Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 4.12.21

Sunburn Orange Tally (4)
Here's your AM rundown of people, politics and policy in the Sunshine State.

Good Monday morning.

I wrote a little something about the race to be Speaker of the Florida House in 2026. I believe it’s worthy of your time. Click here to read.

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A top-of-Sunburn birthday shoutout to one of our besties, Stephanie Cardozo, external affairs director to Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.

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Spotted: Brian Crowley, former member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and publisher of The Crowley Report, at the Vinoy Renaissance in St. Petersburg.

Brian Crowley was seen hanging out in The Burg.

Spotted: Brady Benford and Monica Rodriguez of Ballard Partners, separately, at the new JW Marriott Bonnet Creek in Orlando.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@TimFullerton: Starting to look like it’ll be about 230,000,000 shots administered during President [Joe] Biden’s first 100 days in office. That would have been unthinkable back in January.

@JimSciutto: “The former President is using the same language that he knows provoked Jan 6 … if you attack the rule of law, you’re not defending the constitution,” @RepLizCheney on CBS just now on [Donald] Trump’s comments to GOP Saturday.

@Donie: Attendees at an event here in Trump National Doral this weekend are attempting to rewrite the history of January 6th. One asks, “what is so terrible about conspiracy theories anyway?”

@JeremyNewberger: Marjorie Taylor Greene raised $3.2M on reports of her callousness, ignorance, and deceptiveness. Good job America. Why not invest your money in head lice too while you are at it.

@RandyRRQuaid: What was @mattgaetz trying to expose just before he was assaulted by fake news? THINK ABOUT IT!

@NikkiFried: There are no second chances when it comes to our environment. We can never let what’s happening at Piney Point happen again. We must hold bad actors accountable. Together, we can save Florida’s sacred environment.

@AllisonTantFL: Been meaning to share that Thursday night, Bill Sadowzki’s widow called to ask what was going on w Affordable Housing. She was aghast. And confessed to being very emotional bc this past Friday was the 19th anniversary of the plane crash that killed him.

@BruceRitchie@FarmerForFLSen referring to insurance commercials “The Gekko, the Lemur, Flo” and the guy who sounds like the voice of God. Lemur? You mean emu?

@SenPizzo: Just a reminder, it’s P I Z Z O. Not Pizza. Not Pirozzolo.

Tweet, tweet:

— DAYS UNTIL —

Disneyland to open — 18; Orthodox Easter 2021 — 20; Mother’s Day — 27; Florida Chamber Safety Council’s inaugural Southeastern Leadership Conference on Safety, Health and Sustainability — 28; ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ rescheduled premiere — 46; Memorial Day — 49; ‘Loki’ premieres on Disney+ — 60; Father’s Day — 69; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 81; 4th of July — 83; ‘Black Widow’ rescheduled premiere — 87; MLB All-Star Game — 92; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 102; The NBA Draft — 108; ‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres — 110; ‘The Suicide Squad’ premieres — 116; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 134; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 144; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres (rescheduled) — 165; ‘Dune’ premieres — 172; MLB regular season ends — 174; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 180; World Series Game 1 — 197; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 204; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 207; San Diego Comic-Con begins — 228; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 239; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 246; Super Bowl LVI — 307; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 347; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 389; “Black Panther 2” premieres — 452; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 543; “Captain Marvel 2” premieres — 578.

— GAETZGATE —

House opens ethics investigation into Matt Gaetz” via Lori Rozsa, Michael Scherer and Matt Zapotosky of The Washington Post — The House Ethics Committee announced it would investigate claims against Rep. Gaetz, opening a new front in the growing scandal enveloping the Florida Republican. The news of the investigation came a day after Gaetz’s friend, Joel Greenberg, who has been charged with sex trafficking of a minor among other offenses, signaled to a federal judge through his lawyer that he was negotiating a plea deal with prosecutors that could help them in an ongoing probe into whether Gaetz paid for sex or trafficked a woman across state lines for sex.

—”DOJ veterans say the latest twist in the Gaetz sex-trafficking investigation could be the most ‘scary’ one yet for the lawmaker” via Sonam Sheth of Business Insider

The House Ethics Committee has opened an investigation of a defiant Matt Gaetz, as he lawyers up. Image via AP.

Gaetz tells Donald Trump supporters he’s a champion of women, scoffs at ‘smears’” via Bianca Padró Ocasio of the Miami Herald — Gaetz’s speech at the “Save America Summit,” part of a four-day conference with a slate of right-wing speakers discussing topics like “election integrity,” was one of his first public appearances since The New York Times reported a week ago that the FBI was investigating Gaetz. “The smears against me range from distortions of my personal life, to wild — and I mean, wild — conspiracy theories,” said Gaetz. “I won’t be intimidated by a lying media, and I won’t be extorted by a former DOJ [Department of Justice] official and the crooks he is working with. The truth will prevail.” The event was organized by Women for America First, the same group that held the now-infamous “Save America Rally” in Washington on Jan. 6.

Gaetz also says he is a victim of ‘the leaks and the lies’ of critics” via Maggie Haberman and Michael Majchrowicz of The New York Times — “They lie about me because I tell the truth about them, and I’m not gonna stop,” Gaetz said at the event. “I know this: Firebrands don’t retreat, especially when the battle for the soul of our country calls.” … “Big government, big tech, big business, big media — they’d all breathe a sigh of relief if I were no longer in the Congress fighting for you.”

