Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 5.13.21

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Here's your morning briefing of what you need to know in Florida politics.

Good Thursday morning.

In the pundit world, smart money says that Republican lawmakers who choose fables over facts will pay the price in the next General Election. The theory goes that they’ll lose the independent voters, and the base won’t be enough to bring them home.

Maybe it will work out that way in some places, but don’t bet Florida will be one of them.

We’d love to believe voters here would punish lawmakers who drone “yes, master” about Donald Trump‘s lie of a stolen election, but not enough of them will.

Perhaps that’s because citizens bloated on conspiracies, lies, and Tucker Carlson believe it, too. And instead of merely following and supporting, they now lead the leaders. That’s how we got to a place where Liz Cheney lost her Republican leadership position for telling the truth.

It was a warning shot to the party’s leaders and any Republican with ambition. Florida GOPs, though, didn’t need the warning.

Florida will be ground zero for Trumpism in 2022. Image via AP.

In today’s up-is-down world, truth is a nuisance and increasingly irrelevant. It only matters to Republican lawmakers what people believe in places like The Villages. If you’re a Republican and want to keep your job, you better march in squawk-step with the loony echo chamber.

Here’s the thing, though.

We bet if you spoke with 10 Republicans and promised not to quote them, nine of them would agree that Trump lied about a stolen election. Hell, he lies about everything. They know this.

Matt Gaetz would be the holdout, but we expect that.

In a world where Republicans faced no political consequences for telling the truth, most of them would affirmatively nod that Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric led to the riot at the U.S. Capitol. They would shun him.

We mean, the attack at the building where Washington leaders work played out on live TV. Everyone saw it, and everyone knows (or should) that Trump is responsible.

So, why won’t they say so?

We’re about to learn how much that matters because Florida is where Trumpism will be most on trial in 2022.

Democrats plan to make the case that Gov. Ron DeSantis is nothing more than a Trump toady. They’ll talk about the restrictive new voting law he championed and the nearly 36,000 (and counting) deaths here from COVID-19.

If we had to put money down now, though, it would be on DeSantis to win — and, depending on the opponent, possibly by a lot.

Axios reported U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy plans to challenge Marco Rubio in the Senate race. Rubio plays the suck-up to Trump game with the best of them, even tweeting that he “was lucky enough to be one of (Trump’s) first posts on his new “communication platform.”

We think it’s called a blog.

Democrats will attack Rubio on all sides, and his flip-flopping and moralizing (until it’s time to vote) leaves a lot of open ground.

Will it matter? Probably not.

Florida went against the trend in 2020, giving Trump a 3.3% win in a state he only won by 1% in 2016. He lost the overall general election — yes, HE LOST — by about 7 million votes. But he won Florida by nearly 400,000 votes, one of the largest state margins in the country.

If that trend continues 18 months from now, Florida voters would have given the guy exiled in Mar-a-Lago its official seal of approval. More importantly, it would show their approval for what he represents.

What happens after that? We’re not sure we want to know.

 — SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@PolitiFact: In an interview with PolitiFact’s @KatieLSanders, Dr. Anthony Fauci said if he had small children, he wouldn’t hesitate to get his children vaccinated from COVID-19. He said it would prevent severe infection and help stop the spread of the disease.

@Redistrict: If you think Liz Cheney’s GOP leadership post is an issue voters are going to care about in the midterm elections … prepare to be sorely disappointed.

@MacStipanovich: Removing Cheney on a voice was a chickenshit move entirely consistent with a chickenshit GOP.

Tweet, tweet:

@HannaMan00: I’m beginning to think Nikki Fried might just be using her Agriculture post to advance her career.

@DrMacManus: Please do remember polls in FL are historically off, especially at this stage of the gubernatorial campaign. They tend to be very unrepresentative of young registrants, who are nearly one-third of registered Democrats.

@SenPizzo: Did you enjoy home schooling last year? Keep hoarding all the gas, and those school buses won’t be able to pick up our kids.

Tweet, tweet:

— DAYS UNTIL —

Gambling Compact Special Session begins — 4; ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ rescheduled premiere — 15; ‘Tax Freedom Holiday’ begins — 15; Memorial Day — 18; Florida TaxWatch Spring Meeting and PLA Awards — 21; ‘Loki’ premieres on Disney+ — 29; Father’s Day — 38; F9 premieres in the U.S. — 43; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 50; 4th of July — 52; ‘Black Widow’ rescheduled premiere — 57; MLB All-Star Game — 61; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 71; second season of ‘Ted Lasso’ premieres on Apple+ — 71; The NBA Draft — 77; ‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres — 79; ‘The Suicide Squad’ premieres — 85; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 103; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 113; Broadway’s full-capacity reopening — 124; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres (rescheduled) — 134; ‘Dune’ premieres — 141; MLB regular season ends — 143; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 149; World Series Game 1 — 166; Florida’s 20th Congressional District primary — 173; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 173; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 176; San Diego Comic-Con begins — 197; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 211; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 218; Florida’s 20th Congressional District election — 243; Super Bowl LVI — 276; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 316; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 358; “Black Panther 2” premieres — 421; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 512; “Captain Marvel 2” premieres — 547.

— TOP STORY —

Colonial Pipeline restarts after hack, but supply chain won’t return to normal for a few days” via Pippa Stevens of CNBC — Colonial Pipeline restarted operations Wednesday at approximately 5 p.m. ET after a ransomware attack last week forced the entire system offline on Friday evening. The company did warn, however, that its pipeline would not be fully functional immediately. “Following this restart, it will take several days for the product delivery supply chain to return to normal,” Colonial said in a statement. “Some markets served by Colonial Pipeline may experience, or continue to experience, intermittent service interruptions during the startup period. Colonial will move as much gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel as is safely possible and will continue to do so until markets return to normal,” the company added.

