Connect with us

Emails & Opinions

Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 12.2.19

Up and at ’em: Here’s your scoops and other stories driving the day in Florida politics.

We hope you had a relaxing and reflective Thanksgiving.

Many of you hosted friends and family around a cornucopia of delicious dishes inspired by your long-held recipes. Others may have done what we did and braved the airports and roads to arrive at some much-needed R&R. While in Deer Valley, Utah, we almost bumped into Rep. Michael Grieco and communications pro Preston Rudie, both of whom were enjoying the snow with their families.

But at least one player in Florida politics did not take much of a break this past weekend. We are referring, of course, to U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz.

When not attending the Emerald Coast Classic basketball tournament, Gaetz suggested to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp that there could be political consequences if Kemp decides not to choose President Donald Trump’s reported favorite for the state’s expected U.S. Senate vacancy.

In a series of Twitter messages on the day after Thanksgiving, Gaetz called on Kemp to choose U.S. Rep. Doug Collins for the seat, when Sen. Johnny Isakson steps down at the end of the year.

Kemp, a Republican, has been leaning instead toward appointing financial executive Kelly Loeffler to the Senate, according to the Washington Times.

“You are ignoring his request because you THINK you know better than @POTUS,” Gaetz wrote in one Twitter message. “If you substitute your judgement [sic] for the President’s, maybe you need a primary in 2022. Let’s see if you can win one w/o Trump.”

“You are hurting President Trump,” Gaetz wrote in another tweet. “You know this because he told you.”

“The idea that I would appoint someone to the U.S. Senate that is NOT pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment, pro-freedom, and 100% supportive of our President (and his plan to Keep America Great) is ridiculous,” Kemp wrote. “The attacks and games are absolutely absurd. Frankly, I could care less what the political establishment thinks.”

Kemp’s advisors came to the Governor’s defense with personal attacks against Gaetz.

Ryan Matthew Mahoney, a Kemp aide, threatened that the Governor would not invite Gaetz to Kemp and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ feral hog hunt.

“Self-serving politicians who wear tight, acid-washed jean shorts and cowardly hide behind their keyboard can’t cut it in South Georgia,” Mahoney tweeted.

Gaetz took time out from his Thanksgiving holiday to respond.

“I adamantly deny wearing jean shorts or anything acid-washed after 1998, but that isn’t the real point,” Gaetz wrote.

“I do own some jeans on the tighter side, which is nothing to be ashamed about,” he added.


@GovRonDeSantis: .@FLCaseyDeSantis and I were grateful to serve others a classic Thanksgiving meal today at @AmericanLegion. Thank you to the volunteers who gave their time to share with their neighbors on this day of giving.

@JoeGruters: We honored ⁦@realDonaldTrump⁩ as our Statesman of the Year in 2012. It was the best event that the RPOS ever had breaking all records. We are now less than a week away before I give it to him a 3rd time, now as the Chair of the ⁦@FloridaGOP

@SteveSchale: I could care less if a President plays golf. But I remain surprised how many people who felt very strongly about Presidents playing golf now agree with me that it’s not a big deal.

@Fineout: Didn’t the ACLU of Florida sign a letter in Dec. 2018 that said all terms of sentence included financial obligations, only to then turn around and sue over it?

@BillyCorben: Shout-out to @BryanAvilaFL and @SenMannyDiazJr for introducing good bills that actually help their constituents (a rare event in the Florida legislature). We need to ban these lanes on EVERY road, not just the Palmetto.

@Axios: 65% of American adults describe themselves as Christian, down from 77% in 2009. The percent of people who identify as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” — stands at 26%, up from 17% in 2009.

@JimmyPatronis: The age of your artificial tree can be determined by counting the rings of tape on the box. #MerryChristmas

@Ungru: Only in Florida… I got mosquito bites while putting up Christmas lights.

@MearKat00: What about all the turkeys that didn’t get pardoned?

@MarcACaputo: The best part of preparing a Thanksgiving turkey is when you put the Sean Hannity hat on it

@ErinGaetz: Shout out to whatever ancient wizard placed an eternal curse on Nick Saban’s kickers.


Florida Chamber’s Transportation, Growth and Infrastructure Summit — 3; Florida GOP Statesmen Dinner — 5; UK votes on Brexit — 10; Sixth Democratic debate — 17; “The Rise of Skywalker” premiers — 18; College Football National Championship — 42; 2020 Session begins — 43; Florida TaxWatch State of the TaxPayer Dinner in Tallahassee — 44; New Brexit deadline — 60; Super Bowl LIV in Miami — 62; Great American Realtors Day — 63; Iowa Caucuses — 63; New Hampshire Primaries — 71; Nevada caucuses — 82; Last day of 2020 Session (maybe) — 102; Florida’s presidential primary — 106; “Black Panther 2” debuts — 155; 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo begin — 233; Florida primaries for 2020 state legislative/congressional races — 267; First Vice Presidential debate at the University of Utah — 310; First Presidential Debate scheduled at the University of Michigan — 318; Second presidential debate at Belmont — 325; 2020 General Election — 337.


Open primaries amendment has enough signatures for 2020 ballot” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — A proposed constitutional amendment that would allow voters to cast a ballot in primary elections regardless of party affiliation has enough signatures to make the 2020 ballot. The initiative, backed by political committee All Voters Vote, had 767,236 signatures as of last week, according to the Florida Division of Elections website. Constitutional amendments need 766,200 signatures to make the ballot, a figure tied to 8% of the turnout in the most recent presidential election. Amendments must also clear signature thresholds in more than half of Florida’s 27 congressional districts. All Voters Vote has met the bar in 15 districts.


