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Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 8.13.20

Coffee is for closers. So is Sunburn, your morning rundown of Florida politics.

The Department of Management Services is expected to officially announce today that Rep. Jamie Grant will take over as the state’s Chief Information Officer.

In his new role, Grant will oversee the Florida Digital Service, which aims to transform the delivery of government services to Floridians through design and technology.

Congratulations to Rep. James Grant, newly named Florida Chief Information Officer. Image via Colin Hackley.

“I’m honored to lead the charge for digital innovation in Florida and excited to leverage technology to problem solve and rapidly respond to individuals, families, and businesses seeking to engage with state government,” Grant said. “Through new technology, top talent, and private and public sector collaboration, we will fundamentally change the way we serve and communicate with the people of Florida.”

The Tampa Republican was one of the chief architects of FDS. In the 2020 Session, he sponsored the bill creating the service as a replacement for the Division of State Technology. It is charged with maintaining state data, setting up testing environments to demo state software before it’s rolled out and facilitating data sharing between government agencies.

Grant has served in the Legislature since 2010 — more than the typical eight years afforded lawmakers before term limits kick in — due to a challenge to his 2014 reelection victory over an issue with a write-in candidate.

During his tenure he became a powerhouse in Tallahassee, driving major legislation often with a conservative agenda.

His departure, however, leaves questions about who will represent the district. With Grant facing reelection on the Nov. 3 ballot, his new gig leaves Democrat Jessica Harrington unopposed.

If he weren’t facing reelection this year, the move would prompt a special election. Instead, it invokes the state’s nominee replacement rules. But the party will need to act fast to get the replacement nominee’s name on the ballot.

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With the primary elections a week away, it’s time to set the record straight in a couple of contests.

In the Democratic primary for HD 81, Michael Weinstein has slammed Kelly Skidmore as a “career politician” who has never passed a bill while holding himself out as an unfairly attacked outsider with grassroots support.

Egregious lies. All of them.

Skidmore was in office for just four years. She’s passed bills. Weinstein’s “attackers” pointed out some troubling facts after he started smearing her. And AstroTurf has deeper roots than his self-funded campaign.

Michael Weinstein is going for the sympathy vote. Good luck.

Still, he seeks the sympathy vote, going so far as to accuse news outlets of using a “sinister” looking headshot in stories rebutting his outlandish claims.

It seems self-funders with persecution complexes and tenuous handles on the truth are a dime a dozen in Palm Beach, as former Rep. Irv Slosberg is working from the same playbook in his campaign for the Democratic nomination in Senate District 29.

Slosberg, no stranger to quixotic Senate campaigns, has accused Rep. Tina Polsky of lying about his vote against repealing Stand Your Ground.

Polsky’s claim has been fact-checked by The Palm Beach Post, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and four TV stations. And what did they determine? It’s true.

Undeterred, Slosberg chose to risk retraumatizing daughter, Rep. Emily Slosberg, by having her film campaign ads at the scene of the crash that killed her twin sister, Dori.

Tweet, tweet:

 

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Registering to vote is nearly as easy as clicking the like button on your Facebook feed.

The social media giant is rolling out its new Voting Information Center this morning as part of the largest voting information campaign in American history. It launches with an ambitious goal: registering 4 million voters.

There’s no need for a link — the company said the nonpartisan feature will appear atop Facebook and Instagram feeds nationwide.

The tool is a one-stop-shop for information about requesting mail-in ballots, registration and request deadlines. The Voting Information Center will also help users check if they’re already registered and if not, it will direct them to the Florida Online Voter Registration System.

It aims to be more than a repository for evergreen information, with Facebook also using the platform to get posts from verified local election authorities in front of voters so they can keep current with any pandemic-induced changes to the voting process or logistics.

Between now and November, Facebook expects more than 160 million Americans will see information about how to vote in the Voting Information Center.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@RealDonaldTrump: @KamalaHarris started strong in the Democrat Primaries, and finished weak, ultimately fleeing the race with almost zero support. That’s the kind of opponent everyone dreams of!

—@KirbyWTweets: .@GovRonDeSantis begins a statewide address with a comparison between schools reopening in Martin County and the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Said school reopening will require the same kind of commitment as that mission.

Tweet, tweet:

 

@Fineout: If you asking what Florida’s chief financial officer has to do with football or higher education … well, the answer is … nothing. The CFO deals with banking, insurance regulation & also acts as comptroller and fire marshal

@ChrisSprowls: @realDonaldTrump continues to hit home runs in selecting judges. A respected constitutional conservative, Kathryn Kimball Mizelle will make an outstanding addition to the Middle District of Florida.

@JeffreyBrandes: Many constituents have called, shocked by rising homeowners/condo rates. Some home insurance companies are closing new business in #FL and Citizens in growing at 2k+ policies a week. The legislature must act to reform/stabilize the market and fight excess litigation and fraud.

@MDixon55: When people talk about Florida Democrats being able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, these are the sort of things they mean Been a circular firing squad for years

@AGlorios: A lot of people are wondering if I am still planning to return to @politico and @politicofl on Sept. 1. Yes, I love my job as a health care reporter.

— DAYS UNTIL —

Florida primaries for 2020 state legislative/congressional races — 5; Florida Bar exams begin online (rescheduled) — 6; Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee begins — 6; Regal Cinemas reopen in U.S. — 8; Indy 500 rescheduled — 10; Republican National Convention begins in Charlotte — 11; NBA draft lottery — 12; Rev. Al Sharpton’s D.C. March — 16; U.S. Open begins — 18; Christopher Nolan‘s “Tenet” rescheduled premiere in U.S. — 21; Rescheduled running of the Kentucky Derby — 23; Rescheduled date for French Open — 38; First presidential debate in Indiana — 47; “Wonder Woman” premieres — 50; Preakness Stakes rescheduled — 51; Ashley Moody’s 2020 Human Trafficking Summit — 54; First vice presidential debate at the University of Utah — 55; NBA season ends (last possible date) — 60; Second presidential debate scheduled at Miami — 63; NBA draft — 64; Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” premieres — 64; NBA free agency — 67; Florida Chamber’s Future of Florida Forum — 68; Third presidential debate at Belmont — 70; 2020 General Election — 82; “Black Widow” premieres — 86; NBA 2020-21 training camp — 88; Florida Automated Vehicles Summit — 99; “No Time to Die” premieres — 99; NBA 2020-21 opening night — 112; Super Bowl LV in Tampa — 178; “A Quiet Place Part II” rescheduled premiere — 190; “Top Gun: Maverick” rescheduled premiere — 323; New start date for 2021 Olympics — 344; “Jungle Cruise” premieres — 351; “Spider-Man Far From Home” sequel premieres — 449; “Thor: Love and Thunder” premieres — 547; “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” premieres — 589; “Black Panther 2” premieres — 631; “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” sequel premieres — 784.

— COUNTDOWN TO PRIMARY 1 —

Federal COVID-19 funds for Florida election supervisors delayed over a month, expected this week” via Jeffrey Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat — The state’s 67 county supervisors of elections were supposed to get their share of the $20.2 million in federal funds on July 1 to help fortify polling places and bolster the extraordinary 2020 elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, many supervisors have had to spend money earmarked for other expenses to prep polling sites for early voting, which started Saturday for most Florida counties. And with a week to go before the Aug. 18 primary, they were told by state Division of Election officials the money is coming this week. “We heard today that we can expect to receive the money by Tuesday or Wednesday,” Gerri Kramer, chief communications officer for the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections, responded in an email. No explanation was given for the monthlong delay.

Long-delayed federal funds for Florida election supervisors are finally expected this week. Image via the Palm Beach Post.

‘Words can’t explain how I feel.’ Felons vote for first time since rights restoration.” via C. Isaiah Smalls II of the Miami Herald — Deshaun Jones couldn’t sleep Monday night. Anticipation gnawed at her insides as she went on the internet, researching and evaluating candidates. The very next day the 44-year-old social worker would do something that she hadn’t done in more than a decade: She voted. Jones was among several felons who joined the Circle of Brotherhood, a nonprofit that encourages Black men to be community leaders, in marching to the polls for early voting on Tuesday. The demonstration took place in Brownsville and encouraged everyone in earshot to not take voting for granted. “For all the women who are coming out of prison, all the women who are in there right now — my vote was for them,” Jones said.

