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Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 12.19.19

Your day is better when you start it with a first read on what’s happening in Florida politics.

With U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho retiring from Congress, the Republican primary for Florida’s 3rd Congressional District is no longer a snoozer.

Candidates had already signed up to run before Yoho announced he wouldn’t seek reelection, and the past week has seen a couple more throw their hats in the ring.

But a new poll conducted by Clearview Research has identified the front-runner in the CD 3 contest, and it’s not one of the declared candidates.

Gainesville state Sen. Keith Perry leads the six-person field with 35% support. The second-place candidate, Judson Sapp, is the pick for 9% of likely Republican voters.

Keith Perry of Gainesville is leading the six-person field to succeed Ted Yoho in CD 3. Image via Colin Hackley.

Sapp, who ran for the seat in 2018, has been culling support from well-known Florida Republicans, including two members of the state’s congressional delegation.

Behind him are Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn, Amy Pope Wells, Joe Millado and Matthew Raines, none of whom broke 5%.

Still, there’s plenty of room for change as nearly half of those polled said they were unsure who they would support come Aug. 18.

There’s also the fact that Perry hasn’t expressed interest in running for Congress — not publicly, at least.

If he were to seek a promotion to D.C., he would have to resign his current post, putting his District 8 seat in the state Senate up for grabs.

The choice likely wouldn’t be greeted with open arms by Senate Republicans as CD 3 is a GOP lock while SD 8 would be a prime flip opportunity, especially in a presidential election year.

— TODAY’S SUNRISE —

Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar visits the Sunshine State to announce the federal government has taken the first step in bringing affordable drugs to Florida from Canada. Apparently, socialized medicine isn’t always a terrible thing.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— Fresh off his impeachment drama, Donald Trump is coming to Florida this weekend to speak to a few thousand conservative students from across the country who are gathering in South Florida.

— State workers rally at the Old Capitol building to make their case for an across-the-board pay raise. That’s only happened twice in the past two decades.

— Senate President Bill Galvano defends his plan to build three new toll roads in the state, saying he doesn’t believe the federal biologist who predicts one of those roads will lead to the extinction of the endangered Florida panther.

— Checking in with a Florida man who really understands the true meaning of the holiday spirit.

To listen, click on the image below:

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@RealDonaldTrump: Can you believe that I will be impeached today by the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats, AND I DID NOTHING WRONG! A terrible Thing. Read the Transcripts. This should never happen to another President again. Say a PRAYER!

@TimKMak: Republican Rep. Barry Loudermilk says that Pontius Pilate gave more rights to Jesus during his trial than Democrats have given President Trump in this process.

Tweet, tweet:

@RepWilson: My Republican colleagues’ claims that Democrats are “postponing the work of the people” to #impeach Trump is laughable. What about the 275+ bipartisan bills passed in the House #ForThePeople sitting in @SenMajLdr [Mitch] McConnell‘s legislative graveyard?

@PeterSchorschFL: .@RepMarkMeadows, one of @RealDonaldTrump’s top allies, is not seeking re-election, and tells @PlaybookPlus he could leave the House in the middle of this term to begin a new, yet presently undefined role helping Trump.

@nprpolitics: Rep. Alcee Hastings is helping advance the full House vote to impeach Trump. Being a participant on both sides of impeachment — having been impeached himself in 1988 — places him alone in American political history.

@GovRonDeSantis: Today, I was joined by @HHSGov @SecAzar and @HHS_ASH Dr. Brett Giroir to announce the advancement of the Trump Administration’s plan to allow for safe and affordable prescription drug importation from Canada to multiple states, including Florida.

@ChrisSprowls: The actions of Moffitt’s CEO and implicated researchers are indefensible. To accept vast sums of public money — state and Federal — and then have the CEO and other employees secretly accepting money from China violates the public trust.

@JimRosicaFL: A #whiskeyandWheaties alert: A Tallahassee admin. law judge has delivered a smackdown to @FloridaDBPR over its proposed new “Restaurant Rule.”

— DAYS UNTIL —

“The Rise of Skywalker” premiers — 1; CES® 2020 begins — 19; College Football National Championship — 25; 2020 Session begins — 26; Florida Chamber Legislative Fly-in — 26; Seventh Democratic presidential debate in Des Moines — 26; Florida TaxWatch State of the TaxPayer Dinner in Tallahassee — 27 New Brexit deadline — 43; Super Bowl LIV in Miami — 45; Great American Realtors Day — 46; Iowa Caucuses — 46; Eighth Democratic presidential debate in Manchester — 53; New Hampshire Primaries — 54; Ninth Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas — 62; Nevada caucuses — 65; 10th Democratic presidential debate Charleston — 68; South Carolina primaries — 72; Last day of 2020 Session (maybe) — 85; Florida’s presidential primary — 89; “Black Panther 2” debuts — 138; Florida Chamber Summit on Prosperity and Economic Opportunity — 152; “Top Gun: Maverick” premiers — 190; 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo begin — 216; Florida primaries for 2020 state legislative/congressional races — 243; First Vice Presidential debate at the University of Utah — 293; First Presidential Debate scheduled at the University of Michigan — 301; Second presidential debate at Belmont — 308; 2020 General Election — 320.

