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Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 9.16.19

When you need the best in Florida politics — Sunburn.

First in Sunburn — Twenty years after Paul Bradshaw launched Southern Strategy Group as a one-person shop in Tallahassee, the top-tier firm is getting a new name and new look.

But the firm’s dedication to its clients and communities remains, as does its desire to innovate within the influence industry.

“As we celebrate crossing the 20-year mark for our firm, we are changing our name to reflect our broader mission in the next decade, one that includes our core business of lobbying but also other service lines,” said Bradshaw, the chairman of what is now called The Southern Group.

“We see traditional face-to-face advocacy as the ongoing core of effective governmental relations, but we also recognize that other services like digital media, public relations, and polling are also critical elements in the sphere of influence that surrounds key decision-makers in government.”

Bradshaw said the new brand signals the “firm’s further evolution in the influence business.”


With Sunburn, you’re used to reading the stories behind Florida politics.

Now, you can listen to them.

I’m excited to announce the start of a new Monday through Friday podcast called Sunrise.

It’s about the people and policies behind The Process — and beyond.

This is more than just a recitation of the previous day’s top stories. We’ll have guests from all stops on the political spectrum in the Sunshine State.

That includes elected officials, consultants, and other behind-the-scenes players.

The podcast is also powered by the plugged-in journalists of Florida Politics and others from across the state’s media landscape.

We saved the best surprise for the end: Sunrise is curated and hosted by none other than Tallahassee broadcast veteran Rick Flagg.

We’ll be coming to you for 15 to 20 minutes an episode, ready by 6 a.m., just like a pot of coffee.

We already taped a couple of pods as part of a dry-run, but today is the official launch. And our first guest is Senate President-designate Wilton Simpson.

So pour a cup, sit back and enjoy the news:

You will also be able to listen to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and wherever else you listen to pods. Click here for the link to the main site and RSS feed in case you can’t find it.


@RealDonaldTrump: Brett Kavanaugh should start suing people for liable, or the Justice Department should come to his rescue. The lies being told about him are unbelievable. False Accusations without recrimination. When does it stop? They are trying to influence his opinions. Can’t let that happen!

@KamalaHarris: I sat through those hearings. Brett Kavanaugh lied to the U.S. Senate and most importantly to the American people. He was put on the Court through a sham process and his place on the Court is an insult to the pursuit of truth and justice. He must be impeached.

@NewsBySmiley: Miami got on-message, full-empathy Biden today, bringing kids onstage and checking on an older woman who didn’t do well in the heat.

@GovRonDeSantis: Thank you to everyone for the kind birthday wishes. I am grateful for the support of so many, especially from @FLCaseyDeSantis and my wonderful family. Looking forward to another great year.

Tweet, tweet:

@AnnaForFlorida: Our #BahamaStrong drive collected over 40,000 lbs. of donated items. We just unloaded a final Uhaul & still have 4 pallets in our parking lot to bring over. We continue to support efforts to get these items to the Bahamas & will keep you posted. TY for being a part of it!

@ChrisLatvala: UCF belongs in the Top 10.

@AndreaGainey: For the record — if you seriously considered no longer being a fan of #FSU because of how the team performed, then you never really were. Period. It’s not a decision. It’s who I am. I wouldn’t know any other way. If that isn’t you — don’t use the word fan. You are an admirer.


“Morning” Joe Scarborough releases “This Ends Badly: How Donald Trump Conned America” — 1; MSNBC hosts candidates event on climate in D.C. — 3; Emmy Awards live on Fox — 6; 850 Hemp Summit begins — 16; “Joker” opens — 18; Triple Force Friday: the next generation of Star Wars products arrives — 18; SNL season premiere with Woody Harrelson — 19; Debut of Breaking Bad movie on Netflix — 25; New season of “The Crown” streaming on Netflix — 32; “Watchmen” premeires on HBO (watch the trailer and let us know what you think) — 34; Florida Chamber Future of Florida Forum begins — 42; Brexit scheduled — 45; 2019 General Election — 50; 3rd Annual Florida Internet and Television FITCon starts — 52; “Frozen 2” debuts — 67; TaxWatch 40th Annual Meeting — 77; “The Rise of Skywalker” premiers — 95; 2020 Session begins — 120; Florida TaxWatch State of the TaxPayer Dinner in Tallahassee — 121; Iowa Caucuses — 140; New Hampshire Primaries — 148; Florida’s presidential primary — 183; “Black Panther 2” debuts — 233; 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo begin — 312; Florida primaries for 2020 state legislative/congressional races — 344; 2020 General Election — 414.


