Sunburn — The morning read of what’s popping in Florida politics — 12.30.19

Happy new Year 2020, flag State of Florida on a christmas toy, decorations isolated on dark background. Creative christmas concept.
As the end of the decade approaches — Sunburn will keep you up to date!

Happy New Year’s Eve Eve.

It’s still quiet in Florida politics, but we thought we’d drop in and wish everyone a safe and prosperous New Year’s Eve. Sunburn will be off the rest of the week, returning to inboxes Monday, January 6. While you are waiting for that, there is a lot of great content up on (some of it highlighted below), so please check that out.

See you in 2020.


Breaking overnight — “Civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer” via Zachary Basu of Axios — The 79-year-old has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and is often referred to as “the conscience of the House.” He helped lead the 1963 March on Washington and has served in the House since 1987. “I have been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly my entire life. I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now,” Lewis said. “While I am clear-eyed about the prognosis, doctors have told me that recent medical advances have made this type of cancer treatable in many cases, that treatment options are no longer as debilitating as they once were, and that I have a fighting chance.”

Facing Stage IV pancreatic cancer, John Lewis will do what he has always done — keep fighting.


It may not quite be the end of an era, but one thing is unavoidable — this week brings the end of the 2010s. 

As our tumultuous decade comes to a close, I thought I’d share my annotated list of all the articles I am reading now, at the end of 2019.

Topics range from journalism, sports, tech, and politics to media in general — and even about the futility of making best-of lists. Many of them recap (or at least try to make sense of) the past 10 years — if that’s even possible.

So, in no particular order, here’s what’s engrossing me today:

The 2000s never ended” via Amanda Mull of the Atlantic — Whatever distinct era we’re in now has been going on for nearly 20 years as a single, lurid blur, shaped by a media landscape that has changed how Americans perceive and understand almost everything. Where we exit this carnival ride of an era is just as unclear.

Decisions that shaped the decade” via Avi Selk of The Washington Post — Even the most seemingly insignificant (or in Anthony Weiner’s case, ignominious) decisions can influence the course of history. As the 2010s come to an end, we revisit the people whose choices helped spark sweeping changes to our politics, law, culture and the geopolitical order.

A decade of news: How the big stories evolved” via Erin Riglin, Eric Bolton and Amol Sharma of The Wall Street Journal — A lot can happen in a decade — The Journal mined millions of news articles, using computer algorithms to analyze coverage of certain topics — from “Facebook” and “Disney” to “immigration” and “opioids” — and find patterns in the words and phrases that were likely to be associated with those terms in a given year.

The decade in pictures” via The New York Times — Umbrella-wielding protesters engulfed in tear gas in Hong Kong. A severely malnourished baby girl sprawled on a floor in Venezuela. The first-ever image of a black hole. These are some of the pictures in the seemingly boundless photographic universe that Times editors scrolled through to define the year visually. Getting just the right mix of images was the most challenging part.

Monsters of the 2010s: The pivoters to video” via Rebecca Leber of Mother Jones — A lawsuit filed by advertisers against Facebook in 2018 claimed the company had knowingly inflated its video metrics. Those were the metrics that altered the media landscape. How many thousands of journalists’ lives were upended by the decisions of how many handfuls of people? How many careers were ground up because of the fictions and frauds of measuring digital audience? These are frightening, dizzying thoughts.

The decade tech lost its way” via The New York Times — When the decade began, tech meant promise — cars that could drive themselves, social networks that could take down dictators. It connected us in ways we could barely imagine. But somewhere along the way, the flaws of technology became abundantly clear. What happened?

The 84 biggest flops, fails, and daydreams of the decade in tech” via The Verge — This is the decade we learned that crowdfunded gadgets can be utter disasters, even if they don’t outright steal your hard-earned cash. It’s the decade of wearables, tablets, drones and burning batteries, and of ridiculous valuations for companies that were really good at hiding how little they actually had to offer. It’s the decade of Google filling up its product graveyard, Apple stubbornly denying obvious missteps, and Microsoft writing off billions of dollars.

The decade in internet culture, in 34 emblematic posts: The funniest, strangest, stupidest, most genius, and most unforgettable posts of the 2010s.” via Brian Feldman of New York magazine — I am interested in those individual instances of human ingenuity, or derangement, that best expressed digital culture as it crystallized in the 2010s. What are the posts that we will remember ten or a hundred years from now? What are the posts that told us something about how we lived this decade? What are the posts that were so funny, or so strange, that I cannot get them out of my head?

How 2019 unfolded according to the words of the year around the world” via CTGN — Words of the year tell a global story. “Wen,” “rei,” “they,” and “climate emergency,” capture the way 2019 unfolded.

Impeachment of Donald Trump voted top 2019 news story in AP poll” via The Associated Press — Trump also figured in the second and third biggest stories of the year: the fallout over his immigration policies and the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into whether his election campaign coordinated with Russia. But it was impeachment that was by far the top choice.

Donald Trump’s impeachment was by far the top story of 2019. The President was a figure in the second and third big stories as well.

Trump’s quest to shatter GOP economics reached its culmination in 2019” via Jeff Stein of The Washington Post — From trade to spending, from the Federal Reserve to paid parental leave, Trump has embraced policy changes that historically are more in line with the approach of Democrats — establishing a forceful role for government in setting the terms of the economy — than of Republicans. The breadth of Trump’s break with the GOP is striking.

U.S. mass killings hit new high in 2019, most were shootings” via Lisa Marie Pane of The Associated Press — There were more mass killings in 2019 than any year dating back to at least the 1970s, punctuated by a chilling succession of deadly rampages during the summer. In all, there were 41 mass killings, defined as when four or more people are killed, excluding the perpetrator. Of those, 33 were mass shootings. More than 210 people were killed.

52 things I learned in 2019” via Tom Whitwell for Medium — The world produces 1,000 times as many transistors as it does grains of rice and wheat combined. Drunk shoppers spend $45 billion per year, and only 6% of them regret their drunk purchases. The UK male suicide rate is the lowest since accurate records began in 1981. Nigeria spends more on petrol subsidies than on health, education, or defense. Some people feel better just having a placebo drug in their possession without even consuming it. Harbinger customers are customers who buy products that tend to fail. They group together, forming harbinger ZIP codes. If households in those ZIP codes buy a product, it is likely to fail. If they back a political candidate, they are likely to lose the election.

Abortion. Transgender rights. Voting access. Polarizing issues could dominate statehouse agendas in 2020.” via Tim Craig and Emily Wax-Thibodeaux of The Washington Post — With about 38 state legislatures set to reconvene in January, coming statehouse battles on polarizing issues reflect the deepening divide in the United States’ culture wars; advocates expect state policy debates will influence how voters think about the 2020 presidential election.

Publishers see 2020 as the year more start to get paid for news” via Gerry Smith of Bloomberg — Ad dollars have largely flowed to Facebook and Google. Now, as they head into 2020, embattled publishers are hoping to turn the tables on tech platforms that have profited from their work — by getting them to pay for stories. “It’s a positive trend we’re seeing from the platforms,” said Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed News.

