House Speaker Chris Sprowls wrapped his final Legislative Session — Regular Session, at least — in the House this week.
The Palm Harbor Republican held the gavel for a tumultuous two years, though the pandemic didn’t define his term. Despite the headwinds it presented, he worked in concert with his Senate counterpart to usher several substantial pieces of legislation into law and pass successive record-breaking budgets.
He managed to get quite a few of his own priorities across the finish line as well, with many of them, such as his book delivery program and extension of Medicaid for new mothers, being met with bipartisan praise.
As the sun sets on his time in the Legislature, he sat down with Florida Politics to reflect on his tenure.
Florida Politics: What are you most proud of over these last two years?
Speaker Sprowls: I’m proud that we have no regrets and that we started and finished with a bold vision and outcomes for Florida, whether that was in having the most significant expansion of school choice, protecting our environment, or making sure that the kids were struggling without a dad had a path to make their dad engage in real life. I’m proud that we fought boldly and got to leave this Session in the Florida House with nothing left behind.
Florida Politics: What did you learn most about yourself during your time as Speaker?
Sprowls: I think I learned that having a good team is what makes you truly successful and also making sure that you’re putting the right people in the right positions, that you’re lifting them up and that you’re supporting them and you have their back all the time. That is the way that you’re going to maximize the benefit to the entire organization, in this case, the Florida House. We’ve had this amazing leadership team and group of members, a lot of freshmen members that we lifted up early and gave really, really big bills to and they just rose to the occasion. And I think that it’s because of that we’re going to leave the House stronger than we found it.
Florida Politics: If your time serving Speaker was a memoir, what would the title be and why?
Sprowls: “Left It All on the Field,” because we have no regrets and did everything we came here to do. Whether it’s the designation speech or opening day speeches, all the stuff that we laid out before, we did it.
Florida Politics: What would you say to those who say this last year was a cultural war session?
Sprowls: I’d say they weren’t paying attention and they spent too much time on Twitter. Because the reality is, there were so many great things that happened for Florida — most robust sales tax breaks for everyday Floridians, including diapers, books and baby clothes; historic per-student funding; and more. For example, they may say culture wars is protecting human life, and I disagree; I think that that’s an admirable thing. I’m proud of it. I’m proud to tell people that we did it. And you know what? Twitter can say what they want about us, but the reality is that we are leaving Florida better than we found it; we did really bold things, and we truly believe in what we voted on.
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
—@marcorubio: Today, we passed out of the Senate my bill to make Daylight Saving Time permanent Now it’s up to the House to help us #LockTheClock
—@BryanLowry3: .@marcorubio met with (Ketanji Brown) Jackson today and says his conversation with Jackson “did nothing to ease my concerns that we have starkly different understandings of the Constitution and the role of the Supreme Court.”
—@NateMonroeTU: Wow: the state attorney’s office found that Nassau County attorney Mike Mullin — a longtime public official — committed criminal violations of the public records law in the course of a long-running dispute with Rayonier. Mullin has resigned, allowing him to avoid prosecution.
—@Scott_Maxwell: Disney is in this fight for two reasons: 1) It got caught trying to play both sides 2) (Ron) DeSantis‘ basic playbook says: Everyone who disagrees with me is evil — including those who once funded me. Disney’s feuding with a political monster it helped create.
Today is #EqualPayDay! I had the opportunity to join community organizations at the Gender Pay Equity Rally to demand FL women receive equal pay for equal work! Thank you to FL NOW, @ForOurFutureFL @AlianzaForProgress + @QLatinx for helping us highlight such an important day! pic.twitter.com/vLMceayovM
— Rep. Carlos G Smith (@CarlosGSmith) March 15, 2022
This is the Ukrainian member of the @FoxNews crew. She was killed today alongside their cameraman.
Fox News doesn’t even mention her in their report.