— TOP STORY —

Donald Trump becomes third U.S. president to be impeached” via Colby Itkowitz, Felicia Sonmez, John Wagner and Elise Viebeck of The Washington Post — The House held a historic day of debate that ended with the impeachment of Trump for his conduct toward Ukraine, making him only the third president in U.S. history to receive that sanction. At the heart of the Democrats’ case is the allegation that Trump tried to leverage a White House meeting and military aid to pressure Ukraine’s President to launch an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, as well as a probe of an unfounded theory that Kyiv conspired with Democrats to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. After six hours of debate, the House voted in favor of both articles of impeachment — abuse of power and obstruction of justice — on a largely party-line vote. Adoption of the articles sets the stage for a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate next month.

Inside the decision to impeach Trump: How both parties wrestled with a constitutional crisis” via Rachael Bade, Mike DeBonis, and Josh Dawsey of the Washington Post — Pelosi sat quietly at the head of the long table inside her ornate conference room early this month, listening as her deputies debated the last major decision in the impeachment of President Trump. Her senior lieutenants argued for an expansive bill of charges encompassing the Mueller report. Others pressed for articles of impeachment focused solely on Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to help his reelection bid. Ultimately, it didn’t matter. Pelosi had all but made up her mind. Two days earlier, while she was in a Madrid hotel for a climate conference, Pelosi took a call from anxious moderate members of her Democratic caucus who were feeling heat in their home districts about supporting impeachment. The speaker, they said, should resist liberal calls to expand the investigation. Pelosi did not tip her hand on the call. But it was a compelling argument from her “majority makers,” the group whose members flipped pro-Trump districts in 2018, helping make Pelosi speaker for the second time, and have guided her thinking from the earliest moments of the three-month impeachment saga.

“It was not much of a debate,” Pelosi (D-Calif.) recalled in an interview Tuesday. “When we made our decision to go forward, there was no opposition to it.”

>>>A compilation of Florida politicians’ reactions to Trump’s impeachment. Read here.

Florida Politics impeachment coverage:

—“Joe Henderson: Joy to the world? Irony abounds in joyless Trump impeachment fight” via Florida Politics

—“Eric Trump: ‘Hail Mary’ impeachment will let GOP take back House, win Florida in 2020” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics

—“Matt Gaetz blasts Democrats over impeachment in ‘smelly Walmart shoppers and deplorables’ claim” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics

—“John Rutherford accuses Democrats of helping Kremlin with their impeachment” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics

—“Mike Waltz opposes impeachment of Trump” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics

—“Michael Waltz says Trump’s call did not rise to high crimes” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics

—“Bill Posey: Impeachment is a sham, sham, sham, shameless sham” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics

—“Val Demings calls Trump habitual offender in impeachment debate” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics

—“Impeaching Trump is ‘national disgrace,’ says Gus Bilirakis” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics

—“Kathy Castor will vote to impeach Trump” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics

—“Kathy Castor, Debbie Wasserman Schultz blast Trump as the House prepares to vote on impeachment” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics

—“Brian Mast on impeachment: ‘This has not been about justice’” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics

—“Vern Buchanan calls impeachment an attempt to avoid Trump reelection” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics

—“Greg Steube derides impeachment as waste of time, unfair treatment of Trump” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics

 —“Francis Rooney voting against impeachment” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics

—“Lois Frankel calls for keeping the republic by impeaching” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics

—“Debbie Mucarsel-Powell points to foreign despots to warn of danger for America” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics

—“Donna Shalala implores impeachment for legacy to future generations” via Scott Powers Florida Politics

—“Margaret Good supports Trump impeachment” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics

Meanwhile …Putin: Trump’s impeachment far-fetched” via Vladimir Isachenkov of the Associated Press

— DATELINE: TALLY —

Amid impeachment fight, Trump administration moves ahead with drug import plan” via John Kennedy of the GateHouse Capital Bureau — Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary Azar said the administration is going forward with efforts to allow Florida and other states to import prescription drugs from Canada, potentially reducing costs for consumers and government programs. “Under President Trump, we’ve arrived at common-sense solutions that we believe can deliver results and keep patients safe,” Azar said, announcing the opening of federal rule-making on the proposal and procedures for manufacturers. The move starts a more than two-month federal comment period. Most analysts say any chance for launching an importation program is at least a year away. Ron DeSantis, however, hailed the step.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar is in Florida to announce the Canadian drug import plan is moving ahead.

Ron DeSantis: Prescription drug importation announcement wasn’t timed to impeachment debate” via Michael Moline of Florida Phoenix — The timing was in no way political, DeSantis said. “If they would have had this ready last month, we would have done it last month,” he said, referring to the federal action and the announcement in the state Capitol by the governor and top state and federal agency chiefs. As for the impeachment, DeSantis was dismissive. “Everyone in this room knows how all of this is going to end. I think that’s why it has lost support with the public, and it’s not something that is energizing a lot of folks in the middle,” he said.

DeSantis to join Mike Pence for launch at Cape Canaveral” via News Service of Florida — DeSantis plans to be at Cape Canaveral with Vice President Pence for Friday’s scheduled launch of a Boeing Starliner capsule. The unpiloted capsule’s morning test flight is considered a milestone in NASA’s attempt to resume launching crewed flights from U.S. soil. The trip is also expected to deliver about 600 pounds of supplies to the International Space Station. It comes amid turmoil in Washington, D.C., surrounding the impeachment of Trump. But DeSantis, who made an announcement Wednesday with U.S. Health and Human Services SecretaryAzar about importing prescription drugs, indicated the impeachment controversy would not slow the state and Trump administration.

Assignment editors — Gov. DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis will make several announcements: 10 a.m. Eastern time, Gadsden County Emergency Operations Center, 339 East Jefferson Street, Quincy Historic District; 11 a.m. Central time, Scott’s Ferry Volunteer Fire Department, 7226 G U Parker Road, Blountstown; 1 p.m. Central time, Bay High School, 1200 Harrison Avenue, Panama City.