Media personality of the year” via Tom Jones of The Poynter Report — Turn on your TV looking for news out of Washington and chances are, he’s there — NBC’s Chuck Todd, host of the shouldn’t-be-missed “Meet the Press,” still the gold standard of Sunday morning news shows. Most polarizing: Love him or loathe him; you cannot ignore the force that is Fox News’ Sean Hannity.

2019’s best TV moment? It was Stephen Colbert answering Anderson Cooper’s question about grief.” via Hank Stuever of The Washington Post — Cooper was still processing the loss of his mother. Colbert’s childhood was defined by a tragic loss — a 1974 plane crash that killed his father and two of his brothers. By knowing grief, he has grown into an adult who can understand it in others. “In my tradition,” Colbert said, “that’s the great gift of the sacrifice of Christ — is that God does it, too. That you’re really not alone. God does it, too.”

Monica Lewinsky on the decade we reclaimed our stories — and ourselves” via Vanity Fair — In the past 10 years, we have heard women’s voices blossom. This blossoming is not only a reclamation of space — quite literally but metaphorically, too. It is not just about, say, the professional spaces we are now allowed to enter, but about the kinds of truths we’re allowed to tell about ourselves.

Drinking with no consequences? This was the year of the hangover hack.” via Laura Reiley of The Washington Post — Some estimates by market research analysts put the global hangover recovery market at nearly $1 billion. This uptick reflects Americans’ growing enthusiasm for “life hacks” and raised expectations about functional foods and drinks: ingredients that can improve mental clarity, boost energy, ameliorate mood, lower stress, and more broadly get folks back to work pronto.

For Tampa Bay and nation, a decade polarized by politics” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times — Trump wasn’t on the St. Petersburg mayoral ballot in 2017. But he might as well have been. And in the case of Rick Kriseman, the gambit worked.

Tiger Woods’ comeback at Masters named AP sports story of the year” via Eddie Pells of The Associated Press — AP member sports editors and beat writers elevated Woods’ rousing victory at Augusta National over the runner-up entry: the U.S. women’s soccer team’s victory at the World Cup. That monthlong competition was punctuated by star Megan Rapinoe’s push for pay equality for the women’s team and an ongoing war of words with Trump.

2020 predictions: Russian spies, pythons and, of course, Trump” via Frank Cerabino of the Palm Beach Post — Tulsi Gabbard is the surprise winner in Florida’s Democratic presidential primary. Preliminary results show thousands of votes cast from the Russian spy ship Viktor Leonov. King tides in West Palm Beach lead to the first kayak rental concession on Flagler Drive. Trump announces his daughter, Ivanka, will replace Mike Pence as his running mate. Florida Legislature moves decisively to address gun violence in the state by a ban on vaping at gun shows.


Florida Politicians of the 2010s — When historians look back at Florida in the 2010s, who will stand out?

Florida Politics asked an exclusive panel of top influencers to help take stock of those politicians who emerged over the decade with outsized influence, both in the spotlight and behind the scenes. We then narrowed down the list to 25 (as well as two runners-ups) as the individuals leaving an indelible mark on Florida politics over the past 10 years.

For many, the top names may not be a surprise. Further down the list, however, the list starts to get interesting.

On Friday, we unveiled the first batch: Uber-attorney John Morgan (while not a politician per se, his impact on Florida could not be ignored), Jack Latvala (despite his inglorious exit from politics, also deserved a nod), state Sen. Tom Lee, former Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry.

John Morgan may not be a politician, but he is certainly a formidable force in Florida politics.

The series resumes this morning at 10 a.m. and runs through this week. To learn who made the cut, follow the entire list here, on Facebook, and on Twitter with #FlaPolsOfTheDecade.


Who are the pols watch in 2020? — As 2019 rolls into 2020, Florida Politics is looking to compile a list of those under-the-radar players in The Process to watch in the coming year. With that, we are asking for your help in recognizing them and why they should be on our 2020 watch list.

Who is eligible? First, we are not asking for those big names — such as Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and soon-to-be-House Speaker Chris Sprowls (we all know to keep an eye on them). What we want are some of those behind-the-scenes players (and not just electeds, either) poised to make a real difference in 2020.

Please, if you are interested, email your suggestions — and about 75-100 words as to why they should be on the list — to [email protected]. We are extending the deadline until 5 p.m. Tuesday. And yes, all answers are anonymous.


While traveling in Ireland for the holidays, Ron Holden proposed to Lauren’s Kids Communications Director Claire VanSusteren. Holden serves as Director of Advance for U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr and Associate Advance for Trump. “As I obviously work in Democratic politics in Florida, we are clearly a house divided … but couldn’t be happier!!!” VanSusteren said. Congratulations to the happy couple!

She said yes!


Florida may be great, but there’s one thing that’s not so good — the number of Floridians who have their driver’s license suspended. It’s currently at about 2 million people … or one out of every eight drivers. Most of the time, the suspensions have nothing to do with traffic safety.

Also, in Sunrise:

— If you’re still texting behind the wheel, stop. Texting while driving has been illegal since July, but there was a grace period … which is now about to end.

— A Sarasota-based charity raised more than $2.5 million last year to help the families of fallen law enforcement officers but spent almost all of that on fundraising and salaries.

— Democratic House Leader Kionne McGhee is mourning the death of his uncle, who was shot and killed on Christmas Eve as he mowed his lawn in South Florida.

— Florida Politics publisher Peter Schorsch calls in to talk about the list of the 25 most influential politicians in Florida for the 2010s. Some of the people who didn’t make the cut: Andrew Gillum and Jack Latvala (but he did get a mention).

— Today’s Florida Man segment is all about the women, including one from Tallahassee who was jailed in Louisiana after crashing her car into an assisted living facility after breaking-up with her boyfriend.

To listen, click on the image below:


@LHSummers: Today, we think of long-term inflation expectations as stable and take stable prices for granted, not just in the United States but throughout the industrial world. That is because of what Paul Volcker did.

@IvankaTrump: Attacks on Jewish New Yorkers were reported almost every single day this past week. The increasing frequency of anti-Semitic violence in New York (and around the country) receives far too little local governmental action and national press attention.

@SteveSchale: I spent some time this morning on the ole @DMRegister website — cause that’s what bored hacks do on a Sunday & found a little process morsel for the pundit press: Joe Biden spent more days in Iowa in December than any other Democrat running for President. No malarkey.

@GusCorbella: As we debate deregulation of licensing during Session, I hope a discussion will be had on how to help returning citizens with learned skills combat hiring discrimination, to have a better chance at successfully reentering society.