Ron DeSantis isn’t on Donald Trump’s TV anymore. That’s on purpose.” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times — There was a time when President Trump could turn on Fox News at any given hour and there was a good chance DeSantis would be on it, defending the White House. Trump once tuned into his favorite network while on Air Force One and caught a segment featuring DeSantis, then a congressman. The president was so pleased with the performance, he tweeted that DeSantis “would make a GREAT Governor of Florida. He loves our Country and is a true FIGHTER!” DeSantis’ absence from Fox News is a drastic shift in media strategy. DeSantis’ allies say it’s intentional, allowing the governor to avoid questions that could suck him into partisan battles and divert him from his job governing 21 million residents.

Happening today — Gov. DeSantis and the Cabinet will meet to discuss who will serve as the next Office of Financial Regulation Commissioner at 1:30 p.m. in the Cabinet meeting room.

First on #FlaPol —Nikki Fried, Javier Fernandez want loopholes closed on concealed weapons permits” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — State Rep. Fernández filed legislation crafted with Agriculture Commissioner Fried to close loopholes in Florida’s gun laws. The bill (HB 809) would require retention of fingerprint records in appropriate databases and call for proof of completion of appropriate firearms and safety training for a license to be renewed. The legislation also seeks to reduce the term for a concealed weapons permit to five years instead of seven. The reduction in term for a license would accompany a drop in cost as well, with the license fee going from $55 down to $40 and renewal costs dropping to $35.

What Jeff Kottkamp is reading —Kionne McGhee files greyhound racing compensation bill” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Following last year’s greyhound racing ban, the Democratic House leader wants to pay back industry workers who will lose their jobs by the end of next year. Voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2018 that will outlaw dog racing and betting starting in 2021. But legislation by Rep. McGhee, of Cutler Bay, would create a compensation trust fund to distribute to people affected by the industry’s closure. “As a result of the prohibition on greyhound racing and wagering, thousands of people have lost or will lose their jobs, and racing greyhound and kennel owners will lose millions of dollars in property value,” according to the legislation. McGhee filed both bills (HB 803 and HB 805) Tuesday.

Michael Grant takes another swing at licensing preemption” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Who gets to regulate the business within a Florida city? It’s a question that remains in dispute as the Legislature prepares for another Session. State Rep. Michael Grant again filed HB 3, legislation to strip municipalities of passing ordinances governing professional licenses. The Port Charlotte filed a similar preemption bill last year. It’s a bill that wouldn’t so much restrict a type of local regulation as redefine the very notion of local regulation completely. The legislation prohibits local governments from imposing or modifying certain licensing requirements and specifies certain local licensing that no longer may be enforced. Some contractors required to obtain local licenses now wouldn’t be allowed to be regulated by cities and counties at all.

Florida Capitol grounds will one day host memorials to victims of slavery, the Holocaust” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat — The Senate side of the Capitol Courtyard should one day host lessons for humanity on the evils of discrimination. A plan is unfolding to erect two memorials: One to honor victims of the Holocaust, the World War II Nazi-led genocide of European Jews, and another — likely the first of its kind on a state capitol’s grounds — to honor the victims of early America’s slave trade. The Department of Management Services (DMS), the state’s real estate manager, will soon send to lawmakers separate lists of finalists to design the slavery memorial and Holocaust memorial. Florida lawmakers agreed to pay for a memorial to Holocaust victims in 2016 and one to Florida slaves in 2018.


Florida Supreme Court asks for 10 new state judges” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The Florida Supreme Court called Wednesday for the creation 10 new circuit and county judgeships next year. In the annual opinion sent to the state Legislature, the Court expressed a “demonstrable need for additional circuit judges.” The opinion requests two more judges in the Ninth Judicial Circuit, in Orange and Osceola counties; one in the First Judicial Circuit, in Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties; and another in the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit, in Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson and Washington counties. In county courts, the Supreme Court called for four more judges in Hillsborough County, one in Orange County and another in Lee County.

State seeks to put lid on Styrofoam fight” via News Service of Florida — Ashley Moody’s office urged the Florida Supreme Court to reject an appeal in a battle about the city of Coral Gables’ attempt to ban the use of Styrofoam food containers. Coral Gables took the dispute to the Supreme Court after the 3rd District Court of Appeal in August upheld the constitutionality of state laws that blocked a 2016 city ordinance targeting Styrofoam. The city contends, in part, that the state “preemption” of the ordinance violates local home-rule powers. But in a 12-page brief, lawyers in Moody’s office said the case “breaks no new ground regarding the nature of the Legislature’s power to preempt local ordinances” and, as a result, the Supreme Court should not take it up.

A former lawmaker’s son is helping the NRA sue the state. Top leaders are mostly mum.” via Emily L. Mahoney of the Tampa Bay Times — Hours after then-Gov. Rick Scott signed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act in March 2018, the National Rifle Association had already filed a lawsuit. Among other measures, it raised the gun purchasing age from 18 to 21. But last week, it was revealed that the legal challenge against the law is connected to one of the Legislature’s own. After a great deal of legal of back-and-forth, the NRA relinquished their position that the plaintiffs’ identities remain anonymous and revealed one of the “John Does,” a gun owner between the ages of 18 and 21 who said his Second Amendment rights were violated. His name is Radford Fant, and he’s the son of a former state lawmaker, Rep. Jay Fant.

Oops. Richard Corcoran jokes that “nobody wants to teach in New Jersey,” and tough NJ sets the record straight” via Diane Rado of the Florida Phoenix — Gov. DeSantis and  Corcoran spoke recently at a news conference about pushing starting salaries for public school teachers to $47,500. If the Legislature approves, Florida would have the second highest average starting teacher salary of all states. But New Jersey’s starting salaries would be the highest. That’s when Corcoran made a joke about the Garden State being No. 1 for average starting salaries. “I always joke,” Corcoran said. “I said the reason we chose 2 is because No. 1 was New Jersey, and nobody wants to teach in New Jersey. I can say that in Florida.” That didn’t exactly sit well with high-ranking New Jersey.

