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Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 12.3.20

Don’t miss your first look at stories driving today’s agenda in Florida politics.

On Tuesday, the races to lead Florida’s political parties kicked into gear.

Most notably, former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz launched his race to chair the Florida Democratic Party and replace beleaguered leader Terrie Rizzo. He’s the first contender to announce and will likely become the heavy favorite.

Should Diaz take over the FDP, he pledged an increase in year-round voter engagement and grassroots organizing.

“That’s how we as Florida Democrats start winning statewide and local elections again, and those two core concepts encompass my vision for how we successfully rebuild our state party,” he wrote in a letter to party voters. “One county and one precinct at a time, with no one left behind or taken for granted.”

If he decides to run, former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz is the likely leader in the race to chair the FDP.

As for competition, Rizzo hasn’t decided if she will seek another term, but after a poor electoral showing for state Democrats, it’s doubtful. Other rumored names include Orange County chair Wes Hodge, former Democratic National Committee member Nikki Barnes, former Rep. Adam Hattersley, former Lieutenant Governor nominee Chris King and Democratic Environmental Caucus chair Janelle Christensen.

On the GOP side, Republican Party of Florida Chair Joe Gruters made clear last week he’s seeking a second term, riding particularly high after winning the state for Donald Trump and picking up seats in both Congress and the Florida Legislature. But an email blast from Lee County State Committeeman Matt Caldwell made clear Gruters won’t make it through without a challenge.

While Caldwell didn’t outright declare he will run, he rattled off a list of reasons who Gruters shouldn’t remain on the job, including the challenges of leading the Party and serving in the Senate. Most notably, he suggested the apparent friction between Gruters and Gov. Ron DeSantis would be disqualifying.

“Whoever steers the helm of the Party for the 2022 cycle must have the support of our statewide Republican officials who will be running for reelection,” Caldwell wrote.

Caldwell also made clear he’s still sore at the Party since losing Agriculture Commissioner in 2018 by less than 7,000 votes. That predates Gruters, but Caldwell shared ideas about how better coordination would help the RPOF. With that, it appears likely Caldwell will jump into the race, which may also feature Leon County Chair Evan Power.

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Tony Carvajal has been appointed as the new executive vice president of Florida TaxWatch, the nonpartisan watchdog announced Wednesday.

“Tony is a proven leader whose impressive experience and success across Florida’s nonprofit and business sectors will work to further propel the mission of Florida TaxWatch,” Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro said.

Carvajal’s resume includes several top posts in the nonprofit sector. Most recently, he took over as president and CEO of The Able Trust, an organization that helps people with disabilities find jobs. He worked to rehabilitate the organization after allegations that the prior regime had misused funds.

Tony Carvajal gets a new gig as executive vice president of Florida TaxWatch.

Before that, he served as executive vice president of the Florida Chamber Foundation. And since 2000, he has also served as the “Prime Mover, Problem-Solver & Calmer of Chaos” at Carvajal Consulting and Management. 

Carvajal replaces Robert Weissert, who moves to Washington, D.C. to pursue the next chapter of his career.

Carvajal’s appointment was one of many staffing changes FTW announced Wednesday.

New hires include chief growth and strategy officer Carolyn Gosselin, director of investor relations Tanya Bechtold, and digital content manager Kat Dunn. FTW also moved Kurt Wenner, Bob Nave and Chris Barry up the ladder.

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St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce is holding its Quarterly Economic Development Breakfast on Friday, and Matt Dixon and I are headlining.

We’ll be discussing what Florida’s political landscape will look like in 2021 alongside Chamber Public Policy Committee Chair Beth Sweeny.

Want to know what’s on the horizon — or at least an educated guess? There are a few tickets left in the virtual audience. Registration is available at the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce website.

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Now that Thanksgiving is over, it’s officially the Christmas season.

That means lights on the roof, stockings tacked to the mantle, presents under the tree, and, of course, Christmas music blaring from stereos and smart speakers.

Whether you’re a fan of the Bing Crosby-era classics or something a little newer, there’s no shortage of Christmas playlists on Spotify and Amazon Music.

Old or new, a Christmas music set-list for those in The Process — celebrate in style.

However, there is one glaring omission — not a single playlist was made specifically for men and women in The Process.

Florida Politics is looking to change that, and you can help by telling us your favorite Christmas song (or songs), and if you are so inclined, tell us why it’s the best Christmas song out there.

We’ll take those suggestions and put together a list of the most-recommended songs soon, so everyone has a stellar soundtrack for the holidays.

Send your picks and ideas to peter@floridapolitics.com.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@RealDonaldTrump: Section 230, which is a liability shielding gift from the U.S. to “Big Tech” (the only companies in America that have it — corporate welfare!), is a serious threat to our National Security & Election Integrity. Our Country can never be safe & secure if we allow it to stand … Therefore, if the very dangerous & unfair Section 230 is not completely terminated as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), I will be forced to unequivocally VETO the Bill when sent to the very beautiful Resolute desk. Take back America NOW. Thank you!

@AaronPBean: In what will be a challenging year, I am thankful for the trust placed in me by President @WiltonSimpson. Proud of my friend Senator @kellistargel and look forward to working together for the citizens of the great state of Florida!

@RepMichaelWaltz: Florida’s home to @NASAKennedy & innovation from companies like @SpaceX & @blueorigin. Coupled with our rich space history, Florida is the perfect place for @SpaceForceDoD to call home. My colleagues & I are looking forward to making the case for #SPACECOMtoSpaceCoast!

@TroyKinsey: In the address, @GovRonDeSantis echoes his earlier assertion that vaccination will be a “choice,” saying “no one will be mandated to take the vaccine.” State law gives the FL surgeon general-a gubernatorial appointee-authority to order vaccinations during pub health emergencies.

