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Days after asserting Florida was shortchanged in Everglades funding, Sen. Marco Rubio led a letter demanding better bridge repair allotment. Several other Republicans from Florida’s congressional delegation serving in both chambers of Congress co-signed the missive.
Rubio penned the message to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg after the administration budgeted $245 million in infrastructure spending specifically for bridges in Florida. That’s less than 1% of total bridge funding included in President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, despite 6.5% of Americans living in the state.
“More transparency in how the Biden administration is allotting funding would be welcome, as claims that the calculation is based on the number of bridges in disrepair do not hold water,” the letter stated. “States that have similar numbers or even fewer bridges in need of repair, such as Washington and Connecticut, are set to receive larger sums. Any reasonable person can agree that the worst maintained bridges require attention, but the Biden administration’s Bridge Formula Program does nothing to address questions of why other states have historically failed to provide repairs as needed or to encourage a more proactive approach to their transportation infrastructure in the first place.”
Co-signatories include Sen. Rick Scott and Reps. Neal Dunn, Scott Franklin, Carlos Giménez, Brian Mast, and Michael Waltz, all Republicans. Notably, all voted against the infrastructure bill.
In the letter, the delegation members contend this is one more example of Florida getting too little because it has done too well in the past.
“Given these disparities, it is hard to avoid the impression that Florida — which routinely ranks among the top five states nationwide in keeping its bridges in safe shape — is being punished for its effective maintenance,” the letter stated.
“Good federal transportation policy should aim to incentivize states to work hand in hand with the federal government when tackling infrastructure, not penalize them for responsibly attending to their own transportation needs.”
As governments consider ways to use federal dollars sent for COVID-19 relief — often on efforts almost entirely unrelated to the coronavirus — Scott urged more jurisdictions to reject the money.
“American taxpayers should be enraged. Despite mountains of data showing state and local governments didn’t need a wasteful $350 billion bailout from the federal government last year, Democrats did what they always do: recklessly threw billions of taxpayer dollars into the air with no accountability,” he said.
“State and local governments are now swimming in extra cash, using funding intended for COVID relief as a slush fund for their completely unrelated pet projects. That is unacceptable. This reckless misuse of taxpayer dollars, which is further fueling inflation, is disgusting. Families and small businesses are struggling to keep up amid Biden’s raging inflation and supply chain crises and stretching budgets to keep their businesses open. These elected officials, and the Washington Democrats who fought so hard to greenlight this wasteful spending, should be ashamed of themselves.”
But of course, it’s not just Democrats doing this. Scott conspicuously linked to a report in The Washington Post that itemized wasteful spending. The headline-grabbing item was a golf course in Palm Beach Gardens. That wealthy community lies in liberal South Florida, though voters in the city went for Donald Trump by five percentage points in 2020. The article also notes the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature expects to use its COVID-19 money for such projects as paying for a sales tax holiday. And much of the spending appears in Republican (and Scott’s intraparty rival) Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed budget.
We knew he liked plane trips.
A Legistorm analysis of private-sponsored trips accepted by members of Congress found Panhandle Republican Matt Gaetz taking some expensive journeys. He was among the Top 10 members of Congress in terms of cost of travel in 2021 and tallied a reported $25,693 worth of travel.
He’s the only member of the Florida delegation to make the Top 10.
Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford, a former Sheriff of Duval County, launched a new push for federal dollars to back the blue. He introduced the Invest to Protect Act of 2022 with New Jersey Democrat Josh Gottheimer. If passed, the bill would deliver targeted investments in local police forces.
“Small police forces in rural areas often suffer from a lack of operational equipment and services,” Rutherford said. “That’s why we introduced the Invest to Protect Act, which creates a grant program for departments with fewer than 200 officers to support critical resources like body cameras, training, retention, and mental health care. Thank you to my colleague, Rep. Gottheimer, for leading on this important legislation.”
Funding could be for domestic violence and de-escalation training to offset overtime funding for overworked agencies. It can also buy necessary equipment, such as body cameras.
The legislation also provides funding for recruitment and retention bonuses, education in designated career tracks like social work and public health, and mental health resources for departments.
Down in Africa
Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy filed legislation in the House to encourage more trade deals with African businesses and communities. The Prosper Africa Act, filed with Texas Republican Michael McCaul, would promote two-way trade and investment between the U.S. and African nations and codify federal initiatives to connect investors with African companies.
“Increasing trade and direct investment between the United States and Africa is an important way to protect U.S. national security by countering and out-competing authoritarian countries making inroads in Africa,” Murphy said. “It is also a key way to promote the prosperity of allies and partners on the continent, to open new opportunities for American businesses, and to improve quality of life for American families.”
The representatives suggest that improving commercial connections between Africa and North America holds national security benefits. The push could offer an alternative to China’s Belt in Road investments, an international infrastructure investment program by the Eastern superpower that aims to increase the nation’s economic influence.