What Jeff Brandes is reading —New head of Florida prisons sees dire warning signs. ‘Status quo is not sustainable’“ via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald — It’s hard not to notice the title of the book Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Mark Inch is delivering to every prison warden and legislator who will listen: “The Devil’s Butcher Shop.” The book by Roger Morris chronicles one of the deadliest prison riots in American history at the New Mexico State Penitentiary at Santa Fe in 1980. Inch, who came to Florida after a brief stint as head of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, urges readers to turn to the chapter titled “Foreshadow” because he says he believes the riot was not only foreseeable, it was preventable — and Florida should take heed. “They had a lot of the warning signs that we have,’’ he explains.

ACLU of Florida sues Dep’t of Corrections for public records related to efforts to reduce prison populations” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — As the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida seeks to address “over-incarceration” rates within the Florida Department of Corrections, the nonprofit organization filed a lawsuit seeking public records. In a lawsuit filed in Leon County last week, the ACLU requested state data on prison demographics, charged offenses, tentative release dates and information the Department of Corrections used to calculate the tentative release dates. The group is seeking information to better understand the racial disparities within Florida prisons. The organization previously filed a public records request with the Department of Corrections Sept. 30 that has gone unanswered.

Florida cracks down on violent crime at strip mall casinos” via Bloomberg Businessweek — Almost as soon as he entered the Lucky Charms Arcade, Lawrence Hall aroused suspicion. An employee would later tell police in Jacksonville that she watched as Hall, who was slight of build and covered with tattoos, moved from one game to the next, scrubbing down everything he touched with what looked like disinfectant wipes. It was a Wednesday afternoon in January. She took out her phone and texted her boss, who was working remotely: “Check the cameras.” Moments later, police say, Hall drew a handgun and instructed the employee to empty the register and put all the money from the machines into his backpack. Then he ran out the back door.

DOH taps investigator to direct Office of Medical Marijuana Use — Surgeon General Scott Rivkees has selected Christopher Ferguson to run the Florida Department of Health’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use, Arek Sarkissian of POLITICO Florida reports. Ferguson moves over from the department’s Division of Medical Quality Assurance, where he served as chief of the Investigative Services Unit. “He draws on nearly 18 years of experience with leadership, management and oversight of operational activities related to investigating complaints involving health care practitioners regulated by the Department,” Rivkees said in an email announcing the hire. Ferguson succeeds former Office of Medical Marijuana Use Director Courtney Coppola, who had held the position since Oct. 10.

Hepatitis A cases continue to rise” via Florida Politics — Another 47 hepatitis A cases were reported to the state last week, making for 3,125 cases this year. Hepatitis A cases have risen dramatically this year. By comparison, there were just 548 reports of the disease in all of 2018. The to-date total for 2019 is larger than all cases reported in the past seven years combined. Hepatitis A causes liver damage and can lead to hospitalization and death. It is most commonly spread by ingesting food or water contaminated with fecal matter from infected persons. It is also transmitted through sex and the use of intravenous drugs. The uptick in cases led Surgeon General Scott Rivkees to declare a public health emergency in August.

Audit: State law enforcement text messages lacked oversight” via News Service of Florida — Florida’s top law enforcement agency did not have safeguards in place to ensure text messages sent and received by its employees were retained as required by state law, according to an audit released last week. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement also did not ban department employees from using personal devices to text about official state business, the report by the Florida Auditor General found. “The department should enhance policies and procedures to either prohibit department employees from using their personal devices to send or receive text messages pertaining to official state business or provide for the retention of such messages,” auditors wrote. The agency acknowledged the findings and agreed to follow auditors’ recommendations to enhance public record policies.


Florida TaxWatch to celebrate 40th annual meeting with Palm Beach event — Among the list of featured speakers for the event are U.S. Rep. Brian Mast of Florida’s 18th Congressional District, Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein and VISIT FLORIDA President & CEO Dana Young. The gathering  will run from Monday through Wednesday, kicking off with a “welcome lunch” Monday at noon. Several policy discussion panels will the run throughout the day, followed by the Chairman’s Reception at 5 p.m. and the Chairman’s Dinner at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday morning will feature a meeting of Florida TaxWatch members and the Board of Trustees, followed by business and leadership panels from 10 a.m. until noon. Keynote Speaker Arthur Brooks, former president of the conservative-leaning think tank American Enterprise institute, will then address those in attendance from noon until 1 p.m A series of TaxWatch policy council meetings will run through Tuesday afternoon, follow by the 40th anniversary reception and dinner.

40 years of being the Florida taxpayers’ eyes and ears” by George LeMieux for The Palm Beach Post — In today’s world of immediate access to information and ten-minute news cycles driven by social media, it is easy to forget that when it comes to government policies, we are all playing the long game. Florida’s low-tax, business-friendly climate and taxpayer-friendly policies have allowed our state to become one of the most desirable places in the world to call home. But it was not always this way. On the way to becoming the Sunshine State we all know and love, there were more and higher taxes, a more volatile constitutional amendment process and less-informed elected leaders. The beginning of the change for many of these issues was the creation of a group called Florida TaxWatch in 1979.


FEMA’s hurricane aid to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands has stalled” via  Mark Walker and Zolan Kanno-Youngs of The New York Times — More than two years after back-to-back hurricanes ravaged Vieques, an idyllic island that is part of Puerto Rico, medical workers are still treating gunshot wounds in hallways and kidney failure in a trailer. They ignore their own inflamed rashes that they say are caused by the mold that has shut down an entire hospital floor below a still-porous roof. At least they have a hospital. An examination of Federal Emergency Management Agency data and records demonstrates the degree to which the recovery from Hurricanes Maria and Irma on America’s Caribbean islands has been stalled compared with some of the most disaster-prone states on the mainland, leaving the islands’ critical infrastructure in squalor and limbo.