@CarlosGSmith: 2,650 Americans dead from COVID just today. Let that sink in. Unless we do something different, we’ll see on average 3,000 dead every single day in a matter of weeks or sooner. That’s like a 9/11 happening every day.

Tweet, tweet:

@AnnaForFlorida: To all of those who value government transparency: #PPP database has been updated to include government payments that were less than $150,000. Good to see what political consultants/parties might have gotten money from this highly unregulated system.

— DAYS UNTIL —

Florida Chamber Foundation’s virtual Transportation, Growth and Infrastructure Solution Summit begins — 5; the Electoral College votes — 11; “Death on the Nile” premieres — 14; NBA 2020-21 opening night — 19; “The Midnight Sky” with George Clooney premieres on Netflix — 20; “Wonder Woman 1984” rescheduled premiere — 22; Pixar’s “Soul” premiere (rescheduled for Disney+) — 22; Greyhound racing ends in Florida — 28; Georgia U.S. Senate runoff elections — 33; the 2021 Inauguration — 48; Super Bowl LV in Tampa — 66; Daytona 500 — 73; “A Quiet Place Part II” rescheduled premiere — 77; “Black Widow” rescheduled premiere — 91; “No Time to Die” premieres (rescheduled) — 120; Children’s Gasparilla — 128; Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest — 135; “Top Gun: Maverick” rescheduled premiere — 211; Disney’s “Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings” premieres — 218; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 232; “Jungle Cruise” premieres — 240; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 264; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 334; Disney’s “Eternals” premieres — 337; “Spider-Man Far From Home” sequel premieres — 340; Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” premieres — 372; “Thor: Love and Thunder” premieres — 436; “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” premieres — 489; “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” sequel premieres — 670.

— DATELINE TALLAHASSEE —

Happening today — The trade group Associated Industries of Florida starts a two-day conference, featuring Senate President Simpson, House Speaker Chris Sprowls and other lawmakers, 9 a.m., JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes, 4040 Central Florida Parkway, Orlando.

Tampa Bay lawmaker to chair Florida Senate pandemic panel” via Jim Turner of the Tampa Bay Times — A new state Senate committee will review Florida’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and plan for future emergencies, Simpson announced Wednesday as he made more leadership appointments for next two years. The Trilby Republican named Sen. Danny Burgess to chair the Select Committee on Pandemic Preparedness and Response. Burgess was elected to the Senate in November after a stint as executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs. “The select committee will review all facets of the state response to the ongoing pandemic, and identify, as necessary, areas where there may be a specific role for the Legislature to make improvements to benefit our state moving forward,” Simpson said in a memo to senators.

Congratulations to Danny Burgess, newly named chair of the Select Committee on Pandemic Preparedness and Response.

Happening today — Florida House Rules Chair Paul Renner will participate in a virtual event hosted by the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce, which will address business issues lawmakers face in 2021. Also, on the schedule is Florida Chamber Executive Vice President David Hart and Jack Howard, who serves as senior vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 3:30 p.m. For more information and livestreaming, visit members.daytonachamber.com/events.

Matt Willhite bill would expand patients’ access to prescription drugs following hospital release” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Rep. Willhite, a Wellington Democrat, is once again filing legislation aimed at providing prescription drugs to hospital patients even after they’ve been discharged. The legislation gives hospitals the authority to continue dispensing prescription drugs to patients for up to 48 hours. That period will be extended if a patient is released during a holiday period. “Imagine leaving a hospital at 2 a.m., and there isn’t a pharmacy open to fill your prescription,” Willhite explained in a statement announcing the legislation. The legislation, appropriately titled “Dispensing Medical Drugs,” would go into effect on July 1, 2021, should it be successful during next year’s Legislative Session and be signed into law.

Amber Mariano, Michele Rayner ready for 2022 races” via News Service of Florida — Fresh off wins in this year’s elections, Republican Mariano and Democrat Rayner are planning to run again in 2022 for Florida House seats. According to the state Division of Elections website, Mariano of Hudson and Rayner of St. Petersburg each opened campaign accounts this week as the first step in their reelection bids. Mariano, who was first elected to the House in 2016, captured 63.4% of the vote as she won another term on Nov. 3 in HD 36. Meanwhile, Rayner won an open seat by defeating three other candidates in the August Democratic primary in HD 70.

Former Reps. Dwight Bullard, Cindy Polo call for Anthony Sabatini’s resignation” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Former Democratic Reps. Bullard and Polo say controversial Republican Rep. Sabatini should resign from office, and they’re asking GOP leadership to force Sabatini’s hand. “Everything we’ve known about our rights and protections will need to be addressed this upcoming Session, and we can’t allow bigoted lawmakers to apply their biases to this important legislation,” Bullard said. Wednesday’s call participants highlighted several of his more controversial moments, from a photo of Sabatini in blackface during his high school days to a recent tweet suggesting Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse should run for Congress.

Calls for Anthony Sabatini’s resignation are growing. Image via Bay News 9.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

Ron DeSantis shares vision for COVID-19 vaccine distribution” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — As pharmaceutical companies inch closer to FDA approval, DeSantis shared his vision for who will first receive the COVID-19 vaccination in Florida. In a three-minute video, the Governor said Florida would prioritize its most vulnerable residents. He cautioned that no state would have vaccines available for everyone “off the bat.” “The top priority will be our residents of our long-term care facilities,” DeSantis said. “They are at the greatest risk, and this vaccine could have a tremendously positive impact on them.” He said that health care workers and those in high risk and “high contact environments” will be next in line. After that, those 65 and older will be eligible.

