Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 12.21.20

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Florida politics and Sunburn — perfect together.

Good Monday morning. Today is the winter solstice, the longest, darkest night of a long, dark year.

A couple of must-reads were published over the weekend about Gov. Ron DeSantis and his handling this year of the pandemic. And we highlight them below.

As I read those reports, I checked Gov. DeSantis’ official Twitter feed, where there is a sin of omission that explains so much about why so many fault DeSantis’ response. The issue is a stark lack of empathy. As the editorial board of the Sun-Sentinel explained it in a blistering assessment: “Rarely have we heard him express empathy for those who’ve been infected, placed on a ventilator or died. He talks in terms of numbers, not people …”

Empathy may not be Ron DeSantis’ strong suit.

This brings me back to the Governor’s Twitter feed. Just consider this: in the past week, DeSantis has tweeted about a dozen times, with most of the tweets focusing on the arrival of the Pfizer vaccine.

The Governor tweeted twice about high school football, including attending a Class 3 A state championship game between Chaminade-Madonna and Trinity Christian Academy.

Not once — and this is the Governor’s sin of omission — did DeSantis tweet any message of support or concern for the health of Senate President Wilton Simpson, who tested positive for COVID-19 in advance of last Monday afternoon’s meeting of Florida presidential electors.

Perhaps the Governor privately called or texted the Senate President to let him know he and the First Lady were thinking about him and his family. Maybe they’re friends on Facebook, and DeSantis messaged Simpson on the platform. I don’t know. You’d think the Governor would do something, considering he, Simpson and the House Speaker must work together the next two years to lead the state.

As this year comes to an end, I have just one question for Gov. DeSantis: Where’s your empathy, brother?

Here are some items which caught my attention:

 — More vaccine on the way: After receiving FDA approval Friday and an affirmative vote Saturday to recommend it for those 18 and older, the second COVID-19 vaccine by biotechnology company Moderna will be arriving in states as early as Monday. The federal government was assisting with preparing shipments of the vaccine Saturday as well as sending other needed items to administer vaccines, including syringes and needles.

 — RIP David King: King, a Winter Park lawyer and one of the key architects of the 2010 Fair Districts Amendment approved by Florida voters to reduce gerrymandering, died Friday. King lost his short battle with cancer, his son Chris King said Saturday. In addition to the elder King’s work on fair districts, he also helped his son with his 2018 gubernatorial bid and subsequent run with Andrew Gillum for Lieutenant Governor. Rest in peace, sir.

The death of community, a must-read: Sociologist Robert Putnam once compared the decline of group bowling to a dwindling sense of community. Later, he looked at other factors like declining marriage rates and lower church attendance to make the case that Americans are becoming more individualistic. Now there’s COVID-19 and the isolation it breeds. This article in The Atlantic spotlights a new reality, the 50s are gone, and they’re not coming back.

Ron ‘DeGrinch?’: Usually, the Governor and members of his cabinet gather before Christmas for an annual Christmas tree presentation meant to spread holiday cheer, but not this year. And it wasn’t because of COVID. Instead, Gov. DeSantis snubbed Ag Commissioner Nikki Fried, forgoing holiday tradition in favor of a partisan feud. Classy.

 — Crappy buzzwords, pandemic style: Unprecedented. Challenging. Pivot. Heroes. These are all perfectly normal words that have been repurposed to fit a pandemic narrative. And we’ve all heard them ad nauseam. Check out this list of all the worst buzzwords of 2020, pandemic edition, here.

 — Dig these tunes: 2020 came with a lot of new trends (looking at you sourdough starter), and music was no different. The Atlantic compiled a list of the top 20 music albums of 2020. There are some throwbacks to the 90s with Fiona Apple‘s latest album and a lot of lyrics and beats suited to the peak 2020 mood. Better, the list includes music from around the world. So kick back and say goodbye to 2020 with some of its best jams.

🥘 — Pandemic dining at its finest: COVID-19 forced restaurants to get creative this year, implementing increased outdoor seating, employing safety precautions, and pivoting to a greater emphasis on takeout, including booze. Florida Trend analyzed some of the new foodie trends arising from the pandemic and found lots to celebrate, including new booms in various ethnic cuisine and an increase in veggie-centric meals. Check out the full rundown here.

 — Jupiter and Saturn kiss: Mark your calendar for a celestial event that hasn’t happened in nearly 400 years and one that hasn’t been visible to humans from Earth in nearly 800 years. Monday night, about an hour after sunset, the two planets will be so close it will look to some as one giant, super-bright planet sparkling in the sky. They will appear at one-tenth of one angular degree, though about 450 million miles will still separate the two planets. Monday is expected to be partly cloudy so if at first, you don’t succeed, just wait for the clouds to move on. Look to the southwest sky to catch the show.

👰 — Congratulations to Rep. Amber Mariano:

💍 — More Congratulations: To Nicole Gomez and Brian Goldmeier, who got engaged over the weekend. Gomez is Director of Client Relations at the South Florida consulting firm LSN Partners. Goldmeier is the founder and president of BYG Strategies, Inc., a prominent government advisory, campaign and issue fundraising firm. Cheers and good luck to the happy couple!

Best wishes to Nicole Gomez and Brian Goldmeier on their engagement!


Whole Child Leon has a range of programs aimed at improving the lives of Leon County children, and they get it done on a shoestring budget.

Former House Speaker Allan Bense wants to give them some breathing room this Christmas, so he’s pledged to match donations to the organization, dollar for dollar, up to $7,200.

“The Christmas Season can always be challenging for hardworking families and, especially this year, far too many are struggling in far too many ways,” Bense said. “Hopefully, this effort with Whole Child Leon will make a real difference and make the season brighter for families in the Tallahassee area.”

