Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 7.21.21

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Florida politics and Sunburn — perfect together.

Good Wednesday morning.

The right person at the right time — After much deliberation, thought and watching the British drama Bridgerton, I’ve decided who will get my support for the next St. Petersburg Mayor: former Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch.

Rick Kriseman and Ken Welch: Passing the torch for St. Pete?

It was not an easy choice since both Welch and City Council member Darden Rice have been close to my family for many years. And other candidates bring interesting ideas to the table. Nevertheless, I feel Welch is not just the best person for Mayor, he is also the best person for this moment in St. Pete history.

For context, please read my full explanation here.

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Pittman Law Group’s government affairs team has expanded with the addition of Evan Steinberg, the firm announced Tuesday.

“We could not be more excited about Evan joining our Government Affairs practice and providing high-quality service to our clients,” founder and managing partner Sean Pittman said. “Evan has already hit the ground running and brings with him an incredible breadth of experience at every level of the government. He is a great asset, and we are proud to have him.”

Congratulations to Evan Steinberg, Pittman Law Group’s newest member of its government affairs team.

Steinberg has been immersed in state and local politics for the past five years. His experience includes working as a Broward County Commission aide, which saw him work on international trade policy and help plan the Florida International Trade and Cultural Expo.

He later served as a staffer in the office of then-Senate President Pro Tempore Anitere Flores and at the U.S. Department of Defense’s J5 Strategy, Policy, and Plans Directorate supporting the U.S. Colombia Action Plan. Most recently, he worked as a legislative aide at Greenberg Traurig.

“I am extremely excited to join the Pittman Law Group and work alongside this group of professionals who have been effectively serving clients for over 20 years,” Steinberg said. “I look forward to building on the incredible work that Sean and our team have done, and with our statewide expansion, I believe there is no better time to join this firm than right now.”

Steinberg, who grew up in Parkland, graduated from Florida State University in 2020 with a degree in social science. He served as FSU’s student body president and as a university trustee during the 2019-2020 academic year.

 — SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@POTUS: Thanks, @Buccaneers, for stopping by the White House today. Your team is the embodiment of a quintessential lesson about sports and about America itself. That no matter how much we get knocked down — we get up.

@LeaderMcConnell: Get vaccinated! These shots need to get into arms as rapidly as possible, or else we’re gonna be back in a situation this fall like what we went through last year.

@steveschale: We all need to have an oar in the water because we are all in this boat together. Appreciate (Mitch) McConnell speaking up … and in fairness, he’s been saying this for a while.

@alaynatreene: The letter is out — Attending Physician Brian P. Monahan says “several vaccinated Congressional staff members and 1 Member of Congress have acquired infection in this circumstance”

—@Scottwongdc: Lots of masks back on in the Capitol today. Feels like a huge step back.

—@Eggerdc: If Fox decides to turn on a dime on this and suddenly go hard-core pro-vaccine, the number of literal lives saved will not be small

@JennaEllisEsq: Why are multiple Fox hosts suddenly devoting entire segments today begging people to take the vaccine? You’d think the Murdochs just acquired Pfizer.

Tweet, tweet:

@PatriciaMazzei: Martha Baker, a registered nurse and president of Jackson’s union for doctors and nurses, told me that about 97% of physicians and 67% of nurses at the hospital have been vaccinated, but the numbers are much lower for other staff — especially techs providing care at local jails

@PatriciaMazzei: Miami’s Jackson Health System, Florida’s largest public hospital, is raising its COVID-19 alert level to high and banning most visitors again because of the virus surge. Meanwhile, just 58% *of its staff* is vaccinated, a percentage the hospital’s CEO called “low.”

@ChrisSpencerFL: I got my second Pfizer shot today. It was extraordinarily easy, in and out in 15 minutes. If you haven’t already been vaccinated I encourage you to get your shot, no excuses!

— DAYS UNTIL —

New start date for 2021 Olympics — 2; second season of ‘Ted Lasso’ premieres on Apple+ — 2; the NBA Draft — 7; ‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres — 9; ‘The Suicide Squad’ premieres — 16; Canada will open its border to fully vaccinated Americans — 19; ‘Marvel’s What If …?’ premieres on Disney+ — 21; Florida Behavioral Health Association’s Annual Conference (BHCon) begins — 28; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 34; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 44; NFL regular season begins — 50; California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recall election — 55; Broadway’s full-capacity reopening — 55; 2022 Legislative Session interim committee meetings begin — 61; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres (rescheduled) — 65; ‘Dune’ premieres — 72; Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary party starts — 72; MLB regular season ends — 74; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 79; Florida Chamber Future of Florida Forum begins — 97; World Series Game 1 — 98; Florida TaxWatch’s Annual Meeting begins — 98; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 104; Florida’s 20th Congressional District primary — 104; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 108; ‘Disney Very Merriest After Hours’ will debut — 110; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 121; San Diego Comic-Con begins — 128; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 142; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 149; NFL season ends — 172; 2022 Legislative Session starts — 174; Florida’s 20th Congressional District election — 174; NFL playoffs begin — 178; Super Bowl LVI — 207; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 247; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 289; ‘Platinum Jubilee’ for Queen Elizabeth II — 316; “Black Panther 2” premieres — 352; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 443; “Captain Marvel 2” premieres — 478.

— TOP STORY —

Florida GOP chair under investigation for alleged sexual harassment” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida — The Republican Party of Florida is investigating its chair, Joe Gruters, in connection with a sexual harassment allegation involving a legislative staffer amid complaints from top party officials that the accusation was covered up. Four party officials and an additional source who works with the Republican Party of Florida said the allegations stem from an evening at a Tallahassee bar during the 2021 Legislative Session. Sources say a male aide offered to drive Gruters home from the bar, and at some point, Gruters allegedly sexually harassed the aide. A formal complaint was filed with the state party shortly after the incident.

Joe Gruters faced accusations of sexual harassment during the 2021 Session. Image via The News Service of Florida.

Gruters cleared after probe into alleged sexual harassment” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — An email blast to party members confirmed that a third-party investigator was brought on by the party after a complaint from a male staffer was made. “When the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) was informed of allegations made against Chairman Joe Gruters, the Executive Director and General Counsel immediately recused themselves from any investigation and hired a third-party independent law firm to conduct the investigation,” the email reads. “The RPOF was not involved in the investigation, did not direct the law firm, or limit the law firm in any way whatsoever in its investigation.” “Following a thorough investigation lasting more than three months, the independent third-party law firm reported back and informed elected RPOF officials including the Vice Chairman and National Committeeman and National Committeewoman that they were unable to substantiate the allegations and no accuser with firsthand knowledge was willing to come forward with a complaint of allegations of harassment or other misconduct.”

— STATEWIDE —

Two nonprofit groups negotiating to replace disgraced domestic violence coalition” via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald — After more than a year of transition, Florida officials are about to choose a private vendor to replace the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which was shut down in disgrace after it was discovered that its board of directors was complicit in a scheme to compensate former executive Tiffany Carr $7.5 million over three years using federal and state funds. On Monday, the selection committee of the Florida Department of Children and Families met to rank the two candidates still in the running for the job of providing training, legal and technical services to the state’s 41 domestic violence centers as well as running the 24-hour domestic abuse hotline and distributing grants to the centers.

