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Here’s Brunch, a pop-up, weekend email during the 2020 Legislative Session — 2.23.20

A brunch buffet’s worth of real-time reporting during Session.

Good morning and welcome to Brunch. There are just three more editions of this pop-up email, assuming the 2020 Legislative Session ends as it should March 13.

For many of you, you’re likely still recovering from Fast Cars and Mason Jars. We can’t wait to hear who won the auctions for the big items! We would have definitely bid on the ravioli making party with Beth Matuga.

Since Fat Tuesday is coming up, we hope you’re enjoying a Mardi Gras buffet of eggs Benedict with crawfish-Tasso hollandaise, duck camp shrimp and grits, couche couche with andouille, beignets, pain perdu, Acadian bread pudding and piquant sweet potato quiche. Mix yourself up a sparkling Hurricane and laissez les bons temps rouler!

Get ready … Fat Tuesday is almost here!

🥊 — The big winner out of Nevada is … Tyson Fury, who dropped Deontay Wilder twice Saturday night in their heavyweight title rematch, turning from boxer to puncher to win the title when Wilder’s corner threw in the towel as he was taking a beating in the seventh round. It was a stunning turnaround for a fighter who came back from drug and alcohol abuse to win the title for a second time, made even more surprising because Wilder was the devastating puncher in their first fight 14 months ago.

🏆 — The Winner of the Week in Florida politics … can be read if you click on this link. TBH, it’s a really fun edition.

🛑 — The winner in 2024 … won’t be Matt Gaetz. On Saturday, Gaetz told a standing-room-only crowd at The Barn at Water Oaks Farm in Laurel Hill that he has no interest in answering to people in predominantly blue areas such as San Francisco, New York or Los Angeles. Of course, the fact that Gaetz is being asked if he will run for the White House is the real win.

Please send us your scoops and tips about what’s really goes on during the last three weeks of Session. We’ll be working late tonight because “Better Call Saul” doesn’t start until 10 p.m. More on the fifth season of ‘Saul’ below.


Sen. Bernie Sanders is sailing to an overwhelming victory in the Nevada caucuses, giving more momentum to his insurgent campaign and gutting the conventional wisdom of the Democratic establishment that he can’t win the nomination.

Decisive. As of early Sunday morning (with half the precincts reporting), the Vermont Senator took more than double the popular vote of the No. 2 vote-getter, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg (21,864 to 10,046), as well as winning nearly 47% of the county delegates. Coming in second in delegates was former Vice President Joe Biden (19% with 9,921 popular votes). Buttigieg received 15% of delegates, followed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts (10% with 6,633 popular votes) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (under 5% with 4,179 popular votes).

There’s no doubt; Bernie Sanders is on a roll.

Mythbusting. Sanders shattered many preconceptions about his campaign, mostly that he couldn’t get more than 30% of the vote, particularly with such a large field of candidates. He also broadened his appeal, something that many pundits said would be challenging. Nevada put to rest any questions about Sanders’ popularity, as well as exposing weaknesses in his rivals.

Signs are hazy. The Nevada results make the upcoming South Carolina primary — the last before Super Tuesday — somewhat less certain for Biden, who has been considered the favorite to win due to his relative strength among African American voters.

Down ballot drama. The rise of Sanders’ unquestionably radical campaign is causing concern among establishment Democrats who are worried that a self-professed Democratic Socialist would create a protracted convention battle, as well as having a down-ballot domino effect for moderate candidates. As The New York Times notes: “Sanders’s success, and the continued uncertainty over who his strongest would-be rival is, makes it less clear than ever how centrist forces in the party can organize themselves for a potentially monthslong nomination fight. The moderate wing is still grappling with an unusually crowded field for this late in the race, the lack of an obvious single alternative to Sanders and no sign that any of those vying for that role will soon drop out to hasten a coalescence.”


Two tiny precincts in Reno, Nevada awarded their sole delegates to candidates based on the luck of the draw, according to CNN.

Say what? Two small precincts with one delegate each to award cast five votes for candidates. And since no candidate had more than one vote, the winner was chosen in the most Nevada way possible — by a card draw.

Two precincts in Nevada were determined by the luck of the draw.

On the level. In fact, it’s a fairly common practice, and completely within the rules to decide a tie with a game of chance. In some instances, it’s a coin flip. In this case, however, the winner went to the highest card.

— The winner is … Warren won one precinct (drawing a Jack of Hearts) while Bernie Sanders took another with a four of spades; Buttigieg drew a three of diamonds. Buttigieg won the other with a dismal eight of spades versus Joe Biden’s seven of clubs.

