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Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 1.6.20

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

Breaking overnight – Pasco County’s GOP state committeeman, Bill Bunting – a legendary Republican activist and defender of Second Amendment rights – has died, according to Florida GOP Vice Chairman Christian Ziegler. The cause of death is not yet know.

The holidays are over, the leftovers are gone, and the tree is on the curb. It’s back to business as usual.

But first, here are 10 major events that happened while Sunburn was on break.

Some fresh polling dug up some expected results — Florida’s still a swing state. The latest pendulum swing shows the Sunshine State leaning toward Joe Biden over Donald Trump in the presidential election, assuming the former locks down the Democratic nomination.

New polling shows Joe Biden edging out Donald Trump in Florida.

Speaking of the presidential election, Florida could play an even more prominent role in the 2024 cycle. According to the Census Bureau, the state’s bounty of electoral votes could go from 29 to 31 if the decennial measure goes as predicted.

There was plenty of homegrown news over the holidays, too.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried’s spat with NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer over local gun laws didn’t take a vacation. The latest episode in the saga saw Hammer accuse Fried of believing, “it’s OK to deliberately violate state law and not be punished.” Fried stood her ground.

Justice didn’t sleep, either.

Nearly three dozen candidates applied for the pair of open Florida Supreme Court seats ahead of the Christmas Eve deadline. The next step: the Judicial Nominating Commission will review the pool of would-be justices and pass along their recommendations to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The potential justices will have to watch from the sidelines as a suit challenging a new law regulating paid petition gatherers works its way through the courts. Make it Legal Florida, the sponsor of an amendment to legalize recreational pot, is behind the effort. Amendments face a Feb. 1 deadline to submit the required number of petitions, so the clock is ticking.

The debate over whether high schools should be allowed to offer pregame prayers ahead of sporting events also continued to percolate. Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran wants the Florida High School Athletic Association to put some rules on paper, but the association’s head says they’re content waiting for the courts to decide.

Also on the law-and-order beat: it’s officially time to put the phone away while driving, no matter the road you’re on. Though texting-while-driving was never a good decision, the Florida Highway Patrol is now enforcing the texting ban passed by the Legislature last year.

On a more somber note, House Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee holiday break was soured when his uncle, Dennis McGhee, was fatally shot while mowing his lawn on Christmas Eve. According to the South Florida lawmaker, his uncle was a good guy known as the “neighborhood uncle.” He was married with children and worked in construction.

After that tale, a pick-me-up is in order. State Rep. Amber Mariano will be sporting a new piece of jewelry when she reports the Capitol next week. During a stroll through Paris, her partner, Scott Davis, popped the question and she said yes.

State Rep. Amber Mariano considers a vital proposal from accountant Scott Davis. Photo by Helena WoodsStudio

Finally, the last week before the 2020 Legislative Session begins is the perfect time to catch up on who Florida Politics chose as the top-25 “Politicians of the Decade.” The best part of being late to the party is there’s no waiting to see who’s No. 1.


During an appearance at a Florida megachurch, President (and newly minted full-time Florida Man) Trump is defending his decision to kill an Iranian general with a drone strike. He also says the Democrats who impeached him are crazy.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— A Florida law that says the state can remove local officials for passing any law that limits gun rights is under fire at a Tallahassee appeals court.

— Opponents of the Energy Choice amendment (which might appear on the ballot in November) are asking the Secretary of State to disqualify thousands of signatures collected by the group. They claim those who signed those petitions were deceived and now oppose the amendment.

— Happy New Year to Florida panthers … or what’s left of them. A vehicle in Hendry County struck and killed one of the official state animals. The body was found one day after New Year’s.

— And a tribute to the 33-year-old Florida man who took a punch from Rod Stewart while working security at a private event at The Breakers in Palm Beach. The 74-year-old rock star (and his oldest son Sean) face charges of simple battery.

To listen, click on the image below:


@RealDonaldTrump: Iran is talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets as revenge for our ridding the world of their terrorist leader who had just killed an American, & badly wounded many others, not to mention all of the people he had killed over his lifetime, including recently … hundreds of Iranian protesters. He was already attacking our Embassy, and preparing for additional hits in other locations. Iran has been nothing but problems for many years. Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!

@MarcoRubio: Calling people “hawks” & claims of “cheering for war” are lazy & inaccurate. Preventing imminent attacks on Americans isn’t “hawkish” it’s self-defense. And the U.S. isn’t preparing to invade #Iran. But it must & will respond to & if possible prevent attacks against Americans.

@DanCrenshawTX: For those claiming there’s “no plan,” that this was “reckless”: Step #1 of any strategy is to stop letting terrorist regimes attack us without repercussion. Why is this basic truth of foreign policy so controversial?

@Yashar: 98 percent of the chest thumpers on this website re Iran would piss in their pants if they had to go through a security screening at the airport in Tehran.

@DaveJorgensen: It would’ve been cheaper for Tom Steyer to just buy an NFL team and rename them

@MarcACaputo: Horrified by the violence, but in awe of @kionnemcghee’s faith here: “After my father was gunned down, two first cousins gunned down, a brother murdered and now my uncle gunned down, I’ve come to realize that our toughest moments are no match for God’s simple touch of Grace!”

@SarahWissig: Five years ago, on this day, Florida began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Sometimes, we win. Never stop fighting. Your impact and passion are more powerful than you know.

@CarlosGSmith: We meant no disrespect, but our experience must be shared. While visiting St. Peter’s square, Jerick [Mediavilla] and I were pulled aside and warned by @VaticanNews that we could be FINED or worse for holding hands and violating the penal code. I was shocked, but not surprised.

@LopezCantera: Thanks @AmericanAir for canceling our flight stranding us and creating what will be a memorable start to 2020. Yay!

@JoeReedy: Tom Brady press conference as new #Chargers QB on March 22 in Costa Mesa?


CES® 2020 begins — 1; College Football National Championship — 7; 2020 Session begins — 8; Florida Chamber Legislative Fly-in — 8; Seventh Democratic presidential debate in Des Moines — 8; Florida TaxWatch State of the TaxPayer Dinner in Tallahassee — 9; Sundance Film Festival begins — 17; “Star Trek: Picard” premiers — 17; Annual Red Dog Blue Dog Celebrity Bartender Benefit — 22; New Brexit deadline — 25; Super Bowl LIV in Miami — 27; Great American Realtors Day — 28; Iowa Caucuses — 28; Eighth Democratic presidential debate in Manchester — 32; Capitol Press Corps press skits — 35; New Hampshire Primaries — 36; Pitchers and catchers begin reporting for MLB Spring Training — 36; Ninth Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas — 44; Nevada caucuses — 47; “Better Call Saul” Season 5 premiers — 48; 10th Democratic presidential debate in Charleston — 50; South Carolina Primaries — 54; Last day of 2020 Session (maybe) — 67; Florida’s presidential primary — 71; “No Time to Die” premiers — 95; “Black Panther 2” debuts — 120; Florida Chamber Summit on Prosperity and Economic Opportunity — 134; “Top Gun: Maverick” premiers — 172; Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” premiers — 193; 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo begin — 200; Florida primaries for 2020 state legislative/congressional races — 225; First Vice Presidential debate at the University of Utah — 275; First Presidential Debate scheduled at the University of Michigan — 283; Second presidential debate at Belmont — 290; 2020 General Election — 302.