Tiffany Carr’s downfall put Florida’s domestic violence shelters in chaos.

Citizens grows to 638,000 policies as property insurance concerns grow” via the Orlando Sentinel — Citizens Property Insurance Corp. had 638,263 policies as of June 30, up from 609,805 on May 31, according to information that the organization posted on its website. Earlier this year, CEO Barry Gilway warned Florida’s overall insurance market was “unhealthy” and predicted higher premiums ahead for all Florida homeowners if the trend continues. With private insurers dropping customers and seeking double-digit rate increases, Citizens’ policy count has surged in 2020 and 2021. As a comparison, Citizens had 475,191 policies on June 30, 2020. Gilway said last week that Citizens was forecasting that it would have a policy count of 766,000 by the end of the year.

Duke CEO ‘worth every penny,’ CFO says, rebutting Elliott claims” via Josh Saul of Bloomberg — Duke Energy Corp. chief financial officer Steve Young is pushing back against calls from Elliott Investment Management for the utility owner to revamp its leadership. The New York-based hedge fund criticized Duke’s leadership and shareholder returns in a letter Monday, asserting that the company has rewarded poor management with additional compensation and other perks, notably a $7 million retention payment to chief executive Lynn Good disclosed in 2018. He also stressed that Duke has consistently refreshed the membership of its 13-member board, with nine new directors added in the past five years. That aimed to counter Elliot’s criticism that the company lacks effective independent oversight at the board level.

Hurricane season: How long will it stay quiet?” via Davis Fleshler of the South Florida Sun Sentinel — After a furious start to hurricane season, an eerie calm reigns over the tropics. No storms have appeared in the Atlantic since Tropical Storm Elsa struck northwest Florida two weeks ago. Nothing is expected for another week or more, as a global climate system causes air to sink over the Atlantic, suppressing the formation of tropical storms or hurricanes. The tranquility across a region that produces some of the world’s most violent storms won’t last, of course, especially with most experts predicting a busy season.

— DATELINE TALLY —

Abandoned cemeteries task force notches inaugural meeting” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — The Taskforce on Abandoned African American Cemeteries convened in Tallahassee on Tuesday, the group’s first formal meeting since commissioned by Ron DeSantis in June. Led by Secretary of State Laurel Lee, the 10-member team will study and develop strategies to address forgotten or otherwise abandoned cemeteries and burial grounds in the state. Throughout their yearlong study, Lee vowed the full support of the Department of State. “We are ready to share any expertise or experience that will benefit the task force and are all honored to be part of this process,” Lee said. At Tuesday’s meeting, committee members offered a brief introduction, familiarized themselves with the history of cemeteries and explored the relationship between state law and their mission.

Dotie Joseph: Florida GOP voting bill ‘does nothing to address actual voter fraud,’ caters to Donald Trump lie” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Republican leaders have lauded the 2020 election as being among the smoothest and most secure in Florida’s history, but you wouldn’t know it by their actions, according to Democratic state Rep. Joseph, who said Tuesday that new state law won’t curb real voter fraud and instead kowtows to former President Donald Trump‘s unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud. In early May, DeSantis signed SB 90, which among other actions, limits the use of absentee ballot drop boxes, restricts who can collect and deliver ballots to polling places, and expands existing rules against attempts to solicit votes near polling places, including prohibiting outside groups from distributing food and water to voters in line. 

Dotie Joseph says Republican efforts at election reform do nothing to stop fraud. Image via Florida House. 

Florida medical marijuana deal has some questioning ‘5%’ rule” via Kirby Wilson and Diti Kohli of the Tampa Bay Times — Anyone who owns more than 5% of a company licensed to sell medical marijuana may not buy any part of any other medical marijuana company in the state. Regulators at the Florida Department of Health are now mulling approval of a potential sale that some fear could violate that law. If the sale were to be approved by regulators, the hedge fund Gotham Green Partners could, in theory, wield power over GrowHealthy and MedMen Enterprises Inc., two licensed medical marijuana treatment centers in Florida. That means Gotham Green could have significant influence over two of the 22 companies approved by the state to sell marijuana.

Roofing firms join challenge to insurance law” via Jim Saunders of News Service of Florida — Sarasota County-based Sonshine Roofing and Hillsborough County-based Florida Forever Roofing & Restoration intervened in the federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a new Florida property insurance last week. The moves came after Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker sided Gale Force Roofing & Restoration and granted a preliminary injunction to temporarily block the advertising restrictions in the bill. The companies contend that the restrictions violate their First Amendment rights, as the law would prevent practices such as using door hangers to urge homeowners to seek roof inspections. Walker, on July 11, said the law’s advertising restrictions went too far.

— 2022 —

Why Marco Rubio remains the favorite for reelection against Val Demings” via Stuart Rothenberg of Roll Call — While Democratic Senate hopeful Rep. Demings has an interesting background, will raise tons of money and should be a quality challenger to Rubio, she starts in a deeper hole than you might think. Rubio starts with some considerable advantages, including his willingness to say or do anything to win election. The midterm dynamic should benefit Rubio, and it’s hard to see Demings making dramatic inroads among voters who supported Trump last year. The challenger will likely need to run a flawless race and take advantage of a Rubio stumble or two. 

‘This is ground zero’: Republican Amanda Makki enters race for FL CD-13” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Makki is entering the race for Florida’s 13th Congressional District. Makki announced her candidacy Tuesday in Largo, surrounded by a handful of local politicos and fresh Congressional campaign signs. And, this won’t be her first time in the ring; two years ago, Makki was edged out in the Republican Primary by Anna Paulina Luna, who she’ll face again in 2022. And, there appears to be no love lost between the opponents. “Bottom line, we don’t need a phony in this district. We don’t need a Charlie Crist in a skirt,” Makki said of Luna, who has established herself as a pro-Trump conservative and social media firebrand, bested Makki in the GOP Primary with 36% of the vote to Makki’s 29%.

Amanda Makki says CD 13 doesn’t need ‘Charlie Crist in a dress.’

Kathy Castor draws Republican challenger Jay Collins” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Collins is challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Castor for Florida’s 14th Congressional District. Collins, an Army Green Beret and Purple Heart Amputee, announced his candidacy Tuesday for the Hillsborough County district. Collins is entering the race as a Republican. “In combat, we stayed in the fight regardless of the adversity we faced — whatever it took, no matter how tough the challenge, we had to get the job done. That’s how I’ll fight for Florida families in Congress,” he said in a statement. Collins served in the military for more than 20 years, deployed four times as a Green Beret. He lost his leg due to injuries suffered in combat but continued serving in active duty in various Special Forces leadership roles for another five and a half years. 

Blaise Ingoglia running for to-be-determined seat in Florida Senate” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Ingoglia has filed to run for Senate District 10. The fourth-term Representative from Spring Hill, who would succeed Senate President Wilton Simpson in the seat, is the second candidate, both Republicans, to jump into that race. He officially filed his candidacy Tuesday. Ingoglia has been influential in the Legislature. This year, he was the House sponsor for bills implementing more restrictive election laws and cracking down on Big Tech. Ingoglia has also been instrumental in past election laws, including provisions that allowed ballot drop boxes. Ingoglia, a homebuilder by trade, has served House District 35 since 2014. However, he is termed out of that seat in 2022.