Frederica Wilson scores donation from NFL Players Association in reelection bid” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — The NFL Players Association donated $2,500 to help Wilson in her bid for reelection in Florida’s 24th Congressional District. The organization’s political arm, the NFL Players Association One Team PAC, made the donation Tuesday, according to a new report filed with the Federal Election Commission. The PAC was created in 2016 as a way to raise money on behalf of the organization and get involved in the political process. The NFL itself also has a PAC, called the Gridiron PAC. The NFLPA’s political arm was slow to start donating money after its 2016 launch. That organization became active in mid-2018 ahead of the midterm cycle with donations to a bipartisan group of lawmakers. The donation was flagged as part of the FEC’s “48-Hour Notices.” Within 20 days of an election, all donations of $1,000 or more must be reported separately to the FEC. That requirement remains in effect until 48 hours before Election Day.

Frederica Wilson’s reelection effort is getting a boost from NFL players.

Byron Donalds-connected Super PAC drops mailers bashing three opponents” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — A Super PAC dropped more than $85,000 in 36 hours blasting or boosting candidates in Florida’s 19th Congressional District. Much of the spending by Trusted Conservatives went toward colorful full-page glossies. On one side of each piece, the page is divided into thirds and trashes Casey Askar, Dane Eagle and William Figlesthaler in turn. On the other side is promotional information on Donalds. It’s the latest sign that while nine Republicans seek the Republican nomination for the open seat, there are four financial powerhouses duking it out until the Aug. 18 GOP primary. The committee on Aug. 10 and 11 invested a total of $82,025 on mail in the race. That spending appeared to manifest in mailboxes in the Fort Myers-Naples market brimming with two-track messaging.

— COUNTDOWN TO PRIMARY 2 —

Florida House Democrats get $1M infusion — Florida Democrats’ effort to flip the state House got a seven-figure boost last month, courtesy of a $1 million check from billionaire donor Marsha Laufer. As reported by Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida, the check went to Forward Majority Action Florida, the state-level arm of a Democratic super PAC aimed at busting Republican hegemony in the Capitol. So far, the committee has spent the money on research and polling but it is expected to transition to direct mail and digital ad campaigns in the run-up to November. As it stands, the odds of flipping the Florida House are slim. The GOP holds a commanding 73-47 majority, meaning Democrats would need a net gain of 14 seats to take control.

Mystery GOP-connected group in Senate race shuts down after Democrats file election complaint” via Steven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — The mysterious GOP-connected “progressive” group targeting the Democratic primary frontrunner in a key state Senate race shut itself down sometime in the last week after Democrats filed an elections complaint. The group’s alleged violations “deprive the public of the ability to know ‘who gave it and who got it,’” according to the complaint, filed with the Florida Election Commission. Floridians for Equality and Justice registered with the state on July 21 but had already created a website on June 2, emailed out questionnaires on June 24 and sent out mailers beginning July 18, according to the complaint.

Democrat Amanda Linton to withdraw from open SD 21 race” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Linton is dropping out of the Senate District 21 race, she announced. She cited economic consequences of COVID-19, which are forcing her family to relocate out of state. “It is with sadness and regret that I must announce my withdrawal from the race,” she wrote in an open letter. “My head and my heart have been consumed with this race since I filed as a candidate last year because I knew that our movement would be an uphill climb. I was ready for that challenge; what I was not ready for was the effect this pandemic would have on my family.” Linton was the first candidate to file to succeed Senate President Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, in the district. The district leans heavily Republican. But as a teacher and mother, she felt the impacts of the pandemic immediately, forced both to help her own children with distance-learning from home and teaching students remotely. But her husband’s career path also was altered by the public health crisis.

—”Democrats say replacement nominee in SD 21 will be named within days” via Jacob Ogles

—“Florida doctors recommend Felicia Robinson in HD 102” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics

— DOWN BALLOT —

Tweet, tweet:

 

 

A back seat connection with voters? This Uber driver is running for Miami-Dade Mayor” via Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald — Miami-Dade mayoral hopeful Carlos Antonio de Armas never ran for office before, has $5 in his campaign account and his name isn’t even printed on the ballot because he opted to save $2,500 on his qualifying fee by paying $300 to file as a write-in candidate. Still, the 52-year-old can point to one advantage over his rivals: He’s driven more voters than any of them have. “More than a year ago I started to do Uber, just to talk to people and find out what’s going on,” the Fontainebleau resident said. “When they sit in the back seat, they tell you everything. What their fears are. What they’re suffering from. What their dreams are.”

“‘Unprecedented’ power. Miami’s political families seek office in August election.” Via David Smiley of the Miami Herald —  The names on the Aug. 18 ballot need little introduction. Suarez. Hardemon. Barreiro. Regalado. Diaz de la Portilla. This summer, Miami’s political dynasties — families that for decades have sought and held office from Dinner Key to Washington, D.C. — are again jockeying for power. Some are attempting to win their way back from voter-imposed exile. Others are hoping to expand their influence. And in a new twist that may represent the apex of Miami’s Game of Thrones, a father and son are hoping to become perhaps the most powerful political duo in South Florida history by stamping one surname on two of the top offices in the county.

Raquel Regalado closes July with big fundraising week” via Spencer Fordin of Florida Politics — Regalado had one of her most substantial fundraising periods in the last week of July. However, she still trails former Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner in funding in the race for the District 7 seat on the Miami-Dade County Commission. Regalado, a former member of the Miami-Dade Public School Board, raised $20,425 from 29 donors between July 25 and July 31 for her strongest funding period since taking in $35,545 in October 2019. One major caveat: Regalado raised the $35,545 over an entire month. The fundraising period for Regalado was also notable because it eclipsed every Lerner fundraising period since June 2019. Lerner’s campaign began with a massive haul of $114,615 in April 2019, but she hasn’t raised more than $20,000 in any fundraising period since May last year.

Orange County Commission races intensify as Election Day approaches” via Jason Garcia and Stephen Hudak of the Orlando Sentinel — With one week to go until Election Day, races for seats on the Orange County Commission are intensifying. In west Orange County, in a district that runs from Winter Garden to Walt Disney World, the campaign of an incumbent commissioner who has been engulfed in controversy is going on the attack against her little-known challenger, a sign that a seemingly lopsided contest is tightening in the homestretch. On the east side, in a commission district extending from Winter Park to Bithlo, an assortment of outside interests are helping candidates in a vitriolic three-way race pitting an incumbent commissioner against two well-financed challengers.

Florida Rights Restoration Coalition leaders create new PAC, support Monique Worrell” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Desmond Meade and Neil Volz, leaders of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition that ushered a state constitutional amendment to restore felons’ voting rights in Florida, launched a new political committee to support candidates. Worrell is the first to enjoy the group’s backing. The support begins with a TV commercial launched in the Orlando market this week advocating for Worrell, the former law professor and former national criminal justice reform group executive who is running for State Attorney in Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit. Meade, who chairs the new Our Vote Our Voice Political Action Committee, said the committee was created to promote the voices of returning citizens such as himself and Volz, the PAC’s treasurer, in political elections. Meade and Volz first filed to create Our Vote Our Voice July 31, and the Florida Division of Elections acknowledged the organization last Friday.

Desmond Meade and Neil Volz are coming to the aid of Monique Worrell.

Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw wants a fifth term as challenger calls for reform” via Eileen Kelley of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Palm Beach County Sheriff Bradshaw, a homegrown lawman of 50 years, says he has unfinished business in aiming to win his fifth term in office. He now faces primary opponent Alex Freeman, a retired Riviera Beach police major with big ideas. But can Freeman dethrone the sitting sheriff, given all of Bradshaw’s political clout? Freeman tried to defeat him four years ago but Bradshaw won handily. On Aug. 18, it will be Round Two when Palm Beach County voters head to the polls for the primary election. The winner of the sheriff’s Democratic primary will face Lauro Diaz, a Republican challenger, in November.

Parkland father Ryan Petty offers support for Karen Rose, Eric Robinson, records robocall for Sarasota School Board candidates” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — A week out from School Board races in Sarasota County, a Parkland parent recorded a robocall taking sides. Petty, whose daughter Alaina died in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, ties the issue of defunding the police to the School Board contests. “I’m calling to share that I am disgusted and angry to hear that two Sarasota County School Board candidates, Tom Edwards and David Graham, are pushing to redeploy and reallocate funding for law enforcement. Anyone who supports defunding the police has no business running for office, let alone, overseeing schools,” Petty says in the call. “Their plan to defend the police puts Sarasota County students and teachers at risk, which is something we cannot let happen. That is why I’m supporting Karen Rose and Eric Robinson.” Edwards is challenging Robinson, an incumbent School Board member and prominent Florida campaign treasurer, for his District 3 seat. Graham and Rose face off for an open District 2 seat.