Colonial Pipeline reboots but isn’t fully online yet. Image via AP.

Gas pipeline shutdown tests administration; Joe Biden optimistic” via Josh Boak of The Associated Press — The cyberattack last week on a primary gasoline pipeline has created new political and economic risks for the Biden administration, which is working to keep the fuel flowing as prices spike. President Biden signaled that there was a reason for optimism, and officials laid out plans Wednesday to address transportation issues and price pressures after ransom-seeking hackers last week shut down the Colonial Pipeline, which delivers about 45% of the East Coast’s gas. “We have been in very, very close contact with Colonial Pipeline,” Biden said Wednesday. “I think you’re going to hear some good news in the next 24 hours, and I think we’ll be getting that under control.”

‘I’ve got a quarter tank left’: Dane Eagle urges Floridians to remain calm amid gas shortage” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Department of Economic Opportunity Director Eagle is running out of gas. Literally. Eagle said that he empathizes with the thousands of Floridians impacted by the long lines circling gas stations around North Florida. As for Eagle, he’s only got a quarter tank left. “Hopefully (that) gets me through the week,” the director quipped. The run on gas began Monday after a ransomware attack shut down a major fuel pipeline running from Texas, prompting Floridians to flock to their nearest gas station. In the days since, state leaders including DeSantis and Agriculture Commissioner Fried have urged Floridians to pump the brakes.

Some gas stations run dry amid panic buying — while others see no problems at all” via Eileen Kelley and Austen Erblat of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Relax, people. There will be plenty of gasoline in South Florida. Really. Despite DeSantis declaring an emergency, analysts say our gas supply comes in on ships, not through a pipeline north of Florida that was hacked and left northeastern cities scrambling for gas. There’s no reason to think South Florida will run short unless people buy it all up in a panic. Many motorists weren’t taking their chances Wednesday. They lined up to fill their tanks and gas cans as if a hurricane was coming. The frenzy bled some stations dry and left drivers bickering for space at the pump, while other stations saw no run at all.

Is there a gas shortage in Florida or are you just panic-pumping? Here’s what to know” via Michelle Marchante of the Miami Herald

Gas lines form at some Central Florida stations, even though experts say there’s plenty of fuel” via Austin Fuller of the Orlando Sentinel — Lines formed at some Orlando area gas stations Wednesday, even as experts said the ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline should not affect Central Florida’s fuel supply. “I’m worried about the panic buying,” said Yvonne Zavada, a 56-year-old Windemere resident filling up Wednesday. “My understanding is Florida … a lot of our gas is not provided by that pipeline, but like we did with toilet paper, everybody got out and bought, and if you don’t have yours, you’ll run out.” DeSantis declared a state of emergency Tuesday night as demand spiked in parts of the state. In doing so, he banned price gouging and lifted some regulations on trucks.

Panic-buying by motorists means some service stations may temporarily run out of gas” via Dave Berman of Florida Today

Pensacola gas suppliers work to keep up with demand caused by panic over pipeline hack” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News Journal — “It’s a lot like a hurricane, but maybe worse,” said Rex Jones, operations manager of Cougar Oil Inc., a fuel distribution company with offices in Selma, Alabama, and Pensacola that supplies mostly independent gas stations across Northwest Florida and Alabama. Jones said his drivers have been working 12 to 14 hours per day to keep up with the increased demand that gas stations have seen this week. On Wednesday morning, 73% of Pensacola area gas stations were without fuel, according to GasBuddy.com. Throughout the day, gas stations were continuing to get new deliveries in and opening back up.

Gas tanker drivers in Pensacola are working overtime to meet frenzied demand.

—“Pensacola gas supplier shut down for EPA violation, adding to gas shortage” via Emma Kennedy of the Pensacola News Journal

The gas shortage is another recent example of Americans making things worse for one another” via Phillip Bump of The Washington Post — A lot of what’s happening with gasoline at the moment is a function not of an actual supply problem but the perception of a supply problem. People are rushing to get as much gas as possible out of concern it will become scarce, and that’s driving scarcity. All of this probably sounds familiar. Last year, there were similar shortages of essential supplies that were in large part a function of panicky consumers. There was a lesson we should have taken from that. If everyone were just to chill out and take only what they needed, things would have been better for everyone. Instead of buying up 18,000 bottles of hand sanitizer, maybe just get three or four?

Tweet, tweet:

— 2022 —

Poll shows DeSantis on solid ground as Democrats try to find openings” via Gary Fineout of POLITICO Florida — Three polls all have DeSantis with favorable job approval ratings more than a year and a half ahead of Election Day and highlight the difficulty that Democrats will have with unseating the incumbent. Still, a poll commissioned by Democratic Sen. Annette Taddeo’s political committee shows Democrats may have some openings to go after DeSantis. Taddeo’s poll, conducted by SEA Polling & Strategic Design, suggests not all Floridians support his move to ban so-called “vaccine passports” or crack down on mail-in balloting and drop boxes. The poll showed DeSantis with a job approval rating of 53%, compared to 55% in a new Florida Chamber of Commerce poll and a 60% job approval rating in a survey conducted by Ryan Tyson.

Ron DeSantis’ reelection is on solid ground, for now.

