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Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 4.22.19

It’s not a good morning without a great Sunburn.

Easter weekend provided the pause that refreshes (in theory, at least) for members of the Florida Legislature.

The political reality is quickly ossifying. To help our readers make more sense of the topography of Session’s last two weeks, we present four interviews with key lawmakers.

Below, a few excerpts (for flavor):

Not just ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’: House Judiciary Chair Paul Renner, a Republican from Palm Coast, noted the differences between the past and present Governors.

“With Gov. Rick Scott,” Renner quipped, “there was a strong focus on jobs. His top three priorities: jobs, jobs, jobs.”

Renner is, like many in the Legislative Branch, excited about the new Governor.

Ron DeSantis, says Renner, shows “a different side of the Republican Party” than Scott, citing specifically moves like pardoning the Groveland Four ….

The question going into the last two weeks: Will there be a Special Session?

Appropriation chairs Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Travis Cummings apparently diverge on a Special Session.

Senate budget chair Rob Bradley and House budget chief Travis Cummings, both Clay County Republicans, seem to diverge.

Bradley, who has gotten good at not giving hot quotes, was placid when we asked him last week whether 2019 may be headed to overtime.

“Session is proceeding very smoothly. I anticipate that we will complete our work on time,” Bradley observed before Easter.

“The Session has been defined thus far by its focus on good government, not drama,” Bradley added. “Tallahassee is the anti-DC. Unlike DC, we are getting things done that make a positive impact in the lives of our constituents.”

Cummings, meanwhile, left an opening for the brinkmanship that seasoned observers of The Process are expecting.

“I could see a scenario where we extend Session past Sine Die … if we do not make the necessary progress with our Senate partners in budget negotiations. That would occur if we do not begin budget conference shortly after the Easter holiday,” Cummings said ….

However, the last word in our quartet of interview excerpts comes from the always quotable Sen. Aaron Bean, the Fernandina Beach Republican who put Session into a unique perspective.

He was cagey last week when asked about firm predictions on how well things are going.

He said it would be the “equivalent of asking Tiger Woods after the third round how he feels (about the Masters).”

And with that, we enter the fourth round.


@RealDonaldTrump: How do you impeach a Republican President for a crime that was committed by the Democrats? MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!

@KFILE: .@BuzzFeedBen not feeling [Joe] Biden 2020. “His campaign is stumbling toward launch with all the hallmarks of a Jeb!-level catastrophe — a path that leads straight down. His public persona, always teetering on the brink of being a running Onion joke …”

@NateSilver538: Big @BuzzFeedBen fan but the Jeb! comparison strikes me as dubious. Biden is MUCH more popular than Jeb! He’s polling at 30%, whereas Jeb peaked at 15%. He’s been a Vice President, not “just” a governor. Democrats have pretty deep feelings for him.

Tweet, tweet:

@ScottGottleib: The drug importation scheme contemplated by Florida is especially ill-advised when considered against that state’s long history of being home to importation ‘front groups’ supplying drugs of troubling origin, quality, and legitimacy

@JamesMoore_org: 17 states now have drug import proposals. This is a policy non-starter. 1) Canada will not ship medicines out that are intended for Canadians. Canadians come first. 2) Canada & the US don’t have a customs union, so any deficiencies on transshipments won’t be caught. And with millions/billions of possible dosages/transactions, this would greatly endanger the trusted Canada-US trading relationship. This policy won’t work.

@KingJames: So wrong!! Hurts me to my soul!! To think that could be my sons. Scary times man. (re: video of Broward deputies slamming boy’s head)

@SteveKerr: What the hell is wrong with our country? This is insane yet routine. So demoralizing. (re: video of Broward deputies slamming boy’s head)

@MDixon55: Nothing is more frustrating in the local paper world than spending weeks — sometimes months — on a story, only to have it overshadowed by a four-paragraph story about some alligator robbing a Walmart while smoking meth. But it happens every day.

@DJGroup: Could we have a 6:00 am Monday moratorium on clickbait? Could we? I enjoy a good rip as much as any pol but, hey, a timely … timeout. The price of the interweb is a holiday.


Tampa mayoral runoff election — 1; “Avengers: Endgame” opens — 4; White House Correspondents’ Dinner — 5; 2019 Legislative Session ends (maybe) — 11; Mother’s Day — 20; Florida Chamber Florida Business Leaders’ Summit on Prosperity and Economic Opportunity — 33; Memorial Day — 35; Florida Democratic Leadership Blue conference and fundraiser — 47; U.S. Open begins — 52; Father’s Day — 55; Florida Chamber Learners to Earners Workforce Summit begins — 60; First Democratic presidential debates in Miami — 65; Independence Day — 73; Second Democratic presidential debates in Detroit — 99; St. Petersburg primary election — 128; “Joker” opens — 165; Florida Chamber Future of Florida Forum begins — 189; Scott Maddox trial begins — 196; 2019 General Election — 197; 3rd Annual Florida Internet and Television FITCon begins — 199; Iowa Caucuses — 287; Florida’s presidential primary — 330; 2020 General Election — 561.


Was Bill Nelson vindicated by the Robert Mueller report? He seems to think so.” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times — In a statement, the former Democratic Senator said Mueller’s report explains why last summer he sounded the alarm and claimed that Russians “are in” voting records in Florida. “The Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman and Vice Chairman asked Sen. [MarcoRubio and me in June 2018 to send a letter to the 67 county Supervisors of Election to warn them of Russian intrusion in Florida,” Nelson’s statement said. “The Mueller Report makes clear why we had to take that important step as well as my verbal warnings thereafter.”