@MrJamesCosgrove: Dec 24: Christmas Eve Dec 25: Christmas Day Dec 26: Boxing Day Dec 27-30: Every day feels like a Sunday, proof that time is a social construct Dec 31: New Year’s Eve Jan 1: New Year’s Day Jan 2: Reality hits


Trump to launch “Evangelicals for Trump” coalition in Miami — 4; CES® 2020 begins — 8; College Football National Championship — 14; 2020 Session begins — 15; Florida Chamber Legislative Fly-in — 15; Seventh Democratic presidential debate in Des Moines — 15; Florida TaxWatch State of the TaxPayer Dinner in Tallahassee — 16; Annual Red Dog Blue Dog Celebrity Bartender Benefit — 29; New Brexit deadline — 32; Super Bowl LIV in Miami — 34; Great American Realtors Day — 35; Iowa Caucuses — 35; Eighth Democratic presidential debate in Manchester — 42; Capitol Press Corps press skits — 42; New Hampshire Primaries — 43; Ninth Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas — 51; Nevada caucuses — 54; 10th Democratic presidential debate Charleston — 57; South Carolina Primaries — 61; Last day of 2020 Session (maybe) — 74; Florida’s presidential primary — 78; “Black Panther 2” debuts — 127; Florida Chamber Summit on Prosperity and Economic Opportunity — 141; “Top Gun: Maverick” premiers — 179; 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo begin — 205; Florida primaries for 2020 state legislative/congressional races — 232; First Vice Presidential debate at the University of Utah — 282; First Presidential Debate scheduled at the University of Michigan — 290; Second presidential debate at Belmont — 297; 2020 General Election — 309.


Will it be a happy new year? Sure, in our own lives. For the country? Poll says that’s tougher.” via Susan Page, William Cummings and Nicholas Wu of USA TODAY — A USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll asked Americans if they thought things would get better or worse in their own lives in 2020. By an overwhelming 80% to 11%, they predicted their lives would be better. That optimism stretched across demographic lines, although men had a more positive outlook than women (83% vs. 76%) and Southerners a more positive outlook than Midwesterners (84% vs. 74%). But asked about the nation as a whole, optimism was more tempered and attitudes more divided by partisanship. By a wide 72% to 16%, Republicans expected things to get better. By double digits, 54% to 37%, Democrats said things would get worse. Overall, 54% predicted better times, while 34% predicted worse. Twelve percent weren’t sure.


Nikki Fried rebukes NRA and state officials backing gun preemption law” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Fried responded to a National Rifle Association memo accusing her of “self-important arrogance” following her opposition this week to gun preemption law punishments. In a brief, the Commissioner opposed punishments for local Mayors and Commissioners who consider certain gun control measures. The NRA sent its supporters a message from Marion Hammer calling Fried “the most anti-gun Commissioner of Agriculture in over 40 years — maybe ever! Folks, you can’t make this stuff up … who would have imagined such self-important arrogance?” The memo prompted Fried’s own news release. “I made a promise during my campaign that the NRA would have no influence over me or our department.” said Fried, Florida’s lone statewide elected Democrat. “I stand behind that promise.”

Marion Hammer and Nikki Fried are at odds over local control of gun laws.

AGs ask DEA for opioid production cuts — A half-dozen state Attorneys General, including Ashley Moody, are asking the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to refine its opioid production quotas, Maya King of POLITICO Florida reports. Joining Moody in the call were the AGs from West Virginia, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky and Nebraska. The group outlined 16 ways the DEA can account for opioid diversions and thereby reduce opioid-related deaths. “We must attack this crisis from all angles, including understanding the diversion of opioids,” Moody said in a written statement. “The DEA can help us tackle this problem by better accounting for diversion and gaining a more precise understanding of the nation’s legitimate needs for opioids.”

Major adoption, sentencing reform among blizzard of bills filed before holiday season” via Jeff Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat — Senate President-designate Wilton Simpson filed his centerpiece legislation to make the state Department of Children and Families more accountable and streamline its adoption process. That same day, Sen. Jeff Brandes introduced an integral part of his criminal justice reform package that aims to reduce the sentences of young adult and juvenile offenders. He chairs the chamber’s Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice and is vice-chair of the Criminal Justice Committee. The timing was not intentional, Brandes said, but done out of necessity to position the bills to get heard at the beginning of Session.

Jeff Brandes introduces prison sentence reduction legislation for young adults” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Brandes’ bill (SB 1308) would allow people convicted of crimes when they were 25 years old or younger to apply, in certain situations, for a sentence review to reduce their sentence or suspend it immediately. “The Second Look Act” applies to most offenders except for those convicted of murder or conspiracy to commit murder or to those sentenced to life in prison. The proposed law would allow individuals to be resentenced or released from prison if a court deems they are reasonably able to reenter society without posing a further risk of reoffending.

Proposal would allow ads on ride-sharing cars” via the News Service of Florida — Rep. Bob Rommel filed the proposal (HB 1039) that would allow so-called “transportation network company” drivers to contract for the installation of digital advertising devices put on the roofs of vehicles and would be a maximum of 20 inches tall and 54 inches long. Ads could not be displayed when vehicles are parked or turned off, under the bill.

Bob Rommel wants limits on the size of ads on top of ride-sharing vehicles.

A place for progressives: People’s Advocacy Center in Tallahassee is made for citizen-lobbyists” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat — The Florida People’s Advocacy Center is a place that out-of-town activists can use as a home-away-from-home and office to organize their lobbying of state government. There are 33 dorm-style rooms and a shared space outfitted much like a family room with sofas, chairs, board games in a bookcase, and a television. Granted, it’s not a colonnaded association palace or gleaming office tower occupied by platoons of well-heeled lobbyists and influence peddlers that dot the downtown and midtown Tallahassee landscape. But for these progressive warriors on a shoestring, it’s home away from home.



Minimum wage to increase by dime in 2020” via the News Service of Florida — The state’s minimum wage will increase from $8.46 to $8.56 an hour on Jan. 1, with a minimum wage of at least $5.54 an hour for tipped employees, according to the state Department of Economic Opportunity. Florida voters in 2004 approved a constitutional amendment that increases the state minimum wage each year based on inflation. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

State extends negotiation period with Virgin Trains — again — if the company can overcome obstacles on I-4, Tampa station” via Veronica Brezina-Smith of the Tampa Bay Business Journal — The Florida Department of Transportation and Central Florida Expressway Authority (CFX) have agreed to Virgin Trains’ numerous previous requests for extensions and will agree once more to extend the January deadline for another 90 days, extending the due date to March 2020. The new extension request is meant to give the company more time for due diligence. “The Department needs to understand exactly what property Virgin Trains desires to lease. The Department cannot indefinitely offer a lease opportunity in the Interstate 4 corridor, one of the busiest corridors in the state, for a project with uncertain and unspecified plans and impacts on Department projects,” the letter from FDOT Assistant Secretary Tom Byron reads.

FHP reaches ‘enforcement time’ on texting motorists” via Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida — Starting Wednesday, the highway patrol will join other law-enforcement agencies in issuing tickets, instead of warnings, to motorists stopped for texting while driving. “There’s going to always be education going on, however now it’s going to be enforcement time,” Lt. Derrick Rahming of the highway patrol said. “We never want anyone to learn the hard way, so we gave everyone six months to learn about this law. But, now come Jan. 1, it’s a primary offense, and we are going to start issuing citations.” The law also bars motorists from talking on cellphones in school and work zones, unless the motorists use “hands-free” electronic devices.

No more excuses; it’s time to stop texting and driving.

A law that penalizes local officials who OK tougher gun laws is just wrong, suit says” via Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida — Describing the law as an “unnecessary and unconstitutional overreach,” cities and counties argue that an appeals court should reject a 2011 state law that threatens tough penalties if local elected officials approve gun regulations. Attorneys for dozens of cities, counties and local officials filed a brief urging the 1st District Court of Appeal to uphold a lower-court decision that found the law unconstitutional. Challenges to the law were filed after the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, as local governments looked for ways to curb gun violence. The brief said the threatened penalties violate legal immunities provided to local officials as they make policy decisions.