Public Defender’s race fractures Congressman’s support: Al Lawson endorses both candidates” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat — Lawson stirred up local politics this week when he endorsed both Andy Thomas and Jessica Yeary to be the 2nd Judicial Circuit’s elected Public Defender. Thomas, first elected in 2016 to succeed longtime Public Defender Nancy Daniels, seeks a second term. Yeary, a former assistant public defender, seeks to unseat him. Both are Democrats. The results of the primary election will determine the winner; there are no Republicans in the running. A Yeary flyer that recently hit mailboxes proclaimed a Lawson endorsement, triggering the controversy. Thomas supporters immediately cried foul, saying Lawson promised he was in Thomas’ camp. The dispute played out on different Facebook pages. Lawson said he thinks both candidates are qualified, wrote checks to both campaigns, and gave both Thomas and Yeary permission to use his name.

Possible tourism tax would be used to promote the northern part of Walton County” via Jim Thompson of NWF Daily News — Walton County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to add a referendum to the Nov. 3 general election ballot that will let voters in the northern part of the county decide whether to impose a 2% tax on accommodations to market that part of the county to tourists and make tourism-related improvements. If the tax is approved, commissioners will have to take additional steps to set up collections of the levy, Assistant County Attorney Heather Christman said Tuesday. If passed, 40% of the revenue generated by the tax, levied on hotel and motel room charges, condominium rentals and other accommodations leased for less than six months, would have to be used to market the northern part of the county.

— 2020 —

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris appear together as Donald Trump and allies launch attacks” via The New York Times — Biden and Harris, former political rivals, used their first public appearance as running mates on the Democratic ticket to stand unified against Trump. In her first campaign appearance as Biden’s vice-presidential pick, Harris, a former prosecutor, repeatedly assailed Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the economic upheaval it has caused. “As somebody who has presented my fair share of arguments in court, the case against Donald Trump and Mike Pence is open and shut,” Harris said. The appearance, held at Alexis I. duPont High School in Wilmington, Delaware, offered the first indication of how Biden and Harris, two Democrats from opposite coasts and different generations, would fuse their messages as they sought to unseat Trump this fall.

It didn’t take long for Donald Trump and his allies to go after Kamala Harris and Joe Biden.

End of an era? Trump says he won’t hold rallies with empty seats.” via Anne Gearan of The Washington Post — The Trump rally may be a thing of the past. At the least, the signature stew of tribal politics, showmanship, insults, outrage, humor and hero-worship that propelled Trump’s improbable victory four years ago and that has punctuated his presidency with the trappings of a perpetual campaign, is on a break. Trump appeared to declare the end of the rally era Tuesday. He said the events — the success of which he has always measured by the size of the crowd and the “ratings” — are a casualty of the coronavirus pandemic. Or more exactly, of the dispiriting optics that proper social distancing would mandate. “You can’t have empty seats,” Trump said in an interview with Fox Sports Radio.

Trump losing ground to Biden in Florida” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Though the big news of the political week was Biden selecting Harris as his running mate, new polling says Biden was surging in Florida even before the rollout. The Change Research/CNBC “States of Play” poll, conducted from August 7 through 9, shows Biden with a six-point lead over Trump, both nationally and in Florida, at 50% to 44% in each cohort. In a memo accompanying the results, pollsters said Biden had “notable strength” in the Sunshine State. For Biden, that result represents a good news/bad news scenario. Biden was up nine points nationally (51% to 42%), but only three points in Florida when the poll was previously conducted in late July. The poll focuses on battleground states, and shows a 48% to 44% lead across battleground states.

Trump’s campaign ads run on Chinese state media YouTube channel” via Mark Bergen and Eric Newcomer of Bloomberg — Trump’s campaign is inadvertently funding Chinese state media outlets and entities tied to the Kremlin through automated advertisements on YouTube, according to a study of thousands of videos on the Google service. Omelas Inc., a Washington-based security software firm, reviewed the YouTube clips in early August and found 22 Trump campaign ads running on YouTube channels linked to the Chinese government. While the dollar amounts are small, the purchases show how hard it can be for advertisers to control where their ads end up on YouTube, even when Google gives them the tools to avoid particular channels. However circuitous, the money flows strike a jarring tone for a campaign that has taken a hard line against China and a presidency that is cracking down on some of these very media outlets. Some of the marketing spots ran before and during videos from China Global Television Network (CGTN) and China Radio International (CRI), Omelas said.

Trump backers tout mail-in ballots, blast Harris” via Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida — Former Attorney General Pam Bondi implored Republican volunteers in Tallahassee to stress the positives of mail-in-ballots as a campaign bus tour for Trump swung through Northwest Florida. Trump campaign senior adviser Corey Lewandowski also signaled the party will try to paint Harris, announced as Biden’s running mate, as being part of the “far left.” “I don’t know what she brings to the ticket,” Lewandowski said. “We weren’t concerned about potentially losing the state of California. But we have to look at her record, both as a prosecutor and as a United States Senator. She voted against Donald Trump’s tax cuts that help everyday working Americans. She votes for the Green New Deal.”

Republicans are divided over how to best attack Harris” via David Catanese of McClatchy DC — On Wednesday morning, Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union and a loyal ally to Trump, joined the pile-on of Republican attacks against Harris on Twitter, saying she “was a lock em up and throw away the key prosecutor.” Hours later, Vice President Mike Pence offered a contradictory critique in a fundraising email by labeling Harris “weak on crime.” The early conflicting messages on Biden’s newly minted and historic running mate reveal the latest strategic challenge for Trump’s struggling reelection campaign: Whether to cast Harris in traditional GOP terms as a “radical liberal” or attempt to open up a wedge between progressives over her checkered record as a prosecutor in California.

Joe Gruters, Anthony Sabatini make cameo in anti-Trump ad” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Two of the most fervent Trump supporters in Florida will soon have their faces on phone and computer screens across the country as part of an ad insinuating the President’s campaign is operating irresponsibly. Gruters and Sabatini are featured in Protect Our Care’s new digital ad, which questions whether Trump’s reelection operation can be trusted to safely canvass given the partisan divide on masks and other mitigation efforts. The ad frames the campaign as is the least funny knock-knock joke ever, opening with a knock at the door. And then another, louder one. “Who could that be? It’s the Trump campaign and they’re spreading more than just campaign pamphlets. Trump and his supporters have mocked safety protocols like wearing masks and social distancing,” a narrator says.

To view the ad, click on the image below:

 

Meanwhile … Kanye West, who is pursuing a spot on the 2020 ballot, met with Jared Kushner.” via Maggie Haberman and Danny Hakim of The New York Times — Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, met privately last weekend with West, the rapper who has filed petitions to get on the November ballots for president in several states. The meeting took place in Colorado, where Kushner was traveling with his wife, Ivanka Trump, those familiar with the meeting said. West had been camping in Colorado with his family, and afterward flew to Telluride to meet with Kushner and Ivanka, but was not accompanied by his wife, Kim Kardashian West, those with knowledge of the meeting said. West has not denied that he is acting as a spoiler to damage the Biden campaign with his effort to get on several ballots in states like Colorado, where he will appear.

NAACP launches drive to boost Black voter turnout in six key states” via Makini Brice of Reuters — The NAACP, the largest U.S. civil rights organization, is launching a drive ahead of November’s presidential election to boost Black voter turnout in six key states, it said on Tuesday. The initiative aims to enlist the services of about 200,000 “high-propensity” Black voters or people who turned out to vote in a high number of recent local, state and presidential elections. Those voters, in turn, will seek to mobilize so-called “low-frequency” Black voters — people who were registered to vote, but who had not voted in the most recent election cycle or several election cycles — in Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The goal is to increase Black turnout by more than 5% compared to 2016. That year, Black voter turnout declined for the first time in 20 years.