School safety, hurricane recovery, budget top legislative agenda” via Jeff Schweers and James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat — The Legislature is back in town for the first of several committee weeks — time for lawmakers to roll up their sleeves and decide the pecking order of proposed legislation. The six committee weeks are meant to prepare lawmakers for the 60-day session, frame the issues, and flag any potential hurdles or controversies that might stall key legislation or force them into overtime. Their only constitutional duty during Session is to pass out a balanced state budget. The USA TODAY NETWORK — Florida has identified four major issues to follow: Gun violence, which includes school safety and mental health, hurricane recovery, water quality and the environment, and the budget shortfall.


Like his predecessor, former Gov. Rick Scott, Ron DeSantis appears to be giving preference to those who donate to his political spending committee, mostly by awarding appointments to influential government posts.

As first noted by John Kennedy of GateHouse Capital Bureau, one of DeSantis’s most reliable donors, former Ambassador to the Bahamas John Rood, an influential Jacksonville developer, recently emerged as a leader of Florida’s efforts to help the island nation recover from Hurricane Dorian.

Like his predecessor, Gov. Ron DeSantis gives preference to political donors.

“John knows all the people over in the Bahamas,” DeSantis said of Rood, referring to him as “a friend of mine.”

Rood — as well as his Vesctor Companies — have given more than $68,000 to Friends of Ron DeSantis this year, most of it coming during the summer while the Governor ramped up his fundraising.

Other DeSantis donors have received assignments.

John Palmer Clarkson, a manufacturing executive, was reappointed to the Jacksonville Port Authority in August, two months after he gave $10,000 to DeSantis’s committee. Charles Lydecker, an insurance executive from Ormond Beach, was appointed to the State University System Board of Governors in June, after giving $10,000 to DeSantis’s political committee before his election.


Assignment editors — DeSantis will participate in Buc-ee’s groundbreaking ceremony, 9 a.m., northwest corner of I-95 and LPGA Boulevard, Daytona Beach. Later, the Governor will make a major announcement, noon, Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, 3 Independent Dr., Jacksonville.

Ready for his close up: Health Secretary Scott Rivkees to make legislative debut” via Christine Jordan Sexton of News Service of Florida — Health Secretary and University of Florida (UF) professor Rivkees makes his debut appearance before legislative health care panels this week. While Gov. DeSantis in April announced Rivkees would head the Health Department, Rivkees — who also holds the title of state Surgeon General — did not officially join the agency until June, after legislators left town. Rivkees’ first appearance is before the Senate Health Policy Committee on Tuesday, followed by a House appearance on Wednesday.

Scott Rivkees will make his official legislative debut.

Senate to look at what prompts mass shootings; will gun limits follow” via John Kennedy of GateHouse — After a summer when the nation was stunned by a series of mass shootings, the Florida Senate is set Monday to explore what leads to such violence — a move some say will point to a need for stricter gun regulation in the Sunshine State.

House gets green light to join marijuana fight” via the News Service of Florida — The decision by a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal paved the way for the House to enter a lawsuit filed by Florigrown, a Tampa-based business trying to gain entry to the state’s highly restricted medical-marijuana industry, and overturned a ruling by Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson. The House sought to join the case after Dodson sided with Florigrown and ruled that a state law requiring pot operators to grow, process and distribute cannabis and related products — a system known as “vertical integration — ran afoul of a 2016 constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana.

What Erika Donalds is reading —School board term limits issue reemerges” via the News Service of Florida — Rep. Anthony Sabatini filed a proposed constitutional amendment (HR 157) that would impose eight-year term limits on school board members, similar to the long-standing term limits imposed on state lawmakers. If the proposal passes the House and Senate, it will go on the November 2020 ballot because imposing term limits would require amending the state Constitution. Sabatini proposed a school board term-limit measure during the 2019 session, and three House committees approved it. The full House did not pass it.

First on #FlaPol —Moffitt Cancer Center wants to more than double its current cigarette tax take” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — The cancer hospital currently receives 4 percent of the tax. They want to collect 10 percent, which would raise an additional $22 million annually. The increase in revenue would help fund a new inpatient clinical research center and an expansion campus that would be used for both clinical and research applications. The existing Tampa-based hospital’s core buildings are all more than 30 years old, and the hospital overall is at or near capacity daily. The hospital has also run out of room in its primary research complex. The hospital says the new revenue is needed to expand space because it is unable to attract top scientists without an adequate workspace.


The Senate Infrastructure and Security Committee will hold a workshop about mass attacks and violence, to include presentations about academic research and studies, law-enforcement issues, mental health issues and judicial-system issues, 1 p.m., 110 Senate Office Building.