Ron DeSantis shares his intentions for the upcoming COVID-19 vaccine.

Inmate COVID-19 deaths up to 189” via The News Service of Florida — Two additional deaths were listed on the state Department of Corrections website. Since the start of the pandemic, 17,021 inmates and 3,845 corrections workers have tested positive for COVID-19. As of Wednesday, 420 inmates were in medical isolation — with 316 of those at Walton Correctional Institution in the Panhandle. Meanwhile, 93% of the corrections workers who tested positive have been cleared to return to their jobs. Information on the state Department of Health website shows that at least 42 inmate deaths have been linked to the Reception and Medical Center in Union County. At least 21 have been linked to the South Florida Reception Center in Miami-Dade County at least 14 have been linked to Union Correctional Institution.

— CORONA LOCAL — 

South Florida adds more than 3,800 new COVID-19 cases as positivity rates tick back up” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — After experiencing a drop toward the end of November, COVID-19 positivity rates are now showing a week-to-week increase in all three major South Florida counties. Whether this is just a blip in the data or the beginning of a new trend remains to be seen. But experts have warned last week’s Thanksgiving gathering could serve as a way to accelerate the virus’s spread. But in the most recent week-to-week period, Miami-Dade’s positivity rate has ticked back up by 0.7 points. Broward County saw a 0.4-point increase. Palm Beach’s increase is less sharp, rising by less than one-tenth of a point.

COVID outbreak in City Hall: West Miami shut down offices after virus spreads in staff” via Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald — A COVID-19 outbreak forced West Miami to close its small City Hall on Wednesday, after some of the office staff tested positive for the virus. In a village best known as Sen. Marco Rubio’s political launchpad, COVID has sidelined the elected leadership. City Manager Yolanda Aguilar said the Mayor and commissioners are home out of concern about possible exposure from city staff. “The elected officials are isolating,” she said. West Miami’s mini COVID outbreak — Aguilar and six employees in the finance and administration division tested positive, she said — is a sign of strain as Miami-Dade faces its third significant spike in coronavirus cases since the pandemic emergency began in March.

West Miami City Hall was shut down due to rampant COVID-19 among staff. Image via AP.

Tampa to give out free face masks as COVID-19 numbers rise” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — The city of Tampa will distribute 355,000 free face masks starting Thursday to reduce the spread of COIVD-19. The city plans to pass out the face coverings at four different park locations Thursday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Residents can pick up two coverings per person. “The continued use of face coverings is critical to flattening the curve of COVID-19 in our community,” Mayor Jane Castor said in a news release. The city is also allowing businesses to request to pick up the necessary quantities of face coverings for staff and customers. 

USF, Tampa General selected for Novavax coronavirus vaccine trial” via Megan Reeves of the Tampa Bay Times — USF and Tampa General Hospital have been selected to conduct clinical trial testing of the Novavax vaccine for COVID-19, the school announced. They join more than 100 other research sites globally that will collectively enroll at least 30,000 participants, including more than 250 in Tampa Bay. The study will assess the efficacy and safety of NVX-CoV2373, an investigational vaccine that has shown promise in increasing patients’ immune response to the virus. Enrollment will begin in the next few weeks, USF said, just as it’s wrapped up in the United Kingdom.

—“Central Florida COVID-19 infections continue steady pace” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics

Central Florida drug OD deaths up 70% during COVID, report shows” via Kate Santich of the Orlando Sentinel — During the height of the COVID-19 lockdown, drug overdose deaths rose a staggering 70% in Central Florida compared with the same time a year earlier, and a continuing deadly trend is projected through 2020 as the pandemic breeds further isolation, despair, depression and anxiety, a newly released analysis concludes. It also found an unprecedented 43% spike in drug overdose deaths statewide in the first eight months of 2020 compared with the same time a year earlier. “This is an epidemic inside a pandemic,” said Andrae Bailey, founder and CEO of Orlando-based Project Opioid, a nonprofit coalition of government, business, and faith leaders that led the analysis.

Osceola students must show decent grades, good attendance to continue online learning” via Leslie Postal of the Orlando Sentinel — Osceola County students who have been studying online will need to return to campus in January if they earned Ds and Fs, had poor attendance, or posted low test scores during the first semester. The new rule, which the school district announced late Tuesday, has some wiggle room, though that isn’t being advertised. Superintendent Debra Pace said that under a new state education order announced Monday, the district cannot require children to attend face-to-face classes if their parents object because of the coronavirus pandemic. But the district will strongly encourage it because too many students studying online are disengaged and struggling academically.

John Thrasher takes on pandemic, campus carry, racism in his final State of the University address” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — In his final State of the University address, Thrasher recalled the challenges the campus has faced and the growth undergone in his more than six years leading the university. “It’s an honor and a privilege to deliver what will be, I promise, my last State of the University address,” Thrasher said, opening his speech to the Faculty Senate Wednesday. Beginning with the shooting at Strozier Library that occurred days into his presidency, Thrasher remembered some of the hardships in that time, including three hurricanes and students and faculty members’ loss to gun violence and accidents. Those challenges have prepared the school for the COVID-19 pandemic, he told faculty members.

FSU President John Thrasher gives what he promises to be his last state of the University address. Image via FSU.

—”Jacksonville confirms 8 new COVID-19 deaths” via Drew Dixon of Florida Politics 

Duval adds 519 COVID-19 infections as state experiences nearly 10,000 new diagnoses” via Steve Patterson of The Florida Times-Union — Another 519 COVID-19 infections and eight deaths in Duval County were recorded Wednesday in the Florida Department of Health’s daily update of the coronavirus pandemic’s effects across the state. The new cases were part of a statewide jump of 9,994 cases, bringing Florida’s total number of infections since the pandemic started to 1,018,160. Across the six counties in Northeast Florida, the new data reflected another 12 deaths, bringing the area’s total to 1,029. Besides those in Duval County, two deaths were recorded in Putnam County and one each in Clay and St. Johns counties. Statewide, 18,776 deaths have been attributed to COVID-19.