Center for Public integrity: Fallen officer’s families only see sliver of donations to nonprofit” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — A Sarasota-based nonprofit for fallen or injured law enforcement officers spends nearly all of its donations on telemarketers, according to a Center for Public Integrity and the Tampa Bay Times. The Law Enforcement Officer Relief Fund (LEORF) sent a combined $72,000 to 11 families in fiscal year 2018 while it raised $2.7 million. An additional $55,665 went toward grants and other organizations, but the nonprofit spent $2.3 million on fundraising. The relief fund is related to the International Union of Police Associations, AFL-CIO (IUPA), another Sarasota-based nonprofit. Together, the nonprofits doled out $82.3 million of $106.3 million in expenses to fundraising services.

Nearly 2 million Florida drivers have license suspended for unpaid fines, study finds” via Monivette Cordeiro of the Orlando Sentinel — Nearly 2 million of Florida’s 16.6 million drivers currently have their licenses suspended — not for unsafe driving, but due to unpaid fines and fees. Orange County had the highest rate in the state in 2017 — with nearly 15% of the county’s driving population receiving suspension notices for failure to pay — before falling to 3rd in 2018. The state can suspend your driver’s license for offenses like minor infractions unrelated to traffic safety like missing a court date, failing to pay child support, or having past due court-imposed fines and fees. “Florida must reform its driver’s license suspension policies to prevent the state from punishing poor people simply for being poor,” said the study by the Fines and Fees Justice Center.

Florida’s insane number of license plates is costing FDOT millions” via Noah Pransky of Florida Politics — One of FDOT’s lingering problems with its SunPass system is the high volume of Toll-by-Plate (TBP) transactions that have to be manually-reviewed by workers because the not-yet-perfect auto-recognition system struggles to discern between all of the different kind of tags on vehicles driving Florida toll roads. According to FDOT, 139 million TBP transactions had to be manually reviewed last year — approximately 42% of all TBP transactions. With more than 120 different tag styles in Florida alone, it comes as no surprise. That reduces the system’s confidence in automatically reading tags, necessitating the costly manual review process. But those reviews are not without significant cost and delays in billing.

Is Marsy’s Law hurting local criminal investigations?” via Jenese Harris of News 4 Jax — Marsy’s Law intends to keep victims safe from people that committed crimes against them in Florida. But the law can also stop citizens from knowing about crimes near their homes. “Certainly, initially, it’s making it more difficult out of an abundance of caution to comport with Marsy’s Law. The Sheriff’s Office now goes to great length to redact a great deal of information from police reports,” said John Holzbaur, Associate Attorney with the Law Offices of Randy Reep. It’s unclear if the law is helping or hurting police as they investigate to solve crimes.

Multimillion-dollar tobacco case goes to Supreme Court” via the News Service of Florida — After an appeals court ordered a new trial, a battle about a $7.1 million verdict against cigarette maker Philip Morris USA has gone to the Florida Supreme Court. Attorneys for Michael Gentile, whose wife Brenda died of lung cancer after smoking for more than 30 years, have filed a notice that is a first step in asking the Supreme Court to take up the case. Michael Gentile filed the wrongful-death lawsuit on May 12, 2015, against Philip Morris after the death of his wife, who primarily smoked Virginia Slims, a Philip Morris product, according to the September ruling by a panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal.

A decade of environmental traumas hurt Florida industry” via Craig Pittman of the Tampa Bay Times — One major lesson of the past decade is this: In Florida, the environment is the economy. If you mess up one, you mess up the other. Floridians learned that lesson in a big way in July 2010, when weathered oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster off Louisiana first showed up on Panhandle beaches. As the sugar-white sands developed a bad case of thick, brown acne, tourists canceled hotel reservations all over the state. No charter fishing trips. No beach weddings. Ultimately BP agreed to pay Florida $3.2 billion for its losses.

Jesse Panuccio to represent school in pregame prayer case” via the News Service of Florida — Panuccio, who served as general counsel to former Gov. Rick Scott, will represent a Tampa Christian school in a long-running legal fight about whether the Florida High School Athletic Association should have allowed a prayer before a championship football game. Panuccio, who also served as director of the state Department of Economic Opportunity under Scott, filed a document this week in federal court, indicating he will represent Cambridge Christian School. The school filed the lawsuit in 2016 against the athletic association after Cambridge Christian and University Christian School of Jacksonville were prevented from using a stadium loudspeaker to offer a prayer before a 2015 championship game at Camping World Stadium in Orlando.

Jesse Panuccio will be representing schools in a long-running legal fight over pregame prayer.

Happening today — U.S. District Judge Charlene Edwards Honeywell will hold a conference call about the status of a lawsuit filed by Cambridge Christian School of Tampa against the Florida High School Athletic Association about pregame prayer, 10:30 a.m. Call-in number: 1-888-684-8852. Access code: 2409734. Security code: 2753.

What Andrew Gillum is reading —Christopher Chestnut investigated for election fraud” via Jennifer Cabrera of the Alachua Chronicle — The Florida Department of State has referred an election fraud complaint against Chestnut to Larry Keefe, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida, and Bill Cervone, State Attorney for the 8th Judicial Circuit in Gainesville. The complaint alleges Chestnut “fraudulently voted in Florida in the 2018 primary and general elections while a resident of another state, Georgia. If true, this implicates potential violations of section 104.15, Florida Statutes (unqualified voters willfully voting) and 52 U.S.C. §§ 10307(c) and 20511 (providing false information in order to vote in a federal election).” The 2018 election featured Andrew Gillum as a candidate for Governor; Chestnut and Gillum’s friendship goes back to high school, and Chestnut has been described as Gillum’s “best friend.”


Will 2020 give Florida a break in hurricane season?” via Kimberly Miller of the Lakeland Ledger — Colorado State University’s first review of the global climate patterns that could influence the next hurricane season found only a 10 percent chance for below-normal activity, said storm researcher Phil Klotzbach. The probability for an above-normal season was 45 percent, with the same chances given for a normal season. CSU’s December outlook forecasts the amount of accumulated cyclone energy, or ACE, for the season. ACE is a measure of the strength and longevity of a tropical cyclone. “All in all, I’d say conditions favor a near to somewhat above-average season given the odds of El Niño appear to me to be fairly low,” Klotzbach said.

Feds review Hurricane Irma invoices from 3 Florida cities” via The Associated Press — The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general will be reviewing “questionable invoices” from three South Florida cities for reimbursement of Hurricane Irma debris removal. FEMA completed its investigation and forwarded the documents submitted for El Portal, Miami Shores and Florida City to the inspector general for additional review. El Portal has received just $145,000 of the $2.1 million sought for cleanup from the 2017 storm. Florida City has only obtained $343,000 of the $5.2 million it sought. Miami Shores hasn’t received any of the $3.2 million it requested for cleanup.

FEMA is taking a closer look at three Florida towns — including El Portal — and their questionable billings for Hurricane Irma.