The number wasn’t picked at random — Whole Child Leon encompasses six initiatives, and it’s hoping for supporters to pledge $1 a month for each, or $72 a year.

Established in 2004, Whole Child Leon’s initiatives include the Pediatric Behavioral Health Navigation Program, Early Childhood Screening, Summit on Children, Equity Tallahassee Leon, Food on the Move, and 95210: The Whole Picture of Health.

“We are committed to ensuring the entire community understands the building blocks for successful relationships and a healthy sense of self are established during the first five years of life,” Whole Child Leon executive director Courtney Atkins said. “Earning the support of Speaker Bense is [an] affirmation that our message is breaking through.”

For more information about Whole Child Leon, visit


@Booker4KY: The President of the United States actually sat in the Oval Office and discussed the possibility of a military coup to change the outcome of the election he lost. Reflect on that.

@DaveWeigel: At the TPUSA conference today, @RepMattGaetz said he’d challenge the certification of the Electoral College vote on January 6 and that he’d just talked to Sen-elect. [Tommy] Tuberville about it. “The odds may be tough, it may be 4th and long, but we’re going for it on January 6.”

@JoeBiden: In one month, we begin to heal.

@WashingtonPost: Every time you listen to Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas,” about five people have died from the coronavirus between the beginning and the end of the song.

@RyanStruyk: Dr. [Anthony] Fauci on @CNN: “I took a trip up there to the North Pole, and I vaccinated Santa Claus myself. I measured his level of immunity, and he is good to go. He can come down the chimney. He can leave the presents. You have nothing to worry about.”

Tweet, tweet:

@GarrettHaake: Lots of lawmakers are getting their first vaccine shots today. Good for them! I would take it the first day I could too. But it’s a weird dynamic that they’re getting shots while also not yet passing a COVID relief bill, and while all the support staff here doesn’t have access yet

@SenPizzo: Someone said I don’t tweet enough. I’ve had this Twitter for 24 months. This is my 1,333rd tweet — i.e. 55.5 per month/1.83 tweets per day. Assume 1.5 minutes to draft/post/read/retweet. (1,333 x 1.5)/60 min = 33.3 hours. I’m not a journalist/news agency. 1.83 is enough.


NBA 2020-21 opening night — 1; “The Midnight Sky” with George Clooney premieres on Netflix — 2; “Wonder Woman 1984” rescheduled premiere — 4; Pixar’s “Soul” premiere (rescheduled for Disney+) — 4; Greyhound racing ends in Florida — 10; Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association human trafficking compliance training deadline — 11; Georgia U.S. Senate runoff elections — 15; WandaVision premieres on Disney+ — 25; the 2021 Inauguration — 30; Florida Chamber Economic Outlook and Job Solution Summit begins — 38; Super Bowl LV in Tampa — 48; Daytona 500 — 55; “Nomadland” with Frances McDormand — 61; Children’s Gasparilla — 111; “No Time to Die” premieres (rescheduled) — 112; Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest — 117; “A Quiet Place Part II” rescheduled premiere — 123; “Black Widow” rescheduled premiere — 137; “Top Gun: Maverick” rescheduled premiere — 192; Disney’s “Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings” premieres — 210; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 214; “Jungle Cruise” premieres — 222; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 246; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 316; Disney’s “Eternals” premieres — 320; “Spider-Man Far From Home” sequel premieres — 322; Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” premieres — 354; “Thor: Love and Thunder” premieres — 418; “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” premieres — 471; “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” sequel premieres — 652.


Ron DeSantis gives state workers Christmas and New Year’s eves off” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — State employees in Florida will have Dec. 24 and 31 off for the third year in a row. DeSantis announced the extra time off in a Friday morning news release, making the Governor two-for-two on granting state workers additional time with their family. “2020 was a challenging year for all Floridians, particularly our state employees who worked around the clock responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency,” DeSantis said. Last year, the Governor gave employees the two days off, crediting them with “historic achievements.” That announcement came as state employee unions were at an impasse on the coming contracts, drawing criticism from one union spokesman who called the gesture “sort of shallow.”

Ron DeSantis gives state employees a couple of extra days off for the holidays. Image via Colin Hackley.

House releases COVID-19 protocols for committee weeks” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — The Florida House released its official COVID-19 protocols for the 2021 committee weeks. The six protocols, crafted by Speaker Pro Tempore Bryan Avila, are intended to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 for lawmakers, employees and visitors at the Capitol during the five committee weeks. Notably, the House will split committee blocks into two and implement an alternate schedule. The result, a news release said, will reduce the number of days lawmakers will need to be in Tallahassee. The House will also require one-hour sanitation breaks between meetings to disinfect rooms and replace microphone shields. All committee rooms will feature medical-grade HEPA filters.

—”Florida House education committees set for 2021 session” via Jeffrey S. Solochek of The Tampa Bay Times

Remote testimony available in Senate’s committee week COVID-19 protocols” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Members of the public wishing to address Florida Senate committees during committee weeks will be able to testify remotely from the Leon County Civic Center. Senate President Simpson announced the partnership with Florida State University, as well as other plans, ahead of lawmakers’ first interim meetings next month. The Senate has reserved three remote viewing rooms, one per committee allowed to meet simultaneously, which will allow the public to watch meetings and virtually address senators while social distancing. Only those invited to present information and answer questions, as well as members of the media, will be allowed with senators in the committee rooms in person.

Economists to continue working on revenue numbers” via The News Service of Florida — A panel of state economists could not finish hammering out revenue projections needed to help lawmakers put together a coronavirus-impacted budget for next fiscal year. The economists, who meet as the Revenue Estimating Conference, will resume talks Monday. They were unable to settle Friday on a range of corporate revenue and refund figures, with representatives of DeSantis’ office seeking more optimistic projections. Otherwise, the economists generally moved toward improved revenue projections from figures they put forward in an August forecast. In August, economists reduced an overall estimate of general revenue for this fiscal year by $3.42 billion and an estimate for the 2021-2022 fiscal year by nearly $2 billion.