‘Underdog’ DeSantis revels in Newsmax showcase” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — In a nod to the increasing significance of the upstart Newsmax network in the conservative media landscape, the Governor was showcased in a pretaped town hall event. Host Sean Spicer described a smiling DeSantis as an “underdog.” “I’ve been underestimated by the political class for sure from the very beginning,” DeSantis confirmed. “If you have an R by your name, certain people — if I walked on the ocean, they’d say DeSantis can’t swim,” DeSantis said. He went on to describe corporate media as “off the rails,” “lying and gaslighting people for profit.” DeSantis said he talks to Trump “relatively frequently,” noting that the former President “pays respects” often at political events held at Mar-a-Lago.

Nikki Fried promises ‘something new’ on June 1” via Skyler Swisher of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Fried is promising she’ll announce “something new” on June 1, her strongest indication yet that she will run for Governor. Fried, who serves as Agriculture Commissioner, is Florida’s only statewide elected Democrat and one of Republican DeSantis most outspoken critics. A hype video posted Wednesday on Twitter includes a montage of Fried speaking, including a clip of Fried calling DeSantis an “authoritarian dictator.” She posted the video with the text “#SomethingNew 6.01.21″.

Stephanie Murphy campaign team denies report she has decided to run for Senate” via Katie Rice of the Orlando Sentinel — Murphy plans to announce a campaign for the U.S. Senate within the next month, challenging Rubio for his seat, according to a report by Axios. Murphy’s campaign team has not confirmed her run. In a statement sent to the Orlando Sentinel Tuesday night, campaign spokesperson Lauren Calmet said Murphy “has not made a decision on whether to run for the U.S. Senate.” Murphy, a Winter Park Democrat, signaled she was considering a Senate bid in February and started a “listening tour” that month to hear constituents’ concerns.

Will Stephanie Murphy run for the U.S. Senate? Depends on who you ask.

National Hispanic Democratic group launches first 2022 attack against Carlos Giménez” via Alex Daugherty of the Miami Herald — U.S. Rep. Giménez doesn’t have a 2022 opponent yet, but national Democrats are beginning to attack the first-term Miami Republican for his votes in January to overturn election results in two states hours after pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol. Bold PAC, the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, released a digital ad in English and Spanish on Tuesday attacking Giménez for his votes on Jan. 6 and 7 to decertify electors in Arizona and Pennsylvania. “When an extremist mob attacked the Capitol, Congressman Carlos Giménez was forced to hide,” the ad says, juxtaposing footage of police officers fighting with the crowd.

— DATELINE TALLY —

DeSantis signs landmark Florida sea level rise bills into law” via Zachary Sampson and Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times — DeSantis signed two bills Wednesday that lawmakers say will leave Florida better prepared for future flooding and sea level rise. The bills, SB 1954 and SB 2514, will — among other things — invest hundreds of millions of state dollars in flooding infrastructure projects. The Republican-led efforts would redirect a significant portion of that money from an affordable housing trust fund to the storm-hardening efforts. “The Legislature delivered on my calls for meaningful, significant investments in resiliency,” DeSantis said at a bill signing ceremony in Tarpon Springs, surrounded by lawmakers.

Tweet, tweet:

EDF Florida cheers ‘renewed commitment to building resilience’ — DeSantis signed a pair of bills to address the impact of climate change and sea level rise on Wednesday, earning praise from the Environmental Defense Fund. “This legislation will help Florida safeguard our communities from climate change impacts and help local communities invest in their resilience,” EDF state director Dawn Shirreffs said. “We look forward to continuing to work with the Legislature and DeSantis administration on this unprecedented opportunity to ensure natural infrastructure is leveraged as a defense against sea level rise, flooding, and increasingly strong hurricanes in Florida.” The bills (SB 1954/SB 254) will create the Resilient Florida Grant Program to help local governments address sea level rise and guarantee $100 million a year for the Resilient Florida Trust Fund within DEP.

Insurance industry leader to Governor: Use veto before drivers’ rates rise” via David A. Sampson in the Palm Beach Post — The Florida Legislature passed Senate Bill 54 in the final days of the session, and now Florida drivers are facing dramatically higher auto insurance costs if DeSantis does not intervene. Without swift action by the governor, auto insurance costs could skyrocket up to an additional $860 annually for many Florida drivers and lead to more uninsured motorists on Florida’s roads. If you drive a car, this is a major policy change that affects you. Unfortunately, the bill does not provide the necessary cost control measures and safeguards to prevent rampant fraud and increased lawsuit abuse — two key cost drivers in the Florida auto insurance system.

DeSantis holds key to health care projects” via Christine Sexton of The News Service of Florida — An analysis of the health and human services portion of the budget shows that lawmakers this year were able to direct $91.1 million to hometown projects. In all, nearly 240 separate spending items received money in the budget. DeSantis in 2020 whacked $1 billion from the budget as he and lawmakers worried about the impact of the rapid collapse of the state’s tourist-based economy during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Chairman Aaron Bean called the vetoes “painful.” Bean said he’s optimistic that projects will fare well this year. But Bean said he’s also a realist. “Not all may make it across the finish line.”

Legislature takes drinks to-go party to DeSantis’ desk” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Lawmakers have formally sent a bill to permanently allow patrons to order alcoholic drinks to-go to DeSantis. It would codify a pandemic-era order he issued last year that included so-called “alcohol to-go” to help restaurants in the early stages of the pandemic. It’s now up to DeSantis to sign a compromise the Legislature reached on the industry-backed measure (SB 148) codifying much of that order. The bill includes limits on restaurants that can sell alcoholic drinks with take-home and delivery orders. It would cut off the sale of to-go drinks when restaurants’ kitchens close or at midnight, whichever occurs first, and would only be available to restaurants that derive at least 51% of their revenue from food and nonalcoholic sales.

