Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 12.15.21

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Up and at 'em: Here's your scoops and other stories driving the day in Florida politics.

Good Wednesday morning.

A tandem of statewide hospital associations is asking the Florida Legislature to bump spending on graduate medical education programs by $38 million, a move it says will help stave off a projected shortfall of 18,000 physicians in the state by the year 2035.

The Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida and the Florida Hospital Association released a report Wednesday conducted by IHS Markit that showed Florida had 55,083 physicians practicing in the state in 2019 — enough to cover about 93% of demand.

By 2035, the study estimates there will be 56,859 full-time physicians in the state. As their ranks grow at an anemic 3%, Florida’s population growth shows no signs of a slowdown. If the trend continues unabated, nearly a quarter of physician demand will go unmet.

Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida CEO Justin Senior likens it to a “one-two punch of Florida’s growing population and a wave of older physicians retiring from practice.”

Justin Senior says Florida’s health care industry is taking a one-two staffing punch. Image via The Daytona Beach News-Journal.

However, he said the Florida Legislature could punch back by increasing state funding for residency programs at Florida hospitals.

Senior, along with Florida Hospital Association President and CEO Mary Mayhew, will ask Lawmakers to spend an additional $38 million in general revenue.

Since Florida launched the state Medicaid GME Residency program, physician teaching slots have grown from 3,562 to 6,432. Senior said the additional investment could yield the same results..

“Research shows that physicians are most likely to practice medicine where they complete their residency, which is why it is so critical to invest in quality residency programs throughout our state,” Mayhew said.

Read the report here.


Tweet, tweet:

@AshaRangappa_: BTW, it’s not just that FOX News hosts blamed Antifa while privately imploring (Donald) Trump to stop riot that same day. The network made a three-part “documentary” *a month ago* claiming that Jan. 6 was a false flag operation BY THE FBI … and not one of those anchors has disavowed it

@DWUhlfelderLaw: The Villages is trending because three Republican residents have been charged with voter fraud for voting multiple times in 2020 election, but Ron DeSantis isn’t going to do or say anything about it @RemoveRon

@SundaeDivine: Between the IRS, STD outbreaks, dueling golf carts, and voting fraud, I would definitely watch a series about The Villages.

@BiancaJoanie: Rent prices in Miami affecting lawyer retention: At the Miami-Dade delegation meeting this morning, Dade Public Defender Carlos Martinez says that his office has lost 62 attorneys in the past year (35% turnover). He says the office is having a hard time competing with pay in NYC.

Tweet, tweet:

Tweet, tweet:

@ChrisSprowls: Being Speaker of the Florida House can make you feel like every day is your birthday, but that’s not actually true. @lobbytools I wasn’t born in December, but thanks for the thought!

@NateMonroeTU: So Shad Khan got really upset when someone asked if the Four Seasons play is real. Then he reveals the Four Seasons basically laughed off the idea of associating with a hotel in Jax, but also asserts he — who has no decision-making role with the company — can make it happen.


’Spider-Man: No Way Home’ premieres — 2; ’The Matrix: Resurrections’ released — 7; ’The Book of Boba Fett’ premieres on Disney+ — 14; Private sector employees must be fully vaccinated or tested weekly — 20; final season of ‘This Is Us’ begins — 20; CES 2022 begins — 21; Ken Welch’s inauguration as St. Petersburg Mayor — 22; NFL season ends — 25; 2022 Legislative Session starts — 27; Florida’s 20th Congressional District Election — 27; Special Elections in Senate District 33, House District 88 & 94 — 27; Florida Chamber’s 2022 Legislative Fly-In and Reception — 27; Florida TaxWatch’s 2022 State of the Taxpayer Day — 28; Joel Coen’s ’The Tragedy of Macbeth’ on Apple TV+ — 30; NFL playoffs begin — 31; ‘Ozark’ final season begins — 37; ‘Billions’ begins — 39; XXIV Olympic Winter Games begins — 51; Super Bowl LVI — 60; ‘The Walking Dead’ final season part two begins — 67; Daytona 500 — 67; Special Election for Jacksonville City Council At-Large Group 3 — 69; CPAC begins — 71; St. Pete Grand Prix — 72; ‘The Batman’ premieres — 78; The Oscars — 104; ’Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 147; ’Top Gun: Maverick’ premieres — 166; ’Platinum Jubilee’ for Queen Elizabeth II — 169; ’Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 206; San Diego Comic-Con 2022 — 217; ‘The Lord of the Rings’ premieres on Amazon Prime — 261; ’Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 296; ‘Black Panther 2’ premieres — 331; ‘The Flash’ premieres — 334; ‘Avatar 2’ premieres — 366; ‘Captain Marvel 2’ premieres — 429; ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ premieres — 590; ‘Dune: Part Two’ premieres — 674; Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games — 954.


Far too little vote fraud to tip election to Donald Trump” via Christina Cassidy of The Associated Press — An Associated Press review of every potential case of voter fraud in the six battleground states disputed by Trump has found fewer than 475 — a number that would have made no difference in the 2020 presidential election. The review also showed no collusion intended to rig the voting. Virtually every case was based on an individual acting alone to cast additional ballots. The findings build on a mountain of other evidence that the election wasn’t rigged, including verification of the results by Republican Governors. Contacted for comment, Trump repeated a litany of unfounded claims of fraud he had made previously but offered no new evidence that specifically contradicted the AP’s reporting. “I just don’t think you should make a fool out of yourself by saying 400 votes,” he said. “Voter fraud is virtually nonexistent,” said George Christenson, election clerk for Milwaukee County in Wisconsin, where five people statewide have been charged with fraud out of nearly 3.3 million ballots cast for president. “I would have to venture a guess that’s about the same odds as getting hit by lightning.”

AP found absolutely no proof of widespread election fraud, despite what Donald Trump says. Image via AP.


