Delegation for 8.13.21: Redistricting — Cuba Wi-Fi — war footing — vaccines — Lake O

us capitol green
After months of anticipation, data nerds and political junkies can rejoice — census numbers are in.

Lines in the sand

After months of anticipation, data nerds and political junkies can rejoice — spending much of Thursday evening sifting through raw census files finally made public.

But when does Florida get to the good stuff?

Yes, more data is coming in September. But there’s one burning question for those aspiring for a place in the delegation: How will lawmakers draw Florida’s 28th Congressional District?

State Sen. Ray Rodrigues hears that a lot.

Ray Rodrigues is the point man on redistricting. Image via Colin Hackley.

Rodriguez, a Republican, is chair of the Florida Senate Reapportionment Committee, and the region’s need for a new congressional seat has been a constant subject of interest.

But Rodrigues believes that such an inquiry ignores the rest of the complicated process facing the Florida Legislature.

“People ask where that seat is going to be located,” he said. “The presupposes there is only one new seat that is going to be drawn. We start with a blank slate. From my standpoint, it’s not one new seat. It’s 28 new seats.”

To a degree, it’s obvious. But Rodrigues reminds every single district in Florida will likely need adjustment. Just for starters, congressional districts will hold about 70,000 more residents than 10 years ago.

Add to that the Fair Districts Amendment passed in 2010, which forbids taking incumbency into the equation.

Redistricting doesn’t simply hold hope for ambitious candidates aspiring to Washington. After working years to cultivate loyalty and understand a constituency soon divvied up on a new map, it delivers anxiety to those already on Capitol Hill.

Rodrigues, Senate President Wilton Simpson, and House Speaker Chris Sprowls promise the Florida process won’t be designed to advantage the Republican Party unfairly. That’s despite the GOP controlling both chambers of the Legislature and Florida’s Governor’s mansion. That’s another condition of Fair Districts, though one of which lawmakers ran afoul 10 years ago, requiring a court redraw of congressional districts mid-decade. But Rodrigues said the ruling then set more explicit bounds and guideposts for the process this year.

Yet, there’s plenty of skepticism among the national pundit class.

A widely cited TargetSmart study suggests the GOP could pick up five seats in Florida through partisan redistricting. House editor for Cook Political Report, Dave Wasserman, long predicted state lawmakers would make sure any new seats in Florida go red.

Of course, the delegation right now already favors the GOP despite Florida’s reputation as America’s swing state. Democrats have not controlled the majority of Florida seats in the state since 1989. At the same time, the House delegation came close to parity after 2018, when voters installed a 14-13 delegation that disappeared after the Florida GOP enjoyed solid 2020 results.

Today, Republicans hold 16 seats to the Democrats’ 11.

Could that shift to 21-7?

The only House incumbents in Florida to announce they will not seek reelection are both Democrats. Orlando Rep. Val Demings will challenge Sen. Marco Rubio next year, while St. Petersburg Rep. Charlie Crist runs for Governor. Crist’s seat in particular, which the Congressman flipped blue only by the grace of redistricting ahead of the 2016 election, seems a prime pickup opportunity for the GOP.

As for what data reveals (so far), The Villages is now the fastest-growing metro market of the last decade. America’s largest single-site retirement community grew from 93,000 to 130,000. That could be good news for Republicans as the haven for affluent retirees has been one of the most reliable pools of conservative voters in the country.

Much of Florida’s growth came along the I-4 Corridor, which has recently trended a little more blue. But then it all comes down to how lines get drawn. Rodrigues does note the protection of ethnic minority seats, which tend to favor Democrats, remains legal even under fair districts. But those racially drawn seats often serve GOP map drafters well as voter sinks.

Island internet

A push by Sen. Rubio to bring unfettered internet access to Cuba moved forward through a Senate vote this week. The Miami Republican offered an amendment to the Senate Budget resolution requiring President Joe Biden’s administration to establish free, open, and unfettered web service by building up and deploying existing tech to the island nation. The Senate passed it.

“My colleagues sent a clear, bipartisan message that the United States is committed to getting uncensored and unrestricted internet access to the people of Cuba,” Rubio said. “The technology exists to do this without delay, and I urge the Biden Administration to begin moving forward immediately.”

Will the U.S. give Cuba free Wi-Fi?

Rubio pushed for this step since July 12, when protests against the communist regime broke out in communities around Cuba. Sen. Rick Scott, Florida’s junior Senator, joined in offering the amendment on the floor. It ultimately found bipartisan backing, with even Rubio’s Democratic opponent for reelection, Demings, joining the call.

On the Senate floor, Rubio said it’s time for Biden to get tough on Cuba and support the people living there.