House Democrats to elect new Leader Designate next week — The House Democratic Caucus will vote May 19 on a replacement for Leader Designate Ben Diamond when they are in Tallahassee for the Special Session next week. Diamond, who was set to take over as Democratic Leader after the 2022 election, announced this week that he will run for Congress rather than a fourth term in the state House. Democratic Co-Leader Bobby DuBose said in a Wednesday email that he and Diamond spoke about the potential run, and now that it’s official, “it’s time to hold an election to select a replacement for him … putting the caucus in the proper posture for future leadership.” On the same day, House Democrats will hold an election for 2024-2026 Democratic Leader.

Time to look for Ben Diamond’s replacement as Democratic leader.

We fixed the headline here — “DeSantis’ utility board pick part of strong, independent political family” via Malena Carollo and Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times — Gabriella Passidomo, 29, was selected to serve on the influential five-person Public Service Commission. Her mother is Republican Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, in line to serve as the next President of the Florida Senate. Her job in 2022 will be to win as many Republican Senate seats as possible. In an interview, the younger Passidomo said her family connections did not have to do with the appointment. “Pretty simply, she was not involved in this process at all,” commissioner Passidomo said of her mother. “We wanted to keep it that way.” “There will never be an instance where she will influence me, or I will try to influence her, because that’s not how we operate,” Kathleen Passidomo said in an interview.

— LOBBY REGS —

New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Kevin Cabrera, Mercury Public Affairs: No Casinos

Jose Fuentes, Becker & Poliakoff: Florida Venture Foundation

John Graves, Brian Yates, Ervin Graves Strategy Group: Steady Platform

Natalie Kato: No Casinos

Mark Maxwell, SCG Governmental Affairs: City of Quincy, ESE Networks, Grant Thorton, PanCare of Florida


— STATEWIDE —

Florida’s work search requirement back in place starting June 1” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — DEO Director Eagle announced Wednesday that Florida will not extend its work search waiver for the unemployed. The waiver, implemented during the pandemic’s peak, allowed Floridians to collect unemployment benefits without proving they were searching for a job. Moving forward, the state will now encourage the unemployed to find work through a new program to connect Floridians to jobs and accelerate Florida’s economic rebound. “You’ve seen restaurants that have had to close earlier or open later or close certain days of the week,” Eagle said. “All over the Panhandle, I’ve seen signs that say, ‘Welcome to the new pandemic.’ The 2021 pandemic is unemployment, not being able to hire. So, we’ve got to put an end to that.”

Dust off your resumes, Dane Eagle says it’s time to hit the bricks.

Ashley Moody not among Attorneys General urging Facebook to nix child platform” via Steve Contorno and Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times — No fewer than 40 state attorneys general signed onto a letter Monday urging Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to abandon his company’s reported plans to create an Instagram for young children. “Use of social media can be detrimental to the health and well-being of children, who are not equipped to navigate the challenges of having a social media account,” the bipartisan letter reads. “Further, Facebook has historically failed to protect the welfare of children on its platforms.” Florida’s Attorney General, Moody, was not among them, however. And her office won’t say why.

Citizens Insurance could hit 750,000 policies” via News Service of Florida — Citizens Property Insurance Corp. could have 750,000 policies at the end of 2021 based on the current rate of customers turning to the state-backed insurer for coverage, officials said this week. “On a straight-line basis, we’re looking at 750,000 policies, assuming the current rate of about 5,000 net new customers per week,” Citizens President and CEO Barry Gilway said during a Citizens Board of Governors meeting Tuesday. Citizens had 569,868 policies as of March 31 amid moves by private insurers to shed policies and seek rate increases. At the end of 2019, by comparison, Citizens had 442,203 policies. Pointing in part to financial risks, state leaders have long sought to shift policies out of Citizens and into the private market.

Tim Cerio tapped for Citizens Insurance General Counsel” via News Service of Florida — Cerio, who served as general counsel to former Gov. Rick Scott, has been chosen to become the top attorney at the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. On Tuesday, the Citizens board selected Cerio after a search that began when General Counsel Dan Sumner announced last year he was stepping down. Belinda Miller, a former top official at the state Office of Insurance Regulation, has served as interim general counsel during the search. Cerio was named by Scott as general counsel in 2015 and had earlier worked as general counsel and chief of staff at the Florida Department of Health. He is an attorney with the GrayRobinson law firm.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

Florida reports 3,184 new COVID-19 cases, 51 more deaths” via Cindy Krischer Goodman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Florida reported 3,184 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday and another 51 new resident deaths linked to COVID-19. The state has now reported 2,278,549 cases since the pandemic began. The seven-day average for new cases reached as high as 17,991 on Jan. 8. It has been on a downward trend since mid-April and dipped to 3,517 on Wednesday. The state reported a daily positivity rate of 4.55% on Wednesday, down from 5.00% the day before. The state’s pandemic data report shows a total of 35,882 Floridians have died from COVID-19. In addition, 716 nonresidents have died after contracting the virus.

Florida ranks high for COVID-19 hospital admissions, especially among young adults” via Stephanie Colombini of WUSF — The number of people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 is going down in Florida, but new admissions are still higher than in most parts of the country, especially for younger and middle-aged adults. An analysis of federal data conducted by Jason Salemi, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of South Florida, found Florida ranks fifth in the nation for confirmed COVID-19 hospital admissions for the week predating May 8. The state jumps up to third in the nation for people between 30 and 50 years old. During that same seven days, 25% of new patients fell into that age group, up from 13% in mid-January.