Amendment 3 would suppress Black representation in Florida, new report says” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times — Voters in November will decide whether to drastically change how Floridians pick their elected leaders in the future, and a new analysis concludes Black representation in Tallahassee would plummet if it passes. The analysis raises concerns about Amendment 3, a ballot referendum that would turn Florida’s primary elections into a top-two open primary system. Under that system, sometimes called a “jungle primary,” all candidates running for a state office in Florida would be on the same primary ballot regardless of party and all registered voters can weigh in. The two candidates who receive the most votes in the primary then advance to the general election. The amendment would apply to elections for governor, state cabinet members and the state legislature, but not Congress or the President.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

Coronavirus: How COVID-19 fuels excess weekly deaths in Florida” via Jim Waymer of Florida Today — Due mostly to COVID-19, the 5,171 estimated deaths in Florida during the week ending July 18 was the highest death toll in the state in almost four years, about a third higher than would be expected, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC tracks weekly excess deaths nationwide to provide information about the death burden potentially related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including deaths directly or indirectly attributed to COVID-19. The federal agency defines excess deaths as the difference between the observed deaths in specific time period and expected deaths in the same period.

Ron DeSantis COVID-19 approval rating falls as schools reopen” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Support for DeSantis’ pandemic response has returned to its lowest level since the pandemic began as he faces continued criticism over his decision to reopen classrooms. That’s according to the latest CNBC and Change Research battleground state poll, which saw the Governor’s approval rating on the issue fall four percentage points to 42% in the last two weeks, its lowest mark since the first time pollsters posed the question. The survey took results from likely voters from Aug. 7 to Aug. 9, the final weekend before classes started for several public school districts. Even though DeSantis has tried to offer a choice for parents, the Department of Education’s plan to reopen schools is facing public and legal scrutiny, and battle lines have been drawn in Hillsborough County. Since the last survey, the state also experienced four straight days of record-breaking daily death tolls. In their prior survey from late July, the pollsters showed a favorable trend for DeSantis’ support, but it was still below his disapproval rating on the issue.

Thanks to COVID-19, Ron DeSantis’ popularity is dropping quickly. Image via Colin Hackley.

As schools reopen, DeSantis rallies educators with SEAL Team Six comparison” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — As more school districts prepare to open their doors to students as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, DeSantis hoped to give teachers and parents a confidence boost Wednesday. Several schools began the first day of classes Monday, and many more will open up throughout the month. Acknowledging the challenges schools will face as the pandemic rolls on, the Governor said Martin County School District Superintendent Lori Gaylord compared the district’s responsibility to that of a Navy SEAL team. “Just as the SEALs surmounted obstacles to bring Osama bin Laden to justice, so too will the Martin County school system find a way to provide a meaningful choice of in-person instruction or continued distance learning — all in, all the time,” DeSantis, a Navy veteran, said.

Florida blames Miami lab for backlog in test results, skewing state’s COVID-19 data” via Marc Freeman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — A Miami lab suddenly reported the results of thousands of COVID-19 cases from the past seven weeks — a backlog that “severely skews” Florida’s daily report on COVID-19 infections, the state health department warned. The data dump distorted the daily results, which had shown a higher percentage of people in Florida were testing positive for COVID-19 than at any time since late July. The Florida Department of Health said on Twitter that Wednesday’s report was skewed because the lab reported over 4,000 case results that date as far back as June 23. “This backlog severely skews today’s daily report for Miami-Dade & is not reflective of current trends,” the state’s tweet said.

Florida’s hospitals show signs that coronavirus may be waning. For now, at least” via Cindy Krischer Goodman of The South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Hospitalization rates, the most timely indicator for how severe the COVID pandemic is in Florida, are showing signs that the state finally may have the virus more under control. While people still are arriving at Florida hospitals struggling for breath, they are coming in fewer numbers than just three weeks ago, when new hospitalizations for the coronavirus hit a high in the state. Hospitalizations and emergency department visits are reported in real-time. New positive cases and deaths are lagging indicators, both take time to process and report. “Hospitalizations are the real measure, and we are seeing declining admissions and increasing discharges,” said Dr. Zoran Bursac, chair of the Department of Biostatistics at Florida International University.

This is silly — Grim Reaper lawyer emerges with mobile billboard: ‘Killing Florida With His Stupidity,’ Ron DeathSantis” via Issac Morgan of Florida Phoenix — A truck is heading to various locations in the state capital of Tallahassee, with a mobile billboard that includes a provocative political statement about COVID-19: “Killing Florida With His Stupidity,” Ron DeathSantis. Known as the ‘Grim Reaper’ lawyer, attorney Daniel Uhlfelder has pushed for closures of crowded beaches in the Panhandle and gone to court over the issue. Now he’s behind a movement that criticizes DeSantis’ handling of the public health crisis in Florida. The ad is sponsored by Uhlfelder’s PAC, Make My Day, and the sign was originally created by a popular comedy duo, Uhlfelder said Wednesday in a phone interview. The truck will be en route to various locations in Tallahassee, such as the Florida Department of Education, and other areas, Uhlfelder said. His PAC is raising awareness of the Governor’s lack of leadership in the state’s response to the pandemic, he added.

If the Grim Reaper get-up wasn’t absurd enough.

— BACK TO SCHOOL? —

Growing number of voters oppose Trump demand to fully reopen schools” via Nicole Gaudiano of POLITICO — A growing majority of voters oppose the Trump administration’s demand that schools and colleges fully open for in-person instruction, according to a new poll. In the survey of nearly 2,000 registered voters, 59% said they oppose fully reopening K-12 schools for the beginning of the academic year. Those numbers are up from polling last month that showed 53% opposed. With slightly less resistance to the idea of in-person learning for younger and older students, 56% of respondents said this month that they are against fully reopening daycares, in contrast to 53% in July’s survey. For reopening colleges and universities, 57% said they were opposed, up from 50% in the previous poll.

A first-grader gets off the bus for his first day back to school in Saltillo, Miss.issippi. Image via AP.

Teachers ponder early retirement as schools reopen” via Ana Ceballos of the News Service of Florida — As schools begin to reopen, surveys show that teachers across the state are deciding to resign, retire early or take a leave of absence rather than return to campus this month. In a July survey, 52 educators in Pasco County, or roughly 1% of respondents, said that they would either resign or take a leave of absence if asked to come back. Fourteen Pinellas County school employees resigned before the start of the school year and 47 have requested a leave of absence. In rural Jackson County, eight teachers have said they would take a leave of absence, two said they would resign and two others said they would retire early.

Ventilation should be part of the conversation on school reopening. Why isn’t it?” via Alexandra Feathers of Stat — As an epidemiologist, and after reading the CDC’s guidelines for school reopening and the various accompanying news coverage and think-pieces, I can’t convince myself that following its rules will keep my family or yours safe. Because the primary way COVID-19 is transmitted is through respiratory droplets that careen through the air, and yet the capricious nature of air circulation and the lack of filtration systems in our already underfunded public school systems is absent from the conversation. We need to include air circulation patterns and filtration options in the conversation. If we’re not willing or able to fund necessary upgrades to school ventilation systems, let’s admit that. Until we have that public discussion, I am not comfortable exposing my family to schools.

Why I am not sending my kids back to school” via Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN — One of the questions I am getting more than any other: Am I going to send my children back to school? As a father of three teen and preteen girls, this has been a constant discussion in our household, and it hasn’t been easy. My girls want to go back to school, and they are placing enormous pressure on us parents to make it so. They miss their friends, the social structure and the immersion in humanity that kids need and crave at this age. Virtual learning has played an important role for them, but it is not a substitute for in-person learning, especially for younger kids. As things stand now, my children are scheduled to start school next week. After considering all the objective criteria and assessing the situation in our own community, we have made the decision to keep our girls out of school for the time being.

— CORONA LOCAL —

Lenny Curry cautions against coronavirus complacency” via Christopher Hong of The Florida Times-Union — Curry said he is participating in an advertising campaign to encourage residents to wear masks. Curry cautioned residents to not become complacent or succumb to coronavirus pandemic “fatigue” and said continuing to wear a mask in public places and avoiding mass gatherings are crucial to fight the local COVID-19 outbreak in Jacksonville. On Wednesday, the Florida Department of Health announced 231 new cases and 12 new deaths in Duval County. Curry, as well as hospital officials, appeared in a video urging residents to wear masks. “Taking this simple step makes you a hero,” Curry said in the video. “You are saving lives. Wear the mask Jacksonville.”

Lenny Curry warns Jacksonville.to be complacent when it comes to coronavirus. Image via Twitter.