Bill Nelson gets a degree of vindication from Robert Mueller’s report on Russian infiltration into the election.

Ron DeSantis says Russian hacking didn’t affect vote totals in 2016” via Stephen Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — DeSantis said Florida’s Secretary of State would “do what’s needed” to shore up elections systems in response to the Mueller Report stating that the FBI believed at least one Florida county was infiltrated by Russian intelligence in 2016. “I can tell you from the Secretary of State’s perspective, we want to make sure that this stuff’s protected and we want to have clear, transparent and honest vote totals,” DeSantis said. “I don’t know that the hacking would have affected that. I think it was more some of the voter information, but that’s still very significant. We obviously have an interest in maintaining [honest vote totals].”


Assignment editors — DeSantis will speak at a news conference joined by the Miami Super Bowl Host Committee to launch the Super Bowl LIV environmental initiative, 10 a.m. Eastern time, Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center, 6767 Crandon Blvd., Key Biscayne.

DeSantis to send $18.5 million to Bay County for Hurricane Michael recovery” via Kevin Derby of the Sunshine State News — DeSantis announced that the federal government is sending the funds to Bay County as reimbursements for debris cleared in the 45 days after the hurricane hit. “When I took office, I made a commitment to the people of Bay County that we would make sure they rebuild stronger than before,” said DeSantis. “Today, we are continuing to deliver on that commitment. I’m going to keep looking at every option available and every program at my disposal to make sure the state is doing everything possible for the people of Northwest Florida.” The funds will be administered through the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM).


The week ahead in Florida: Budget, highways, guns in schools” via Brendan Farrington of The Associated Press — Now we’ll see if the House starts moving toward one of Republican Senate President Bill Galvano’s priorities: creating three new toll highways to cut through rural areas of the state. And while the top policy is being negotiated, so will the state’s budget. The Senate has proposed a $90.3 billion spending plan, and the House has an $89.9 billion proposal. Despite agreeing on the bulk of the bill, including provisions that focus on mental health screening and reporting potential threats, Democrats and Republicans are divided over changes to the “guardian program.”

Bill Galvano

It’s go-time: Bill Galvano’s priorities — funding three toll highway projects — gets tested in the House. Image via Herald-Tribune.

FEA says most teachers ineligible under new bonus plan — The Florida Education Association says teachers at half of Florida’s schools would be ineligible for a bonus plan being pitched by the Senate, reports Andrew Atterbury of POLITICO Florida. The Senate’s “Best and Brightest” bonus proposal links the bonuses to school improvement. If approved, cash bonuses would go to teachers rated “highly effective” or “effective,” but only if their schools improve by an average of 3 percentage points over three years. FEA lobbyist Stephanie Kunkel said rather than bonuses, the cash should go directly to local school boards so they could use it to raise base pay for teachers. The House is offering a different Best and Brightest option: $2,000 bonuses for “highly effective” teachers and $1,100 for those rated “effective.”

Bill aims to cure balloting woes, streamline counts” via Ellis Rua of The Associated Press — Problems with ballot counting prompted Spring Hill Republican Rep. Blaise Ingoglia and two House committees to draft a bill to streamline the absentee balloting schedule. One bill aims to streamline the absentee balloting schedule and require more training for verifying ballot signatures. The bill would extend the period that absentee ballots can be requested from 35 days ahead of the election to 40 days. It also would move up the deadline for requesting such ballots from six days ahead of the election to 10 days. Elections officials would have until eight days before the election to mail out the ballots. The legislation also would call for additional drop-off facilities for voters to bring ballots in person.

Which Florida First Step Act will pass, one that cuts incarceration or one that doesn’t?” via Andrew Pantazi and John Kennedy of GateHouse Media — The Senate overhaul has now passed all committees and will likely go to a floor vote. But the House’s version of the Florida First Step Act still doesn’t have most of the drastic reforms of the Senate bill, and it likely wouldn’t reduce the number of people in prison. While Florida’s crime rates are at a five-decade low, the state’s prison budget is at an all-time high. For years, Jeff Brandes has been sounding the alarm that the costly 96,000-inmate system is untenable, and this year, he had prison wardens testify about the dire conditions.

Ashley Moody priority stalls in Senate — A bill that would help in the state’s lawsuit against pharmacies and opioid manufacturers has stalled in the Senate Rules Committee, reports Alexandra Glorioso of POLITICO Florida. SB 1700 would allow Attorney General Moody’s office to request patient-level information from the prescription drug monitoring program. Without access, it could take years to gather evidence against pharmacies such as Walgreens and CVS. Opposing the legislation is William Large of the Florida Justice Reform Institute, who said it breaks a promise made when the database was created. The information the AG’s office would receive includes patient birth years, the city and county in which they reside, and their ZIP code. Opponents say it would allow individuals to be identified, although the AG’s office says that would be impossible without a birth date or gender.

An Ashley Moody-backed bill is facing an uphill battle in the Senate. 

Parental ‘bill of rights’ raises concern about Florida LGBTQ minors” via Emily Mahoney and Elizabeth Koh of the Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau — The legislation would create a new section of Florida law that would create a parental “bill of rights,” which would establish parents’ authority to direct “the education and care” of their child as well as their “moral and religious training.” It would also broadly give parents a say in any health care decisions their children make through their schools or even private providers: including if minors seek help from a counselor. But advocates argue that this bill would have consequences for LGBTQ minors, many of whom may seek mental health services before they come out to their families.