Florida offers support to states impacted by tornado cluster” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Florida is offering support to roughly nine Midwestern and Southern states impacted last week by a swarm of deadly tornadoes. Thousands are displaced after a cluster of tornadoes blew through the region, killing dozens. Over the weekend, the Florida Department of Emergency Management (FDEM) reached out to regional emergency teams offering support and resources. Search and rescue teams, ambulance strike teams, and disaster recovery specialists are among the resources Florida may offer to impacted states, many of which are without water and electricity amid frigid temperatures. Florida is the fourth-most disaster-prone state.

Disaster-prone Florida reaches out to tornado-ravaged Kentucky. Image via AP.

Following federal scrutiny, Florida education officials returned $878,000 to certain local school boards” via Danielle J. Brown of Florida Phoenix — After several months of legal challenges, state sanctions, and a Special Session that outlawed strict mask mandates in public schools, the Florida Department of Education returned $877,851 in state funds to eight school districts that had been punished over a COVID-19-related mask controversy. “It has been put back, so we do have that money,” said Russell Bruhn, communication staffer with the Brevard County School District, said. The return of the money came when the state’s education department was under scrutiny by the U.S. Department of Education over potential violations of federal education laws.

Florida’s specialty license plates have stolen millions from manatees and panthers” via Alex Deluca of the Miami New Times — All told, more than 100 specialty license plates are available across the state of Florida today. It might seem like just another bureaucratic obligation, but the license plate a Florida car owner chooses determines how much money state officials may allocate to protect and conduct research for threatened manatees or the endangered Florida panther. That’s because Florida is one of several U.S. states that takes in a significant portion of its funding for its endangered-wildlife programs, such as the Florida Panther Program and Florida Manatee Program, through the sale of specialty license plates. During the 2020-21 fiscal years, the panther plates brought in just under $1.1 million, while the manatee plates brought in $1,023,835, the lowest year on record. This comes as the number of specialty license plates available to Florida motorists has skyrocketed, from about a dozen in 1987 to 120 and counting as we head into 2022.


Gov. Ron DeSantis has victory in the bag, so why is he using the state budget to hurt migrants?” via Fabiola Santiago of the Miami Herald — The Governor’s $99.7 billion budget — which he has dubbed the “Freedom First Budget” because its essence isn’t to address the needs of Floridians but to assist his re-election campaign — says a lot about who DeSantis is. Selfish. Entitled. Cruel. DeSantis doesn’t just want to govern. Armed with hefty coffers, including billions in federal funds from President Joe Biden’s commitment to helping states recover from COVID-19 losses and stimulate the economy, DeSantis aims to further agitate and divide an already politically on-edge Florida. Nothing says this louder than DeSantis’ $8 million plan to buy one-way bus tickets out of Florida for the undocumented. If this business of transporting undesirable people isn’t evoking a nauseating feeling, it’s because you’ve forgotten history.

Ron DeSantis is a shoo-in for re-election, so why hurt migrants?

‘A false narrative’: Debbie Mucarsel-Powell challenges validity of Florida constitutional carry bill” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Former U.S. Rep. Mucarsel-Powell has dismissed a “constitutional carry” bill now moving through the Florida Legislature as trafficking in a “false narrative” that will make the Sunshine State less safe. The bill (HB 103), sponsored by Howey-in-the-Hills Republican Anthony Sabatini, would lift the requirement that a person in Florida obtains a concealed weapon license to carry a gun on their person hidden from plain view. Instead, the bill would allow for the open or concealed carrying of a handgun without a permit, reflecting the view that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution itself is a citizen’s license to carry a firearm.

Annette Taddeo, Anna Eskamani file bills to bring voter registration to high schools” via Daniel Figueroa of Florida Politics — Sen. Taddeo and Rep. Eskamani filed a set of bills Monday aimed at increasing youth voting. The identical bills from the two Democrats (SB 1228 and HB 903) would require public high schools to give students a presentation on voter registration and allow an opportunity for those students to register or preregister online. In Florida, U.S. citizens can register to vote at 18 or preregister at 16 or 17. Voter outreach is required in schools under Florida law. But those efforts have a history of going undone or unreported and there’s no registration requirement. Eskamani said similar programs allowed her to register to vote. She also said new tools, such as online registration and expanded preregistration, can be used to “turn up civic engagement.”

DOE unveils proposed ‘victims of communism’ rules — The Florida Department of Education released a proposed rule requiring Florida high school students to learn about the “victims of communism.” As reported by Andrew Atterbury of POLITICO Florida, the rule would require instruction on the dictatorial regimes of Mao Zedong, Josef Stalin and Fidel Castro. Lessons must cover how those living under those regimes “suffered, including through suppression of speech, poverty, starvation, migration, and systemic lethal violence.” The rule matches language included in a 2022 bill sponsored by Sen. Manny Diaz that would set declare Nov. 7 as “Victims of Communism Day.” DOE officials will workshop the proposed rule Feb. 4. After that, it would be considered by the State Board of Education.

Florida’s Department of Education is preparing rules for schoolchildren to learn about the dangers of communism.

Lawmakers stopped cities from banning natural gas. Climate change plans suffered” via Alex Harris and Daniel Rivero of the Miami Herald — This summer, Miami joined cities across the state in pledging to lower its greenhouse gas emissions to stave off the worst impacts of climate change, which could swamp Florida’s coasts with a few feet of sea rise by midcentury. But Miami’s plan, like others across the state, was weakened by a set of new state laws that block municipalities from regulating fossil fuels in their communities, as well as direct lobbying from the fossil fuel industry. The laws are part of a wave of gas industry-supported bills sweeping the nation in response to efforts from cities to tamp down on their emissions. So far, 19 states have passed similar legislation, with another five states considering the bills this year.