Now liveThe latest edition of INFLUENCE Magazine — featuring Florida’s Politician of the Year, the Golden Rotundas and more — The latest issue of INFLUENCE Magazine profiles the Florida Politician of the Year — Gov. DeSantis. Aided by Casey, his politically savvy First Lady, the former Congressman was certainly not what Florida expected in 2018. Nevertheless, by far exceeding expectations, DeSantis made it clear he was the leading choice for top Florida politico in 2019. Not to be eclipsed is the 2019 Golden Rotunda awards — Florida Politics’ annual honor of the best and brightest. This year, top accolades go to the newly rebranded The Southern Group, chosen as the “Lobbying Firm of the Year.” Runners up for FOY was Johnson & Blanton. And for “Lobbyist of the Year,” the honor goes to Ron LaFace of Capital City Consulting.

To read the new issue if INFLUENCE Magazine, click on the image below:


Ron DeSantis: $29M more hurricane recovery dollars issued this week” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The funds, handed down by the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM), include awards from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and a state citrus industry recovery program. Of those funds, $19.5 million came from FEMA’s Public Assistance Grant Program. More than $11 million went to Marion County, and more than $2.8 million benefited Lee County schools. Nearly $9 million through the Florida Citrus Recovery Block Grant Program will aid citrus growers impacted by Hurricane Irma. The grant is available to active citrus producers who suffered crop damage because of the storm.

Ron DeSantis announces more hurricane relief funds for schools, citrus growers.

Court says Legislature can face disabilities case” via Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida — A federal appeals court cleared the way for a lawsuit that alleges the Florida House and Senate have violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by not providing closed captioning on online videos of legislative meetings. The ruling by a panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was a victory for the National Association of the Deaf and South Florida resident Eddie Sierra in the lawsuit filed in 2018. The appeals court upheld a district judge’s refusal to dismiss the case against the House, Senate and Florida State University, which owns the public-broadcasting station WFSU-TV. The lawsuit alleges that a lack of closed captioning prevented Sierra and other deaf people from being able to follow legislative proceedings.

Lauren Book wants commercial driving schools to add curriculum on human trafficking” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Book‘s 2020 measure (SB 1368) would ensure commercial drivers are informed regarding “[i]ndustry-specific training on the recognition, prevention, and reporting of human trafficking.” Alternatively, those commercial driving courses can also offer a trafficking prevention course administered by the Department of Law Enforcement. Those requirements do not extend to driving courses exclusive to school bus drivers. Instead, the bill requires school bus driving trainees to participate in a 40-minute block on human trafficking prevention as part of their overall training.

How far will Joe Gruters go?” via David Hackett of Sarasota Magazine — On the day in late October when the U.S. House of Representatives voted to begin impeaching President Donald Trump, Joe Gruters, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida and one of the people most responsible for Trump’s 2016 Florida victory, settled into a chair at a small Greek restaurant in Venice. Gruters, 42, has a thatch of gray hair that contrasts with a cherubic face. In political style, he is nearly the antithesis of the president he admires.” And about that discord with the governor — “‘Head down, absorb the blows and do the best job I can,’ Gruters recalls. ‘I didn’t have a lot of options. But one thing I knew, I was never going to resign. Never.’ Then, in early November, state Senate President Bill Galvano of Bradenton, a close ally of Gruters, brought the governor and Gruters to ‘sit down and break bread.’ None of the participants will say what was said, but that afternoon DeSantis joined Gruters on a conference call with state Republican committee members. The governor said Gruters had his support. A cloud had lifted.”

Assignment editors — Integrity Florida releases a new report examining the use of preemption by the Legislature to limit the powers of local governments, 11 a.m., The Florida Press Center, 336 East College Avenue, Tallahassee.

State of Florida rejects union’s contract offer, counters with ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ deal” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat — AFSCME Florida (which stands for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) opened talks with a demand for a 5% increase in pay for workers and a 2% cost of living adjustment for retirees. DMS, which handles all state employee matters, countered the union’s proposal in December with an offer that included no new money. Further, it demanded a series of concessions, including changing how disciplinary disputes are handled, limiting the union’s ability to communicate with state workers, and decreasing the amount of time union stewards have to prepare for negotiations.

Happening today — The Revenue Estimating Conference meets to examine ad valorem taxes, 9 a.m., 117 Knott Building.


’Flyover Florida’ faces economic struggles, still supports Donald Trump” via Jeff Ostrowski of the Palm Beach Post — Okeechobee County, the rural slice of Florida known for farming, fishing and voting Republican, has one of the state’s weakest economies. Its economic output contracted by 9.6% in 2018, ranking dead last among Florida’s 67 counties, according to statistics released in December by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Even so, no one expects voters in Okeechobee County or other reliably red rural areas to vote for anyone other than Trump in November. “I think this county is by far satisfied with the current politics,” says Phillip Berger, a broker at Coldwell Banker Berger Real Estate in Okeechobee.

‘Flyover’ rural Okeechobee County, while still struggling, is satisfied with the Donald Trump administration.

Panel set to weigh Supreme Court candidates” via Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida — A state panel is ready to interview 32 applicants for the powerful posts. The Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission has scheduled all-day sessions Jan. 11 and Jan. 12 at an Orlando hotel to interview the applicants. After the interviews, the commission will recommend finalists to DeSantis. DeSantis’ choices could help shape the direction of the Supreme Court for decades. During his first month in office in 2019, DeSantis appointed three justices who helped create a conservative majority on the seven-member court, which had long frustrated Republican state leaders. DeSantis has made clear he will appoint conservatives to the Supreme Court, an emphasis that is reflected in the backgrounds of many of the applicants.

State, national groups take aim at gun law” via Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida — State and national groups — including two prominent gun-control organizations — filed briefs urging the 1st District Court of Appeal to reject the law, which threatens tough penalties if city and county officials approve gun regulations. One of the briefs described the National Rifle Association-backed law as having “unprecedented penalty provisions” that led to similar measures in other states. The brief, filed by the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the Brady gun-control group, the League of Women Voters of Florida and Equality Florida Institute, Inc., said the law has “chilling effects” on city and county officials.

