Good Sunday morning, and welcome to “Brunch,” the pop-up email about the 2021 Legislative Session.
In three Sundays, Session will, hopefully, be in the books. There’s a lot to get done between now and then, but money cures all ills. And if there is one thing this Legislature has plenty of — thanks to federal stimulus dollars — it’s money to play with (yet it’s cutting the budgets of higher ed and hospitals?).
With Session coming to an end, that means there are just three more editions of “Brunch.” So order yourself an extra side of bacon with your eggs Benedict and enjoy today’s offerings. First, some quick hits:
💪🏻 From long-shot to the White House: When Gov. Ron DeSantis was first running for the state’s highest office in 2018, he was an underdog. But his no-nonsense, sometimes in-your-face brand, catapulted him to a major contender, and ultimately, to the Governor’s mansion. Now that style has put him at the forefront of conservative national politics and a top name for 2024 presidential prospects. The New York Times analyzes DeSantis’ rise to relevance in a must-read timeline. Read it here.
🐍 — Invasive species, coming to a state near you: Everyone knows by now that the invasive Burmese python plagues parts of South Florida. But did you know Florida is also home to an invasive dog-sized lizard with teeth? Or what about the invasive lionfish with its venomous spines. Frog-eating tree frogs, anyone? As The Washington Post notes in this must-read, these Florida phenomena might not remain unique to Florida for long, thanks to globalization and climate change. Read more here.
🏌️♂️ — Unwind with the Masters: Tune into the final day of the Masters Sunday, beginning at 3 p.m. on CBS. NBC partner PointsBet put returning champion Dustin Johnson as the one to beat this year for the $11.5M purse. By the way, those in The Process spotted at the Augusta tournament include Rodney Barretto of Floridian Partners, John Holley of Florida Power & Light, Alan Suskey of Suskey Consulting, David Ramba, and, of course, Sydney Ridley of The Southern Group, whose father is Fred Ridley, Augusta National and Masters chairman. Also, on Masters Weekend, a shoutout to Dr. Jeff Sharkey and Taylor Biehl, who both rep the PGA.
🎬 — The Nevers debuts on HBO: The X-Men-esque drama set in 19th century London premiers Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO but does so with less than compelling early reviews. As CNN reviewer Brian Lowry notes, the premise is promising, and its female lead, Irish actor Laura Donnelly delivers a strong performance. Still, the show “needs to get better, sooner rather than later.” Donnelly’s character, Amalia True, oversees an orphanage that cares for people with bizarre powers called “the Touched.” Conflict arises when England’s upper class feels threatened by their abilities. Sunday’s debut will no doubt be telling for embattled creator Joss Whedon.
👎🏼👍🏼 — Winners and losers of the week: Florida’s biggest loser this week probably won’t come as any surprise to anyone not sleeping through the past several days. But check out this week’s rundown to see how Gov. DeSantis took a damning report and made lemonade. Read more from Florida Politics columnist Joe Henderson here.
— Polling Gaetzgate —
Revelations Matt Gaetz was Venmo-ing money through Joel Greenberg to future porn stars hasn’t hurt his standing in his home district. At least, that’s what pollsters at Victory Insights found when they surveyed Florida’s 1st Congressional District
— Taking his word: When Republican voters were asked if Gaetz was guilty of the accusations against him, which including sex trafficking a minor, a full 63% said no. Just 18% said he did it.
— Wait it out: Even among those who think he’s guilty as sin, 7% don’t think he should resign. And polling suggests if the Fort Walton Beach Congressman can clear his name, they will support him in retaining his seat.
— But what if?: Almost three in five voters have no preference on who should run in a special election. But among eight choices on a survey, Sen. Doug Broxson is the favorite of about 18% of Republicans. The anti-Gaetz crown lifts Chris Dosev into second place with 7% support. CFO Jimmy Patronis gets 5% of voters.
— And the rest: Noone else cleared the poll’s margin of error, including Rep. Alex Andrade (3%) and former Rep. Frank White, who most think would run.
— Drop the interim —
James Uthmeier went from interim General Counsel to the Governor to full-on General Counsel this week.
— Trial run: Uthmeier’s test period started in October when he was bumped up from deputy to General Counsel. Six months in, the Gov’s office is ready to paint his name on the door.