— CORONA NATION —

U.S. tops ‘unfathomable’ milestone of 100,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations: ‘We’re all on edge’” via Will Feuer of CNBC — More than 100,000 people are currently in hospitals across the U.S. sick with COVID-19, as the pandemic pushes doctors, nurses and other health workers to their limits. The current number of hospitalized patients underscores the current phase of the U.S. outbreak’s scope and severity. Never before had the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients surpassed 60,000, according to data compiled by the COVID-19 Tracking Project, which is run by journalists at The Atlantic. In fact, Dr. Janis Orlowski, chief health care officer at the Association of American Medical Colleges, said in a phone interview with CNBC that she doesn’t recall any disease sickening so many Americans all at once ever before.

The U.S. faces an unprecedented rate of sickness, putting health officials on edge.

CDC says 2-week coronavirus quarantines can be cut to 10 or 7 days” via Joel Achenbach of The Washington Post — The standard 14-day coronavirus quarantines potentially can be shortened to 10 days or even seven, according to revised guidance issued Wednesday by the CDC to boost compliance with one of the most important tools for limiting the spread of the virus. The move reflects the agency’s recognition that the two-week quarantine rule is onerous for many people. Most public health benefits from quarantining people exposed to the virus can be gained with a more flexible approach. The CDC acknowledges that this new guidance involves a trade-off. The existing 14-day recommendation reflects the virus’s ability to incubate for a long period before symptoms appear.

Don’t expect full sports venues until the end of summer, Dr. Anthony Fauci says” via Frank Pastor of the Tampa Bay Times — While the Raptors have yet to decide whether fans will be permitted to attend games, it’s unlikely NBA teams will be able to host full-capacity crowds this season, Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said. Packed crowds at sports venues are one of “the last thing(s) that you’re gonna see” as the pandemic continues into 2021, Fauci told Yahoo! Sports’ Henry Bushnell in a phone interview. The short-term prognosis for Bucs’ capacity crowds, Lightning or early-season Rays games doesn’t sound any more promising, as approved vaccines may not be distributed to the general public until late spring or early summer.

Dr. Robert Redfield warns this winter may be ‘the most difficult time in the public health history’ of the U.S.” via Sheila Kaplan of The New York Times — The director of the CDC warned that the nation is facing a devastating winter, predicting that total deaths from COVID-19 could reach “close to 450,000” by February unless a large percentage of Americans follow precautions like mask-wearing. “The reality is, December and January and February are going to be rough times,” said Redfield, the head of the CDC, in an address to the Chamber of Commerce Foundation. “I actually believe they’re going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.” The CDC has been posting aggregate forecast models of the potential for a mounting death toll as the coronavirus outbreaks’ pace in various states has accelerated.

— CORONA ECONOMICS — 

PPP loans in Florida cost $31.9 billion and saved 3.3 million jobs” via Alex Daugherty, Rob Wile, and Bein Wieder of the Miami Herald — The Paycheck Protection Program meant to keep workers employed at small businesses during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic saved 3.3 million jobs in Florida. PPP, a program developed in part by Rubio, was part of a massive $2 trillion relief bill that became law in March. PPP was designed as a forgivable government loan to small businesses affected by the pandemic. The Small Business Administration released data in July that showed the program saved 3.2 million jobs in Florida. But the data released over the summer only included the names of loan recipients who got more than $150,000. 

Paycheck Protection Program loans, developed in part by Marco Rubio, saved more than 3 million Florida jobs. Image via AP.

Mask mandates can actually spur the economy — depending on who enforces it, study says” via Katie Camero of The Miami Herald — New research on preventive measures for COVID-19 found that mask mandates across the U.S. are not only effective at preventing new coronavirus infections but they also “persistently” promote economic activity. This, University of Utah researchers say, suggests that “policymakers do not face a trade-off between lives and livelihoods in combating COVID-19.” But there’s a catch. Only statewide mandates between April and September spurred the economy while also reducing COVID-19 case growth. In contrast, county-level mandates in the same time period accomplished the opposite when it came to spending.

— MORE CORONA —

Europe’s schools still open, still relatively safe, through COVID-19 second wave” via Michael Birnbaum of The Washington Post — When European schools reopened their classrooms in the spring, some parents expressed concern their children were being used as “guinea pigs” in a dangerous experiment. But to the extent that European schools have acted as laboratories, the findings eight months later are largely positive. Most of Europe kept schools open even during a worst-on-the-planet second wave of infections this fall. And still, schools appear to be relatively safe environments, public health officials say. Though cases among students and teachers have risen along with overall viral levels, the rate at which the virus has been passed on within classrooms has stayed low and constant.

WHO chief says Mexico ‘in bad shape’ with coronavirus pandemic; CDC says avoid all travel” via The Associated Press — The CDC is urging Americans to avoid all travel to Mexico as the country grapples with rising COVID-19 deaths. The CDC has currently placed Mexico in the Level 4 risk category, the highest risk level for COVID-19. If anyone must travel to Mexico, the CDC recommends getting a viral test one to three days before traveling and before returning to the United States. The organization also says to wear a face mask during travel, says travelers should get tested three to five days after travel, and says travelers should stay home for seven days after travel. 

The WHO warns against travel to Mexico, which is struggling with rising COVID-19 deaths.