Lawmakers boost post-Michael funding requests” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The Panhandle Republican requested nearly $67 million in hurricane recovery funds this week for his Michael-stricken district. In 2018, Hurricane Michael made landfall at Mexico Beach before traveling north through the Eucheeanna Republican’s district. HD 5 includes Holmes, Jackson, Walton, Washington counties and part of Bay County. Drake’s multimillion dollar request comes in eight separate bills filed Tuesday, the bulk of which (HB 4685) asks for a $60 million commerce center and evacuation shelter in Washington County. Nearly $2.1 million in a separate bill (HB 4671) would help upgrade the county’s communication system, including three new communication towers. “The goal of this project is to never be in that position again for the sake of county residents and evacuees,” the budget request states.

Snowbirds flocking back to Beach a year after Michael” via Patrick McCreless of the Panama City News Herald — Apparently even concerns about ongoing Hurricane Michael recovery are trumped by Michigan winters. For the last 17 years, Pete Serazio has left his Michigan home each winter for the warmer weather and calming surf of Panama City Beach. The snowbird is back just a year into the recovery of the devastating hurricane and he’s not alone. Some hotel and resort operators say snowbirds have begun flocking back to the Beach this winter. The annual winter vacationers appear undeterred after being unable to visit last year because of immediate recovery efforts or despite continued rebuilding work, they say. “We come from Michigan … we don’t like that white stuff anymore,” Serazio said with a laugh.

Florida’s red tide is back. One of North America’s rarest bird species is among its latest victims” via Jenny Staletovich of the Orlando Sentinel — A lethal Gulf Coast red tide that littered beaches with dead wildlife in 2018 is back and this time around, it’s claiming one of North America’s rarest bird species. Earlier this month, two reddish egrets tagged as part of a research project on the dwindling species died from likely red tide poisoning in the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel. Since they were tagged in 2014, the birds provided a trove of information to scientists trying to understand why the species never fully recovered from the devastating plume trade a century ago. “These birds are giving us a signal,” said zoologist Ken Meyer, director of the Avian Research and Conservation Institute in Gainesville which led the study.

Long live the king (tides)” via Tom McLaughlin of the Northwest Florida Daily News — Higher-than-normal king tides forecast to arrive with a new moon for the week of Thanksgiving threatened to bring more flooding to coastal areas already impacted this fall. And although Northwest Florida saw high tides after Sept. 1 that exceeded forecasts nearly daily, the region has not seen sunny-day flooding in populated areas or coastal inundation. The East Coast is on pace to see record-breaking tides this year, and tides along the Gulf Coast also are trending higher, said William Sweet, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration oceanographer. “It’s not normal, but unfortunately it’s becoming the new normal,” he said.


Witness testimony and records raise questions about account of Trump’s ‘no quid pro quo’ call” via Aaron Davis, Elise Viebeck and Josh Dawsey of the Washington Post — Sondland’s recollection of a phone conversation that he said took place on Sept. 9 has emerged as a centerpiece of Trump’s defense as House Democrats argue in an impeachment inquiry that he abused his office to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democrats. … However, no other witness testimony or documents have emerged that corroborate Sondland’s description of a call that day. … Trump himself, in describing the conversation, has referred onlyto the ambassador’s account of the call, which — based on Sondland’s activities — would have occurred before dawn in Washington. And the White House has not located a record in its switchboard logs of a call between Trump and Sondland on Sept. 9, according to an administration official who, like others in this report, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Intelligence Committee to begin circulating draft Ukraine report Mondayvia Melanie Zanona, Kyle Cheney, and Heather Caygle of POLITICO — Members of the House Intelligence Committee will begin reviewing a report Monday on the panel’s investigation of President Trump’s efforts to press Ukraine to investigate his Democratic adversaries, a crucial step in the House’s fast-moving impeachment inquiry. Lawmakers on the panel will get a 24-hour review period, according to internal guidance sent to committee members and obtained by POLITICO. On Tuesday, the panel is expected to approve the findings — likely on a party-line vote — teeing it up for consideration by the Judiciary Committee, which is in turn expected to draft and consider articles of impeachment in the coming weeks. Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff had indicated in a letter to colleagues earlier this week that a report would be coming “soon” from his committee but had not provided a specific timeframe.

D.C. Circuit sets back-to-back impeachment-linked cases for Jan. 3” via Josh Gerstein and Darren Samuelsohn of POLITICO — Jan. 3 is lining up to be the Super Bowl of court dates in the House’s impeachment-driven battle to learn Robert Mueller’s secrets. A three-judge federal appeals court panel announced Wednesday it will hear oral arguments on that date over the Justice Department’s quest to cloak former White House counsel Don McGahn with absolute immunity against having to testify in the ongoing inquiry into impeachment of President Trump. The fast-track schedule creates a tag-team match of sorts for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, since another key impeachment-related court fight — an attempt to obtain grand jury secrets in special counsel Mueller’s final report — was already scheduled to be heard on the same Friday just after the New Year.

In Impeachment Hearings Act II, Florida fills the stage” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Act I of the U.S. House of Representatives impeachment hearings had only one Florida member on stage but in Act II, set to start Wednesday, Sunshine State representatives will be everywhere. The second phase of the historic Democratic-led impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump will take place in the House Judiciary Committee which has five Florida members, including Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando, who also had a big part in Act I, and will be returning to the stage with a seat on the next committee as well. This time she’ll be joined by Democratic U.S. Reps. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Miami and Republican U.S. Reps. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach and Greg Steube of Sarasota.

Greg Steube eager to defend Trump as impeachment moves to Judiciary Committee” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — The next phase of the impeachment inquiry kicks off this week as the proceedings move to the House Judiciary Committee, where Sarasota Congressman Steube is eager to defend President Trump. Steube is not yet sure how he will use his committee time. But he has plenty he wants to say about what he views as an “illegitimate process.” The past two weeks of public testimony from high-ranking U.S. diplomats reinforced much of the whistleblower complaint that touched off the inquiry, but did not persuade Steube that Trump did anything wrong. “There was no quid pro quo,” Steube said, referring to a call between Trump and the Ukrainian president.