COVID-19 hospitalizations are down in Florida, but still pretty high.

Florida can’t force cruises to restart during pandemic, feds say in legal battle” via David Lyons of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The U.S. government says the state of Florida has no legal right to force the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention to reopen the cruise line business at the nation’s seaports. Lawyers representing the state and federal government squared off before U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday in Tampa after Florida sued the CDC and Department of Health and Human Services, claiming an agency program for cruise lines to resume sailings is “unlawful,” taking too long and creating widespread economic harm.

—“Carnival Cruise Line hopes to start limited sailing in July” via David Lyons of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel 

Schools ditch student mask requirements in growing numbers” via Jeff Amy and Lindsay Whitehurst of The Associated Press — As a lengthy, bitter fight over mask requirements for students neared its conclusion, the chairperson of a Florida school board announced that she would agree to lift a mandate that had been in place since September even though she preferred leaving it in place until the end of the academic year. Parents hurled insults in response. “Communist! Democrat!,” opponents of making children wear masks in school shouted as Board Chair Wei Ueberschaer and the district Superintendent explained at a May 3 meeting that they still considered masks advisable. “This is Santa Rosa County, America, not China!” Moments later, the Santa Rosa school board voted unanimously to make masks optional for all grades, effective immediately.

— CORONA LOCAL —

COVID-19 hospitalizations are falling faster in South Florida than the rest of the state” via Ben Conarck of the Miami Herald — The number of people hospitalized from COVID-19 in Florida hospitals has dropped about 17% in the last two weeks, from 3,345 on April 23 to 2,746 on Tuesday, according to state data. In that same time period, the number has dipped 27% in Miami-Dade, from 595 patients two weeks ago to 437 as of Tuesday. Broward County sees a similar drop — 23% in the last two weeks. Experts attributed the dip in Miami-Dade hospitalizations to robust vaccine protection for the county’s older residents. More than 81% of people over the age of 65 have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and the 55-64 bracket has also been well vaccinated.

— CORONA NATION —

They haven’t gotten a COVID-19 vaccine yet. But they aren’t ‘hesitant’ either.” via Amy Harmon and Josh Holder of The New York Times — It had been weeks since Acy Grayson III, owner of Let It Shine, a home improvement outfit he runs out of his own home in the suburbs of Cleveland, had vowed to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Appointments were available. But Grayson, who never knows how long a job will take or when a new one will come along, had found it hard to commit to a time and a place. “I know you’re trying to find out the reason people aren’t doing it,” Grayson said on a recent afternoon. “I’m going to tell you. People are trying to take care of their household. You don’t have much time in the day.”

Some people just don’t have time for a vaccine. Image via AP.

— CORONA ECONOMICS — 

Consumer prices shot up 0.8% in April as worries escalate” via Martin Crutsinger of The Associated Press — A worrisome bout of inflation struck the U.S. economy in April, with consumer prices for goods and services surging 0.8% — the largest monthly jump in more than a decade — and the year-over-year increase reaching its fastest rate since 2008. The acceleration in prices, which has been building for months, has unsettled financial markets and raised concerns that it could weaken the economic recovery from the pandemic recession. Wednesday’s report from the Labor Department showed sharply higher prices for everything from food and clothes to housing. A 10% surge in the prices of used cars and trucks — a record jump — accounted for roughly one-third of last month’s overall increases.

COVID-19 speeds up financial and tech company relocations to Florida” via Amy Martinez of Florida Trend — Last spring, Ian Campbell, CEO of technology consulting firm Nucleus Research, called a staff Zoom meeting to announce that he would be leaving Boston and moving to Miami. Campbell, who founded the firm in Boston in 2000, felt it made sense to open an office in Miami. Boston’s high cost of living and traffic make it increasingly difficult to attract and retain young, talented workers, he says. Meanwhile, he and his staff had proved during the coronavirus shutdown that they could make telecommuting work. He gave his 15 employees the choice of staying in Boston or moving to Miami. All but two chose the latter. “Most of them are under the age of 30, and they skew male.

That’s it; we’re moving to Florida.

Locked Out: Investigation of Florida’s eviction crisis” via the Orlando Sentinel — Locked Out delves into the eviction crisis that’s displaced thousands of Florida renters during the COVID-19 outbreak. Part 1 illustrates how the state’s landlord-friendly laws, a severe shortage of affordable homes, stagnant wages, and rising rents exposed renters to eviction where low-wage tourism workers already live paycheck to paycheck. Part 2, which publishes May 20, analyzes court data showing that Black Central Floridians were more likely to be evicted due to decades of federal housing laws and government lending practices that have largely cut Black Americans out of homeownership. And Part 3, which publishes May 27, examines how Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature has for years ignored bills that would give renters more protections.

— MORE CORONA —

Expert panel says mistakes led to coronavirus pandemic, but stops short of holding countries, leaders to account” via Emily Rauhala of The Washington Post — About a year ago, the director-general of the World Health Organization asked a group of experts to assess an urgent question: How did we get into this pandemic mess? On Wednesday, the 13-member group, known as the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, delivered a lengthy, significant, but ultimately evasive answer. The panel reconstructs how early-warning systems failed, and agencies faltered, giving the virus time to spread from the central Chinese heartland to the rest of the world, humbling empires and killing millions as it went.

A panel finds fault in the spread of COVID-19 but resists laying blame.