Happening today — Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez will give a speech at the Republican Party of Miami-Dade County holiday dinner, 6:30 p.m., Renaissance Ball Room, 5910 S.W. Eighth St., Miami.

Power to the people? Toll-road task force members want greater public input” via Jeffrey Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat — Hearing from the residents most affected by the potential toll road proposed for the as-yet-to-be-determined path of the Suncoast Parkway is a priority for several members of a state task force guiding the development of the thruway. The problem is, the way the meeting agendas are structured doesn’t really provide for that opportunity, they said at an all-day workshop of the Suncoast Corridor Task Force in Perry Tuesday. Not for the first time, several members noted the lack of public comment at the meetings and criticized the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) for tagging the public comment period at 4:30 p.m. at the end of an exhaustive daylong agenda.

Spotted — At the Florida Governor’s Mansion Holiday Reception hosted by the First Family: Slater Bayliss, Travis Blanton, Audrey Brown, Chris Chaney, Chris Clark, Husein Cumber, Megan Fay, Rich Heffley, John Holley, Charles Koch, Ron LaFace, Ananth Prasad, Casey Reed, Jon Rees, Shane Strum, Mary Beth and Ryan Tyson.

— SESSION IS COMING —

Paul Renner reluctant to address inmates serving outdated drug sentences” via Emily Mahoney of the Tampa Bay Times — Inmates were subject of a Times/Herald investigation, which explained how Florida lawmakers’ easing of sentences for possessing or selling certain amounts of prescription painkillers, which have passed in the last five years, have not been applied to inmates already behind bars. “I don’t think we’re ever going to say, ‘We made this change, it should blanketly be applied retroactively,’” said Renner, the chair of the House’s Judiciary Committee. Florida voters approved a ballot measure in November 2018 to allow lawmakers to apply current state sentencing laws to old cases, but the Legislature has yet to do so. “What the voters did, I’m thankful they gave us the opportunity to look at retroactivity, but what they didn’t do is mandate it,” Renner said.

Rep. Paul Renner’s is a little reluctant to discuss reduced jail time for outdated drug penalties. 

Happening today — The Revenue Estimating Conference will meet to discuss Article V revenues, which is used to fund the court system, 9 a.m., 117 Knott Building.

— STATEWIDE —

State workers urge officials to break contract impasse” via Bobby Caina Calvan of The Associated Press — At a news conference outside the state Capitol, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees of Florida repeated its call for 5% raises and 2% cost of living increases for nearly 50,000 state employees. Negotiators reached an impasse last month when DeSantis proposed a budget that did not include raises for state workers, despite his push for $600 million to raise the minimum salary for public school teachers across the state. The AFSCME says its members and other state workers had only modest raises in the past 12 years, offset by what they called a pay cut when the state began requiring state workers to contribute 3% of their salaries for pensions.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees of Florida rallied at the Old Capitol for a 5% raise and 2% cost of living increase.

FHA hospitals provided $4.1 billion in community benefits last year” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Every three years, hospitals examine the needs of the communities in which they operate. Data gathered during the process — known as “Community Health Needs Assessment” — is used to determine the types of health programs needed in individual communities. The Florida Hospital Association’s 200-plus member institutions recently completed their assessments, and FHA produced a report compiling their findings. According to the 2019 Community Benefit Report, FHA members contributed $4.1 billion in benefits to their communities in 2018, which equates to about an eighth of those hospitals’ operating expenses. The bulk of those funds, $3.2 billion, went toward free care for low-income and uninsured patients. The report detailed another $401 million directed toward training physicians, nurses and other health professionals. The bulk of the report, however, highlighted community health improvement at member hospitals.

Happening today — The State Board of Education will teleconference to discuss an amended budget request for the fiscal year 2020-2021, 10:30 a.m. Call-in number: 1-800-353-6461. Code: 9132047

Happening today — The Florida Supreme Court releases its regular weekly opinions, 11 a.m.

— FOR YOUR RADAR, LITERALLY —

An interesting weather system may develop near Florida this weekend, and it has the potential to wash away your outdoor plans. There is also a chance it could produce more than just heavy rain, reports meteorologist Jeff Huffman of Florida Storms.

Nonetheless, reliable forecast data is suggesting a significant rainfall event will occur somewhere across the state Saturday or Sunday. The rain could also be accompanied by gusty winds, choppy seas, and even severe thunderstorms if a stronger storm system were to develop.

The reason for the unsettled weather is an area of low pressure that is expected to form over the Gulf of Mexico Friday or Saturday. This will not be a traditional fast-moving cold front that often sweeps through this time of year, producing only one episode of wet weather. Instead, it is likely to be a slow-moving storm that has the potential to produce long-lasting periods of rain or thunderstorms in some areas.

Several inches of rain are forecast to fall in some areas Saturday or Sunday, which could lead to localized flooding. Thunderstorms capable of producing wind damage or even a brief tornado also can’t be ruled out. However, it is too early to forecast credibly where any of this may occur, notes Huffman. Furthermore, depending on the strength and track of the low, high seas and gale-force winds are even possible along Florida’s Gulf and Atlantic coasts before or immediately following the passage of the storm.