Expiring $600 has kept Miami-area workers afloat. Turns out, many were lucky to even get that” via Rob Wile and Yadira Lopez of the Miami Herald — When Kendall resident Nick Castillo was laid off in March from a local transportation equipment distributor, he did not imagine that, nearly six months later, he would still be looking for work. Fast-forward to August: Castillo, who holds a Master of Business Administration, is still searching. “I’ve applied everywhere — Lowe’s, Amazon, anyone who said they were hiring,” he said. “Nothing.” Castillo is one of about 600,000 Florida workers — more than one-quarter of them in Miami-Dade and Broward — who have been surviving with the help of Florida’s maximum unemployment assistance. For the past few months, the federal government has added $600 per week to state benefits, which top out at $275 in Florida.

Lost to coronavirus: Aspiring nurse, Palm Beach County’s youngest victim” via Joe Capozzi of The Palm Beach Post — Claudia Martin wanted to make a career out of helping people. Born with a nerve disorder that affected her speech, the Lake Worth Beach woman had recently graduated from the patient care technician program at Florida Career College in West Palm Beach. Claudia was looking for a job as a nursing assistant when she died suddenly from COVID-19. She was 22, the youngest person in Palm Beach County to die from the respiratory disease. Her death fits a grim pattern: Of those younger than 60 dying from COVID-19 in Palm Beach County and throughout Florida, most are minorities. In the county, Blacks and Hispanics accounted for 70 of 78 such deaths, an analysis found. How she contracted the coronavirus remains a mystery to her family.

— MORE LOCAL —

Father and son doctors die of coronavirus after treating COVID-19 patients on Florida front lines” via Theresa Braine of the Orlando Sentinel — Dr. Jorge A. Vallejo a retired obstetrician and gynecologist, and his 57-year-old son, Dr. Carlos Francisco Vallejo, who was caring for up to 76 COVID-19 patients, were both hospitalized on Father’s Day. Jorge Vallejo died six days later, on June 27. Carlos Vallejo hung on for 42 days in intensive care before succumbing to the illness, dying on Aug. 1. Carlos Vallejo’s son Kevin Vallejo feels keenly the loss of his father, who suspected he got COVID-19 from one of his patients. “He was just my role model. I could talk to him every day for hours,” Kevin said, recounting how, when patients were going through a rough patch, he would see them for free.

Disney World will host COVID-19 tests, paving way for performers to return” via Matthew J. Palm of the Orlando Sentinel — On-site public COVID-19 testing will be available on Disney-owned property this week, possibly clearing the way for many actors, dancers and stunt people to return to work and thereby restoring some of Disney’s most popular shows to its theme parks. “We have been consistent that testing is an important part of ensuring a safe workplace for Equity performers, and today, I’m pleased to see that Disney World has agreed,” said Kate Shindle, president of Actors’ Equity Association, which represents about 750 Disney performers. Disney, however, said the new testing site was the result of ongoing discussions with the state of Florida and unrelated to talks with the union.

Walt Disney World will be sponsoring COVID-19 tests for cast members, making way for safe return to work. Image via AP.

Hillsborough reports record 31 single-day COVID-19 deaths” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Hillsborough County confirmed a record 31 deaths Tuesday, according to Florida Department of Health data released Wednesday. The previous single-day record was reported Aug. 3 with 21 deaths. Before that the record was 18 deaths reported July 22. A total of 426 Hillsborough County residents have now died from COVID-19. While tragic, deaths are a lagging indicator and reflect spikes from days and even weeks prior. Other data points in the county and region are looking better, signaling the uptick in mortality may have an end in sight. The county recorded 202 new cases from Tuesday morning to Wednesday morning, a high number, but far lower than the several hundred and, on a couple of days, more than 1,000 reported in July.

COVID-19 testing is free, except when it’s not” via Evan Donovan of WFLA — Many Americans are finding out that what’s supposed to be a free COVID-19 test is sometimes anything but. When two employees at Camp Tampa fitness center tested positive for COVID-19 in June, the owners asked other employees to get tested just to be safe. Nearly three dozen of them, who went to Tampa General Hospital, ended up with medical bills as a result. At least one employee who was uninsured got a bill of nearly $1,200. “I was shocked, but I thought we missed something, because we heard it was free,” said Jeff Cogell, a fitness instructor and Camp Tampa coach. “And when I got to the site, they said it was free.”

A father’s coronavirus death left three Tampa siblings without a parent” via Romy Ellenbogen of the Tampa Bay Times — After his wife passed away from cancer six years ago, Alfonso Cardenas never wanted his kids to feel like they were alone. On Aug. 2, after a month of battling coronavirus, Cardenas died. He was 55 years old. Before his death, Cardenas was intubated and sedated at Tampa General Hospital, so his children couldn’t talk to him. Cardenas was a beloved coach for the Chargers Soccer Club, where he coached his daughters since they were 6 years old in recreational soccer and his son in competitive soccer. After his wife, Clara Gomez, died years ago, Cardenas became single-mindedly focused on his children’s well-being. There is a GoFundMe to help Cardenas’ children through this difficult period. More than $11,000 has been raised so far.

Ocala City Council overrides mayor’s face mask veto” via Carlos Medina of the Ocala StarBanner —With the 4-1 vote to override the veto, the ordinance went into effect immediately and will be valid for 60 days. Mayor Kent Guinn said he vetoed the measure because he feared it would increase demands on the Ocala Police Department, was largely unenforceable and could foster confrontations between residents. He said calls related to the ordinance will fall well behind those for violent or property crimes. “We’ll try to comply as best we can with the mandate,” Guinn said. “It falls in the lowest of the lowest of the lowest of our priority calls.”

St. Johns County Commissioner says he’s done seeking mask mandate on his own” via Sheldon Gardner of the St. Augustine Record — After unsuccessful attempts to get a countywide mask mandate, Commissioner Henry Dean said he won’t try again — but he will support any other Commissioner who tries to get a mandate implemented, he said. Dean said it’s clear that it’s “futile” for him to keep making the motion when he doesn’t have support from other commissioners to get it done. “I would hope that one of my fellow commissioners would make that motion now or in the future,” he said.

St. Johns County Commissioner Henry Dean is done seeking a countywide mask mandate.

Most Bay County students set to attend classes in brick and mortar schools starting next week despite COVID-19 pandemic” via Tony Mixon of the Panama City News-Herald — Most Bay County parents still plan to send their children to brick and mortar schools when classes begin next week despite the ongoing pandemic, enrollment numbers show. The reopening process has been a roller-coaster ride for parents and Bay District Schools. The district continues to try to provide as many options as possible for students and parents so they can make the best decisions for themselves to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, current enrollment numbers show many parents are opting for their children to attend brick and mortar schools starting Aug. 20. Out of 25,422 total students, including charter schools, 20,392 students are set to attend physical classrooms.

Century prison sees more than 450 new COVID-19 cases over weekend” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News Journal — The Century Correctional Institution has become a hotspot for COVID-19, with positive cases among inmates increasing by 455 over the weekend. The number of COVID-19 positive inmates in the Century prison spiked from 140 on Friday to 595 as of Monday after the Florida Department of Corrections conducted more than 1,100 tests last week at the prison. As of Monday, there were 374 tests still pending at the prison. So far, tests conducted at the prison are returning a positivity rate of 51.4%. The prison reports that 554 inmates are in medical quarantine and three are in medical isolation. The Century Correctional Institution has an inmate capacity of 1,345. Additionally, the prison has 26 staff members who have tested positive for the virus. No deaths have been reported at the prison in Century.

North Florida Fair canceled because of COVID-19 pandemic” via TaMaryn Waters of the Tallahassee Democrat — The 79th annual North Florida Fair will not take place in the fall as planned because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Slated for Nov. 5-15, the longtime event draws crowds of as many as 120,000 over its entire run, depending on the weather. It typically has 80 food vendors, including 40 to 50 retail vendors, according to fair representatives. The North Florida Fair now joins the growing number of local signature events that have been canceled as a result of the coronavirus, including Springtime Tallahassee and the Chain of Parks Arts Festival in the spring. “Canceling this year’s fair was a difficult decision, and we realize many people look forward to coming each year,” said Mark Harvey, executive director of the North Florida Fair, in a statement.