— PRESIDENTIAL —

Economic tremors hit White House at crucial moment for Biden policy agenda” via Jeff Stein, Rachel Siegel and Andrew Van Dam of The Washington Post — Over the past week, the Biden administration has been met with disappointing economic benchmarks, including lackluster hiring and a surge in consumer prices. Meanwhile, rising gas prices and fuel shortages have hammered the Southeast. These pressures have weighed on the financial markets, as the market fell sharply for the third day in a row. So far, the White House has largely responded to these setbacks by either downplaying them or arguing that they amount to one-time aberrations related to the unusual circumstances tied to the rebound from the coronavirus pandemic. However, the headwinds have galvanized Republican complaints about the administration’s economic stewardship and its $1.9 trillion stimulus package at a pivotal moment for the President’s domestic agenda.

Economic struggles give Republicans ammo against the Joe Biden White House. Image via Bloomberg.

Biden signs executive order designed to strengthen federal digital defenses” via Ellen Nakashima of The Washington Post — Biden signed an executive order Wednesday aimed at shoring up the federal government’s digital defenses as his administration grapples with cybersecurity crises, including a ransomware strike on a major fuel pipeline that has caused gas shortages. The executive order does not specifically address critical infrastructures such as oil and gas pipelines. But it directs the Commerce Department to craft cybersecurity standards for companies that sell software services to the federal government — a move that officials say they hope will ripple across the private sector nationally and globally and improve cybersecurity for critical systems, too.“ The Colonial Pipeline incident is a reminder that federal action alone is not enough,” the White House said in a statement.

Red states ready to defy Biden’s ‘aggressive indoctrination’ on education” via Megan Cassella and Liz Crampton of POLITICO — Red-state Republicans are looking to seize what could be their first opportunity to take down one of President Biden’s most ambitious plans: Opposing the implementation of his proposed expansion of education. Two central pillars of Biden’s sweeping American Families Plan — universal prekindergarten and free community college tuition — are structured as partnerships between the federal government and states, meaning they will require both political and financial buy-in from local officials to get up and running. But Republicans in states like Wisconsin, Florida and Alabama are already signaling that they would put up a fight against Biden’s expansive social welfare proposal, casting the plan as a blatant example of federal government overreach.

— EPILOGUE TRUMP — 

Donald Trump’s defense secretary suddenly backs off blaming him for Capitol riot” via Aaron Blake of The Washington Post — Something happened in the past two months when it comes to former acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller’s version of Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. That much is clear. Miller’s testimony Wednesday about the riot was much anticipated, given how much he had attached the Jan. 6 attack to his former boss’s rhetoric in a speech that day. But a funny thing happened when Miller testified: He seemed to back away from his comments laying this at Trump’s feet. On this, Miller was less willing to commit, and he actually acknowledged he had “reassessed.”

Christopher Miller walks back his critique of Donald Trump’s role in The Capitol riot. Image via CQ/Roll Call.

— CRISIS —

Alleged Capitol rioter told FBI he was allowed to breach building because he pays his taxes, feds say” via Kim Bellware of The Washington Post — Checks to the IRS don’t typically come with blanket entry privileges to federal buildings, but a Pennsylvania man charged with breaching the U.S. Capitol allegedly believed as much when he entered the building on Jan. 6. Gary Wickersham of West Chester, Pennsylvania, offered federal investigators a bizarre narrative of debunked conspiracy theories and contradictory statements surrounding the attack. The 80-year-old told investigators in January that the attempted insurrection was a “staged” act and that many of the people he saw “cursing, screaming, knocking cops away, breaking windows and doors, and entering the Capitol” were “members of antifa.” According to the complaint, Wickersham also believed his 20 minutes inside the Capitol were authorized “because he pays his taxes.”

One rioter said it was OK to enter The Capitol because he paid his taxes. Image via AP.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Prosecutors weigh appeal in Corrine Brown case” via News Service of Florida — Federal prosecutors are asking for time to consider an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court after an appellate court last week overturned the conviction of former U.S. Rep. Brown on tax and fraud charges. Prosecutors on Tuesday asked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for a 90-day stay of the issuance of what is known as a “mandate” that would carry out last week’s ruling. In a 7-4 decision, the Atlanta-based appellate court ordered a new trial for Brown, who was convicted in 2017 on 18 felony counts related to an alleged charity scam. The ruling said a juror was improperly removed from Brown’s trial because he said the “Holy Spirit” told him Brown was not guilty.

House approves federal Pulse Memorial resolution, again” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — A resolution to designate the planned Pulse Memorial and Museum in Orlando an official national monument was approved Wednesday again by the U.S. House. House Resolution 49 is the 117th Congress’ version of a bill that was approved last spring in the 116th Congress. That measure, however, died last year, as neither of Florida’s U.S. Senators got behind a Senate version to push it to adoption there. This year, Sen. Scott intends to introduce the Senate bill, as soon as Thursday. With Wednesday’s approval in the House, the federal declaration is lining up for the possibility of final approval on or around the 5th anniversary of the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, June 12.

The U.S. House approves the Pulse Memorial — again.

Assignment editors — Rep. Kat Cammack joins House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy for the “Back the Blue Bike Tour,” joined by Rep. Pete Stauber, Capitol Police officers, and National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund CEO Marcia Ferranto, 8:45 a.m. Eastern time, livestream here. Media interested in attending in-person must RSVP to Christina Cameron and be preset by 8 a.m. for a security sweep. Local media should contact Adeline Sandridge to set up an interview time for Thursday afternoon or Friday morning.