For low-income people caught in a debt cycle, Florida legislation proposes new 36-percent interest rate” via Lloyd Dunkelberger of the Florida Phoenix — (L)egislation (SB 874/HB 469) advancing in the last weeks of the 2019 Florida legislative session that would create a new statewide consumer-loan program that could charge interest rates as high as 36 percent. “A 36 percent interest rate is very high,” said Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, a St. Johns County Republican accountant who opposes the bill. “Those are not the kind of rates that people are going to thrive on. Those are interest rates that can get people in a lot of trouble.” Florida’s standard interest rate is 18 percent, but rates as high as 30 percent are allowed for some consumer loans. The proposed “Access to Responsible Credit Pilot Program” legislation would increase the highest interest rate allowed in Florida by 6 percent, to 36 percent. It’s patterned after a California law. Proponents of the measure say the higher rates will bring more lenders into a marketplace that’s designed to serve lower-income Floridians who have little access to traditional loans because they have bad credit or no credit rating at all.

New law would allow theme parks to sell lost stuff, contrary to what the law says” via Dan Sweeney of the Sun-Sentinel — The new law, which takes effect July 1, bans these places from selling the items, except for one problem — it would totally allow them to sell the items, at least indirectly. Currently, when lost or abandoned items are found at these locations, they have to be turned over to police, who then have to hold onto the items for 90 days before selling them, donating them to charity or using them for official business. The law specifically states that “the owner or operator of the premises may not sell and must dispose of the property or donate it to a charitable institution.” But an analysis of the law by legislative staff notes that “The bill allows the charitable institution to sell or dispose of donated property.”

Scientific consensus mounts in favor of sunscreen” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Scientists working with Sun Safe Florida say there’s a good reason to worry about a decline in coral reefs. But sunscreen isn’t one. And increasingly, scientific consensus grows in favor of sunblock over knee-jerk bans. “There is actually no direct evidence to demonstrate that bleaching due to global heating is exacerbated by sunscreen pollutants,” writes James Cook University Professor Terry Hughes. The group hopes to see the Florida Legislature pass legislation pre-empting local jurisdictions from banning the sale of high-SPF lotion. Key West already started a process of banning sunblock. And the state of Hawaii did the same at the urging of groups like the Surfrider Foundation.

The Swamp faces wrecking ball. Lawmaker joins fight to save it” via Madeleine Marr of the Miami Herald — Don’t go into mourning just yet. But The Swamp Restaurant, the wildly popular Gainesville hangout for University of Florida students, may soon be history. What’s endangering the 25-year-old storied venue? Progress. A lawmaker, who also is a UF alum, is also working to save The Swamp: Florida House Rep. Anthony Sabatini has proposed an amendment to House Bill 7103, to make the bar a Florida Heritage Landmark.


Assignment editors — State Rep. Dotie Joseph will hold a news conference to discuss HB 563, which allows victims of domestic violence to qualify for unemployment compensation, 10 a.m., Miami Workers Center, 745 NW. 55th St., Miami.

The Revenue Estimating Conference will hold an “impact” conference, which involves estimating potential costs of legislation, 8:30 a.m., 117 Knott Building.

The Financial Impact Estimating Conference will discuss a proposed constitutional amendment that would raise the minimum wage in the state. The proposal, which could go on the November 2020 ballot, would raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour on Sept. 30, 2021, and increase by $1 each year until it hits $15 an hour on Sept. 30, 2026, 9:30 a.m., 117 Knott Building.

The Criminal Justice Estimating Conference will hold what is known as an “impact” conference, 1:30 p.m., 117 Knott Building.

The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Anay Marie Abraham and Carlos Migoya, who was appointed by DeSantis to the Miami Dade College Board of Trustees, 5 p.m., 412 Knott Building.

The Senate Special Order Calendar Group will set a special-order calendar, which lists bills that will be heard on the Senate floor, 15 minutes after the Ethics and Elections Committee, 401 Senate Office Building.

The House Rules Committee will meet to set Thursday’s special-order calendar, which will list bills that will be heard on the House floor, 5:30 p.m., 404 House Office Building.


ICYMI — Florida’s jobless rate holds at 3.5 percent for March” via Malena Carollo of the Tampa Bay Times — The state added 11,500 jobs during the month. The state added 209,700 jobs in the last 12 months, up 2.4 percent. Professional and business services gained the most over that period, adding 50,500 positions (up 3.7 percent) followed by education and health services (40,000 jobs, up 3.1 percent) and leisure and hospitality (28,900 jobs, up 2.4 percent). Information was the sole sector to lose jobs over the year — 700 jobs, down half a percent. The sector includes, among others, newspapers, nontraditional publishing and software, according to University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith.

How long could Florida run on just its reserves? 16 days” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times — The $1.4 billion that Florida holds in reserves is enough to operate state government for 16.2 days, according to a recent analysis by the nonprofit Pew Charitable Trusts. That’s well below the state average of 23 days and less than half of where Florida was in 2002. Florida is in a much better position than where it was in depths of the recession. Then, Florida’s reserves were so low, the state would have run out of money to pay for government services and programs in less than a week. But as Florida’s financial picture has improved, its reserve-to-spending ratio has not kept up with the rest of the country. As of last year, Florida ranked 36 in this metric.