Florida COVID-19 update: 3,067 new cases added to state tally” via Devoun Cetoute of the Miami Herald — Florida reported 3,067 COVID-19 cases and no new deaths Monday. The Florida Department of Health will most likely add deaths to Monday’s total. The state has done this in the past when it has added cases and deaths to previous days during the pandemic. In all, Florida has recorded at least 3,720,146 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 62,073 deaths. In the past seven days, the state has added 41 fatalities and 2,350 cases per day, on average. The seven-day case average is the highest since Oct. 21.

Delta caused Florida’s worst COVID-19 wave. What will omicron bring?” via Ana Claudia Chacin of the Miami Herald — At least three cases of the new, little-known-about omicron variant have been reported in Florida, including one in Miami-Dade reported Friday, just a few months since the state began recovering from the devastating delta wave experienced over the late summer and early fall. According to Jason Salemi, an epidemiologist and professor at the University of South Florida, delta’s impact was largely avoidable. “When you’re getting to 400 deaths a day when vaccines are available, you start to look at it, and say ‘My God, this wave did not need to be anywhere near this bad,’” he said. Last Tuesday, at a news conference in Oldsmar, DeSantis suggested he would tackle omicron the same way he did delta, without lockdowns or mask requirements.

With the availability of vaccines, Jason Salemi says delta didn’t have to be so bad. Image via USF.

Jason Pizzo files legislation to undo Special Session on COVID-19 protocols” via Anne Geggis of Florida Politics — To anyone wishing the gavel that opened the 2021 Special Session B never dropped Nov. 15, Sen. Pizzo has filed a bill for you. On Monday, Pizzo actually filed three of them (SB 1230, SB 1234 and SB 1232). The bills would essentially undo the Special Session highlighted as cementing Gov. DeSantis‘ “Keep Florida Free” agenda. Pass the 166 lines of legislation, and it would be like those three days, and the ensuing gubernatorial signing in Brandon never happened. None of the bills have House companions, and it’s unlikely they’d even get a glance in the Republican-controlled Legislature. Still, DeSantis spokesperson Christina Pushaw called the proposed legislation “appalling.”

Broward teacher could be fired for not wearing mask” via Scott Travis of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The recommended termination of John C. Alvarez, 57, a science teacher at Piper High in Sunrise, could reignite a bitter debate in Broward over the required use of face coverings to combat COVID-19. School district officials are accusing Alvarez of insubordination, neglect of duty and incompetence for his refusal to wear a mask. Alvarez plans to appeal the recommendation to a state administrative law judge. “The state of Florida, which provides my licensure, has said mask mandates are unconstitutional,” he said. The state hasn’t actually done that. DeSantis and the Legislature have banned districts from imposing mask mandates for students, but the law doesn’t address whether districts can require them for teachers or other employees.

Personnel note: Kenneth Scheppke named Deputy Secretary at DOH — The Florida Department of Health announced this week that Dr. Scheppke will now serve as the Deputy Secretary for Health. Scheppke has previously served as the State Emergency Medical Services Medical Director, the Florida Division of Emergency Management’s Chief Medical Officer, and Medical Director for seven fire-rescue agencies across Palm Beach and Martin counties. “The Florida Department of Health is pleased to have Dr. Scheppke assume this new role. Dr. Scheppke has been and will continue to be a great asset to the Department and the State of Florida,” Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo said. “We look forward to his leadership and the vast experience he brings to the table.”

The Florida Department of Health appoints Kenneth Scheppke as the agency’s No. 2 man.

— 2022 —

Democratic Governors worry about threat to democracy but don’t see it as a winning message for 2022” via Edward-Isaac Dovere of CNN — Democratic governors are facing a messaging conundrum: they say American democracy may hinge on their elections in 2022, but they’re not sure they can get most voters to care. Attempts to meddle with the certification of the Electoral College count and the partisan takeovers of the voting infrastructure don’t seem to be front of mind for an electorate drained by nearly two years of pandemic living and a creeping sense of economic panic, and that worries a range of Democratic governors gearing up for campaigns who gathered in New Orleans for grim meetings about their 2022 electoral prospects.

Report: Socialism attacks hurt Dems with Latino voters” via Sabrina Rodriguez of POLITICO — A new post-mortem on the 2020 election results reveals that GOP attacks claiming Democrats embrace socialism helped fuel Trump’s gains with Latino voters last year. More than 40% of Latino voters across the country expressed concern that Democrats are embracing socialism and leftist policies. Among those who voted for Trump, more than 70% were concerned. And Latino voters said they are more concerned with Democrats moving to the left than with Republicans embracing fascist and anti-democratic politics. The report’s findings suggested that the attacks painting Democrats as supporters of socialism resonated well beyond Florida, which has a more conservative-leaning Cuban American population.

Socialism was the third rail for Democrats, losing Latino voters in 2020.

The Democrats’ 2024 kryptonite” via Tina Nguyen of Puck News — Jeff Roe’s political consulting firm Axiom has run hundreds of races over the years, including Ted Cruz’s 2016 national campaign, but Roe has become synonymous with Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s campaign in large part because the victory articulated a new Trump-friendly, post-Trump Playbook for Never Trump Republicans. After alienating suburban moms and people of color during the Trump years, suburban voters and minorities suddenly turned up to vote Republican in Virginia. And Roe suddenly became the hottest name in political consulting, a phenomenon he attributes to the fact that there was so much press attention on this particular race given its proximity to the swamp.

Nikki Fried warns, again, DeSantis could be President” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Fried returned to this theme yet again in a Tuesday email fundraising for her campaign. In the so-called “Ron recap,” Fried blasted the Governor: “DeSantis has spent the year imitating Trump, acting as a wannabe authoritarian dictator, and running a shadow campaign for the presidency in 2024 — all the while enacting horrifying policies that hurt our state.” The email charges DeSantis with adopting a “pro-COVID agenda” while remonstrating him for having “abandoned Florida in the middle of a crisis to raise money for his 2024 presidential run.” Then, a chilling warning: “If this is what he’s done in 2021 alone, can you imagine what he could do with another term? Or, worse, with the presidency?”

