Where was he?
The big news of the week came Monday when Jacksonville issued a mandatory mask mandate for indoor spaces for those ages 6 and older.
However, Mayor Lenny Curry was not to be found, with a family commitment keeping him from being in City Hall Monday morning, when the decision was being made to impose a mask order that Curry had said he wouldn’t impose for weeks.
In that context, the strong Mayor went limp, leaving staffers to communicate an emergency proclamation about which the Mayor, not averse to media hits, as a rule, was mute.
The order was one of those things Republicans would not endorse, with Sen. Rick Scott generically bemoaning rules in general and Gov. Ron DeSantis continuing to hold that a mask order is not in the cards statewide.
Political cover didn’t come from the left either, where Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried suggested that Curry would lift the order ahead of the August Republican National Convention.
However, in a Jacksonville City Council meeting Wednesday, most who spoke backed the move.
Curry has been boxed into several second-term corners, including signing an LGBT rights law he wouldn’t sign when it was first passed three years ago, ordering the removal of a Confederate monument in Jacksonville’s downtown, and marching with Black Lives Matter.
While that contortion act is below the national Republican radar, given a shortage of commentary on how the Republican Mayor has “evolved,” it bears watching in the run-up to the RNC and beyond.
Save the date
July 16 will be a significant date for the reelection campaign of U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, with a reception in Neptune Beach featuring dozens of famous-for-Jacksonville names.
The event, a “who’s who” of the Jacksonville donor class, will be hosted by Jacksonville City Councilman Rory Diamond, who says it’s likely to be the biggest Rutherford fundraiser of the 2020 campaign.
Among a host of donor types on the host committee are politicians, past and present.
City Councilmen Terrance Freeman and Al Ferraro will be on hand, as will former State Attorney Angela Corey. Corey, a lightning-rod figure, reportedly was a deal-breaker for at least one 2016 donor (as she headed for a loss in her own tough campaign). But she’s back for 2020s run.
Though Rutherford has $600,000 on hand as of the most recent filing, likely general election opponent Donna Deegan has outraised him for the last two quarters.
The July 16 fundraising will come right around the time Q2 numbers for both candidates will surface.
Rutherford faces primary opponents, but the real drama will be in the fall.
Trump group backs Sapp
As candidates jockey for position in the very crowded race to replace Rep. Ted Yoho, one candidate seems to have the inside track on the Donald Trump lane.
On Tuesday, Judson Sapp rolled out an endorsement from “Students for Trump,” a coalition of young people backing the President.
“We are proud to endorse Judson Sapp for Florida’s 3rd Congressional District! As a businessman and supporter of President Donald J. Trump, Sapp knows a thing or two about keeping Florida’s economy strong and fighting for our God-given rights! Please join us in supporting him!” said Students for Trump in their announcement.
“I am honored to be endorsed by the country’s largest pro-Trump youth organization. Students for Trump understands it is crucial for us to not only reelect President Trump but to ensure he has allies in Congress. I’ll stand with President Trump, and I’m thankful Students for Trump stands with me,” said Sapp.
Sapp, who ran in 2018, piled up Trumpy endorsements ahead of this, including U.S. representatives John Rutherford and Vern Buchanan, Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk, former Trump press secretary Sean Spicer and loyalist Roger Stone.
In what was a brutal budget year, Northeast Florida saw its share of high-profile vetoes in the budget Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Thursday.
While these aren’t major projects, they are major for those who need them — everyone from veterans contemplating suicide to low-income people in need of dental care.
The timing could not be worse, especially given that 2021 is uncertain, and the reality that the budget chairs will almost certainly be from a different part of the state than the current ones, each hailing from Clay County.
How bad was it?
In Duval County, even Gary Chartrand couldn’t get state money — $2 million was axed from the KIPP Charter School, funding that has materialized in previous years but not this time.
Rep. Travis Cummings believes that cuts leaned more toward new spending than “programs and services working well today.”
And Sen. Rob Bradley contended DeSantis did a “great job of threading the needle.”
Physical therapy plaudits
DeSantis, signing one of his final swathes of bills from the 2020 Legislative Session, approved legislation from Rep. Cyndi Stevenson that would bring reforms to rules governing physical therapy.
Stevenson, a Republican representing St. Johns County, noted that those rules hadn’t been changed for three decades.
“House Bill 467 modernizes the Physical Therapy Act, which has not been significantly updated in 30 years,” said Stevenson.
The bill would “remove statutory barriers that keep Florida Physical Therapists from using a procedure known as dry needling to assist with pain management and improve mobility,” a practice already used in 33 other states.
The mission of the Board of Physical Therapists is rule making, including guidelines on the standard of practice and training requirements.
Sen. Ben Albritton carried the Senate companion bill.
The St. Johns County Board of Commissioners couldn’t move forward on a countywide mask ordinance Tuesday, even after enduring hours of public comment, reports WOKV.
“I will not vote to implement another regulation, even on our own staff, when I heard today there is no need because there is not an overrun at the hospital,” Commissioner Jeb Smith said.
The St. Augustine Record noted that even a modified proposal couldn’t get runway.
“Commissioner Jeremiah Blocker then made a motion to require mask-wearing by county employees and the public in county facilities where social distancing isn’t possible. Commissioners voted 3-2 against that motion.”
While St. Augustine pushed through an indoor mask ordinance, outside the city limits is still a mask free zone, and likely will remain such for the foreseeable future.
Earlier this week, much of the political world was talking about the explosive story that indicated Russian intelligence forces might be paying bounties for Taliban fighters to kill U.S. and British troops in Afghanistan. Unnamed sources from the intelligence community say that it happened, while the White House and unnamed officials supporting Trump say the claims were not verified.