Tweet, tweet:

’Like a Third World country’: Business leaders get firsthand look at slow Michael recovery” via Alicia Devine of the Tallahassee Democrat — Last week’s Hurricane Michael Recovery Mission, which brought together members of the Florida Chamber Foundation, statewide business leaders and Rebuild 850 representatives to see for themselves the devastation wrought in the Panhandle by the Category 5 hurricane. “To be fair, no other community is as resilient as this one,” the Chamber Foundation’s Executive Vice President Tony Carvajal said. The two-day tour included briefings from local leaders, such as Gulf Coast State College President Dr. John Holdnak, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity of Bay County Lance Rettig, and President of the Bay County Chamber of Commerce Carol Roberts. Attendees also met with small local business owners to hear their needs and perspectives on the progress of recovery.

Autism treatment providers protest state payment plan” via News Service of Florida — During her Senate confirmation process, Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew made a surprise announcement that her agency was going to pull the plug on proposed rate reductions for behavioral analysis providers, who treat children with autism. The announcement reassured some senators who were concerned that Mayhew, who earned the nickname “Mary Mayhem” during her tenure as a health care administrator while in Maine, isn’t the right choice to head the agency that’s in charge of the state’s $29 billion Medicaid program. But Mayhew’s feel-good Tallahassee announcement hasn’t trickled down to other areas of the state, where behavioral analysis providers and parents of autistic children are now staging protests.

Bill Galvano, José Oliva seek to cut off Florida Energy Choice amendment” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — A Senate brief calls proposed ballot language deceptive and oversimplified. General Counsel Jeremiah Hawkes and Deputy General Counsel Ashley Isler write the measure violates a single-subject rule for constitutional amendments. “The ballot summary does not even hint at the sweeping effects it will have by requiring the Legislature to upend the entire electric utility regulatory framework,” the counsels write. “The ballot summary affirmatively misleads the public by it stating it grants rights, but fails to include that such rights are dependent and subject to legislative action as the Initiative is not self-executing.” House attorneys call the measure “an abuse of the initiative process” in a separate brief.

José Oliva is looking to block the questionable ‘energy choice’ amendment.

State completes deal to protect habitat, water” via News Service of Florida — Nearly 2,000 acres of prairie habitat within the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge is now in state hands. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection on Friday announced the completion of the 1,992-acre acquisition of the Triple Diamond Florida Forever Project in Okeechobee County. Former Gov. Scott and the Cabinet in August 2017 agreed to buy the property for $4.2 million. It targeted the land for preservation to protect wildlife habitat and water quality while providing recreation opportunities. The Open Space Institute had purchased the land from the Wold family, which has managed the tract as a native range since 1976, and on Wednesday conveyed the property to the Florida Division of State Lands.

Florida Virtual School interim president claims knighthood — but is it legit?” via Beth Kassab of the Orlando Sentinel — Lady Dhyana Ziegler, as she likes to be called, says she was knighted as a “dame of justice” in a ceremony at England’s Cambridge University in 2008 by an order of the “knights of justice.” She served on the FLVS board of trustees for 19 years before being named interim president in March. At her request, school officials use the title “lady” when addressing her, according to former employees. The title also appears in school documents, from minutes of the FLVS board to the press release announcing Ziegler’s new job on March 27. But Ziegler bases her title on an organization that is one of many “fake” orders that often charge money “for a completely worthless piece of paper,” said Guy Stair Sainty, owner of a London art gallery, who has published books on orders of knighthood and chivalry and works to debunk orders that pretend they are related to legitimate, centuries-old groups.

State begins new e-cigarette awareness campaign” via McKenna Beery of the Gainesville Sun — The Florida Department of Health’s Bureau of Tobacco Free Florida, a statewide cessation and prevention campaign funded by Florida’s tobacco settlement fund, is launching a new initiative, E-Epidemic: Vaping and Youth, during Tobacco Free Florida Week, which will continue through Friday. The Bureau is helping to inform and educate people in Florida about the harmful repercussions of using such products through digital campaigns, infographics and media, said Ryan McGuire, a health-policy specialist at the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County. “This is a very prominent issue in the county, and these products, especially Juul, is one that Tobacco Free Florida is trying to focus on, to show that they are not innocent,” he said.

Smoke seen for miles as SpaceX Crew Dragon suffers ‘anomaly’ at Cape Canaveral” via Emre Kelly of Florida Today — A SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule suffered an anomaly Saturday afternoon during a routine engine test firing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, company and 45th Space Wing officials confirmed. “On April 20, 2019, an anomaly occurred at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station during the Dragon 2 static test fire,” wing spokesman Jim Williams told Florida Today. “The anomaly was contained, and there were no injuries.”


Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony meets with black leaders as outcry grows over video of deputies slamming boy’s head” via Scott Travis of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The Sheriff’s Office posted a one-minute clip on Twitter of Tony telling the Broward County Black Elected Officials group his department would conduct a “very tactful” investigation. Video footage shows two white deputies take a black student down, bang his forehead into the pavement and repeatedly punch him in the head. The encounter took place in Tamarac outside a McDonald’s about a half-mile from J. P. Taravella High School in Coral Springs. “That’s the most electrifying and dangerous situation for a law enforcement administrator to handle,’ said Tony. “Any time a white deputy is involved in contact with using force on a black youth, this thing blows up.”

High drama, twists and turns possible as Andrew Gillum’s ethics hearing starts Wednesday” via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat — Both the Florida Commission on Ethics’ prosecutor and Gillum’s lawyer want a shadowy FBI agent who posed as developer Mike Miller and supposedly arranged for the Broadway tickets to testify. But it’s unclear whether the agent, whose true identity is unknown, will show up. If he does, he’ll testify behind closed doors and perhaps in disguise. The prosecution’s star witness, Gillum’s one-time close friend and lobbyist Adam Corey, is another big question mark. Elizabeth Miller, the Ethics Commission’s advocate, signaled in recent court filings that she reasonably expects him to testify. But Gillum’s lawyer, Barry Richard of Tallahassee, said Corey has evaded efforts to locate him and isn’t expected to appear.