“We witnessed about a month ago a historic and unprecedented protest in Cuba as the people took to the streets,” he said. “One of the things that’s been untold — I think now there’s a greater realization — is that one of the reasons why now that’s possible is because Cubans had limited access to the internet, which allows them to then go on social media, communicate with each other, communicate with the world as a result. They were also able to share with the world the true brutality of that regime by posting videos of what was happening.”

Defunding Hamas

Scott, meanwhile, pushed forward an amendment making sure money does not go to another hostile jurisdiction. During budget talks, the Naples Republican offered language up to stop any U.S. tax dollars from aiding Hamas or connected organizations. That comes months after conflict escalated between Israel and terrorists sympathetic to Palestinians.

Rick Scott wants to cancel any checks to entities hostile to the U.S.

“Earlier this year, we saw Hamas rockets rain down on Israel for 11 straight days,” he said. “Children, like five-year-old Ido Avigal, died in these attacks. In the face of these tragic attacks, we saw Democrats in Washington stand with Hamas and resist needed action to hold these terrorists accountable. We can’t stop fighting for Israel. We must stand strong with our ally and against the horrific anti-Israel rhetoric. I am proud that the Senate adopted my amendment today to keep U.S. taxpayer dollars out of the hands of Hamas terrorists and allow for more sanctions on those who wish harm to Israel.”

But no Democrats, at least in the Senate, criticized Scott’s effort. His budget amendment passed unanimously in the upper chamber.

Meanwhile, Scott seems critical of the budget as a whole, labeling it “the Democrats’ massive $5.5 trillion tax-and-spending spree budget bill” in the same release where he touted the anti-Hamas budget amendment. He also penned an op-ed published by The Wall Street Journal deriding the budget as “reckless spending.”

War cartel

If a federal investigation and sex scandal don’t politically isolate Matt Gaetz from House leaders, the Panhandle Republican’s new podcast might. After spending the first episode of Firebrand torching Fox News and former Speaker Paul Ryan, he sets sights in his latest installment on the party’s neoconservative branch.

Long a critic of endless wars, Gaetz reiterates his support of Biden’s withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. But he also decries foreign policy voices on the right and left who have pushed for engagement in the Central Asian nation for nearly two decades after invading in the wake of 9/11.

In his spare time, Matt Gaetz likes to piss off neoconservatives and Democrats. Image via AP.

“The American people were lied to for decades about Afghanistan by warmongers in both political parties,” he said. “Some of the very same people who defied their oaths and needlessly sacrificed our service members for their corrupt objectives remain in vastly powerful positions in government and society today.”

Gaetz spreads the contempt around. He lambasted Wisconsin Congresswoman Liz Cheney and Gen. Mark Milley, who had public spats with Gaetz in the past. He also name-checked conservative commentator-turned-Never-Trumper Bill Kristol. He does take time to bash members of the Biden administration, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

“There is a well-organized war cartel in America, as I lay bare here,” he says.

Mud-stomping

Stephanie Murphy has been pushing for an investigation into the plight of the troubled Little Wekiva River in Central Florida. On Wednesday, The Winter Park Democrat put on her hiking sneakers to take a look. The Congresswoman joined several Little Wekiva-area residents and activists to tour a particularly distressed section of the river in Seminole County in Florida’s 7th Congressional District. She also told them she intends to introduce a bill to have the Little Wekiva River listed in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers program.

The most troubled stretch of the Little Wekiva north of State Road 434, long revered as one of the natural highlights of Central Florida, has in the past couple of years been choked by silt and invasive plants. Area residents say the river’s water now is backing up into their yards, threatening their homes.

Stephanie Murphy gets a status update on the troubled Little Wekiva River.

Republican state Sen. Jason Brodeur pushed through legislation in the spring Session to have the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and other state agencies study what has been happening to the Little Wekiva.

Some area residents have blamed the nearby construction on Interstate 4, run by the Florida Department of Transportation. The department denies it.

Consequently, Murphy asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently to investigate independently of the state.

Murphy said she also secured $688,000 in House-passed federal funding for restoration efforts, remove sediment, re-contour the historic river flow, and replant the basin with beneficial native plants.

“That will help with the restoration. I think it’s important for us to find accountability, which is why we asked the EPA to look at if any Clean Water Act violations existed and are part of the cause of this,” Murphy told the area residents in a video released by her office. “But beyond finding accountability, we have to work on restoration. And my hope is we can work from the local, state, and federal levels with everyone contributing resources so that we do have restoration.”

Say no to Chinese drugs

Rockledge Republican Bill Posey joined Ohio Democrat Tim Ryan in filing a bill to tighten safety on pharmaceutical drugs, mainly by reducing ingredients from China. Posey said the Safe Medicine Act would help end America’s reliance on foreign powers for necessary pharmaceuticals and generics.