Gaetz loses another staffer as fallout around investigation continues” via Ryan Nobles of CNN — Devin Murphy, the legislative director for Rep. Gaetz, has resigned his post, making him the second staffer to leave the Florida Congressman’s office as the pressure continues to mount surrounding a federal investigation into sex trafficking allegations. A source directly connected to Murphy said he left the job, not specifically because of Gaetz’s legal troubles, but because the “media circus” surrounding the Republican made it difficult to accomplish “meaningful congressional work.” Murphy’s decision comes after Gaetz’s former communications director Luke Ball quit his job shortly after the FBI probe was revealed.

Florida Republicans see opening as Gaetz’s legal peril rises” via Gary Fineout of POLITICO — Gaetz insists he’s not resigning amid an ongoing federal investigation. Still, Republicans in his deep-red Florida district are already eyeing his seat. Several Republican elected officials and others who live in the sprawling Panhandle district said they received a robocall over the weekend asking voters if they thought Gaetz would step down due to his legal woes. They were also asked about potential candidates, including Laura Loomer, the provocateur who mounted an unsuccessful campaign for a South Florida congressional seat last year. Florida’s 1st congressional district, one of the safest Republican districts in the country, has only come open three times in the last 40 years.

How the forces inside the GOP that pushed out John Boehner led to Gaetz” via Paul Kane of The Washington Post — A decade ago, as he fulfilled his political dream of claiming the speaker’s gavel, Boehner quickly learned how his party was changing, evolving from an ideologically conservative outfit into an emotionally driven grievance caucus. He failed, miserably, to tame those forces, and by the fall of 2015, they helped push him into retirement. Before a reported criminal investigation into possible sex crimes threatened his career, Gaetz devoted himself to an entirely media-driven approach, epitomizing the group that caused Boehner so much trouble. Whether in a committee room or on the House floor, he focused on using the conservative media echo chamber to go viral.

The same ideology that squeezed John Boehner out was the one that brought Matt Gaetz in. Image via AP.

Boehner says Gaetz should resign if indicted — or be expelled” via Susan Page of USA Today — Boehner told USA TODAY that embattled Rep. Gaetz should resign if he is indicted. If the Florida congressman refuses, Boehner said, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy should move to expel him from the House. “When a member gets in trouble, it splashes back on all the members,” Boehner said in an interview about his memoir. On eight or 10 occasions, Boehner said, he called in congressional Republicans enmeshed in scandals. “Is there more to this?” he would ask. “Yes? All right, you’ve got one hour to resign, or I’m going to go to the floor and move to throw you out.’ He said all the members who received that warning chose to resign.

—”The GOP’s Gaetz problem” via Amy Davidson Sorkin of The New Yorker

—“SNL embarrasses Gaetz after Venmo revelations” via Matt Wilstein of the Daily Beast 

—”Gaetz case leads to state Sen. Jason Brodeur’s race. What will they find?” via Pat Rice of the Daytona Beach News-Journal 

The sprawling federal case against Joel Greenberg: Here’s what each charge against him means” via Jeff Weiner of the Orlando Sentinel — The news that a plea agreement is in the works for Greenberg, Seminole County’s disgraced former tax collector, came more than a week after prosecutors filed their fourth indictment against him, raising the number of federal charges he faces to a staggering 33. Although Greenberg is a first-time offender, if convicted on all counts, his potential sentence could also be staggering: He faces a mandatory 10-year sentence on a sex-trafficking charge, while the other counts could tack on more decades behind bars. The unlawful use of a means of identification charge has a maximum of five. The maximum for his production of an identifying document charge is 15 years.

’Like the Tiger King got elected tax collector’: inside the case that ensnared Gaetz” via Patricia Mazzei, Michael Schmidt and Katie Benner of The New York Times — Greenberg went from being a wealthy but troubled teenager who drifted through young adulthood before turning to local politics five years ago. In the end, Greenberg went from being an outsider elected on an anticorruption platform to, prosecutors say, becoming corrupted himself. The world he built quickly fell apart when he was first indicted in June. He resigned and dropped his reelection bid. Greenberg acted unlike any other tax collector in Florida. His small-time position left him dissatisfied. His friendships gave him a taste of greater power. He tested the boundaries until it all imploded. “Seminole County elected a criminal into office, unknowingly,” said J.R. Kroll, a Republican who was elected tax collector last year.

Joel Greenberg was a rich kid who broke bad.

Chris Dorworth resigns from lobbying firm as reports link Greenberg probe to web of allied power brokers” via Jason Garcia, Martin E. Comas of the Orlando Sentinel — Dorworth resigned from his firm on Friday, after his name had surfaced in a pair of unfolding scandals that have rocked Florida politics in recent weeks involving Greenberg and Gaetz. And then there’s an investigation out of South Florida into allegations of staging dummy third-party candidates in high-profile state Senate elections last year, which has led to charges against former state Sen. Frank Artiles. Both controversies have in common Dorworth, the former Republican lawmaker-turned-lobbyist from Seminole County and longtime friend of both Gaetz and Artiles. Dorworth, Gaetz and Artiles have been close friends, powerful forces, and divisive figures in Florida politics for a decade now.

— DATELINE TALLAHASSEE —

Ron DeSantis’ anti-riot bill advances in Senate despite criticism it infringes on free speech” via John Kennedy of The Lakeland Ledger — DeSantis’ “anti-riot” bill, which has become one of the Legislature’s most controversial measures, finally advanced Friday in the state Senate. Dozens of Floridians testified against the legislation, with many condemning it as a racially tinged attack on free speech. Republican legislators who spoke in favor of the measure echoed DeSantis’ stance that it’s needed to protect businesses and communities from violence. The Governor proposed the legislation following the Black Lives Matter protests last year that followed George Floyd‘s killing by Minneapolis police. Some of the demonstrations around the nation turned violent, with stores burned and looted, while protesters and police were injured in confrontations.

