florida’s waterways” via CBS Miami

What Kathy Mears is reading —Ron and Casey DeSantis hosted FSU women’s champs. Here’s why that’s unique” via Danny McAuliffe of Florida Politics

Since both Gov. Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis played college sports, it’s natural that they would host the FSU NCAA women’s championship soccer and softball teams.

Assignment editors — DeSantis will speak at the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs, 8 a.m., Medal of Honor Conference Room 342, 11351 Ulmerton Road, Suite 311-K, Largo. Later, the Governor will participate in the Veterans Alternative Celebrity Pro-Am at the Valspar Championship, 4:30 p.m., Innisbrook Golf Resort Media Zone, First Tee, Copperhead Course, 36750 U.S. Highway 19 North, Palm Harbor.

— 2019 SESSION —

Bill Galvano road plan could spark negotiations” via Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida — Galvano’s push to expand and build three toll roads may become a negotiation point between legislative leaders, as the House has not put forward a version of the plan. Galvano indicated he remains optimistic, with House Speaker José Oliva and DeSantis supporting improved infrastructure and transportation. Galvano acknowledged that aspects of his ambitious road proposal could be separated to keep them moving forward. “This is mainly in the beginning stages a function of budget, and so we’ll see whether they (House leaders) are, in fact, moving the funds into the (State Transportation) Trust Fund,” Galvano said. “And if not, then it will become something we’ll have to negotiate through Session.”

With new Florida Supreme Court, House takes aim at limiting personal-injury lawsuit damages” via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel — The bill (HB 17), which would place a $1 million cap on noneconomic damages, is sponsored by Rep. Tom Leek, chief legal counsel for Foundation Risk Partners, a Daytona Beach insurance brokerage. He said the caps are necessary to “balance out” Florida’s legal climate and ensure stability for insurers and businesses facing high litigation costs. “What this does is put a cap on a very small sliver on available damages,” Leek said. “In any [personal injury] case you can get lost wages; this doesn’t affect it. You can get past medical [costs] and future medical [costs]; this doesn’t affect it.”

Capped: Tom Leek is sponsoring a House bill that would cap noneconomic damages as a way to ‘balance out’ the state’s legal climate.

Legislature wants to make it harder for voters to approve local taxes” via John Kennedy of the GateHouse Capital Bureau — Amid complaints that Florida’s tax-averse, Republican-led Legislature fails to steer enough cash to local governments, voters in 11 counties went ahead and raised their own taxes last year to pay for schools, roads, and other community services. But many lawmakers didn’t like that. And now, a Legislature that hasn’t raised a major tax in a decade is looking to make it harder for other governments to do so. Legislation advancing in the House and Senate would require that all proposed sales-tax increases proposed by counties and school districts appear on the November ballot, eliminating the possibility of them being timed for lower-turnout primaries or special elections.

Lawmakers begin cracking down on polluters” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — The importance of the issue also brought out some emotion in Rep. Chuck Clemons, who said he is “apoplectic” about the sewage spills fouling waterways around the state. Clemons went further. Tapping his fingers on the desk to punctuate his point, he talked about how essential the work is this year of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee, which approved some big environmental regulation bills. Clemons mentioned a major sewage spill that recently fouled the iconic Suwannee River near his home. Clemons said it’s time to act. “We have to get a handle on this today. I mean today — meaning this session — we have to get a handle on it.”

Will legislators make it easier to ban books in schools? We’ll soon find out.” via Jeffrey S. Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times Members of the conservative Florida Citizens Alliance have been appalled with what they’ve seen in the books being handed to students in the public schools. ‘Pornographic’ scenes in novels. Religious ‘indoctrination’ boosting Islam over others in the social studies books. ‘Unbalanced propaganda’ promoting climate change in science texts.

’I need help. Please.’ Five-year-old asks legislators to fund cost of keeping him alive” via Lane DeGregory of the Tampa Bay Times — Anthony DeLuna slid his son’s medical stroller behind the passenger seat. Maggie Hoyle-Germann packed the shirt their 5-year-old had picked out to wear. Anthony unplugged Lincoln’s breathing tube, and Maggie scooped the boy into her arms. They didn’t really have to go to Tallahassee. The state representative had said he would introduce the bill and tell his colleagues why it mattered. But Anthony and Maggie wanted the lawmakers to meet Lincoln. For three years, Lincoln had been enrolled in a clinical trial to get a revolutionary dose of gene therapy. Then, last fall, a doctor determined that Lincoln’s liver was too damaged to withstand the treatment. His liver is improving, Maggie said.