Who got to pull? — Precinct chair Ross Armstrong wandered over to the neighboring precinct to have someone draw the cards on behalf of the candidates — because there were no representatives from Warren or Sanders.


A former Soviet republic in Central Asia would not seem to be a Republican social media hub, but some may have thought differently this week. Forensic News, an investigative news site launched last year, reported Thursday that “Florida’s official Republican Party Facebook page, along with nine other Florida Republican county Facebook pages, have a page manager located in Turkmenistan, a country in Central Asia with no public affiliation to Florida Republicans or political social media consultants. All ten of the Facebook page managers from Turkmenistan disappeared after Forensic News contacted the Florida GOP page owner for comment.”

— Fake News? The Republican Party of Florida pushed back. “This was an RPOF owned account, and we can assure you that all our Facebook administrators are based here in FL and are RPOF staffers. We have contacted Facebook, and they are looking into the error,” said Alia Farah-Johnson, on behalf of the Florida GOP, spent much of Friday morning investigating the issue regarding the main Facebook page.

Administrators for the RPOF Facebook page were located in Turkmenistan.

— Trust but verify: Facebook says that “it’s common for a Page to be managed by many people from different places,” the platform also advises to “check for a mismatch between a Page’s purpose and the location of the people who manage it.”

— Still some multinationalism. By Friday morning, fewer such mismatches existed. Hillsborough still had two foreign managers listed: one from the Philippines and one from India. We reached out to the Hillsborough party for comment but did not immediately hear back.

— VPN? One potential explanation: a VPN was used in the process. However, VPN’s typically don’t default to Turkmenistan, where Facebook is actually blocked.


The Legislature passed a controversial parental consent requirement on youth abortions, but not before Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen gave passionate arguments against the move.

— Trafficking troubles: Fitzenhagen’s top concern comes from work in human trafficking. “I’ve seen many instances of young girls, teenagers and younger.”

Heather Fitzenhagen was one of the few Republicans to speak out against the contentious parental consent abortion bill.

— When parents are grandparents: “They are being abused by someone they know and trust, by a family member or a parent more often than you think. I just am very concerned about requiring consent from the perpetrator of a crime.”

— Unintended consequence: While Fitzenhagen feels abortion is “terrible,” she fears what pregnant minors will do instead. “I’m very concerned these young girls will end up taking measures that are more drastic to avoid having to comply with this law.”

Fitzenhagen’s running for Congress against seven opponents and knows she’ll get pilloried for this. “They’re going to pounce regardless. I don’t see any point in not saying something important to me.”


As the fallout continues over the proposed mergers of Florida Polytechnic University and New College with, respectively, the University of Florida and Florida State University, some breaking news Friday threw another wrinkle in the already-controversial plan.

The bombshell. At first, House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee chair Randy Fine’s merger proposal (HB 7078) also included changes to the Effective Access To Student Education grant program, or EASE, and Access to Better Learning and Education Grant program, or ABLE, making them means-tested.

Rany Fine threw a curveball in the proposed merger of New College and Florida Poly.

Hard pass. Both Florida Poly and New College have fiercely opposed merging into the state’s flagship institutions. Senate President Bill Galvano has thrown his support behind a consolidation plan for New College, although he cautioned that he hadn’t made a final decision yet.

The plot thickens. However, in a sudden shift Friday afternoon, Fine filed a proposed committee substitute proposing that the state’s smallest universities be both absorbed only into UF. It also removed the requirement that EASE and ABLE programs become means-tested financial aid. That original idea was admittedly a non-starter in the Senate.

Preplanned. Fine says the change to consolidate both schools with UF came after discussions with UF, FSU, and the University of South Florida. New College and Florida Poly have been part of USF before.

The more things change: The revised legislation keeps the original changes to Florida’s “Bright Futures” merit-based college scholarships. It rolls back the $300 a student stipend for textbooks to students receiving the top “Academic” scholarship. It also keeps in place an expansion to the Florida Medallion Scholars award.

It’s not over yet. Expect more developments in this story to come Monday and the week ahead. 


HHH: The state is moving quickly to terminate its toxic relationship with the troubled Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence (FCADV). The House voted unanimously to have DCF yank to contract and negotiate with other vendors. The Senate vote is pending on the House bill. We caught up with the sponsor of the Senate bill, Aaron Bean, this week to get his thoughts on what he called ‘big movement’ in this space.