’Gun grabbers in Tallahassee,’ proposed state amendment targeted by Republican Liberty Caucus” via Dave Berman of FLORIDA TODAY — Several organizations supporting gun rights will hold a forum aimed at pushing back against a state constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot banning certain semi-automatic weapons. The Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida unanimously approved a “resolution of noncompliance,” indicating it would not comply with the proposed constitutional amendment. The resolution of noncompliance read in part that “we … do hereby resolve to defy and resist any and all registration or confiscation attempts of our lawfully owned arms, and that we will not comply with any orders to do so, as all laws or amendments that require such are illegal, a direct assault on our constitutionally protected rights.”

Anthony Sabatini to appear at forum, along with anti-Semitic radio host, to tout ‘constitutional carry’” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — He’s sharing the stage with radio host Bill Mick, who has been criticized for sympathizing with anti-Semitic callers. The “2A Gun Rights Preservation Forum” will be in Cocoa at the Holiday Inn Express and Suites. Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey and Republican Liberty Caucus Chair Bob White also will appear. So will radio host Royce Bartless, whose “Shooting Straight” show appears on the same network as Mick’s “Bill Mick Live.” Organizers with Trump 2020 Brevard promise the event will “push back at the ‘Gun Grabbers’ in Tallahassee and the BAWN (Ban Assault Weapons Now) group.”

Anthony Sabatini will appear at a ‘constitutional carry’ rally with Bill Mick, a radio host accused of anti-Semitism.

Why not use Lottery money to boost teacher pay?” via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — Gov. Ron DeSantis has made plain his teacher pay proposal. He wants about $600 million to raise the minimum salary to $47,500 — a boost to more than 100,000 educators — and another nearly $300 million to offer bonuses to those whose schools improve on annual state exams. That’s about $1 billion. The Florida Lottery, approved by voters in 1986, generates more than that amount each year for public education. Nearly double that level in 2017-18, in fact. So perhaps it comes as no surprise that, as has been the case in many debates over school spending since the advent of the lottery, the question has again arose: Why can’t the game cover the cost?

Is 2020 the year Florida OKs testing in Spanish?” via Jeff Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — Florida’s debate over how to test its more than 265,000 students still learning English has churned for more than a decade, with calls for exams in children’s native languages regularly falling flat with the officials in charge. Might things change in 2020? State Sen. Annette Taddeo, who sponsored one of the bills last year, suggests the odds are improving. Taddeo has filed legislation addressing the issue (SB 678) and said conversations about the need to assess students’ knowledge rather than language acquisition are taking place in corners of the government where they didn’t occur before — including with the Department of Education. She credited the growing involvement of Republican lawmakers in tackling the topic that previously had attracted mostly Democrats.

Will Florida Republican Party HQ leave Tallahassee and head south after 2020?” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat — The chair of the Florida Republican Party wonders whether Tallahassee is the right place for the state GOP’s headquarters. Joe Gruters is forming a committee to explore whether to move the state party’s operations out of The George Bush Republican Center on East Jefferson Street, about four blocks from the Capitol. The three-story building was acquired for about $1 million in 2000 and was dedicated to the former President and father of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. At the party’s Statesman’s Dinner, Gruters told attendees it might be time to vacate the Tallahassee digs, questioning whether the GOP had “the right infrastructure in place for future campaigns.”

Hey Rosica — Florida Politics’ Jacob Ogles first reported on December 11 that Gruters was considering this move. Unfortunately, Call’s story does include any attribution to Ogles’ scoop.


Shot — Road kills down in Florida” via Chad Gillis of the Fort Myers News-Press  — Florida Panther road kills were down in 2019 compared to recent years, but that might not be a good thing, as more road kills generally means more panthers are roaming the Sunshine State. Twenty-seven panther deaths were documented last year by the Florida Fish and while conservation commission. 20-3 of those deaths were caused by vehicle strikes down from 26 and 2018 and 24 and 2017.

Chaser —First Florida panther death of 2020 reported” via The Associated Press — The 2-year-old female was found dead Thursday from an apparent vehicle strike just south of the Spirit-of-the-Wild Wildlife Management Area in Hendry County, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said. A total of 27 Florida panthers were reported killed in 2019, with 23 of those being from vehicle strikes. Florida panthers once roamed the entire Southeast, but now their habitat is mostly confined to a small region of Florida along the Gulf of Mexico.


Small cracks have appeared in GOP unity on impeachment trial” via Matthew Daly of The Associated Press — For now, Republicans are holding the line behind Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s position that they should start the trial and hear arguments from House prosecutors and Trump’s defense team before deciding what to do. But small cracks in GOP unity have appeared, with two Republican senators criticizing McConnell’s pledge of “total coordination” with the White House during the impeachment trial. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she was “disturbed” by the GOP leader’s comments, adding that there should be a distance between the White House and the Senate on how the trial is conducted. Maine Sen. Susan Collins, meanwhile, called the pledge by McConnell, inappropriate and said she is open to seeking testimony.

Lisa Murkowski could be showing some cracks in the GOP wall protecting Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial.


Christians cheer Trump in Miami as he says Qassem Soleimani’s ‘bloody rampage’ is over” via David Smiley and Jimena Tavel of the Miami Herald — Speaking from the pulpit of a Miami-Dade County megachurch, Trump bragged to an audience of thousands that he’d killed Iran’s top general and declared himself the greatest friend Christians ever had in the White House. Trump said he had Soleimani killed in the name of peace. “Qassem Soleimani has been killed, and his bloody rampage is now forever gone,” Trump said, drawing roars from a crowd estimated above 5,000 at Kendall’s Ministerio Internacional El Rey Jesus. “He was plotting attacks against Americans, but now we’ve ensured his atrocities have been stopped for good. He was planning a major attack, and we got him.”

Faith leaders pray with President Donald Trump during a rally for evangelical supporters at the King Jesus International Ministry church.

Trump in Palm Beach: Low-key Saturday follows 48 hours of global tension” via Christine Stapleton of the Palm Beach Post — Two days after Trump ordered the killing of a top Iranian commander after he arrived in Baghdad, unleashing fear and fury in the Middle East, the President spent an uncommonly quiet and uneventful Saturday at his golf club in West Palm Beach. By late afternoon, Trump had posted only one tweet. In it, he claimed a 95 percent approval rating among Republicans. The President arrived at Trump International Golf Club about 10 a.m. and returned to Mar-a-Lago at 3:21 p.m. As with nearly every visit to and from his club, supporters waved signs and cheered as the motorcade headed over the Southern Boulevard Bridge to Mar-a-Lago. Trump tweeted a photo of an American flag after ordering the attack on Thursday.