Olympic fans from abroad may have health tracked by app” via Stephen Wade of The Associated Press — A mobile app could be among the measures used to track the health of fans from abroad if they are permitted to attend next year’s Tokyo Olympics. An interim report on contingencies for holding the Tokyo Games was released. The portion concerning the app was leaked earlier in the day by Japanese newspaper Nikkei. It was met on social media by unhappy replies from Japanese citizens who fear the Olympics could jeopardize their health. Japan, with a population of 125 million, has controlled the virus better than most countries, with just over 2,100 deaths attributed to COVID-19. But Tokyo has seen record numbers of infections in recent weeks.

The Tokyo Olympics will feature a health tracking app for international visitors. Image via AP.


— PRESIDENTIAL —

Republicans cheer on a Donald Trump 2024 run” via Burgess Everet and Melanie Zanona of POLITICO — Congressional Republicans were slow to embrace Trump’s White House campaign in 2016. But the ousted President will have plenty of support on Capitol Hill should he run again in 2024. Trump is even getting cheered on publicly by some of the very Republicans who could seek higher office in the future. Even in defeat, Trump’s hold on the party remains strong. House and Senate Republicans made clear that the GOP has no intention of turning its back on Trumpism or Trump himself. That’s in part because Trump remains an exceedingly popular figure in his party, far more than most congressional Republicans.

Florida Republicans, including Rick Scott, are going all-in for a 2024 run for Donald Trump. Image via AP.

‘Stop the destructive rhetoric’: Pasco election chief rips Trump’s ‘baseless’ voting conspiracies” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times — Brian Corley, the Pasco County Supervisor of Elections and a Republican, issued a blistering condemnation on Wednesday of the “baseless claims and misinformation intent upon undermining the election results” that have emanated from his party in the last month. In a lengthy statement, Corley called on Americans to accept the results of “the most secure, transparent election in history.” As Corley made clear, that result is that Joe Biden is the President-elect and will be sworn into office on Jan. 20. “It’s time to stop the destructive rhetoric and to stop prioritizing politics at the expense of our country’s founding principles,” Corley said in the statement.

Can Trump pardon himself and his family?” via Byron Tau of The Wall Street Journal — As his term comes to an end, Trump is being urged by some supporters to consider pardons for close allies, family members, and even himself. Trump “needs to pardon his whole family and himself,” Fox News host Sean Hannity said this week on his radio show. Hannity said politically motivated investigations of Trump could occur when he is out of office and encouraged the President to use his constitutional powers to stop them. Trump has already pardoned his former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Here is a look at what else he can and can’t do with his pardon power.

— TRANSITION —

Joe Biden transition advisers emerge as top contenders to run COVID-19 response” via Amy Goldstein and Toluse Olorunnipa of The Washington Post — As Biden makes fighting the raging coronavirus his most-urgent mission when he takes office next month, two figures already playing central roles in his transition are emerging as the most likely possibilities to preside over the new White House’s pandemic response. One contender for Biden’s coronavirus coordinator, envisioned as a powerful role in setting the agenda and orchestrating the work of federal agencies, is Jeff Zients, a co-chairman of the Biden transition team who led the Barack Obama administration’s National Economic Council. Another is Vivek Murthy, a co-chair of the transition’s COVID-19 advisory board and a former U.S. Surgeon General.

Several Joe Biden advisers are emerging as top candidates to handle the pandemic response.

Jockeying for jobs: Tensions simmer inside Biden transition as new administration takes shape” via John Fritze and Courtney Subramanian of USA Today — Biden is rapidly assembling a team of Washington hands with deep experience, projecting an image of cohesion in contrast to the savage infighting often at play around Trump. But below the surface of his tightly scripted events, tensions simmer as factions within Biden’s decades-old orbit jockey for jobs, and outside figures grow increasingly vocal in questioning some of the early choices for top positions within the administration. Though the conflicts don’t break neatly along ideological lines, they underscore a broader challenge certain to become a defining theme of the next four years: whether the former Vice President, a centrist, can bridge the divide with liberals and a younger generation of aides who got their start under President Barack Obama.

Biden top economic adviser facing accusations of mismanagement, verbal abuse” via Alex Thompson and Theodoric Meyer — A former colleague of Heather Boushey, a top economic adviser to Biden, is publicly airing prior accusations that Boushey mismanaged the think tank she runs and verbally abused her and other subordinates, saying she wants to prevent future White House employees from enduring a similar experience. Claudia Sahm, a former director of macroeconomic policy at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, Boushey’s think tank, published an account of her and other former employees’ experiences working with Boushey on her personal website Tuesday night. After her experience, “I learned that Heather’s abusive behavior was a pattern.” The Biden transition team declined to comment or make Boushey available.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Biden, top Democrats swing behind bipartisan virus aid bill” via Andrew Taylor of The Associated Press — Biden swung behind a bipartisan COVID-19 relief effort Wednesday, and his top Capitol Hill allies cut their demands for a $2 trillion-plus measure by more than half in hopes of breaking a monthslong logjam and delivering much-sought aid as the tempestuous congressional session speeds to a close. Biden said the developing aid package “wouldn’t be the answer, but it would be the immediate help for a lot of things.” He wants a relief bill to pass Congress now, with more aid to come next year. Biden’s remarks followed an announcement by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democrat leader Chuck Schumer to support an almost $1 trillion approach as the “basis” for discussions. 

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer signs off on nearly $1 billion in COVID-19 aid. Image via AP.