— Done deal: Uthmeier will now remain in the role, according to DeSantis spox Meredith Beatrice. She added, “He’s a wonderful colleague.”
— Known quantity: He’s well-known in DeSantis world, having joined the Executive Office of the Governor just a few weeks after DeSantis’ swearing-in.
Uthmeier’s ascendance is no surprise to those who know his background. He’s got a law degree from Georgetown University, a perennial T14, and spent a couple of years working at the U.S. Department of Commerce — rising to the rank of Senior Adviser to former Secretary Wilbur Ross — before making a move to Florida in early 2019.
— Enjoy the silence —
Senate Rules got loud this week before deferring a decision on a quiet-time bill. The committee was considering the recently passed House version (HB 529) of “moments of silence” legislation. The bill, a refile, would require a short meditation period at the beginning of the K-12 school day. But despite the committee seemingly voting to advance the House bill, the measure will be back next week pending reconsideration after a series of procedural pitfalls stalled it for the moment.
— Amend the amendment: An amendment from Democratic Sen. Perry Thurston that clarified that only the parent or guardian would offer guidance regarding how “to best use the moment of silence” passed via voice vote. Then Sen. Dennis Baxley, the sponsor of the Senate bill the House bill subbed for, said he didn’t mean to vote yes. The language would have meant the Senate product was different from the House, a sticking point for some who see that as a sidestep of the committee process. They voted again and realigned the verbiage.
— Vote early, vote often: Though Baxley kept the bill clean, it didn’t do much good in the short term. Sen. Gary Farmer called for reconsideration of the roll call vote that advanced the bill. After spirited discussion involving Sen. Audrey Gibson and a number of Republicans, Sen. Kathleen Passidomo deferred action. Expect the bill to be calendared at the next meeting.
— Nothing to see here: Gibson didn’t offer much detail about the animated conversation that preceded the decision. She told Brunch the chat was “whether to just take the bill up in the next meeting or try to overcome the last reconsider motion and bring it back up in the meeting right then.”
— Distress or great danger —
Democratic Sen. Bobby Powell Jr. on Friday deliberately wore his U.S. flag lapel pin upside down while Republican Sen. Danny Burgess presented the controversial anti-riot bill to a Senate committee.
— Symbolism: According to the Department of Defense, an upside U.S. flag symbolizes “distress or great danger.”
— Notorious: Sponsored by Republican Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin, the anti-riot bill (HB 1) is arguably the most contentious legislation of the 2021 legislative session.
— His words: “Not only am I in distress, there is an entire community that is in distress,” Powell said.
Powell described the anti-riot bill and the election bill (SB 90) as two bills worth fighting tooth and nail.
— Say what? —
Rep. Ralph Massullo voted yea on the online sales tax plan, and he produced some nice sound bites while doing it … nice for his future opponents, that is.
— No secret: Everyone knows online purchases aren’t really tax-free — Floridians are supposed to cut the state a check for the amount due if the retailer doesn’t handle it for them at checkout.
— Massullo’s error? Admitting he was among the 99% who don’t bother to whip out his wallet to pay taxes every time (or any time) he does a little online shopping.
— The quote: “Truth be told — and I’ll take the blame — I don’t do it. And I think if you are honest with yourselves, you don’t either.”
He’s right, of course. It is already the law, but people don’t pay. But the proper context won’t fit on an 8.5” by 11” mailer, likely anchored by an unflattering pic and accusations he’s a tax cheat. He could push back, but it’d be easier to convince the average Floridian this isn’t a tax hike.
— Changing telehealth? —
Americans for Prosperity-Florida (AFP-FL) is launching a new initiative promoting legislation allowing health workers to prescribe controlled substances during telehealth visits.
— “Care You Can Call On”: The Care You Can Call On initiative aims to highlight individuals who have benefited from telehealth services since Florida began expanding its availability. The organization is featuring the story of a Fort Myers patient who arrived home from a spinal fusion, only to experience back pain after being home a few days.
— Testimony: That patient, Bob from Fort Myers, said he was able to contact his doctor from home on the phone and adjust his pain medication. “Not having to go to the doctor’s office, sit in the waiting room, was a big plus,” Bob said. “Within five hours, I had already been able to pick up my pain medication, which significantly helped me.”