Marco Rubio: Trump showed ‘tremendous restraint’ on Iran” via Hal Boedecker of the Orlando Sentinel — “The United States has over 5,000 military personnel in Iraq,” Rubio told Margaret Brennan. “And, of course, additional personnel in Syria who are under direct threat, not just from Iran, but from their proxy groups. And Iran needs to understand that if we are attacked, whether it’s directly by the Iranians or through these proxy groups, we will respond.” Then Rubio defended the president, according to a transcript released by CBS News.

What Rubio is reading —U.S. plans for Venezuela hit turbulence as Nicolás Maduro tries Assembly takeover” via Nahal Toosi of POLITICO — Trump’s campaign to oust Maduro hit a major snag as supporters of Venezuela’s authoritarian president tried to politically sideline the man whom Trump has recognized as the country’s legitimate leader. The U.S. expected Juan Guaidó to be reelected as the head of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly. That position gave Guaidó grounds to make the legal claim that he is Venezuela’s “interim president” because Maduro’s last election victory was marred by fraud. But, according to media reports, security forces loyal to Maduro blocked Guaidó and many of his allies from entering the building.

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.”

Florida farmers continue to raise alarms as NAFTA rewrite nears passage” via the NWF Daily News — Democrats and Republicans came together last month to push an overhaul of the North American Free Trade Agreement through the U.S. House, a rare instance of bipartisan agreement on major legislation. The new trade deal — known as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement or USMCA — was approved by 193 Democrats and 192 Republicans. But the bipartisan unity belied deep opposition to the bill within one of Florida’s most important industries. “We have stated those concerns repeatedly over the last several years,” said Florida Farm Bureau spokesman G.B. Crawford. Citing a University of Florida study, Crawford said Florida’s fruit and vegetable industry — which has been hit hard by NAFTA — would continue to struggle under USMCA.

Venezuela’s Maduro tries to seize congress as Guaidó fights for political survival” via Him Wynn and Antonio Maria Del Gado of the Miami Herald — Fighting for political survival and struggling to keep control of congress, Venezuela’s opposition took the unprecedented step of convening at a newspaper office in Caracas late Sunday to reelect Juan Guaidó as the president of the National Assembly. The desperate move came after Guaidó and dozens of his allies were barred from entering congress earlier in the day, even as lawmakers loyal to the Nicolás Maduro regime announced that a little known opposition lawmaker, Luis Parra, was the new head of congress. The chaotic turn of events are just the latest obstacle for Guaidó, 36, the man Washington and more than 50 other nations recognize as Venezuela’s legitimate president, but who has little true power.

— 2020 —

Trump and the RNC raised almost half a billion dollars last year — and still had nearly $200 million heading into 2020” via Josh Dawsey and Michelle Ye Hee Lee of The Washington Post — Trump’s reelection campaign, the Republican Party and two joint fundraising committees together raised a record $154 million in the final three months of the year, a massive haul they said was fueled by backlash to the House impeachment of the President. Of that, more than $72 million was collected by the Republican National Committee, driven in part by big checks from wealthy donors — a sign of how much of the moneyed class that shunned Trump in 2016 is now embracing him. Small donors also continued to give to the party and to Trump’s reelection campaign, which pulled in $46 million, far outpacing leading Democrats vying for their party’s nomination. Among them, the biggest fundraiser last quarter was Sen. Bernie Sanders, who raised $34.5 million.

Trump, GOP slam NFL player protests — and rake in millions from owners” via Chris Persaud of the Palm Beach Post — The Miami Dolphins may have finished last in their NFL division, but owner Stephen Ross leads almost all his fellow billionaire team owners when it comes to bankrolling Republicans and supporting Trump’s reelection. Ross has doled out more than $1.7 million since 2007 to support Republicans in federal elections. He places third in the 32-team league for most money spent on federal races, behind the owners of the Houston Texans and Cleveland Browns. Trump and his party have raised money and fired up voters by exploiting resentment toward players, most of them black, who kneel during the national anthem before games to protest racial injustice.

The Miami Dolphins may not be a winning team, but owner Stephen Ross leads the pack in donations to Republicans and Donald Trump.

DNC tells pollsters to do more polls” via Reid Epstein of The New York Times — The morning after the Democrats’ last debate in December, the Democratic National Committee announced the thresholds to qualify for the next one, scheduled for Jan. 14 in Des Moines: 5% support in four qualifying polls, or 7% in two early-state polls. Just five candidates have qualified so far: Biden, Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar. Those who haven’t made the cut are getting angry about relying on the results of public polling — when no polls that count have been released since the last debate. There’s been no way for Andrew Yang or Steyer or anyone else (like Cory Booker, who needs a lot of help) to secure a spot.

Democrats sharpen their differences as Iowa caucuses loom” via Robert Costa, Sean Sullivan and Amy Wang of The Washington Post — And as the year neared its conclusion, Sanders knocked on doors in near-freezing temperatures in Des Moines and called attention to how he differs from Warren on health care. Warren delivered a speech in Boston that urged sweeping change and took veiled shots at Buttigieg and former Vice PresidentBiden over fundraising. A rush of late December events helped define the fault lines for the Iowa push. A day earlier, Buttigieg put a renewed spotlight on Biden’s dealings in Ukraine. Biden, for his part, said this week he would consider tapping a Republican for Vice President, embracing a centrist idea that accentuates the contrast with his liberal rivals.

Flush with cash, Andrew Yang wrestles with where to spend it” via Trent Spiner of POLITICO — He still can’t quite get accustomed to his surprising fundraising haul — Yang collected $16.5 million in the fourth quarter — or how to allocate it in the run-up to the Iowa and New Hampshire contests. The reality is that his newfound campaign riches are creating internal tension about whether to beef up the Iowa operation or bet it all in New Hampshire. Staff in New Hampshire want more investment here, including the candidate’s time. Steve Marchand, Yang’s local senior adviser, said he wants the candidate to essentially live here. “We’re definitely getting voters that are peeling off of Bernie,” Marchand said. “They still love these other candidates — it’s just that they really want to win.”

Oprah Winfrey, in Fort Lauderdale, tells what she plans to do in the 2020 election” via Howard Cohen of the Miami Herald — In the live “Today” exclusive, host Jenna Bush Hager asked Winfrey how involved she will be in the 2020 presidential campaign. Winfrey — who is not a candidate — told “Today”: “I’m waiting to see who presents themselves as a front-runner and whether or not I will then join forces with whomever that is. But right now, I’m really focused on mind, body, spirit, having people make themselves the best that they can be so that you can offer that goodness to the world.” Lady Gaga is scheduled to share some of her personal growth stories with Winfrey’s audience at the BB&T Center as one of the special guests on the nine-city 2020 Vision Tour.