Val Demings: Trump ‘got caught in the act’” via Hal Boedeker of the Orlando Sentinel —Rep. Demings tells ABC’s “This Week” that President Trump is “the most valuable witness” in the impeachment inquiry against him and cites his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky. “The fact that the president got caught in the act does not relieve him of being held accountable for the wrongdoing that he has engaged in.” Raddatz asked whether Democrats should consider censure “instead of the drastic steps of impeachment.” Demings cited her law enforcement experience in answering. “I had an opportunity in 27 years to deal with a lot of people who attempted to rob a bank, attempted to burglarize a house, attempted to carjack an individual. We didn’t say, ‘Well, since you weren’t successful, we caught you, you weren’t successful, so we just let you go and forget it.’”


Nearly 200,000 Florida kids could lose free school lunch under food stamp rule changes” via Lautaro Grinspan of the Miami Herald — Nearly 200,000 children across Florida could lose their automatic access to free school lunches under a Trump administration proposal that would limit the number of people enrolled in the federal food stamps program, formally known as SNAP. The proposal — first announced in July by the United States Department of Agriculture — would restrict SNAP enrollment by taking away states’ ability to tweak some income and asset limits for households that receive both food stamps and other welfare benefits. In Florida, that flexibility had allowed the state’s Department of Children and Families to raise the threshold for SNAP qualification, letting households with incomes up to 200 percent of the poverty level receive food stamps — among the highest in the nation.

— 2020 —

Democrats submit 18 would-be presidents for Florida’s March 17 primary” via The Associated Press — Democrats in Florida have submitted 18 candidates for the March 17 presidential primary. The crowded field submitted to state elections officials ahead of Saturday’s deadline includes the most recent entries — former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. Florida’s primary could prove crucial with the state’s 219 delegates at stake, but half the country will have already voted by the time Floridians go to the polls.

Donald Trump has turned the suburbs into a GOP disaster zone. Does that doom his reelection?” via Mark Z. Barabak of the Los Angeles Times — For decades, there was an unvaried rhythm to life in America’s suburbs: Carpool in the morning, watch sports on weekends, barbecue in the summer, vote Republican in November. Then came President Trump. The orderly subdivisions and kid-friendly communities that ring the nation’s cities have become a deathtrap for Republicans, as college-educated and upper-income women flee the party in droves, costing the GOP its House majority and sapping the party’s strength in state capitals and local governments nationwide. The dramatic shift is also reshaping the 2020 presidential race, elevating Democratic hopes in traditional GOP strongholds like Arizona and Georgia, and forcing Trump to redouble efforts to boost rural turnout to offset defectors who, some fear, may never vote Republican so long as the president is on the ballot.

Joe Gruters says, yes, Donald Trump can play in Broward County” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Republican Party of Florida chairman Gruters says his party will definitely fight for votes in Broward County. President Donald Trump surprised many by holding a “Homecoming” rally in Broward County, a county Democrat Hillary Clinton carried in 2016 with 66 percent of the vote. But in an appearance on Fox News, Gruters stressed there’s still a huge pot of GOP votes in the deep blue region. “A 10-percent swing for us is 25,000 votes,” he said. “The reason that is so important for Florida, if you look at the last couple of cycles we are the ultimate prize.” Indeed, Trump picked up 260,951 votes in Broward in 2016 on his way to winning Florida by 112,911 votes.

The Democratic presidential campaign has produced confusion rather than clarity” via Dan Balz of The Washington Post — The Democratic presidential candidates have been on the campaign trail for nearly a year. Confusion rather than clarity continues to be the story of their contest for the 2020 nomination. Early in the year, the party’s liberal wing seemed to be ascendant, defined by the candidacies of Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and the embrace of a single-payer, Medicare-for-all health-care program. Sanders and Warren were calling for other dramatic changes to the system — economic and political — and their voices stood out. Some other candidates offered echoes of their ideas. That proved to be a misleading indicator of where the Democratic electorate stood on some of the issues, particularly health care, in part because fewer moderate voices were being heard.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock suspends presidential campaign” via Natasha Korecki of Politico — Amid fundraising struggles and a repeated inability to qualify for the debate stage, Bullock announced Monday morning he is suspending his campaign for president. The Democrat attempted to sell himself as the moderate voice needed to beat Trump, given that he demonstrated the ability to win in a red state. But Bullock ultimately was unable to break through; his Real Clear Politics polling average stood at just 0.4 percent nationally and he likewise failed to move the scale in Iowa, where Bullock was sinking most of his hopes.

Joe Sestak ends 2020 presidential bid” via Rishika Dugyala of Politico — Sestak, a former Pennsylvania congressman and retired three-star Navy admiral, ended his presidential campaign Sunday with a social media announcement and email blast — dropping the crowded Democratic field to 17 candidates. During his long-shot bid, Sestak struggled to gain name recognition, was left with zero percent support in most polling and had not qualified for any of the Democratic debates. He said in his statement on Sunday that without the “privilege of national press,” he could no longer ask people to sacrifice resources for his campaign.

ICYMI — Audrey Gibson endorses Joe Biden — The top Democrat in the state Senate has endorsed Biden in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, report Gary Fineout and Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida. Gibson, of Jacksonville, praised Biden as someone who is “genuine” and “inclusive.” She also pushed back on criticism of Biden from fellow presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, who said Biden is out of touch with the black community. Booker is black. “I understand he’s not an African American, everybody understands that part,” Gibson said. “That doesn’t mean he cannot be communicative and be focused on issues that impact certain African American communities.” … “You don’t have to be an African American to have an understanding of what folks go through,” she said.