— PEACHY —

After vote, Nancy Pelosi stokes impeachment trial uncertainty” via the Associated Press — Minutes after the House impeached President Donald Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi threw uncertainty into the process by refusing to say, repeatedly, when or whether she would send two articles to the Senate for a trial. … Pelosi said House Democrats could not name impeachment managers — House prosecutors who make the case for Trump’s conviction and removal from office — until they know more about how the Senate will conduct a trial. “We cannot name managers until we see what the process is on the Senate side,” Pelosi said. “And I would hope that that will be soon. … So far we haven’t seen anything that looks fair to us. So hopefully it will be fair. And when we see what that is, we’ll send our managers.”

White House working to feature Trump’s House allies in impeachment trial” via Melanie Zanona, Anita Kumar and Darren Samuelsohn of POLITICO — One idea under consideration is to allow a collection of House Republicans — who would be fresh off defending Trump in the House — to present a minority report on the Ukraine affair and make their case on the Senate floor, similar to the role Democratic impeachment managers are expected to play in the trial. But that would probably depend on a yet-to-be-decided Senate rules package that will set ground rules for the trial, and it’s unclear whether enough Senate Republicans would be willing to elevate Trump’s fiercest attack dogs to a high-profile role in the proceedings.

House Judiciary Committee ranking member Rep. Doug Collins is one of Donald Trump’s most fervent supporters in the House.

Americans evenly divided on Trump removal, WSJ/NBC News Poll finds” via Aaron Zitner of The Wall Street Journal — The three-month House inquiry has failed to build majority support for or against impeaching Trump, leaving the nation evenly divided, 48% to 48%, on whether to remove the president from office, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds. With the House poised to vote for impeachment along nearly uniform party lines, the poll shows that Americans also view the proceedings from separate, partisan corners. Some 90% of Republicans oppose impeaching Trump and removing him from office, while 83% of Democrats favor it. Among independents, 50% support impeachment and removal, while 44% oppose it. Trump’s job approval rating remains essentially unchanged in recent months. It stands at 44% in the new poll, with 54% disapproving.

Marco Rubio says he hasn’t paid attention to any impeachment hearings” via Jerry Iannelli of the Miami New Times — Even though the story has been atop the news for months and has ground Washington to a halt, Rubio was filmed saying he paid attention to pretty much none of it. Travis Akers, a liberal activist, cornered the Senator from Florida in an elevator and asked if the House had uncovered enough evidence to impeach Trump. “I don’t even watch it,” Rubio responded. Akers seemed flabbergasted. “You don’t pay attention to the facts as they come out?” Akers asked. “No, because we will have a trial, and all we’ll do is sit in the Senate for six weeks potentially and do nothing but hear the facts,” Rubio responded.

Impeachment and the crackup of the conservative mind” via John Harris of POLITICO — I want to hear from someone, anyone, who meets two standards. One, this person is a supporter of Trump and his Republican backers in Congress, who believes the impeachment proceeding is illegitimate and unfair. Two, this person is ready in good faith to convince me that he or she would also oppose impeachment and believe the whole matter to be terribly unfair if the facts in the Ukraine matter were exactly the same in every respect but these: That Hillary Clinton was in the White House. Does such a person exist? I have my doubts, but my standards for the search are lenient. One consequence of the Trump years is that it has knocked conservatives off a high horse that they had been riding since the Reagan era.

Meet the Trump impeachment tourists” via Darren Samuelsohn of POLITICO — Among the early birds who lined up before 7:30 a.m. (just in case!) to see Trump’s articles of impeachment approved was an ex-cop from California who had attended the Clinton impeachment proceedings two decades ago and whose wife happily booked him a cross-country plane ticket to see history unfold again. “She wanted to get rid of me for a week, and, you know, I wanted to do this,” said Tracy Molfino. “I’ve got plenty of time.” So did many of the other members of the public whose attendance at the impeachment proceedings meant sitting sandwiched among a line of television cameras and scores of hunched up reporters pecking away at their laptops.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Defense bill brings $1.6 billion in military construction projects to Panhandle” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News Journal — Before all eyes in Washington, D.C. turned to impeachment, Congress sent bills funding the government for another year to Trump’s desk that included $1.6 billion in military construction projects for the Florida Panhandle. The National Defense Authorization Act for 2020 sets the Pentagon’s budget at $738 billion. It cleared the Senate in an 86-8 vote on Tuesday, just days after passing the House of Representatives in a 377-48 vote. The bill authorizes $1.5 billion to begin rebuilding Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City after it was devastated last year by Hurricane Michael. The $1.5 billion will go to 27 separate construction projects on the base. Closer to home, the bill includes more than $124 million for construction projects at Eglin Air Force Base and Hurlburt Field for special operations forces.

Before everyone began watching impeachment, Congress sent Donald Trump a new budget, with $1.6B going to the Panhandle for military construction projects.

Happening todayGaetz will attend the Republican Party of Palm Beach County holiday party, 6 p.m., Kravis Center, Cohen Pavilion, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach.

Meanwhile …Appeals court throws out Obamacare’s individual mandate” via POLITICO — However, the appeals court ruling largely ducked the central question of whether the Affordable Care Act remained valid after Congress removed the penalty for not having health insurance. And it sent the case back to a Texas federal judge who previously ruled the entire law was unconstitutional to reconsider how much of it could survive. The high stakes ruling keeps the legal threat to Obamacare alive while reducing the likelihood the Supreme Court could render a final verdict on the law before the 2020 elections. Still, the court’s decision could renew pressure on Trump and Republicans to explain how they will preserve those insurance protections after failing to agree on an Obamacare replacement for years.