— CORONA NATION —

The true coronavirus toll in the U.S. has already surpassed 200,000” via Denise Lu of The New York Times — Nationwide, 200,000 more people have died than usual since March. This number is about 60,000 higher than the number of deaths that have been directly linked to the coronavirus. When the coronavirus first took hold in the United States in March, the bulk of deaths above normal levels, or “excess deaths,” were in the Northeast, as New York and New Jersey saw huge surges. That suggests that the official death counts may be substantially underestimating the overall effects of the virus.

Accuracy of U.S. coronavirus data thrown into question as decline in testing skews drop in new cases” via Will Feuer and Nate Rattner of CNBC — For the first time in months, the daily growth of new coronavirus cases in the U.S. has steadily fallen over the past two weeks, giving some hope to U.S. officials who proclaimed there were “signs of progress” in Southern states that were hit particularly hard. But testing shortages in key states and other gaps in COVID-19 data call into question the accuracy of those numbers and whether the outbreak in the U.S. is really improving or whether cases are simply going undiagnosed, epidemiologists say. The country recorded an average of 52,875 new cases every day over the last seven days, down 19% from an average of 65,285 new cases per day on July 28, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. However, COVID-19 testing has declined as well, falling from a seven-day average of about 814,000 tests per day two weeks ago to about 716,000, a 12% decline.

Testing shortages in key states and other gaps in COVID-19 data call into question the accuracy of new case numbers and whether the outbreak in the U.S. Is actually dropping. Image via CNBC.

The next unprecedented vaccine hurdle: Making hundreds of millions of doses” via Zachary Brennan of POLITICO — Some experimental vaccines use technology that has never before reached the market, so there is no precedent for producing hundreds of millions of doses. Other potential bottlenecks include a global sand shortage that could throttle the production of glass vials, and limited supplies of chemicals called adjuvants that are sometimes used to boost a vaccine’s ability to provoke an immune response. Adding to the difficulty, several of the vaccines now in late-stage trials require two doses per person — doubling the manufacturing need. If the approach succeeds, it could hasten the end of a pandemic. But the strategy has never been tested at this scale, and officials are still trying to figure out how to make it work.

Companies test antibody drugs to treat, prevent COVID-19” via Marilynn Marchione of The Associated Press — With a coronavirus vaccine still months off, companies are rushing to test what may be the next best thing: drugs that deliver antibodies to fight the virus right away, without having to train the immune system to make them. Antibodies are proteins the body makes when an infection occurs; they attach to a virus and help it be eliminated. Vaccines work by tricking the body into thinking there’s an infection so it makes antibodies and remembers how to do that if the real bug turns up. But it can take a month or two after vaccination or infection for the most effective antibodies to form. The experimental drugs shortcut that process by giving concentrated versions of specific ones that worked best against the coronavirus in lab and animal tests.

— CORONA ECONOMICS — 

To brink and back in 175 days: S&P 500 briefly tops record close” via Vildana Hajric, Lu Wang, and Claire Ballentine of Bloomberg — The S&P 500 popped above its highest-ever closing level, and stands poised to erase its bear-market plunge in record time. But as stirring as the recovery has been, it’s also a case study in how stock benchmarks can be misleading when it comes to the experience of investors at large. It took just 175 days for the index to go from peak to trough to peak, a recovery that has come faster than any comparable one in the past. The previous 12 cycles that saw stocks recover from a drop of at least 20% took an average of four years. Since bottoming in March, the S&P 500 has risen about 50%, with more than 40 of its members doubling. More than $12 trillion dollars of share value that vanished is now all but restored.

Derailment of small business rescue clouds U.S. recovery” via Zachary Warmbrodt of POLITICO Florida — The Paycheck Protection Program, which has kept millions of small businesses afloat during the pandemic, is in limbo, creating a new source of uncertainty for the country’s economic recovery. The collapse of pandemic relief negotiations has brought complications for the massive emergency lending program, which shut down on Saturday to new loans after doling out more than $520 billion in funds, leaving banks and borrowers unsure of how to proceed with a key phase of the rescue. Before talks between congressional Democrats and the White House fell apart, there was clear bipartisan support emerging for revamping the program, which offers government-backed small business loans that can be forgiven if employers maintain their payroll. One major revision would make it easier to convert the smallest loans into outright grants, making life easier for both borrowers and lenders.

The collapse of negotiations for the next phase of coronavirus relief is bringing complications to the massive Paycheck Protection Program.

Report: Hospitality economy hurting most, by far” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Not surprising to Florida a new report says the leisure and hospitality sector has by far been the hardest hit in the coronavirus crisis, accounting for a third of all the lost jobs nationally. The sector initially shed nearly half of its 17 million jobs nationally at the outset of the crisis in March and April. And while the situation has improved some as parts of the economy reopened, including theme parks, there still are more than 4.3 million leisure and hospitality jobs that remain gone. That’s twice as many as in the next hardest-hit sector of the American economy, mining. That’s according to a new report prepared for the U.S. Travel Association by Tourism Economics. The reality is evident across Florida, where the latest figures showed a statewide unemployment rate of 10.4% for June, and particularly for the Orlando area, which posted a 16.5% unemployment rate.

Spike in Florida homeowners falling behind on mortgage payments” via Dave Bohman of WPTV — Thousands of Floridians who’ve recently lost their jobs now fear they’ll lose their homes. According to a leading real estate tracking firm, nearly one in 10 homeowners in the state are behind in their mortgage payments by 90 days or longer. “I have not been this nervous, worried or stressed out in my entire life,” said Delray Beach resident Susan Shear, who works for a travel agency. At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, her hours at work and her income were cut in half. She’s likely to miss many of her upcoming mortgage payments on her home. “Would I lose my house?” asked Shear. “That would be my biggest fear.” An analysis found a sharp rise in the number of homeowners falling behind in Florida. Florida has a moratorium on foreclosures for homeowners who fall behind on payments due to COVID-19.

Jacksonville-based Stein Mart files for bankruptcy; store closures coming” via Steve Patterson of The Florida Times-Union — Jacksonville-based retailer Stein Mart has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to remain in business “in the near term” but said Wednesday it will be closing a number of stores. “The company expects to close a significant portion, if not all, of its brick-and-mortar stores,” the company said, adding that it “has launched a store closing and liquidation process.” The closings will allow the company to continue to operate its business in the ordinary course in the near term, officials said. The company also is evaluating alternatives, including the potential sale of its e-commerce business and related intellectual property. In court filings Wednesday, the company said that both its assets and liabilities were worth between $500 million and $1 billion. The company said it had between 5,000 and 10,000 creditors.

The Jacksonville-based Stein Mart chain is filing for bankruptcy, another victim of COVID-19.

United adds Florida flights outside hubs in bet on getaway trips” via Justin Bachman of Bloomberg — United Airlines will bypass its hubs to debut nonstop flights from seven cities to Florida in November, betting that the coronavirus pandemic won’t disrupt typical travel patterns for winter-weary northerners. The carrier believes that shifts in demand wrought by COVID-19 require an “opportunistic” approach to grab leisure travel, a faint bright spot for an industry in which business and international traffic has virtually disappeared. U.S. air travel is about 75% below year-earlier levels. The non-hub flights are part of United’s effort to experiment in business planning, especially while the industry grapples with plunging revenue.

— MORE CORONA — 

The nation wanted to eat out again. Everyone has paid the price.” via Jennifer Steinhauer of The New York Times — Across the United States this summer, restaurants and bars, reeling from mandatory lockdowns and steep financial declines, opened their doors to customers, thousands of whom had been craving deep bowls of farro, frothy margaritas and juicy burgers smothered in glistening onions. But the short-term gains have led to broader losses. Data from states and cities show that many community outbreaks of the coronavirus this summer have centered on restaurants and bars, often the largest settings to infect Americans.

America wanted to eat out again. We are all now paying the price. Image via Facebook.

Grocery workers say morale is at an all-time low: ‘They don’t even treat us like humans anymore’” via Abha Bhattarai of The Washington Post — This spring, for the first time, Angel Manners found purpose and pride at the supermarket where she has worked the past decade. Customers praised her as a hero for putting herself at risk during the pandemic. Bosses boosted her hourly pay by $2. Suddenly, her job was essential. Nearly five months in, and it is all gone. “We’ve lost our hazard pay, and people are quitting every day,” said Manners, 43, who processes vendor deliveries at a Meijer store in northern Kentucky. “Those of us who are left are really stretched thin — working so much harder for $11.50 an hour.”