— The bill: Legislation from Reps. Tom Fabricio and Mike Giallombardo (HB 247) would expand those capabilities and allow more options for patients seeking telehealth services. AFP-FL State Director Skylar Zander is explaining why his group backs the bill.
— The pitch: “Over the last year, millions of Floridians have increasingly relied on telehealth services as an efficient, reliable, and cost-effective way to address many of their health care needs,” Zander said. “By making these services permanent, patients like Bob will continue to have expanded options in how they receive their care, even after the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us. We urge the legislature to take up and pass this critical legislation as soon as possible.”
The measure has one more stop in the House before reaching the full floor.
— House Democrats look inward —
The House Victory Caucus is setting up a commission to weigh a revamp of its operations heading into the 2022 election cycle. The body will study caucus operations in other states and pull suggestions to turn around Democrats’ recent struggles in Florida.
— Making moves: House Democratic Leader-designate Ben Diamond made the announcement this week in an email to House colleagues, which also summarized new staff hires.
— Members’ mission: “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 said. “This committee will be a team of individuals with experience in Florida politics, come from key regions of the state, and reflect the diversity of our party.”
— Committee makeup: The panel will include former Reps. Margaret Good and Sean Shaw, former Democratic House candidate Maureen Porras, campaign strategist Maya Brown, Tessa Bay of the Florida Alliance, and House Victory senior advisers Dan Newman and Jena Kingery.
“The work of this review committee will guide our work for fundraising, recruiting and other projects that will be led by members of our caucus,” Diamond added. “We all have a role in building a sustainable caucus structure for election cycles to come, and your input and involvement will be crucial to our long-term success as a caucus.”
— College to Congress —
Nabbing an internship in Congress is a prestigious endeavor, and one that is almost sure to provide solid opportunities in public service after graduation. But the unpaid internships historically have been reserved for those who can afford the costly living expenses in Washington D.C. all while working for free.
— Enter College for Congress: The program, launched in mid-2016, provides scholarships to Florida public college students, particularly those from low-income families, single moms and minorities, so they can pursue opportunities that would have otherwise been out of reach.
— But that costs a lot of money!: For the first five years of its existence, Audrey Henson, the organization’s founder, relied on private donations — some from Florida residents who appreciate the vision, others from state and federal lawmakers and various advocacy groups. This year, Henson took her quest to the Florida Legislature where Rep. Chris Latvala is sponsoring a $300,000 appropriations request to help fund the agency’s mission.
— It’s a tough year to ask for money: Henson knows the COVID-19 pandemic has created a tough budget circumstance for the state, but she’s optimistic lawmakers will find value in College to Congress. “This has been really popular with bipartisan support even with how wild the legislative process is,” she said.
— Five years of success: Since its inception five years ago, College to Congress has trained more than 850 students. Of those, 90% now work in public service.
For Henson, the mission is personal. When she was a student at the University of South Florida studying politics science (and theater!) she quickly realized there weren’t resources available to help her nab an internship in Congress. Instead, she took out student loans to fund the experience. Now, her goal is to ensure Florida students don’t have to go into debt to realize the experience.
Lobbyist walks … and walks and walks
Tampa-based lobbyist Ron Pierce, CEO of RSA Consulting, is on a mission to walk 556 miles, roughly the distance from Tampa to Tallahassee, during the 60-day Legislative Session. Pierce is walking to support Southeastern Guide Dogs, a nonprofit that provides service dogs for visually-impaired individuals, veterans and children who suffered a loss of a parent in the military, at no cost. We checked in on his progress.
— On pace: Pierce has walked more than 350 miles so far. On the Tampa to Tallahassee journey, he would have just passed Busy Bee, pleasing the @BusyBeeCaucus. To stay on pace Ron walks several times a day. You can picture him on a treadmill watching committee meetings, which is how he’s getting in his steps while the Capitol is closed due to the pandemic.
— Funds raised: Pierce pledged to raise $5,000 for his cause. He’s already well past his goal, at $6,500 and counting.
— 4-legged companion: Pierce adopted a dog named Sammi not long before he started his journey. The short-legged Corgi can’t keep up with Ron’s 9-mile-a-day pace, but Sammi does what she can, when she’s not running her own Twitter account.