Are we at risk of a Christmas government shutdown?” via Amber Phillips of The Washington Post — Congressional budget watchers don’t think there will be a government shutdown when Congress’ short-term spending bill ends on Dec. 11. But there’s plenty of bad news for those who want stability in congressional spending and for the millions of Americans who need more money to fight the coronavirus and its economic impact. Even after a group of senators unveiled a bipartisan proposal for coronavirus stimulus, experts are pessimistic that Congress will agree before the holiday break on how to help Americans. Congress is so dysfunctional that it may not even pass a long-term spending bill to carry it to next fall. It may even fail for the first time in about 60 years to pass a defense-spending bill. 

Stephanie Murphy named Chief Deputy Whip — House Majority Whip James Clyburn appointed U.S. Rep. Murphy as a Chief Deputy Whip. In this role, Murphy will help Democrats better communicate with House leadership so that legislation that comes to the House floor reflects the views of the entire Democratic caucus. She will also get a seat on the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. “My focus since taking office has been on bringing people together to pass legislation that can be signed into law and help my constituents. Whip Clyburn is one of the most respected leaders in Congress, and I’m grateful for this elevated role within the House to help deliver bipartisan results for the American people,” Murphy said.

— STATEWIDE —

Ashley Moody says $2 million recovered for consumers” via The News Service of Florida — Attorney General Moody said the state had recovered the money after such things as price gouging and scams related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Moody’s office said it received about 5,300 contacts from consumers about prices of “essential commodities,” such as face masks and sanitizing supplies, which are covered by a state price-gouging law. It said it contacted merchants and online retailers about allegations of price gouging and other wrongdoing. “Our team is still assisting consumers with extreme price increases for commodities and services related to COVID-19,” Moody said. “We will continue to work diligently to stop those exploiting this health crisis to target Floridians.”

Unemployment taxes will go up for Florida businesses next year” via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel — Spurred by the spike in unemployment caused by the coronavirus pandemic, unemployment taxes paid by businesses will increase next year, according to the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Starting in January, businesses paying the minimum rate will owe $20.30 per employee, a $13.30 increase on the current rate. The maximum rate, usually paid by large businesses with a more frequent history of layoffs, remains at 5.4% of the first $7,000 in wages, or $378 per employee. The change is based on a complicated formula involving the state’s unemployment trust fund balance and the state’s annual payroll. Each employer has its own rate based on their history of layoffs.

Florida businesses are bracing for a jump in unemployment taxes. Image via AP.

Florida home insurance premiums set to rise amid hurricanes, lawsuits” via Trevor Fraser and Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel — Homeowners in Central Florida should be prepared to face higher property insurance rates next year, increases fueled by busy lawyers and record-setting hurricane seasons. Some insurance companies have asked the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation for increases of more than 30% in the coming year. While such skyrocketing costs were often felt in coastal cities, the insurance industry contends rising legal costs are spurring premium increases across the state. Alexis Bakofsky, director of communications for OIR, said the increases are the results of busy hurricane seasons combined with higher costs for reinsurance and litigation. “Unfortunately, these developments have presented challenges not only to our property industry but also to our consumers,” she said.

Blue Angels among leaders of newly approved specialty Florida license plates” via Richard Tribou of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The Legislature revamped the specialty license plate program for the first time in years, allowing for potentially 32 new tags to hit the roads if they have enough interest. Newly approved plates include designs for the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, whose home base is in Pensacola, and even a Walt Disney World plate that would raise funds for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. As of Dec. 1, the Blue Angels plate is more than one-third the way to getting its 3,000 required presales before the state will actually begin producing them. It leads the way with 1,250, followed by the Divine 9 plate for nine Black fraternities and sororities with 1,127.

— LOBBYING REGS —

New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Brian Ballard, Bradley Burleson, Ballard Partners: SOMA Global

Cynthia Henderson, Cynergy Consulting LLC: Florida Professional Vacation Rental Association & Kognito Solutions, LLC, c/o MultiState Associates Inc.

Dean Cannon, Kirk Pepper, Joseph Salzverg, GrayRobinson: JEA

— LOCAL NOTES —

School Board member accused of fraud; she says the claim is just politics” via Scott Travis of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — A newly elected Palm Beach County School Board member could face three separate investigations into whether she misled voters or her mortgage company about where she actually lives. Alexandria Ayala is the subject of complaints with the Department of State alleging election fraud and the FBI alleging mortgage fraud. A third complaint, filed with the state Ethics Commission, alleges Ayala understated her assets when she qualified to run. All three complaints were filed by political consultant Richard Giorgio, who represented Ayala’s opponent. In an email statement, Ayala said she lives in her district, and the allegations have no merit. “These complaints are nothing more than my opponent’s political consultant upset over another failed election effort,” she said.

‘Just politics’: Palm Beach County School Board member Alexandria Ayala shrugs accusations of election and mortgage fraud.

Private investigator sues Miami Herald reporter Julie K. Brown over Jeffrey Epstein book deal” via David Ovalle of the Miami Herald — A private investigator who spent years probing disgraced financier Epstein is suing Miami Herald reporter Brown, claiming she stiffed him out of money from lucrative book and TV deals stemming from her award-winning series, Perversion of Justice. Michael Fisten filed a claim in arbitration court, his lawyer said Wednesday, arguing that Brown violated a “collaboration agreement” they had struck to share proceeds from a book she was writing. According to the complaint, a few months after their agreement, Brown signed a $1 million contract with Harper Collins for her pending book on Epstein. Brown’s lawyer, Jeff Sonn, denies the investigator is owed anything from the HBO deal under the contract.