Here’s why Michael Bloomberg insists he’s not crazy” via John F. Harris, Sally Goldenberg and Marc Caputo of POLITICO — Yes, say the political strategists around former New York City Mayor Bloomberg, the notion of him becoming the Democratic presidential nominee requires many unprecedented and highly speculative factors falling into place just so. No, these strategists insist, the billionaire media titan and philanthropist is not crazy, and neither are they. What Bloomberg contemplates is not so much an exercise in threading the political needle as pulverizing that needle as it has existed for decades. “We’re just going to rewrite a new system,” said Kevin Sheekey, a senior Bloomberg strategist. “Our theory of the case is that we’re going to skip the first four early states and we’re going to run as intensive a campaign” in other Democratic states as rivals do in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Pete Buttigieg says being gay helps him relate to the black struggle. Some reject that notion.” via Robert Samuels, Isaac Stanley-Becker and Chelsea Janes of The Washington Post — Buttigieg has delivered a provocative response in recent days to those who challenge his empathy with black Americans: His experience as a gay man helps him relate to the struggles of African Americans. That has angered some African Americans, who view it as an attempt by a privileged white man to claim a type of victimhood that is distinct from the black experience in America, even while others take the comments more favorably. Oliver Davis, a black council member in South Bend, Ind., where Buttigieg is mayor, said that African Americans, unlike gay people, don’t have the option of “coming out” at their chosen moment — as did Buttigieg, who disclosed his sexual orientation after he had been elected mayor.

How Kamala Harris’s campaign unraveled” via Jonathan Martin, Astead Herndon and Alex Burns of the New York Times — In early November, a few days after Harris’s presidential campaign announced widespread layoffs and an intensified focus on Iowa, her senior aides gathered for a staff meeting at their Baltimore headquarters and pelted the campaign manager, Juan Rodriguez, with questions. … Rodriguez offered general, tentative answers that didn’t satisfy the room, according to two campaign officials directly familiar with the conversation. Some Harris aides sitting at the table could barely suppress their fury about what they saw as the undoing of a once-promising campaign. Their feelings were reflected days later by Kelly Mehlenbacher, the state operations director, in a blistering resignation letter obtained by The Times. “This is my third presidential campaign and I have never seen an organization treat its staff so poorly,” Mehlenbacher wrote, assailing Rodriguez and Harris’s sister, Maya, the campaign chairwoman, for laying off aides with no notice. “With less than 90 days until Iowa we still do not have a real plan to win.”


$15 minimum wage could create a ‘fiscal cliff’ for low-income families relying on childcare subsidies” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — As Orlando attorney John Morgan leads his latest fight to increase the state’s minimum wage incrementally to $15 an hour, debates are raging between those who see it as a necessary move to provide livable wages and those who see it as a potential catastrophe for businesses. Arguments against raising wages all the way to $15 an hour have centered on its negative impacts to business owners and potential unintended consequences for workers who could face losing their jobs or having their hours cut. But there’s another set of issues that have gotten less attention. Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour could have a major disruptive effect to childcare in Florida — for both providers and consumers.


Andrew Gillum lays claim to 100K new Florida voters, but numbers don’t add up” via Gary Fineout of POLITICO Florida — Gillum has a math problem. The former Tallahassee mayor’s Forward Florida Action, a voter registration group founded after the Democrat’s failed 2018 bid for Florida governor, said earlier this month that more than 100,000 new people were added to state voter rolls between April and the end of October because of its efforts. The group hailed the figure as a milestone in a state that President Donald Trump won by fewer than 113,000 votes just three years ago. But the Florida Division of Elections tells a different story. Outside groups like Gillum’s added fewer than 27,000 voters to the rolls between January and the end of September, according to state data.

Flashback — “Andrew Gillum, Inc.: How the 2018 Democratic nominee for Florida governor has spent $1.5 million since losing an election” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics

Randy Henderson enters race for Francis Rooney’s congressional seat” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Fort Myers Mayor Henderson announced he’s running for Congress in Florida’s 19th Congressional District. “My 10 years as Mayor, including 9 years on the City Council, has provided insight and vast experience working in the public sector including solving complex issues while improving the quality of life for the citizens of Fort Myers,” he said. “I believe this experience provides me the background to lead the charge for serving citizens in District 19 and bring focus and support from Washington to our district.” He’s running to succeed U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney, who announced his retirement last month. Several other Republicans, including state Rep. Dane Eagle, have also filed for the seat.

No Dem Left Behind supports Allen Ellison, Cindy Banyai in long-odds congressional runs

Republican Main Street Partnership PAC endorses Maria Elvira Salazar in CD 27” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics

LGBTQ Victory Fund backs Shevrin Jones in SD 35” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Jones is announcing support from another pro-LGBTQ group , as LGBTQ Victory Fund is backing his 2020 bid to move to the Florida Senate. Back in July, the South Florida Democrat secured the endorsement of Equality Florida Action PAC, the group’s first endorsement of the 2020 cycle. Now, LGBTQ Victory Fund is supporting Jones’ campaign for Senate District 35. “Shevrin’s commitment to smart public policy that addresses the real concerns of the communities he represents makes him the best candidate for District 35,” LGBTQ Victory Fund head Annise Parker said. “When he wins, Shevrin will continue to be a vital voice for equality just as he has throughout his time in public service.”

Gillum teams with PAC to flip Florida HouseGillum has teamed up with the super PAC that helped flip the Virginia General Assembly, Gary Fineout of POLITICO Florida reports. The goal: repeat the Forward Majority-backed flip in Florida, or at least make a dent in the near supermajority Republicans have in the Florida House. “It’s a no-brainer,” Gillum said Tuesday. “We’ve got to be a lot more aggressive in expanding the map.” Democrats would need to post a net gain of 14 seats to flip the chamber, and some of those have been identified — 11 state House seats that voted for Gillum or Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in 2018 are currently held by Republicans.

Aretha Simons files for open HD 46 seat” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Fresh off her grassroots, long-shot run for Orange County Mayor, Democrat Simons has filed to run for the open Florida House of Representatives seat in House District 46 in Orlando. Simons, a retired Navy veteran, former educator and businesswoman, is entering a HD 46 field that already includes two Democrats, Travaris McCurdy, a former legislative aide, and Cynthia Harris, a non-profit executive and, like Simons, also a former Orlando City Council candidate. HD 46 covers parts of east Orlando and eastern Orange County with a strong Democratic advantage in voter registration. Incumbent Democratic state Rep. Bruce Antone is leaving in 2020 due to term limits.