— 2020 —

How Harvard made Pete Buttigieg the moderate that progressives love to hate” via Michael Kruse of POLITICO — From practically the moment he arrived he had been ubiquitous at the college’s premier political organization, where undergraduates stoke their appetites for public service and strivers hobnob with the biggest names in politics to launch careers to come. Buttigieg was by all accounts a standout among standouts: thoughtful, articulate, poised and mature. But he was reserved, too, a bookish, diligent wonk. People who knew him here at Harvard observed some of the earliest indications of this instinct for the political middle. But they also saw a serious-minded student coming of age at a time when politics suddenly mattered more than it had in perhaps a generation — and whose ideas were fashioned in response to a genuinely disruptive historical moment.

Harvard made Pete Buttigieg the moderate that progressives love to hate. Image via Getty.

Elizabeth Warren nabs support from hundreds of Barack Obama campaign and administration vets” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Former senior Obama aides Sara El-Amine and Jon Carson were behind the effort to gather signatures from ex-Obama staffers. In 2008, Carson was a national field director for Obama’s campaign. El-Amine served as a national director during Obama’s reelection bid. “We all got to know each other working on a campaign, but we’re doing different things now, and I think we all really believe in the need for big structural change that she is promising,” Carson said of the endorsements, according to CNN. “I think that’s why we’re with Sen. Warren.”

Mike Bloomberg to unveil health care policy” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — The candidate’s campaign team announced the former New York City Mayor will release his plan in Memphis, Tennessee. Around noon, he will unveil a “new health care policy detailing achievable reforms that will deliver better, affordable health care for all Americans.” The same day, he will go to Nashville to open Tennessee campaign headquarters for his 2020 campaign. He expects to have a coffee with Mayor Jon Cooper ahead of the opening. Notably, health care initiatives marked Bloomberg’s time leading America’s largest city, and he told CBS News in 2017 those efforts may be critical parts of his legacy long-term.

Democrats vie for labor vote as 2020 looms. Are Florida workers watching?” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times — There are so many candidates prioritizing labor issues with records to back it up, that unions have remained on the sidelines and haven’t endorsed in the primary. Florida, though, is far from a union stronghold. Less than 6 percent of its workers were union members in 2018. Just a dozen states had smaller ratio of unionized workers.

Iowa Democrats will hold four 2020 presidential caucuses in Florida, including St. Petersburg” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times — In an unprecedented move to boost participation in its nominating contest, the Iowa Democratic Party on Wednesday approved 25 out-of-state satellite caucuses. These caucuses will be held “from Paris to Palm Springs,” party chair Troy Price said, and will coincide with the hundreds of caucuses held in Iowa on Feb. 3.

— THE TRAIL —

Republican Jeremy Sisson files for HD 47 challenge of Anna Eskamani” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Sisson, 41, touts his abilities as a communicator and negotiator, contending that he’ll have the opportunity to be a far more effective lawmaker for HD 47 and Central Florida because of those professional skills and because he is a member of the majority party in the Florida House. He is the chief executive officer of Evan James and Associates, an Orlando real estate brokerage firm. In his 20 years in Central Florida, he has served on various boards, including as an ambassador for the Seminole County Regional Chamber of Commerce and as a board member for the Central Florida Better Business Bureau.

Jeremy Sisson has filed to take on Anna Eskamani.

Elijah Manley officially files to challenge Bobby DuBose in HD 94” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Former Broward County School Board candidate Manley has officially launched a challenge to state Rep. DuBose in House District 94. Manley will be competing against DuBose for the Democratic nomination. “I grew up on Section 8 housing, food stamps, and Medicaid — right here in our district,” Manley said in a statement. “I went to our schools, breathed our air, and walked our streets all my life. I believe that I am the best choice because I have a vision and a policy agenda that will make working people’s lives better. We live in very perilous times, and that requires bold unwavering progressive leadership.”

— LOCAL —

Universal Orlando gets tax dollars — and also heat for ugly tactics” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — Universal Orlando got what it wanted this week — a bunch of public money. What was surprising, though, was how Universal damaged its reputation, left some of that stink on Mayor Jerry Demings. At issue was $125 million in public money Universal wanted to help build one of the most expensive roads in the history of asphalt. The total cost of the project is $305 million. That’s about $170 million per mile, higher than even the I-4 Ultimate project. But hey, Universal won. The question is: At what cost? One of the most powerful speakers was an Episcopal priest who was disturbed by the park’s threats to county officials and its naked attempts to promote its charitable endeavors.

Universal Orlando gets its way with the Kirkman Road extension. But at what cost?

Orlando hotel taxes don’t pay for roads or housing like in other cities. One reason: Disney and Universal’s political power” via Chabeli Herrera of the Orlando Sentinel — From the Florida Keys to Portland, Oregon, cities are increasingly turning to tourist taxes as one way to solve problems that come with being a top travel destination. But in Orlando, home to the most iconic theme parks in the world and more than 129,000 hotel rooms, elected officials and industry leaders have preserved nearly all of the $300 million from a 6% levy on hotel rooms to aid the industry. When Florida lawmakers have attempted to loosen the restrictions on the tax, they’ve run into major roadblocks. In Orange County, the hotel tax brings in more money — a record $277 million last year — than anywhere else in the state and remains closely guarded by the tourism industry.

Citizen watchdog group OKs Brevard School District’s use of sales surtax funds” via Eric Rogers of Florida Today — A citizen watchdog group has again approved the Brevard School District’s handling of funds generated by the county’s half-cent capital outlay sales surtax. The surtax, passed by voters in 2014, has so far generated over $210 million for renewal and repair projects at the district’s 83 schools and some of its support facilities. In its annual report to the School Board, the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee, an 11-member panel established by voters alongside the levy to monitor district expenditures from sales tax funds, determined the investments were “doing the work as directed by the voters and delivering value for their investment.” At Tuesday’s school board meeting, committee chairman Gary Shiffrin noted the surtax program had received its eighth straight perfect audit.