UCF researchers’ model predicts what causes sea-level rise on Florida’s coasts” via WMFE — UCF Department of Civil, Environmental, and Construction Engineering’s Thomas Wahl says their model doesn’t predict when or where sea-level rise will happen. But Wahl says it can look at historical data and determine which natural events have caused very high sea levels in coastal regions in the past. “And that is something that can help guiding some of our flat-risk assessments and maybe also some of the adaptation planning that has to be going on at some point to mitigate the impacts from sea-level rise.” Wahl says that means resilience strategies should take into consideration that storm surge during hurricanes has been the main driver of sea-level rise on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Record number of manatees killed by boats in Florida this year” via Jan Wesner Childs of the Weather Channel — The numbers show there were 130 manatees killed by boats in 2019 as of Dec. 20. That’s the most in 45 years of annual reports published on the FWC website. The highest death toll was in Lee County on the state’s southwest Gulf Coast, where 25 manatees were killed by boats. The second highest was in Brevard County on the Atlantic coast, where 15 died in the Indian River Lagoon. Those two areas tend to have high populations of manatees due to vast seagrass habitats. “Hotspots are the Indian River Lagoon and Lee County,” Martine deWit, an FWC veterinarian, told Florida Today.


White House Counsel drives aggressive Trump impeachment defense” via Michael Bender and Rebecca Ballhaus of The Wall Street Journal — In the three months since the impeachment inquiry began, the Counsel’s office has spearheaded the White House’s response, writing blistering letters to Democrats declining to cooperate with their demands for documents, arguing that witnesses need not testify before the House and meeting with Republican senators to prepare for a trial. Though Trump has solicited advice elsewhere, resulting in competing bids for influence by aides, the President has chiefly relied on White House Counsel Pat Cipollone for impeachment strategy, officials say. He has been a near-constant presence in Trump’s office in recent weeks. The two have developed a close bond and sometimes converse with a shorthand born of their familiarity, one official said: “They are stapled to each other’s side.”

White House Counsel Pat Cipollone has been a constant presence in Donald Trump’s office.

Mike Lee is the quiet force to get Trump acquitted” via Burgess Everett and Marianne Levine of POLITICO — The Utah Republican is working with the White House to track the wide-ranging viewpoints within the Republican Senate majority, including his Utah colleague and impeachment wild card Mitt Romney. That relationship could prove critical when the Senate considers difficult votes on witnesses or other motions, and ultimately on the president’s acquittal or conviction. And though Lee is staying away from the cable news food fights that some of his colleagues are fixtures on, he’s not exactly urging a dulcet tone from Trump. “He has every reason to be confident about this, every reason to be unapologetic and defiantly confident about his case. Because he has a really good case,” Lee said in an interview.

Impeachment trial will supercharge battle for Senate” via James Arkin of POLITICO — The Senate’s impeachment trial of Trump is still stuck in limbo, but the looming verdict represents the most consequential vote senators will take before next year’s elections — and a weighty position for challengers seeking to join the chamber. Impeachment also threatens to yoke the 35 separate races for Senate seats even closer to the presidential contest. The politics around impeachment have calcified for both parties, with public opinion rigidly consistent and senators and candidates mostly falling along party lines ahead of a prospective vote to acquit Trump or remove him from office.

Joe Biden says he would not comply with a Senate subpoena in the impeachment trial of Trump” via Nick Coltrain of the Des Moines Register — The Democratically controlled U.S. House of Representatives impeached Trump earlier this month alleging Trump abused his presidential power by tying foreign aid approved by Congress to a politically motivated investigation into a company on which Biden’s son Hunter Biden served on the board. Leaders in the House and Republican leaders in the GOP-controlled U.S. Senate are trying to come to terms for an impeachment trial. Biden said in early December he wouldn’t comply with a subpoena by the Senate and confirmed that statement in an interview with the Des Moines Register’s editorial board. He has not been subpoenaed, but Trump’s allies have floated the idea.


Trump promotes White House aide who refused to testify in impeachment inquiry” via Michael Collins of USA TODAY — Trump has named Robert Blair as the special representative for international communications policy, the White House announced. Blair will lead U.S. efforts to promote a secure and reliable global communications system, the announcement said. Blair currently serves as a senior adviser to acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and assistant to the President. The White House said he would continue in those roles. Blair refused to testify in November before House committees conducting the impeachment inquiry into Trump after the White House directed him not to appear for his deposition.

White House aide Robert Blair gets a promotion after refusing to testify at Donald Trump’s impeachment inquiry.

Spotted Marco Rubio in The Washington Post as a potential replacement for Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State, who is not yet made a final decision on a Senate run next year. “Rubio and [Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom] Cotton both have presidential aspirations, and a stint as secretary of state could only help them.”

Experts: Human vigilance as important as security tech at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago” via Hannah Morse of the Palm Beach Post — Secret Service agents, law enforcement and on-site security can’t — and shouldn’t — be the only safeguards to keep trespassers at bay, whether or not Trump is in town, cybersecurity experts said. Mar-a-Lago staff must be trained to know how to spot someone who doesn’t belong. “We see organizations of all sizes — banks, hospitals, universities and government agencies — putting all kinds of investments for security: hardware, software, more personnel,” said Silka Gonzalez, president of Coral Gables-based cybersecurity company ERMProtect. “But they don’t pay enough attention to educating all of the regular users, and many times they become the ones that become the prey and expose their organization. You see that over and over again.”

Lois Frankel backs police overtime for protecting Trump” via Adriana Delgado of the Palm Beach Post — Before Trump arrived in Palm Beach to spend the holidays, Frankel voted on a bill that allocates money to local law enforcement protecting Trump when he is in town. Extended funding also will be distributed to reimburse business at Lantana Airport, which loses significant revenue when the president is in Palm Beach due to security restrictions. Frankel said that reimbursing local police agencies is only fair since they have a limited budget for overtime costs. “The president’s visits to Palm Beach County cost millions of dollars in overtime for area law enforcement agencies. These reimbursements will provide needed relief to local budgets,” Frankel said.

Rick Scott alarmed after Chinese national arrested trespassing at NAS Key West” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Federal authorities charged Lyuyou Liao with entering a military property to photograph defense installations. “This is incredibly concerning,” Scott tweeted. “The safety of our men and women in uniform and the security of our military assets from foreign interference is a top priority.” A criminal complaint states Liao was spotted at 6:50 a.m. Thursday walking along a secure fence line at NAS Key West’s Truman Annex. He ultimately walked around the fence where it reaches the waterline, bypassing ‘No Trespassing’ signs and other warnings. Even after personnel stopped Liao and told him not to walk farther, he started to take photographs of the facilities within the “vicinity of sensitive military facilities.”

A Chinese national was arrested after trespassing to take photographs of NAS Key West.

Most Washington-area federal employees to receive 3.52 percent raise” via Eric Yoder of The Washington Post — An order Trump signed was needed to finalize the raise Trump signed into law Dec. 20 as part of a larger bill, providing a 2.6 percent across-the-board increase, plus an average 0.5 percentage points paid in varying amounts among four dozen city zones and a catchall “locality” for areas outside those zones. The raise will be effective with the first full pay period of the new year, which for most federal employees will begin Jan. 5. It will be the most significant raise for federal workers in a decade, a period that included a three-year freeze over 2011-2013 and raises in other years in the range of 1 to 2 percent.