Cuba protests ignite 2024 GOP primary” via Marc Caputo of Florida Politics —In the days after the historic uprisings, Cuba has emerged as a central focus among Republican presidential contenders in the 2024 shadow primary. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has speculated Joe Biden’s administration told Cubans not to come to the United States because they tend to vote Republican. Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton called out Major League Baseball for its silence about the push for democracy on the island in light of the decision to cancel its all-star game in Georgia after the state tightened voting restrictions. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott have called on Cuban military leaders to rise up against the regime.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

Ron DeSantis doubles down on anti-science campaign as COVID-19 explodes in Florida” via Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times — To hear DeSantis’ pitch, you’d think that his state’s battle against the pandemic has ended in a roaring, unalloyed victory, and it’s all due to him. “The key to Florida’s success has been protecting the most vulnerable, i.e., seniors and residents of long-term care facilities,” a DeSantis spokeswoman said. What has set DeSantis apart has been his insistence on portraying his state’s record as a reproach to liberal orthodoxy. That’s been his line since a year ago when he started grousing about having become the target of a “typical partisan narrative” forecasting an increase in disease cases tied to his purportedly premature reopening of Florida‘s businesses and recreation areas. At the time, the increase hadn’t appeared; eventually, however, it did.

As COVID-19 cases rise in Florida, Ron DeSantis still downplays the science.

Rapid rise in COVID-19 patients leads Florida hospitals to limit visitors, prepare for worst” via Daniel Chang of the Miami Herald — A spike in patient admissions for COVID-19 has put Florida hospitals on high alert, with Miami-Dade’s Jackson Health System announcing that it would suspend visitations at many of its facilities beginning Wednesday. Driven by a highly contagious variant of the virus and the significant share of Floridians who remain unvaccinated, the number of new infections reported weekly by Florida’s health department has increased more than fourfold in a month, from 10,095 cases for the week ending June 17 to 45,449 on Friday. South Florida hospitals have experienced a similar, though less dramatic, rise in patients with severe symptoms, pushing them to reinforce preventive measures and to prepare, once again, for a potential surge in the pandemic.

Here’s why Florida is seeing a surge of COVID-19 cases again — and how to protect yourself” via Michelle Marchante of the Miami Herald — Florida is seeing an increase in COVID-19 again, accounting for 1 in 5 new cases in the United States. Hospitals in Miami-Dade and Broward counties also report an uptick in COVID-19 patients and are beginning to limit visitations as they prepare for another potential surge of cases. So, what’s causing the increase? Hotter and wetter weather could be driving more people indoors, unvaccinated people not wearing masks. The spread of highly infectious COVID-19 variants like Delta, which has become the dominant COVID-19 strain worldwide. Delta makes up more than half the new coronavirus cases in the U.S.

Municipal officials throughout Florida on alert after positive COVID-19 case at Orlando meeting of 100s” via Anne Geggis of Florida Politics — Hundreds of public officials might have been exposed to COVID-19 at a statewide conference in Orlando last week. After a Florida League of Cities meeting that drew hundreds of local officials from around the state Friday, one person has tested positive for the virus, according to an email from Casey Cook, director of legislative affairs for the league. Meeting participants who are not fully vaccinated should get tested, Cook wrote.

Central Florida hospitals close to ICU capacity as COVID-19 cases increase” via Jerry Askin of WKMG — Orange County leaders are reporting some of the highest COVID-19 cases since the holiday peak back in January, including almost 2,000 new cases this past weekend and five deaths. “We’re asking everybody to do their part,” Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said. Positive cases continue to rise, Floridians are getting a glimpse of the many ICUs getting close to capacity. “I think it should be something that concerns everybody,” said Dr. Jason Salemi, an associate professor of Epidemiology at the University of South Florida. “More people are getting the virus, and we still have a lot of vulnerable people.”

—“Pensacola hospitals see COVID-19 resurgence as unvaccinated patients are hospitalized” via Emma Kennedy and Dania Kalaji of the Pensacola News Journal

Court refuses to rehear mask mandate fight” via News Service of Florida — A panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 decision Friday, refused a request by Alachua County to reconsider a decision that raised questions about the constitutionality of the county’s mask mandate. The court did not explain its reasons. The decision came about a month after the same panel overturned a May 2020 ruling by Circuit Judge Donna Keim that allowed Alachua County to keep in place the mask requirement. Justin Green, who operates a nursery business, challenged the mask requirement and went to the Tallahassee-based appeals court after Keim refused to grant a temporary injunction. In a 2-1 ruling on June 11, the appellate panel said Keim did not properly consider Green’s privacy rights.

Mask mandates are up in the air, for now. Image via AP.

Masks expected to be optional in Broward schools, but COVID-19’s surge could change that” via Scott Travis of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Masks are expected to become optional in Broward County schools this fall, but that could change if COVID-19 cases continue to surge. Superintendent Robert Runcie said masks would be “strongly recommended” when students return Aug. 18, but not mandatory if the School Board agrees during a July 27 workshop. The move comes after the CDC this month loosened its previous guidance on masks. The agency said that vaccinated students and teachers don’t need them. DeSantis has gone further, saying no Florida students should be forced to wear them.

Raymond James plots fall return to in-person work, with ‘more flexibility’” via Jay Cridlin of the Tampa Bay Times — After 19 months working largely out of the office, employees at Raymond James Financial will start returning to their St. Petersburg headquarters in September. But the coronavirus pandemic has proved to the financial management firm, one of Tampa Bay’s largest companies, that it must adopt a “more flexible” approach to remote and hybrid work if it wants to continue recruiting top advisers, CEO Paul Reilly said. “Some individuals will expect flexibility in how and where they work, and we must evolve and adapt to attract top talent and maintain exceptional teams,” Reilly said in a letter to employees on Wednesday.

— CORONA NATION —

The delta variant makes up an estimated 83% of U.S. cases, the CDC director says.” via Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times — The highly infectious delta variant now accounts for an estimated 83% of new coronavirus cases in the United States, a “dramatic increase” from early July, when it crossed the 50% threshold to become the dominant variant in this country, the director of the CDC said. In some regions, the percentage is even higher — particularly where vaccination rates are low, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, said during a Senate health committee hearing. Two-dose vaccines have been shown to be effective against the delta variant but questions have been raised about Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose regimen against delta.

‘If anybody is lying here, it is you’: Anthony Fauci turns tables on inquisitor Rand Paul” via David Smith of The Guardian — Paul suggested that Fauci had lied before Congress in May when he denied that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded so-called “gain of function” research at a virology lab in Wuhan, China. Fauci fired back forcefully: “Sen. Paul, I have never lied before the Congress and I do not retract that statement.” He also told the Senate committee that a study cited by Paul referenced a different sort of virus entirely from the one responsible for the coronavirus pandemic. “Sen. Paul, you do not know what you’re talking about, quite frankly. And I want to say that officially. You do not know what you are talking about.”

Anthony Fauci gives Rand Paul an old-fashioned smackdown. Image via AP.