Despite First Amendment concerns, Ron DeSantis’ anti-protest bill goes full speed ahead.

He was arrested at a Black Lives Matter protest. Now, he’s warning others about Florida’s anti-riot proposal.” via Tim Craig of The Washington Post — Hundreds of people in Plant City, including Vintwan Lee Brooks, marched on a local highway last year in response to Floyd’s death to decry racism and call for policing changes. Under a new proposal, a person who attends a protest that becomes violent can be charged with a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. The crime rises to a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison if 25 or more people are present at a disruptive event. Brooks and other Black Floridians say the legislation would silence their opposition to Confederate symbols while handing police even more power.

Legislation to fight sea level rise goes to Governor” via Bobby Caina Calvan of The Associated Press — Legislation hailed as some of the most robust yet to defend U.S. coasts against sea level rise is headed to DeSantis, a proposal that would provide millions of dollars annually to communities threatened with losing ground to rising oceans because of climate change. With 1,350 miles of coastline, Florida is among the most vulnerable places on earth amid the global fight against rising atmospheric temperatures. Without debate, the House unanimously approved legislation already advanced by the Senate to establish a fund providing up to $100 million annually for so-called resiliency projects. It would also require the state to identify and map out areas most at risk from coastal flooding and rising seas.

Pending plans would spell end of petition campaigns” via Bill Cotterell of the Tallahassee Democrat — About 50 years ago, when legislators wrote rules for putting constitutional amendments on the ballot, they spoke of a homespun ideal of democracy, with the people telling the politicians what Florida needs. Republicans now in charge really don’t like the public dictating anything, even when the end product can be manipulated. That’s why many legislators want to effectively end the public-initiative method of amending the Constitution. Oh, it would still exist, but with new hoops for advocates to jump through. There’s a bill, for instance, to raise the threshold for passage from 60 percent to 66.6 percent of the public vote. It lowers the vote opponents would need to kill an amendment, from 40 percent to one-third. Another plan would put a $3,000 cap on contributions to petition-gathering campaigns.

— TALLY 2 —

Florida Senate unveils scaled-down gambling bills with no sports betting” via Skylar Swisher of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Sports betting isn’t on the table in scaled-down gambling legislation unveiled Wednesday in the Florida Senate. A trio of gambling bills omits another closely watched item, gambling license “portability” that could allow betting at Trump’s golf club in Doral and the Fontainebleau Resort in Miami Beach. Billionaire real estate mogul Jeffrey Soffer has been pushing to transfer a gambling license from Hallandale Beach’s Big Easy Casino to the Fontainebleau Resort, which his family owns. The legislation would also allow pari-mutuel permit holders to operate card rooms without offering jai-alai, harness, or quarter horse racing. This is known as “decoupling.”

Jeffrey Soffer may be closer to getting a gambling license for the Fontainebleau.

Anna Eskamani’s future is grounded in her past” via Pete Reinwald of Spectrum News —  An unfinished painting on an office wall in the Florida Capitol depicts a pensive young woman in traditional Persian headdress. The woman holds a stick to an ear and sits in a garden bathed in water, flora and color. It’s the work of Nasrin Eskamani, an Iranian immigrant, painter, seamstress, low-wage worker, wife, and mother of three who died of cancer in 2004. Seventeen years after her mother’s death, Rep. Anna Eskamani makes that painting the centerpiece of her office in the Capitol. “She never had a chance to finish it. It’s up to us to finish that canvas for her.”

AFP announces campaign backing union dues bill — Americans for Prosperity-Florida announced a statewide campaign today to increase support for SB 78, a bill before the Senate that will give teachers more control over their paychecks. The legislation would end automatic paycheck deductions, increase transparency and ensure workers are not forced to join or remain in a union. The campaign includes digital outreach and direct mail focused on how this legislation will put students, parents, and teachers before unions.


— LEG. SKED —

House Minority Co-leader Evan Jenne and Rep. Fentrice Driskell will hold a virtual media availability, 10 a.m. Zoom link here, and it will also be livestreamed on The Florida Channel.

The Florida Public Service Commission Nominating Council meets to consider five candidates to replace Julie Brown on the state Public Service Commission, 10 a.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee meets to consider two bills, SPB 7076 and SPB 7080, that would create a state “Gaming Control Commission,” removing the requirement that many pari-mutuel facilities must hold live horse racing or jai alai games to offer card rooms, 3 p.m., Room 412, Knott Building.

Also:

The Revenue Estimating Conference will discuss issues related to a tax collection enforcement diversion program, 9:30 a.m., Room 117, Knott Building.

The Revenue Estimating Conference meets to examine monthly revenue estimates, 10 a.m., Room 117, Knott Building.

— 2022 —

Death of congressman Alcee Hastings sets off political showdown, as candidates line up to replace him” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Long before congressman Hastings died, candidates who wanted to succeed him were plotting strategy, lining up potential supporters, assessing the opposition, and figuring out how to pay for it all. Some of the politicking was open. Broward County Commissioner Barbara Sharief officially declared her candidacy more than four months ago. Others operated less publicly before the death of Hastings, who had been diagnosed in late 2018 with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. The inside game is about to become much more public and crowded, with at least 13 candidates considering a run.

Alcee Hastings’ death created a political vacuum that needs to be filled quickly.