— 2020 —

Trump picks Miami megachurch with pastor who speaks in tongues for evangelicals event” via David Smiley of the Miami Herald — The Trump campaign announced — a week after a prominent Christian magazine called for his ouster — that the president’s planned Jan. 3 Evangelicals for Trump rollout will take place at King Jesus International Ministry. The West Kendall church is believed to be one of the largest Hispanic congregations in the country and regularly draws thousands to its dramatic services. Led in English and Spanish by founder Guillermo Maldonado — who goes by the title of apostle — it is the flagship of a chain of 10 affiliated campuses from Chicago to Homestead. It has its own broadcasting network, university and an outdoor pool for full-immersion baptisms. Maldonado has also been a somewhat controversial figure in Miami politics and religion.

Donald Trump chose Guillermo Maldonado’s politically powerful, yet controversial, megachurch to roll out his ‘Evangelicals for Trump.’

He has ‘a lot of money to spend, so do we,’ says Trump campaign of Mike Bloomberg 2020 run” via Francesca Chambers of McClatchy DC — Trump’s campaign says it is unfazed by the billionaire, who has spent $100 million of his own money on advertising and voter registration efforts for a relatively late entry in the race for the Democratic nomination. That amount does not include other campaign spending, such as on staff, travel, and offices since Bloomberg entered the race in November. “At this point in the game, I don’t know that you recover from that. He hasn’t been in any debates, people haven’t really heard much from him,” said Lara Trump. “While he does have a lot of money to spend, so do we. We have a ton of money at the Trump campaign.”

‘We’ve never seen spending like this’: Bloomberg, Tom Steyer saturate airwaves” via Maya King of POLITICO Florida — Together, Steyer and Bloomberg have poured nearly $200 million into television and digital advertising alone, with the former New York mayor spending an unprecedented $120 million in the roughly three weeks since he joined the presidential race. That’s more than double the combined ad spending of every single non-billionaire candidate in the Democratic field this entire year. “We’ve never seen spending like this in a presidential race,” said Jim McLaughlin, a Republican political strategist who worked as a consultant for Bloomberg’s mayoral bids in New York. “He has a limitless budget.”

Joe Biden reveals deep bench of campaign bundlers” via Maggie Severns of POLITICO — Biden released the names of more than 200 people and couples who are raising money for his presidential campaign, a list that includes a number of big names in Democratic money like Hollywood producer Jeffrey Katzenberg and LGBT rights activist Tim Gill and his husband, Scott Miller. Biden’s list of fundraisers, each of which has brought in at least $25,000 for his presidential bid, includes many of the biggest names in Democratic fundraising. The list spans Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and several politicians themselves.

Joe Biden reveals a deep bench of Democratic super-bundlers.

 The ‘but I would vote for Biden’ Republicans” via Katie Glueck of The New York Times — For many Biden supporters, those voters are their Republican-leaning relatives and friends. “I think he could get the independents and moderate Republicans who refuse to vote for Donald Trump,” said Bailey Smith, 27, a leader in Atlantic, Iowa’s business community and an undecided voter who attended a Biden campaign event. Asked whether she had any moderate Republicans in mind, she replied, “My dad.” It’s a dynamic that helps explain why, despite Biden’s series of missteps and uneven debate performances, many Democratic voters still believe the former Vice President would stand the best chance against Trump in a general election, polls show.

’Florida is too important to blow off’: Late primary won’t dim state’s primary status” via Maya King and Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida — The 2020 election calendar has dimmed the spotlight after the Legislature adopted a March 17 primary. By the time that date rolls around, 25 states and four U.S. territories already will have voted and nearly half the Democratic Party’s 4,051 delegates will be spoken for. “Florida has become the familiar stomping grounds for candidate’s third cousins, spouses, and siblings,” political strategist Screven Watson joked. But he predicts that candidates will be forced to eat their political vegetables and spend more time in the Sunshine State in the coming months. “When it becomes showtime, Florida is too important to blow off. Like the annual trip to the dentist, they will begrudgingly show up.”

Spotify will suspend political ads in 2020” via Rashaan Ayesh of Axios — The streaming giant, which said it lacks the resources “to responsibly validate and review” such content, is the latest tech company faced with attempting to figure out how to best handle misinformation and political ads. Spotify’s decision will only impact U.S. users since it does not run political ads globally. The policy will extend to the platform’s original podcasts as well. Bernie Sanders and the RNC have placed political ads on Spotify in the past. While Spotify did not disclose how much it makes from political ads, a person familiar with its advertising business said the sector wasn’t a significant revenue driver.


How close did Russia really come to hacking the 2016 election?” via Kim Zetter of POLITICO magazine — Russian hackers targeted the Tallahassee-based election company VR Systems as part of its campaign to disrupt the 2016 election, possibly opening a gateway to compromise voting on Election Day. An incident in Florida in 2016 shows what this kind of Election Day confusion might look like in the U.S. During the Florida state primary in August 2016 — just six days after the Russians targeted VR Systems in their phishing operation — the results webpage VR Systems hosted for Broward County, a Democratic stronghold, began displaying election results a half-hour before the polls closed, in violation of state law. This triggered a cascade of problems that prevented several other Florida counties from displaying their results in a timely manner.


Amendment 4 could influence 2020, but not in the way you think.” via Andrew Pantazi of the Florida Times-Union — With less than a year until the 2020 presidential elections, neither Republicans nor Democrats appear to have gained an advantage among new voters. Still, in down-ballot races, those voters could prove crucial in efforts to flip legislative and local elections. Among 663,000 voters who’ve registered since last year’s election, there were an even number of Democrats and Republicans. Those voters include people with felony convictions who registered thanks to Amendment 4. When you consider voters who changed parties or who are no longer active voters, Republicans actually gained on Democrats by 22,000 voters, which is significantly less than past non-election years. If the Democratic Party expected a surge of new Democrats, the data as of November 2019 doesn’t support it.

Backers say Court should clear initiative for ballot” via the News Service of Florida — Supporters of a ballot initiative that would make it harder to amend the Florida Constitution urged the state Supreme Court to sign off on the proposal. The political committee Keep Our Constitution Clean is proposing an initiative that would require voters to approve constitutional amendments twice — rather than the once — for the amendments to take effect. To put the issue on the November 2020 ballot, Keep Our Constitution Clean needs Supreme Court approval of the proposed ballot wording. In a 19-page brief, lawyers for the committee argued that the initiative meets legal tests, such as including only a single subject and not being misleading.

State Rep. Charlie Stone endorses Judson Sapp for CD 3 — “We need to send President Trump a real ally to Congress. Sapp is a businessman who knows how to get things done. It’s my pleasure to endorse him to be our next Congressman,” Stone said. Sapp has already picked up endorsements from Congressmen John Rutherford and Vern Buchanan, former Congressman Cliff Stearns, former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, school safety and Second Amendment advocate Andrew Pollack, former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, Putnam County Sheriff Gator DeLoach, and Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith.

State Rep. Charlie Stone is the latest big name to line up behind Judson Sapp for the open CD 3 seat.