Assignment editors — The Revenue Estimating Conference meets to update state general revenue evaluation, which is key to lawmakers making budget decisions, 8:30 a.m., 117 Knott Building.


8,401 new Florida coronavirus cases reported Sunday; 95 new deaths” via Fox News 13 — The total number of cases in Florida is now 1,201,566. The number of Florida resident deaths has reached 20,568, an increase of 95 since Saturday’s update. In addition, a total of 291 non-Floridians have died in the state. Locally, Hillsborough and Manatee counties each reported three new deaths, Citrus and Highlands counties each reported two, while Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Sarasota, DeSoto and Sumter counties each reported one new death. Of the 1,201,566 cases, 1,181,549 are Florida residents while 20,017 are non-Florida residents currently in the state.

This is the most comprehensive and concise assessment of DeSantis I’ve read — “DeSantis’ holiday season hasn’t been jolly as criticism mounts” via John Pacenti of the Palm Beach Post — CNN published a story on DeSantis subtitled, “Putting ‘politics in front of lives.’” It detailed how he blocked public messaging on COVID-19 to paint a rosier picture. Along the same vein, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported the aberration of how the state report on COVID-19 deaths dropped in the days surrounding the Nov. 3 general election. Both reports came on the heels of national headlines about the raid of the home of DeSantis’ No. 1 critic on reporting COVID-19 cases and deaths: former state coronavirus data scientist Rebekah Jones. The Governor also picked fights with Pfizer, as well as Walgreens and CVS. All in all, it has not been a very jolly holiday season for the Republican.

The season has not been so jolly for Ron DeSantis.

DeSantis, Florida’s mis-communicator in chief” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — DeSantis has been off-pitch since the coronavirus first hit our shores — denying community spread, spinning happy talk about scarce protective gear, and shielding data about nursing home infections, hospital bed capacity and the lack of contact tracing. But in the weeks before and since the 2020 presidential election, he’s gotten worse. DeSantis fails to grasp that communication is a two-way street. Perhaps Florida would keep its place in line if he would pick up the phone and congratulate the President-elect. For just as Joe Biden has said he will be President for all Americans, DeSantis is supposed to be Governor for all Floridians. And we need a working relationship with the White House.

Echoing Donald Trump, Florida’s leaders worked to cast doubt on the state’s COVID-19 death count. Now they’re not talking.” via Skyler Swisher, Cindy Krischer Goodman and David Fleshler of The South Florida Sun-Sentinel — As the presidential campaign heated up, Florida’s leaders worked to cast doubt on their own COVID-19 death count, second-guessing doctors on the front lines of the pandemic and mirroring Trump’s messaging that the toll wasn’t as bad as it looked. Now, new questions are being raised about an unexplained gap in death reporting in the days leading up to Election Day on Nov. 3. The pause in reporting long-backlogged deaths resulted in fewer COVID-19 deaths being reported in daily counts as Floridians headed to the polls.

Florida Dems slam DeSantis over not releasing COVID-19 reports, lag in reporting deaths” via Naseem S. Miller of The Orlando Sentinel — Florida congressional Democrats called out DeSantis for his “ongoing and purposeful lack of transparency” by being slow to release weekly White House coronavirus task force reports and temporarily pausing the reporting of backlogged COVID-19 deaths. “During a public health emergency, it is imperative that your Administration provide Floridians with timely information and guidance that ensures their health and safety,” said a letter sent to DeSantis and signed by 11 Florida lawmakers. DeSantis’ office has released six reports at a rate of two reports a day. The lawsuit isn’t resolved because the state has not yet agreed to release the future reports promptly.


Miami-Dade tops 2,000 new COVID cases for the 11th day in a row as state adds 11,682” via Howard Cohen of the Miami Herald — The state now has 1,193,165 confirmed novel coronavirus cases. Also, 72 resident deaths were announced, bringing the statewide resident toll to 20,473. The state also reported two new nonresident deaths to bring the cumulative nonresident toll to 291. According to Florida’s Department of Health, Miami-Dade County reported 2,382 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 16 new deaths. This is the 11th day in a row that Miami-Dade has reported more than 2,000 cases. The county now has 272,098 confirmed cases and 4,050 deaths, making Miami-Dade the fourth-highest county in the country in COVID-19 cases, after Los Angeles, Cook (Chicago) and Maricopa (Phoenix) counties, according to Johns Hopkins national database of COVID-19 cases per county.

Did COVID-19 kill their loved ones? Families want answers as they get no help from state.” via Andrew Boryga of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Florida’s COVID-19 deaths suspiciously declined just before the November election and then began to climb immediately afterward, as DeSantis contended that deaths from the pandemic were exaggerated. State officials disputed suggestions that they manipulated the data, but they have refused to explain exactly what factors they consider in determining what killed a person. Families say they have run into the same roadblocks, unable to get information from public health officials. They suspect the state is playing political games to paint a rosier picture of the virus’ spread in the state at their families’ expense. Most of all, they say, they are left with no answers — and no closure — about their loved ones’ final days.

COVID-19 deaths suspiciously dropped before the November elections, suggesting manipulated numbers. Image via AP.

More than 3,400 AdventHealth workers vaccinated, Moderna anticipated next week” via Sara-Megan Walsh of The Lakeland Ledger — AdventHealth leaders are celebrating what they have called a “milestone week” as thousands of front-line health care workers have received the COVID-19 vaccine. Approximately 3,400 AdventHealth employees in Central Florida were injected with the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine Wednesday and Thursday, with hundreds more expected to receive it in the days ahead. Dr. Vincent Hsu, AdventHealth’s infection control officer, was among the first to receive Pfizer’s vaccine on Wednesday. Hsu said he had a sore shoulder at the injection site, but hasn’t had any other side effects.