The very real scenario of a protracted, ‘bizarro world’ Democratic primary” via Davis Siders of Politico — Democrats are now beginning to confront a very real scenario where the nomination — and the winnowing — will not be decided in states where campaigns have been plowing ground for more than a year, but in places and calendar dates so deep into primary season that until recently they’ve received almost no attention at all. The Iowa field is bunched together with little daylight between a handful of well-funded candidates. Each of the four early voting states continues to present the prospect of a different winner. And, at the end of that gauntlet on Super Tuesday, a free-spending billionaire — Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor — is waiting to challenge whichever candidate or candidates emerge.


Ron DeSantis’ political committee raised north of $1 million in December” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics — The account, which closed November with over $4 million on hand, will be near the $5 million mark on the official report, due later this month. The donor rolls were boosted by a mixture of in-state interests and national figures, spotlighting the unique place the Governor has as a national figure on the right. Among the $100,000 donors: Anita Zucker, a billionaire who runs chemical company Intertech and Rahul Patel, an Atlanta lawyer who is on the University of Florida board of trustees. At the $50,000 level: The South Florida Automotive Dealers PAC; United Health Group; and James Heavener, another member of the UF Board of Trustees. Another trustee chipping in — Robert Stern.

Spotted — Gov. DeSantis in POLITICO magazine as one possible 2024 presidential candidate, mainly because he is a “new Republican Governor enacting popular conservative policies, while also deepening his relationship with Trump.” POLITICO also notes his “environmental streak” after taking steps to address climate change and “getting on Trump’s good side with another break from conservative orthodoxy: signing legislation to allow the importation of prescription drugs.”

Could Ron DeSantis be one to watch in the 2024 presidential race?

In final push, petitions to legalize marijuana and ban assault weapons hit mailboxes” via Samantha Gross of the Tampa Bay Times — With just one month until the Feb. 1 deadline for submitting signed petitions, two key ballot initiatives — one to legalize recreational marijuana and another to ban assault weapons — are turning to one of the most expensive and unconventional ways to gather signatures: pre-addressed, mail-in petitions. The petitions come pre-filled with a voter’s name, address and voter registration number, and can be sent back to the campaigns free of charge. Make it Legal Florida, a campaign to legalize adult use of recreational marijuana, has spent more than $945,700 on mailers alone.

Joe Gruters: Changing primary system would give Florida GOP unprecedented power” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Gruters says his party will continue to fight a constitutional amendment that would change the state’s primary election framework. However, if the initiative passes, Gruters believes it will give the Florida GOP unprecedented power. “They say it’s trying to take parties away from the system and empower the people,” he said. “But it will do the exact opposite. This would make the Republican Party of Florida the most powerful party in the country, even at a local level.” Gruters said parties would simply hold primaries themselves rather than conducting elections through the state.

Energy deregulation opponents demand petition signatures be revoked because of deception, fraud” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Floridians For Truth accused the Citizens for Energy Choice organization of gathering signatures under pretenses after misleading voters. “The Court has found in Hatten v. State that if a voter’s signature was obtained through fraud, then the signature is invalid,” said Floridians For Truth chair Kristopher Guzman. “The number of instances and examples in which petition gatherers failed to give electors the truth about the risks, duties and obligations involved in 18-10 are so obvious that the Secretary of State should have no alternative but to grant our request.” Citizens for Energy Choice has submitted 624,104 petition signatures deemed valid by the state, more than 80% of what’s needed to qualify for the ballot.


First on #FlaPol —Gavin Rollins enters Republican primary for CD 3” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Another Republican has entered the race to succeed U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho in Florida’s 3rd Congressional District. Clay County Commissioner Rollins announced his campaign Monday, joining a field that already includes Judson Sapp, Amy Pope Wells and former Yoho staffer Kat Cammack. Rollins is an American history teacher and Captain in the Florida National Guard. He is a veteran of the Global War on Terror, having served as a senior intelligence officer in a combat zone in East Africa. “I’m running for Congress because the foundation of our nation is under attack from misguided socialists, career politicians, and Hollywood liberals determined to chip away at our fundamental rights,” he said.

Gavin Rollins is the latest conservative to throw his hat in the ring for CD 3.

First on #FlaPol —FEC stays on Cliff Stearns, other zombie campaigns despite D.C. dysfunction” via Noah Pransky of Florida Politics — The Federal Election Commission sent letters to the campaigns of former members of Congress who are still spending from campaign accounts despite retiring from office years ago. That includes Congressman-turned-lobbyist Stearns, who has insisted on keeping his account open, even after 2019 fines from the FEC. Other former officeholders include Former House Speaker Tom Foley, Rep. Michele Bachmann, Rep. Joe Kennedy II, Rep. Chris Dodd, Florida Reps. Jeff Miller and John Mica, and Sen. Saxby Chambliss. “Your most recent report discloses a significant amount of residual cash on hand,” the FEC asked each campaign. “Please explain the committee’s intended use of the residual campaign funds … be aware that committee assets, including cash-on-hand, may not be converted to personal use.”

Donna Deegan trumpets $204,000 fundraising quarter” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics — “We have seen a tremendous number of motivated supporters excited to connect with voters in the 4th District about Donna’s candidacy,” said campaign manager Erica Connor. “Donna’s willingness to meet with people all around the district stands in stark contrast to Rep. [John] Rutherford’s hesitancy throughout his tenure to host public events and interact with his constituents. Her candidacy offers a refreshing choice for First Coast voters, and we are excited to engage with as many people as possible in the coming months,” Connor added.

First on #FlaPol – “Byron Donalds announces bid for Francis Rooney’s congressional seat” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — It’s official. The State Rep. announced in a campaign video Monday morning that he’s running for Congress. “I am everything the fake news media tells you doesn’t exist,” the Naples Republican says in the video, given first to Florida Politics. “A strong, Trump-supporting, gun-owning, liberty-loving, pro-life, politically incorrect black man.” He’s now one of eight Republican candidates to officially file to succeed U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney representing Florida’s 19th Congressional District. And he’s one of three sitting state Representatives in the area running for the seat, along with Dane Eagle and Heather Fitzenhagen. But in many ways, Donalds’ decision to run brings the greatest political impact beyond the congressional contest itself. While Fitzenhagen and Eagle were both already term-limited, Donalds’ departure from the Florida House means District 80 is an open seat. The announcement video presents Donalds’ personal biography along with his political agenda. Notably, it includes footage of Donalds on stage with President Trump last October. That’s when the Florida pol presented the President with the 2019 Bipartisan Justice Award at the Second Step Presidential Forum in South Carolina.