— What made them dump the documents? Bean noted that the documents had been sought for months. They were finally released, but redacted. Bean stated that DCF Secretary Chad Poppell likewise was surprised by the lack of cooperation. 

Aaron Bean discusses his thoughts on the troubled Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence (FCADV).

— What took so long to move? Bean described a process that involved a lot of behind the scenes work on his part. One sticking point: The need for a “plan to hold shelters harmless” and to ensure that the Department of Children and Families, either on its own or with vendors, could take over the task.

— Held hostage. Bean said the agency was unique in its ability to “hold hostage” the state. “The entity hid behind the issue of domestic violence,” Bean said, saying it was “bad policy to have a single provider in the state.”

— Denise Grimsley? Bean lent insight into the former Senator and Ag Commissioner candidate. When she came in, he noted that she’d be in the “driver’s seat,” with the most significant challenge being a “federal audit.” Soon enough, Grimsley conceded that the situation was “bad” and urged further investigation.”


It was only a matter of minutes, but the Senate Commerce and Tourism heard the Florida Competitive Workforce Act (well sorta, not really).

— Timely amendment: Sen. Victor Torres offered an amendment to a Sen. Linda Stewart bill seeking equal pay for women that would also have barred discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Vic Torres was able to get (kind of) the Competitive Workforce Act heard by a committee, albeit briefly. Image via Colin Hackley. 

— Equality entrée: Calling LGBTQ rights the “civil rights issue of our time,” Torres gave a short speech into the record. “Florida has one of the fastest-growing economies in the nation, and we need policies in place for protecting our investors and top talent.”

— Able cleared: In the end, Torres temporarily postponed his item, and Stewart did the same for the underlying bill, hopeful the issues arise next Session again.

— GOP acknowledgment: Notably, Sen. Joe Gruters, the committee chair and head of the Republican Party of Florida, thanked Torres for effectively bringing the Workforce Act to the committee. “I’m glad we were able to hear it,” he said.


Lawmakers may want to triple the output of craft distilleries and legalize toddler-sized bottles of wine. Still, Floridians aren’t raring to grab a 5-gallon bucket of orange juice for a mega-mimosa.

The party-pooper, if you will, is The Center for Alcohol Policy, which recently asked voters for their thoughts on alcohol regulations.

A supermajority said they though the current rules were “just about right.” Another 12% said they thought the Sunshine State was “too lenient.” Just 8% exposed themselves as true lushes, calling for a “deregathon” to hit the liquor store.

The spin: “It’s clear that Floridians are among the strongest supporters of responsible alcohol regulation in the nation. At a time when a few strident voices complain about restrictions on alcohol sales, it is important to note that huge majorities across all demographics support current regulations,” said the Center’s executive director, Mike Lashbrook.

What’s it mean for the 2020 bills? Probably nothing. The wine bottle bill, HB 6037, cleared the House earlier this month, but similar measures in the Senate have been corked. Ditto for HB 1165, which would allow diners to take unfinished wine to-go, and HB 583, which would increase the cap on craft distillery production — those bills still have House committee assignments, too.

— RED 4 ED —

The Florida Education Association (FEA) will be turning the Old Capitol red to show its support for Public Schools Week.

The red lights will switch on Monday night. The 2020 Public Schools Week runs from Monday, Feb. 24 through Friday, Feb. 28.

“In Florida, teachers and education staff professionals will be wearing red, calling on legislators to fund public education, and celebrating our schools on social media — #FundOurFutureFL, #PublicSchoolProud, #4EveryStudent,” reads an FEA release on the event.

Teachers and supporters are urged to wear red next week to support education funding. Image via Jessica Bakeman/WLRN.

The FEA was founded in 1886 and touts a membership of more than 140,000. It’s the largest teachers’ union in the Sunshine State.

Among the top education items this Session is a proposal from Gov. Ron DeSantis to push starting teacher pay to $47,500. The Board of Education also approved new standards for reading and math earlier this month. And Rep. Vance Aloupis has a bill that would conform K-12 performance exams to those standards and revise the process for improving poorly-graded schools.


This year’s clothing drive returns to the Capitol for its fifth iteration Tuesday. The annual service project encourages legislators, state agency employees, staff, and locals to donate their new or gently-worn attire.

Spring cleaning, come early: Suits for Sessions accepts full suits, blazers, blouses, shirts, pants, dresses, skirts, ties, belts, shoes, and handbags.

The sixth annual #SuitsForSession is this Tuesday. Image via Colin Hackley.