COVID-19 vaccine’s arrival at Pensacola Naval Hospital marks historic moment” via the Pensacola News Journal editorial board — This week’s arrival of the nation’s first COVID-19 vaccines marks a proud moment for the United States that will forever stand testament to what we can accomplish when we are united and focused on extraordinary goals. The arrival of the vaccine is simultaneously historic and hopeful, delivering the long-awaited promise of something that can finally stop the climbing death toll. This moment of American history is also a notable day for Pensacola, as our own Naval Hospital is playing a role in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s strategic plan to distribute and administer the vaccine.


CDC advisory group: Older adults, front-line essential workers to get COVID vaccine next” via Erika Edwards and Sara Miller of NBC News — People ages 75 and older and front-line essential workers will be next in line to receive COVID-19 vaccines, according to recommendations from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee. The next phase, deemed Phase 1B, would include first responders, such as firefighters and police officers, as well as teachers, day care staff and others working in education. Corrections officers, U.S. postal workers, public transit workers and those whose jobs are essential for the food supply — from farmers to grocery store employees — are also next to receive the vaccine. Altogether, this group includes about 49 million people.

The next round of vaccinations will include older people and first responders. Image via NBC News.

’I am responsible’: Warp Speed chief accepts blame for reduced vaccine doses but creates new confusion about quality control steps” via Isaac Stanley-Becker, Laurie McGinley and Lena Sun of The Washington Post — Gustave Perna, the four-star Army general overseeing the formidable task of distributing coronavirus vaccines, said he was responsible for the “miscommunication” with states causing them to receive vastly fewer doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the second wave of shipments than they had been anticipating. But he was not clear about the scope of quality assurance, or about why it would delay the release of doses, saying only that the Food and Drug Administration “does a fantastic job doing that.” Under the terms of the agency’s authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the company is required to submit “certificates of analysis for each drug product lot at least 48 hours before vaccine distribution.”

Major U.S. companies are lobbying in a scrum for early vaccine” via Christopher Rowland, Isaac Stanley-Becker, Jacob Bogage, Abha Bhattarai and Laura Reiley of The Washington Post — A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccine advisory group voted to recommend grocery store workers, teachers, day care staff, adults over 75 and other front-line workers who cannot work remotely should be the next to get the coronavirus vaccine, followed later by another large batch of essential workers and elderly people. The recommendations guide state authorities in deciding who should have priority to receive limited doses of vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. In all, the two groups of essential workers the government is prioritizing spans 87 million people, spanning dozens of industries and including many people of color and many earning low wages.

Proof of vaccination will be very valuable — and easy to abuse” via Nita Farahany of The Washington Post — Until a vaccine is fully approved and widely available, we should not — except in the rarest of cases — make participation in society depend on immunity status. And yet, the vaccination cards that will be issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will make enforcing that norm a challenge. The cards are meant to help remind people to get their second shots. These are laudable goals, but the cards could easily become de facto entry documents required for people to attend school, get a job, dine at a restaurant or patronize businesses. Employers might mandate that workers show coronavirus vaccine cards before returning to the office; schools might require students to show these cards to attend.

Nursing homes face daunting task of getting consent before they give coronavirus vaccines” via Fenit Nirappil and Yasmeen Abutaleb of The Washington Post — Obtaining consent presents one of the toughest hurdles as officials mobilize to inoculate residents of these facilities, many of whom have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Facilities must track down relatives or attorneys in those cases, which could take days or weeks. In some instances, they may need to resolve disputes when family members disagree on whether their loved ones should receive a vaccine. Even residents of sound mind may be anxious about a new vaccine and need time to weigh risks and benefits and consult with relatives. The government’s partnership with Walgreens and CVS to distribute vaccines gave the companies discretion to secure permission however they wanted.

Instacart is latest gig company to request early vaccines for workers” via Kia Kokalitcheva of Axios — Instacart has asked public health authorities to include its workers as part of the essential workers who’ll get COVID-19 vaccines. Uber, Lyft and DoorDash have made similar requests in recent days. These workers are disproportionately bearing more exposure and risk than many of their customers, who have the luxury of staying home and having their groceries and food delivered. The companies have actively fought not to classify their workers as employees, which would give them full benefits, such as health care coverage and sick leave. Getting their workers vaccinated earlier rather than later could help the companies’ bottom lines if more drivers feel comfortable giving rides and doing deliveries and making ride-hailing passengers more comfortable booking rides.


Breaking overnight — “Congressional leaders finally reach $900 billion stimulus compromise” via Alayna Treene and Oriana Gonzalez of Axios — After weeks of intense negotiations, congressional leaders have finally reached a deal on a $900 billion coronavirus relief package that will include a second round of direct payments, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Sunday night. The 11th-hour deal comes just days before many existing coronavirus relief measures are set to expire on January 1. Congress plans to attach the final relief deal to an omnibus bill that must pass before the holidays. The House passed a third continuing resolution on Sunday night, which would give them another day to vote on the combined package before the government shuts down.

Nancy Pelosi gives the good news: Another round of COVID-19 aid is on the way. Image via AP.

White House secures ‘three martini lunch’ tax deduction in draft of coronavirus relief package” via Jeff Stein of The Washington Post — The draft language of the emergency coronavirus relief package includes a tax break for corporate meal expenses pushed by the White House and strongly denounced by some congressional Democrats, according to a summary of the deal circulating among congressional officials and officials who are familiar with the provision. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a proposal that had not yet been publicly released.President Donald Trump has for months talked about securing the deduction — derisively referred to as the “three-martini lunch” by critics — as a way to revive the restaurant industry badly battered by the pandemic.