Jacksonville City Councilman calls for resignation of JEA CEO” via Dan Scanlan of the Florida Times-Union — In a statement issued late Friday, Matt Carlucci said JEA CEO and managing director Aaron Zahn “needs to find a place for his skill sets, but CEO of the JEA IS NOT THE PLACE.” … “I have met with Aaron Zahn and tried and worked to understand where he’s coming from. I tried to feel his pain so to speak, because as a business owner I have felt headwinds in my industry as well myself,” Carlucci wrote. ”… This entire ‘conversation’ on selling the JEA has long lost credibility and fatigued our citizens and stalled our city’s progress on so many other important issues that affect all of Jacksonville’s citizens . The trend country wide is to keep or acquire municipal utilities.”

First on #FlaPol —HART contracts with Carlton Fields for CEO Benjamin Limmer whistleblower investigation” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority has contracted with the law firm Carlton Fields to undertake an independent investigation of complaints about wrongdoing by the agency’s new CEO, Limmer. Limmer is currently on paid suspension after a whistleblower complaint emerged at the beginning of the month. Carlton Fields’ investigation is expected to continue into 2020, but the contract between HART and Carlton Fields indicates that “time is of the essence.” The contract instructs attorneys to “conduct the investigation as quickly and efficiently as possible” but does not include a specific deadline noting attorneys should have sufficient time to be thorough.

Brevard’s hotel tax collection sets record, as tourism outlook looks positive for coming year” via Dave Berman of Florida Today — Brevard County has set a record for tourist tax collections in the recently ended budget year, and is looking for another strong year ahead. That will help pay for everything from increased tourism marketing to bigger, better beaches and more tourism-related capital projects. Newly released data shows that the county collected $16.02 million from its 5% Tourist Development Tax on hotel rooms and other short-term rentals for the 2018-19 budget year that ended Sept. 30. The total collections exceeded what the Space Coast Office of Tourism had predicted at the beginning of the budget year by a razor-thin $1,113. The total was a one-year record, and was 2.8% above the previous record of $15.58 million collected in the 2017-18 budget year.

Orange Co. brings in chief emerging tech officer” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Following up on his campaign pledge to rebuild the mayor’s office with focus on new technologies, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings announced Wednesday he has appointed Andrea Wesser-Brawner to be Orange County’s first chief innovation and emerging technology officer. In that role, Wesser-Brawner is to focus on creating public and private partnerships throughout the entire Orange County government to leverage technology, to keep up with global trends and position the county as a leader in the innovation industry. Wesser-Brawner comes to the Mayor’s Office from the International Business Innovation Association, where she was the senior vice president of strategy and partnerships. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from the University of Central Florida.


Brightline says it’s on time to open new South Florida stations by next year” via David Lyons of the South Florida Sun Sentinel — Brightline, the high-speed rail system, is poised to check off a critical box on its expansion checklist — adding three more stations across South Florida by next year. The rail service forecasts its new Boca Raton and Aventura stations will start serving passengers in October 2020, according to its most recent financial filing. A PortMiami station is expected to start service by the end of 2020. Since earlier this year, company officials had listed them all as major priorities for the rail line as it started work on its 170-mile extension from West Palm Beach to Orlando International Airport. The company is evaluating sites in the Orlando area for additional stations, and is “in active negotiations” to establish one that would serve one or more local entertainment parks.

New bill would remove express lanes from Palmetto Expressway, ban tolls on highway” via Martin Vassalo of the Miami Herald — New legislation would remove tolled express lanes from the Palmetto Expressway and ban the state from creating any new tolls on the highway. A pair of Miami lawmakers, state Rep. Bryan Avila and Sen. Manny Díaz Jr., will introduce their matching bills on Monday. The bills come about three months after the express lanes debuted on southbound lanes of the Palmetto, also known as State Road 826. Northbound lanes received new express lanes in September. Toll pricing depends on traffic patterns. Avila, who represents parts of Miami and Hialeah, called the express lanes “disastrous for our community.” Instead of easing gridlock, the project has backfired so far, critics say. Diaz said the express lanes project “did not take into account population growth or the economic development of the area.”

Never-before-seen Jeffrey Epstein biography surfaces” via The Palm Beach Post — From the vaults of the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office comes a document prepared years ago by Epstein’s defense. It’s so full of rich detail, firsthand accounts and glowing tributes it could have been written, directed or orchestrated by none other than the wealthy financier who killed himself Aug. 10 while awaiting a sex trafficking trial in a New York City jail. The year is 2007, as federal prosecutors negotiated with Epstein’s lawyers over the nonprosecution agreement that would eventually send him to jail in Palm Beach County. The document is forwarded to Palm Beach County State Attorney Barry Krischer by Epstein attorney Jack Goldberger with the handwritten note “Enjoy some fun reading on your defendant.”

Hernando budget crisis eases, and a library attendant makes $68,000 a year” via Barbara Behrendt of the Tampa Bay Times — Hernando County likely won’t have to borrow money from its utilities department to make ends meet this year, as county officials had predicted at budget time. Two months into the new fiscal year, property tax revenues are flowing in, along with higher reimbursements from Hernando County Fire Rescue and the Sheriff’s Office. At the same time, it’s unclear how much the county saved from a round of staff cuts meant to cut the budget. What is clear is that a couple of county employees ended up with fat paychecks for lesser jobs.


Conservatives’ debate over their future is going to be bitter and fierce” via Henry Olsen of The Washington Post — American conservatives are finally debating how to respond to the challenge President Trump’s ascendancy poses for their future. The blowback over Sen. Marco Rubio’s recent speech at Catholic University shows that debate is going to be bitter and fierce. Rubio’s talk explored what he called “common-good capitalism.” He argued that the modern American economy falls short because it has fallen prey to the shareholder theory of value. Many conservatives rightly saw these words as a challenge to the reigning neo-libertarian economic orthodoxy. And so they struck back — hard. Rubio had his defenders, but few were as clear about the philosophic issues at stake as his detractors.