“The coronavirus pandemic exposed serious vulnerabilities in our critical supply chain, especially when it comes to lifesaving medications,” Posey said. “This dependence on foreign suppliers gives countries like China dangerous leverage over the United States, allowing them to take full advantage of supply disruptions with few controls in place to safeguard against contaminated drugs, putting American patients in danger. It is time we take a hard look at our dependence on foreign suppliers of these important pharmaceuticals.”

Bill Posey wants essential drugs to be domestic, not Chinese.

The release said that 80% of the drugs Americans depend on come from overseas. China, whose pharmaceuticals have been subject to numerous recalls, is the largest manufacturer.

As a result, the U.S. has not produced essential medicine like penicillin since 2004.

The Safe Medicine Act would direct the respective secretaries of Health and Human Services, Defense and Veterans Affairs to end American over-dependence on Chinese pharmaceuticals by developing a procurement strategy and implementation plan to increase manufacturing in the United States of essential medications, medical countermeasures and critical inputs.

It also would give the Food and Drug Administration the ability to ban contaminated drugs if the FDA determines systemic problems and does not contain a warning label of the potential contamination.

Purple heart

At home for August recess, Dan Webster swung through Citrus County to bestow an honor on a local constituent. The Clermont Republican visited the West Citrus Elk Lodge 2693 to present the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award to Sandra Cross.

The honor recognizes volunteers across the country working to better their community. According to the Citrus Chronicle, she’s an associate member contributing her time to the Aaron A. Weaver Chapter 776 Military Order of the Purple Heart.

Daniel Webster makes a side trip.

On his Facebook Page, Webster notes Cross’ father was a recipient of the Purple Heart in World War II. “We owe our veterans a debt we can never repay,” Webster posted.

Webster presented Cross with the award appropriately at a breakfast event marking the 239th anniversary of the Purple Heart, a military honor for those wounded in service.

Vax required

One delegation member says he will require his team to get the jab, at least for his political team.

Crist announced on Twitter that individuals need to have one of the three available vaccines for the coronavirus to work for his gubernatorial campaign.

“To keep our team, volunteers and supporters healthy, our campaign will be requiring that all staff be vaccinated against COVID,” he posted. “The vaccine is the only way we can truly protect our health, schools and economy, and our team will be proudly doing our part.”

Charlie Crist vows his entire staff will get the jab.

That comes as incumbent Gov. Ron DeSantis ardently resists calls to take more steps to stop the spread. The Republican Governor this year signed into law a ban on so-called vaccine passports, forbidding businesses from denying service to those who don’t provide proof of vaccination.

Florida law still allows employers to require their employees to receive the vaccine or risk termination and many, including Disney, have done so. It’s unclear, however, whether that requirement might impact volunteers working with a political campaign.

Crist has not announced if he will place a similar requirement on his Congressional staff.

Laugh track

A second Democrat entered the race for Florida’s 15th Congressional District in a very catchy fashion.

Eddie Geller rang in his campaign for CD13 by re-imagining a Full House-like introduction sequence. With the music sung by Geller himself, the candidate went all-out in the nostalgic video.

“Sometimes you feel, no one is listening, up in Washington,” Geller sings. The casual, yellow text paints the screen as he throws a Frisbee and gives a cheesy nod to the camera.

While the concept of the video may bring a laugh, Geller, who has worked as a video producer and a stand-up comic, made clear his campaign’s serious progressive platforms.

Geller faces fellow Democrat Jesse Philippe, who ran for the district in 2020 but lost to former journalist Alan Cohn in the Primary. The two hope to unseat Republican incumbent Scott Franklin, first elected to the seat last year.

To watch the ad, click on the image below:

A new order

Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor said the nation is ready to help Florida through its current COVID-19 crisis. But it needs DeSantis to issue a new state of emergency order.

“There are health professionals ready and willing to come to Florida and treat Coronavirus patients as they did earlier in the pandemic, but Florida’s restriction against nonstate licensed providers restricts that ability,” she said. “Gov. DeSantis has the discretion to rescind this regulation through executive action as he did last year and must do so again. We are in a precarious situation, and our hospitals need all hands on deck.”

Kathy Castor says the country is ready to help Florida, Ron DeSantis just has to say the word.

That comes as more than a fifth of new COVID-19 cases reported in the nation surfaced in Florida, and as University of Florida scientists warn, delta variant cases in the state have yet to reach a peak.

DeSantis let a prior order expire in May. But that was before a new surge in cases spurred by the mutated virus.