Pay promises, threats of jail. How Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line made crew work without wages” via Taylor Dolven of the Miami Herald — As crew members started to make it safely off Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line’s Grand Celebration ship in mid-April, stories about life on board surfaced on social media. Facebook and Instagram comments described how the company stopped paying working crew on board after it canceled passenger cruises on March 14 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 18, below an Instagram image of the company’s ship with a sunset in the background, came this plea for help: “Through this message, we want to ask for help on behalf of 8 Salvadorans stranded on the Grand Celebration cruise … We want to let you know and make it public that we are being forced to work without any remuneration, we have to buy our personal supplies … Help us.”

We love trucks during pandemic, but will it last?” via Ken Armstrong of The Gainesville Sun — The only time we stop to think who brings our stuff, though, is during a crisis: a pandemic, a hurricane, a fire. Professional truck drivers are the ones who deliver. Right now they are heroes because the food, gas, hand sanitizer and toilet paper for which we were desperate comes to us because those drivers are willing to put themselves at risk. According to July’s Mason-Dixon poll, Floridians have positive or very positive attitudes toward truck drivers during COVID-19 to the tune of 84%! The same 625 people surveyed were asked their opinions before the pandemic, and only 57% reported the same positive feelings. But wait. Weren’t the same trucking companies bringing all the things we needed before COVID-19 too? How do we account for the 27% swing? We need to change our minds about people in the trucking business. They are extremely well trained. Long-haul drivers or experienced diesel techs can frequently make more than $100,000 a year.

A rare economic bright spot in the U.S. health system: The vet’s office” via Sarah Kliff of The New York Times — The human health care system has struggled financially through the coronavirus pandemic, losing billions from the cancellations of lucrative elective operations as patients were first told to stay away from hospitals and then were leery of setting foot in one. The canine and feline health system, though, is booming. Animal hospitals appear to have pulled off something human hospitals have struggled to do: make patients feel comfortable seeking routine care. Most veterinarians are now requiring curbside service, owners drop their pet at the door, and wait outside during the appointment, lessening the risk of catching coronavirus. Their animal patients tend to be less susceptible to coronavirus, although not completely immune. Some pets have become infected, and last month the first dog in the United States to test positive for the virus died.

Big 12 Conference vows to continue with fall football season despite other Power Five cancellations” via Max Cohen of POLITICO — The Big 12 Conference on Wednesday announced that its fall sports season would go on, one day after the Big Ten and Pac-12 Conferences called off their 2020 plans amid the coronavirus pandemic. The issue of playing fall football took on a political dimension this week when Trump waded into the conflict. Trump threw his support behind the athlete-led “#WeWantToPlay” campaign and appeared on sports media outlets to rail against efforts to postpone the fall season. The Big 12’s commitment to play will come as a relief to many players, coaches and Republican officials, the last of which have been prominently pushing for the continuation of college football in 2020. The multimillion dollar college football industry received a massive blow on Tuesday when two of the Power Five conferences scrapped their fall seasons, citing the advice of health officials who warned against holding a season as the COVID-19 pandemic rages through the country.

Ohio State Football is canceled. Will Trump take the hit?” via Reid Epstein and Nick Corasaniti of The New York Times — The Big Ten Conference’s decision to cancel its football season reverberated this week across Ohio, where the Buckeyes’ football program looms larger than that of any of the state’s major league sports franchises. A pillar of autumn Saturdays will be missing. Dennis Kuchta, a 69-year-old retiree, whose son-in-law played on the offensive line for the Buckeyes, and others in this football-mad corner of the state were looking for someone to blame. “Trump just blew it,” Kuchta said.


— D.C. MATTERS —

U.S. budget deficit climbs to record $2.81 trillion” via The Associated Press — The U.S. budget deficit climbed to $2.81 trillion in the first 10 months of the budget year, exceeding any on record, the Treasury Department said. The nation’s budgetary shortfall is expected to eventually reach levels for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30 more than double the largest annual deficit on record. The federal government rang up a $63 billion deficit in July, the department reported. That’s a relatively modest amount compared to red ink that spilled in the spring months when the government tried to revive an economy that all but ground to a halt due to the coronavirus outbreak. Last month’s deficit was sharply lower than June’s $864 billion, in part because the government collected a record amount tax revenue in July, $563 billion, after extending the filing deadline to July 15. That extension allowed Americans more time to sort through the economic havoc wrought by the pandemic.

The U.S. budget deficit hits a record high.

‘That fight starts right away’: Brian Mast announces bill to prohibit toxic Lake O discharges” via Max Chesnes of the TCPalm — U.S. Rep. Mast, joined by local environmental champions from Friends of the Everglades and Captains for Clean Water, announced proposed legislation to prohibit the Army Corps of Engineers from discharging Lake Okeechobee water containing toxic algal blooms with 8 parts per billion microcystin or more to the St. Lucie estuary and Indian River Lagoon. “It is basic good governance that the federal government not poison people that they work for,” Mast told the crowd gathered at Flagler Park. “The government works for the people, not the other way around.” Mast said he plans to garner support for the bill in D.C. by emphasizing the everyday crossroads between the Treasure Coast community and its waterways.

Trump taps Kathryn Kimball Mizelle to serve as federal judge” via News Service of Florida staff reports — Trump announced that he will nominate Mizelle, an attorney with the Jones Day law firm, to serve as a federal judge in the Middle District of Florida. Mizelle’s previous positions included serving as a law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. An announcement from the White House did not list where Mizelle lives, but the Jones Day website indicates she practices in Miami and Washington, D.C. The Middle District of Florida is a massive area stretching from Fort Myers to Jacksonville and includes Orlando and Tampa. Mizelle’s appointment is subject to U.S. Senate confirmation.

— STATEWIDE —

Lawmakers, Donald Polmann on PSC shortlist” via Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida — DeSantis will choose from among three state lawmakers and an incumbent commissioner as he makes his first appointment to the Florida Public Service Commission. A nominating panel sent the names of four candidates to DeSantis: Sen. Tom Lee, Reps. Mike La Rosa and Holly Raschein, and PSC member Polmann, who is seeking reappointment to another four-year term on the utility-regulatory commission. Eight applicants initially sought appointment, but three withdrew before interviews by the Florida Public Service Commission Nominating Council. DeSantis will pick one of the four finalists for a seat that Polmann has held since January 2017 after being appointed by then-Gov. Rick Scott.

Sen. Tom Lee is on the shortlist of four names for a seat on Florida’s Public Service Commission. Image via News Service of Florida.

Transportation revenue takes a hit” via News Service of Florida staff — Pointing to issues such as the coronavirus pandemic, economists say Florida will collect about $1.5 billion less than expected in transportation-related revenues during the next several years. The economists, who meet as the Revenue Estimating Conference, said in a new report that the cumulative amount of money going into the State Transportation Trust Fund during a period ending in the 2025-2026 fiscal year would be $1.485 billion below earlier projections, or 5.7%. The largest hit will come during the current 2020-2021 fiscal year when revenues are expected to be $432.2 million below earlier projections.

Florida child’s mother shot and killed during online Zoom class as teacher watches” via Minyvonne Burke of NBC News — A Florida elementary school student was on Zoom for her first day of school when her mother was shot and killed during the online class, police said. The shooting happened Tuesday at a home in Indiantown, about 30 miles southwest of Port St. Lucie, just after 8 a.m. The suspect, Donald J. Williams, was taken into custody that same day and faces charges of first-degree murder as well as other felony offenses, Martin County Sheriff William Snyder said. Six children were in the home at the time of the shooting, including a 10-year-old girl who was taking an online class for Warfield Elementary. Many schools around the country have opted for online lessons due to the coronavirus pandemic. Snyder said at a news conference on Tuesday that the girl’s teacher witnessed the child reacting to the shooting.

Oldsmar Vice Mayor charged with DUI after 3-car pileup” via Tampa Bay 10 — Oldsmar Vice Mayor Linda Norris has been arrested and charged with driving under the influence and refusing to submit to a Breathalyzer test. The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said she drove recklessly and caused a three-car pileup around 10:30 a.m. Wednesday in Oldsmar. According to law enforcement, a witness called 911 after seeing a red Tesla driving erratically on Hillsborough Avenue and rear-ending another car, causing that car to rear-end the one in front of it. Deputies say they asked the Tesla driver, identified as Norris, to step out of the car. “They immediately noticed she was slurring her words and her movements appeared unstable. Deputies asked her where she was going and where she came from but said Norris was unable to provide a clear answer,” the sheriff’s office wrote in a news release.