Court to hear ex-lawmaker’s appeal” via The News Service of Florida — An appeals court will hear oral arguments in a lawsuit that involves allegations former state Rep. Kimberly Daniels retaliated against a former aide who reported misconduct. The 1st District Court of Appeal scheduled the arguments for Jan. 5. Daniels, who lost a reelection bid in this year’s Democratic primary, went to the appeals court after Leon County Circuit Judge Kevin Carroll in March refused to dismiss the case. Former aide Karen Riggien filed the lawsuit against Daniels in July 2019, alleging that her First Amendment rights were violated when she suffered retaliation after reporting Daniels’ misconduct to the director of House administration. The alleged misconduct, in part, involved Daniels requiring Riggien to perform personal tasks for the then-lawmaker. 

Property Appraiser Rick Singh sues his office for legal fees, accuses PAC of libel” via Monivette Cordeiro of the Orlando Sentinel — Orange County Property Appraiser Singh sued his office Tuesday to pay for legal fees he incurred during a criminal probe and, in a separate lawsuit, accused a PAC of “character assassination” through mailers sent ahead of his loss in the Democratic primary. In a complaint filed in Orange County circuit court, Singh said he hired attorneys to defend him against “possible criminal charges” related to an FDLE investigation that recommended Singh be charged with 10 counts of official misconduct. The complaint does not say how much Singh is seeking in legal fees from his office, but it is seeking damages exceeding $30,000. Taxpayers have already footed the bill for about $500,000 to defend the property appraiser in civil court.

Universal Orlando settles lawsuit with tourist who broke his neck at Volcano Bay” via Gabrielle Rouson of the Orlando Sentinel — The New York tourist who broke his neck on a Volcano Bay waterslide in 2019 has settled his lawsuit against Universal, ending the litigation that revealed other guests were getting hurt on the same ride before the theme park closed and revised it. Court records indicate the lawsuit was resolved last month but don’t disclose the terms of the settlement. Universal and the injured man’s lawyer declined to comment Wednesday. In September, Judge Kevin Weiss ruled James Bowen was eligible for punitive damages since a jury could decide that Universal’s conduct “goes beyond ordinary negligence and quite possibly gross negligence.” Universal still faces other lawsuits involving injuries at Volcano Bay.

Hillsborough to let controversial PACE program expire as planned” via C.T. Bowen of the Tampa Bay Times — Hillsborough Commissioner Stacy White’s proposed lifeline to a controversial home-energy financing program turned out to be shorter than expected. White indicated last week he wanted to save the local version of the Property Assessed Clean Energy program, known as PACE. White said he proposed the resuscitation because “although we’ve heard some, frankly, absolute horror stories about the PACE program, there are still many out there that feel the program could have merit.” But he announced he had changed his mind. “Over the past 24 hours, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is just not ready for prime time,’’ White told the rest of the commission Wednesday afternoon.

Spending cuts in Hillsborough schools warranted, report says” via Marlene Sokol of the Tampa Bay Times — For years the Hillsborough County School District has been living beyond its means — to the tune of 3,000 excess jobs, and nearly $200 million in transfers from a capital fund to cover losses. These are among the findings in a professional report that largely validated the actions Superintendent Addison Davis has taken since he took over the large district in March, actions so unpopular, they inspired public protests and loud derision on the district’s social media. A team from the Council of the Great City Schools, a membership organization of large school districts, says the job cuts were necessary and that the district should do even more to align spending with resources.

Hillsborough School Superintendent Addison Davis has tough choices to make in the upcoming budget.

Pinellas County transit authority loses four veteran board members” via Caitlin Johnston of the Tampa Bay Times — Pinellas County’s transit authority recognized four board members Wednesday as terms ended for more than a quarter of the board. Three of those board members have served as chair of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority board at some point during their terms. Dunedin Commissioner Heather Gracy joined the transit board in 2018. Barkley, the outgoing chair, also served as the chair of the finance committee for many years. Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard is the incoming chair for the transit authority. St. Petersburg Council member Gina Driscoll will serve as the next vice-chair.

In USF budget dispute, faculty appeals directly to board of trustees” via Divya Kumar of the Tampa Bay Times — Frustrated by what they described as a “lack of transparency” or a “strategic plan” from USF administrators, Faculty Senate leaders expressed deep concerns about budget cuts in a six-page letter sent directly to the university’s board of trustees. The letter urges the USF trustees to direct President Steve Currall and his administration to pause their budget-cutting efforts until their strategy is clearer. It also asks that faculty members be included more fully in decision-making, following the university’s shared governance policy. Board of Trustees chairman Jordan Zimmerman said he believed university leaders were doing all they could in light of challenging circumstances brought on by the pandemic.

Eligible FAMU employees in line for three paid days off before Winter Break” via Byron Dobson of the Tallahassee Democrat — Florida A&M University’s Board of Trustees is expected to dole out some holiday cheer to faculty and staff by approving three additional paid days off right before the winter break. The Budget, Finance and Facilities committee, during its meeting Wednesday, will hear the request from Associate Vice President for Human Resources Joyce Ingram. It would grant eligible employees three paid days off — Dec. 21-23 — right before the already scheduled winter break. Employees would return to work on Jan. 4. The approval also aligns eligible FAMU employees with the same winter break schedule for those at Florida State University and Tallahassee Community College.

Calandra Stringer named new provost at Tallahassee Community College” via Byron Dobson of the Tallahassee Democrat — Stringer has been named the new provost and vice president of academic affairs at Tallahassee Community College. On Wednesday, President Jim Murdaugh announced Stringer’s hiring; she replaces Madeline Pumariega, who is now president of Miami-Dade College, the largest community college in the U.S. Stringer currently is TCC’s associate vice president for academic affairs. She begins her new role on Jan. 1. Stringer joined TCC in 2003 and has served in various leadership roles during her 17-year tenure. She taught mathematics for eight years, receiving excellent evaluations from her students. She also served as the director of the TCC STEM Center (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) for six years.