What will it take to get over vaccine hesitancy?” via Margaret Talev of Axios — Most Americans who still aren’t vaccinated say nothing — not their own doctor administering it, a favorite celebrity’s endorsement, or even paid time off — is likely to make them get the shot, according to the latest Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index. “There’s a part of that population that are nudge-able and another part that are unbudge-able,” said Cliff Young, president of Ipsos U.S. Public Affairs. The best prospect was a scenario in which they could get the vaccine at their regular doctor’s office. But even then, 55% said they’d remain not at all likely, and only 7% said they’d be “very likely” to do it. That leaves 35% who are either somewhat likely or not very likely but haven’t ruled it out.

The two numbers that could get people to take the vaccine” via Kate Cohen of The Washington Post — Against all reason and morality, a powerful campaign is urging Americans not to get vaccinated against COVID-19. From state and national lawmakers to talk-show hosts, right-wing voices are railing against vaccination because liberal elites are using a nonexistent disease invented by the Chinese as an excuse to take away our freedom. I can’t express it better than Sen. Mitt Romney: “The politicization of vaccination is an outrage and frankly moronic.” But it’s working. A shocking number of people choose to reject free and highly effective protection against a disease that has so far killed more than 608,000 Americans.

Vaccination in America might have only one tragic path forward” via Daniel Engber of The Atlantic — America’s vaccination rates have fallen off a cliff, and nothing seems to help. On June 2, President Joe Biden announced a frantic plan to reverse what already seemed to be an awful, exponential slide: At the peak of the country’s vaccine rollout, in mid-April, almost 3.5 million doses were being put into arms every single day, but that number had quickly dropped by half, and then by half again. Biden’s “month of action” came and went, and nothing really changed; or rather, the situation kept on changing for the worse. Demand for vaccinations shrank in July, as it had in May and June. Even statewide vaccination lotteries, described here and elsewhere as a great idea, turned out to be a flop.

Mask mandates make a return — along with controversy” via Dan Diamond of The Washington Post — Two months after the CDC said vaccinated individuals didn’t need to wear masks in most settings, a growing number of experts are warning it’s time to put them back on. First, there was Los Angeles County, where the rising menace posed by the delta variant of the coronavirus prompted health officials to reimpose a mask mandate. Mask mandates are being discussed, too, in coronavirus hot spots such as Arkansas and Missouri, where cases have sharply increased in recent weeks, and many residents remain unvaccinated. “Universal masking indoors is a way of taking care of each other while we get more people vaccinated,” said Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

Prepare for a return of mask mandates, restrictions.

Conservative media diets tied to distrust in health officials” via Sarah Fischer of Axios — People who rely on conservative media have much less confidence in key public health institutions and experts, and are much more likely to believe misinformation about the vaccine. The survey finds a widening gap between Americans who trust key health institutions and those who don’t. Trust in key institutions, including the CDC and, FDA is still high overall. So is overall trust in Fauci and overall confidence in the vaccines. The survey found that in June, 78% of the U.S. public said the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, up from 74% in April.

— CORONA ECONOMICS — 

Delta variant poses major risk to Joe Biden’s promises of swift economic comeback” via Jeff Stein and Heather Long of The Washington Post — A resurgence in coronavirus cases is threatening the Biden administration’s promises of a swift economic recovery, with Wall Street getting battered on Monday and some leading forecasters beginning to rethink their extremely rosy projections. The administration is closely monitoring the economic risks associated with the delta variant, and senior U.S. officials have in recent days suggested that local restrictions may have to be reimposed in response to the pandemic. “This virus doesn’t have to hold you back any longer. It doesn’t have to hold our economy back any longer. But the only way we put it behind us is if more Americans get vaccinated,” Biden said Monday.

The delta variant throws a wrench in Joe Biden’s economic recovery. Image via CNBC.

Could the delta variant prompt Congress to extend federal unemployment benefits?” via Maurie Backman of The Motley Fool — The delta variant of COVID-19 has caused an uptick in cases, worrying health experts. Scientists say the variant is considerably more transmissible than previous versions of the coronavirus that have circulated over the past year and a half. If the delta variant causes a large outbreak, it could force a return of regional and even national restrictions. Those could include mask mandates, capacity limits at businesses, and even the shuttering of bars, nightclubs, and other crowded places. All of this could hinder our broad economic recovery. Returning to restrictions that limit how businesses can operate could mean the shedding of more jobs.

‘Flocking to Florida’: Economists make rosy projections for state’s economy” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — The state’s economists met Tuesday to update short- and-long run projections about Florida’s economy. The economic projection data discussed during the estimating conference will be used to update the upcoming revenue cycle. The economic variables will be finalized and uploaded onto the Office of Economic and Demographic Research website in the coming days. Discussion during the meeting Tuesday centered on metrics that add up to a rebounding economy. EDR economist Vesselka McAlarney said Florida’s economy will continue its upward trajectory, with the second quarter of the calendar year 2021 expected to exceed pre-pandemic levels in her forecast.

Canada border changes could help Florida tourism” via Jim Turner of The News Service of Florida — State economists expressed optimism that already-rebounding tourism numbers will see a quicker-than-anticipated boost from international travelers as Canada eases COVID-19 border restrictions. On Monday, the Canadian government announced that starting Aug. 9, fully vaccinated U.S. citizens will be able to visit Canada without having to quarantine for two weeks. Children under 12 who are not approved to receive vaccines will also be exempt from the quarantine rule so long as they follow public-health measures such as avoiding certain group settings, including camps and day care. A panel of Florida economists looked Tuesday to move a forecast for Canadian travel to reach pre-pandemic figures earlier than the first quarter of 2022. 

— MORE CORONA —

J.&J. vaccine may be less effective against delta, study suggests” via Apoorva Mandavilli of The New York Times — The coronavirus vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson is much less effective against the delta and lambda variants than against the original virus, according to a new study posted online on Tuesday. Although troubling, the findings result from experiments conducted with blood samples in a laboratory, and may not reflect the vaccine’s performance in the real world. But the conclusions add to evidence that the 13 million people inoculated with the J.&J. vaccine may need to receive a second dose. The conclusions are at odds with those from smaller studies published by Johnson & Johnson earlier this month suggesting that a single dose of the vaccine is effective against the variant even eight months after inoculation.

India’s true pandemic death toll is likely to be well over 3 million, a new study finds.” via Karan Deep Singh of The New York Times — In a comprehensive examination of the true toll of the pandemic in the sprawling nation of 1.4 billion, the Center for Global Development, a Washington research institute, attempted to quantify excess deaths from all causes during the pandemic based on state data, international estimates, serological studies and household surveys. “True deaths are likely to be in the several millions, not hundreds of thousands, making this arguably India’s worst human tragedy,” said its authors. The official government numbers have been called into question repeatedly. Even as funeral pyres lit up the night sky and bodies washed up on the Ganges River, with death all around, the Indian government was widely underreporting the scale of the devastation.

The pandemic is devastating India. Image via AP.

U.S. warns against travel to Britain as coronavirus cases surge, restrictions lift” via Erin Cunningham of The Washington Post — The U.S. government issued its most severe warnings against travel to Britain this week as coronavirus cases, and deaths there soared to the highest levels in months and authorities in England scrapped nearly all remaining restrictions in a bid to restart the economy. The State Department and the CDC urged all Americans to avoid visiting the country. “Even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants,” the CDC said in an updated travel notice. In its highest-level advisory Monday, the State Department delivered an even sterner warning. “Do not travel to the United Kingdom due to COVID-19,” the advisory said.