—“DeSantis fundraises off ‘noncitizens’ voting in New York” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics

Eric Lynn lands CD 13 endorsements from Eric Swalwell, Jimmy Panetta” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Congressional candidate Lynn landed endorsements Tuesday from two California Congressmen. Democratic U.S. Reps. Swalwell and Panetta both offered their support to Lynn, who is running in CD 13. “With years of national security experience at the federal and international level, Eric has a firsthand understanding of how to navigate the challenges of lawmaking,” Panetta said. Lynn worked as a national security adviser under former President Barack Obama. Notably, his father served for a period as Obama’s Defense Secretary. Swalwell, who launched a 2020 run for President with a gun control town hall in Florida, said Lynn “is the most qualified candidate to both win this race and help get our country back on track.”

Trump gives thumbs-up to Byron Donalds’ return to Congress” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Trump has endorsed U.S. Rep. Donalds for re-election. The high-profile nod came about a week after Donalds, a Naples Republican, shared photos of himself and wife Erika in Southwest Florida with the former commander in chief. “Congressman Byron Donalds has been a terrific advocate for the people of Florida and our Country,” Trump said. The first-term Congressman welcomed the support. “Thank you, POTUS Trump, for your ENDORSEMENT and your unwavering support,” Donalds tweeted. Trump recently hosted a Naples Winter Christmas event in the heart of Florida’s 19th Congressional District. Donalds attended and had his picture taken with Trump.

Chip LaMarca adds $27K in November to boost re-election war chest” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Rep. LaMarca followed a massive October fundraising haul by adding another $27,000 in November. LaMarca raised more than $21,000 through his campaign account in November and another $6,000 through his political committee, Citizens Helping Improve Policy. That means LaMarca has amassed more than $110,000 in the past two months alone. He added more than $83,000 in October. The incumbent listed just over $8,000 in expenses during November. As of Nov. 30, LaMarca holds nearly $168,000 between his two funding sources as he seeks a third term in the House.

Fiona McFarland pulls in $21K as maps promise challenging election cycle” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Rep. McFarland added more than $20,000 to her war chest in November, her official campaign’s biggest month this year. The step up in fundraising came as draft redistricting maps made clear her district could be as much a battleground as ever. The Sarasota Republican reported $21,125 in new donations over the course of November. Since the start of the election cycle, she has raised $76,969. She closed the month with $56,576 on hand. The proposed maps suggest McFarland could end up in a Primary with a GOP colleague. An affiliated political committee, Friends of Sarasota, raised another $17,000 in November and has pulled in $72,000 this year. That means there’s another $39,624 in cash available to support McFarland’s re-election effort.

Fiona McFarland faces a tough road after redistricting. Image via Colin Hackley.

—“Dana Trabulsy raises $10K in November as she seeks second House term” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics

David Borrero brings in more than $14K in November push for second House term” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Rep. Borrero raised more than $14,000 in November, his third-highest monthly fundraising haul of the 2022 election cycle. Borrero is seeking a second term in the House after winning the open House District 105 seat in 2020. Borrero raised more than $8,800 through his campaign account last month and another $5,550 via his political committee, Floridians for Prosperity. In November, Braman Motors was Borrero’s most significant donor, sending $2,500 to his political committee. Borrero listed just over $4,100 in campaign expenses in November. Nearly $3,100 went to DRC Consulting for various campaign costs. Borrero’s committee sent $1,000 to Rep. Chis Latvala’s campaign for Pinellas County Commission.

The coffee shop at this nonprofit Florida hospital pours cash into political coffers” via Kerby Wilson of the Miami Herald — A festive scene greets patients and visitors entering Tampa General Hospital’s main campus. A Christmas tree, a shiny reindeer, a menorah, gift-wrapped presents. Once visitors check-in at the front desk, they can attend to their hospital business or pop over to sip Peppermint Mochas and Irish Cream Cold Brews at the Starbucks. Unbeknown to most of its customers, this Starbucks serves up more than holiday cheer. For the past three years, it’s been making venti-sized campaign contributions to a select group of Florida political candidates. It does this even though Tampa General operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Federal law prohibits it from giving money to political candidates.


Omicron spreading rapidly in U.S., could bring punishing wave of infections, C.D.C. warns” via Lena H. Sun, Joel Achenbach, Laurie McGinley and Tyler Pager of The Washington Post — Top federal health officials warned in a briefing Tuesday morning that the omicron variant is rapidly spreading in the United States and could peak in a massive wave of infections as soon as January. The prevalence of omicron jumped sevenfold in a single week, CDC modeling shows, and at such a pace, the highly mutated variant of the coronavirus could ratchet up pressure on a health system already strained in many places as the delta variant continues its own late-autumn surge. The warning of an imminent surge came even as federal officials and pharmaceutical companies signaled that they don’t currently favor creating a new omicron-specific vaccine. Based on the data so far, they believe that existing vaccines plus a booster shot are an effective weapon against omicron.

🦠15 grim reminders that COVID-19 is not done with us: One out of every 100 Americans age 65 or older has died from COVID-19, according to The New York Times. Building on that, The Washington Post outlined a list of data points that show, even if most everyday Americans are done with the virus, it’s definitely not done with them. Overall, one in 420 Americans died from the virus, while one in 290 Mississippi residents have succumbed to the illness. Still think it hasn’t touched someone you know? One in less than seven Americans have had confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 72% say they know someone who has died or been hospitalized with the virus. One in 130 have been hospitalized. Scarier still, a third of Americans say they have a family member or close friend who has died from the virus. Read more about these stark realities here.

COVID-19 isn’t quite through with us yet. Image via AP.

One year of vaccines: Many lives saved, many needlessly lost” via The Associated Press — One year ago, the biggest vaccination drive in American history began with a flush of excitement in an otherwise gloomy December. Trucks loaded with freezer-packed vials of a COVID-19 vaccine that had proved wildly successful in clinical trials fanned out across the land, bringing shots that many hoped would spell the end of the crisis. That hasn’t happened. A year later, too many Americans remain unvaccinated, and many die. The nation’s COVID-19 death toll stands at around 800,000 as the anniversary of the U.S. vaccine rollout arrives. A year ago, it stood at 300,000. An untold number of lives, perhaps tens of thousands, have been saved by vaccination. But what might have been a time to celebrate a scientific achievement is fraught with discord and mourning.

Pfizer jabs protect 70% against hospitalization from omicron” via The Associated Press — A two-dose Pfizer/BioNTech vaccination provides just 33% protection against infection by the omicron variant of the coronavirus, but 70% protection against hospitalization, according to a large-scale analysis. The first large-scale analysis of vaccine effectiveness in the region where the new variant was discovered appears to support early indications that omicron is more easily transmissible, and that the Pfizer shot isn’t as effective in protecting against infection as it was against the delta variant. The result shows that vaccinated individuals who received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine have 33% protection against infection from omicron, relative to those who were unvaccinated. This represents a significant drop from the 80% protection against infection afforded during the earlier period, probably based on lower antibody susceptibility.

Some hospitals cancel worker vaccine requirements with Joe Biden rule tied up in courts” via Eli Rosenberg and Aaron Gregg of The Washington Post — Several hospitals are walking away from vaccine requirements for their staffs in the wake of court rulings that have blocked the White House’s vaccine rule for many health care centers. These hospital groups include Christian medical center AdventHealth, the Cleveland Clinic, Tenet Healthcare and Nashville-based HCA Healthcare, which comprise more than 300 hospitals and 500,000 employees. The hospitals all said they had instituted vaccine requirements to comply with the Biden administration’s directive that hospitals and medical centers that receive Medicaid or Medicare funding institute vaccine mandates. But now that the rule is being held up in court, they said they were dropping the requirements.

Some hospitals drop vaccine mandates while they are mired in court. Image via Federal Vaccine Response.

Vaccine mandates should be illegal, Americans say” via Margaret Talev of Axios — Half of Americans say it should be illegal for companies to deny service or employment to the unvaccinated, according to the latest Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index. This carries real political risk for Democrats as Biden’s mandates on federal workers and large employers meet legal challenges, and Republicans try to use mandates as a wedge issue. The survey shows there’s deep, bipartisan resistance — even from those who support vaccine and mask mandates — to imposing severe consequences on those who won’t go along. “This is sort of getting at the limits of what government can do,” said Cliff Young, president of Ipsos U.S. Public Affairs. “Biden doesn’t have strong support for these sorts of initiatives. It’s very conditional.”


U.S. holiday travel makes comeback with over 100 million drivers” via Chunzi Xu of Bloomberg — More than 100 million Americans are forecast to hit the road this holiday season, nearing pre-pandemic levels even as gasoline prices at the pump remain close to seven-year highs. The estimate for people planning to drive 50 miles or more between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2 represents a 28% increase from last year when lockdowns curbed traveling. But the number is still 7.3% lower than two years ago.

Holiday travel is back with a vengeance. Image via AP.


Omicron variant more resistant to vaccine but causes less severe COVID-19, major South African study concludes” via Lesley Wroughton of The Washington Post — Omicron appears to cause less severe illness than earlier variants of the coronavirus but is more resistant to the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine widely used in South Africa. The study by Discovery Health, South Africa’s largest health insurer, of 211,000 positive coronavirus cases, of which 78,000 were attributed to omicron, showed the risk of hospital admissions among adults who contracted COVID-19 was 29% lower than in the initial pandemic wave that emerged in March 2020. However, the study, released Tuesday, found that the vaccine from U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German partner BioNTech provided just 33% protection against infection, much less than the level for other variants detected in the country.

Gen Z is done with the pandemic” via Christian Paz of The Atlantic — It’s still too early to determine just how disruptive the omicron phase of the pandemic will be for most Americans. The Delta variant turned out to be much more transmissible than the original strain and stunted summer celebrations with breakthrough cases and surges in unvaccinated communities, but many of the young people I spoke with for this story told me they aren’t as worried now. Part of that response comes from pandemic fatigue, but much of this feeling is a result of the new risk calculus they have developed for how they want to live their lives. As a member of this generation, I can confirm as much from what I’ve observed among friends.

Gen Z is so over the pandemic.

Where I live, no one cares about COVID-19” via Matthew Walther of The Atlantic — I don’t know how to put this in a way that will not make me sound flippant: No one cares. Literally speaking, I know that isn’t true. But outside the world inhabited by the professional and managerial classes in a handful of major metropolitan areas, Americans are leading their lives as if COVID-19 is over. In my part of rural southwest Michigan, and in similar communities throughout the country, this is true not despite but without any noticeable regard for cases, hospitalization statistics or death reports. I don’t mean to deny COVID-19’s continuing presence. What I wish to convey is that the virus simply does not factor into my calculations or those of my neighbors.

New York feels COVID-19’s grip tighten anew as hospital cases surge 70%” via Shelly Banjo and Hannah Levitt of Bloomberg — New York’s COVID-19 hospitalizations have jumped by 70% since the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, prompting officials and businesses alike to reassess their policies in an attempt to blunt a winter virus surge and the onset of the new omicron variant. Gov. Kathy Hochul said that the rise in hospitalizations across the state, along with a 58% jump in cases per 100,000 people during the same period, was the impetus for a new statewide indoor mask mandate for businesses without a vaccine requirement. While cases and hospitalizations had been going up mostly in upstate New York earlier in the month, the increasing trend levels are now present across the state.