The great acceleration” via Carlos Lozada of The Washington Post — Some writers already imagine the long-term impact of the pandemic on our culture, politics and economy and they suggest that we may end up in much the same places where we were headed all along — except now we’ll get there faster, with less control over the landing and less time to prepare for life upon arrival. In their books, vaccines are not the only things moving at warp speed. In this great acceleration, we become ever more digital creatures; disadvantaged communities are increasingly vulnerable and social activists are emboldened. In this great accelerating, America grows more isolated, the U.S.-Chinese rivalry gets tenser, and the impulse toward bigness, in government and business, is more pronounced.

Some pandemic aid for the jobless and for renters may end soon. Here’s what you need to know.” via Kyle Swenson of The Washington Post — The economic policies passed with the CARES Act have served as life support for Americans displaced by the pandemic’s devastating sweep. Since March, as many as 40 million — or 1 in 4 Americans — have received benefits from these programs. According to a recently published report, poverty has risen each month since June, to 11.7% in November. Without the CARES Act, those numbers would be worse, experts say. The protections were not automatic. Rather, renters had to sign a CDC affidavit and submit the declaration before a judge. Thousands of evictions continued due to loopholes in the order and the flexibility the order allowed local judges. But the moratorium is scheduled to lift on Dec. 31.

She volunteered one day as a poll worker. Then Florida cut off her unemployment benefits” via Daniel Rivero of WLRN — It was a one-day gig. Her compensation: $250. What Krista didn’t know was that the single day of work would stop the unemployment checks from coming. “You go online every two weeks to claim your benefits … and it said, ‘We see you’ve returned to work.’ And I’m like ‘What? I didn’t return to work,’” said Krista. The last unemployment check she received was over a month ago, she said. A Nov. 13 letter from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity said that the state was notified she began work with the Broward Supervisor of Elections office in October when Krista received poll worker training. “Your benefits have been temporarily suspended pending an investigation,” reads the letter.

Parents feeling guilty about COVID-19 ignites boom in toy sales” via Leslie Patton of Bloomberg — After a terrible year of remote school, canceled birthday parties and little vacationing, parents and grandparents ridden with so-called “COVID guilt” are spending a lot more on puzzles, crafts and games. And this is setting up the U.S. industry for its best Christmas in years and maybe ever. “I’ve been in the toy industry for 30 years, and sales are just about as good as I’ve ever seen them,” said Jay Foreman, chief executive officer of closely held toymaker Basic Fun. Retail purchases of his company’s toys, including Tonka trucks, have been up more than 30% since August and show no signs of slowing down, he said. “Toys are a way for parents to treat their kids when they are so worried about what’s going on in the world.”


Fast-moving new coronavirus strain in England raises alarms” via John Bacon of USA Today — A new strain of the coronavirus racing across England appears to be more infectious than the original. The good news is it doesn’t seem to make people any sicker. The best news might be that vaccine makers routinely take mutations into account. Seasonal influenza vaccines include various viral strains already circulating and allow for some that could develop later. Melissa Nolan, an infectious disease expert and professor at the University of South Carolina, said the coronavirus vaccine designers expected that the virus would mutate and have included various predictions of viral strains. “These changes in the viral composition are expected,” Nolan told USA Today. “At the moment, we have not seen any dramatic genetic shifts of concern.”

A mutated form of COVID-19 is tearing through England. Image via USA Today.

South Africa announces a new coronavirus variant” via Sheri Fink of The New York Times — South African scientists and health officials announced on Friday the discovery of a new lineage of the coronavirus that has quickly come to dominate samples of virus tested in the country. Scientists are examining this particular variant closely because it includes several changes in the virus that allows it to attach to human cells, which is a key target for antibody therapies and vaccines. The variant, named 501.V2, has also been associated in a preliminary analysis with faster spread and a higher load of virus found in swabs. It has not yet been linked to any difference in disease severity, and the findings have not yet been reviewed by other scientists or published in a journal.

Now playing: A very COVID-19 Christmas” via Steven Zeitchik of The Washington Post — Hollywood is turning this season into a very COVID-19 Christmas. Entertainment-industry executives hope new coronavirus pieces offer a more palatable alternative to the doom-scrolling that has dominated 2020. If we’re going to be gripped by virus anxieties, they say, at least let’s do it with compelling stories and beloved characters. But the content’s radical timeliness also raises questions: Are Americans ready for stories about a virus that has taken the lives of more than 300,000 Americans, kept many of us at home and created economic havoc for millions? This wave of COVID-19 tales is hitting as the disaster is still playing out, turning these stories into polished real-time disaster films.


Amid vaccine rollout and historic hack, Trump remains focused on reversing election” via Rebecca Ballhaus, Alex Leary and Dustin Volz of The Wall Street Journal — Six weeks after the election, the President remains fixated on his unsuccessful efforts to overturn the results. He pays close attention to TV coverage of state hearings on alleged election fraud, though no evidence of widespread fraud has surfaced, and in tweets and phone calls has urged his advisers and lawyers to keep going. In early Saturday tweets, Trump chided fellow Republicans, “Don’t be weak fools!” and urged them to join a Washington protest next month. “He’s still in the fight-for-every-vote mode,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, who this week acknowledged Biden’s victory and said the President’s path to overturning the results is “very, very narrow.”

Donald Trump has only one thing on his mind — overturning the election. Image via AP.

Officials increasingly alarmed about Trump’s power grab” via Jonathan Swan of Axios — Senior administration officials are increasingly alarmed that Trump might unleash — and abuse — the power of government to overturn the clear result of the election. These officials tell me that Trump is spending too much time with people they consider crackpots or conspiracy theorists and flirting with blatant abuses of power. Their fears include Trump’s interest in former national security adviser Michael Flynn‘s wild talk of martial law; an idea floated of an executive order to commandeer voting machines; and the specter of Sidney Powell, the conspiracy-spewing election lawyer, obtaining governmental power and top-level security clearance.