Boris Johnson’s ex-top aide says British leader wanted to visit queen despite risks as pandemic exploded” via William Booth of The Washington Post — On March 18, 2020 — just a week before the British government declared its first national lockdown — Johnson was keen on attending his weekly face-to-face session at Buckingham Palace with the monarch, who was 93 at the time, former top adviser Dominic Cummings told the BBC. Cummings claimed that Johnson said, “Sod this. I’m going to go and see her,” employing a British swear word. But he said he warned the prime minister that infections were ripping through 10 Downing Street. “I just said, ‘If you give her coronavirus and she dies, what are you going to [do]? You can’t do that. You can’t risk that. That’s completely insane,” Cummings told BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg in an interview.

COVID-19 has caused ‘hidden pandemic of orphanhood’, says global study” via Helen Pidd of The Guardian — An estimated 1.5 million children worldwide under the age of 18 have lost a parent, grandparent or caregiver due to COVID-19, according to a global study. Of those, more than 1 million experienced the death of one or both parents during the first 14 months of the pandemic, leading to what one researcher called “the hidden pandemic of orphanhood.” Another half a million experienced the death of a grandparent or caregiver living in their own home, according to a study published in the Lancet. Researchers extrapolated COVID-19 mortality data and national fertility statistics for 21 countries to produce global estimates. Countries with the highest rates of children losing their primary caregiver included Peru, South Africa, Mexico, Brazil and the U.S.

The truth about Facebook’s anti-vax problem” via Aaron Mak of Slate — Stanford Internet Observatory research manager Renée DiResta, an expert on the online tactics of the anti-vaccination movement, argues that after being snubbed by the mainstream media and more traditional outlets, anti-vaxxers began relying heavily on Facebook around 2009 to find more followers. Facebook was hesitant to take action because anti-vaxxers increasingly framed their views as political, especially after a 2015 bill outlawing personal and religious exemptions for school vaccines in California. Facebook has until recently been extremely reluctant to moderate political content, and anti-vaxxers were able to take advantage of that permissiveness to prime people with medical misinformation and cultivate a receptive audience. When the COVID-19 vaccines came along, anti-vaxxers were ready to mobilize the infrastructure they’d built on social media.

— PRESIDENTIAL —

Biden considers Marco Rubio, DeSantis-backed plan for internet in Cuba” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Rubio, the son of Cuban expats, mentioned the proposal in a letter last week to the President following a pro-democracy uprising in Cuba. Rubio and DeSantis elevated the plan for free satellite internet access throughout the week as they rallied support, including from federal officials. Earlier this month, the regime moved to quickly cut off internet access to stop images of the protests from being broadcast to the world. Havana has been returning to normal in recent days, even if mobile internet data service remained limited. Biden called for his administration to work with Congress to identify options to make the internet more accessible on the island. Internet access is among Biden’s priorities.

Joe Biden is taking a Cuba internet plan from Marco Rubio, Ron DeSantis under advisement. Image via AP.

Biden has angered China, and Beijing is pushing back” via Steven Lee Myers and Amy Qin of The New York Times — From China’s perspective, the blows from the U.S. just keep coming. Sanctions and export controls over the crackdown in Xinjiang. A warning to international businesses about the deteriorating climate in Hong Kong. The rejection of visas for students and researchers suspected of having links to the People’s Liberation Army. Now the U.S. has rallied a broad array of nations to accuse the Chinese Ministry of State Security of cyber espionage and hacking for-profit and political intrigue. The torrent of attacks has infuriated Beijing, but six months into Biden’s tenure, the Communist Party leadership has yet to find an effective strategy to counter the American moves.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, including Tom Brady, visit White House” via Nick Niedzwiadek of POLITICO — Biden sang the praises of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Tuesday, including Brady, who has rejected some past invitations to the White House. “It’s nice for me to be back here,” Brady said. Biden lauded the team for overcoming an inauspicious start before gelling as a unit to make the playoffs and ultimately win the Super Bowl during a uniquely challenging season played amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

— EPILOGUE: TRUMP — 

Trump adviser Tom Barrack arrested on foreign-agent charges” via Josh Gerstein of POLITICO — Barrack, a longtime supporter of and adviser to Trump, was arrested Tuesday on charges he secretly acted in the U.S. as an agent for the United Arab Emirates. A federal indictment issued by a grand jury in Brooklyn charged that Barrack put pro-UAE language into a Trump campaign speech in May 2016, took direction from UAE officials about what to say in media appearances and an op-ed piece he published just before the 2016 election, and agreed to promote a candidate for ambassador to UAE backed by UAE officials. Also charged in the case were an aide to Barrack at his investment firm Colony Capital, Matthew Grimes, and a businessman from UAE, Rashid Al-Malik.

Tom Barrack is accused of secretly acting as an agent for the United Arab Emirates.

Indicted Trump Organization executive may have defended his Mercedes perks in custody, court documents show” via Shayna Jacobs and David A. Fahrenthold of The Washington Post — Allen Weisselberg may have offered an unprompted early defense to investigators on the day he was charged in a 15-year tax avoidance scheme involving unreported perks such as free cars and high-end apartments for executives at Trump‘s company, according to court documents. “In sum and substance, defendant Allen Weisselberg stated that the commute to work from Long Island was difficult,” said a defendant statement disclosure from district attorney investigators Anthony DiCaprio and Ethan Zubkoff that was filed in New York Supreme Court after Weisselberg’s arrest. There was no additional context for his apparent words about grueling rush-hour travel in New York City.

Campaign spending at Trump properties down, but not out” via Derek Willis of ProPublica — The number of federal political committees that have spent money in the first half of 2021 at Trump Organization properties has dropped dramatically from the same period two years ago, Federal Election Commission filings show. During the first six months of 2021, 27 federal committees have reported spending $348,000 at Trump Organization properties, with the Republican National Committee accounting for more than half the total. That’s a steep decline from the 177 committees that did so during the 2019-2020 election cycle or the 78 committees that spent more than $1.6 million at Mar-a-Lago, the Trump International Hotel in Washington and other company sites in the first half of 2019, filings show.

Trump’s favorite athlete just mocked the ‘Big Lie’ to the man who beat him” via Chris Cillizza of CNN — Tuesday was not a good day for Trump. His favorite athlete went to the White House to celebrate winning the Super Bowl — and Trump wasn’t there. And what’s worse? They laughed at him! Yes, Brady — famed quarterback of the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers — was at the White House to celebrate that victory with Biden. And yes, Brady, who is not exactly known for his comedic timing, trolled Trump’s ongoing insistence that he won the 2020 election. “Not a lot of people think that we could have won. In fact, I think about 40% of people still don’t think we won. You understand that, Mr. President?” Brady said to laughter. “I understand that,” Biden chuckled.