To preserve any gains, the legislation requires a biennial United States-African Leaders Summit to discuss diplomatic, economic, and security partnerships and develop an international strategy to uplift Africa-U.S. connections.
Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor and every delegation member from the Tampa Bay region issued a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) asking to replace a Tampa air tower.
The Congresswoman said a portion of the $25 billion set aside for improving airport infrastructure needs to help Tampa International Airport get a new air traffic control tower. She led a letter to FAA Administrator Steve Dickson asking for the aging facility to land on the agency’s replacement list.
“The air space in Florida is one of the busiest in the country, and any impact in the Tampa Bay region could have an impact on our national air space,” the letter states. “The condition of the tower is a concern to us all for the safety and security of the FAA workforce and the traveling public.”
Democrat Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg signed, as did Republicans Gus Bilirakis of Tarpon Springs, Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key, Franklin of Lakeland, Greg Steube of Sarasota, and Dan Webster of Clermont.
Little Manatee River is one step closer to designation as a national scenic river. This week, the House Natural Resources Committee passed the Little Manatee Wild and Scenic River Act (HR 4538).
“Protecting Florida’s beautiful lands and pristine waterways will remain one of my top priorities,” said Buchanan, who has championed the bill in Congress. “Designating the Little Manatee River as ‘scenic’ will ensure that it is kept in its current, pristine condition for future generations to enjoy.”
The 51-mile river segment winds from southeastern Hillsborough and Manatee counties through the Tampa Bay area. Should Congress pass the bill and Biden sign it, the legislation would stop intrusive development on the waterway and preserve it for canoeing, kayaking, boating, fishing, and other recreational use. Bilirakis, Crist and Kissimmee Democrat Darren Soto all signed on as co-sponsors of the bill. Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White and Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore released statements praising the legislation.
“The Little Manatee River is one of the most beautiful natural rivers in the area,” Whitmore said. “The outstanding scenic, recreational, fish and wildlife attributes should be protected for future generations.”
Language added to the bill by the House Natural Resources Committee would require a National Park Service study before a designation formally occurs. Once an analysis confirms the appropriateness, the park service would work with local governments on a management plan for the natural resource. Florida has already designated the river as an Outstanding Florida Water.
“I have spent a lifetime enjoying all that this river has to offer, and my hope is to see it preserved for many more generations of Hillsborough County residents to enjoy,” White said. “We are blessed to have such a beautiful river right in our own backyard.”
Free the banks?
Naples Republican Byron Donalds introduced legislation earlier this month to disband the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). A wealth manager in his private work capacity, the Congressman said the financial oversight agency represents government overreach into areas it has no business regulating.
The agency was founded in 2011 under former President Barack Obama as part of the Dodd-Frank Act, passed in the wake of the bank collapse and the Great Recession.
“Look no further than the CFPB for the epitome of the Washington Swamp: an unconstitutional, unaccountable, and overreaching government agency with no congressional oversight,” Donalds said. “In addition to the drain of federal resources, the CFPB hinders economic prosperity by imposing burdensome and unnecessary regulations on American consumers. By eliminating the CFPB, and thereby easing the overarching financial restraints set in place by Dodd-Frank, we can limit the scope and power of unelected activists and bring real relief to struggling Americans.”
Donalds was an introducing co-sponsor of the bill to abolish the agency, along with Republicans Jodey Arrington of Texas, Ted Budd of North Carolina and Alex Mooney of West Virginia. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz sponsored a companion bill in the Senate.
West Palm Beach Democrat Lois Frankel said a new study could result in the long-desired replacement of the Paul G. Rogers Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse.
“This is a significant step toward replacing an old failing courthouse,” Frankel said. “Our courts are an integral part of our justice system where folks may peacefully solve disputes and maintain the rule of law. Having a safe, accessible and updated courthouse is critical for ensuring we have a fair and responsive justice system that works for our community. I look forward to working with federal and local agencies to see this project come to fruition in the coming years.”
The federal government will work closely with local authorities on plans for the West Palm Beach sites. Raphael Clemente, executive director of the city’s Downtown Development Authority, noted the 1973 courthouse — in addition to housing the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida — serves as a critical property on the Clematis Street west end downtown.
“As a member of the committee comprised of local stakeholders, including federal judges, who began work to explore replacing the existing building with a new, updated courthouse, I have seen firsthand the deficiencies with the existing structure,” he said. “Most significantly, the internal layout of the building creates a situation where judges can find themselves inadvertently sharing a hallway, stairwell, or elevator with a defendant or a defendant’s family members. This is very unsafe for judges and courthouse staff.”
Frankel said a feasibility study would begin this year and take six months to complete. At that point, negotiations will start on a timeline to replace the structures.
With states drawing new congressional boundaries, the topic of gerrymandering makes more headlines than usual. But can union elections also be gerrymandered? Hollywood Democrat Frederica Wilson said it’s happening and must end. She joined with other Democrats on the House Education Committee in a legal brief urging the National Labor Relations Board to stop the practice.