A helping hand: This year’s benefactors are Dress for Success Tampa Bay, Sulzbacher, CareerSource Gulf Coast and others.

Fifth annual: Since the first drive in 2016, Volunteer Florida and Uber have donated more than 16,000 items from across the state.

Who’s who? Last year, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez, the Cabinet, DEM director Jared Moskowitz, EFI president and CEO Jamal Sowell, and others donated clothing.

For the GPS: Donors can drop off items at the Capitol Tuesday from 9-5. Volunteer Florida and more than two dozen agencies and organizations began accepting donations earlier this month.


Get your seersuckers ready. Wednesday will mark the 24th annual Seersucker Day at the Capitol. Rep. Matt Willhite of Wellington is sponsoring this year’s version. It’s the fourth year in a row Willhite has organized the event.

“It’s just a thing to try and bring back a little bit of old Florida style and tradition and unity on something,” Willhite said in a talk with Florida Politics about the event, honoring one of the state’s historic fashion trends. “That was a lot of the attire that was worn in the South. So we just keep it going for that day.”

This year, Seersucker Day is a little earlier in the season.

While seersucker suits get most of the attention, the event is gender-neutral. Any seersucker fabric will do. “It could be a scarf. Women are wearing skirts and different things. I have a nice white-with-blue-pinstripes seersucker I wear every year,” Willhite said.

Lawmakers usually bust out the seersucker attire in the Spring. But this year’s Session schedule precluded that. “It’s after Easter normally, but with early Sessions like this, we can’t really do it then,” Willhite explained.

The Capitol hosts several dress-up days through the Legislative Session. “Florida State Day, everybody wears their garnet and gold,” Willhite said. “There’s Gator Day, which we just did, or FAU day from my area.” But Willhite argued Seersucker Day is a way of bringing his colleagues together without respective rivalries getting in the way.

If seersucker isn’t your style, have no fear. Lilly Pulitzer Day will be coming to the Capitol one week later, on March 4.


As “Better Call Saul” returns for its penultimate season, it moves closer to “Breaking Bad” territory in both narrative and overall quality. Although we know where Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) ends up — as “criminal lawyer” Saul Goodman — the AMC drama continues to keep pace with its source, mirroring its moral arc and strikes out on its own as one of TV’s best shows.

Flash-forward. Like several other several episodes of “Saul,” the fifth season begins in monochrome, with Jimmy/Saul working as “Gene Takovic,” a Cinnabon employee in Omaha, beginning to feel paranoid he will be discovered.

“Better Call Saul” is back in full force.

Jimmy to Saul. Season Four ended with Jimmy emerging as Saul Goodman, who Jimmy equates to being a good salesman. In Season Five, the conversion is nearly complete, as Saul offers “50 percent off” to nonviolent criminals (where some dark humor ensues). It also deepens the rift between Jimmy and his girlfriend, Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn), the moral compass of the show.

Understandable concern. Since Kim is not in “Breaking Bad,” fans of “Saul” can be forgiven for worrying about what her fate will ultimately be.

Old friends. Several familiar faces also return. Some we have already seen Mike (Jonathan Banks), Nacho (Michael Mando) and Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), as well as an appearance by Dean Norris‘ DEA agent Hank Schrader, bringing “Saul” closer to the world of “Bad.”

Tune in. “Better Call Saul” returns tonight at 10 p.m. on AMC.


“Eat, drink and talk loud. You’re among friends” — That’s the slogan at popular Kool Beanz and it’s remained true since the Midtown restaurant opened in 1996. Chef/owner Keith Baxter, well-traveled and originally from London, presents an eclectic, creative menu that changes regularly.

Eat, drink, and talk loud. You are among friends at Kool Beanz. Image via Rochelle Koff.

— The setting: The long, narrow space was recently remodeled, giving Kool Beanz a more sophisticated look, yet it retains its friendly personality and distinctive décor — with paintings by local artists. There’s covered outdoor seating and inside, a private dining room for up to 30 people.

— Highlights: Considering that chef/owner Baxter is British, it’s no surprise that a brunch favorite is the Full English Breakfast, which includes bangers (sausage), large grilled portobello caps, sliced tomatoes, fried eggs atop fried bread and baked beans. Other top favorites include buttermilk French toast, fried chicken and sweet potato waffles, shrimp and grits and salmon gravlax.

The deets:

Hours: Open 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.

GPS: 921 Thomasville Rd., Tallahassee.

Phone: 850-224-2466

FYI: Reservations for large parties only, of eight to 14.

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