(Photo published by Oksana Romaniuk of the Institute of Mass Information) pic.twitter.com/4MR8rp00iP
— Olga Rudenko (@olya_rudenko) March 15, 2022
—@DarrenSoto: As the #BlockchainCaucus co-chair, our A+ grade comes as no surprise, but it’s nice to know! #cryptocurrency
— DAYS UNTIL —
House GOP retreat in Ponte Vedra Beach — 7; the third season of ‘Atlanta’ begins — 7; season two of ‘Bridgerton’ begins — 9; The Oscars — 11; ‘Macbeth’ with Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga begin performances on Broadway — 13; Florida Chamber’s 2nd Annual Southeastern Leadership Conference on Safety, Health + Sustainability begins — 13; Grammys rescheduled in Las Vegas — 18; MLB Opening Day — 22; ‘Better Call Saul’ final season begins — 33; Magic Johnson’s Apple TV+ docuseries ‘They Call Me Magic’ begins — 37; 2022 Florida Chamber Transportation, Growth & Infrastructure Solution Summit — 43; ‘The Godfather’ TV series ‘The Offer’ premieres — 44; 2nd half of ‘Ozark’ final season begins — 44; federal student loan payments will resume — 46; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 51; Florida TaxWatch’s Spring Meeting — 56; ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ starts on Disney+ — 70; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ premieres — 72; ‘Platinum Jubilee’ for Queen Elizabeth II — 78; California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota hold midterm Primaries — 83; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 115; San Diego Comic-Con 2022 — 128; Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner novel ‘Heat 2’ publishes — 146; ‘The Lord of the Rings’ premieres on Amazon Prime — 170; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 204; Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Passenger’ releases — 222; ‘Black Panther 2’ premieres — 241; ‘The Flash’ premieres — 244; McCarthy’s ‘Stella Maris’ releases — 251; ‘Avatar 2′ premieres — 276; ‘Captain Marvel 2′ premieres — 340; ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ premieres — 373; ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ premieres — 499; ‘Dune: Part Two’ premieres — 583; Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games — 863.
If it’s Tuesday, someone is voting somewhere.
“Incumbent David Allbritton wins re-election to Clearwater Council” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Clearwater City Council member Allbritton has been re-elected to the city’s District 4 seat after facing two challengers this time around. Allbritton earned 56% of the vote, with 90% precincts reporting. Opponent Maranda Douglas trailed the incumbent, taking 35% of the vote. Candidate Gerry Lee, a retired data manager, received the fewest votes at 8%. Born and raised in Clearwater, Allbritton returned after attending North Carolina Wesleyan College. Allbritton is a contractor and served on the National Association of the Remodeling Industry board. Douglas is a community activist and local business owner. Allbritton was first elected to the seat in 2018, in which he collected 67% of the vote, according to the city.
“Lina Teixeira wins Clearwater City Council seat” via Daniel Figueroa IV of Florida Politics — Artist and gallery owner Teixeira has defeated Aaron Smith-Levin in the race for the soon-to-be-vacant Clearwater District 5 City Council seat. Teixeira received just shy of 44% of the vote. Smith-Levin, who was considered a top contender with Teixeira, got about 36%. Rounding out the slate was the Rev. Jonathan Wade, a local pastor. He cleared just over 20%. Teixeira and Smith-Levin were considered front-runners in one of Clearwater’s most dramatic races in recent years. Smith-Levin is a former Church of Scientology member who has made a name for himself, crusading against the Church and its influence in the city. But he has also made a name for himself with a few intoxicated incidents with law enforcement over the last two years.
“Dan Saracki snags Oldsmar mayoral seat from incumbent, Jarrod Buchman elected to council seat” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Oldsmar Mayor Eric Seidel lost re-election Tuesday evening to Oldsmar City Council member Saracki. Saracki collected 53% of the vote, while Seidel mustered 47%, with 100% precincts reporting. Saracki has served on the Oldsmar City Council for seven years, running his campaign on the promise to “spend taxpayer’s dollars on programs that directly benefit Oldsmar citizens,” according to his campaign site. Seidel served two stints on City Council — one from 2007-2009 and again from 2015-2019 — and was previously elected Mayor in 2019. Because Saracki entered the race for Mayor, his council seat was up for grabs on Tuesday. The race included Doug Bevis and Buchman, with Buchman coming out on top.