Air Force discharges 27 service members in first apparent dismissals over vaccine refusal” via Alex Horton and Timothy Bella of The Washington Post — The Air Force removed 27 people for not obeying orders to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, a spokeswoman said Monday, apparently marking the U.S. military’s first dismissals of those who refuse the shots. More than 94% of the Air Force is fully vaccinated. But tens of thousands of active-duty members across all services have declined the vaccines, a show of defiance in a culture built around following orders. Many of them have sought rarely given exemptions. Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek acknowledged that those dismissed Monday were the first active-duty Air Force members discharged over the Pentagon’s vaccination requirements for military members.— PRESIDENTIAL —

Revealed: Biden administration was not legally bound to auction gulf drilling rights” via Oliver Milman of The Guardian — The Biden administration admitted that a court decision did not compel it to lease vast tracts of the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas drilling, shortly before claiming it was legally obliged to do so when announcing the sell-off. Last month, the U.S. government held the largest-ever auction of oil and gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico’s history, offering up more than 80m acres of the Gulf’s seabed for fossil fuel extraction. The enormous sale, which took place just four days after crucial U.N. climate talks in Scotland, represented a spectacular about-turn from Biden’s previous promise to halt offshore drilling and was denounced by outraged environmental groups as a “huge carbon bomb.”

Last month, the U.S. government held the largest-ever auction of oil and gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico’s history. What could go wrong?


Senate Dems’ choice: Election reform first, or Biden’s megabill?” via Marianne Levine and Burgess Everett of POLITICO — During Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s leadership meeting Monday evening, Democratic Senators hotly debated how to handle their two biggest unfinished tasks. Some Democrats say they should kick both issues until next year; others argue the party’s leverage over Joe Manchin won’t improve over time and want action now. And Tuesday interviews revealed a party wrestling with how to clinch its top priorities. Sen. Raphael Warnock said he spent the weekend talking to Manchin and other Democrats about prioritizing legislation on ballot access, which he called a “moral question” that his party needs to confront.

Rick Scott denounces White House ‘lies’ amid fight over ‘charity hospital’ funding” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — “The American public is fed up with Joe Biden and his constant lies,” Scott told the Fox Business Channel denouncing White House press secretary Jen Psaki who claimed the Congressional Budget Office scoring of the Build Back Better bill was “fake” because it assumed social programs in the plan would be permanent. CBO scoring says the “true” cost of the bill is $4.9 trillion, not the $3 trillion claimed by the Biden administration. “I think it’s fake what she says. Because what comes out of her mouth is constantly a lie. Remember how the infrastructure bill was paid for? It wasn’t. Remember how this was paid for? It’s not. Remember how they’re not going to raise taxes on middle income? They are.”

Rick Scott blasts the Joe Biden administration’s ‘lies.’ Image via Spectrum News.

Spotted — Scott on Business Insider’s list of 25 richest members of Congress. He’s No. 1.

Mike Waltz, two Democrats plead for administration to help Ukraine now” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — After returning from a whirlwind research mission in Ukraine, Republican U.S. Rep. Waltz and two Democratic colleagues Tuesday implored the Biden administration to immediately get heavy weapons to Ukraine and economic sanctions prepared against Russia to deter a potential Russian invasion. “I would love to see — and would encourage and demand — the White House to take stronger moves now,” Waltz said in a virtual news conference Tuesday. “This is about speed,” agreed U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton. The trio, all military veterans, went to Ukraine over the weekend and returned late Monday. In Ukraine, they met with diplomatic officials, intelligence officials, and Ukrainian special forces, receiving briefings on the reported 125,000 Russian troops amassing along Ukraine’s eastern border.

House, Senate near agreement on Uyghur Bill aimed at China” via Daniel Flatley of Bloomberg — Lawmakers in the House and Senate are close to agreement on legislation aimed at punishing China for the alleged oppression of the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, according to two people familiar with the discussions. A deal would set up a potential vote on the legislation before the end of the year if Senate committees sign off and the measure can be squeezed into the schedule. Versions of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act have passed in the House and Senate, and lawmakers in both chambers have been working to iron out differences.


D.C. suing the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys for damage caused Jan. 6” via Kyle Cheney of POLITICO — The Attorney General of the District of Columbia is suing the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and 31 members of the far-right groups for participating in the mob that breached the Capitol on Jan. 6. It’s the first government-backed legal action against the groups whose members allegedly stormed the Capitol. Members of Congress and the Capitol Police have already filed similar suits in their personal capacities. The D.C. suit alleges a conspiracy among the groups to attack the Capitol, causing severe harm to the District of Columbia, including damage to buildings and trauma to Metropolitan Police officers.

D.C. wants the Proud Boys to pick up the tab for Jan. 6. Image via Reuters.

Two Jan. 6 organizers are coming forward and naming names: ‘We’re turning it all over’” via Hunter Walker of Rolling Stone — Two key organizers of the main Jan. 6 rally in Washington, D.C. are coming in from the cold. Dustin Stockton and Jennifer Lynn Lawrence are set to testify next week before the House select committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol. The pair will deliver testimony and turn over documents, including text messages, which indicate the extensive involvement members of Congress and the Trump administration had in planning the House challenge to certifying Biden’s election and rally near the White House where Trump spoke — efforts that ultimately contributed to a massive and violent attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Enigmatic observation: Mitch McConnell says he looks forward to getting to the bottom of what happened on Jan. 6.” via Anthony Adragna of POLITICO — McConnell told reporters he’s watching the proceedings of the House Jan. 6 committee and looks forward to seeing what it finds. McConnell has been an ally of Rep. Liz Cheney, who’s faced de facto excommunication from the House Republican conference for vocally condemning Trump after Jan. 6. Cheney is now sitting on the Jan. 6 select panel formed after McConnell’s Senate GOP made a bill creating an independent riot commission its first filibuster of 2021. McConnell said he was not in contact with then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows or other senior officials to urge Trump to do more to stop the siege at the Capitol.