“An emergency order would also help combat the exorbitant costs that we are seeing health staffing agencies charge,” Castor said. “Current staffing pressures hospitals are facing lead to our health systems bidding against each other for these scarce resources with staffing agencies from nurses to conduct drive-up testing to ICU nurses and respiratory therapists. Action by Gov. DeSantis could quell any possible price gouging and lock in costs for in-need hospital systems. Our incredible hospitals in Tampa and across the state of Florida cannot fully treat the increasing number of coronavirus patients and others in need of care unless they receive the assistance that the Governor can provide.”

Stopping trafficking

Florida suffers the third-highest rates of human trafficking of all the states, and bipartisan leaders in the House want Congress to do something about it. Republican Vern Buchanan and Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz, co-chairs of the Florida delegation, introduced legislation Wednesday to combat the practice through the education of students.

“Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery,” Buchanan said. “As schools reopen this week, we need to educate students and teachers about the horrors of human trafficking. This is critical to helping current victims and preventing future instances of trafficking, which is especially important in hotspots like Florida. I look forward to working with Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz to end this vile and monstrous crime.”

Vern Buchanan joins Debbie Wasserman Schultz to help educate Floridians about human trafficking.

The Human Trafficking and Exploitation Prevention Training Act (HR 4989) would establish a $75-million grant program over five years managed by Health and Human Services’ Trafficking in Persons Office. The funding would be available training for students, teachers and school staff to recognize signs of organized trafficking. Applications would receive priority for organizations in high-trafficking areas.

The Selah Way Foundation, a Sarasota-based organization that’s become a national voice in the field of sex trafficking, endorsed the legislation.

“It is time to educate our children and school systems across the nation to prevent sex trafficking and exploitation,” said Elizabeth Fisher Good, co-founder, president and CEO of the Selah Way Foundation. “The Selah Way’s S.P.E.A.K. UP Train-The-Trainer Prevention Curriculum equips and empowers entire school systems, including faculty, staff and students, to do just that. This plight has silenced the voice of countless children in our own backyard and has often left educators feeling helpless to protect students. We are saying, ‘no more … not on our watch!’”

A balanced approach

The future of Lake Okeechobee served as the subject for a Byron Donalds-led roundtable in Cape Coral. The Naples Republican said there was more momentum and unity behind efforts to get a new discharge schedule and operating manual for the Herbert Hoover Dike in place that he has seen in 15 years in Southwest Florida.

He also stressed that, despite apparent regional differences, there’s a collective recognition in Congress that there must be an approach put in place that treats all South Florida communities well.

Byron Donalds seeks a holistic approach to Lake O discharges. Image via Jacob Ogles.

“My conversations with the members have been highly positive,” he said. “I’m not going to get caught up in what every member is going to do for their own area. I can only tell you what I’m going to do. And that’s advocating for the balanced approach that the water system actually needs. It’s going to benefit all communities.”

At the meeting, he said partisanship had not been a barrier. He communicates with House colleagues who are Democrats, like Kathy Castor of Tampa, or Republicans, including Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami. He’s signed onto letters written by people from geographies that sometimes appear in conflict, like the agriculture-focused Greg Steube and St. Lucie River-focused Brian Mast.

Army Corps of Engineers Col. Andrew Kelly at the event addressed the specific needs of Cape residents living within miles (or in some cases yards) of the Caloosahatchee River. He earned accolades for a willingness to diverge from strict protocols for the Corps about releases based on the presence of red tide or other factors. But Kelly retires within the month, and many leaders grow anxious about what that means until the operating manual finally wins approval and goes into effect.

Donalds said that’s why discretion will be important to preserve with water management moving forward.

“That’s why I go back to the operational flexibility under the model,” Donalds told Florida Politics. “It’s probably, in some respects, going to be even more important than the model itself.”

On this day

Aug. 13, 1993 — “U.S. Court of Appeals rules all federal units must retain emails” via POLITICO — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed a decision by U.S. District Court Judge Charles Richey that federal agencies, including the White House and Congress, must retain all official emails that exist within their computer systems. The court said that readers of hard-copy versions might have trouble distinguishing “basic facts” about a document, such as its sender, recipient, and time of transmission. Moreover, if the electronic version were to be erased, such “contextualizing information” would be forever unavailable.

Aug. 13, 1942 — “Manhattan Project formed” via the Atomic Heritage Foundation — The name itself is commonly thought to be a misnomer. Still, the Manhattan Project’s first offices were actually in Manhattan, at 270 Broadway. General Leslie R. Groves, who was appointed to head the project, decided to follow the custom of naming Corps of Engineers districts for the city in which they are located. The atomic bomb project thus became known as the Manhattan Engineer District, or Manhattan Project for short. Its first major funding came in December when President Franklin Roosevelt ordered an initial allotment of $500 million. The project headquarters would soon move to Washington, D.C., with numerous project sites scattered across the country.

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Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, with contributions by Kelly Hayes and Scott Powers.

Staff Reports



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