First on #FlaPol — “Heather Fitzenhagen launching congressional campaign on Wednesday” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — The Fort Myers Republican will hold a formal kick-off Wednesday for her run to succeed U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney in Florida’s 19th Congressional District. The event will be at 5 p.m. at Society in Fort Myers, in the heart of her state House district. … “Besides being the only conservative woman in the race, Heather is a working mom and isn’t part of the establishment,” says campaign consultant Anthony Pedicini. “She wasn’t handed anything in life; she’s earned every step. She’s never had the support of the swamp or its many creatures. Yet, she’s managed to be successful legislatively. That’s what voters will find sets her apart.”

National PAC to spend big on Florida legislative races — Democratic super PAC Forward Majority plans to spend big on Florida legislative races this cycle, Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida reports. The committee spent $2.2 million swaying state legislative elections in the 2018 cycle, which saw Democrats pick up five seats in the state House. In 2020, the group is planning to “significantly scale up” its Florida operation, with 22 House seats on its radar. The PAC said each of its targets was a “close loss” for Democrats in recent elections. The upcoming redistricting process drives the push to shift state legislatures following the 2020 Census.

As Democrats mull how to win in state Senate District 9, frustration spreads” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Florida Democrats would love to give Republican Jason Brodeur a good challenge for the open SD 9 seat. Labor and employment lawyer Patricia Sigman is expected to enter the race, increasing the Democratic field to five active candidates. Lawyer Alexis Carter, the only Democrat able to raise much campaign cash so far in the SD 9 field, expressed frustration a few weeks ago that Tallahassee is actively recruiting Sigman, despite others working to establish themselves. And Democratic grassroots activist Guerdy Remy explicitly lashed out at the Democrats’ Senate Victory Political Committee, accusing it not only of playing favorites but instructing Democratic allies not to support Remy or others so that Sigman might have a clearer path.

— “Seminole labor attorney Patricia Sigman, a Democrat, joins crucial state Senate race” via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel

Seminole labor attorney Patricia Sigman, a Democrat, joins crucial state Senate race” via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel — Democrat Patricia Sigman, a Longwood labor attorney, is jumping into the Senate District 9 race based in Seminole County, a seat highly sought after by Democrats as one of two they’re looking to flip from Republicans in 2020. Although four other Democrats are already in the race, none has done any serious campaigning or fundraising, and Sigman will have the support of the Florida Democratic Party establishment. “For too long, the agenda in Tallahassee has been set by the well-connected insiders who fund the campaigns of the politicians they know will do their bidding,” Sigman said in a statement announcing her campaign.

Top Panhandle Republicans raising money for Michelle Salzman, challenger to Mike Hill” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Pensacola Republican Salzman is getting support from some major Republican politicians in her quest to unseat Rep. Mike Hill. Salzman is currently the only candidate challenging Hill in the Republican primary for House District 1, which covers part of Escambia County. She filed for the seat in late June, shortly after Hill made headlines for laughing off a suggestion that people start stoning gays. Since then, Salzman has consistently outraised Hill, piling up nearly $13,000 in campaign cash through the end of November. Now it appears that Salzman is the pick for some of the major Republicans in the district. An invitation lists former Senate President Don Gaetz and former Rep. Frank White on the host committee a Jan. 14 campaign fundraiser.

Jackie Toledo picks up Democratic challenger” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Tampa Republican Rep. Toledo has picked up a challenger in her reelection bid in House District 60. Tampa Democrat Julie Jenkins filed for the seat on Thursday and is so far the only other entrant in the race besides the incumbent. HD 60 covers part of southern Hillsborough County and has a slight Republican lean. The 2018 election saw Toledo win a second term by about five points over Democratic nominee Debra Bellanti. Toledo is already well-positioned for 2020, having raised nearly $200,000 in campaign cash, $114,000 of it in the bank. She has another $94,000 on hand in an affiliated political committee, Engineering a Better Future.

Spotted — At the Florida House Republican “family-friendly fundraising event” hosted by Speaker José Oliva, Reps. Chris Sprowls and Paul Renner at the Walt Disney World Fort Wilderness Resort: Gaston Cantens, Mike Cantens, Chris Clark, Chris Dudley, Mat Forest, José Gonzalez, John Holley, Alli Liby-Schoonover and Chris Schoonover, Danny Martel, Tracy and Frank Mayernick, Bridget Nocco, Andy Palmer, Will Rodriguez, Jared Ross, Amanda Stewart, Kevin Sweeney and Kyle Ulrich.

First on #FlaPol —Teachers union backs Anna Eskamani reelection” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Eskamani has received the backing of the Florida Education Association for her reelection bid. Eskamani, of Orlando, is seeking a second term representing House District 47 covering parts of northern and central Orange County, including downtown Orlando. The FEA endorsement comes earlier than the union usually weighs in. “FEA has chosen to take early action by endorsing your candidacy for District 47,” FEA President Fedrick Ingram stated in a news release issued by Eskamani’s campaign. “This endorsement is in recognition of your advocacy for teachers and support professionals, as well as your support for neighborhood public schools in Florida.”

Happening Wednesday:


How the Pinellas Sheriff’s office boosts its rape stats without solving cases” via Allison Ross of the Tampa Bay Times — A designation, called “exceptionally cleared,” is supposed to be used sparingly in circumstances where police departments have enough evidence to arrest someone but can’t for reasons out of their control. The Times examined files detailing more than 80 rape cases that were exceptionally cleared by the agency from 2014 through 2018. It found dozens of cases that had not been investigated enough to be put in that category. From 2014 to 2018, Pinellas made arrests in only 15% of its rape cases, less than all but two other large departments in Florida. And yet, because of how the agency applied the exceptional classification, Pinellas reported clearing more than half of its rape cases.

A change in designation suggests Bob Gualtieri’s office is closing more rape cases than they actually are.

Prosecutors back off felony claim against Patriots owner Robert Kraft” via Marc Freeman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — In a court filing, Florida prosecutors revised their position in an appeal concerning video evidence in the high-profile case arising from a massage parlor sex sting. Kraft, 78, remains charged with two misdemeanor counts of soliciting prostitution. Police said the part-time Palm Beach resident was caught on a secret camera paying for sex acts on separate days. A county judge ruled prosecutors can’t use the videos because Jupiter police used an unlawful warrant when they recorded Kraft and other people at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa. But the state is challenging the court order that effectively torpedoed their case, contending that the “sneak-and-peek” warrant did not violate the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.