Site of big Jacksonville pollution cleanup could become charter school site” via Steve Patterson of Florida Times-Union — The developer behind a string of downtown Jacksonville building projects is spearheading a plan to open a classics-based charter school on land at the center of a decades-long environmental cleanup. Vestcor Companies Chairman John Rood is asking the Duval County School Board to approve startup of the Jacksonville Classical Academy on property facing McCoys Creek next to downtown’s Brooklyn area. Vestcor plans to develop apartments in Brooklyn, but Rood said his involvement with the school has no connection to his company or any development plans for Brooklyn or Mixon Town, the neighboring poor (and mostly black) area where they would build the school.

Judge faces reprimand for political activity” via News Service of Florida — A Broward County circuit judge will face a public reprimand from the Florida Supreme Court because of violating a ban on partisan political activity during his 2018 election campaign. The Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously ruled that Circuit Judge Ernest Kollra should face a reprimand after an investigation by the state Judicial Qualifications Commission. The investigation involved two incidents, including Kollra telling the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board that he was a registered Republican. Also, while speaking to the Hills Democratic Club during the campaign, Kollra said another group, the Dolphin Democrats, had endorsed him. Judicial candidates, who run in nonpartisan races, are barred from discussing issues such as political affiliation.

C.T. Bowen: Dissolve Port Richey? Not so fast” via the Tampa Bay Times — Somebody might want to check with state Sen. Ed Hooper before they try to fold Port Richey’s tent. Hooper is chairman of the Pasco legislative delegation. Dissolving the city of Port Richey, an idea Pasco Commissioner Jack Mariano floated last week, would require action in Tallahassee. “We don’t need to hurry,’’ Hooper said when told of Mariano’s suggestion. Mariano started thinking out loud because the five-member Port Richey City Council is down to three after the arrests of now ex-Mayor Dale Massad and his successor, acting Mayor Terrence Rowe. Massad resigned after being charged with practicing medicine without a license and attempted murder after he was accused of firing two shots at deputies trying to serve a warrant.


Miami Democrats want to let independents vote in the party’s primary elections” via David Smiley of the Miami Herald — The local party — representing the county with the most registered Democrats in Florida — announced Friday that it is launching a campaign to change the Florida Democratic Party’s rules for primary elections. Currently, only Democrats can participate in Democratic primaries for local, state and federal races, and local leaders say they’ll push their counterparts in Florida’s other 66 counties to welcome independent voters into the August primaries.

Election Day draws near in Tampa mayoral race” via Joe Henderson of Florida Politics — The costliest and nastiest Tampa mayoral election anyone can remember comes to a close Tuesday. That’s when voters decide between former Police Chief Jane Castor and businessman David Straz. Polls indicate Castor will win in a blowout. Straz promised an attack-dog kind of campaign, and he kept his word. The problem for the Straz campaign from the start is that Castor is well known and respected throughout the city. She built up a deep reservoir of goodwill with the city she wants to lead. There never was an obvious path to victory for Straz. Of all the reasons she is all but certain to win the election, that sense of common touch may be the biggest one of all.

David Straz is facing a blowout in the Tampa mayoral race.

Palm Beach Gardens councilwoman Maria Marino announces bid for county commission seat” via Jodie Wagner of the Palm Beach Post — The former mayor has announced her candidacy for the Palm Beach County Commission District 1 seat, which will become vacant in 2020. The seat is held by Hal Valeche, who won a second four-year term in 2016. He is not eligible to run again because of term limits. Marino, a Republican, said she jumped into the race at the urging of friends, family and colleagues.


Good Friday brings protests — but no apparent changes — at shelter for migrant youths” via Monique Madan and Ben Weider of the Miami Herald — Despite another day of spirited protests demanding closure of the Homestead center for unaccompanied minors — this time coinciding with Good Friday and the imminent start of Passover — the sprawling facility isn’t going anywhere. Neither are the detainees. Nor, seemingly, is the company that runs it. The contract with Comprehensive Health Services, operator of the center that currently houses over 2,000 migrant children, was scheduled to expire Saturday, at least according to, a government database that tracks spending. Instead, it appeared to be business as usual. Documents show the government could extend out the contract as far as Oct. 19, in part because of the government’s decisions to expand the number of beds.

President attends Easter service following slew of tweets” via Kevin Frecking of The Associated Press — The President tweeted happy Easter to his many followers earlier in the morning, adding “I have never been happier or more content because your Country is doing so well.” But Trump followed with several others in which he sought to frame the report as his vindication, though he was clearly bothered by its details. Soon after tweeting about his happiness, he was tweeting again, calling the report “nothing but a total ‘hit job.’” The President also tweeted about the terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka, saying “we stand ready to help!” Explosions at churches and hotels in that nation killed more than 200 people. Sri Lanka’s defense minister described the bombings as a terrorist attack by religious extremists.

Donald Trump attends Easter services — but first, a barrage of negative tweets. Image via KMPH.