Jacksonville Civic Council urges grand jury probe of JEA” via David Bauerlein of the Florida Times-Union — A day after the JEA board cut ties with Aaron Zahn as utility CEO, the Jacksonville Civic Council said Wednesday a grand jury needs to examine all facets of JEA’s decision in July to put the city-owned utility up for sale. The Civic Council, which is a group of influential business executives, also said JEA should search for a new CEO by considering “only candidates from outside the organization” who have “proven records of success in the utility industry.” The Civic Council’s statement, sent to State Attorney Melissa Nelson and other city leaders, said until investigations are done, and a new CEO is hired, JEA should halt its current negotiations with entities seeking to purchase the utility.

State Attorney Melissa Nelson ‘looking into’ JEA” via Christopher Hong of the Florida Times-Union — Nelson announced her office has been “looking into matters involving JEA” in response to a chorus of calls for her to form a grand jury to investigate the beleaguered city-owned utility. “We have heard the concerns of the community over the past several months. This office is — and has been — looking into matters involving JEA. We will not be commenting further,” Nelson said in a written statement.

State Attorney Melissa Nelson is looking into JEA issues.

Where is Mayor Lenny Curry’s outrage now?” via Mark Woods of the Florida Times-Union — There once was a mayor who after reading stories in the Times-Union about the city’s public utility fired off emails to his top administrators that began by asking a pointed question: “What the hell” is going on at JEA? … There once was a mayor who called for heads to roll. That mayor was Lenny Curry. You’ll be forgiven if you don’t remember that Lenny Curry.

Lawsuits could spark ‘existential crisis’ in cities trying to survive climate change” via Alex Harris of the Miami Herald — In Miami Beach, often called a laboratory for new policies to fight climate change, upset residents have threatened lawsuits over the city’s $500 million plan to raise roads and install pumps to keep neighborhoods dry. In the Keys, where new cost estimates for street elevation have elected officials openly talking about abandoning some roads, officials are gearing up for the possibility of upset residents siccing lawyers on the county for refusing to flood-proof their roads. With a projected increase of two feet of sea rise by 2060, this is uncharted territory for local governments, and the stakes are high.

— MORE LOCAL —

Police investigating another possible trespassing incident at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club” via Sarah Blaskey, Nicholas Nehamas and Ben Conrack of the Miami Herald — Police are investigating a possible trespassing incident at Mar-a-Lago, President Trump’s private South Florida club. ‘There’s an ongoing investigation right now, and we’re working on it,’ said Michael Ogrodnick, a spokesman for the Palm Beach Police Department, when asked whether police had responded to a Mar-a-Lago trespassing complaint. “We will let you know as soon as we have something, which should be soon.”

Without a new sponsor for the Miami Heat arena, county owes $2 million to team” via Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald — The administration of Mayor Carlos Gimenez officially ran out of time to have a new naming agreement approved by the County Commission before 2020, when American’s deal ends, and Miami-Dade takes over sponsorship responsibility from the Heat. The first $500,000 quarterly payment to the Heat is due March 31, covering the first three months of the year. Gimenez said he’s confident the lapse in sponsorship deals won’t end up costing Miami-Dade anything since higher fees from the new agreement will make up for what the county would have earned in early 2020 under the existing payment structure with American. A county consultant last year said a new deal would be worth at least triple what American pays.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez could have to cough up some dough for the Miami Heat.

Miami’s scooter pilot program walks a tightrope” via Gabriel Poblete of Miami Today — Chairman Ken Russell, the district commissioner for the scooter pilot, again asked his fellow commissioners to extend the pilot while the administration hashes out a solicitation for proposals. While the legislation had initially called for a four-month extension, the city commission passed a resolution that will lengthen the pilot through Feb. 14. Russell told commissioners who have opposed the pilot that if by the end of the extension the “administration has not implemented the amendments that were put in place at the first extension that should be alleviating the problems you’re feeling, we will stop this program.”

New Uber platform aims to connect businesses and temp workers in Miami-Dade” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — The company announced it is launching Uber Works in the region. The platform is designed to connect workers with businesses looking to fill temporary shifts. “The platform grew out of Uber’s business incubator, leveraging the company’s marketplace technology and operational know-how to help solve pain points that exist in finding on-demand and temporary labor,” a news release from the company said. “This announcement comes after over a year of piloting and following the October launch of Uber Works in Chicago.” DeSantis was swift to praise the expansion into one of Florida’s largest metro markets.

South Florida’s fast-changing landscape makes it harder for Audubon to count birds” via Jenny Staletovich of WLRN — “A lot of our native birds are no longer present,” said Dennis Olle, an attorney who’s been leading the Miami count for 38 years. “You just can’t find them in our urban environment. They’ve been replaced by large exotic birds from somewhere else, and significantly by parrots and parakeets.” The news comes in a dismal year for birds. In September, a comprehensive new study published in the journal Science found that since 1970, 3 billion birds, or a third of the planet’s population, have vanished. Researchers found that common birds were just as likely to disappear as rare birds as habitats decline.