Oldsmar Vice-Mayor Linda Norris was arrested and charged with DUI after a 3-car pileup.

Another ugly headline? Time for Osceola clerk Armando Ramirez to go” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — I don’t often make endorsements. But I do sometimes share who I think doesn’t deserve your vote. Today is one of those days. Good people of Osceola County, you need a new clerk of court. Ramirez’s tenure in office started stinking shortly after he took office in 2013 and has only gotten stinkier since. Don’t take it from me. Just take a peek at a sampling of the headlines generated by the 85-year-old Democrat during his first two terms in office. “Osceola clerk promotes son’s girlfriend as new chief deputy” … “New clerk in Osceola: I’ll pay my $7,000 debt” … “Osceola clerk finance chief quits, rips Ramirez” … “Fired attorney warned clerk against breaking law.”

Personnel note: James Kotas joins Vertex PharmaceuticalsKotas is the new assistant director of government affairs at Vertex Pharmaceuticals. Kotas joins the company from the Agency for Health Care Administration, where he has worked as the deputy chief of staff since January 2019. It’s not his first foray into government affairs — before AHCA, Kotas held high-level positions at Darden and FCCI Insurance Group. He has also worked on the other side of The Process, serving as chief of staff to Sen. Aaron Bean and Rep. Dana Young when she served in House leadership.

— TOP OPINION —

Sheriff Gregory Tony’s shameful use of N-word on live TV” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel Editorial Board — Next Tuesday’s primary election features the most diverse field of candidates in Broward history. On the ballot, Broward Democrats will nominate the county’s 18th sheriff. The winner faces the huge challenge of restoring pride in an agency distracted by an ugly political campaign while dealing with a pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. The Democratic nominee could well be Sheriff Tony, whose idea of leadership includes saying the N-word on live TV. He did it to describe how that word was used against him by a paid operative for Scott Israel, his opponent. Israel parted ways with operative Terry Scott after he went on Facebook Live last month and called Tony a “house n—-r.”

— OPINIONS —

It’s way too soon to count Trump out” via Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight — While the polls have been stable so far this year, it’s still only August. The debates and the conventions have yet to occur. Biden only named his running mate yesterday. And the campaign is being conducted amid a pandemic the likes of which the United States has not seen in more than 100 years, which is also causing an unprecedented and volatile economy. Nor has it been that uncommon, historically, for polls to shift fairly radically from mid-August until Election Day. Furthermore, there are some reasons to think the election will tighten, and Trump is likely to have an advantage in a close election because of the Electoral College.

Trump backers’ dizzying response to Harris’s selection” via Aaron Blake of The Washington Post — Shortly after 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Biden’s campaign announced Harris as his running mate. Around exactly the same time, though, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said something quite different. “Kamala Harris’ extreme positions … show that the left-wing mob is controlling Biden’s candidacy, just like they would control him as president,” McDaniel said in a statement. But by late that evening, the RNC was back to making a very different case. “Liberals revolt against Biden, Harris ticket,” an RNC news release said. It pointed to Bernie Sanders supporters and others who attacked Harris as insufficiently progressive. Many Republicans have offered mixed messages by also suggesting she is a disappointment to Sanders supporters and even a tool of Wall Street.

Opportunity Zones makes economic prosperity a reality in Fort Myers” via Ben Carson with the News-Press — Over the last three years, Trump and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have been working hard to bring economic prosperity and affordable housing to America’s forgotten neighborhoods. No program has generated more success toward these efforts than the President’s Opportunity Zone Initiative. In 2017, Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which established Opportunity Zones to incentivize long-term investments in low-income communities nationwide. These incentives offer capital gains tax relief to investors for new investment in designated Opportunity Zones. Since that momentous day, Opportunity Zones have driven over $75 billion in new investments. These new investments will lift approximately one million Americans from poverty, decreasing the poverty rate in Opportunity Zones by 11%.

Eddie Farah: Waiving COVID-19 liability protects special interests, not people” via Florida Politics — Imagine you or a family member became sick with COVID-19 because a business didn’t bother to follow expert advice about best practices for health and safety requirements — because they knew there was nothing you could do about it. That scenario is exactly what the future could look like for millions of Floridians — if special interests enact their priority to protect themselves instead of the public’s interest. Big businesses and industries are already making active moves to persuade the Florida Legislature to issue a massive and undeserved liability security blanket to protect them from lawsuits related to COVID-19. Before it’s too late, let’s stop a terrible idea from becoming a bad legislative bill that could ultimately become a very dangerous law.

— TODAY’S SUNRISE —

The Florida Department of Health is reporting 213 new COVID-19 fatalities in the state.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— Early voting is underway in most of Florida — but not everywhere. Voting rights advocates say that’s a problem and they’re asking the Gov. DeSantis to make it easier for people to vote early during the November election.

— The COVID-19 crisis is hitting veterans hard, and Florida is No. 3 in the nation for the number of residents who are vets. Sunrise investigates the problem with the woman who quite literally wrote the book on health care for vets.

— The Public Service Commission nominating council has selected four finalists for a seat on the Public Service Commission. Three of them are state lawmakers, the 4th is already on the PSC and wants another four-year term.

— Checking-in with a Florida Man who hit the wrong car after running a red light in Seffner.

To listen, click on the image below:

— INSTAGRAM OF THE DAY —

— ALOE —

Disney’s CEO is scrapping once-sacred businesses” via Christopher Palmeri of Bloomberg — When Walt Disney Co. announced that it had closed more than 20 foreign TV channels last week, Chief Executive Officer Bob Chapek looked like he was taking the knife to a big chunk of the company’s international audience. The move would have been unthinkable a few years ago. But Chapek, less than six months after succeeding longtime CEO Bob Iger, is using the COVID-19 crisis to transform Disney much faster than expected, all with an eye toward making the company an online juggernaut that reaches far more people worldwide. Besides scrapping the networks, he shut down a musical version of the animated film “Frozen” that opened with much fanfare on Broadway two years ago, closed a chain of English-language schools in China, and scaled back a $1 billion resort-technology project that has largely been replaced by a simple mobile phone app.

Masters Tournament to be played with no spectators” via Garry Smits of The Florida Times-Union — The Augusta National patrons, knowledgeable, vocal and emotional in their embrace of great shots and great champions at the Masters, won’t be a part of the 2020 tournament. Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley announced on Wednesday that the tournament, already delayed to Nov. 12-15 because of the coronavirus pandemic, will take place without the patrons or guests on the grounds for the first time since the tournament began in 1934. It was the final golf tournament of 2020 in which there were hopes of admitting fans. The U.S. Open Sept. 17-20 at Winged Foot and the remaining PGA Tour events had already announced spectators would not be allowed.

I love herSarah Cooper, comedian known for viral Trump lip-syncs, lands Netflix special” via Orion Rummler of Axios — Cooper, best known for her viral lip-sync impersonations of Trump on TikTok, will star in a Netflix comedy special in fall 2020, the company announced Wednesday. Cooper, who wrote a pair of bestselling books before her internet fame, has seen her platform grow to over 500,000 followers on TikTok and over two million on Twitter, according to Netflix. One of Cooper’s most-watched impersonations of the president lip-synced his suggestion that disinfectants could be used to treat the coronavirus, which he later claimed was sarcastic.

Comedian Sarah Cooper turned her popular TikTok account into a new Netflix special. Image via Netflix.

Sachs Media Group helping students become ‘COVID Health Heroes’ — Comic book blockbusters may be on hold, but that leaves room for some new heroes to shine. Sachs Media Group is helping develop the next batch of superheroes with a new campaign encouraging Florida students to take simple actions known to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The “COVID Health Heroes” campaign emphasizes behaviors like wearing a mask, staying six feet apart and coughing into an elbow instead of a hand. Sachs Media Group President Michelle Ubben came up with the idea while serving on the task force advising Leon County Schools about how to reopen as safely as possible. Leon County students aren’t the only ones who will benefit, however — Sachs Media Group has made the campaign materials available to school districts throughout the state. 

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Best wishes to Erika Donalds.

___

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

Written By

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

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

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
Email: Peter@FloridaPolitics.com
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

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