Rick Scott asks FBI for details on reported Russian meddling in Florida” via Rachel Frazin of The Hill — Scott sent a letter to the FBI asking for evidence to corroborate details in special counsel Mueller‘s report about Russia’s election interference in the Sunshine State. The senator asked the bureau to confirm whether Russian agents accessed a Florida county government’s network during the 2016 election, as the report stated, and which county government the report referred to.

Matt Gaetz hires ex-White House aide ousted for white nationalist ties Gaetz has hired ex-White House speechwriter Darren Beattie to work in his Capitol office, reports Sarah Ferris of POLITICO Florida. Beattie was forced out of his White House job last year after they discovered he spoke at a 2016 conference organized by the H. L. Mencken Club alongside white nationalist Richard Spencer. The Southern Poverty Law Center described the event’s attendees as “a band of white nationalists, pseudo-academic and academic racists.” Beattie will work as a Special Adviser for Speechwriting in Gaetz’ office.

Assignment editors — U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist will join Florida Conservation Voters and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman to celebrate efforts to conserve our environment and recreational areas, 10 a.m., Bartlett Park, 2000 7th Street South, St. Petersburg.

Assignment editors — U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor and new HART CEO Ben Limmer will meet one-on-one with HART customers and the community on board a HART bus for a Transit Town Hall, 9:30 a.m., MetroRapid bus departing Marion Transit Center, 1211 N. Marion St., Tampa.

Broke Roger Stone is speaking for money at a strip club” via Kelly Weill of The Daily Beast — Stone has two very important speaking gigs in his future: one is in court over his alleged lying and witness tampering. The other is at a strip club where he’s scheduled to give a paid speech next month, despite opposition from local activists. Stone has fallen on hard financial times since his arrest on federal charges late last year. A judge forbade him from discussing the case in public. But he’s still talking and still pulling in much-needed money from public appearances like his upcoming meet-and-greet at Paper Moon strip club in Richmond next month. Some local activists want to put an end to the appearance, citing a violent ultranationalist group that often acts as Stone’s security force, the Proud Boys.

Florida man charged in racist threats against Cory Booker and Rashida Tlaib” via Christopher Mele of The New York Times — John J. Kless made three phone calls within 30 minutes, starting at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, according to court records. In the first call, to the office of Rep. Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat who is running for president, Mr. Kless said that “the day you come after our guns” would be the day “you’ll be dead,” court papers said. About nine minutes later, in a voicemail message to the office of Ms. Tlaib, Democrat of Michigan, he began with, “Hey, Taliban.”

— 2020 —

Donald Trump wins over big donors who snubbed him in 2016” via Alex Isenstadt of POLITICO — “Deep-pocketed Republicans who snubbed  Trump in 2016 are going all in for him in 2020, throwing their weight behind a newly created fundraising drive that’s expected to dump tens of millions into his reelection coffers. The effort involves scores of high-powered businessmen, lobbyists and former ambassadors who raised big money for George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney — and who are now preparing to tap their expansive networks for Trump after rebuffing his first presidential bid. The project, which is closely modeled after the famed Pioneers network that helped to fuel Bush’s 2000 campaign, is slated to be formally unveiled on May 7, when well-connected Republican fundraisers from around the country descend on Washington for a closed-door event with Trump 2020 aides. Under the plan, which was described by more than a half-dozen party officials, high-performing bundlers who collect at least $25,000 for Trump Victory, a joint Trump 2020-Republican National Committee fundraising vehicle, will earn rewards like invitations to campaign-sponsored retreats, briefings and dinners. Party officials have been reaching out to top fundraisers in recent weeks and wooing them with the prospect of joining ‘raiser clubs,’ with names like 45 Club, Trump Train and Builders Club.

2020 presidential election: Track every candidates Q1 fundraising totals” via Axios — Early fundraising totals are an indicator of candidates’ capacity to power a national presidential campaign that relies largely on name recognition and enthusiasm. Expect an arms race of big ideas over the coming year. There’s a groundswell of Democratic support for candidates who will push socialized health care and major action on climate change and who will break with centrism on immigration and social issues. This will extend to campaign finance, racial justice, drug legalization, voting rights and how to dismantle the Trump administration’s legacy (as Trump did to Barack Obama). Every indicator is going off that this will not be a friendly election to milquetoast or moderation.

Florida money: Donald Trump tops $5.2 million, Biden-less Dems $1.1 million” via Chris Persaud and George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post — Trump has raised more than $5.2 million from Floridians who have contributed more than $200 to his primary re-election campaign or affiliated committees, according to Federal Election Commission data. Democrats, meanwhile, have raised a combined $1.1 million from Florida donors giving more than $200 through March 31. Florida’s leading Democratic collector of contributions exceeding $200 is California Sen. Kamala Harris, who has received $326,582. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar is a distant second with $127,379 in itemized Florida contributions. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker has collected $102,723 from Florida.

Joe Biden begins taking money for a 2020 presidential campaign” via Alexander Burns and Shane Goldmacher of The New York Times — Former Vice President Biden has begun accepting financial donations for a 2020 presidential campaign, an unambiguous sign he intends to begin his challenge to President Trump within days. Several Democratic donors and party fundraisers received emails in recent days encouraging them to write sizable checks to support Biden’s planned candidacy and to mail them to a Democratic consulting firm in Northern Virginia. Two fundraising solicitations, circulated by Democratic donors in California and Pennsylvania, said Biden’s campaign committee would be called “Biden for President.”

Joe Biden is inching toward his third attempt at the White House, starting with accepting money for his presidential campaign.