Proud Boys regroup, focusing on school boards and town councils” via Sheera Frenkel of The New York Times — Members of the Proud Boys, the far-right nationalist group, have increasingly appeared in recent months at town council gatherings, school board presentations, and health department question-and-answer sessions across the country. Their presence at the events is part of a strategy shift by the militia organization toward a larger goal: to bring their brand of menacing politics to the local level. For years, the group was known for its national profile. But since federal authorities have cracked down on the group for the Jan. 6 attack, including arresting more than a dozen of its members, the organization has been more muted. Some members and researchers said that away from the national spotlight, the Proud Boys quietly shifted attention to local chapters.


What crime might Trump have committed on Jan. 6? Liz Cheney points to one.” via Aaron Blake of The Washington Post — Rep. Cheney’s disclosures of intriguing Jan. 6 text messages between Meadows and both Donald Trump Jr. and Fox News personalities are the big news in the committee’s investigation right now. But don’t lose sight of what Cheney said immediately after reading those texts aloud. Cheney’s comment matches the language of the statute. It states, “Whoever corruptly … obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.” That law defines an “official proceeding” as including “a proceeding before the Congress.”

Liz Cheney cites the laws Donald Trump may have broken, chapter-and-verse. Image via AP.

Trump’s longtime accountant testifies to New York grand jury in criminal probe” via David A. Fahrenthold, Josh Dawsey, Shayna Jacobs and Jonathan O’Connell of The Washington Post — A longtime accountant for Trump testified recently before a New York grand jury investigating Trump’s financial practices, according to two people familiar with that investigation. Accountant Donald Bender of the firm Mazars appeared before a grand jury that was impaneled this fall by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. to weigh potential criminal charges, the people said. In addition, in recent weeks, prosecutors have interviewed Rosemary Vrablic, a former managing director at Deutsche Bank who arranged hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to Trump. Vrablic’s interview was not before the grand jury. Instead, one person said, prosecutors pressed Vrablic about Trump’s role in dealings with the bank.

The pro-Trump conspiracy internet is moving from Facebook to your doorstep” via Sarah Mimms of BuzzFeed — Across the country, the pro-Trump conspiracy theory internet is manifesting itself into knocks at the door. Individual election deniers and grassroots groups are canvassing for election fraud in states lost or even won by Trump in 2020, including New Hampshire, Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, Utah, and Nebraska. Despite 60-plus court losses and countless official audits and recounts confirming the 2020 election results, many of Trump’s supporters are still so convinced of his lies that they’ve turned to this kind of vigilantism. It’s all part of a broader effort by Trump supporters to deny the 2020 election results at all costs and cast doubt on elections going forward.


Buddy Dyer: Downtown Orlando is ‘well positioned’ to grow post-pandemic” via Ryan Gillespie of the Orlando Sentinel — Facing questions from a gathering of a few hundred local and business leaders, Orlando Mayor Dyer handicapped the city’s odds of hosting World Cup matches as favorable, championed its efforts on addressing homelessness and housing affordability and pitched Orlando as a city prepared to take on a post-COVID-19 world. “The pandemic has ushered in a realignment in how people live and work,” Dyer said from a stage on the sideline of Exploria Stadium. “Downtown Orlando is well-positioned to take advantage of these new dynamics.” Dyer spoke for an hour and touched on development and business growth as well as challenges surrounding transportation, housing and homelessness.

Buddy Dyer says Orlando is poised to come roaring back.

Seminole attorney: Joel Greenberg agrees to pay nearly $1.9 million to Seminole in restitution” via Martin E. Comas of the Orlando Sentinel — Seminole County’s attorney Tuesday said he has reached an agreement with Greenberg toward the payment of nearly $1.9 million in restitution for public money that was misspent during his time in office. “I have reached a tentative agreement, a verbal agreement — and I emphasize verbal — with Joel Greenberg’s attorney for restitution in the amount of $1,870351,” county Attorney Bryant Applegate told Commissioners this morning. Applegate added that he expects the county to obtain the money during Greenberg’s sentencing scheduled for March or “prior thereto.”

Disney guests evacuated at Magic Kingdom after small fire breaks out near Cinderella Castle” via Katie Rice and Lisa Maria Garza of the Orlando Sentinel — A small fire at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom Tuesday night prompted guests to evacuate an area of the park next to Cinderella Castle. An unsigned statement from the company said a small fire broke out in the Magic Kingdom and was quickly extinguished. Jon Shirey, President of the Reedy Creek Firefighters Association, said the call initially came into the fire department around 6:45 p.m. as an electrical fire on a junction box outside the castle. Once firefighters arrived, they saw a tree on fire next to the structure, he said. Cinderella Castle was evacuated and roped off to Disney guests. The cause of the blaze is still pending investigation by the Fire Marshal.

Manatee County candidate shares text exchange from consultant who jilted him” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — A candidate for Manatee County Commission emailed supporters promising he will defy experts’ expectations. In his blast, he included a text message exchange, without permission, with a prominent campaign consultant who refused to work with his campaign. Jason Bearden, a Republican challenging County Commissioner Carol Whitmore’s re-election, sent out a fundraising pitch with the curious subject line “They Want Me to Quit and Give Up!” The expert he referenced, without naming him, was Anthony Pedicini, the Tampa-based founder of Strategic Image Management, a conservative political consulting firm. Pedicini confirms Bearden reached out to him about potentially working with his campaign, but the consultant declined to meet.