— LOCAL NOTES —

Tampa colleges and universities to receive $180M, Kathy Castor announces” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — U.S. Rep. Castor announced Wednesday that Tampa colleges and universities are set to receive more than $180 million in emergency funding under the American Rescue Plan. The funding will be used to assist in financial shortfalls brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. At least half the funding each institution receives will be distributed in emergency cash assistance grants to students facing hunger, homelessness, and other hardships. “Importantly, struggling students will receive urgent relief to allow them to stay on track and complete their education,” Castor said in a statement. The funding will be divided among Hillsborough Community College ($60.7 million), the University of South Florida ($102.3 million), and the University of Tampa ($18.4 million).

Kathy Castor touts $180M in federal dollars for Tampa area higher education. Image via USF Health.

Booze sales will stop after 2 a.m. in South Beach party hub for now, may go to voters” via Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald — Despite the protests of club owners — and the recent failure of a 2017 voter referendum seeking to curb alcohol sales on Ocean Drive — the current citywide 5 a.m. last call for alcohol sales will be rolled back to 2 a.m. on May 22 for businesses on Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue from Fifth to 16th streets. Commissioners also unanimously voted to add a citywide voter referendum to the November ballot that would make the temporary restrictions permanent, although a binding vote cannot take place until July. The change, which only affects businesses in that specific area, will take effect just days before the city hosts Memorial Day Weekend crowds.

Facing rising temperatures, Miami appoints Chief Heat Officer” via Craig Pittman in MSN — As the Earth warms, the city by the ocean says its heat problem is poised to become even deadlier. Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava recently announced the county was creating a first-of-its-kind position — Chief Heat Officer. “We know extreme heat does not impact people equally — poorer communities and Black and Hispanic people bear the brunt of the public health impacts,” the mayor said in a statement. A Chief Heat Officer will “coordinate our efforts to protect people from heat and save lives.” It’s a position that other communities, including Athens and Freetown, Sierra Leone, also battling rising temperatures, are expected to create, according to the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center, a nonprofit organization.

Gables moves to sell $3.5 million city parking lot. The buyer is the Vice Mayor’s boss” via Samantha J. Gross of the Miami Herald — The Coral Gables City Commission voted Tuesday to move forward with a plan to sell a public parking lot for $3.5 million to a developer that would join the property with two adjacent lots for a new project. But a wrinkle came up during the meeting: the partners behind the listed buyer also own the law firm where Vice Mayor Michael Mena has been employed since July 2019. Before the vote Tuesday, Mena made the relationship known and said he would not be recusing himself from voting after seeking an opinion from city attorney Miriam Soler Ramos. Mena’s opinion states that the purchasing entity and the law firm are unrelated entities, and Mena only has a relationship to the firm.

What Kelly Cohen is reading — “Orlando City owner Flávio Augusto da Silva sells club, stadium to Minnesota Vikings owners” via Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel — Longtime Orlando City owner Augusto da Silva sold the club to the Wilf family, who own the Minnesota Vikings, on Wednesday, according to Vikings Executive Vice President of Public Affairs Lester Bagley. Augusto da Silva and the Wilfs will now enter a 30- to 60-day closing period, meaning the ownership transition will occur in June or early July. The Major League Soccer Board of Governors must approve the sale now that it’s been finalized between the two parties. “The Wilf family is excited to become stewards of the Orlando City Soccer Club of MLS and the Orlando Pride of the NWSL,” Bagley said.

A century of dredging has left Jacksonville vulnerable to storm surge, study finds” via Nate Monroe of The Florida Times-Union — More than a century of dredging the St. Johns River has intensified storm surge for inland areas even miles away from the Atlantic Ocean, including downtown Jacksonville, and likely has left the city more vulnerable to flooding in major hurricanes, according to a peer-reviewed study published this month by three civil engineering researchers focusing entirely on St. Johns. The paper complicates the consequence-free narrative pushed by the Jacksonville Port Authority and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as the agencies claw even deeper into miles of the river bed on their latest project — dredging the 40-foot shipping channel to 47 feet.

Florida Power & Light debuts new technology ahead of hurricane season” via Patricia McKnight of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — FPL hopes a new drone and robotic dog will help to access the damage to power lines following storms and reduce the impact to its energy grid. The utility provider unveiled the new innovations during its annual storm training on May 7. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season ended with a record-breaking 30 named storms, including 12 that made landfall. This storm season, FPL hopes the new technology helps to improve power reliability. During its annual storm drill, FPL revealed the newest and largest member in its drone fleet — an autonomous drone-in-a-box.

New details emerge as criminal cases begin against Robert Runcie and Barbara Myrick” via Scott Travis and Rafael Olmeda of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — A judge entered not guilty pleas for Broward Schools Superintendent Runcie and General Counsel Myrick on Wednesday, the same day prosecutors released new details about how the alleged crimes took place. In a demand for information from Runcie’s lawyer, the prosecutors released partial transcripts that suggest Myrick contacted Mary Coker, the district’s procurement director, to learn information that could help Runcie in his testimony before a grand jury, which was investigating corruption in the district. Prosecutors also released excerpts of Runcie’s testimony. When Runcie was asked April 1 whether he had been prepped about the Recordex purchases, he responded, “No, I haven’t talked to anyone specifically about that,” the transcript shows.

Prosecutors give a fuller picture of Robert Runcie’s crimes. Image via AP.