Moffitt Cancer Center shake-up: CEO and others resign over China ties” via Justine Griffin of the Tampa Bay Times — Dr. Alan List, the CEO and president of Moffitt Cancer Center, resigned under pressure Wednesday amid a controversy that linked him and others at the hospital to possible exploitation of American-funded research by China. List was joined by Thomas Sellers, a vice president and director at Moffitt, and four of the cancer center’s researchers, who also resigned abruptly. The departures come during a time of heightened scrutiny by federal agencies of foreign attempts to take advantage of American-backed medical research. Timothy Adams, Moffitt’s board chairman, will assume responsibilities for operating the center while a national CEO search is underway.

Ocala city council election saga continues” via Carlos E. Medina of the Ocala Star-Banner — The Ocala City Council District 2 election saga continued with a new wrinkle on Tuesday after the city’s attorney suggested the council hold a special meeting on the issue to satisfy procedural concerns that otherwise could land the whole thing in court.

— OPINIONS —

Will Mitch McConnell let the Senate hold a fair impeachment trial?” via Kamala Harris for the New York Times — (T)he Senate majority leader … appears more interested in covering up the president’s misconduct than in pursuing truth and fairness. He is already trying to limit the impeachment trial by preventing witnesses from testifying, and he has all but announced a verdict. In doing so, he showed the American people that he has no intention of honoring his oath.

This Impeachment folly” via the Wall Street Journal editorial board — House Democrats voted Wednesday evening to impeach Trump but, media high-fives aside, what have they accomplished? They have failed to persuade the country; they have set a new, low standard for impeaching a President; Mr. Trump will be acquitted in the Senate; and Democrats may have helped Mr. Trump win re-election. Congratulations to The Resistance.

Spoiler alert: Trump is probably going to win in 2020” via Kathleen Parker for The Washington Post — It’s a virtual certainty that Trump will emerge relatively unscathed and, credibly, unfazed. Not only are his supporters more stalwart than ever but, ahem, as I predicted a couple of columns ago, his base is expanding. Since the impeachment proceedings began, 600,000 new donors have contributed to the Republican National Committee, according to Axios. Last week alone, the Trump campaign and RNC together took in more than $10 million in small-dollar donations. Suffice to say, the Democrats have probably damaged themselves more than they have Trump, whose approval ratings have remained relatively steady between a low of 35 percent in 2017 and a high of 46 percent in April 2019 — no matter what he does to whom.

Florida prisons in need of major help” via the Florida Times-Union editorial board — Florida’s prison system has gone from excellence, to satisfactory, to marginal. That’s the opinion of Mark Inch, Florida’s secretary of the Department of Corrections. The prison system is doing a terrible job of preparing inmates for their return to society. In fact, almost 90% do return. This is hardly big news. Corrections secretaries have been warning about prison conditions for years, but the Legislature is hard of hearing. Florida’s prisons have too few educational programs, too many inexperienced guards, too many hostile inmates with drug problems and rising gang culture. Minimal progress won’t work, though. Dramatic improvements are justified.

Put trust back in affordable-housing trust fund; use it for its intended purpose” via the Naples Daily News editorial board — Rapid growth and a market demand for high-end homes leaves those on the lower end of the economic scale — and even those in the middle — struggling to find places to live that they can afford. According to the Sadowski Coalition, more than 900,000 low-income Floridians pay more than 50 percent of their income for housing. Ideally, the figure would be about 30 percent of income. The problem is worse in Southwest Florida, where local governments are scrambling to come up with ways to encourage the development of housing within reach of people making modest to moderate incomes. This year, for the second year in a row, DeSantis is imploring legislators not to raid the trust fund to cover gaps in the state budget.

Fix Florida sales tax loophole” via Scott Shalley of the Florida Retail Federation — Consumers have gradually moved from shopping in traditional brick-and-mortar stores to finding what they need online. Many Florida retailers – always aiming to meet the needs of their consumers – have expanded their online platforms. Consumers can now easily support their favorite Florida stores in person or online. Unfortunately, Florida’s tax laws have not been modernized as quickly. As a result, foreign and out-of-state businesses are able to avoid collecting sales tax on purchases made by Florida consumers. Florida is one of just two states that has not fixed this problem. Until we do, Florida retailers will continue to lose out. And when Florida retailers lose, we all lose.

End surprise medical bills the right way — without compromising care” via Dr. Ronald Giffler for the Tallahassee Democrat — Patients who are insured and seek treatment for covered medical services shouldn’t be faced with unexpected, unavoidable surprise medical bills. The physician community agrees there’s an urgent need to resolve this problem and has united around an effective solution. The Florida Medical Association and numerous state and specialty societies have vocally endorsed the Protecting People from Surprise Medical Bills Act (H.R. 3502), sponsored by Reps. Raul Ruiz, MD and Phil Roe, MD. This legislation, which is modeled after a successful solution to surprise medical bills in New York, would take patients out of the billing process and allow out-of-network providers to utilize an equitable arbitration system to settle disputes with insurance companies.

— MOVEMENTS —

First on #FlaPol —SEIU Florida taps Marcus Dixon as its new leader” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — After a nationwide search. Dixon will manage and oversee the group’s electoral, legislative and outreach operations in Florida. Dixon is a Florida native and has worked for more than ten years in the state’s political and policy industry. He most recently served as the SEIU Florida’s political director, where he developed and implemented the group’s legislative and political action plans to strengthen its overall goals. “Marcus Dixon has a proven track record of success when it comes to political and legislative campaigns. We are thrilled to have him continue his work at the SEIU Florida State Council as our new Executive Director,” said SEIU State Council Acting President, Martha Baker.