Jason Bearden won’t back down. Image via Facebook.

Teddy bears, bedroom sets and brand-new cars — what’s fueling inflation for South Florida companies?” via Tom Hudson of WLRN — There is no must-have, rush-out-to-the-store, fight-the-crowds toy this year. Nothing like what the toy industry has experienced during past holidays. Sure, there still are mass-marketed toys. Jay Foreman, the CEO at Basic Fun, a toy company based in Boca Raton, counts on a combination of nostalgia from parents or grandparents — and technology. He also knows its technology contributes to the lack of a blockbuster toy. “Everything is so fragmented from the media that the kids consume, commercials they watch, the influences they have, that it’s so micro-targeted. There’s nothing really that hot this year,” he said. But there is something that almost everything has this holiday season — inflation. And no one asks for inflation for Christmas.

FPL reveals world’s largest solar-powered battery at Manatee Solar Energy Center” via Florida Politics — It’s “the world’s largest battery when measured by generating output and the world’s largest solar-powered battery when measured by both total output and capacity per hour,” according to the company. The battery measures 409 megawatts and 900-megawatt-hours. That gives it the power of 100 million iPhone batteries and allows it to power nearly 330,000 homes for more than two hours. The biggest benefit is that it can help homes operate on solar energy even when it’s dark outside. The battery will store solar energy captured by the Manatee Solar Energy Center and keep it available for use. “It’s been a momentous year for clean energy in Florida … “ FPL President and CEO Eric Silagy said.


Biden seems set on making ‘transitory’ inflation last” via Gerard Baker of The Wall Street Journal — It’s welcome that Jerome Powell at least has decided to retire the term, not primarily because it was misleading, but because it was meaningless. Despite the best efforts of the current incumbents at the Fed and the White House to emulate the staggering combination of policy errors that contributed to the Great Inflation, no one serious at the moment thinks we are in for a full-on repeat. Fiscal incontinence and monetary abandon have seen the federal debt balloon this year to nearly 123% of gross domestic product and the central bank’s balance sheet explode to nearly $9 trillion. Growth will slow next year, and perhaps inflation will too, but the mismatch between monetary policy and the condition of the economy is still virtually unprecedented.


It’s time to entertain the possibility that the Build Back Better bill won’t pass” via Henry Olsen of The Washington Post — Most pundits seem to be operating under the assumption that Biden’s Build Back Better program will eventually become law. After all, it would be very unusual for a Congress controlled by the president’s party to reject his first major domestic proposal. But given developments in the past week, it might be time to start seriously considering the chance that BBB is DOA. Manchin has long been the primary obstacle to BBB’s passage. He represents an energy-producing state, so he has a different view on the bill’s climate provisions than most Democrats. West Virginia is now staunchly Republican at all levels and voted for Trump by 39 points in 2020. To have any hope of re-election, Manchin has to show his constituents that he is fighting hard for them.

FPL’s dark-money games are backfiring” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — Florida Power and Light has had a run of bad press lately that would make Kanye West and Urban Meyer blush. First came news of FPL payments to people connected with the state’s ghost-candidate scandal. Now come revelations that the utility’s political consultants were behind a $240,000 job offer to a city council member in Jacksonville who was standing in the way of FPL’s plans to buy the city-owned electric company. FPL says it has done nothing wrong and merely involved itself in the political process the way any great American or company might. The company also says it’s unfair to link them with any controversial actions taken by dark-money groups controlled by operatives they hired.

What Steve Schale is reading — “Nobody believes Urban Meyer. That’s why he’s failing.” via Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post — Meyer’s problem with the Jacksonville Jaguars seems to be mostly one of tone; he can’t seem to find a sincere one. Meyer has had to “address” his team, what, three times now over various mismanagement issues? But you can never pin any blame on him for a lousy performance or inner dissension. He’s cleaner than his white lies. Nobody believes a word Meyer says. He’s 2-11, he bailed on his team after a loss to go grinding in a bar, and he doesn’t even seem to know which of his players rotate in and out of the game or why.


White House decides against lavish Christmas parties with omicron spreading” via Emily Goodin of the Daily Mail Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will host ‘Holiday Open Houses’ instead of cocktail parties for the holiday season, so visitors can see the decorations in the White House in a COVID-19-friendly way. “Anyone who knows the Bidens knows how much they enjoy hosting and celebrating the holidays. In the coming days, we will host a limited number of Holiday Open Houses, inviting guests to see the Christmas decorations in person at the White House,” Jill Biden’s spokesman Michael LaRosa said. “It is disappointing that we cannot host as many people as the Bidens would like to, but as we have done since Day One of the Biden administration, we will continue to implement strong COVID-19 protocols, developed in consultation with our public health advisers.”

Sorry. No lavish holiday parties at the White House this year. Image via CNN.

Fried delivers Christmas trees to DeSantis, fellow Cabinet offices” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Fried continued the annual tradition of delivering locally-grown Christmas trees to the members of the Florida Cabinet. On Friday, Fried’s team delivered trees to the offices of the Governor and the other two Cabinet positions, the Attorney General and Chief Financial Officer. “We’re proud to contribute to the joy of the season, providing our fellow Cabinet offices with locally-grown, Fresh From Florida Christmas trees,” Fried said. The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services delivered 8-foot Carolina Sapphire trees from Bavarian Christmas Tree Farm in Tallahassee.

— ALOE —

Tweet, tweet:


Celebrating today are Ken Lawson, Sara Pennington Nuvy, and former Florida Democratic Party chair Terrie Rizzo.


Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises Media and is the publisher of, INFLUENCE Magazine, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Previous to his publishing efforts, Peter was a political consultant to dozens of congressional and state campaigns, as well as 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. Follow Peter on Twitter @PeterSchorschFL.


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.

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