Police: Woman posed as student to promote Instagram page” via The Associated Press — A 28-year-old woman who wanted to promote her Instagram page attempted to blend in with students at a Miami-area high school, police said. Monday’s stunt at American Senior High School landed Audrey Francisquini in jail, where she’s facing charges of burglary, interfering with a school function and resisting arrest without violence, records show. Francisquini started handing out pamphlets printed with her Instagram account after sneaking onto the campus around 8:30 a.m. Monday, police said. She had a black backpack and carried a skateboard as she walked through the hallways, recording herself.

Miami doctor accused of hate crime insists she was the real victim and target of slur” via David Ovalle of the Miami Herald — The Miami Springs doctor accused of attacking a Hispanic man at a Hialeah Publix denies using any racial slurs — and insists she was the one victimized after the customer called her a Spanish vulgarity. Dr. Jennifer Wright told the Miami Herald this week that she was defending herself when she got into an altercation with customer Roger Salvo in the supermarket parking lot. “I was the actual victim that day. I went to Publix to buy my daughter’s 18th birthday cake, and I was called a puta in line by a man who was much bigger than me, younger than me, and taller than me,” Wright said in a Zoom interview. Puta means “whore” in Spanish.

— TOP OPINION —

The cancel-culture Republicans just canceled Liz Cheney” via Dana Milbank of The Washington Post — It took Republicans fewer than 18 minutes to cancel Cheney. Among the many things Republicans have lost as they cravenly embrace Trump’s “big lie” is a sense of irony. Before canceling Cheney on Wednesday morning, the very last thing Republicans did on the House floor Tuesday night was spend an hour railing against “cancel culture.” They complained about Pepe Le Pew being canceled, J.K. Rowling being canceled, Miss Piggy being canceled and Dr. Seuss being canceled. They groused about baseball’s All-Star Game and Goya Foods. They lamented the cancellation of everything from George Washington to kids in MAGA hats. “Cancel culture,” Rep. Scott Perry proclaimed, “is a synonym for fascism.” They then turned around and canceled Cheney.

— OPINIONS —

No, the economic recovery is not a bust — yet” via The Washington Post editorial board — A reasonable case can be made that Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan was too large and too late. But the new inflation numbers don’t yet prove it. First, the price increases they reflect are relative to an anomalously low baseline. Second, the headline consumer price index includes volatile sectors such as food and energy. Without those, the rise in “core” inflation was tamer. As for the labor market, some workers are clearly staying on the sidelines because of $300 federal unemployment insurance supplements. U.S. workers and employers received an epic shock from COVID-19. The labor market is experiencing “reallocation friction” as employers produce new and different jobs, and workers take time to decide where and how they fit in.

To help cruise lines, repeal law on vaccination passports” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — Cruise industry executives have criticized the CDC for being slow and overly cautious in issuing guidelines cruises to resume. Some of the criticism is justified. We also believe the state’s response has been politically driven and counterproductive. Last month, Attorney General Moody filed a lawsuit seeking to force the CDC to allow cruising. The Legislature and DeSantis followed up with a law that bans so-called “vaccine passports.” A ban on vaccine passports is a misguided attempt to reopen the state as quickly as possible when the law, which carries a $5,000 fine per violation, will perversely force industries such as cruising to wait longer to reopen. A lawsuit over the CDC’s reopening guidelines is equally ill-advised.

Gov. DeSantis, veto Florida’s auto insurance bill and start fresh” via Tampa Bay Times editorial board — Florida’s “no-fault” auto insurance system is a mess, an incubator for fraud and abuse that serves neither ratepayers nor injured motorists. But the change that lawmakers cobbled together in the closing hours of the recent legislative session was a rushed response driven by frustration, not informed policymaking. DeSantis should veto SB 54 and urge lawmakers to negotiate reforms next year that clearly promise to improve the system. The bill — approved 37-3 by the Senate and 100-16 in the House — capped years of legislative efforts to revamp a system rife with fraud, high policy rates and massive noncompliance.

Kevin Rader: You don’t have to be anti-farmer to be pro-environment” via Florida Politics — One of the rare bipartisan votes to come out of the legislature this past Session was on Senate Bill 88, which modernizes Florida’s “Right to Farm” laws. In fact, it was overwhelmingly bipartisan. Most of my former Democratic colleagues — all solidly pro-environment and most very progressive legislators — voted for this bill because protecting farmers and being pro-environment are not incompatible. But you would not know it from the outcry heard from the Everglades Foundation and related groups. Are these groups really trying to make us believe that all these legislators are anti-environment? Are they all anti-Everglades? Of course not.

— ALOE —

Disney World, other Orlando theme parks cut back on physical distancing, end temperature checks” via Gabrielle Russon of the Orlando Sentinel — Restrictions designed to fight the spread of the pandemic are loosening up at Orlando’s attractions as more Americans get vaccinated. Disney disclosed in a message on its app that it plans to start limiting physical distancing to three feet in some areas, although six feet of space would still be maintained in restaurants and shops. The message, which said the changes were “gradual,” did not mention ride lines. Disney’s move comes after both Universal and SeaWorld have already cut physical distancing from six to three feet in some areas. When it comes to temperature checks to allow visitors to enter, all three major parks, Disney, Universal and SeaWorld, either have already eliminated them or plan to do so soon.

Disney is dropping the temperature checks.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Best wishes to Audrey HensonTodd Reid, and Susie Wiles.

___

Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter SchorschPhil AmmannRenzo 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.


One comment

  • Tom

    May 13, 2021 at 8:27 am

    Hot garbage continues from Peter.
    Republican trouncing in the making.
    Put a bowl around your head Peter and try to block it out. Practical Independents and sane Democrats support Govs efforts. Get a grip!

Comments are closed.


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