— One-time deal: Pierce said he’ll probably do another walk next year — just maybe not as far.
At-risk girls get help
The PACE Center for Girls held its annual PACE Day at the Capitol this past week. The center aims to assist girls at greater risk of involvement in the juvenile justice system.
— Meetings with lawmakers: More than 100 girls who went through the PACE program met with Senators, House members and other elected officials to discuss the assistance they received via the center. This year’s meetings were done virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
— Mock Senate Session: Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Josefina Tamayo, Senate President Wilton Simpson and Sen. Jennifer Bradley also met with the girls. Lawmakers helped host a mock Senate Session as well.
— Believing in girls: Secretary Tamayo gave some life advice during her conversation with the PACE girls. Tamayo also read a proclamation from Gov. DeSantis designating March as Believing in Girls Month.
A Women in Politics panel featuring Reps. Colleen Burton and Traci Koster, Marva Johnson of Charter Communications, and Tracy Mayernick of The Mayernick Group also shared their own messages of inspiration, pushing the girls to help give back to their communities. Florida has provided funding PACE centers over the years.
— Five years of Aubuchon —
As a public relations practitioner, Allison Aubuchon has never really liked the word “buzz.” And yet, her firm, Allison Aubuchon Communications — celebrating its fifth anniversary this month — has a bee as its logo (look closely, and you will see her initials in its wings and antennae). And the phrase “buzz with purpose” is the first thing you see on the company website’s homepage.
— So why the catchphrase: Aubuchon said it’s a “kind of a play on a word she doesn’t love, but she’s “turning it around. “There are different types of tactics and strategies, but if you’re not doing it for a purpose or around a goal or objective, why are you doing it?”
— Five years strong: The first five years have been “a roller coaster,” Aubuchon said. “I think anybody starting out in any business … there’s always a bumpy first stage where you’re trying to figure out what I guess your value is. And I feel like, in Year 5, we’ve really gotten to a place where we just have more of an identity.”
— What’s changed: Despite the challenges of COVID-19 over the past year, Aubuchon’s firm doubled its staff — from one to two — with the addition of Account Manager Chloe Barr, and moved into a small office located in the Park Avenue digs once occupied by Ballard Partners.
— She was born for this: “Public relations is a science. It is very strategic. It is very measurable. Research, strategy, tactics, evaluation and stewardship was ingrained in me from school,” Aubuchon, who majored in PR at the University of Florida, where she was recently named a “40 Under 40” graduate. She also has a master’s degree from Florida State University in media and communications.
Over the next five years, Aubuchon sees herself “as a public relations practitioner and hopefully … doing work that I love and can be proud of, still in a format that supports health and happiness and family, which is really why I did this in the first place.”
— Brunching out —
Horizons Bar & Grille is the kind of go-to restaurant that works whether you’re out with the family, a business associate, a friend, or a date. It’s casual but stylish, with a shaded outdoor patio.
— Backstory: If you liked the restaurant, Spear-It, which closed during the pandemic, you’ll be happy to find some of the same dishes here. Mike Smith and Kyle Flowers — the operating team from Spear-It — are owners of Horizons, open since December in Bannerman Crossing.
— The Menu: Classics like chicken and waffles, stuffed French toast and biscuits and gravy are available along with options like shrimp cake Benedict, breakfast quesadilla, charcuterie, and “The Forgotten Coast grouper sandwich.” Sides include Bradley’s sausage, cheese grits and fresh fruit.
—Spirits: Tasty morning cocktails are a highlight. Consider an Irish Cold Brew (with Jameson, Frangelico hazelnut liqueur, Bailey’s Irish cream and Lucky Goat cold brew coffee), peach (or blackberry) sangria, mimosa, poinsettia (with cranberry instead of orange juice) or Bloody Mary.
— Details: The restaurant is located at Bannerman Crossing, 3427 Bannerman Road, Suite 104. You can contact them at 850-329-2371.
— Hours: Sunday brunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. with hours extending to 9 p.m.; 4 to 9 p.m. Monday to Wednesday; 4 to 10 p.m. Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday.
Via Rochelle Koff of Tallahassee Table.