This law gives the party in power an unfair edge” via the Tampa Bay Times editorial board — A federal judge in Tallahassee advanced the cause of fair elections by striking down a Florida law that helps the state’s dominant political party remain that way. State law requires the candidates from the party that most recently won the governor’s race be placed first on the ballot. The law has been on the books since 1951. But U.S. District Judge Mark Walker wrote that being placed first on the ballot has given Republicans over the last two decades a roughly 5 percentage-point advantage at the polls, a significant amount in a state where the last several major statewide contests were decided by razor-thin margins. This is a bipartisan relic that has no place in influencing the outcome of any election.

Another blow for sunshine: Lawmakers want to hide where they live” via the Sun Sentinel editorial board — It was bound to happen. After years of eroding the public’s right to know with more than a thousand loopholes, Florida lawmakers now want to amend the public records law to make information about themselves confidential. The proposal would place a similar cloak around Florida’s three Cabinet members. More secrecy. No wonder trust is shaken in government. Over the years, lawmakers have shielded certain identification and location information for current and former judges, police, firefighters, prosecutors, public defenders, code enforcement officers, probation officers and paramedics. Most of these exemptions are understandable. But SB 832, which will be considered when the legislative session begins in January, would put state politicians behind the curtain, too.

Byron Donalds: Black Floridians are thriving under Trump” for the Naples Daily News — President Trump demonstrated his commitment to empowering black Americans from his first day on the job. I’m a proud member of the Black Voices for Trump coalition because I want to see even more of that sort of progress we’ve made over the past three years. This administration knows that opportunity is the key to the success of black Americans, just as it is for everyone else. Since Donald Trump took office, the African American unemployment rate has set numerous records, recently falling to a new all-time low of 5.4%. In addition, median income for black families is at a record high, and black entrepreneurs — especially women — are opening new businesses at a prodigious rate.

At JEA, pride goeth before the fall” via Nate Monroe of the Florida Times-Union — The latest JEA fiasco — a foiled bonus scheme that could have netted executives massive windfalls and cost ratepayers in excess of $600 million or more — shows what happens when powerful people value loyalty over competence. JEA CEO Aaron Zahn hadn’t worked a day in his life at a utility before Mayor Lenny Curry and his underlings installed him to lead the eighth largest public utility in the United States. This total lack of experience might have led one to think Zahn would carry with him a healthy dose of humility and perhaps a willingness to learn. Instead, Zahn has developed a reputation among people within JEA as an imperious and aloof leader, and he has embarked on a misguided, shambolic and unilateral attempt to sell the utility.

What Ron Brackett is reading —When did routine bad weather become such big news?” via Richard Zoglin of The Washington Post — Bad weather on Thanksgiving week can be stressful in the best of circumstances. But this week’s outbreak of TV weather hysteria was a sight to behold. For days on end, even Trump news was booted from the top of the network evening newscasts by dire warnings of the “triple storm danger” heading across the country and the “holiday travel nightmare” likely to result. Just when did ordinary winter storms — lots of snow in Denver, surprise! — become such big news? I doubt Walter Cronkite introduced more than a handful of weather stories during his entire 19-year run as anchor of the “CBS Evening News.” Now, every cold front that threatens to slicken roads and cause airport delays along the Eastern corridor has become urgent news.


New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Christopher Finkbeiner, Rubin Turnbull & Associates: Greater Orlando Aviation Authority

Fred Karlinsky, Greenberg Traurig: INSIGHTEC

Jeff Sharkey, Capitol Alliance Group: Singing for Change

Spotted in the President’s Box at the University of Florida football game vs. Florida State: U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, former U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, Ag. Commissioner Nikki Fried, Attorney General Ashley Moody, Sens. Keith Perry and Darryl Rouson, Adele and Bob Graham, Rep. Chuck BrannanSamantha and James Blair, Chris CarmodyMegan and Andrew Fay, Alan Levine, Rachel and Daniel Nordby, Karl RasmussenSamantha SextonGina and Chris Spencer, Kent Stermon, Eileen and Ben Stuart. Also spotted: Sydney Ridley of The Southern Group, Jason Unger of GrayRobinson, Drew Weatherford, and Jeff Woodburn.

— ALOE —

‘Frozen 2’ sets a Thanksgiving record: $132.7 million” via the Associated Press — Disney’s ice princess sequel brought in $85.3 million in the U.S. and Canada over the weekend and earned an unprecedented $132.7 million for the holiday frame of Wednesday through Sunday. It has earned $288 million domestically in its 10 days of release.

This is why your holiday travel is awful” via Mark J. Dunkelman of POLITICO Magazine — The story of Penn Station’s halting redevelopment comes in three separate waves of effort that rose up to replace the current squalor—and then, in the first two cases, crumbled into nothing. Pundits and editorials have tended to blame a rotating cast of characters for the rot—the railroad that owns the station, the state bureaucracies that have neglected it, the private real estate interests that have hemmed it in. But Penn Station has actually languished at the hands of another simple reality: No one has the leverage to fix it. The sad state of America’s most important train station stems more from a failure of power than a failure of leadership. And shockingly enough, that’s not by mistake — it’s by design.


Best wishes to former Rep. Larry CrowSarah Criser Elwell, the Executive Director at The Forum Club of the Palm Beaches, and Joey Redner.


Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey 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.

Sign up for Sunburn

Receive our team's agenda-setting morning read of what's hot in Florida politics. Delivered straight to your inbox Monday through Friday.

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

Sign up for Sunburn

Receive our team's agenda-setting morning read of what's hot in Florida politics. Delivered straight to your inbox Monday through Friday.