— CRISIS —

Another Tampa man pleads guilty to storming U.S. Capitol” via Josh Fiallo of the Tampa Bay Times — A 20-year-old Tampa man pleaded guilty Tuesday for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. A news release from the U.S. Department of Justice said the man, Caleb Berry, is a member of the Oath Keepers, which proclaims itself as a far-right, anti-government militia movement. Berry traveled to Washington from Florida with other members of the Oath Keepers days before the insurrection. Once there, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said, the group discussed their plans for Jan. 6 and expressed a need to buy guns. Then, while Congress tried to certify the election results, Berry stormed a restricted area at the Capitol. Once there, he fought with police to enter the building.

Yet another Florida Oath Keeper pleads guilty for the Jan. 6 riot.

What were the Capitol rioters thinking on Jan. 6?” via Dan Zak and Karen Heller of The Washington Post — “The question before the court is: Is he incorrigibly violent? Is that a characteristic that cannot be controlled? And that’s why you have to look at his history.” That’s what the U.S. District Court in D.C. is doing with at least 535 people who were somehow involved in the breach of the Capitol; there are hundreds of ongoing investigations beyond that, according to FBI Director Christopher Wray. Were these people acting on their most deeply held convictions, or were they somehow not themselves on Jan. 6? Six months of evidence, court filings, and motion hearings have created a composite sketch of the people arrested and the country many said they were fighting for. 

Conspiracy theories are common on the right — but few Republicans adhere to all of them” via Philip Bump of The Washington Post — How many Republicans not only believe that the 2020 election was stolen, but also reject coronavirus vaccines, accept the false claims of the extremist QAnon ideology and deny the reality of climate change? Happily, YouGov just completed a poll for the Economist in which it covered most of these subjects. Nearly a third of Republicans claimed to believe that coronavirus vaccines include a microchip. On two issues, Republicans were far more likely to express belief in the conspiracy theory. The first is that millions of illegal votes were cast in the 2020 election, which is not only not true, but obviously not true. The other is that the danger posed by the coronavirus was exaggerated for political reasons. 

— D.C. MATTERS —

Could Tyndall AFB F-35 plans be grounded? Rubio expresses concern in letter” via Jim Thompson of the Northwest Florida Daily News — The Senator is worried a provision in the proposed federal defense spending and policy bill for the upcoming fiscal year could jeopardize plans to remake Tyndall Air Force Base into a “base of the future” centered around three F-35 squadrons. Rubio’s concern is based on a current draft of the defense authorization bill that would prohibit the Air Force from divesting itself of 42 A-10 aircraft, which provide close air support to friendly ground troops and attack enemy tanks and armored vehicles.

Marco Rubio worries about the F-35 program’s future in Tyndall Air Force Base. Image via U.S. Air Force.

Northwest Florida residents weigh-in as Matt Gaetz misses Escambia County celebration” via Carolyn Cerda of WEAR-TV — Gaetz continues to make headlines across the U.S. The spotlight is raising concerns for some of his constituents in Northwest Florida. Escambia County celebrated its bicentennial celebration this weekend. While others, such as Florida’s Secretary of State, Reps. Alex Andrade, Michelle Salzman, and U.S. Sen. Rick Scott attended — one noticeable absence was that of Gaetz. “I understand it’s got a lot to do with campaigning — but it should be focused here because it is his hometown,” says resident Briquell Chapron.

Gaetz mocked after saying U.S. fought wars so kids don’t get British accents” via Darragh Roche of Newsweek — Gaetz has faced mockery on social media following a tweet about American children picking up British accents because of how much they’ve watched British TV show Peppa Pig. Gaetz, a Republican representing Florida’s 1st congressional district, was responding to an article about the popular show’s effects on U.S. children’s speech. Retweeting the journalist, Gaetz wrote: “We fought wars, so this wouldn’t happen.” Though the Congressman’s comment could have been tongue-in-cheek, many Twitter users took the opportunity to make derisive remarks.

María Elvira Salazar calls Biden’s call to review Cuban remittance policy ‘very embarrassing’” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — At a House hearing Tuesday, Republican U.S. Rep. Salazar slammed news Biden‘s administration is reviewing U.S. policy currently restricting remittances to Cuba. Biden ran on allowing those remittances to resume. But Biden seemed to back off that view last week, citing the difficulty in ensuring money could reach the Cuban people without being intercepted by the government. “It’s highly likely that the regime would confiscate those remittasurfnces or big chunks,” Biden argued. On Monday, however, Biden directed his administration to review current U.S. policy and determine whether getting those remittances into Cuban citizens’ hands is possible. He is reviewing current policy following a wide range of protests in Cuba against the communist regime.

“‘Nothing short of historic.’ Congress holds first hearing after Cuba protests.” Via Alex Daugherty of the Miami Herald — The first congressional meeting to address widespread, pro-democracy protests  turned into a referendum on the U.S. government’s longtime embargo. The two witnesses at the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s hearing were split on the issue. As were the members of Congress from both parties in attendance. The Democrats and Republicans at the hearing, including Florida U.S. Reps. Maria Elvira Salazar, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Val Demings, agreed sanctions should be considered in response to the protests, and the U.S. should prod its allies to speak out more forcefully in favor of the protests on July 11.

Britney Spears’ conservatorship case sparks legislative push” via Meg Kinnard of The Associated Press — Prompted by Spears’ conservatorship fight, a bipartisan legislative effort has emerged to reform the process created to protect the rights of more than 1 million people across the United States under the protective arrangements. Reps. Charlie Crist and Nancy Mace unveiled “The Free Britney Act,” designed to give more options to people placed under conservatorships. Those include the ability to talk about their situations with caseworkers — over any objections from their conservators — and petition a court to replace their conservators without having to “prove wrongdoing or malfeasance.”

A new day in Haiti? Many Haitians have their doubts.” via Catherine Porter of The New York Times — Haiti’s leaders called the political truce a new chapter, a historic turning of the page that, in the words of the interim Prime Minister (Ariel Henry), shows “that we can actually work together, even if we are different, even if we have different world outlooks.” But for many in country, it does not seem like a change. The list of cabinet ministers published in the government’s official gazette featured several familiar names from Jovenel Moïse’s governing party, including the new Prime Minister and the new Foreign Minister, both of whom had been angling to take over since the President was killed.

— LOCAL NOTES —

‘We’re left to pick up the pieces’: As search mission nears end, Surfside looks ahead” via Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald — Nearly a month after the Surfside Community Center was converted into an emergency operations hub in the aftermath of one of the worst building failures in U.S. history, the municipal building buzzed on Monday with the sound of children playing. Just weeks prior, the center was engulfed in sadness. For the 70 kids registered in Surfside’s summer camp program, Monday marked their first day back at the community center since before the collapse. They played in the pool, went to the park and brought their outside voices inside. The reopening of the town’s community center to campers and the rest of the community is one step the town is taking toward finding some closure, said Parks and Recreation Director Tim Milian.

What’s next for Surfside? Image via Lutheran Church. Charities.

Miami’s Mayor has raised $4.6 million this year. A mystery donor gave $100K in June” via Joey Flechas of the Miami Herald — Running for reelection, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez raised about $900,000 in June across multiple political campaign accounts, another mammoth haul that included a six-figure contribution from a mystery donor previously entangled in a Federal Election Commission complaint. Campaign finance reports posted last week show Tread Standard LLC gave a committee backing Suarez $100,000 on June 30. An April 2016 report from the FEC’s general counsel suggested the company may have incorporated in 2015 to conceal the “true source” of its $150,000 contribution that year to the political committee supporting Jeb Bush’s ill-fated presidential campaign. Four months before the Nov. 2 election, the Mayor’s political fundraising has soared past his previous campaigns.