Congratulations to Calandra Stringer, named new provost at Tallahassee Community College. Image via the Tallahassee Democrat.

Maclay School in Tallahassee to open $7.5 million new classroom wing” via CD Davidson-Hiers of the Tallahassee Democrat — Tallahassee’s Maclay School is opening a 20,000 square foot classroom wing this week that cost $7.5 million to build — and includes a 210-gallon saltwater aquarium. The Beck Family Innovation Center includes multiple science labs, new administrative offices, a common room area, a coffee shop, and an art gallery. The new wing at the private school off North Meridian Road was dedicated on Tuesday. According to the release, the facility was designed by Elliott, Marshall Innes Architects, and built by AJAX Construction. The new classrooms are the largest on campus and will accommodate 20 students who sit 6 feet apart at rolling desks, Maclay spokeswoman Kim McWilliams said.

— TOP OPINION —

To fight COVID-19, Biden and Harris should get vaccinated — and do it live on TV” via Alyssa Rosenberg of The Washington Post — Biden and Harris won’t be sworn in as President and Vice President for 49 more days. Still, there is something powerful they can do before that to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. As soon as the FDA approves a coronavirus vaccine, Biden and Harris should take their doses. And they should do it live on national television. As much as people are desperate for the pandemic to end, public trust in the forthcoming vaccines has fluctuated significantly in recent months. In particular, Black Americans, wary of a medical system that has sometimes abused them and continues to provide lower-quality care, are highly skeptical.

— OPINIONS —

DeSantis’ anti-protest legislation ignores, compounds the real problem” via Giovanna Garcia of the Tallahassee Democrat — DeSantis has reacted to this year’s historic level of grassroots activism and peaceful protests across the country by attempting to suppress the right of people to express their opinion through peaceful protests. His proposed legislation would enact heavy-handed punishments designed to curb speech and silence dissent. What’s more, this measure would expand the state’s already deadly “Stand Your Ground” law by allowing vigilantes to shoot and kill activists and protesters they suspect of “looting.” This is not just reckless; it completely undermines the moral good of the state. In the wake of George Floyd’s death in May, Florida saw some of the highest number of protests, the overwhelming majority of which have been peaceful.

— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —

Florida passed another milestone in the COVID-19 crisis. On Tuesday, the state surpassed 1 million confirmed cases; on Wednesday, there were 10,000 more, and the death toll exceeded 19,000. What does the Governor have to say about that? Nothing yet. But DeSantis did release a three-minute video on YouTube saying vaccines are on the way, but supplies are limited.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— When schools pivoted to digital instruction during the pandemic, they found out quickly that some kids couldn’t connect because they don’t have computers or broadband. Former Gov. Jeb Bush says the digital divide is real — and we need to deal with it.

— The government invested billions into connecting schools and libraries with high-speed internet; one suggestion is to turn those facilities into neighborhood Wi-Fi hubs.

— Business owners throughout Florida want the legislature to immunize them from COVID-19 liability lawsuits, with Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis leading the charge.

— And thanks to the COVID-19 crisis, businesses will face an increase in the price of unemployment insurance next year.

Jeffrey Epstein may be dead, but the lawsuit over his secret plea deal with a Miami prosecutor is alive and well. A federal appeals court in Atlanta is hearing the case today.

— And finally, a Florida Man in a sticky situation: he’s accused of threatening another Florida Man’s life because he wasn’t charging enough for sugarcane juice.

To listen, click on the image below:

— ALOE —

Christmas tree prices jump as homebound Americans embrace décor” via Jordyn Holman and Elise Young of Bloomberg — Christmas trees, along with wreaths, lights, and other décor, are in high demand this year as many Americans embrace holiday festivity in the face of rising coronavirus cases and bleak predictions for the winter months. Two consumer trends are buoying demand. U.S. households are sitting on about $1.2 trillion more in savings than usual. When they’re spending, they’re specifically targeting items to spruce up their homes. The majority of U.S. consumers say they’re more interested in holiday decorations and seasonal items than usual this year because of the pandemic. 

Virus, fan eagerness may spur sports bet, casino expansion” via Wayne Parry of The Associated Press — Huge holes in state budgets due to the coronavirus pandemic and the demonstrated eagerness of fans to bet on sports are likely to spur a further expansion of sports betting and online casino gambling, experts said. Speaking at the Betting On Sports America online conference, gambling executives, analysts and lawmakers agreed that the lure of new tax revenue could prove irresistible to cash-strapped state governments facing large deficits due to the pandemic. And the results of last month’s elections, in which voters in numerous states approved allowing or expanding casinos or sports betting, show that demand exists for legalized gambling in additional states. 

Sports betting and online casinos are enjoying a major expansion, thanks to coronavirus. Image via AP.

Carnival Corp. backs down in legal fight with LeBron James” via Taylor Dolven of the Miami Herald — Carnival Corporation has backed down from a legal fight with basketball star LeBron James. Just eight days after James filed an opposition to Carnival Corp.’s application for a “King James” trademark, the company last week abandoned its 15-month attempt to secure the name for one of its cruise ships, ending the dispute. Carnival Corp., the largest cruise company globally with nine cruise brands, first applied for the “King James” trademark in August 2019. James — who goes by @KingJames on Twitter — filed an opposition to the trademark on Nov. 18 through his limited liability company LBJ Trademarks. He claimed that the proposed trademark is a well-known nickname and would create a false link between him and Carnival.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Happy birthday to the GOAT of the Florida lobby corps Ron Book, Sen. Keith PerryPatricia Greene of Metz Husband & Daughton, and Florida Realtors’ Carrie O’Rourke.

___

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, Drew Dixon, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson, and Kelly Hayes.
Email: Peter@FloridaPolitics.com
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

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