Don’t delay, DeSantis: Call election to replace Hastings” via Steve Bousquet of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The death of Hastings leaves more than a half-million Floridians with no voice in Congress for the first time in three decades, including many Black and brown voters who need a strong advocate without delay. Simply by doing nothing, DeSantis could score points with conservatives as he plots a run for the White House. That also would disenfranchise many Democrats in South Florida, but since when did Republicans care about that? DeSantis may well call a special election quickly, and that would be the right call because holding a special election should not be a partisan decision.

Happening today — State candidates, political committees and parties face a deadline to file reports on campaign finance activity through March 31.

Autopsy redux: House Democrats select panel to help review and revamp campaign operations — The House Victory Caucus is putting together a seven-person panel to help strategize and make improvements ahead of the 2022 campaign cycle, which features a gubernatorial contest at the top of the ticket. House Democratic Leader-Designate Ben Diamond announced the effort in a message to fellow members last week. “In order to systematically review all aspects of recent House Democratic activities, we have organized a committee of former legislators, candidates, and operatives to conduct a thorough analysis of all functions of the House Caucus operation,” Diamond wrote.

More than 100 corporate executives hold call to discuss halting donations and investments to fight controversial voting bills” via Todd Frankel of The Washington Post — Executives from major airlines, retailers and manufacturers, plus at least one NFL owner, talked about potential ways to show they opposed controversial voting measures, including by halting donations to politicians who support the bills and even delaying investments in states that pass the restrictive measures. While no final steps were agreed upon, the meeting represents an aggressive dialing up of corporate America’s stand against controversial voting measures nationwide, a sign that their opposition to the laws didn’t end with the fight against the Georgia legislation passed in March.

— STATEWIDE —

Why DeSantis’s 2024 stock is rising” via Arian Campo-Flores and Alex Leary of The Wall Street Journal — DeSantis has burnished his brand with a COVID-19 response that has enthused the Trump voter base while also impressing the kind of moderate and suburban voters who turned away from Trump in 2020. As the GOP looks to rebuild after losing the presidential election last year, that formula could give DeSantis an advantage over rivals who similarly are trying to forge their own path in the shadow of Trump. Over the past year, DeSantis rejected most public-health experts’ advice and reopened the state’s economy early, resisted mask mandates and other restrictions, and made Florida one of the most permissive settings in the U.S.

By bucking conventional wisdom, Ron DeSantis is rising in stature among Donald Trump’s voter base.

Happening today — Agriculture Commissioner Fried is hosting a news conference to discuss illegal gas pump “skimmers” and security legislation, 2 p.m. RaceTrac, 12401 N.W. 57th Ave., Hialeah.

Florida order waives passage of state exams for graduation or promotion during pandemic” via Ryan Dailey of the News Service of Florida — Answering the question of how the state would handle standardized testing this year, the FDE issued an emergency order Friday waiving accountability measures tied to state exams. Concerns about the consequences of testing had loomed as exams kicked off this week for some students. Education officials and lawmakers grappled with the issue because of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on schools, including many students learning remotely. State assessments were canceled last year because of the pandemic.

Florida appeals court upholds NRA-backed state law barring local gun regulations” via Jim Saunders of The Daytona Beach News-Journal — In a win for Republican lawmakers and the National Rifle Association, an appeals court upheld a 2011 state law that threatens tough penalties if city and county officials approve gun-related regulations. A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal rejected a challenge to the NRA-backed law by 30 cities, three counties and more than 70 local officials. A Leon County circuit judge in 2019 found that parts of the law were unconstitutional, spurring Attorney General Ashley Moody and Gov. DeSantis to appeal.

Medical marijuana is legal in Florida. Why are there no job protections?” via Alexi C. Cardona of the Miami New Times — A West Palm Beach city employee was fired last month for failing a drug test. Jason McCarty, the city’s deputy chief of information technology, disclosed before taking the urine test that he had smoked a joint at home the previous night for his anxiety and insomnia. His lawyer said McCarty didn’t want to take a sedative and risk feeling groggy at work the next day. Despite McCarty’s assurances that he hadn’t smoked during working hours or at his place of employment, the city let him go. Laws in 20 states prohibit employers from discriminating against workers because of their medical pot use.

To ‘The Fellowship of the Springs,’ Florida is selling out an environmental treasure” via Oscar Corral of the Miami Herald — Thomas Greenhalgh risked his job and career in 2019 when he sued his own employer, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, to challenge the state’s plans to protect Florida’s imperiled springs from increasing pollution. Judge Francine M. Folkes let the state rule stand. It basically compels farms to implement ineffective “best management practices” that allow them to comply with the rule — but without meeting water quality standards. This legal drama is just part of an upcoming documentary covering two years of grassroots efforts to preserve the world’s largest collection of natural springs, “The Fellowship of the Springs.”

Florida citrus production faces sour predictions for 2020-21 season” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — In the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s most recent estimate of orange production, Florida fell behind California as it continues to see declines in predicted production, a telling sign of how the Sunshine State’s citrus industry is faring. The USDA predicted a 7% decrease from March for all Florida orange production, from 55.5 million to 51.7 million boxes. The state’s current predicted production is also down 23% from last year’s season. While Florida has continued to see a reduction in its forecast as July approaches, California’s production has stayed steady. The most recent report put California at 52 million boxes, the same number from the March forecast.

Florida is full of invasive species. They’re coming for the rest of us.” via James Chapin for The Washington Post — Rest easy: You are safe from the Burmese python. The invasive constrictors show little interest in moving beyond the Florida Everglades. The same can’t necessarily be said, though, for some other scourges currently using Florida as a staging ground. Creatures like the tegu, a dog-sized toothed lizard, are gaining a foothold in the woods of central Florida. Or the lionfish, an aquarium escapee with long, venomous spines. Call it Floridafication: A number of the state’s nastiest living attributes are rapidly migrating outward. Florida has long been home to a thriving captive wildlife industry. This has contributed to its status as the place with the highest number of introduced animals in the United States.

Tegu, a dog-sized toothed lizard, is one of the latest species to call Florida home. Image via Outdoor Life.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

YouTube pulls video of DeSantis panel discussion urging no masks for children” via Meryl Kornfield of The Washington Post — YouTube has pulled a video featuring DeSantis over allegations it contains misinformation about the coronavirus and mask-wearing. The video is of a March 18 roundtable discussion in Tallahassee the Governor hosted with panelists who have publicly spoken against lockdowns and other measures enacted to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. According to platform spokeswoman Elena Hernandez, the video was taken down Wednesday because it violated a policy related to “COVID-19 medical misinformation,” according to platform spokeswoman Elena Hernandez. One panelist wrote that he viewed the discussion as a “policy forum” and raised objections to mask-wearing based on evidence that masks could hinder a child’s ability to learn and interact with others.

Video of a Ron DeSantis ‘anti-mask’ policy forum gets yanked from YouTube. Image via NBC News.

Many long-term care staffers in Florida refused the vaccine. Now they have more infections than residents.” via Cindy Krischer Goodman, Kate Santich and Adelaide Chen of the Orlando Sentinel — At Florida’s long-term care facilities, more workers are now infected with COVID-19 than elderly residents, a dramatic shift from earlier in the pandemic. Despite state and federal attempts to offer vaccinations at all nursing homes and assisted-living centers in the state, 62% of staffers have declined, posing the single biggest threat to the more than 25,000 elderly people in those facilities who are also unvaccinated. “These are the folks from the beginning that were bringing it in,” said Mary Daniel, a caregiver and advocate for families of residents. As of April 9, 344 of Florida’s long-term care workers tested positive for COVID-19, compared to 276 residents. The good news is overall cases are down, only a tenth of what they were in January.

Florida evangelicals on vaccine: Right thing to do or mark of the beast?” via David Fleshler of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Few communities have been more divided over the vaccines than the sprawling expanse of Christian churches and denominations classified as evangelical. Among religious demographic groups, white evangelicals were the most likely to reject COVID-19 vaccines, with 45% saying they would not get the shot. At the other end of the spectrum, the group least likely to reject the vaccine were atheists. What experts call “vaccine hesitancy” has emerged as a significant obstacle in the fight against the disease, particularly with the rise of more transmissible variants of the virus.

— CORONA LOCAL —

She coughed on a Jacksonville Pier 1 shopper during the pandemic. Now she’s heading to jail.” via Dan Scanlan of The Florida Times-Union — A Fernandina Beach woman seen giving the finger to another shopper on video that went viral then coughing in her face at a St. Johns Town Center store before storming out has been sentenced to 29 days in jail for assault. The decision ended several hours of testimony and questions during Debra Jo Michele Hunter‘s sentencing hearing that went into Thursday evening and came despite an August plea agreement that had consisted of only probation with conditions. Duval County Court Judge James Ruth first heard testimony from Hunter’s husband, friends, and family, who said she has a “really huge heart” and is “brokenhearted” over how she coughed on cancer patient Heather Sprague.

To watch a video of the encounter, click on the image below:

Vaccine outreach to underserved in Palm Beach County at full throttle” via Jane Musgrave of The Palm Beach Post — When cash-strapped families lined up for food this week at the Palm Beach Outlets in West Palm Beach Beach, they got an unexpected surprise: Along with a box of groceries, they were offered coronavirus vaccines. The double dose of assistance is part of the latest efforts to reach those who have been overlooked even as nearly 4.2 million people in Florida have been vaccinated, including 323,000 in Palm Beach County. The mission took on added urgency this week when cases continued to spike. Florida added another 7,121 cases on Friday, including 470 in Palm Beach County. “We want to make sure our families have fair and equitable access to food as well as health care,” said Paco Velez, CEO of Feeding South Florida.

COVID-19 deaths in Collier County reach 500. Here’s a look at what we know about them.” via Dan DeLuca of the Naples Daily News — Collier County has reached a grim milestone, reporting its 500th COVID-19 related death. Collier became the 16th Florida county to reach this deadly threshold on Friday, April 2. Together, these 16 counties accounted for about 78% of the state’s 33,586 resident deaths as of that date. While Collier County is 16th in overall COVID-19 deaths, its death rate of 1.6% was 10th among counties with at least 500 coronavirus fatalities. Marion has the highest death rate among those 16 counties at 3.2%. A total of 369 days passed between Collier’s first reported death and its 500th. The median age of Collier County residents who have died of COVID-19 is 81.

— CORONA NATION —

States have been slow to order allotted vaccine doses, spurring calls for new approach” via Isaac Stanley-Becker of The Washington Post — States have delayed ordering hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses available to them even as coronavirus outbreaks escalate, a sign the nation is moving past its supply pinch and now faces more acute challenges related to demand, staffing, and inoculation of hard-to-reach populations. What’s most mystifying at this stage in the pandemic is the number of states waiting to order all the doses they’ve been allotted. At one point last week, 13 states had more than 100,000 doses apiece available and not ordered. The delays have gained notice inside the federal government, where officials have discussed whether performance metrics and getting them to vulnerable groups should be part of allocation decisions.

Plunging Johnson & Johnson vaccine supply dents state inoculation efforts” via Sharon LaFraniere, Noah Weiland and Jennifer Steinhauer of The New York Times — Supplies of Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose coronavirus vaccine will be extremely limited until federal regulators approve production at a Baltimore manufacturing plant with a pattern of quality-control lapses. With allocations of the company’s vaccine set to plunge by 86 percent next week, Governors across the country warned that the loss of supplies they had been counting on would set back their vaccination drives. Federal officials said Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech could make up some of the shortfall. They also pointed out that some states were not currently using all the vaccines allocated to them.

A shortage of the Johnson & Jonson vaccine puts a speedbump on state vaccination efforts.

Red states are vaccinating at a lower rate than blue states” via Harry Enten of CNN — One of the biggest obstacles in America’s race to vaccinate against the coronavirus has been that substantial proportions of certain groups choose not to vaccinate. The polling has suggested all along that Republicans would be less likely to get vaccinations than Democrats, and this is now being seen in the real world. Blue states are starting to outpace red states when it comes to vaccinations, and the instances where that isn’t the case are often explained by other expected demographic patterns. Right now, 46% of those 18 and older in the average state Biden won have had at least one dose of the vaccine. That drops to 41% in the average state Trump won.

— MORE CORONA —

Nursing newborns are not having reactions to COVID-19 vaccine” via Miriam Fauzia of USA Today — On social media, vaccine apprehension and hesitancy live on, with one claim alleging breastfeeding babies are experiencing adverse reactions because of their vaccinated mothers. Shared to Facebook on March 30, the text above an image of an unidentified child covered in rashes asks if “anyone heard anything about babies having reactions when their nursing moms get the COVID-19 vaccine?” A Facebook comment below the image appears to explain. Caitlyn RN, who originally made the post, clarified the rash-covered child pictured in the image and the child referred to in the March 17 post are not the same. USA Today has not been able to verify whether the infant death discussed in the original post actually happened.

A Facebook post warning of the dangers vaccines pose to infants may have been a hoax.

For immigrants, IDs prove to be a barrier to a dose of protection” via Akilah Johnson of The Washington Post — Immigrants have been turned away from pharmacies and other places after being asked for driver’s licenses, Social Security numbers, or health insurance cards — specific documentation not mandated by states or the federal government but often requested at vaccination sites across the country. Often the request comes in English, a language many of the vaccine-seekers don’t fully understand. Some state agencies and businesses that provide vaccinations have acknowledged the problem and vowed that it would stop. The federal government says everyone has a right to the coronavirus vaccine regardless of immigration status.

Effectiveness of Chinese vaccines ‘not high’ and needs improvement, top health official says” via Gerry Shih of The Washington Post — The head of the Chinese CDC conceded that the efficacy of Chinese coronavirus vaccines is “not high” and that they may require improvements, marking a rare admission from a government that has staked its international credibility on its doses. George Gao‘s comments come after the government has already distributed hundreds of millions of doses to other countries, even though the rollout has been dogged by questions over why Chinese pharmaceutical firms have not released detailed clinical trial data. China is “formally considering” options to change its vaccines to “solve the problem that the efficacy of the existing vaccines is not high,” Gao said.

— PRESIDENTIAL —

Joe Biden seeks huge funding increases for education, health care and environmental protection in first budget request to Congress” via Tony Romm of The Washington Post — Biden asked Congress to authorize a massive $1.5 trillion federal spending plan later this year, seeking to invest heavily in several government agencies to boost education, expand affordable housing, bolster public health and confront climate change. The request marks Biden’s first discretionary spending proposal, a precursor to the full annual budget he aims to release later in the spring that will address programs including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The president’s early blueprint calls for a nearly 16 percent increase in funding across nondefense domestic agencies. Biden’s new plan calls for a less than 2 percent increase for the military in the upcoming fiscal year.

Joe Biden’s first budget — go big or go home. Image via AP.

Biden’s agenda faces crucial test as moderate Democrats draw lines and GOP rallies opposition” via Mike DeBonis and Seung Min Kim of The Washington Post — President Biden’s legislative ambitions face a crucial test in the narrowly divided Congress this month, with key Democratic Senators signaling they want to pump the brakes as party leaders move to quickly pivot from last month’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief act to an even larger infrastructure and jobs bill and other pressing policy items. Republican leaders, meanwhile, are beginning to mount fierce opposition to those plans, even as a subset of GOP centrists share rising frustration about a lack of meaningful outreach from Biden, who has billed himself as a bipartisan dealmaker.

Four ways of looking at the radicalism of Biden” via Ezra Klein of The New York Times — In the Senate, in the Obama White House, in the Democratic Party’s post-Trump reckoning, Biden was rarely, if ever, the voice calling for transformational change or go-it-alone ambition. But you’d never know it from his presidency. The standard explanation for all this is the advent of the coronavirus. That may explain the American Rescue Plan. But the American Jobs Plan, and the forthcoming American Family Plan, go far beyond the virus. Put together, they are a sweeping indictment of the pre-pandemic status quo as a disaster for both people and the planet. Biden still talks like he believes bipartisanship is possible in Congress, but his administration has put the onus on Republicans to prove it.

— EPILOGUE TRUMP —

Trump lashes his enemies anew as GOP dances around his presence” via Shane Goldmacher, Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin of The New York Times — With Trump determined to keep his grip on the Republican Party and the Party’s base as adhered to him as ever, the coming together of the RNC’s top donors in South Florida this weekend is less a moment of reset and more a reminder of the continuing tensions and schisms roiling the GOP. As donors and GOP leaders looked on Saturday night, Trump quickly cast aside his prepared remarks and returned to his false claims that the election was stolen from him. He saved much of his vitriol for Sen. Mitch McConnell, the minority leader. Trump praised the crowd that attended his rally on Jan. 6, admiring how large it was.

At a GOP donor event, Donald Trump called Mitch McConnell a ‘son of a bitch.’

Could DeSantis be Trump’s GOP heir? He’s certainly trying.” via Patricia Mazzei of The New York Times — With Florida defying many of the gloomy projections of early 2020 and feeling closer to normal, DeSantis, 42, has positioned himself as the head of “the free state of Florida” and as a political heir to Trump. DeSantis owes a mightier debt than most in his party to Trump, who blessed his candidacy. DeSantis’s political maneuvering and extensive national donor network have allowed him to emerge as a top Republican candidate to succeed Mr. Trump on the ballot in 2024 if the former president does not run again. The Governor’s brand of libertarianism — or “competent Trumpism,” as one ally called it — is on the ascent. Seizing on conservative issues du jour, he has forged strong connections with his party’s base.

The asterisk on Trump’s endorsement of Marco Rubio” via Aaron Blake of The Washington Post — Trump is trying to play kingmaker in 2022 Republican primaries. He added a high-profile Senate incumbent to the list, backing Rubio. And as is often the case with the former President, Trump’s support apparently owed in significant part to that Republican having said things about Trump that Trump liked. After praising Rubio as a champion for his constituents, Trump added, “He also ruled that ‘President Trump was in no way involved with Russia,’ as he presided over the Senate Intelligence Committee on the FAKE Russia, Russia, Russia Hoax.” This is, to put it gently, a highly oversimplified and misleading review.

—“Trump and Rubio, best of frenemies” via Ed Kilgore of New York magazine

— LOCAL NOTES —

Florida’s only lead factory finds itself in damage-control mode” via Corey G. Johnson, Rebecca Woolington and Eli Murray of the Tampa Bay Times — Federal safety regulators descended on the Gopher Resource lead smelter in Tampa, reviewing company documents, collecting dust samples and hooking up workers to monitoring devices so that air quality could be measured. Inspectors arrived Monday and stayed all week. They combed through the plant, where hundreds of workers have been exposed to high neurotoxin levels and other chemicals. Before this week, OSHA inspectors hadn’t set foot in the plant in five years. OSHA’s inspection followed mounting calls for government action in response to the newsroom’s investigation, which detailed dangerous conditions inside the factory that spanned years and went unnoticed by regulators.

Tampa’s Gopher smelting plant is on the defense.

Deputies back off noise complaint — after they’re told the Sheriff is at the party” via Lisa J. Huriash of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — A loud birthday party one Saturday night brought sheriff’s deputies to a home in Parkland, but they wound up looking the other way when told about one of the revelers inside: their own boss, Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony. Several partygoers who met the deputies outside the home on March 27 boasted that the sheriff was a guest inside. It led to an awkward encounter in which the deputies hesitated to confront the sheriff and then backed off entirely. “You guys do whatever you want,” one deputy said, starting to walk away. “Have a nice night.” The sheriff’s report doesn’t identify the guest and doesn’t mention the discussion of the sheriff.

Former Escambia Sheriff David Morgan files for Pensacola Mayor in 2022” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News Journal — Morgan filed the necessary paperwork to become a “pre-filed” candidate for the top city office with the Escambia County Supervisor of Elections Office on Friday. Morgan served as Escambia County Sheriff for 12 years, and when he stepped down last year, he publicly speculated that he might run for Mayor in the future. “If I was to run for something, Mayor is it,” Morgan told the News Journal last year. The filing Friday ends that speculation. Morgan said he and his wife have been discussing running for the last six months and decided to file after Mayor Grover Robinson dropped out because “the sooner, the better.”

First in Sunburn — “Another City Council colleague of Darden Rice — Amy Foster — endorses Ken Welch for St. Pete Mayor” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Foster is endorsing Welch, former Pinellas County Commissioner, for Mayor, his campaign announced. “Ken will be a great Mayor for St. Petersburg because he is a leader who listens, collaborates, and thinks deeply about how to make this city even greater. He is a unifier who knows how to bring people together, and that’s what St. Petersburg needs today with so many big issues before us,” Foster said in a statement. Foster is the third sitting City Council member to endorse Welch over their colleague, Rice, in the race to succeed current Mayor Rick Kriseman. Kriseman is not seeking reelection due to term limits. Other City Council endorsers include Lisa Wheeler-Bowman and Deborah Figgs-Sanders. Former City Council member Charlie Gerdes has also offered his support.

— MORE LOCAL —

Who will be next City Manager in Miami Beach? Commission to pick from 6 finalists” via Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald — Nearly four months after Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales resigned, the City Commission will soon decide who will run the city government going forward. The new City Manager will be selected as soon as April 21 from a list of six finalists that includes three current senior city officials. Commissioners have conducted one-on-one interviews with the shortlisted candidates, and they will hold a virtual meeting next Thursday to meet with them publicly one week before an expected final vote. Whoever is chosen will inherit a city recovering from a budget-bruising pandemic and the fallout from a spring break period that resurfaced long-standing tensions between residents and the party scene in South Beach.

Jimmy Morales is out. Who’ll take his place? Image via Miami Herald.