— ALOE —

’Star Wars’ has a storied history, but Oscar nominations isn’t a big part of it” via Brian Lowery of CNN — The original “Star Wars,” later subtitled “A New Hope,” garnered 10 nominations in 1978, including one for best picture and the only acting nod in the franchise’s history, for Alec Guinness in the supporting role of Obi-Wan Kenobi. It won six awards in technical categories, including musical score for composer John Williams. No “Star Wars” movie has been nominated for best picture since, and the last Oscar win of any kind was a special achievement in visual effects award for “Return of the Jedi,” released in 1983. “The Empire Strikes Back” also garnered an Oscar for that, as well as best sound.

New Star Wars reaping worst reviews since ‘Phantom Menace’” via Nick Turner of Bloomberg — The latest installment of the series has received positive reviews from 57% of critics tracked by aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Only “Phantom Menace,” released in 1999, received a worse rating — at 53%. While the site is still compiling reviews, it’s already posted 116, including from 36 top critics at news organizations. Commentators who found the film underwhelming pointed to a number of problems: It answered some of the same questions and themes of past movies, according to the British Broadcasting Corp.’s Nicholas Barber; it was dull, according to Joshua Rothkopf of Time Out; and Entertainment Weekly’s Darren Franich called it a “zombie.”

‘Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker’ is getting decidedly mixed reviews.

Will ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ rebalance Disney’s universe?” via The Economist — The trajectory of “Star Wars” under Disney has been rocky. The first part of the new Skywalker trilogy, “The Force Awakens,” released in 2015, earned $2.1B at the box office (then the third-highest total in history) and an astounding reported profit of $780M. But the second, “The Last Jedi,” took in 36% less at the box office (and was about half as profitable). And although Disney’s first “Star Wars” spinoff film, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” was the second-biggest-grossing movie of 2016, the second, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” reportedly lost $77M (the first to lose money). Toy sales have also dropped since 2015; Hasbro attributed a sales slump in 2017 to weaker “Star Wars” trade than expected.

Disney tweaks virtual-queue procedure for new Star Wars ride” via Dewayne Bevil of the Orlando Sentinel — The virtual queue will kick in the theme park’s published opening time, according to a post on the official Disney Parks Blog. That’s when visitors will be able to secure a cyberspace spot in line via the My Disney Experience app, and that’s when the rest of the Hollywood Studios attractions will open as well.

Disney’s Villains After Hours adds Cursed Caravan, keeps Maleficent” via Dewayne Bevil of the Orlando Sentinel — Walt Disney World is tweaking its Villains After Hours event at Magic Kingdom theme park next year to include more street-level badness, the company announced Wednesday. The extra-ticket event, held on 24 select nights beginning Feb. 7, puts baddies in the spotlight. In early 2019, the Maleficent/dragon float used in the daily “Festival of Fantasy” parade made its nighttime debut during After Hours. It roamed through Frontierland, Liberty Square, and around the hub at the base of Cinderella Castle. For the 2020 edition, there will be a twice-a-night Cursed Caravan that features the fire-breathing dragon with Cruella de Vil, Captain Hook, Gaston, Oogie Boogie and others, Disney says.

— ‘TIS THE SEASON —

Assignment editors — State Rep. Shevrin Jones will host a “Jingle Mingle” holiday toy drive with Minister Iram Lewis (of the Bahamas) to collect toys for children and families who may otherwise go without, 6:30 p.m., Hollywood Vine, 2305 Harrison Street, Hollywood.

Life in Christmas: Not always merry, but this place is much loved by many who call it home” via Britt Kennerly of Florida Today — All signs point to Christmas in ZIP code 32709 — from the road markers to streets named for saints and Santa’s reindeer. Tourists stop by year-round to visit Fort Christmas Historical Park and during the holidays, to mail their cards from a U.S. post office famed for its Christmas, Florida, postmark. That doesn’t mean life’s always merry and bright here halfway between Titusville and Orlando, even as many of the 1,682 residents uniformly voice the spirit of their community’s name. The poverty rate stands at 23% in this census-designated place, higher than the state average of about 14% — and 20.8% of residents had income below 50% of the poverty level in 2017.

It’s not always merry in Christmas, Florida.

Feast of the Seven Fishes: How to celebrate the Italian Christmas tradition” via Helen Freund of the Tampa Bay Times — The holiday, also known as La Vigilia di Natale, or simply La Vigilia, is a Christmas Eve celebration in many Italian American households. The Feast of the Seven Fishes stems from the Catholic tradition of abstaining from meat until after Christmas Day. The multicourse seafood feast would traditionally be held after Midnight Mass. For anyone attempting to re-create the feast at home, don’t be afraid to break a few rules. If a Thai seafood curry sounds better than a traditional Italian dish, just go with it. And if you don’t have time to make seven dishes on your own, employ a few friends and family to lend a hand in the kitchen.

A majority of parents want a break from their digital devices over the holidays, survey shows” via Susan Gonzalez of WFTS — Four out of five parents would be willing to go on a “digital detox” to be more present with their families during the holiday season. According to a survey conducted by OnePoll and Groupon, nearly 80% of parents say they want a break from their devices over the holidays. In addition, 86% of the 2,000 parents they surveyed say they’ve had their child complain that they spend too much time on their phone. In fact, of the parents surveyed, more than half (53%) said they’ve missed out on an activity or bonding experience with their child because they were preoccupied with a cellphone or another digital device.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Best wishes to Sean Jacobus, Brianna Jordan, and Danielle Alvarez Ryder.

___

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.

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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.
Email: Peter@FloridaPolitics.com
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

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