Galvano says Florida sports betting could be part of tribal negotiation” via Legal Sports Report — There is neither a bill nor any proposal, but there is some ray of hope for sports betting to sneak into the Legislative Session. Galvano has wanted to negotiate a new gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe. Legal sports betting would be part of any agreement, he says: “It’s definitely part of the discussion … they are as interested in participating in sports betting as other entities here in the state. We’re not at a point where we have a product agreed upon and know who gets that product, but we’re having those initial discussions and I think it’s something the Tribe will want if we resolve this.”

You can bet on it: Senate President Bill Galvano says sports betting could be part of negotiations with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Image via TCPalm.

Joe Gruters carving new path in state GOP” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — At the same time that he is trying to crack down on illegal immigration and abortion, Gruters is holding hands with Democrats to advance a slew of bipartisan bills that leave him open to criticism he is not pushing conservative principles. Gruters wants to outlaw smoking on public beaches. He wants to collect taxes on internet purchases from out-of-state businesses and offset the new revenue with other tax breaks. And he wants to protect LGBTQ people from being fired at work because of their sexual orientation. Mixed in with those proposals are plenty of issues that don’t have clear partisan divides, from legislation involving electric utility storm hardening to a bill that would revive film incentives.

Annette Taddeo wants answers on $3.6 million payoff to SunPass bidder” via Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times — Taddeo said she still expects answers to the Department of Transportation’s $3.6 million payoff to get a SunPass bidder to drop its bid. The unusual payoff cleared the way for Conduent State & Local Solutions to secure an estimated $600 million contract with FDOT to process the state’s tolls. Conduent made a mess of it when it tried to take over last year, leading to overbilling and a massive backlog of unpaid tolls. Taddeo, a Democrat from Miami, said: ”I can tell you my constituents are not happy getting all these bills at once, then they hear that we paid $3.6 million out for a company to go away?”

Only for doctors: Senate legislation caters to medical community” via News Service of Florida — The Senate Health Policy Committee meets Monday and will consider a proposed committee bill that can only be described as a train. And it’s reserved for Florida’s doctors. A preliminary draft of the proposed committee bill that will be considered by the committee shows that the measure includes a variety of far-ranging health care issues. That includes charges for medical records, prohibitions on drug restrictions, and the creation of an interstate medical licensure compact for medical doctors and osteopathic physicians.

Colleges worry about PECO dollars as oversight threat looms” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Higher education leaders want Florida lawmakers to do more to empower Public Education Capital Outlay dollars. “As it relates to PECO, there is a real concern we are not receiving the dollars to adequately maintain as well as support the needs we have at our various institutions,” said Ava Parker, chair of the Florida College System Council of Presidents. But conversations in the Florida House have turned increasingly toward restrictions on college spending. At the center of discussion remains the budgeting practices at the University of Central Florida. But school leaders themselves take umbrage at questionable spending on one campus being used to crack down on spending everywhere.

Assignment editors — Democratic lawmakers will hold a news conference to discuss support for Venezuelans in the United States and turbulent Venezuela. Expected participants include state Sen. Taddeo, Jose Javier Rodriguez and Victor Torres as well as state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith and John Cortes, 11:30 a.m., Fourth Floor, The Capitol.


From ‘Wife Swap’ to Florida politics, couple leads push for voter referendum that targets fears of noncitizens voting” via Skyler Swisher and Aric Chokey — Gina Loudon, the West Palm Beach-based political commentator, and her husband have a new mission — pushing a ballot initiative that would change the Florida Constitution to specify that “only a citizen” can vote. The couple’s recently formed group — Florida Citizen Voters — already has raised nearly $2 million to fund the petition drive needed to get the question on the 2020 presidential ballot. All that money is going toward an effort that would have no practical effect on the state’s elections. A more likely motive is to energize Trump supporters in the 2020 election, said Michael McDonald, a political scientist at the University of Florida who studies voting and elections.

Preying on fears: Conservative commentator Gina Loudon has a new mission, to make sure that ‘only citizens’ vote in Florida.

State economists not opposed to energy choice ballot initiative” via Samantha Gross of the Miami Herald — A petition-driven ballot initiative that would reform how consumers purchase electricity in Florida now has some policy experts for the state saying that they are not totally opposed to the idea. The state’s Financial Impact Estimating Conference declined to weigh in on the Citizens for Energy Choices political committee, rejecting the argument from opponents — mainly investor-owned utilities — by saying the final implementation of a potential new system is “unknowable at this time.” The proposal, put forward by the political committee, calls for the customers’ “right to choose” and would loosen the grip of private utility monopolies like Florida Power & Light, Gulf Power, Duke Energy and Tampa Electric Co.

Democrat Phil Ehr files to take another run at Matt Gaetz in 2020” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News Journal — Ehr filed paperwork as a Democratic candidate in the 2020 election in the heavily Republican 1st Congressional District. Florida’s 2020 primary for non-presidential candidates is still 16 months away. Ehr sought the Democratic nomination in 2018 against Jennifer Zimmerman. Ehr, a retired Navy officer and former Republican, led the fundraising race against Zimmerman but lost the 2018 primary more than 20 percent.

Former ‘Canes defensive lineman Demetrius Jackson looks to sack James Bush in HD 109” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Jackson, who filed as a Democrat, will face off against Bush in the Democratic primary. Libertarian Party member Keon Antonio Grayson is also running for the HD 109 seat. In January, Jackson indicated he was intent on running for political office in 2020, though was still unsure which race he’d jump into. Now, he says he has his eyes on the district that covers his hometown. “I went to high school in Overtown,” Jackson said in a conversation with Florida Politics. Following his playing days, Jackson has received praise from Miami-Dade politicians for his activism on gun violence in the area.


Florida is the most politically prejudiced state. That’s not something to brag about.” via Graham Brink of the Tampa Bay Times — Our partisans — liberal and conservative — are among the most politically prejudiced in the country, according to polling firm PredictWise. The analysis, featured in a recent article in the Atlantic magazine, ranked each county in the nation for political tolerance. An accompanying map shaded the least prejudiced counties in white. Dark green indicated most prejudice. Florida was entirely dark green, every one of our 67 counties. No other state was so biased. South Carolina was close, but even it had a handful of more tolerant counties. “Florida stood out for being consistently prejudiced from place to place,” PredictWise’s co-founder and chief science officer Tobias Konitzer said.

From pricey simulators to staples, Florida sheriffs spend millions on school guardians” via Carolyn Glenn and Dave Berman of FLORIDA TODAY — In the months after the Parkland shooting that left 17 dead, state legislators allocated $67 million for the guardian program, and 24 counties, including Brevard, received about $9.3 million, including $2 million statewide for guns, ammunition and other equipment. An investigation into how counties spent money on the state’s new school protection plan shows that it’s unclear how deeply — if at all — the Florida Department of Education, which manages the program, vetted what sheriffs put in their shopping carts. While there was fierce debate among parents, students and educators about putting guns on campuses and arming school staff, there has been little public discussion over how the sheriff’s office spent state money, in large part because people don’t know.

Florida sends too many juveniles to adult prisons. It’s no place for a child, advocates say via the Florida Phoenix — Taylor Lawrance will celebrate her 19th birthday Saturday at the Florida Women’s Reception Center in Marion County. As inmate H48955, she will mark her next five birthdays in a women’s prison, where she has been serving a 10-year sentence since she was convicted as a 15-year-old of participating in a home robbery in Polk County with four other teenagers. One of the teens held a shotgun as the youths took electronics and clothes.

Florida’s shift on medical marijuana encouraged by millions in political donations” via David Smiley of the Miami Herald — Since the summer of 2016, when a campaign to bring a full-fledged medical marijuana market to Florida by constitutional amendment hit high gear, Florida’s licensed cannabis corporations and their executives have given at least $2.5 million in political contributions to state lawmakers and political parties. About two-thirds of that money came in the 22 months after former Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill into law regulating the state’s newly authorized market. The biggest recipients of cannabis contributions include Florida’s Democratic and Republican parties, which together received $517,000 from Florida’s licensed cannabis corporations and their executives.

Waiting for weed: Don’t expect smokable medical marijuana right away” via Jeff Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat — Assuming DeSantis does as he’s indicated he would and signs SB 182 into law, lifting a state ban on smoking medical marijuana, it could take weeks or even months before rules are promulgated to make smokable medical marijuana available at state-approved dispensaries. The Department of Health has a reputation for moving at a glacial pace when it comes to issuing rules. Some industry officials, however, said the green light to sell smokable marijuana will happen sooner than later. “We anticipate an expedited process from the Governor and the Department of Health as it relates to the approval of smokable, whole-flower cannabis,” said Kim Rivers, CEO of Trulieve.

Florida medical board may curtail asking doctors about past mental illness on applications” via Liz Freeman of the Naples Daily News — Physicians applying for a license in Florida may not have to share a history of mental health or substance abuse issues if the state Board of Medicine drops probing questions. Committees for the medical board, which oversees physician licensure and discipline, are reviewing questions on the license application that inquire about past illnesses and whether the questions are appropriate. The rules and legislative committee in December discussed changes to ask only about current mental health or substance abuse treatment. The committee is scheduled to address the matter again in April.

Tyndall to share emergency funding in budget plan” via Jim Thompson of the Panama City News-Herald — The rebuilding of Tyndall Air Force Base is in line for a share of $9.2 billion in emergency funding included in the Department of Defense budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year designated in part for “unspecified military construction to … rebuild facilities damaged by Hurricanes Florence and Michael.” Budget documents don’t indicate exactly how much of that funding might go to Tyndall. But in a recent hearing in front of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, John Henderson — the assistant Air Force secretary for installations, environment and energy — put a nearly $5 billion price tag on rebuilding the base.

40 victims of the Dozier School for boys find final resting place” via Jake Stofan of News4Jax — For more than ten years a group of survivors of the Dozier School for Boys, known as the White House Boys, have been fighting to expose abuses that plagued the school for more than 100 years. Now the last of more than 50 unidentified boys unearthed at the school in 2015 have been reinterred in a Tallahassee cemetery; far away from the grounds where they suffered unspeakable horrors. “This is it. This is the most important part of it all,” said Jerry Cooper, President of the White House Boys.

The most important part of it all: Many of the unidentified victims from the Dozier School for Boys now have a final resting place in a Tallahassee cemetery. Image via WJHG.


When Tampa General Hospital administrators evict Roberta Robinson from the bed she is held for the past year, Carol Marbin Miller and Daniel Chang of the Miami Herald reports that the profoundly disabled 63-year-old Seffner resident will be forced to choose from two increasingly bad options. Robinson, who suffers several ailments — including diabetes, high blood pressure and a progressive disorder called myotonic dystrophy — can either:

— Return home, where her husband and adult daughter Nicole both are incapable of caring for her,

— Or move nearly 330 miles away to Georgia, where she will most likely die alone.

No good options: The Robinson family have some difficult choices ahead of the eviction of Roberta Robinson from Tampa General Hospital. Image via the Miami Herald.

Roberta’s husband, Joseph Robinson, makes medical decisions on her behalf, as she can only communicate “yes” and “no” to questions asked.

The hospital is looking for its bed back — they claim she is there against the consent of TGH — and explained to Hillsborough County judge that Robinson could be discharged to a ‘less intensive’ setting.

Usually, someone such as Robinson would transfer to a nearby nursing home. But with Florida’s low reimbursement rate for nursing home patients, only two facilities in the entire state were willing to take Robinson. Complications from her medical-decision-maker (husband Joseph) has ruled out two facilities — one in Miami and another in Pembroke Pines — leaving one facility in Georgia.

“Robinson would be alone and isolated there, leaving her family members, who use buses to get around, unable to make the 330-mile trip,” the Herald writes.

“No one really wants to take care of her,” Nicole Robinson said. “Plus, they don’t get paid for it.”


Gadsden County: a locale of rural towns, farmworkers, landowners — and where four died during Michael” via Nada Hassanein of the Tallahassee Democrat — Michael devastated humble Gadsden County, made up of low-wage state, school system and hospital workers and a significant farmworker population. A quarter of Gadsden residents already were living below poverty. According to recovery numbers, nearly $13 million in federal funds has been approved for residents. Of those dollars, $3 million came in federal grants for just shy of 2,000 people and households. The other $10 million went to homeowners, renters, and businesses through U.S. Small Business Administration low-interest disaster loans. “We have extreme wealth in this county — but we also have extreme poverty in this county. The people who were hurting before are really hurting now,” Dee Jackson, county administrator, said a week after the storm.

Sham survey: Gravis marketing’s Jacksonville mayoral race poll a fraud” via Florida Politics — In a Gravis Marketing poll of the Jacksonville mayoral race. In it, incumbent Mayor Lenny Curry leads challenger Anna Brosche 50-25 percent, with the also-rans splitting the balance. The poll was heralded among Brosche’s supporters as a ray of hope — Curry was at, not over, the 50 percent mark, so if Brosche could add a bit of support in the run-up to Election Day, she could force a head-to-head rematch in a runoff election. That’s sound logic, but there’s one flaw: the poll is a hoax. Gravis Marketing President Doug Kaplan said his company has not polled for anyone in Jacksonville this year. “According to the poll this was conducted in the last few weeks,” he said. “It’s not us.”

Sham: A new poll supposedly linked to Garvis Marketing gave brief hope to Republican Jacksonville mayoral candidate Anna Brosche. But it was found to be a sham.

After Tuesday’s voting, look down-ballot for decisions” via Christopher Hong and Steve Patterson of the Florida Times-Union — The mayor’s race is absent of a Democratic candidate, and the early voting results reflect that. As of Friday, Republicans held a 6-point turnout advantage over Democrats, 48 to 42 percent. The sheriff’s race will also be likely lopsided, as Republican Sheriff Mike Williams has outspent Democratic opponent Tony Cummings more than 2 to 1. Tuesday’s ballot also features contests for the tax collector’s office between Republican incumbent Jim Overton and Democratic City Councilman John Crescimbeni, as well as the property appraiser’s office between Republican incumbent Jerry Holland and Democrat Kurt Kraft. Most members of the next City Council will be decided once voting ends Tuesday, with at least seven — maybe as many as 10 — chosen without a runoff.

Stoneman Douglas: It was like a country club before the shooting, guard claims” via Megan O’Matz of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — In a review of the deposition Andrew Medina gave in a lawsuit against him as well as statements he made to a state commission, the Broward Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. What emerges are more indications that administrators and security staff in control of Stoneman Douglas were wholly unprepared for a major threat of violence. Medina likened the atmosphere at Stoneman Douglas, a sprawling campus in the wealthy suburb of Parkland, to a country club. “They didn’t take security serious,” he said. “It was very laid back, very chill, very like they didn’t want no problem. They didn’t want the community to hear of anything that was going on in the school.”

SpottedTallahassee inThe South’s Best Cities 2019” via Southern Living — Home of the Florida State Seminoles and capital of the Sunshine State, Tallahassee is less than an hour from Apalachee Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The city has many dining districts, from CollegeTown to the Market District, and an incredible variety of restaurants, as well as the nightlife you’d expect in a sizable college town. The area is also laced with rivers and lakes, ideal for paddling and outdoor adventure.


Spa operator brought head of Chinese Communist Party’s Florida group to mingle with Donald Trump aides” via Caitlin Ostroff, Sarah Blaskey and Nicholas Nehamas of the Miami Herald — South Florida day spa entrepreneur Li “Cindy” Yang used her burgeoning political access to bring Xianqin Qu, a leader from the foreign arm of the Communist Party of China, to an event where she met top Republicans and members of the Trump administration, including Kellyanne Conway, counselor to Trump. Qu is the president of the Florida Chapter of the Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Unification — a group ”directly subordinate” to the Communist Party of China, according to a 2018 U.S. government report. The group’s stated purpose is to push for reunification of China and Taiwan, although in recent years members in chapters around the world actively promoted a wide range of policies in harmony with Beijing’s agenda abroad.

It’s who you know: Massage spa mogul Cindy Yang (shown here in a Super Bowl selfie with Donald Trump) made a connection between the president and the leader of a Florida Chinese Communist Party group.

Spotted — Brian Ballard inTrump-connected lobby firms cash in with foreign governments” via POLITICO — Zimbabwe, shunned by the international community during the years dictator Robert Mugabe ruled it, hadn’t retained a Washington lobbying firm in more than a decade. But after Mugabe was deposed in a 2017 coup, the country’s new leaders decided they needed help (and) turned to Ballard … Last month, the country’s foreign minister signed a contract with Ballard worth $500,000 a year, making Zimbabwe the latest country to turn to him or a handful of other lobbyists with Trump administration connections.

Rick Scott holds Miami rally on freedom, democracy in Latin America — Scott joined fellow Sen. Marco Rubio, former U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Díaz-Balart and Cuban, Venezuelan, Colombian and Nicaraguan community leaders in Miami to rally in support of freedom and democracy in Latin America. Scott said he would never stop fighting for an end to the ruthless dictatorships in Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, and a new day of freedom for all Latin America.

Matt Gaetz pushes for abortion restrictions, funding for faith-based clinics during Milton visit” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News-Journal — “We’ve got some really important debates in the Congress that are ripening on questions of life,” Gaetz said at a ceremony for the reopening of the Life Options Clinic. Gaetz is not the only Republican representing the Pensacola area who is advocating for laws that would limit abortion access. State Rep. Mike Hill is the lead sponsor of a bill in the state Legislature that would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can be as early as six weeks into pregnancy. Gaetz is a co-sponsor of the federal version of the so-called fetal heartbeat bill, along with 173 other Republicans in Congress. That bill is not likely to pass the Democratic-controlled U.S. House.

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell pushes immigration bill offering pathway to legal status” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — U.S. Rep. Mucarsel-Powell and several other backers of a new immigration bill in the U.S. House joined together to help lobby for the legislation in a Friday press call. The bill, which would face huge hurdles over in the Senate, would allow “DREAMers,” Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients, and other distinct classes of immigrants to apply for a path to citizenship. “Florida’s 26th District has a large population of DREAMers (and others),” Mucarsel-Powell said. “As of today, thousands of them are living in limbo.”

Uphill battle: Debbie Mucarsel-Powell will face significant hurdles in her effort to allow DREAMers a path to citizenship.

U.S. eliminates coveted 5-year tourist visa for Cubans” via Michael Weissenstein of The Associated Press — The U.S. State Department is eliminating a coveted five-year tourist visa for Cubans, dealing a heavy blow to entrepreneurs and Cuban members of divided families, who used the visas to see relatives in the United States and buy precious supplies for their businesses on the island. The elimination of the visa cuts a vital link between the U.S. and Cuba by forcing Cubans to make a costly and complicated trip to a third country like Mexico or Panama every single time they want to visit the U.S. That’s because the U.S. withdrew most of its nonessential diplomatic staff from Havana in September 2017 and stopped issuing visas of almost any type in Cuba.

Assignment editors — U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor will host a dedication ceremony to rename the Town ‘n Country Post Office in honor of fallen airman, U. S. Air Force Major Andreas O’Keeffe. O’Keeffe’s parents will join her, as well as family, friends, and representatives of the U.S. Postal Service, 10 a.m., Town ‘n Country Post Office, 7521 Paula Drive, Tampa.

— 2020 —

Jeb Bush says a Republican should run against Donald Trump in 2020” via Graph Massara of POLITICO — Bush thinks a fellow Republican should challenge Trump, according to a portion of an interview for the series “The Axe Files.” Show host David Axelrod tweeted the excerpt. Axelrod’s interview with Bush will air on CNN. “I think someone should run just because Republicans ought to be given a choice,” Bush said. “It’s hard to beat a sitting president, but to have a conversation about what it is to be a conservative, I think it’s important.” Axelrod wrote in a subsequent tweet that Bush, a former Florida governor, had been “incredibly candid on all fronts,” including on the state of the country and the Republican Party.

What conservative means: Jeb Bush tells CNN that there should be a Republican challenge to Donald Trump.

One year out, expect the Florida parade of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates to begin” via Stephen Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — Florida residents can also expect another surge in ads and personal appearances over the next 12 months, especially in Democratic-leaning regions such as Central and South Florida. The crowded field for Florida primary on March 17, 2020, is reminiscent of the 2016 Republican race, said Tallahassee GOP operative Mac Stipanovich, but there’s one key difference. “What you don’t see in the Democratic field is a Trump,” said Stipanovich, an outspoken “Never Trump” Republican. “Trump was random and unexpected … someone just off the hook in terms of being nontraditional. Bernie Sanders was unusual in 2016 — but he’s not so unusual today. He’ll have to fight for his lane.”

What Steve Schale isn’t tweeting about during Lent —He’s running — almost. Joe Biden gets ahead of himself in Saturday speech, to cheers from the crowd.” via Dave Weigel of The Washington Post — “I have the most progressive record of anybody running for the United … anybody who would run,” Biden told Delaware Democrats at their party fundraising dinner. The crowd at a ballroom at the Dover Downs casino complex began to cheer, as Biden laughed and crossed himself. Biden, 76, has repeatedly pushed back possible announcement dates for what would be his third run for the presidency. He has tapped staffers who would be expected to lead a national campaign, leaving many of his political allies convinced he’ll run. But he has yet to make those plans official.

As he prepares presidential run, Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam heading to Middle East” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The trip comes the same week that Messam announced something much bigger than serving as mayor of Florida’s 13th largest city. The day after his re-election win, he formed an exploratory committee as a prelude to running for president of the United States. The trip to the Middle East, where he and an adviser visit Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, and Ramallah, a Palestinian city on the West Bank, is a step toward a presidential candidacy. The region is a critical, and controversial, part of U.S. foreign policy. “It’s important, obviously,” Messam said.


Marco Rubio defends his opposition to stock buybacks” via The Wall Street Journal — Your editorial “The Stock Buyback Panic” (March 11) criticizes my efforts to enact pro-growth, pro-worker reforms. Policy makers need to reassess why the U.S. economy has continued to shift investment away from manufacturing and consider its ultimate effect on American productivity and workers. Your suggestion that I want “politicians to have more leverage to direct how business deploy their capital” ignores that politicians already incentivize business behavior through the tax code, just for uses other than capital expenditure. I believe our policies should unambiguously support capital investment. If that goes against the preferences of business models that rely on unproductive paper arbitrage, then so be it.

Charter school companies feast at the public trough” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — Despite multiple studies in Florida and elsewhere, there’s no consensus on whether charters are doing as well, better or worse than the traditional model in educating children. What the Florida data do show — conclusively — is that they enroll smaller percentages of low-income students and students with disabilities, leaving the public schools responsible for the rest, even as charters and private schools siphon off more tax money. For-profit companies manage a three-times-larger sector of Florida’s charter schools — 45 percent — than they do nationally. Although 33 for-profit companies operate in Florida, most of them have three schools or fewer.

Florida’s hate crimes law needs update” via Jeff Binkley for the Pensacola News Journal — The reason we must legally call all hate crimes by their name and provide specific punishments is that they undermine fundamental values — values that are neither “left” or “right” “blue” or “red” but cornerstone American values — of a decent society in very specific ways, corroding: respect for others; a sense of responsibility; the freedom to live our lives without fear of being attacked simply because of who we are; and yes, freedom of individual expression. If we legally call all crimes for what they are — call them by their name and classify them appropriately this allows us to accumulate information about them, better study them and support policy and awareness to protect ourselves against them.

Joe Henderson: Florida Citizens Alliance is for freedom, but only its kind of freedom” via Florida Politics — The Florida Citizens Alliance advances “the ideals and principles of liberty.” It says so right on its website. We all love liberty, right? But hold on a moment and imagine the kind of “liberty” the FCA seeks. The FCA is working hard now to remove about 100 books from Florida public schools, for starters. I assume that’s because nothing says liberty like censoring literature the FCA doesn’t approve from the state’s public-school classrooms. Usually, these movements sputter and die in the face of academic freedom. This is different, though. The Florida Citizens Alliance supports freedom of religion, but it should be the one practiced by most of its members. Hint: That isn’t Islam.

Joe Negron’s GEO gig: A fabulously slimy quid pro quo?” via Nancy Smith of the Sunshine State News — How good a deal was it? Negron got a two-year contract out of the gate, but it includes options for a “continuous ‘rolling’ two-year term until the age of 67 years,” according to the quarterly report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.” POLITICO’s Dixon points out: The Senate President was a big part of framing the current state budget, in which lawmakers sunk a $4 million increase in funding to companies that operate Florida’s private prisons. GEO Group operates five. It runs deeper than GEO’s 2018 quidding for Negron’s quoing. GEO was actually pushing the Senate president-to-be two and three years earlier.