Happening Friday — Sarasota-area state Sen. Joe Gruters, who serves as chair of the Republican Party of Florida, will give a speech to the Republican Women’s Club of Sarasota, 11:30 a.m., Michael’s on East, 1212 East Ave., Sarasota.


Uncle of Kionne McGhee shot dead mowing his lawn on Christmas Eve” via Charles Rabin of the Miami Herald — For the second year in a row, it appears a stray bullet in South Florida killed someone just before Christmas. The latest victim: Dennis McGhee, the 57-year-old uncle of Florida House Rep. McGhee. Though details remain sketchy, Kionne McGhee said his uncle was mowing his lawn on the morning of Christmas Eve when he was hit. Family members said they heard the gunfire from inside the home in the 26000 block of Southwest 139th Avenue and raced outside. “He was hit by a stray bullet fired nearby. He was not the intended target,” McGhee said people with knowledge of the shooting told him.

Dennis McGhee, the uncle of Florida Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee, was killed by what was described as a stray bullet while mowing his lawn on Christmas Eve. Image via Twitter.

Prosecutors turn up the heat on Patriots owner Robert Kraft” via Marc Freeman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Lawyers for the state are arguing for the first time that Kraft — charged with two misdemeanor counts of soliciting prostitution — actually committed a felony. The latest court filing from the Attorney General’s Office suggests Kraft could face a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison, if the state wins its appeal of a lower court order favoring the billionaire. Elevating multiple misdemeanors to a felony would be an unusual move, for sure. “I literally have never seen that enhancement used in any county,” said veteran criminal defense attorney Jack Fleischman, who is not connected with the litigation. “It has to be rare.”

Accounts of secret negotiation sessions offer messy, unflattering portrait of JEA sale” via Nate Munroe of the Florida Times-Union — One of Curry’s top administration officials strongly pushed for the JEA sale process to wrap up by the end of January, a timeline several involved in negotiations described as aggressive and that might have forced several bidders to drop out, according to previously confidential notes taken by the city’s ethics director. The lead negotiator — Curry’s deputy chief administrative officer, Stephanie Burch — seemed unconcerned by indications the speedy push for final offers could have limited competition. In fact, Burch indicated several times she hoped the shortened time frame would do exactly that: Force several to drop out, leaving only one or two left at the end of January, according to the notes.

Mayoral official leading JEA sales talks pushed ‘aggressive’ timeline, according to ethics director’s notes” via Christopher Hong of the Florida Times-Union — One of Mayor Curry’s top administrators who led JEA’s sales negotiations pushed an “aggressive timeline” to finish ahead of schedule in a series of secret meetings earlier this month despite concerns it could force bidders out of contention or lower their final offers for the city-owned utility, according to previously confidential notes taken during the meetings by the city’s ethics director. Ethics Director Carla Miller, who observed the closed-door strategy meetings and negotiating sessions held between Dec. 3 and Dec. 17, believed the meetings violated Florida’s Sunshine Law — attorneys hired by JEA disagreed — and recommended the sales talks be canceled, according to notes and emails.

JEA’s CFO Ryan Wannemacher is gone; Chief Government Affairs Officer Sherry Hall is leaving” via Mary Kelli Palka of the Florida Times-Union — JEA confirmed that Wannemacher was gone, but additional details weren’t immediately available. JEA confirmed Hall’s resignation and her plan to return to work at the Duval County Tax Collector’s Office in a position she previously held. Hall had just joined JEA in July. The turnover at the top levels of JEA comes after months of discussions and plans to potentially sell JEA. The sales process was stopped last week. The secretive nature of that process and a now-canceled bonus plan for JEA employees led to calls for investigations by a grand jury and City Council. State Attorney Melissa Nelson confirmed her office, too, is “looking into matters involving JEA.”


Planning for sea rise. Negotiating Beckham soccer complex deal. Miami has a busy 2020.” via Joey Flechas and Alex Harris of the Miami Herald — At the top of the organization, five commissioners with an unclear set of alliances are already on shaky terms with the city’s top administrator, City Manager Emilio Gonzalez, who was one vote away from being fired Dec. 12. Next year is shaping to be a big one for the city’s plans to survive sea-level rise as administrators roll out multiple plans to address the issue. Two years have passed since nearly 57% of Miami voters approved taxing themselves to fund $400 million in government spending to tackle flooding, affordable housing, and a variety of other public projects.

With no room to park, Trump visit and holiday weekend make for busy Boca Raton Airport” via Kristina Webb of the Palm Beach Post — A visit to Palm Beach County from Trump combined with a typically busy holiday weekend to make life difficult for those flying into Boca Raton Airport on Saturday. The Federal Aviation Administration issued a ground stop in effect for several hours Saturday, meaning no planes could land during that time, after every inch of ramp space was filled at the airport’s two fixed-base operators, airport Executive Director Clara Bennett said. “We are just full,” she said. “There’s very little or limited parking space available.” It isn’t the first time circumstances have aligned to create an air-traffic jam in Boca, Bennett said. They ran into the same situation during Trump’s visit last Easter.

Trump in Palm Beach: Some residents complain, but pizzeria owner likes the added business” via Wendy Rhodes of the Palm Beach Post — Samy Metaj likes Trump — at least, he likes the money he earns when Trump is in town. Metaj co-owns Sam’s Pizza in West Palm Beach, located on the mainland about five minutes west of Mar-a-Lago. The joint is nothing fancy — low-key, is what people looking to be inconspicuous might call it. Like a particular group of Sam’s customers. “They come here all the time, the Secret Service,” Metaj said of the steady, albeit seasonal, patrons — Trump’s security team. “Four, six, seven times a day for different shifts.” While Metaj is thrilled when Trump is in town, not everyone feels the same way.

Slave cemetery poses questions for Capital City Country Club” via The Associated Press — Over the years, neat rows of rectangular depressions along the 7th fairway deepened in the grass, outlining what would be confirmed as sunken graves of the slaves who lived and died on a plantation that once sprawled with cotton near the Florida Capitol. The discovery of 40 graves has spawned a discussion about how to honor those who lie in rest at the golf course. “When I stand here on a cemetery for slaves, it makes me thoughtful and pensive,” said Delaitre Hollinger, the immediate past president of the Tallahassee branch of the NAACP. “They deserve much better than this,” said Hollinger. “And they deserved much better than what occurred in that era.”

Who is responsible for funding Stewardship District parks? Not Rayonier, says former County Manager” via the NCFL Independent — Former Nassau County Manager Shanea Jones said Commissioner Pat Edwards would invite board colleagues and top-level staff to his house in Yulee for food and drinks following meetings, which take place twice each month. Jones said she was invited to every gathering, personally, by Edwards, but attended only a few functions during the year she held the top managerial job. She saw Commissioners Justin Taylor, Danny Leeper and County Attorney Michael Mullin at the gatherings, where the discussion would sometimes involve a constituent issue, the budget, capital improvement projects, or Rayonier’s East Nassau development district. Commissioners, she said, would express “the frustration of how they were going to get Raydient to fund parks and recreation facilities and what options they have.”