How did the GOP gain in the House while Trump lost? It’s actually pretty simple.” via Aaron Blake of The Washington Post — Republicans gained significant ground in the House and probably held the Senate as long as they don’t lose both Georgia runoffs. So how on earth did Trump lose? The answer is actually pretty simple: Our elections increasingly look more like parliamentary ones, and given that, the results make a ton of sense. The big takeaway: Our politics are increasingly less about people and incumbents and more about Party. The results for Congress affirm the fact that Republicans writ large lost the election.

Is Trump cracking under the weight of losing?” via Michael Kruse of POLITICO Magazine — It’s not just his odd behavior — the testy, tiny desk session with the press, the stilted Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony that ended with his awkward exit, the cut-short trip to the Army-Navy football game. It’s even more pointedly his conspicuous and ongoing absences. Trump has spent the last half a century making himself and keeping himself the most paid-attention-to person on the planet. But in the month and a half since Election Day, Trump has been seen and heard relatively sparingly and sporadically. No-showing unexpectedly at a Christmas party, sticking to consistently sparse public schedules and speaking mainly through his increasingly manic Twitter feed.

—”13 things Trump got right” via David Frum of The Atlantic

How offshore oddsmakers made a killing off gullible Trump supporters” via Alex Kirshner of Slate — On Dec. 9, Trump tweeted something incorrect but at least closer to the ballpark of the truth than most of what he’s posted since. “At 10 p.m. on Election Evening, we were at 97% win with the so-called ‘bookies,’” Trump wrote. The “so-called ‘bookies’” never had Trump as a 97% favorite, but late on the night of Nov. 3, many online sportsbooks did indeed favor him to win the presidency. At points between 10 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. Eastern, many of these bookmakers posted odds that gave Trump around a 70% chance of victory.


Once friends, Joe Biden calls Lindsey Graham ‘a personal disappointment’ for not recognizing election win” via Timothy Bella of The Washington Post — Graham, a close ally of Trump, has declined to acknowledge Biden’s election victory and was accused of pressuring Georgia to discard mail-in ballots in a state that went for the Democrat. Biden, who has made his willingness to work with Republicans a key campaign promise, declined to say whether their relationship was salvageable. Graham pushed for a special counsel to probe the business of Hunter Biden, who is under federal investigation. While many Republican senators have finally recognized Biden as President-elect, Graham stopped short.

Joe Biden calls Lindsey Graham a ‘major disappointment.’ Image via AP. 


Marco Rubio’s tough talk on Russia’s hack a welcome break from Trump’s toadying up to Vladimir Putin” via the Miami Herald editorial board — The Senator said that the United States would retaliate for a massive, ongoing cyberattack that has compromised private companies and government agencies — including the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration. He said he called this latest wave of cyberattacks the equivalent of “an act of war,” and he calls for retaliation. To his credit, Rubio isn’t soft on Russia; he takes a clear-eyed stance that parts ways with Trump’s refusal to see Putin as our enemy. Rubio rarely diverges from the President’s view of much of anything, unfortunately, to the point where the editorial board called him out — and called him the President’s “sycophant.”

Marco Rubio growing a spine on Russia is a welcome relief.

Coronavirus concerns prompt Matt Gaetz to stay off House floor” via Jim Thompson of the Northwest Florida Daily News — Gaetz, taking advantage of a coronavirus protection measure that he voted against earlier this year, was apparently staying off the floor of the House of Representatives as Congress was moving to vote Sunday on a $900 billion coronavirus relief bill. “I am unable to physically attend proceedings in the House chamber due to the ongoing public health emergency …,” Gaetz wrote in a Friday letter to the clerk of the House of Representatives. Also in the letter, Gaetz — who represents Northwest Florida in Congress — notified the House clerk that he had assigned Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Hawaii Democrat, as his proxy for upcoming House votes.


Florida unemployment rate remains at 6.4%” via The Associated Press — Florida gained 9,800 jobs in November, but there were still 651,000 jobless Floridians out of a workforce of 10.1 million people. The state’s unemployment rate was slightly below the national rate of 6.7%. November’s unemployment rate was 3.6 percentage points above the year before. Wakulla County had the state’s lowest unemployment rate at 3.9%, followed by St. Johns County at 4% and Santa Rosa County at 4.1%. Osceola County had the highest unemployment rate at 9.7%, followed by Orange County at 8.1% and Putnam County at 7.7%.

DeSantis gave son of billionaire Donald Trump buddy millions in no-bid COVID contracts” via Daniel Ducassi of the Florida Bulldog — Gov. DeSantis’ administration has given more than $4 million in no-bid, coronavirus-related state contracts to a New York City-based social media startup co-founded and led by the son of a South Florida billionaire and prominent supporter of President Trump. The Florida Department of Health signed a $2.75 million contract with Twenty Labs in June to provide the state a software license for a “Healthy Together COVID-19 contact tracing customer relationship management platform,” basically software that supports the state’s contact tracing efforts.

DeSantis appoints Orlando lawyer to appeals court despite criticism” via Monivette Cordeiro of The Orlando Sentinel — DeSantis appointed Orlando attorney Mary Alice “Molly” Nardella to the 5th District Court of Appeal Friday, despite critics who said she was less qualified than other nominees because of her limited experience in criminal law and jury trials. One of those who spoke out against Nardella’s nomination, Maitland criminal appellate attorney William Ponall, said Friday that her appointment shows Florida’s judicial selection process is a “farce.” Nardella is filling the spot on the Daytona Beach-based court vacated by Florida Supreme Court Justice Jamie Grosshans, elevated by DeSantis to the state’s high court in September.

With a little controversy, Ron DeSantis appoints Mary Alice “Molly” Nardella to the 5th District Court of Appeal. Image via Nardella & Nardella.

Former Jeffrey Epstein attorney dumps Ron Rubin as client” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — The legal woes for Rubin continued this week when his attorney, Michael Tein, dropped him as a client. Tein represented Rubin in three court cases, one of which alleges racketeering, public corruption and abuse of power at the “highest levels” of two state departments: the Florida Department of Financial Services (DFS) and the Florida Office of Financial Regulation (OFR.) Rubin — Florida’s former OFR Commissioner — was fired in 2019 by DeSantis and Cabinet amid reports of sexual harassment and inappropriate workplace comments. However, Rubin claims he blew the whistle against the wrongdoers, which is why he got fired. “This week, the same lawyer that had no problem representing Jeffrey Epstein fired Ron Rubin as a client,” said Deputy Chief Financial Officer and spokesperson Frank Collins III.

Damning — “Florida lets voucher schools hire dropout as teachers … and keep it secret” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — Winners Primary employed a teacher who had lost her certification to teach after being sent to prison for Medicaid fraud and another teacher who was pressured to leave Orange County Public Schools after twice grabbing a kindergartner. The Sentinel has also found other local voucher schools hiring high school dropouts as teachers. Yes, people teaching school who never finished school themselves. You might wonder: Why on earth would a parent send their kids to a school that hired unqualified teachers? Maybe because the parents don’t know. In Florida, “school choice” means voucher schools can choose to hire teachers without degrees and also choose to keep that information secret.

Pythons might become a new menu item in Florida if scientists can confirm they’re safe to eat” via Alaa Elassar of CNN — The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is collaborating with the Florida Department of Health to investigate the mercury levels in pythons to determine if they can be safely consumed. If so, the snakes may soon end up on restaurant menus and dinner tables across the state. The FWC encourages residents to remove and humanely kill pythons when they can at any time during the year and to report any sightings to officials. When pythons are safe to eat, they can actually be quite delicious, says Donna Kalil, one of the FWC program’s python hunters.


New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Joshua Aubuchon, Mark Delegal, Delegal Aubuchon Consulting: Lab Diagnostics

Jim Boxold, Capital City Consulting: KK Storm

Mike Haridopolos: Versus Analytics

Jason Unger, GrayRobinson: Florida Logos, Interstate Logos


Triumph Gulf Coast awards $17 million in new grants for Panhandle counties” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Triumph Gulf Coast committed to awarding $17.6 million in new grants for various Gulf Coast projects and programs. The grants will go toward bringing high-paying jobs and certified workforce training to four Gulf Coast counties. Notably, Bay County’s AMIKids Panama City Marine Institute Stem and Business Entrepreneurship Labs will receive more than $1.7 million. Moreover, the Santa Rosa County Board of County Commissioners will receive $6 million for infrastructure improvements to the Santa Rosa Industrial Park, East. Triumph Gulf Coast noted the significance of the awards amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Red tide patches move along Southwest Florida coast” via Karl Schneider of the Fort Myers News-Press — Dead fish were spotted at Bonita Beach, and high counts of red tide, caused by the organism Karenia brevis, were reported along Sanibel earlier this week. “It hasn’t looked good for most of the week,” said Rick Bartleson, a research scientist with the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. “It started out pretty bad on Monday with about 20 million cells per liter, a significant jump from last week, so I started increasing sampling.” The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission deems anything greater than 1 million cells per liter to be high with respiratory irritation, and probable fish kills anticipated. FWC data confirms Bartleson’s observations showing a Dec. 14 sample at Redfish Pass near Pine Island Sound with high concentrations.

Red tide is making its way up the Southwest Florida coast. Image via AP.

Year of protest carries over to business world in confronting racial gaps” via Emily Bloch and David Bauerlein of the Florida Times-Union — The past few months have seen an increase in companies teaming up with local schools, businesses and organizations to form initiatives that help communities of color. The new programs’ flowering comes after Black Lives Matter marches and rallies in Jacksonville and across the nation protested racial disparities. While those demonstrations focused primarily on the criminal justice system after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, the message applies to race-based economic gaps as well. Some people can be leery about the new outreach. How do you know if a gesture is just lip service and won’t address larger, systemic issues Jacksonville grapples with when it comes to race and equity?


Hang on for 3 more months” via Zeynep Tufekci of The Atlantic — The costs of isolation are steep. Quarantine fatigue is real. The chance to gather with extended family and friends this holiday season is particularly alluring to those of us battling loneliness. Even so, I have a simple suggestion for anyone contemplating a large gathering this month: Wait until March. This Christmas will be a particularly terrible time to catch the coronavirus. Hospitals nationwide are already overwhelmed, ICUs stretched to their limit. A surge of cases tied to the holidays could further challenge hospitals’ capacity to provide lifesaving care. Even if our hopes are not fully realized, waiting until March helps avoid infection risk during this grim period. Plus, March offers potentially better weather, which seems to slow down the transmission of the virus.


It’s payback time for our support; Biden should nominate a Black U.S. attorney for South Florida” via Chris Norwood of the Miami Herald — We have a racial imbalance among federal judges in South Florida; in other words, there are not enough of them. It’s also time for the district to boast an African American U.S. attorney. We must demand better communication between the Biden-Kamala Harris White House and our local Congressional Black Caucus delegation. The African American community’s voice must be consulted on appointments to the Southern District of Florida. As we move forward, we must also keep our eye on the selection for U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. Members of other ethnic communities are lining up for this appointment, and we must do the same.

Don’t isolate yourself this holiday season” via Arthur C. Brooks of The Atlantic — Amid the cheer of this time of year, there are always rumblings of holiday discontent: the crass materialism; the Christmas decorations in stores going up right after Halloween; the abomination known as “pumpkin spice.” And yet, few Americans are willing to own up to these views in polls. In 2013, the Pew Research Center reported that “roughly one-in-twenty Americans (4%) say there is nothing about Christmas or the holidays they look forward to, except perhaps the end of the season.” In 2015, more than 18% of people said they are very stressed during the holidays, and another nearly 44% say they are somewhat stressed.


More drugs are on the way to Florida — including the newly released Moderna vaccine. Just in time, too, because Florida won’t be getting as much of the Pfizer vaccine during the next two weeks as the Governor had expected. The general in charge of Operation Warp Speed says it’s his fault.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— Florida’s Department of Health is reporting 97 more fatalities and 8,400 new cases of coronavirus. That’s the fewest new cases in almost two weeks. However, Sunday’s case numbers tend to be lower than the rest of the week because of how the state collects data and enters it into the system on the weekend.

— Florida’s unemployment rate is holding steady at 6.4%. But things are worse in the buckle of the tourism belt.

— One thing that hurt this year: businesses didn’t hire nearly as many seasonal employees as they usually do for the holidays.

— There’s a new boss at the Division of Administrative Hearings — Pete Antonacci is the Mr. Fixit of state government sent to clean house at several agencies.

— That last job as Supervisor of Elections in Broward County is what helped Antonacci become the new chief administrative law judge for the state.

— And finally, a Florida Man faces up to three years in prison. He’s not in trouble for being a male escort … but for shorting the IRS.

To listen, click on the image below:

— ALOE —

Have yourself a million little Christmases” via Amanda Mull of The Atlantic — There appears to be a run on Christmas trees. Over the past two weeks, the media have started to pick up on the apparent frenzy, but putting numbers to these observations is a little tricky because the industry is almost charmingly low on data. No flashy startups are peddling Fraser firs via an app — a Christmas miracle! Google Trends, which tracks what people search for over time, shows a higher and more sustained interest in real Christmas trees this year than any before it. Still, the large majority of the 25 million fresh trees bought annually are sold through small, local businesses.

Holiday spirit: 2020 is seeing a run on Christmas trees. Image via Reuters.

Holiday lights go big this year” via Ronda Kaysen of The New York Times — Pandemic-bound homeowners got to work earlier than usual this holiday season, spending much more time and money on outside decorations than in previous years. Normally, the day after Thanksgiving is the unofficial start of the holiday light display season, but this year, it bumped up to the day after Halloween. Sales of string lights were up 194% in October 2020 from October 2019, according to a 1010data holiday report. Lowes reported an increased and early demand for string-lights, fresh-cut trees, wreaths and greenery. And professional holiday decorators reported getting calls from new and returning customers as early as August.

This preschool director drives an Uber so she can buy gifts for kids who wouldn’t otherwise have Christmas presents” via Sydney Page of The Washington Post — It’s 6 p.m., and rather than heading home after a long workweek, Renee Dixon — a preschool director in Indianapolis — starts her second job as an Uber driver. Dixon, 47, makes her way to the first pickup location of the night. “I drive until about 1 or 2 in the morning,” she said, adding that she drives 12 hours on Saturdays and 6 hours on Sundays, just as she has every weekend since November. “I can’t rest,” she said. “These kids need me.” The money Dixon earns as a driver does not go in her own pocket. Instead, she uses it to buy holiday gifts and winter gear for all 50 of her students at Lynhurst Baptist Church Preschool.

Jimmy Patronis offers tips to help protect packages and deliveries during the holidays” via Florida Daily staff reports — With package thefts being reported across the state, these tips can help you ensure you receive your holiday items and don’t become the victim of a crime. Invest in a smart doorbell or security camera. Ask a neighbor for help watching for deliveries. Have your packages sent to your workplace. Pick up your packages from your local post office.

Jimmy Patronis warns against seasonal porch pirates.

Santa’s dramatic Orlando visit helped lift blues in Depression” via Joy Wallace Dickinson of the Orlando Sentinel — In 1932 and for years after that, “fairgrounds” in Orlando meant the area west of what’s now the Bob Carr Theater. The city purchased the site in 1928. Four years later, like the rest of the country, Central Florida had the Depression doldrums. But Santa’s visit might “take our thoughts off depression in its real and in its imagined aspects,” the Sentinel declared. Live appearances were not an everyday thing. When he reached Orlando, Santa promised to produce, for free, 5,000 hot dogs and 5,000 “bottles of pop” for the thousands of children who were expected to meet him. But the dramatic form of his arrival by parachute was not revealed until the day of the event.

Why don’t we roast chestnuts for the holidays anymore?” via Kate Morgan of USA Today — American chestnut trees grew from Maine to Alabama and as far west as Kentucky and Ohio. They were huge — more than 100 feet tall and more than 10 feet wide — and there were nearly four billion of them. At one point, nearly half the trees in the forests on the East Coast were American chestnuts. In 1904, a gardener noticed that a chestnut tree in the New York Zoological Park seemed to be suffering from a mysterious blight. The blight spread, and within 40 years, nearly every American chestnut was dead. The $20 million worth of nuts imported each year come mostly from China, Korea or Italy, and are a far cry from the sweet snack earlier Americans enjoyed.


Belated best wishes to Rep. Kelly Skidmore and Jerry McDaniel of The Southern Group. Celebrating today are Kevin Doyle, Erin Isaac (who had quite a successful year in 2020), and Lance Lozano.


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

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises Media and is the publisher of, INFLUENCE Magazine, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Previous to his publishing efforts, Peter was a political consultant to dozens of congressional and state campaigns, as well as 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. Follow Peter on Twitter @PeterSchorschFL.


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 @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

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