“Costa Vatikiotis elected Tarpon Springs Mayor as the City Commission gets three new faces” via Daniel Figueroa IV of Florida Politics — City Commissioner Vatikiotis will replace the outgoing Mayor Chris Alahouzos in the North Pinellas city of Tarpon Springs. Vatikiotis cleared 56% of the vote. His challenger, Robin Saenger, got almost 44%. A Tarpon Springs native, Vatikiotis served as a city engineer and was City Manager before being elected to the City Commission in 2020. But the 73-year-old quickly set his sights on the Mayor’s office. Alahouzos is leaving City Hall because of term limits. If Vatikiotis had waited out his Commission term to run for Mayor, he’d be 75 and facing an uphill battle against an incumbent. One of Vatikiotis’ main concerns is over development. Pinellas County is Florida’s most built-out, and Tarpon is one of the most built-out cities in the county at 90%.
“Incumbents take the night in St. Pete Beach, Redington Shores commission races” via Daniel Figueroa IV of Florida Politics — Incumbents in both St. Pete Beach and Redington Shores’ elections were victorious following Tuesday’s Municipal Elections in Pinellas County. In Redington, Jennie Blackburn again faced off against Tom Kapper. The race was a rematch and shot at redemption for Kapper, who was ousted from District 1 by Blackburn in 2020 by five votes. But Blackburn’s influence seems to have grown. She nearly tripled the margin this time around, beating Kapper by 13 votes, 120-107. Blackburn Heading south along Pinellas County’s Gulf Coast, District 1 was also the sole race in St. Pete Beach. Chris Gaus won another term by a wider margin than his Redington Shores counterpart. The machinist-turned-Realtor secured 62% of the vote to Terri Finnerty’s 38%.
“Ron DeSantis signs bill eliminating standardized testing, expanding progress monitoring” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — DeSantis has signed a bill replacing the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) with progress monitoring, a priority of the Republican Governor as he seeks re-election. The proposal (SB 1048) replaces the annual standardized testing with a computer-based progress monitoring screening. The progress monitoring, spaced three times a year, will begin in the 2022-23 school year for pre-kindergarten through 10th grade students. Speaking at St. Petersburg Collegiate High School, an “A”-rated Pinellas County public charter high school of choice every year since it opened in 2004, the Governor on Tuesday told reporters he was there not to praise the FSA, but to bury it. “Next year, Florida will become the first state in the nation to do a full transition to progress monitoring to inform school accountability,” DeSantis said.
“DeSantis takes aim at Fair Districts amendments” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — DeSantis is not limiting his redistricting disdain to a few proposed maps. DeSantis made clear he wants Florida’s Fair Districts amendment thrown out in court. DeSantis has said for weeks he intends to veto congressional maps approved by the Legislature. Up until now, all arguments coming from his office centered on a single congressional district in North Florida. But in his most detailed public remarks on the issue, DeSantis on Tuesday laid out a legal argument that two 12-year-old Florida constitutional amendments stand in conflict with the U.S. Constitution. “I think our dispute very well may lead to saying that Florida’s redistricting amendments are not consistent with the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause,” DeSantis said.
“DeSantis laments Legislature stopping short on school board term limits” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — DeSantis offered a qualified endorsement Tuesday of legislation (CS/HB 1467) imposing term limits on school board members statewide but said it didn’t go far enough. “I’m a big believer in term limits,” DeSantis said. “I think it should be eight years, two terms. They did three terms, which, you know, it’s fine and I wouldn’t veto the bill just over that. But if it were a stand-alone measure, I would have insisted on just two terms for school board members because I think that’s enough time to go, serve, get stuff done.” Eight years are enough for the Governor, he reiterated, saying the House measure was a model of doing it right.
“Legislature leaves without addressing property insurance crisis” via Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times — Florida homeowners will probably have to continue riding out a turbulent property insurance market on their own for the next year after state lawmakers ended their yearly legislative Session without enacting any reforms. House and Senate leaders couldn’t agree during the roughly 60-day Session on a solution to relieve homeowners of double-digit rate increases, so they passed nothing. “Bottom line: homeowners lost, and that’s what troubles me,” said Sen. Jim Boyd, who sponsored the main property insurance reform bill in the Senate. Short of calling lawmakers back to Tallahassee for a Special Session to address the problem, which some Senators said was a possibility, homeowners can expect no new relief to their bills in 2022.
“Homeowners insurance: Legislature fails to pass major reform bills. What happens now?” via Catie Wegman of Treasure Coast Newspapers — Three property insurance bills intended to alleviate skyrocketing premiums statewide failed to pass the 2022 Florida legislative session that ended Friday. This comes at a time when homeowners and insurance companies alike are desperately seeking remedy, as property insurance premiums are up nearly 25% in the last year and businesses report billions in underwriting losses. What do industry professionals predict will happen now? “Now, with no relief in sight … the situation is just going to get worse,” said Mark Friedlander, spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute, a nonpartisan association that provides insurance education and research.
“Lawmakers OK payments to parents of children who died of brain injuries” via Carol Marbin Miller and Daniel Chang of the Miami Herald — In a Legislative Session highlighted by culture war battles and redistricting, Florida lawmakers made time to give a measure of mercy to a group of parents whose children died of catastrophic birth-related brain injuries. Following up on action taken last year, the Legislature voted to give $150,000 stipends to parents whose children were once enrolled in a state program called the Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association (NICA) but had been dropped from the rolls when the children succumbed to their birth injuries. Families of surviving NICA children received identical stipends last year as part of a comprehensive slate of reforms, but the families of children who died were left out, despite sometimes spending themselves in poverty trying to keep their children alive.
“Shark tracking, road expansions, nature trails: What local projects are in the state budget?” via David Bauerlein of The Florida Times-Union — The vision of creating an Ocearch center in Mayport reeled in $7 million in state money in the budget approved Monday as lawmakers cast their support behind building a Florida-based home for the nonprofit that tracks sharks up and down the East Coast. Whether the Ocearch headquarters ends up landing the money or suffers a veto will depend on DeSantis and his assessment of the budget on a line-by-line basis. “Miracle of miracles, politics being what it is right now, it managed to get traction,” said Quinton White, executive director of the Marine Science Research Institute.
“Manny Diaz ends Session with wins on education, health care bills” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — With the hankie dropping Monday, Sen. Diaz will walk away from the 2022 Legislative Session successful on several major pieces of legislation key to the GOP’s agenda this year. As has been true for much of his time in the Legislature, Diaz’s focus this Session was once again on education. Diaz backed two major bills that earned bipartisan support. One measure (SB 1048) replaced Florida’s annual standardized testing structure with a new progress monitoring program. Students will be given three tests throughout the school year. The first two will aim to gauge their learning progress. The third and final test will still be given early enough for students to utilize summer school if necessary to meet state standards.
“Matt Willhite scores with legislation for veterans, police, patients and hurricane safety” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — For Democratic Rep. Willhite, the end of the 2022 Legislative Session marked another successful period of bipartisan lawmaking in which he saw through several key items. This Session was also his last, for now, as he has set his sights on winning a Palm Beach County Commission seat in November, a move that will let him spend more time with his family. Willhite, an active-duty firefighter, had his two teenage sons join him in Tallahassee for the end of Session. Their presence, he said, reinforced his desire to spend more time with them, his wife, and their two dogs.
“Tyler Sirois celebrates his best Session yet” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — Rep. Sirois’ fourth Legislative Session was possibly his best yet. The 2022 Legislative Session saw the Merritt Island Republican snag his first chair, and it was a consequential one. He was picked to lead the Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee in part because House leadership recognized his levelheaded and collaborative approach to managing complex issues. Their assessment and the need for those character traits proved accurate. The process for drawing new congressional maps in a reddish-purple state is about as complex as it gets, especially considering the outcome of the 2012 redistricting Session.
— TALLY 2 —
“Why DeSantis’s new abortion restrictions will be felt far beyond Florida” via Annie Geng of The National Review — On its busier days, the volunteer-run Tampa Bay Abortion Fund receives up to 15 calls requesting support. Callers might seek money for abortions or need assistance traveling to a clinic — whatever the ask, the fund shoulders it. But the picture of abortion access will soon grow complicated in Florida with a 15-week ban, the state’s most restrictive yet. “We were hoping that Florida could be a haven for the South,” Kelly Nelson, founder of the Tampa Bay Abortion Fund, said. Florida also has the right to privacy baked into its state constitution, which would have worked in favor of abortion rights in Florida. Any such right is being whittled away by an increasingly conservative and extreme political base in Florida.
“Orange County students’ education must remain inclusive” via Judi Hayes for the Orlando Sentinel — The Republican-led Florida Legislature and DeSantis have strong-armed several dangerous pieces of legislation this Session geared toward dismantling public education under the guise of “parental rights,” but what of the rights of students to a robust, inclusive public education that’s accessible to all? It’s in the public’s interest to educate all children appropriately and fulsomely, otherwise we’re doomed to repeat the cyclical horrors on display today, where uneducated citizens purposefully eschew knowledge and progress at the behest of autocrats to enable those autocrats to stay in power. Last week, the College Board, which administers AP tests and the SAT, warned that states enacting laws that constrain teaching history or literature accurately would imperil their students’ access to AP classes.
“Nassau County scores on roads, American Beach sewer funding” via Wes Wolfe of Florida Politics — Efforts were victorious to secure state budget funding to begin the process of expanding the bridge connecting mainland Nassau County to Amelia Island, with $1 million set aside for the project. Sen. Aaron Bean and Rep. Cord Byrd asked for $1.2 million originally. There are too many jobs and not enough affordable places to live on Amelia Island for its many workers, so the Shave Bridge is infamous for its daily bottlenecks. Nassau County Commissioner Jeff Gray remarked during a November discussion on budget requests that morning rush hour gridlock stretches as far as 4 miles west from the bridge.
“Florida Sheriffs notch victories in officer recruitment, juvenile justice” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — As Florida’s Sheriffs gathered for their Legislative Summit in August 2021, there was continuous discussion surrounding two major priorities: hiring and retaining the nation’s best law enforcement officers and strengthening laws to protect Florida youths. Sheriffs have continuously shown a united front whose advocacy is critical to keep Floridians and visitors safe. Following a Legislative Session where the House and Senate worked to make Florida the best state in the country for law enforcement, sheriffs were a significant benefactor. Florida struggles to fill sworn and non-sworn positions, especially in fiscally constrained areas. The passage of HB 3 will provide much-needed support, including bonuses for recruitment and retention of deputies.
“Florida Chamber racks up wins in the 2022 Legislative Session” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — The 2022 Legislative Session has wrapped, and the Florida Chamber of Commerce has a slew of wins to celebrate. One of the Florida Chamber’s most significant victories this year was a repeat of their 2021 win on COVID-19 liability protections. The current law that shields businesses and health care providers from COVID-19-related lawsuits was one of the first measures passed by the Legislature during the 2021 Session. But the shield protecting health care providers were set to expire this year. However, lawmakers last month approved a bill (SB 7014) sponsored by Sen. Danny Burgess that extends the protections through June 1, 2023. The Governor has since signed it.
“Disney LGBTQ employees plan walkouts in response to company’s handling of Florida ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill” via Angelique Jackson of Variety — A group of Disney employees have planned a week of in-person and virtual walkouts in response to the company and CEO Bob Chapek’s handling of the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill. The walkouts are planned for March 15-21 during a 15-minute break period and set to occur daily from 3 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. On March 22, organizers have planned a “full-scale walkout.” It’s unclear just how many Disney employees will participate in the protest, but as a note to employees who planned to participate, organizers explained that “You are protected to act while on break for the daily break walkouts, but the full-scale walkout … is not a legally protected action. Take your own situation into account before choosing to participate.”
— STATEWIDE —
“‘Robust storms’ headed to South Florida, and that could mean tornadoes. Here’s a timeline” via Howard Cohen of the Miami Herald — “Robust storms” are expected in South Florida Tuesday and Wednesday, the National Weather Service in Miami warns. Blame it on a developing Gulf cyclone to the north heading toward South Florida, meteorologists with National Weather Service say. But unlike last weekend’s bomb cyclone that brought a sudden drop in temperatures from a record high 90 on Saturday afternoon to the upper 50s Saturday night and Sunday morning, the Gulf cyclone is not bringing particularly cool air to the region. Temperatures will be in a narrow range of about 80 to 82 as a high to mid-70s as a low through the week into Saturday. The strong thunderstorm potential continues Wednesday afternoon, forecasters say.
“Tornado damage estimates up to $15.6M; county questions National Weather Service performance” via Jim Ross of the Ocala Star-Banner — The damage estimate from Saturday morning’s tornado has climbed to $15.6 million, the Marion County Commission was told during its Tuesday morning meeting. That dollar amount includes real estate damage, personal property loss and the cost of debris removal, Emergency Management Director Preston Bowlin said. “This number will increase,” he noted. The original figure issued Sunday was estimated at $12.3 million. Bowlin wasn’t on the agenda for Tuesday’s commission meeting, but he clearly was the center of attention. The storm was 65 yards wide and caused severe property damage — but no injuries or death. “We were very, very lucky and very, very blessed,” Commissioner Kathy Bryant said.
“Secret Service study of Florida yoga class shooting shows misogyny” via Colleen Long of The Associated Press — A man who signed up for a yoga class in Tallahassee, Florida, and opened fire there in 2018 had a well-documented history of disturbing behavior, warning signs that were missed. The shooting that left two women dead and wounded six others spotlights the growing concern posed by extremists with hatred toward women. The deep look at the killings, conducted by the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center, was an effort to study how contempt for women can radicalize men and spark violent and deadly behavior. The research aims at helping to train law enforcement, school and community officials to better identify potential attackers and stop them before they strike.
“Indian River School Board faces backlash for keeping most books on hit list; Moms for Liberty appeals” via Lina Ruiz of Treasure Coast Newspapers — The School Board Monday stood its ground on the decision to ban only five of 156 books a parents group wants to be removed from library shelves because of what they call sexually explicit content and inclusion of critical race theory. The group behind the effort appealed the district’s decision. Superintendent David Moore referred to the process and decision to keep most of the books in school libraries as “legally sound” after parents criticized the language used in the books. The board on Feb. 28 voted to keep 151 of the challenged books based on recommendations from Moore and a committee of all district media specialists who deemed the five banned books inappropriate for students in any grade.
“Clerks celebrate ‘Sunshine Week’” via Florida Politics — Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers is celebrating “Sunshine Week” by spreading the word on how Floridians can find or request public records. Sunshine Week is an annual event launched in 2005 by the News Leaders Association, which bills it as a “celebration of access to public information.” This year, it is being held March 13-19. “Clerks of Court are excited to celebrate Sunshine Week and highlight the instrumental role we play in supporting transparency in county government and the court system,” said Manatee County Clerk and Comptroller and FCCC President Angelina “Angel” Colonneso, Esq.
— 2022 —
“What’s behind conservative love letters to DeSantis?” via Damon Linker of The Week — Polls tell us the Republican base is still fired up by the thought of Donald Trump remaining the party’s standard-bearer in 2024. Others despise Trump and hope to see someone else take a stand in favor of returning to the deposed Reaganite consensus. But for another more mainstream faction on the right, there is only one option to defeat the Democrats and win the White House in November 2024: DeSantis.
“DeSantis vs. Disney is the strongest signal yet he plans to run in 2024 — regardless of what Donald Trump does” via Philip Klein of the National Review — There’s been a lot of speculation about DeSantis’ 2024 ambitions. For a long time, many people assumed that he would definitely run if Trump decided not to, but that he would be unwilling to risk the damage that a bitter primary against Trump would do to his long-term political ambitions. However, DeSantis’s public feud with Disney is the strongest signal yet that he plans to run for President, regardless of what happens with Trump. Going to war against Disney is not something he’d likely do so gleefully if he were planning to spend the next five years as Governor of Florida.
“Alex Sink endorses Charlie Crist for Governor” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Sink is putting her political capital behind Crist for Governor. The Thonotosassa Democrat endorsed the Congressman on Tuesday. “From his time serving the people of Florida as Governor to his tireless service for Pinellas County in Congress, Charlie Crist has spent his career fighting for all Floridians. There is no doubt that he is exactly the leader we need back in Tallahassee,” Sink said. Sink won election as CFO in 2006, the same year Crist was elected Governor as a Republican. She remains one of the most prominent Democrats in the state and, in 2010, was the Democratic nominee for Governor herself. While she lost the Governor’s race to Republican Rick Scott, she has remained a powerful force in Florida Democratic circles.
“Nikki Fried laments GOP-driven culture war in Legislative Session” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Fried decried the 2022 Legislative Session on Tuesday, accusing Florida Republicans of waging a politically-motivated culture war while ignoring the needs of Florida and its residents. A Democratic gubernatorial contender, Fried lambasted the Republican-driven Session as a disservice to Floridians and issued an apology on their behalf to voters. Those voters, she contended, deserved legislation addressing “pressing issues” such as health care, affordable housing and skyrocketing property insurances rates, among others. But instead, she asserted, Republicans performed political theater, taking on a slew of hot topic issues such as abortion and immigration during an election year.
“Chris Chambers becomes fourth Republican to challenge Kathy Castor for CD 14 seat” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Coast Guard veteran Chambers has become the fourth Republican to jump into Florida’s 14th Congressional District race to potentially challenge Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Castor. Chambers, who works on the Tampa Electric Security and Emergency Management Team, said in a statement that he is running to combat “uncontrolled inflation, skyrocketing gas prices and a complete lack of affordable housing.” “Like many of you, I don’t come from a political family or hold a political pedigree, but I’ve served this country my entire adult life. For nearly two decades, I’ve helped protect our community and great nation. I cannot sit back and watch the lack of leadership in Washington D.C. harm our way of life,” Chambers said in a statement.
“Dennis Ross wants to return to Congress in open CD 15” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Ross wants his old job back. Ross announced he would run for Congress in Florida’s proposed CD 15. Ross retired in 2019 but said the wrongheaded policies of President Joe Biden attracted him back into the political arena. Ross represented CD 15, which is represented now by U.S. Rep. Scott Franklin. Franklin actually succeeded former Rep. Ross Spano, Ross’ chosen successor. Franklin defeated Spano after the incumbent was caught up in a scandal over illegal campaign fundraising. However, under a congressional map (H 8019) passed by the Florida Legislature, Franklin lives in Florida’s 16th Congressional District. Meanwhile, a new seat with no incumbent covers much of north Hillsborough County and south Pasco County.
“‘I didn’t go into politics; politics went into medicine’: Navarre doctor enters House race” via Alex Miller of the Pensacola News Journal — A third candidate for the Florida House District 3 race has stepped up in the form of Navarre physician Joel Rudman. “I’m in this not because, all of a sudden, (doctors) became political. But all of a sudden, the politicians got involved in my field,” Rudman told the News Journal. “I didn’t go into politics; politics went into medicine.” Rudman is originally from Mississippi and has been living in the Florida Panhandle since 1999, except for an 18-month stint when he pursued a job with NASCAR. He runs Holley Navarre Medical Clinic, a local medical practice, and said the most significant staple of his campaign comes down to one thing: freedom.