For MCM investigation, ‘political stakes’ a concern when case almost ended in 2019” via Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald — In late 2019, investigators for the Miami-Dade Office of the Inspector General wanted to wrap up a probe into side construction deals an MCM manager had with subcontractors he supervised at Miami International Airport. Patra Liu, general counsel at the Inspector General’s office, thought investigators were letting the company off easy. “I have major issues with this,” Liu wrote in a handwritten note to Felix Jimenez, then the deputy inspector general wanting to close out the case. “This is not some trivial matter …” She noted their office six months earlier issued a scathing report about misdeeds by the manager on a school system electrical contract.

Lenny Curry unveils $1.4 billion budget with no property tax rate increase” via David Bauerlein of The Florida Times-Union — Curry rolled out his proposed $1.4 billion budget and $495 million capital improvements plan for the upcoming fiscal year, setting the stage Tuesday for the biggest wave of public works construction since the Better Jacksonville Plan. Speaking in council chambers at City Hall, Curry used the occasion to urge people to get vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. Curry used a chunk of his budget address to reflect on how residents and city workers have responded in the face of the pandemic. Curry’s upbeat message and ambitious budget proposal were propelled by additional dollars flowing into city coffers from federal pandemic relief money and the Jobs for Jax program he championed that will double the local gas tax to 12 cents per gallon on Jan. 1.

Former Pensacola City Councilwoman Jewel Cannada-Wynn pre-files for Mayor seat” via Emma Kennedy of the Pensacola News Journal — One of the longest-serving Pensacola City Council members has pre-filed to run for the open Pensacola mayor seat. Jewel Cannada-Wynn submitted her pre-file paperwork to the county’s elections office Monday, becoming the fifth candidate to file for what will be an open seat when current Mayor Grover Robinson‘s term expires in 2022. Cannada-Wynn served multiple terms on the City Council, beginning in 2004 and ending in 2020. She lost her seat to Brian Spencer in the 2010 election but gained it back in 2012, representing District 7 under new districts.

Ken Welch launches ‘Safe for Everyone’ ad as St. Pete Mayor’s race revs up” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Welch launched another digital ad this week in his bid for St. Petersburg Mayor highlighting his commitment to community service, empowering and improving the Black community and creating a safer St. Pete. The ad, entitled “Safe for Everyone,” begins with Welch driving to the Dr. David T. Welch Center for Progress & Community Development, named after his father. “My family wanted this space to support progress by helping ex-offenders with job training,” the ad begins before facing a harsh reality. “As Mayor, I’ll address the root causes of crime,” Welch promises in the ad.

To watch the ad, click on the image below:

Red Tide may recede in Tampa Bay but worsen off Pinellas beaches” via Zachary T. Sampson of the Tampa Bay Times — The latest Red Tide monitoring shows some improvement within Tampa Bay, officials say, but conditions are worsening for several gulf beaches. “Our aerial imagery is showing that the bloom has kind of transported out of the mouth over the last few days. Within the bay … it’s night and day from a week ago,” said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Executive Director Eric Sutton. “However the bloom has now moved, it’s off the coast, and it’s expanded, and we’ve seen high bloom concentrations from Longboat Key up essentially to Dunedin and that area.” Red Tide is “pretty extensive” off the beaches, Sutton said. It is atypical for a toxic bloom to reach as far into the bay as it did this month but more common in the Gulf. 

Polk County decides to move Confederate marker in Bartow. Public didn’t know vote was coming.” via Dustin Wyatt of The Lakeland Ledger — In a quick, surprise decision, the Polk County Commission voted Tuesday to move a Confederate memorial from the grounds of the old courthouse to a cemetery in Bartow. Members of the public had no way of knowing this would come up because it wasn’t included on the meeting agenda, and residents didn’t get a chance to address the commission before the vote. Considering the controversy surrounding Confederate markers across the nation, the unexpected action troubles a local NAACP leader. And, according to a First Amendment attorney, it “undermines the intent” of the Florida Sunshine Laws for open government.

Tampa’s Gasparilla parades will sail on in 2022” via Sharon Kennedy Wynne of the Tampa Bay Times — After canceling Tampa’s signature event this year over COVID-19 concerns, the Gasparilla parades will sail again in January. Advance tickets go on sale this week. And the parades will bring special booty in honor of the 200th anniversary of the death of the mythical pirate, Jose Gaspar, and of Tampa’s winning sports teams. Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, which has organized the event since 1904, decided it was “in our community’s best interest” to cancel the 2021 parade of pirates that draws some 300,000 people. They mob downtown Tampa to catch beads and baubles from more than 120 floats, krewes and marching bands. The Krewe is planning special “Champa Bay” beads that will be new this year, Lackman said.

Apalachicola Mayor, former Florida statehouse reporter Kevin Begos dies” via The Associated Press — Begos, an award-winning science journalist and author who later became the Mayor of Apalachicola, Florida, has died. He was 63. Begos died June 19 at Capital Regional Medical Center in Tallahassee. He had been battling a serious heart infection. Begos was elected Mayor of Apalachicola, a small coastal town in the Florida Panhandle, in 2019. He was Pittsburgh correspondent for The Associated Press between 2011 and 2014, covering a wide range of news from the western half of the state, including the rise of the Marcellus Shale gas drilling industry. Before that, he worked as a statehouse reporter in Florida for The Tampa Tribune; covered Washington and did investigative reporting for the Winston-Salem Journal; and reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Uganda and Mexico.

— TOP OPINION —

Florida’s COVID-19 numbers are headed the wrong way” via the Tampa Bay Times editorial board — The pandemic has entered a troubling new stage, as lagging vaccination rates in states like Florida give rise to a surge of infections. Florida needs to be more proactive about engaging vaccine holdouts, and hesitant Floridians need to reach out to whomever they trust — their doctor, family or friends. While the risks largely fall to the unvaccinated, that still is a huge population, and winnowing that number is essential to getting the pandemic under control. Florida leads the nation in new COVID-19 cases, with nearly 1 in 5 new infections across the country. The Florida Department of Health reported 45,604 new COVID-19 infections over the seven-day period between July 9 and July 15. 

— OPINIONS —

We’re begging you, DeSantis, stop messing in Texas and save Florida from COVID-19” via the Orlando Sentinel editorial board — Florida was all over the news this past weekend with one of the nation’s biggest spikes in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. DeSantis was in Texas, 1,000 miles from Tallahassee, burnishing his 2024 presidential ambitions with a visit to the southern border. Overall new COVID-19 cases are up nearly 200% in Florida over the past two weeks, and Florida is third in the nation in per capita increases, accounting for nearly 20% of the entire nation’s new COVID-19 infections. The rate of positive COVID-19 tests is now well north of 10%. To save lives, DeSantis must start acting like Florida’s governor and less like he’s auditioning for Turning Point USA.