Wayne Messam says he’s reviewing claims of unpaid presidential campaign workers” via David Smiley of the Miami Herald — Barely a month into an unlikely 2020 bid, Messam is already fending off allegations that his campaign is in chaos. A former staffer says Messam employees are bailing because his wife has “consolidated” the campaign’s finances and won’t cut checks. Messam said a campaign attorney is looking into an email sent to his team alleging that his spouse, Angela Messam, was refusing to issue paychecks. “We’re aware of the letter that was sent, and the campaign is working with counsel to address any legitimate claims,” Messam said, adding that he’s not aware of any “written resignations.”

Dems hope Florida Puerto Ricans’ dislike of Trump translates to actual votes next time” via S.V. Date of HuffPost — Hazel Bryant has spent 25 of her 35 years in Puerto Rico. She lives in Florida. She thinks Donald Trump’s words and deeds about the island show he’s a racist. ‘Maybe he doesn’t have any use for the island anymore,’ she says in a strip mall filled with Puerto Rican-owned businesses, her takeout lunch in hand. ‘He has failed as a president.’ Unfortunately for Democrats, she also does not vote.

Happening tonight — CNN to host back-to-back town halls with five Democratic presidential hopefuls” via  Veronica Stracqualursi of CNN — Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Harris, Sen. Klobuchar, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren will participate in this live, internationally telecast 2020 event from New Hampshire on April 22. The CNN town halls are co-hosted by the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College and the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School. The presidential hopefuls will field questions directly from students and young New Hampshire Democrats, said a CNN spokeswoman, who added the audience would be drawn from the two schools and a pool of young Democrats living in the state.


Terri Rizzo: Democrats working to protect Florida voting rights” via the Orlando Sentinel — In Florida, when we say every vote counts, we really mean it. Yet, a divide has emerged in Florida: on one side, Republican politicians are trying to make it harder for Floridians to vote; while Democrats are registering voters and working to protect voting rights. Last November voters from both parties overwhelmingly supported expanding voting rights in Florida by approving Amendment 4, which restored the right to vote to ex-felons after they completed their sentences. With the history of voter suppression in our state, we cannot simply register new voters and then leave them to fend for themselves in 2020. In this Legislative Session, the Florida GOP has shown their cards.

Lloyd Brown: School choice harms public schools? The numbers don’t add up” via Florida Politics — One of the strangest notions bandied about in the media is that school choice — giving kids equal opportunity — is somehow “draining money” from public schools. Where is the evidence that spending more money on schools produces better education? Why should schools be paid to educate students who are not in their school? Isn’t it the parents’ business where their child goes to school? And isn’t it important if the child gets a better education at less cost? Charters saved taxpayers $997.8 million in 2017-18, and the tax credit scholarship saved $476.6 million, for $1.47 billion. That is money the public schools — or more precisely the taxpayers — would have to raise if the voucher students returned to public schools.

Ron Matus: School quality rises as school choice expands” via Florida Politics — In its April 7 editorial, the Palm Beach Post perpetuates long-running myths and hides inconvenient facts in condemning a proposed new choice scholarship. “Vouchers” are draining money from public schools, in violation of the Florida Constitution, and while our public schools are being decimated, privateers are cashing in. The tax credit scholarship is worth 59 percent of per-pupil spending in district schools. The drain on public schools would come if the program ended. Construction costs alone would surge into the billions if private school students flooded into public schools. The editorial also gives credence to the insights of the Florida teachers union, which is rich. That hasn’t stopped the union from continuing to flood the public arena with the same erroneous claims.

VISIT FLORIDA wants more tax dollars — and is lobbying hard to get it” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — Theme parks and resorts want another $76 million to tell the world that the sun is still shining and the beaches are still open. To put that amount in perspective, it’s more than twice the $30 million Florida spends on its statewide treatment program for mentally ill defendants accused of serious crimes. (A program that traditionally has a waiting list.) It’s more than three times what the state spends on its consumer protection office to combat scammers and fraudsters. Tourism interests claim every tax dollar given to them for advertising yields great returns. But their economic-impact studies are sometimes … um … creative. For instance, DeSantis cited a VISIT FLORIDA study that claims tourism “saves each Florida family more than $1,500 annually” in taxes.

Legislators should not turn police officers into agents for ICE” via the Miami Herald editorial board — Twin bills — SB 168 and HB 527 — would prohibit sanctuary cities in Florida and require state and local law enforcement agencies to comply with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The bills would needlessly codify arresting undocumented immigrants for deportation. Already, Florida has seen U.S. citizens mistakenly ensnared in ICE’s net. This is an overreach, usurping the authority of local law enforcement agencies. And it comes at a time when Trump is threatening to send undocumented immigrants from the U.S.-Mexico border to “sanctuary cities” across the country to punish Democrats. These bills trample local discretion, as existed under the Obama administration, to decide whether to comply with ICE’s requests for an “immigration detainer.”

Floridians should oppose sorely misguided SB 168” via Michael A. Coon for the Tallahassee Democrat — The most substantial disincentive for undocumented immigrants was the 2008 recession, after which the flow of new immigrants began to be offset by the number of immigrants returning home due to lack of employment opportunities. Having immigration policies that better reflect the realities of the factors driving individuals to migrate would do more to address undocumented immigration than merely increasing spending or implementing more radical enforcement regimes. The consensus among economists is that immigration increases wages and employment opportunities for the vast majority of U.S. citizens. SB 168 is a sorely misguided bill, and all Floridians should oppose it.