The Democrats want to reverse a change made by Trump’s administration. The policy shift allowed employers to place hostile employees into key voting positions. Two NLRB rulings on Boeing and PCC Structurals effectively let management give voice to union members of its choosing, critics said.
“PCC Structurals and Boeing have undermined the promise of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) by replacing the ‘overwhelming community of interest’ standard with an opaque balancing test that lacks any basis in the NLRA and adds employees to the voting pool upon the request of the employer to dilute support for the union,” Democratic representatives wrote in the brief.
“The Committee urges a return to the Board’s traditional standard articulated in Specialty Healthcare to prevent employers from gerrymandering union representation elections.”
South Florida hire
Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz hired a new district director with experience in South Florida.
Raul Martinez, Jr. has come on as district director for the Weston Democrat, filling a role he has held in other South Florida offices in the past.
Wasserman Schultz also announced a Washington hire. Adam Jardine joined the Representative’s team as a senior legislative assistant and appropriations associate.
Martinez takes over for Vivian Piereschi, who is pursuing an opportunity in the private sector. The new district director is no stranger to the Sunshine State and boasts 20 years of public service, much of it with leaders in the South Florida region. He worked as former Miami Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala’s deputy chief of staff. He worked as the Miami Democrat’s political director on her winning 2018 campaign. Martinez also served as district director and chief of staff for former Rep. Joe Garcia, another Miami Democrat.
Martinez served as Florida Coalitions Director for Hillary for America in 2016. He also worked as Hispanic Vote Director for Florida on former President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012, the last year a Democratic presidential candidate won Florida’s electoral votes.
Jardine comes to Wasserman Schultz from the office of Georgia Democrat Sanford Bishop. Both Bishop and Wasserman Schultz sit on the powerful House Appropriations Committee. Jardine also worked previously in Congress for Pennsylvania Democrat Matt Cartwright.
“These two key positions are so critical to our legislative and constituent service responsibilities, and I’m extremely pleased to add two high-caliber professionals in these roles,” Wasserman Schultz said.
Ballard Partners launched a new practice group devoted to lobbying the cannabis industry. It will be co-chaired by Courtney Coppola, who previously led Florida’s medical cannabis program in the DeSantis administration, and Eugene O’Flaherty, a leader in the Massachusetts Legislature who handled all cannabis-related bills there.
“Our firm currently represents the largest cannabis retailer in the nation along with many other clients with significant interests in this industry,” said Brian Ballard, the firm’s president and founder. “Under Courtney and Gene’s leadership, our Cannabis Practice Group will provide invaluable counsel and assistance to clients throughout the country.”
Coppola joined the state medical program initially in 2015 and was there through the state licensing program’s infancy. She was promoted to director in 2018. During her time with the state agency, Florida registered half a million medical cannabis patients and licensed 22 operators.
“The cannabis industry in the United States has developed with conflicting and evolving policies at the federal, state, and local level,” Coppola said. “Our new practice group will help clients navigate the complexity of these ever-changing policies,”
O’Flaherty’s experience comes from the government within a blue state. He chaired the Massachusetts House Judiciary Committee from 2002 through 2013. During that time, the state legalized cannabis for medical purposes. He also worked for the Boston Mayor’s Office when the state legalized recreational marijuana in 2016 and helped navigate local laws during that transition.
The group includes other Florida-connected members. Stephanie Grutman has worked to obtain local operation licenses in Florida and Brady Benford has worked with firms seeking state licenses. Adam Goodman, a political commercial producer, has backed legalized cannabis efforts in the state and Justin Sayfie represented one of the first publicly traded cannabis firms in the nation and continues to do public relations for cannabis clients.
Dan McFaul, one of the top cannabis lobbyists in Washington, will also be part of the group, as will Wansley Waters, who has worked on research and dispensary issues in several states.
On this day
Jan. 25, 1961 — “John F. Kennedy holds first live television news conference” via History.com — From a podium in the State Department auditorium, President Kennedy read a prepared statement regarding the famine in the Congo, the release of two American aviators from Russian custody and impending negotiations for an atomic test ban treaty. He then opened the floor for questions from reporters, answering queries on a variety of topics, including relations with Cuba, voting rights, and food aid to impoverished Americans. Ever since his televised presidential debate with Richard Nixon in 1960, Kennedy had been aware of the media’s enormous power to sway public opinion. He knew that, in a televised news conference, his appearance would count almost as much as what he said.
Jan. 25, 2019 — “Trump signs bill to temporarily reopen government after longest shutdown in history” via CNBC — Trump signed legislation to temporarily end the record-long shutdown, resolving the grueling 35-day closure but not the fight over his proposed border wall. The measure funds the government for three weeks, until Feb. 15, while lawmakers try to reach a broader deal on immigration. Both the House and Senate passed the plan by voice vote. Trump had demanded $5.7 billion to build his border wall before he agreed to end the partial closure — but relented. Congress will set up a bipartisan, bicameral conference committee to strike a deal on border security.
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles.