Good Sunday morning, and welcome to Brunch, Florida Politics’ pop-up email running through the end of the 2021 Legislative Session.
Four days are down with 54 to go, assuming lawmakers wrap-up in the standard 60-days. If the first week was any indication, things should move swiftly.
Here are a few items on our radar this morning:
☀️ — Lovely weather we’re having: Expect a mostly sunny week in Tallahassee with temperatures in the 70s all week. Monday’s forecast launches week No. 2 of Session with a high of 70 but a chilly overnight low of 37. A warming trend begins Tuesday with a high of 73, culminating Friday with a high of 80. Into the weekend, expect warm days and cool nights under partly cloudy skies.
🏆 — Here’s our call on who is the Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics.
📰 — Must read on Bob Martinez’ lasting legacy: The Tampa Bay Times sat down with former Gov. Bob Martinez, the state’s first, and only, Hispanic Governor, to discuss his departure from the Democratic Party, the chat with President Ronald Reagan that made it happen, and his experience as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
🍓 — Strawberry shortcake, anyone?: The 11-day Strawberry Festival in Plant City kicked off Thursday. While things will look a bit different from years in the past, there’s still strawberry shortcake to look forward to, not to mention several other strawberry-inspired dishes and beverages. There won’t be onstage performances due to COVID-19, but animals, the midway and arts and crafts will be on-hand to offer plenty of entertainment. Stay safe with $600K worth of touch-free bathrooms, sanitizer stations and air scrubbers installed this year. Masks are strongly encouraged outdoors and required indoors.
👸🏽 — The big interview: The much anticipated (not to mention debated) interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle and Prince Henry, airs on CBS at 8 p.m. Sunday. Streams can also be viewed through subscriptions to Paramount +, Hulu with LiveTB, fuboTV, AT&T TV or YouTube TV. Expect the couple to unload about their exit from royal life and for Meghan to dish on her experience as a royal of Color. It’s a must-see for the water cooler Monday.
Keeping the faith
With Floridians hopeful the COVID-19 outbreak will soon be in the rearview, state officials are continuing rolling out church-targeted vaccine pushes to assist underserved communities. Helping that demographic will be key to moving past the pandemic.
— Weekend push: Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida Division of Emergency Management officials launched a new effort beginning Friday and running through Monday. The past two days have seen church sites open to distribute the vaccine in Jacksonville, Orlando and St. Petersburg.
— Sunday sites: Pop-up locations will be available Sunday at the Lynn Haven Senior Center at 905 Pennsylvania Ave. in Lynn Haven; the Immanuel Baptist Church in Tallahassee, located at 2351 Mahan Dr.; and the Shiloh Baptist Church Youth Life Center at 580 W. Jackson St. in Orlando.
— More on Monday: The state is also setting up the North Jacksonville Baptist Church as a vaccine site Monday. That building is located at 8531 N. Main St. in Jacksonville.
The state has sponsored more than 70 of these events so far, administering around 60,000 vaccine doses in total.
Fight to scrap THC cap
Florida for Care is pushing back against lawmakers’ proposal to limit THC’s amount available in medical marijuana. The group advocates on behalf of medical marijuana availability.
— Signature surge: The organization delivered a petition Thursday containing more than 30,000 signatures to GOP Senate President Wilton Simpson, Republican House Speaker Chris Sprowls, Senate Democratic Leader Gary Farmer and House Democratic Co-Leader Bobby DuBose. Republicans have largely led the charge to cap THC levels, with Democrats mostly opposed.
— Unprecedented opposition? As of Friday afternoon, Florida for Care had gathered more than 35,000 signatures. “I’ve been around this process for over thirty years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Steve Vancore, who represents medical marijuana distributors. “The passion against raising the cost of THC products to patients is as high as anything I have ever witnessed.”
— No sure thing: Though Republicans control the state Legislature, the effort has failed to advance before due to apprehension in the Senate. While there’s been some warming to the idea this Session on the Senate side, Simpson told reporters late last week he’s still unsure where he stands on the pitch.
Stop the count?
Could Republicans be dooming proposed vote-by-mail (VBM) changes supported by their own Governor? Recent comments from two GOP lawmakers at a Tampa Tiger Bay Club meeting show the GOP may still have some work to do in whipping votes for the measure.
— The law: Those who request VBM ballots now receive them for the current even-year election cycle, as well as the next one. But the DeSantis-backed bill would make sure those requests are only good for a single election cycle. Republicans say they’re increasing ballot security, while Democrats argue the bill puts up needless roadblocks for voters.
— Not so fast: Sen. Danny Burgess and Rep. Lawrence McClure, both Republicans, are hesitant to change Florida’s system following a smooth 2020 cycle. The two haven’t ruled out supporting the proposed GOP bill, but they do seem to be wavering.
— In their words: “I was very proud of the way we did it in Florida, and to that extent, just superstitiously, I don’t think we should touch it — it went very well,” McClure said at that Tampa Tiger Bay gathering. “I was going to say the exact things Lawrence just said,” Burgess replied. “Florida did it right.”
— GOP Frankenstein? Democratic Sen. Shevrin Jones has compared the Republican proposal to Frankenstein’s monster, noting that while Democrats performed better in VBM in 2020, Republicans have tended to win that format in the past. “This is going to turn on them, I promise you,” Jones argued.
Some Republicans were clearly spooked by the Democrats’ dominance in mail-in voting amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Gov. DeSantis, Sen. Dennis Baxley and Rep. Blaise Ingoglia are now spearheading the changes. But with Democrats opposed to what they see as a voter suppression tactic, GOP leaders will need to make sure the rest of their party is on board before moving ahead with the legislation.
Sen. Jeff Brandes and his 12-year old daughter, Charlotte, shared a heartwarming moment on opening day, sharing a well-practiced duet in delivering the national anthem.
— How did he get to do that?: Brandes went through the Senate President’s office to get permission for the daddy/daughter performance.
— A karaoke-inspired idea: Brandes, long a fan of karaoke, said his daughter, whose nickname is Lottie, has long wanted to belt the anthem, so now seemed like a good time.
— The prep: The two practiced for weeks ahead of the opening day of Session in what Brandes described as “a nightly ritual for us.”
— So, how’d they do?: “She said I sung too loud,” Brandes mused of his daughter’s reaction.
— But was she pleased with the performance?: “Are they ever?”
DiCeglie’s cash flow
Rep. Nick DiCeglie, just days after announcing his bid for SD 24 to replace Brandes, announced an impressive February haul.
— That’ll do for now: DiCeglie brought in more than $176,000 in February and on Mar. 1, the last day before Legislative Session and the last day he could fundraise until it’s over.
— Some key donors: Prominent local contributors include St. Pete City Council members Ed Montanari and Robert Blackmon, real estate investor Jim Holton, developer Jonathan Stanton and attorney Brian Aungst Jr.
— A good first showing: This is DiCeglie’s first campaign finance announcement since declaring for the race on March 1, and it leaves him inspired. “It’s indicative of the level of excitement behind our conservative message and our track record of getting results. We’re off to a great start, and we will continue putting together the resources needed to continue taking our message to voters and win in 2022.”
Legoland meets Tallahassee
Legoland broke ground in Tallahassee this week, building a Florida Historic Capitol replica and gifting it to the Legislature.
— The reveal: House Speaker Chris Sprowls unveiled the replica on Monday. He invited lawmakers and families to attend.
— The logistics: The structure stands over six feet tall, weighs more than 400 pounds and contains more than 372,000 pieces. It rests now on the Capitol’s fourth floor.
— The how: Sprowls asked to borrow Legoland’s original replica for the first of Session. Instead, they offered the Legislature one of their own.
— What they’re saying: “It’s been a heavy year for all of us,” Sprowls said. “We thought this would be a great way for us to celebrate together the start of our new session.”
— Mini replicas for all: Sprowls then gifted desk-sized Lego Capitol replicas to members of the House.
And in related news
Rep. Spencer Roach owns his inner insect.
— I’m a Roach, so what? Roach gave every member Norman Love chocolates with an image of a roach emblazoned on the top, along with a card signed “Spencer” with an image of Florida’s notorious creepy crawler.
— Why would he do that? “Most of the insults I’ve gotten and the only negative ads in my campaign were about my last name,” he said. “I thought I’d just own it.”
Feast your eyes
Florida-themed artwork now compliments the walls of a Knott building committee room.
— The creator: The art is designed by Marty Holland, who heads up the Senate Office of Multimedia Communications and Instructional Design. Simpson tasked Sen. Kathleen Passidomo with tapping a creator.
— Variety: Located in 412 Knott, the art’s deco theme highlights Florida’s rural community, beaches and urban coastal cities.
— Dimensions: The multiple pieces are nine feet by three and a half feet.
Fresh in for new Session
Sen. Manny Diaz is bringing on a new legislative aide, Maggie Adair. Adair will work with the Miami-Dade Republican as he chairs the Health Policy Committee and serves on multiple appropriations committees.
— Donald Trump alum: Adair served as a strategic communications coordinator during Trump’s 2020 reelection bid. While Trump lost the election, he won Florida by a comfortable 3 percentage points and helped Republicans over-perform in Miami-Dade County.
— Comms vet: Adair worked under Senior Advisor for Strategic Communications Mercedes Schlapp during that campaign, helping to manage surrogates and produce Trump online content. Adair is also a former personal assistant to Laura Ingraham of Fox News.
— Daniel Martinez: Adair steps in for Martinez, who worked as a Diaz legislative aide for years. Martinez recently took a position with The LIBRE Initiative-Florida.
Adair earned a communications degree from Roanoke College and a master’s in political management from George Washington University.
The Ringling Brothers are no longer touring, but Republican Rep. Anthony Sabatini may be taking his circus act nationwide soon.
— Monday mystery: Sabatini is setting up some sort of declaration Monday. Though only serving his second term
chasing social media clout with increasingly outlandish troll behavior as a member of the House, Sabatini reportedly has his eyes on higher office in 2022 with the decennial redistricting on the horizon.
— H-U-G-E: “I’m making a HUGE campaign announcement,” Sabatini said in a recent statement. “It’s time for America-First Conservatives to stand up and fight! Join me and fellow patriots on Monday, March 8, as we take on the radical left and revive America.”
— Senate bid … or not? Sabatini has been rumored to mount a state Senate bid in 2022, but the word is he’s got his eyes on a congressional seat. It’s unclear yet where Sabatini would run, given the precise districts remain unsettled. But it appears he’s tired of his home turf and wants to move his
clown act legislative base to the national stage.
Sabatini has a standout resume to run on. Highlights include being laughed out of court over multiple lawsuits challenging local mask mandates and being so divisive that GOP leadership assigned him to the fewest committees of any House Republican this term.
Support organ donations
Another lease on life. That’s how lobbyist Louis Betz felt after a 2018 double lung transplant saved him from terminal lung disease. Now, an organization Betz founded called More Transplants More Life (MTML) has officially earned 501(c) (3) nonprofit status from the IRS.
The mission: MTML seeks to support patients on the organ donation waitlist and bring awareness to the public about the importance of donating organs.
— Milestone: “This is a major milestone for our growing organization,” said Betz, who serves as the group’s president. He said he was “excited” to continue MTML’s work with the new status.
— Tax-deductible: Now that the group is a 501(c) (3), contributions to the organization are tax-deductible. “This opens many doors for our organization to expand fundraising and increase advocacy on behalf of transplant candidates across the board,” Betz added.
Public and private grants are also available to MTML now, thanks to its nonprofit status. Granted a second chance, the Tampa-based Betz is looking to make sure he pays it forward to patients in need.
Sarah Sims joins Jaber
Jaber Group is bringing on Sarah Sims to serve as the group’s government affairs and client relations director. The organization is a Tallahassee-based business consulting firm.
— New gig: Sims’ new portfolio includes handling client issues involving regulatory agencies and the state government. “Sarah’s work includes stakeholder engagement and effective communication strategy forging more effective opportunities for clients,” read a release from Jaber on the hire.
— Old gigs: Sims moved over to Jaber after more than a year-and-a-half at Gunster as a government affairs coordinator. Sims served as campaign manager for Matt Spritz when he made a 2018 bid for the GOP nod in House District 89. She also has experience as a House legislative aide.
— New boss: Lila Jaber, a fellow Gunster alum whose time there overlapped with Sims’, founded the Jaber Group in Jan. 2020. Jaber is a former chair of the Public Service Commission who now serves on the Chesapeake Utilities Corporation board.
Lila Jaber also founded the Florida’s Women in Energy Leadership Forum, where Sims serves as a coordinator.
Smoke-free Gov Club?
The pandemic has done a number on the Governors Club, and it’s facing a tough decision (well, not really). The Club has found a buyer for its license to allow indoor cigar and cigarette smoking, meaning someone is willing to pony up $500,000 to take it off their hands.
— What it means: The sale wouldn’t have any effect on the Club’s liquor license. It wouldn’t even disallow the club from selling tobacco. If it’s fair to call it one (it’s not), the only drawback is people couldn’t smoke inside.
— What next: It’s a shame the Club can’t decide on a voice vote, as the yeas could undoubtedly make their voices heard louder and longer. Alas, the current reality means a survey will have to do. But if that’s the only path forward, the survey should accurately describe the benefits and drawbacks.
— The pros: Club members would be able to go another week between dry cleanings. Club staff wouldn’t smell like a fire by the time they clock out. Club furniture would last twice as long. The Club gets a much-needed $500,000.
— The cons: Nothing. Smokers can literally walk three feet outside of the HVAC and light up or go next door to Clyde’s.
This is a no-brainer. It’s 2021. A cigar every now and then can be a treat: a stinky, yet acceptable one. But like three people actually smoke cigarettes inside anymore, none of the people who don’t are OK with it. If they pitched it right, they probably could have asked members how much more they’d be willing to pay in dues if the Club prohibited indoor smoking.
The Alzheimer’s Association is in Tallahassee this week, looking to raise awareness for the deadly disease. The annual trip runs from Tuesday through Thursday.
— Light up: The Historic Capitol building will be lit purple during a 6:15 p.m. ceremony Tuesday evening. Several lawmakers and Alzheimer’s advocates will be on hand to give remarks, streamed on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
— On hand: Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Richard Purdom will join Sen. Audrey Gibson and Reps. Cord Byrd and Michelle Salzman at the ceremony. First Lady Casey DeSantis will speak as well, as will Alzheimer’s Association Florida Region Vice President of Public Policy Michelle Branham.
— COVID-19 complications: “As our state continues to address the ongoing concerns associated with the pandemic, we must also remain vigilant concerning the public health crisis of Alzheimer’s disease, which continues to affect the lives of more than 580,000 Floridians and their loved ones” Branham said. “In this new, unprecedented year, we must strengthen our commitment to those families to ensure they receive the care and support they need.”
— Speaking out: In addition to the lighting ceremony, advocates will meet virtually with lawmakers through March 11, sharing their experiences in combating the disease. The Alzheimer’s Association aims to increase care for patients while seeking research funding to end the disease.
Along with its colorful name, Bada Bean is known for its all-day breakfast, deli sandwiches, homey entrees, extra-thick bacon and cinnamon buns. Owned by Wendy and Alan Neubauer, the restaurant has been open since 2007.
— The décor: Bada Bean has a kitschy feel with drawings of flappers, a poster from the first “Godfather,” and the famous mug shot of a young Frank Sinatra after his arrest in 1938 on charges of carrying on with a married woman. As for the gangster theme: “Gangsters are usually very close with their family, and momma cooks nice big meals,” jokes Wendy Neubauer.
— The setup: There’s inside and outside seating, with a few tables in front and a small patio with picnic tables. Since the pandemic, Bada has added a few plastic floor-to-ceiling separators between some tables.
— The menu: A favorite is their Eggs Arnold Benedict (with an excellent homemade hollandaise sauce) and grilled vegetables instead of Canadian bacon (though you can get that, too) served with well-seasoned home fries. Other highlights are their Skillets, served in a sizzling cast-iron skillet, pancakes, French toast, omelets and other breakfast classics as well as lunch — all topped off with Lucky Goat coffee.
The local gem is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday to Monday and is closed on Tuesday. It’s located at 2500-B Apalachee Pkwy. Dial 850-562-2326 for more info.