AOB protects homeowners from unresponsive insurance companies” via Manny Pozo of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — I would argue assignment of benefits (AOB) is not the cause of higher rates, and that it protects homeowners from untrained and unresponsive insurance company preferred vendors. If you took the word of the insurance carriers, you might think that our company is a group of ragtag bad actors. Obviously, that couldn’t be further from the truth. We are a local, family-owned restoration company who has been in business for nearly 15 years and pride ourselves on being active in our community and delivering quality work to our neighbors. The way the insurance companies depict our business is laughable and ironic given these are the same carriers who continue to string along legitimate claims. Now, sadly, these insurance companies are getting legislators to believe this false rhetoric and vitriolic narrative.

Jackie Toledo: E-scooters on the road” via the Tampa Bay Times — HB 453, which would provide a new, affordable transportation option and help alleviate traffic issues by permitting e-scooters, is successfully moving through the Florida House. If HB 453 passes, local governments would be able to seamlessly regulate e-scooters and allow e-scooters to be used on the road rather than sidewalks — similar to bicycles. HB 453 would give Floridians the power to make transportation decisions as unique as their needs. Modes of transportation that work for a Tampa resident who lives in the hustle and bustle of downtown may not work for another who lives in a quiet, secluded neighborhood. I urge my fellow lawmakers to support this good legislation so we can provide a consensus regarding e-scooters by the close of session.


Carol Bracy, Ballard Partners: Florida A & M University Foundation

George Levesque, GrayRobinson: Sarasota Memorial Health Care System

Kenneth McKay: Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America


UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton is slowly recovering from a gruesome leg injury he suffered last November against USF.

Meanwhile, The University of Miami’s passing game could be on the up and up, according to those who saw the program, under new coach Manny Diaz, play in Orlando for its spring football game.

After a gruesome leg injury, UCF’s McKenzie Milton is taking the next steps to return to the field. Image via Sports Illustrated.

Could’ve been worse: In an interview with Real Radio 104.1 in Orlando, the first since the injury, Milton said he has undergone multiple surgeries and had his kneecap rebuilt. “It was tough, but, at the same time, 50 percent of people that suffer my injury — I had a knee dislocation and a popliteal artery — have to have their leg amputated.” He is unlikely to play in this upcoming season but has said he hopes to play football again.

Looking good: The Miami Herald reported that quarterback Tate Martell, a redshirt sophomore transfer from Ohio State, looked much better operating from the shotgun than he had previously performed under center.

Tailing off a friendly landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the television business is shifting some focus to sports betting.

Holman Jenkins marked the momentum in a recent editorial for The Wall Street Journal.

“When the Supreme Court last year struck down a federal law banning sports betting, they knew it was good news for the beleaguered cable bundle, the glue of which is live sports,” Jenkins wrote.

Experiments: The Boston Red Sox cable sports network “has launched a new five-day-a-week gambling show.” ESPN has two major wagering shows available nationwide. Comcast has played its hand in part by telecasting 76ers games for gamblers.

Potential to rig: Cynicism could affect the sports world. “Last year, when so many early-season passes went through the hands of New York Giants’ receivers, fans rolled their eyes. Next season they may wonder who got paid for his butterfingers.”

Online, too: Television businesses would love to have gambling permitted online. “Even the most boring or blowout contest might still be riveting to viewers if allowed to place bets by smartphone on every pitch, putt or free throw.” But, the brick-and-mortar casinos likely wouldn’t be on board.

— ALOE —

Universal: New Potter coaster to show off ‘blast-ended skrewt’” via Dewayne Bevil of the Orlando Sentinel — Coming soon to Islands of Adventure theme park will be the blast-ended skrewt, the latest unveiled element of its upcoming thrill ride called Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. The blast-ended skrewt — described as a giant scorpion meets elongated crab — will join the Wizarding World of Harry Potter population when the Hagrid ride opens June 13. The skrewt is also notable because it was not seen in the “Harry Potter” series of films. It was introduced in J. K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” book, the fourth in the series of seven. The creature was also mentioned in other “Potter” books. Fire comes from the blasting end, not to mention a strong odor.

Universal’s new Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure will feature the blast-ended Skrewt, not seen in any of the Harry Potter movies but mentioned in the series of books.

We rode Tigris, the new Busch Gardens coaster. This is what it’s like.” via Daniel Figueroa IV of the Tampa Bay Times — Tigris is an intense and worthy ride that catches you by surprise. First, its speed is visually impressive. It zooms and roars by you so fast you have no time to think about what you just saw. Then you step in, secured mostly from the shin and thigh with a “comfort strap” over your shoulders that is more there for something to hold on to than keep you in. The ride is intense from any of the two-person rows, but the experience can vary slightly depending on where you sit. Park representatives said the ride is designed to “mimic the awe-inspiring agility of the world’s largest and most powerful cat — the tiger.”


Belated best wishes to the wonderful Rachel Cone, managing partner of Southern Strategy Group, as well as James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat, state Rep. Randy Fine, former Rep. Jake Farmer, Hessy Fernandez, Lloyd Dunkelberger, our old friend Andrew Hall, former U.S. Rep. Trey RadelBill RuftyKelly Schmidt, Justin Thames. Celebrating today is Florida Politics’ Janelle Irwin Taylor, former Sen. Frank Artiles, St. Pete City Council Member Brandi Gabbard Kunard, Bert Ralston, World Partnerships’ Mary Ellen Upton, and Florida Ports Council CEO Doug Wheeler.

Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jim Rosica, Dan McAuliffe, and Drew Wilson.

Written By

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

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

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Jim Rosica, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Dan McAuliffe, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

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