Negron making $400K annually as general counsel for GEO Group” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida — Former Florida Senate President Negron is making $400,000 annually as the top lawyer for the GEO Group, a top political benefactor he helped as a powerful state lawmaker. GEO gave Negron and committees he controlled more than $300,000 dating back to 2013, according to campaign finance records. It also gave $100,000 in support of the failed 2016 congressional bid of Negron’s wife, Rebecca, the records show. Negron’s initial contract is for two years and includes options for a “continuous ‘rolling’ two-year term until the age of 67 years,” according to the quarterly report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. “The agreement calls for an annual base salary of $0.4 million,” the report states.

Great work if you can get it: Former Senate President Joe Negron gets a great gig from a longtime supporter.

SFWMD: 3 high-ranking officials resign as new board, executive director take over” via Skyler Swisher of TCPalm — Without naming names, district spokesman Randy Smith confirmed the vacated positions: head of Everglades policy and coordination; communications director; acting general counsel. According to the district’s website and legal documents, those people are Eva VelezJerry Eisenband and Carlyn Kowalsky, respectively. Smith said the three submitted “voluntary resignations.” Asked whether the resignations were requested, Smith said, “I don’t believe so.”

— ALOE —

Rest in peace — “Dave Hood, former legislator, Ormond Mayor and judge, dies at 64” via Mark Harper of the Daytona Beach News-Journal — Born in Fort Polk, Louisiana, Hood played eight musical instruments, which helped earn him a scholarship to the University of South Carolina, where he graduated in 1975, then from the law school in 1978. A job at Cobb & Cole P.A. brought him to Daytona Beach, and after 10 years he formed the firm Smith, Hood, Loucks, Stout, Bigman & Brock. In between Hood’s work as an attorney, his political career and his two years on the bench, he was involved in multiple community activities, including Habitat for Humanity, Easter Seals and the Florida Memorial Hospital Cancer Center. He co-founded “The Margarita Ball,” an event that raised money to provide toys to thousands of children.

Farewell: Former legislator, Mayor and Judge Dave Hood played eight musical instruments and was very active in the community. Hood died this weekend at age 64.

Easter Seals Southwest Florida helps the impaired make important contributions” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Tom Waters, president and CEO for Easter Seals Southwest Florida, said money spent now by the state of Florida would direct to direct savings down the line. “Every dollar spent will save $17 in future costs,” he said. “It takes a minimal investment to have a maximum impact.” State Reps. Will Robinson and Tommy Gregory, both Republican freshmen, bear the responsibility to keep these properly programs funded and thriving. The Sarasota Republican notes the Easter Seals brand carries weight around the state of Florida. Nobody questions the good work accomplished by chapters everywhere. “Long-term, it’s not just a socially responsible, morally ethical thing to do,” he said. “It’s also fiscally responsible.”

New blue Angels pilot ‘cannot wait to get back’ to Pensacola” via Melissa Nelson Gabriel of the Pensacola News-Journal — After months of winter training in El Centro, California, Lt. James Cox is excited about the 2019 Blue Angels air show season and the team’s much-anticipated return to Pensacola. “The support we get from the city (of Pensacola) and our fans is what makes us thrive, what motivates us,” said Cox, the team’s new No. 3 pilot, during a recent interview. Cox also has another reason to look forward to the Blues’ return to Pensacola Naval Air Station. Although he is a native of Chesapeake, Virginia, he considers the Pensacola area his second home.


Belated best wishes to Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, Rep. Chip LaMarca, John French, Kelsey Frouge of Conversa, Jan Gorrie of Ballard Partners, Sarah Mathews, lobbyist Christian Minor, Alexander Pantinakisand former Rep. Sean Shaw. Celebrating today are, perhaps ironically, Andy Ford, formerly of the Florida Education Association, and Ron Matus of Step Up for Students.

Today’s Sunburn was written by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Daniel 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

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Renzo Downey, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Kelly Hayes, Joe Henderson, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Gray Rohrer, Aimee Sachs, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Andrew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

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