Republicans are making it easier to vote and harder to cheat” via Tommy Hicks of Townhall.com — The RNC’s legal team is aggressively working around the country, from getting involved in lawsuits to supporting state-level Republicans with the legal expertise needed to fight these legal battles. We recently saw a landmark victory in Brnovich vs. Democratic National Committee, which upheld Arizona’s ban on ballot harvesting. Our political team is building out a historic, expansive election operation that will put trained staffers and volunteers on the ground to monitor election sites. The RNC is committed to making it easier to vote and harder to cheat, and the American people support our efforts. Democrat lies will wear increasingly thin.

— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —

This latest episode of Sunrise has a bit of a celebrity feel to it … starting with Britney Spears. Congressman Crist has filed a bill that would give new legal rights to people who end up having their lives controlled by a court-ordered guardian of conservatorship; he has a Republican co-sponsor.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— Spears’ court battle against her dad inspired the FREE bill; it would affect more than a million Americans.

— The Tampa Bay Bucs are honored at the White House for winning the Super Bowl. But Biden says this goes far beyond what they did on the football field.

— Biden dropped a couple of jokes, but Bucs quarterback Brady had the best lines.

— Rep. Joseph talks about voter suppression in the Florida legislature.

— A state Senator (who serves as chair of the Florida GOP) is investigated over allegations of sexually harassing a male aide. The party apparently concluded it did not happen.

— And finally, authorities ordered a Florida Man not to toot his own horn on Fort Myers Beach.

To listen, click on the image below:

— OLYMPICS —

Florida-educated athletes representing at the Tokyo Games” via Anne Geggis of Florida Politics — The University of Florida is sending one of its largest contingents of Olympic athletes to the Tokyo Games. The Gators will be joined by Bulls from the University of South Florida, Seminoles from Florida State University and Knights from the University of Central Florida. These athletes who have made Florida home for at least part of their lives will be competing in 13 different sports: baseball, basketball, beach volleyball, diving, golf, gymnastics, one-person dinghy racing, para-triathlon, soccer, softball, swimming and track & field and weightlifting. Olympians with Florida connections are competing for Australia, Bahamas, Brazil Canada, France, Germany, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Liberia, Puerto Rico, Serbia, U.S. Virgin Islands, Uruguay and Venezuela.

UCF alum Chelsea Wolfe is one of several Floridians competing in the Tokyo Olympics.

In Tokyo, nerves are frayed and critics are loud, but the Olympics plow forward” via Simon Denyer and Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post — Throughout the tumultuous buildup to the Tokyo Olympics, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach has seemed impervious to both criticism and occasionally reality, not only insisting the Games would go ahead but promising they would be both “safe and secure.” He now claims it was all an act. On Monday, the first cases of the coronavirus were detected among athletes within the Olympic Village, when three members of the South African men’s soccer team, including two players, tested positive, throwing Thursday’s opening game with Japan into serious doubt. So far, at least 67 athletes, officials, and other workers involved in the Olympics have tested positive this month.

The 2021 Olympics are turning into a $20 billion bust for Japan” via Alastair Gale, Miho Inada and Rachel Bachman of The Wall Street Journal — The Olympics open on Friday a year late and during a COVID-19 state of emergency in Tokyo. Anticipation and expectations for an economic windfall have largely evaporated. Stadiums and arenas that cost over $7 billion to build or renovate for the Games will be mostly empty after spectators were banned. Japan wanted the Tokyo Olympics to show the country is still a global force despite its declining population and a maturing economy eclipsed by China. The Games would also show how Japan rebounded from a devastating tsunami in 2011. Instead, the Olympics has compounded a malaise over the pandemic that has put Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga under pressure to keep his job.

Here’s how U.S. Olympic rowing team got through a COVID-19 outbreak” via Olivia Reiner of USA Today — Twelve athletes, roughly a third of the team, reported symptoms of the virus just three weeks after the first known case was reported in the state. The team’s sights quickly shifted from preparing for the Olympics, where the American women’s eight seeks its fourth consecutive Olympic gold in Tokyo to ensure its athletes’ health and safety. The Tokyo Olympics had been postponed indefinitely due to COVID-19 concerns, adding more time to the quadrennial when selection camp was just weeks away. Despite the outbreak, the rowers’ overall fitness levels in January and February were close to where they were supposed to be roughly seven months out of the Olympics. By April and May, many athletes were in the same spot as they had been in previous Olympic years.

This deaf-blind Paralympian was told to navigate Tokyo alone. So she quit Team USA.” via Dave Sheinin of The Washington Post — Five years ago, Becca Meyers was on the floor of her room in the Olympic Village at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympics, balled up and sobbing, frustrated and terrified. She had stopped eating because she couldn’t find the athletes’ dining area. ​​Born with Usher syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that left her deaf from birth and progressively robbed her of her sight, she requires a personal care assistant (PCA) to function as an athlete and as a member of society. Meyers’s needs have collided with the drastic restrictions resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. The Meyerses believe PCAs of Paralympians should be designated as essential personnel.

Becca Meyers will struggle to navigate Tokyo during the pandemic, so she left the U.S. Team. Image via AP.

Olympians are getting their voices back” via Jeff Tracy of Axios — Colin Kaepernick isn’t in the Olympics, but the lasting image of an athlete kneeling on the sidelines in silent protest is likely to find its way to Tokyo all the same. Such a demonstration would have previously been banned at the Games, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has relaxed its rules governing protests in the wake of 2020’s global racial reckoning. The IOC’s new rule allows athletes to “express their views” more freely than in the past. Athletes can share their opinions in interviews and news conferences and through digital, traditional, and social media. They can also demonstrate peacefully on the field as long as the competition has not begun.

— ALOE —

Jeff Bezos rockets to the edge of space on Blue Origin’s first crewed flight” via Jackson Ryan of CNET — Bezos finally has his astronaut wings. Under the picturesque dawn sky of the West Texas desert, the 57-year-old ex-Amazon CEO and founder of space tourism company Blue Origin, rocketed into space for a brief moment, calling it, “the first step of something big.” Atop the Blue Origin rocket, locked inside a gumdrop-shaped capsule, Bezos, his brother Mark, aeronautics legend Wally Funk and 18-year-old customer Oliver Daemen headed off toward the invisible, arbitrary boundary separating Earth and space as part of mission NS-16. Approximately three minutes after liftoff, the crew experienced weightlessness for the first time and touched the edge of space. At approximately eight minutes and 30 seconds after flight, the capsule’s parachutes deployed and brought the capsule safely to land.

Jeff Bezos can now add astronaut to his resume. Image via AP.

Disney: Biden joins Hall of Presidents in August” via Dewayne Bevil of the Orlando Sentinel — Magic Kingdom’s Hall of Presidents will reopen — complete with audio-animatronic Biden — next month, Walt Disney World announced. The attraction has been closed for the renovation and addition since Biden took office in late January. On a table near the new figure will be Biden-centric touches, including a set of aviator sunglasses, which the President frequently sports, and a vase of peach blossoms, representing his home state of Delaware, according to a post on the official Disney Parks Blog. The new figure will recite the oath.

Welcome to the club.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Celebrating today are Sen. Gayle Harrell and Thomas Hobbs.

___

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.



#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, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Jesse Scheckner, Scott Powers, Andrew Wilson, and Kelly Hayes.

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