Republican Rep. Michael Waltz of St. Augustine, a former counterterrorism adviser, appeared on Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier to express skepticism on the timing of the leak and the ensuing media firestorm.
“We’ve known for years that the Russians have been supporting the Taliban through arms, through weapons, through other means … so to me, this really smacks of partisan talking points of hearing Russia and the President and trying to make hay of that in an election year,” the St. Augustine Republican said.
Trump and the White House said the President and Vice President were not briefed, something Waltz said is not unusual. He served in the White House as an adviser for former Vice President Dick Cheney.
“I think it’s absolutely appropriate that these things are run to ground, and you present the President with options beforehand, not just kind of throw this on his desk and then tell him: ‘We’ll get back to you.’”
While he suspects political motivations, Waltz said it might turn out that the claims of the Russian bounties are proved correct. If so, he said Russia needs to pay the price.
“Why are they making such an issue of it right on the heels of running into a national election?” Waltz said. “All of those things can be true at the same time: We can get to the bottom of whether this is true and take real action — but also question whether there’s partisan politics behind this.”
The recent SpaceX crewed rocket launch, the first use of an American-made rocket in almost a decade, represents a renewed opportunity for both Florida and the Jacksonville area, writers the Florida Times-Union editorial board.
Private companies will take part in near-Earth orbits as NASA prepares for deep-space travel, through collaborations with the private sector — including Boeing and SpaceX.
Launching the Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket is just the beginning of space projects planned by NASA.
With Cecil Airport qualified as one of America’s spaceports, this new emphasis on space flight presents excellent opportunities for Jacksonville.
NASA plans to nurture the work of the International Space Station as an economic driver, the T-U writes. New technologies will develop, and scientific experiments will continue.
Cecil Airport has already taken part in a test flight of commercial space vehicles, and the growth of the industry will present numerous business opportunities for Jacksonville. More than 4,000 people work at Cecil Airport and in the adjoining Cecil Commerce Center.
That, combined with Navy presence at Mayport and NAS-Jax, could be just the beginning of a lucrative growth industry.
Anyone who had an outstanding borrowed book from a public library in St. Johns County and thought they wouldn’t have to pay for late fees due to the coronavirus outbreak, well, they’ll have to pay the piper now.
St. Johns County officials announced this week that the fine system for books that weren’t returned on time is going back into operation. The fines were instituted Tuesday again, a St. Johns County news release said.
Library officials are encouraging those who have outstanding and overdue books to pay in person at their local library branch. Library book ne’er-do-wells can also opt to pay any fines online by going to the St. Johns County Library System website at sjcpls.org.
In addition to reinstituting fines for overdue books, the St. Johns County Library System is expanding some services at the eight branches in the county. The libraries are now open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays as the reopening due to the pandemic continues.
Those initial and limited services will include some browsing only while observing social distancing, and face coverings are advised while building capacity will be limited. Public computers at the libraries can be used up to one hour for each person. Printing, faxing, and notary services will also be available.
Seating areas, meeting rooms, and play areas for children will remain closed and off-limits indefinitely, though. All materials returned to book drops will be isolated for 72 hours.
With minor league baseball scrapped for the season at Jacksonville’s ballpark, there will still be an American tradition taking place at the stadium this Fourth of July weekend.
That Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp have canceled their Double-A Minor League Baseball season due to coronavirus along with all Minor League Baseball games this year. But the Miami Marlins farm club has been doing its best to bring area residents to the 121 Financial Ballpark downtown. The club will host another even Friday night.
The club is holding an Independence Day Fireworks Celebration Friday on the eve of Fourth of July at the stadium. The Jumbo Shrimp typically have the fireworks associated with a baseball game. But in the absence of a game, the franchise is still opening the stadium beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Entertaining fans will be the screening of a baseball movie on the stadium’s big-screen center field video board. Then at 9:15 p.m., a full fireworks display will burst over the stadium.
Entrance is $10 per person for bowl seating under the pavilion seats and $8 per ticket for bleacher seating. Parking is free.
Social distancing will be observed between family seating groups as it was enforced for other events at the stadium this year. The Jumbo Shrimp have also hosted a screening of the movie Frozen II and offered Father’s Day weekend events to help keep the stadium active this year in the absence of ballgames.
Signing draft picks
This week, the Jaguars announced third-round draft pick DaVon Hamilton signed his rookie contract. The 6-feet-four, 320-pound defensive end played his college football at Ohio State.
Hamilton is the fourth draft pick to sign his contract officially. Linebacker Shaq Quarterman, a fourth-round pick; wide receiver Collin Johnson, drafted in the fifth round; and sixth-round selection Tyler Davis, a tight end, previously signed contracts.
Jacksonville had 12 picks in this year’s draft, meaning two-thirds are still unsigned as the calendar turns to July. Highest among those is top pick CJ Henderson, a cornerback from the University of Florida, who was the ninth selection overall, and their other first-round pick, defensive end/linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson, from LSU, the 20th overall pick.
In the AFC South Division, the Houston Texans have signed two of their five choices, while the Tennessee Titans have inked three of their six. The Indianapolis Colts, on the other hand, have signed all nine of their selections.
The Colts join the New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills as the only teams to sign all of their draft picks. Among the NFL’s 32 teams, 15 have not signed a single draft pick.
Henderson and Chaisson are not alone among first-round picks remaining unsigned. Only the Carolina Panthers (Derrick Brown), Miami Dolphins (Tua Tagovailoa and Austin Jackson), and the San Francisco 49ers (Javon Kinlaw) have signed first-round picks. Buffalo, Indianapolis and New England did not have selections in the first round.
Within Florida, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have signed none of their seven selections, while the Miami Dolphins now have nine of their 11 picks under contract.
With training camps scheduled to begin within the next month, signings should start to increase more steadily in the coming days.