— TOP OPINION —

Don’t cut funding to hospitals, which have been a lifeline during the pandemic” via Jerry Demings for the Orlando Sentinel — Conditions are improving amid widespread vaccinations and safety measures, but this crisis isn’t over. We still have hundreds of citizens infected with the virus daily, and deaths continue to occur. That is why I am concerned to learn that state lawmakers are considering cutting funding for our local hospitals. While it is still early in the budget process, legislation proposed in the state House and Senate could cut anywhere from $328 million to $533 million in funding for the year ahead. Legislators argue that hospitals are able to absorb the proposed cuts because they received federal funding under the CARES Act. That legislation was intended to cover revenue losses caused by the halt in elective surgeries, along with heightened costs for staffing and supplies, such as personal protective equipment.

— OPINIONS —

It’s too early for mask burning, Florida. A new ‘double mutant’ COVID-19 variant is looming” via Fabiola Santiago of the Miami Herald — With vaccinations now open to people over 18, too many people are shedding their masks and declaring victory over the virus. In Fort Lauderdale, where the maskless have been packing bars for months, a group is staging a “mask burning” party on Las Olas on Saturday. Double mutated strains of COVID-19 have reached at least 41 of Florida’s 67 counties, and South Florida is the leader in variant infections. All it takes is a symptomless person infected with a variant traveling to the state. Some health experts are warning about signs of a fourth surge in the making if people don’t vaccinate in large numbers in a timely fashion, if we become lax about wearing a mask, or, if once vaccinated, begin behaving as if the pandemic were over.

Florida gears up to address climate change” via Jackie Toledo for Florida Politics — Today, electric vehicles promise to improve our air quality and help address climate change. That’s why I am sponsoring electric vehicle (EV) legislation. My bill, HB 817, will help drivers take advantage of decreasing prices and the growing number of EV models available to consumers. Florida is currently #2 in electric vehicle sales in the U.S. but lags in supporting infrastructure. HB 817 would expand electric vehicle infrastructure in Florida and incorporate emerging technologies into the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) mission while creating a grant program to help increase electric vehicle charging stations across Florida. Sen. Jeff Brandes is carrying the Senate companion bill.

Fixing Florida’s digital divide” via Jason Shoaf for Florida Politics — How can we expect students to learn from home if they can’t log in to class? This Legislative Session, in partnership with Sen. Dennis Baxley, I proposed legislation to help Florida’s school districts bridge the digital divide to ensure all students have access to the internet and devices that are required for virtual learning. Currently, more than 800,000 students across the Sunshine State don’t have access to broadband internet. More than half a million students don’t have adequate digital devices to use when logging into class, reading online resources, or completing their homework. The legislation will establish a baseline and understanding of what digital tools their students can access.

— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —

After a marathon eight-hour meeting, the Senate Appropriations Committee advances HB 1, the anti-protest bill that no one seems to like.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— It appears the only people who support HB 1 are Gov. DeSantis and GOP leaders in the Legislature — but that’s all it takes to pass the bill.

— Over the past week, Florida had 42,407 new cases of COVID-19 and 347 newly reported deaths. Compared to the previous week, the number of deaths is down while the number of new cases is up … but there’s something fishy about the fatalities. We’ll tell you why.

— Gaetz has been getting lots of coverage lately … the kind most lawmakers would be ashamed of discussing. But not Gaetz. He talked about those allegations during a speech in South Florida.

— On Sunrise SoapBox, the Cliff Notes version of the speech.

— How would you spend $3.5 billion from the federal government? Would you believe in fixing state buildings and other properties? The technical term is “deferred maintenance.” You’ll hear the House Speaker’s spirited defense of deferred maintenance.

— And finally, a Florida Woman crashed her car and told police she was Harry Potter. It might have been funny except for the federal judge she ran over on the sidewalk.

To listen, click on the image below:

— ALOE —

A Texas man ran from Disneyland to Disney World. Here’s why” via Lauren M. Johnson of CNN — A Texas man, wanting to raise awareness of diabetes, just finished running from Disneyland in Southern California to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Don Muchow, 59, started his goal of running across the United States in February 2020. He hoped to finish the daunting feat by May, but as we all know, COVID-19 had other plans. In March 2020 he had to put his run on hold due to the start of the pandemic. He restarted his final push to finish on March 2 and made it to Disney World on April 5, a trip of more than 2,500 miles. “I’ve been on cloud nine ever since,” Muchow told WESH.

Don Muchow made the coast-to-coast run between Disney parks. Image via Don Muchow.

Dolphins raise more than $5 million for cancer research at annual charity bike ride” via David Wilson of the Miami Herald — They came across the finish line in bunches and felt accomplished. Cyclists pedaled all across South Florida on Saturday and finished their rides in Miami Gardens, where they could celebrate their individual accomplishments and the knowledge they were helping raise millions of dollars for charity as part of Dolphins Challenge Cancer. They also, in some cases, got to celebrate with Dolphins coach Brian Flores. “It’s really a family out here,” said CEO Tom Garfinkel, who took part in the 15-mile ride. “It’s a Dolphins initiative and everybody’s out here working together to fight cancer.” By Saturday, the team had already raised about $5.1 million, Garfinkel said, and Miami will keep raising money via the event through April 29

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Happy birthday belatedly to Jose Gonzalez of Disney and Janet Owen, recently featured in INFLUENCE Magazine of the University of Central Florida.

___

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 and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Orlando Rising and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also 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.



#FlaPol

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, Jason Delgado, Drew Dixon, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Andrew Wilson, and Kelly Hayes.

Email: [email protected]
Phone: (727) 642-3162
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