The House Appropriations Committee will receive a presentation by Amy Baker, coordinator of the Legislature’s Office of Economic & Demographic Research, about a report known as the Long Range Financial Outlook, 3 p.m., 212 Knott Building.

The Senate Education Committee will receive an update on school safety and security, 4:30 p.m., 412 Knott Building.


Susan Valdéz calls for ethics investigation into Florida prison beatings, abuse” via Romy Ellenbogen of the Miami Herald — State Rep. Valdéz, a Tampa Democrat, submitted a letter to the chairman of the Public Integrity & Ethics Committee saying that recent reports of attacks at Lowell Correctional Institution and Lake Correctional Institution show a broader problem. “While the correctional system no doubt exists in part to punish offenders, the reports we are hearing go beyond punishment,” she wrote. On Aug. 21, four officers at Lowell, the state’s largest women’s prison, slammed inmate Cheryl Weimar to the floor. They then dragged her out of view of cameras and kept beating her, according to a lawsuit on her behalf. Weimar, who has suffered from a history of mental illnesses, now has quadriplegia.

Susan Valdes wants to launch an investigation into abuses in Florida’s prison system.

Prison inmates dead after incident at Columbia correctional institution” via Aurielle Eady of Action News Jax — Officials say at 3:15 p.m., three inmates were found unresponsive from a suspected drug overdose. Security and medical staff responded to the incident to perform lifesaving measures, but the FDC says two inmates were pronounced deceased. The other inmate is said to be in stable condition. The prison staff that responded to the situation are being evaluated at a hospital for treatment of symptoms related to potential drug exposure. “At this time, our focus is on the health and swift recovery of the officers and individuals involved. The facility has been placed on lockdown — while we provide FDLE with everything they need to investigate this incident,” Michelle Glady, with the FDC, said.

Tourists got ripped off in Florida. The state offered refunds, but who knew?” via Steve Bousquet of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Florida is one of the most competitive markets in the world for rental cars, and companies found a lucrative stream of revenue by overcharging their own customers who drive through highway toll booths without paying. One reason drivers don’t pay is there’s no one there to take their money. So if you didn’t rent a SunPass transponder when you rented your car, you were stuck. You couldn’t pay a toll. Attorney General Ashley Moody announced a settlement with Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group that entitled affected renters to refunds. Dollar Thrifty did not admit wrongdoing, and the settlement said the companies acted in good faith.

Florida congregations of Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to determine what ‘sanctuary’ means” via Lisa Maria Garza of the Orlando Sentinel — Galvanized by increasingly stringent immigration policies, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America proclaimed itself a “sanctuary church body” last month — a controversial decision met with uncertainty among some Florida congregations. The declaration was overwhelmingly approved Aug. 8 by a churchwide assembly in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The It says, among other things, that the term sanctuary “not only means the provision of shelter but is a response to raids, detentions, deportations and the criminalization of immigrants and refugees.”

How Terri Schiavo’s final days divided her family, Florida and the world” via Tom Zucco, Jamie Thompson, William Levesque, Kelley Benham, Leonora LaPeter Anton and Thomas French of the Tampa Bay Times — In the two weeks after her feeding tube was removed, the struggle over Schiavo’s life and death was waged at the Governor’s Mansion, in a handful of courthouses, on the floor of the Florida Legislature, in both houses of Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the White House, even the Vatican. But in Schiavo’s final few hours, as her breathing grew more labored, the conflict edged its way inside the stillness of her Pinellas Park hospice room.

As Florida lawmakers face more pressure on guns, is the NRA up for the fight?” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times — Florida lawmakers returning to Tallahassee on Monday will confront mounting expectations that they do something about the wave of gun violence and summer of mass shootings across the country. Gun reform activists are organized and well-funded. Retailers are banning guns from stores and pulling ammo off shelves. Poll after poll shows Americans think it should be harder to buy a firearm and a majority think certain weapons, the ones most used in extreme acts of violence, should be banned outright. But there is another factor that could determine how far lawmakers are willing to go to address gun safety: The weakened state of the National Rifle Association.

Happening today — The state’s Restoration of Voting Rights Work Group will meet. The group was created as part of efforts to carry out a November constitutional amendment that restored voting rights to felons who have completed terms of their sentences, 2 p.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building. Call-in number: 1-888-585-9008. Code: 659459077.