Attorney suspended after posting on the ‘sin of sodomy’ and ‘never trust a Muslim’” by David J. Neal of the Miami Herald — It’s not illegal to hold the beliefs of San Antonio, Florida, attorney Donald McBath: That homosexuality is a “mental illness. It’s not love.” Or that a doctor who performs abortions is a “Satanic abortionist.” Or that those who follow Islam are untrustworthy. But McBath has been suspended by the Florida Supreme Court because he put those opinions on social media after declaring himself a candidate for state circuit court judge. That violated the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct. He received a 91-day suspension, which McBath is serving concurrently with a year’s suspension for incompetence and laziness in a different case.

Central Florida students in grades 6 to 12 to get new mental health lessons in early 2020” via Leslie Portal of the Orlando Sentinel — Florida’s middle and high schools must provide students new mental health lessons on topics such as coping with stress and suicide prevention, and most local schools plan to start the state-mandated lessons in January or February. Each student in grades 6 to 12 must get five hours of instruction, with some schools offering it in a single all-day program and others breaking the lessons into smaller chunks delivered over several weeks. In the Orange County school district, the region’s largest, students will get five, hour-long lessons starting Feb. 4, with the program to be wrapped up by the end of that month.


Tallahassee bobs and weaves as teenage time bombs tick, tock” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — In the last year and a half, more than 100 students have threatened to kill or shoot up a Florida school, records from just 10 counties show. It’s foolhardy to expect police officers will catch every teenage time bomb before it explodes. Florida needs to do what common sense dictates — address the problem before another student kills. We need a Marshall Plan-like approach to address students with mental illness. And we need to lower roadblocks that keep violent kids in mainstream classrooms. Now, we need Tallahassee leaders to say so. Then, do so. Yet, barely a peep has sounded from the Capitol since the Sun-Sentinel identified the danger that lurks in our schools.

UWF’s championship is a win beyond football” via the Pensacola News Journal editorial board — Senior center Devin Gibson understood the weight of a potential win before his team took the field: “I’ve been playing football since I was 5 years old, and some of these guys have been playing their whole lives. It would be special to bring a trophy and championship back to UWF and Pensacola … Obviously, we’ve had a rough couple weeks with everything going on at the (naval) base, so it would mean a lot to bring a title back home.” Gibson gets it. He understands the magic of the game. The power of sports is that they are actually about so much more than sports. Community. Faith. Heart. Discipline. Family. Love and commitment. Sacrifice and loss. Recovery and victory.


Big-money Democrats betting on this Florida strategist in 2020” via Steve Bousquet of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Guy Cecil is chairman of Priorities USA, the largest Democratic “Super PAC” in the country, backed by wealthy donors, corporations and unions. His mission is to help restore a blue luster to the state and defeat Trump. The 45-year-old strategist grew up in South Florida. He went to North Miami Beach High and the University of Florida, and he’s old enough to know who Buddy MacKay is. He knows the territory well, even though it’s culturally and demographically far different from the place he remembers as a kid in Miami-Dade decades ago. “Growing up in South Florida prepares you for the changing dynamics of the country,” Cecil said in a Sun-Sentinel interview.

Priorities USA Chairman Guy Cecil, a native of South Florida, will be the Democratic strategist to watch in 2020.

New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Douglas Holder, The Legis Group: Sarasota Kennel Club

Sheela VanHoose, The Southern Group: Putnam County School Board

— ALOE —

They can’t get enough of ‘The West Wing’ right now” via Sarah Lyall of The New York Times — To its many liberal and independent-leaning fans, in particular, it has become something more than just a nostalgic drama from a time when men’s suits with pleated pants is fashionable, and Twitter does not yet exist. For many in the Trump era, the show is an idealistic alternative reality, an escape from the vitriol and ill-will that they see coursing like poison through contemporary politics. Fans revisit “The West Wing” to recall an era — even a fictional one — when it seemed possible for the three branches of government to be populated by public servants of integrity, intellect and wit.

Disney unveils newest ‘Baby Yoda’ toy: An 11-inch plush doll, delivered in March 2020” via Mike Snider of USA TODAY — “Star Wars” fans would have loved to find under their Christmas tree a toy devoted to the much-loved character from the new series “The Mandalorian” on the Disney+ streaming service. But Disney held back on merchandising “Baby Yoda” to prevent any spoilers. Since “The Child,” a young miniature version of the same species as Jedi master Yoda, appeared in the original TV show last month, products have been emerging, including shirts, puzzles and tote bags. But the only figurines — including a Hasbro talking Baby Yoda — aren’t available until May 2020.

While too late for Christmas, the Baby Yoda plush will be available for purchase by Star Wars Day (May 4).

New Miss World pageant winner, former FSU student, had already earned her crown on campus” via Byron Dobson of the Tallahassee Democrat — Toni-Ann Singh, a Women’s Studies major enrolled at FSU from fall 2014 through summer 2019, was crowned “Miss World.” Pageant organizers quoted Singh, upon being chosen, saying: “So honored and grateful for this opportunity, but most of all I’m thinking about the work that needs to be done and that I have the platform and the means to do it. I’m ready to get out there and work. I’m excited!” Singh’s achievement not only created a sense of euphoria for her family, members of the Caribbean Student Association at FSU and her country, but it was also a historic moment in racial pride and progress for women of color internationally.

Wilton Simpson donates land for new CARES senior center in Dade City” via Sara Blazonis of Bay News 9 — The nonprofit CARES, or Community Aging and Retirement Services, closed on 1.7 acres of land it plans to use to build a new one-stop senior center on the east side of the county. State Sen. Simpson donated the land. “We’re all aging, the baby boomers — we’re all getting there,” Simpson said. “We’re going to need more and more of these types of services. So, I hope five, 10, 15, 20 years from now, 30 years from now, we will have a premiere center in Dade City.” Simpson made the offer last week during a meeting with CARES President & CEO Jemith Rosa.

Wilton Simpson makes a generous donation of nearly 2 acres of land for a planned senior center in eastern Pasco County. Image via Colin Hackley.

Where Uber riders go: Universal, Fontainebleau, MacDinton’s” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — The ride-share giant announced its 2019 top destinations for riders in Orlando, Miami, and Tampa, not including airports. For Orlando, Universal Orlando was the most sought destination, followed by Walt Disney World’s Disney Springs and the Magic Kingdom. In Miami, the Fontainebleau was followed by Dolphin Mall and Aventura Mall. In Tampa, MacDinton’s was followed by Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Armature Works and International Plaza.


Belated birthday wishes to Reps. Nick Duran and Chris Latvala, as well as Charlie Dudley of Floridian Partners, Joel Ramos, and Nancy Texeira of Converge. Celebrating today is Brock Mikosky and photographer Dirk Shadd. Celebrating on New Year’s Eve are Rep. Carlos G. Smith, as well as Holly Brooks and Natalie Kato of Lewis, Longman & Walker. Born on New Year’s Day are former Sen. Mike Bennett, Brian Crowley (we miss the Crowley Report!), Jeff Johnson of AARP, Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren. Our friends Judith Jolly and Erin Mitchell are celebrating on Thursday, while January 3 belongs to our friend, Ella Coffee, Rachel Gelbmann, and Ed Turanchik.

I have the honor of sharing my January 4 birthday with Razi Amador Fink of the Tampa Bay Rays, former Secretary of State Sandy Mortham, and Sydney Ridley of The Southern Group.


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

Peter Schorsch

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


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

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

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