Broken pipes and a broken trust: Fort Lauderdale’s twisted priorities” via Steve Bousquet of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — A candidate for reelection in Fort Lauderdale could see the future, but nobody paid attention. Asked to list his priorities, he said repairing and replacing worn-out water and sewer lines. The candidate was John Aurelius, and he said that in 1994. Yes, 26 years ago. The old pipes that Aurelius warned us about are exploding in Rio Vista, Victoria Park and elsewhere, spilling hundreds of millions of gallons of sewage into rivers, streets and yards, a threat to residents’ physical health, the economy and the image of a great city — a case of extreme civic neglect with potentially devastating consequences to public health and property values. A sense of trust has ruptured between the city and its citizens.

Golden parachutes for JEA executives under legal review” via David Bauerlein and Christopher Hong of the Florida Times-Union — When the JEA board meets to discuss ousted CEO Aaron Zahn’s severance package, the board will face a decision that’s unique to JEA. The agreement approved by the JEA board in July for Zahn includes not only a severance payment equal to 20 weeks of base salary — the maximum number of weeks of payout allowed by state law — but also says he will be hired for a year by JEA as an outside consultant for several hundred thousand dollars. The fee paid to him for consulting services “from time to time” would be the same as his annual compensation as CEO, making the consulting fees the biggest portion by far of the $842,000 in benefits Zahn stands to get.

Rest in peace — Robbie Foster, former Young Republicans leader, dies at 35” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics — Foster, the former head of the Florida Federation of Young Republicans, died just days before his 36th birthday. The FFYR said: “It is with deep sadness that we said goodbye to a friend, brother, and patriot today. Robbie Foster … will be greatly missed in the Young Republican family. Our thoughts, prayers, and condolences are with his family.” Robert Mallory Foster Jr., the son of former Fourth Circuit Court judge Robert Mallory Foster, had a “bad flu” and went to the emergency room days before he passed away, say sources close to him. Controversial and outspoken, Foster was a candid quote and a useful source, offering hilarious descriptions of events the public otherwise would never have known.


’That guy is a delinquent’: Hialeah police chief had own scandals before sergeant’s arrest” via Nicholas Nehamas and Jay Weaver of the Miami Herald — Sergio Velázquez has kept a low-profile since becoming chief of police in Hialeah, Miami-Dade County’s second-largest city, in 2012. But that changed when FBI agents strode into department headquarters this month to arrest Jesús ‘Jesse’ Menocal Jr, a decorated Hialeah patrol sergeant. The scandal has thrust Velázquez — and his 2016 decision to put Menocal back on the street despite sexual assault allegations made by four women and underage girls — into an unwelcome spotlight. It has also forced Velázquez to defend not only his handling of Menocal’s case but his overall leadership of the department.

Hialeah Police Department Chief Sergio Velázquez is under an unwelcome spotlight. Image via the Miami Herald. 

’Open carry’ advocates bring cause to West Palm Beach green market” via Eliot Kleinberg and Adriana Delgado of the Palm Beach Post — Members of the gun-rights group Florida Carry came through the green market Saturday, passing stalls of fresh tomatoes and cold-brewed coffee, all while bearing flags reading “Don’t Tread on Me” and “CNN is Fake News,” carrying fishing poles — and assault rifles. Volunteers with “Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America” were there working the crowd of market-goers on the downtown waterfront, circulating petitions for a constitutional amendment that would ban private citizens from possessing assault weapons. Two women, possibly a mother and daughter, didn’t wait for the volunteers to finish their pitch before reaching for pens. Doreen Starr and Darcy Bull, of Lake Worth Beach, signed as well. “Thank you for what you’re doing,” Starr told the volunteers.

(H)ousing crunch in South Florida won’t get much better in 2020, analysts say” via David Lyons of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — It’s a far cry from the market a decade ago when home values were plunging, and the share of mortgages in delinquency was at an all-time high, recalls Daryl Fairweather, chief economist with national real estate brokerage Redfin. “The housing market is ending the decade in a vastly different place than it began,” Fairweather said. Now, the re-emergence of South Florida as a leading-edge high-value market will keep posing problems for buyers. We’ll keep dealing with higher prices and a dearth of homes for sale. It’ll affect millennials who want to buy their first home, senior citizens whose homes are too expensive to keep, and out-of-town buyers who arrived for a new job opportunity.

Nassau officials craft ordinance regulating Internet cafes after crime spike” via Corley Peel and Zachary Lashway of News4Jax — During a meeting of the Nassau Board of County Commissioners, they discussed a proposed ordinance to prohibit simulated gambling devices found in internet cafes and identify them as a public nuisance. “It’s a problem that exists, and it needs to be taken care of and taken care of immediately,” said Kenny Farmer, Nassau County resident. Arcade owners and those in favor of the internet cafés claim they bring in revenue and are ideal for senior citizens to socialize. No action was taken during the meeting. There will be another public meeting to discuss the proposed ordinance Jan. 27 at 6 p.m.

Seminole jail’s innovative addiction treatment program aims to combat opioid epidemic” via Grace Toohey of the Orlando Sentinel — Using medication-assisted treatment to curb cravings and therapy focused on helping inmates deal with traumas in their past — as well as a variety of other innovative approaches, like yoga, art and music — the ACTT program is the latest way Seminole leaders are trying to combat the opioid epidemic. “When we have that high-risk population that is incarcerated, I feel a responsibility to them, their families and the community to do all we can to break that cycle of addiction,” said Seminole Sheriff Dennis Lemma, who spearheaded the program. He believes it’s the only one like it in the state.


Hijacking American Christianity” via Chris King for the Tampa Bay Times — I am an evangelical Christian. That moniker frightens many progressives and Democrats (including me) for just the reasons we saw as Trump came to Florida to launch his “Evangelicals for Trump” reelection effort at a Miami megachurch with yet another bellicose, braggadocious, warmongering performance. Trump is a manifestation of the worst impulses of the movement. Instead of fulfilling our obligation to care for the sick and needy, he has made it his mission to undo the hard-fought advances we have achieved in our efforts to secure health care for everyone. Religious leaders who are supporting Trump are blinded by might. History will not look favorably upon them.

From smoker to skeptic: Would recreational marijuana be good for Florida?” via Gil Smart of TCPalm — And I’d long thought marijuana should be legal for recreational use. It’s not really all that different from alcohol in terms of why people use it. It’s actually safer than alcohol, less addictive, less damaging physically. It’s already widely used, and our jails and communities are full of people who’ve been charged with marijuana-related crimes that often don’t warrant the punishment we’ve doled out. You want prison reform? We could start by reforming our marijuana laws. And then there’s the potential tax revenue. According to the nonprofit Tax Policy Center, marijuana taxes bring in hundreds of millions of dollars annually in Colorado and Washington, up to 1 percent of each state’s own-source (state sales and gross receipts tax) general revenue.