Tropical storm Humberto just short of hurricane strength, remains east of Florida” Tiffani Theisen and Lisa Maria Garza of the Orlando Sentinel — As of 5 p.m., the system was about 210 miles north-northwest of Great Abaco Island and about 170 miles east-northeast of Cape Canaveral, moving north at 6 mph with sustained winds at 70 mph, just below the 74 mph speed for hurricane status, the National Hurricane Center said. Its projected path is not a threat to Florida. “It’s going to become a hurricane likely in the next 12 hours. It continues to show massive improvement in structure,” meteorologist Brooks Tomlin said. “The hurricane hunter aircraft that was in there this afternoon found hurricane-force winds just above the surface to the northeast side of the storm, so the storm is 4 mph away from hitting hurricane strength.”

Humberto strengthens, but movers away from Florida.

’What’s next?’: An uncertain future as Bahamian survivors of Hurricane Dorian flee to Florida” via Lori Rozsa of The Washington Post — U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials say approximately 3,900 evacuees from the Bahamas have landed in Florida, many of them U.S. citizens. Without offering specifics, a CBP spokesman said “a very small number” of Bahamians have been turned away — largely because they were unable to pass criminal background checks or were otherwise inadmissible. Palm Beach County is providing temporary housing for about 60 refugees, county spokeswoman Lisa De La Rionda said. “We’re working with them while they reconnect with their families and friends,” De La Rionda said. Reconnecting has been a problematic aspect of the recovery in the Bahamas — many who were in Marsh Harbour when the hurricane hit was left without phones, and tens of thousands are homeless.

Why some Dorian survivors are staying on Abaco: ‘We believe in bouncing back.’” Via Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald — Two weeks after Dorian reduced much of the Abacos to rubble and left scores of homes in Grand Bahama with gaping holes in the ceilings, shellshocked storm survivors are facing the daunting task of rebuilding their devastated lives. The government says it has so far confirmed only 50 deaths, although its missing person registry had 1,300 names — down from 2,500 days earlier — as of Friday. Meanwhile, an estimated 4,500 residents have fled for Nassau, while an unknown number have boarded commercial flights and private charters for Florida. With the free evacuation flights all but ceased, hundreds of others, including Cornish and a handful of Haitian immigrants, have decided to stay put in the Abacos and rough it out.

Florida hardened for storms, but 185 mph winds showed goal posts have moved” via Jeff Ostrowski of the Palm Beach Post — After multiple storms swept through Florida in 2004 and 2005, Florida Power & Light spent billions hardening its system to withstand winds up to 145 mph. Now, though, Mother Nature has moved the goal posts. Hurricane Dorian pounded the Bahamas this month with sustained winds of 185 mph and cartoonishly extreme gusts of 220 mph. Because it was so intense and slow-moving Dorian forced Floridians to face the possibility of massive destruction, despite the state’s decadeslong efforts. “It was almost us,” said Jared Moskowitz, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management. “Whatever the building code is in the state of Florida — and we have the best building code in the country — it was not built for Hurricane Dorian.”

Sheriff and Brevard emergency officials send mixed messages during Dorian” via Dave Berman and Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon of FLORIDA TODAY — Dressed in his iconic green uniform and often standing before a marquee emblazoned with the sheriff’s badge, Wayne Ivey appeared in 13 videos and livestreams on his Facebook page, informing followers of everything from weather forecasts to calls for evacuations, putting his signature folksy spin and earnest brand on each one. Hundreds of Brevard residents and fans around the world left messages of thanks for his efforts. The problem is that Ivey primarily took it upon himself to provide the flurry of livestreamed social media updates and videos, sometimes without careful coordination with emergency authorities. And even when Ivey alerted the emergency authorities to something he planned to do, county officials didn’t put out the same message.

Brevard Sheriff Wayne Ivey and the county’s emergency officials gave residents mixed messages during Dorian.

Why hasn’t Palm Beach County been hit by a massive storm lately? Well, it ain’t science” via Kimberly Miller of the Palm Beach Post — Three close calls for Palm Beach County in four years with major hurricanes that at one time or another had the area deep in the clutches of their cones of uncertainty. While geography and jet streams work to protect North Florida from ruinous hurricane landfalls, the lack of recent head-on collisions with the Sunshine State’s southeastern coast has a sobering explanation — dumb luck. A bobble here, an eyewall replacement cycle there, Cuba, and fortuitous steering currents, had acted as unwitting benefactors to the Gold Coast since a decadelong cyclone cease-fire ended in 2016 when Hermine landed in the Big Bend region Sept. 2.

— 2020 —

So goes the nation. Who will win Florida’s Latino voters” via Jonathan Blitzer of the New Yorker — One afternoon last February, Donald Trump stood at a lectern at Florida International University in Miami, and before a cheering crowd of a thousand called President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela a ‘dictator’ and a ‘Cuban puppet.’ Trump was flanked by two enormous flags, Venezuelan and American, and the word Democracia flashed on a screen behind him.”

Joe Biden allies attack Elizabeth Warren’s electability” via Marc Caputo of POLITICO — While Warren won reelection easily in 2018, Biden’s backers point to her performance among independent and blue-collar voters as evidence she’ll fail to appeal to similar voters in the Rust Belt — just as Hillary Clinton did in 2016. “The grave concern of many of us Democrats in Massachusetts is that in many of the counties where Sen. Warren underperforms, they are demographically and culturally similar to voters in key swing states,” said state Rep. John Rogers, who backs Biden. “The tangible fear here,” Rogers said, “is that these Massachusetts counties are bellwethers for states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio — key states that Democrats can’t afford to lose in the battle to beat President Trump.”

Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden are now at odds.

Biden said he ‘confronted’ Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro. Is that true?” via Alex Daugherty of the Miami Herald — Brushing off a moderator who was trying to cut him off, the former vice president talked about his personal experience dealing with Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro. “By the way, in Venezuela, we should be allowing people to come here from Venezuela,” Biden said. “I know Maduro. I’ve confronted Maduro.“ Biden’s remark drew a swift response from the Trump campaign, with the campaign “war room” Twitter account tweeting a pair of photos from January 2015 showing Biden and Maduro smiling at each other during former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s swearing-in ceremony in Brazil. The images were handouts from Venezuela’s presidential office.

Joe Henderson: There is a better way for gun control than Beto O’Rourke’s plan” via Florida Politics — Even if O’Rourke is elected President, which he won’t, the political obstacles to fulfill his promise would be insurmountable. Even moderate members of his Democratic Party aren’t buying the idea. Despite that, I’m glad O’Rourke said that out loud, and many reasonable people believe it needed to be said. They have heard NRA supporters mouth garbage about a good guy with a gun is the only defense against a bad guy with a weapon of war. On NBC’s “Meet The Press,” O’Rourke doubled down on his vow. “I refuse to even acknowledge the politics or the polling or the fear or the NRA. That has purchased the complicity and silence of members of Congress.” Yeah, there are long odds.

Julián Castro is not here to make friends” via Osita Nwanevu of The New Republic — It is doubtful most viewers would have appreciated the nuances of what Biden and Castro were discussing even if Castro hadn’t taken a remarkably transparent jab at Biden’s age — which was in turn followed by Castro summarily rejecting Pete Buttigieg’s attempt to play peacemaker. It’s possible all of this landed more poorly among most debate viewers than it did among progressives on social media who have been openly questioning Biden’s mental acuity since he entered the race. The establishment figures tightly clutching their pearls about Castro were happy to retain a man willing to call progressives “fucking retarded” as a powerful fixer and make him Mayor of Chicago because Democratic civility is, primarily, an instrument of party control.

Amy Klobuchar to embark on tour of ‘blue wall’ states” via Elena Schneider of Politico — Sen. Amy Klobuchar is kicking off a “blue wall” tour this week, making stops in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. The Minnesota Democrat has centered her presidential bid on her ability to win back those states — once considered part of a blue wall of Democratic strength in presidential elections — that Donald Trump flipped in 2016.

Andrew Yang’s campaign says over 450,000 people have entered debate contest” by Alex Thompson of Politico — Andrew Yang’s surprising debate gambit — giving away $120,000 to 10 families over a year to highlight his universal basic income proposal — helped the outsider candidate raise $1 million in the 72 hours since the debate and collect more than 450,000 email addresses from people who entered the online raffle.


Records suggest neither GOP candidate in CD 26 lives there” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Republican candidates Omar Blanco and Irina Vilariño, who are competing for the seat in Florida’s 26th Congressional District, both appear to be living outside the district, according to voter registration records. Those records show both candidates registered at addresses that are in Florida’s 27th Congressional District, not CD 26. Vilariño is registered at a Pinecrest residence she owns. The owner of a string of “Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine” restaurants in South Florida, Vilariño joined the race to challenge incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. Blanco is the head of Miami-Dade Firefighters Local 1403 and joined the race in August. Blanco eventually courted the endorsement of GOP state Sen. Anitere Flores.

Neither Irina Vilariño nor Omar Blanco lives in CD 26, the district they seek to represent.

First in Sunburn —Jeff Hinkle launches House District 4 campaign” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — A third Republican has entered the race to succeed Republican Rep. Mel Ponder in Okaloosa County’s House District 4. Okaloosa Republican Party Chairman Hinkle on Monday joined Sandra Atkinson and Jonathan Tallman in the race, setting up a possible three-way Republican primary for the seat. “We deserve a State Representative who will support Gov. DeSantis and President Trump in keeping taxes low, investing in our infrastructure and protecting our conservative values,” Hinkle said. First reported in Sunburn, Ponder is exiting the state House after two terms to run for a seat on the Okaloosa County Commission. All three candidates for the seat have filed in the days since.

First in Sunburn — Ben Diamond endorses Alison Tant for HD 9 — “I am proud to endorse my friend Allison Tant for state representative,” Diamond said in a statement. “Allison will be a great advocate for her community in the Florida House. She will also be a determined, engaged and compassionate leader for our state.” In April, Diamond was elected Democratic Leader for 2022-24 and could be in line for Speaker if Democrats retake the house. Tant responded: “Diamond has been a champion for all Floridians from the minute he was elected to the Florida House and I’m excited to partner with him to advance a meaningful agenda that puts public education first and protects our consumers.”

Happening tonightTant will hold a fundraiser for her HD 9 campaign, 5 p.m., Governors Club, 202 South Adams Street. Tallahassee.

Happening tonight — Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee hosts a reelection fundraiser for Reps. James Bush III, Kimberly Daniels, Al Jacquet, Wengay Newton, Valdés and Patricia Williams, 5 p.m., Governor’s Club Jim King Room, 202 South Adams Street. Tallahassee.


Orlando Mayor, City Council races are set. One incumbent wins reelection without opposition.” Via Ryan Gillespie of the Orlando Sentinel — Mayor Buddy Dyer and two opponents challenging him for reelection — Sam Ings and Aretha Simons — qualified for the race this week, setting up a three-way bout for the office in November. Joining them on the ballot will be City Commissioner Patty Sheehan, who drew a last-minute challenger in Corey DeVogel in District 4, and three candidates who qualified for the rare open seat representing District 6 on the City Council. Meanwhile, City Commissioner Tony Ortiz was reelected Friday as no opponent filed to oppose him. Qualifying ended at noon Friday, setting up a seven-week sprint to Election Day, Nov. 5.

The race against Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer is set.

Former Public Defender Matt Shirk censured, reprimanded and fined $6K by ethics commission” via Andrew Pantazi of the Florida-Times Union — The Florida Commission on Ethics agreed to accept a settlement that censures and reprimands him — even though he didn’t show up to accept the censure and reprimand — and fine him $6,000 for what commission members called his “egregious” behavior in office. A series of stories in the Times-Union that detailed how Shirk had built a shower in his office, hired women based on their physical attractiveness, asked them for sex, drank with them on the job and then had his wife fire them. A grand jury declined to indict him but called for his removal from office, and that grand jury found he had violated attorney-client privilege in the high-profile case of 12-year-old Cristian Fernandez, who was accused of murder.

After just three months of vaping, Jacksonville teen hospitalized with holes in his lungs” via Emily Bloch of the Times-Union — Dallas Pantazi’s deep, brassy cough echoes through his hospital room. The 17-year-old has been at Wolfson Children’s Hospital since Tuesday because of his vaping addiction and the trauma it’s caused his body. He’s a sophomore — with asthma — who attends Douglas Anderson High School. And he’s not the only one affected by the epidemic.

Lawmakers tell USF: rework your consolidation plan or we will” via Megan Reeves of the Tampa Bay Times — They say the proposal, outlined this week by USF President Steve Currall, conflicts with Florida law because it shifts authority over academics from campuses in St. Petersburg and Sarasota to the school’s central offices in Tampa. The plan confirms fears long-held by USF faculty and community members who worry consolidation will take autonomy away from the regional campuses, despite Currall’s promises in recent months that it won’t. Just a month ago, he told the Tampa Bay Times those concerns were “not well-founded.” Now, both Republicans and Democrats representing the Tampa Bay region say the president must reconsider his outline for consolidation — and some vow to step in during the upcoming legislative session if he doesn’t.

Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie gets a mediocre review from board” via Scott Travis of the Sun-Sentinel — Runcie received a rating of 2.8 out of a possible 4 points, which is on the low end of effective. He also received his first-ever ratings of unsatisfactory, the lowest possible mark, for a year marked by efforts to recover from the Parkland tragedy, a grand jury investigation and a failed attempt to fire him. Runcie, who started with the district in 2011, received his highest marks for student achievement, as the school district has made modest academic gains in the past few years.

Parkland dad Andrew Pollack publishes book with new details about shooter’s red flags before massacre” via Emily Mahoney of the Tampa Bay Times — Pollack wrote the book with Max Eden, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank based in New York. An excerpt of the book was published earlier this week by the New York Post. That excerpt also included notes by Nikolas Cruz’s eighth-grade language arts teacher, who wrote in a behavioral analysis of Cruz that she felt strongly that “Nikolas is a danger to the students and faculty at this school.” She took detailed notes of his outbursts in class as well as drawings he would make of people shooting at each other, in addition to “creepy sexual pictures” such as “dogs with large penises.”

Andrew Pollack’s new book gives more information on Nikolas Cruz’s red flags. Image via The Miami New Times.

Was Jeffrey Epstein still traveling with underage girls? Feds were probing new reports” via Kevin Hall of the Miami Herald — At the time of Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide last month while awaiting trial on sex trafficking allegations that dated back a decade, the U.S. Marshals Service was actively investigating more recent reports of underage girls arriving at his private island — as well as unreported European jaunts, new documents show. Under the terms of his controversial sentencing for solicitation of prostitution from a minor in 2008, Epstein as a registered sex offender had to report his international travel. New documents released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the Marshals Service was readying to seek help from the governments of France, Austria and Monaco because of unreported travel.

As conversion therapy ban gains support, religious groups host rally at Lake Eola promoting ‘deliverance to the LGBTQ community’” via Tess Sheets of the Orlando Sentinel — Amid calls from activists in Orange County for a ban on gay conversion therapy, conservative and religious groups along with two men who survived the Pulse nightclub shooting hosted a rally Saturday at Lake Eola Park promoting “deliverance to the LGBTQ community” through religion. Over 100 people converged in front of the rainbow amphitheater at the park, many wearing shirts that said “changed,” a reference to the group Changed Movement, whose members say they “have chosen identity in Christ above that of LGBTQ+.”

Wynwood’s Bakehouse art center wants to rezone to build affordable housing for artists” via Andres Viglucci of the Miami Herald — For 33 years, the Bakehouse Art Complex in Wynwood has provided artists with inexpensive studio space, workshops and exhibition galleries. Now it plans to go one big step further — by adding affordable housing to the mix. The center, housed in a former industrial bakery building from the 1920s, has filed an application for zoning and land-use changes with the City of Miami that would allow development of up to 250 units of “attainable” housing for artists.


We are Trump’s Republican challengers. Canceling GOP primaries is a critical mistake.” via Mark Sanford, Joe Walsh and Bill Weld for The Washington Post — We are brought together not by what divides us but by what unites us: a shared conviction that the United States needs a strong center-right party guided by basic values that are rooted in the best of the American spirit. The Republican Party has taken a wrong turn, led by a serial self-promoter who has abandoned the bedrock principles of the GOP. Now, the Republican parties of four states — Arizona, Kansas, Nevada and South Carolina — have canceled their nominating contests. By this design, the incumbent will be crowned the winner of these states’ primary delegates. What does this say about the Republican Party? If a party stands for nothing but reelection, it indeed stands for nothing.

The tough truth about the debate: Joe Biden is showing consequential weakness” via Adam Goodman of the New York Daily News — As one who has prepped and coached candidates for debates for over four decades, I can tell you this much is beyond debate. One: Contrary to national polling and prevailing wisdom, Biden is struggling. Two: Warren is gaining ground by taking on the system as the ultimate outsiders’ insider. Warren is as progressive as Bernie Sanders, as smart as Hillary Clinton, and oozes middle-class populism at a time when it’s moving the needle. Three: Sanders is lurking, lured on by evidence of a second wind and a first-rate following of believers. This last debate should serve as another wake-up call that what seemed obvious no longer is, and what seemed predetermined hasn’t been determined at all.

Wake up, Congress. Time to end zombie campaigns” via the Tampa Bay Times editorial board — Public office should not provide a lifelong subsidy for former politicians or a permanent entitlement program for friends and family. The latest move to shut down these operations reflects growing concern over the abuse of campaign funds. The Times/WTSP investigation in 2018 chronicled how candidates had spent campaign money years or decades after leaving office. The dismissive reaction by some former lawmakers to the commission’s crackdown shows why only a change in law will do. The bill proposed by Kathy Castor and Gus Bilirakis would also ban converting these campaign funds into a political action committee, which would simply be another loophole for allowing these same spending abuses.

Under Ron DeSantis and the GOP, Florida is moving forward” via Joe Gruters for the Bradenton Herald — Let’s consider whether the slogan “Forward Florida” would be more apt to describe the current direction of the Sunshine State under the guidance and leadership of Gov. Ron DeSantis. Don’t just take my word for it. A statewide survey conducted last week by St. Pete Polls revealed that DeSantis maintains the highest approval rating (58 percent) for a Florida governor in 10 years. Even more encouraging is the number of Independents (56 percent) who give the governor’s brief tenure in office a resounding thumbs-up. And this poll was taken before the governor received strong reviews from statewide media outlets for his steadfast leadership in the face of Hurricane Dorian.

NRA’s hotshot Florida lobbyist deserves investigation, not kid gloves” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — The Florida Bulldog reported in May that the National Rifle Association paid Marion Hammer roughly $500,000 just between 2014 and 2018 for lobbying work. She received another $270,000 last year for “consulting services and legislative lobbying in Florida.” After the Bulldog report, Sen. Perry Thurston and Rep. Anna Eskamani filed an ethics complaint against Hammer for failing to disclose her NRA compensation. Rules Committee Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto referred the complaint to the Office of Legislative Services, an obscure agency within the Senate president’s office. It concluded that Hammer should simply amend her compensation disclosure forms from 2016 to 2019. Hammer enjoys most-favored-nation status in Tallahassee.

— “NRA’s much-feared leaders enjoy unseemly perks” via Fred Grimm of the Palm Beach Post


New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Brian Ballard, Wansley Walters, Ballard Partners: Community Communications

David Childs, Eileen Stuart, Hopping Green & Sams: Maverick Natural Resources

Mary DeLoach, The Southern Group: City of Miami Beach, Ocean Reef Community Association

Thomas Griffin, Smith Bryan & Myers: Agricultural Technology Group

Ryan Matthews, Peebles Smith & Matthews: City of Maitland

Rick Owen: United Way of Florida

Jerald Paul, Capitol Energy Florida: Florida PACE Funding Agency

Kate Wesner: Ygrene Energy Fund Florida

Mehgean Willoughby: Florida Elections Commission

— ALOE —

John Stemberger winds up in The OnionStemberger, president of the conservative Florida Family Policy Council, is in a photo for one of the comedy site’s news parody articles, “Desperate Boy Scouts officials announce new ‘You can mutilate as many dead squirrels as you want’ membership campaign.” Stemberger happens to be an Eagle Scout and former Scoutmaster who became the Chairman of the Board for Trail Life USA, a faith-based and ‘nonaligned’ Scouting organization. It’s an alternative to Boy Scouts of America. “I don’t think The Onion has any idea of how ironic it is that they chose this ‘random’ @boyscouts Scout leader photo for this story. #FunnyNotFunny,” he tweeted last week.

In a ‘random’ photo, John Stemberger gets the ultimate honor, his picture in The Onion.

Four-year-old sells lemonade to help pay for FSU Willie Taggart’s $17 million buyout” via Jim Henry of the Tallahassee Democrat — Grayton charged $20 per cup, with one customer donating $100, before running out of lemonade in the sunny, 90-degree weather. Grayton’s father — FSU graduate and Platinum Chief Daniel Grant — matched the total and stroked a check for $482 to Seminole Boosters, Inc. The check — earmarked for “Taggart Buy-Out!” — was accompanied by a formal yet tongue-in-cheek, typewritten letter signed by Grayton to Seminole Boosters, Inc. It explained that “I am tired of losing football games and being made fun of at school for being a Seminole fan. At four, I am already starting to gravitate toward the color orange. You don’t want that for an innocent kid like me….”

A shucking success” via Amy Drew Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel — Farmed Florida oysters are making headway into the food scene at a rapid clip. Gourmands coo over upmarket sampler menus touting coyly named boutique varieties like Saucy Ladies, Salty Birds and Magnolia Bluffs. Sunshine State oyster aquaculture is only a few years old, and last year its farmers took 3.9 million oysters to market. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services began approving the modification of on-bottom clam leases for oyster use in 2013. Since then, oyster farming has grown impressively, from zero to 76 modified leases and more than 60 new ones as of 2018, according to data from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.


Belated best wishes to good guy Brewster Bevis of Associated Industries of Florida, another good guy in Chris Hudson of Americans for Prosperity, Catherine Crist Kennedy, super aide Danny Martinez, Bryan Nelson, and Brian Pitts. Celebrating today are U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, congressional candidate Alan Cohn, WFTV’s Chris Heath, the ever-classy Ghada Skaff Lieser, Wayne Mineo, former Rep. David Rivera, our friend Paul Seago, and Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey.


Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jim Rosica, 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 Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, 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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