Sports betting bill a bad bet for Florida” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — Now comes a scheme that would make sports betting kiosks as commonplace as Florida’s lottery terminals and allow instantaneous wagering on smartphones. Our state needs legalized sports betting about as much as we need higher tides and stronger hurricanes. Plus, Senate Bill 968 openly defies what nearly 5.7 million voters intended when they approved Amendment 3, an anti-casino initiative, in November 2018. That was a 71 percent blowout. Plus, it’s morally wrong for tax-phobic politicians to resort to a vice that already does so much to bankrupt its victims and destroy their families. Such “easy money” is sleazy money.

Joe Henderson: Florida’s new texting while driving ban finally has some teeth” via Florida Politics — Along with everyone else, I can only hope that the message gets through. Color me skeptical, at least at first. Fines wouldn’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2020. Lawmakers reasoned drivers needed six months to wrap their fingers around the notion that texting while driving was BAD! Not only is it bad, now it’s expensive, too. A ticket for the first offense is a $30 fine, plus court costs. That could take the bill to over $100. Get caught again within five years and fine doubles while court costs spike. Changing drivers’ behavior won’t happen overnight. Get into their wallets deep enough, though, and the message will sink in. Oh, what’s the message? Put it down or pay up.

Melba Pearson: Miami-Dade monetary bail change — too little, too late” via Florida Politics — After years of stonewalling criminal justice reform advocates, Miami-Dade State Attorney Kathy Fernandez Rundle announced a new policy on monetary bail via Twitter. She claims that for the past few months, “prosecutors have been asking that low-level misdemeanor defendants be released on their own recognizance rather than on monetary bonds.” This policy change is an interesting pivot — and one that raises more questions than it answers. First, what has changed in the last year? My biggest concern with her sudden announcement is that she may be maintaining, or even worsening, the racial disparities with this change in policy. Because of her vague announcement, we simply don’t know. Miami-Dade deserves policies that bring equal justice to all. We deserve accountability and transparency.


First in Sunburn — Personnel note: Former Deputy CIO Heath Beach joins tech advisers Kaleo Partners” via Florida Politics — Beach, an IT veteran, brings to Kaleo a wealth of experience by way of a variety of roles throughout state government. As deputy CIO, Beach oversaw the state’s data center and MyFloridaNet, its private network. He managed Public Safety Communications, which includes the Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System, worked as chair of the state E911 Board, with continuing oversight to move Florida to Next Generation 911. Heath also worked as Florida’s single point of contact for the national public safety broadband network FirstNet, becoming chair of the FloridaNet Board. Glenn Kirkland and Jon Menendez are founders of Kaleo Partners. The duo each has over a decade of public and private sector experience in policy, budget and procurement.

Personnel note: Julie Fess joins Gunster” via Florida Politics — Fess has joined the firm as a government affairs consultant in both its Orlando and Tallahassee offices. “Julie’s skills in devising messaging and lobbying strategies to generate favorable outcomes will serve as an added value to our practice,” said Lila Jaber, regional managing shareholder and head of the firm’s government affairs practice. “Her dedication to clients paired with her knowledge of legislative staff and legislators complements our firm’s relationships.” Fess operated a solo practice, Fess Consulting, before joining Gunster Yoakley & Stewart. Previously, she worked in the Florida House, including a stint as Chief of Staff to the House Speaker.

Congratulations to Julie Fess, who has made the jump to Gunster.

Gary Clark set to begin tenure as chairman of Public Service Commission” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — “I am honored to serve as Chairman and appreciate the support of my fellow Commissioners. I am grateful for their confidence in my knowledge and experience to lead the PSC,” Clark said in a statement after the Public Service Commission (PSC) elected him to serve as chair. “Whether we’re dealing with electric, gas, or water issues, our duty to all Floridians is to ensure safe, reliable utility services at fair prices, and I am ready to work alongside my colleagues to make the best decisions for the future of our state.” Before joining the PSC, Clark worked as the Deputy Secretary of land and recreation at the Department of Environmental Protection.

New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Doug Holder, The Legis Group: Sarasota Kennel Club

Sheela VanHoose, The Southern Group: Putnam County School Board

— ALOE —

Josh Cooper’s cooking skills net top prize” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Cooper in recent years has been a staple at cooking competitions. At the 8th Annual World Food Championships (WFC), Cooper became the 2019 World Seafood Champion thanks to his “Pan-Seared Scallops with Caviar Champagne Beurre Blanc.” The dish netted him a $10,000 prize and a spot at WFC’s $100,000 Final Table Challenge in May. It wasn’t the only dish he whipped up in the competition. To make it to the final stage of the seafood challenge, teams had to ace “Southwest Grilled Oysters” and then prepare any seafood dish they desired. The top-scoring teams through the first two courses advanced to the next round.

Josh Cooper took the top prize at the 2019 World Seafood Championship, another step toward the World Food Championship’s $100,000 Final Table Challenge. Image via Colin Hackley.

Happening today — Axios co-founders Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen will speak to the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches, noon, Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, Cohen Pavilion, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach.


The tech that will invade our lives in 2020” via Brian Chen of The New York Times — At CES, next-generation cellular technology known as 5G, which delivers data at mind-boggling speeds, is expected to take center stage. We are also likely to see the evolution of smart homes, with internet-connected appliances such as refrigerators, televisions and vacuum cleaners working more seamlessly together — and with less human interaction required. “The biggest thing is connected everything,” said Carolina Milanesi, a technology analyst for the research firm Creative Strategies. “Anything in the home — we’ll have more cameras, more mics, more sensors.”

At CES 2020, 5G will be all the rage.

CES preview: Surveillance, sex toys and futuristic gadgets” via Heather Kelly of The Washington Post — There are already some hints of what the biggest stories will be out of the event. That includes newly sanctioned sex tech and facial recognition to track attendees — plus stealth marketing outside the official CES venue. Trump is also scheduled to give a keynote talk about the future of work, a decision proving controversial among some attendees. CES organizes its thousands of exhibitors into categories like smart home, augmented reality, transportation — and the fast-growing health and wellness segment. CES updated its policies to allow “sex tech” exhibitors in the health and wellness group. When attendees register at CES this year, there will be a new option to confirm they are who they say they are: facial recognition.


Belated best wishes to Bruce Cotton, Christie Pontis Mason of CenturyLink, and former Rep. Doc Renuart. Celebrating today are House Speaker José Oliva, Bryan Anderson of HCA, Dr. Ray Arsenault, Kyle Simon and former Rep. John Tobia.


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.
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