“Hillary Cassel leads a field of four Democrats in fundraising for Broward County’s HD 101” via Anne Geggis of Florida Politics — Cassel didn’t blow away the competition in her February fundraising, but she remains the clear front-runner in the money race with three other Democrats competing for an open seat representing Broward County’s House District 101. In February, Cassel collected $9,935 between her campaign and her political committee, Friends of Hillary Cassel. It wasn’t a bang-up month for the Fort Lauderdale attorney, who raised six figures in a previous month during this election cycle. Two of her rivals also raised a few thousand dollars in February. Middling month aside, Cassel is still comfortably ahead of her competitors with $329,258 cash on hand, counting the $50,000 she lent her campaign.
“‘We must do better’: Lawyer Ashley Gantt announces campaign for HD 109” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Democratic community leader, lawyer and entrepreneur Gantt is throwing her hat in the ring for HD 109, where she’ll face incumbent Democratic Rep. James Bush III, who hasn’t had an election challenge in years. Gantt, the founder and managing partner of Gantt Legacy Law P.A. in Miami, announced her candidacy Wednesday. “Representation matters greatly and at this moment in our state’s history when so many feel left out and left behind by decisions made by elected leaders, I decided it was time to stand up and fight for what is right and just,” she said in a statement. “I am truly humbled by this moment as so many in my community encourage me to do the unthinkable: run for office.”
“Adam Benna adds $29K toward HD 114 bid with several notable donors” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Benna had another solid month of fundraising in February, when his campaign account added $29,000 toward his bid for the House District 114 seat. By last month’s end, the South Miami lawyer held about $74,000 between his campaign and political committee, Sunshine Priorities, to challenge incumbent Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera in November. Almost all his February gains came through roughly 75 individual donations ranging from $25 to $1,000, including generous checks from several noteworthy Florida business and politics figures. Former U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala contributed $1,000. So did 2021 Miami-Beach Commission candidate Raquel Pacheco and TD Bank executive Felipe Basulto, a former chair of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce.
“St. Johns County sales tax vote approved for Nov. 8 ballot” via Sheldon Gardner of The St. Augustine Record — St. Johns County commissioners voted 4-1 Tuesday to send a potential sales tax increase to the general election ballot on Nov. 8. Commissioner Paul Waldron voted against the measure. He said at a previous meeting that he does not support a sales tax increase at a time of inflation. Other commissioners supported putting the issue on a ballot for voters to decide. “I don’t think we need to be afraid of putting this on a ballot,” Commissioner Sarah Arnold said. The ballot will ask voters whether to raise the sales tax from 6.5 cents on the dollar to 7.5 cents to help the county fund infrastructure projects.
“‘This is my home’: Panama City Beach Councilman Paul Casto runs for re-election” via Nathan Cobb of the Panama City News-Herald — Casto, who was public works director of Panama City Beach for 35 years, says his experience with the city is why he is a key member of the City Council. At 63 years old, Casto is running for re-election this year to maintain his Ward 1 seat. His only opponent as of Monday was 64-year-old Mark Meade. “This is my home,” Casto said. “I want to keep (Panama City Beach) a great place to live and work. I’m passionate about keeping it family-friendly.” Casto noted that he had lived in Panama City Beach since 1973, when his family moved to the area from Arkansas. He is at the heels of his first four-year term on the council. He said he believes the biggest challenge for the community is building roads suitable for the growing number of people living here and the huge crowds visiting the Beach.
— CORONA FLORIDA —
“Florida weekly COVID-19 update: Number of cases and people in hospital on a downward trend” via Devoun Cetoute of the Miami Herald — In the past seven days, the state has added 1,169 cases and 104 deaths per day, on average, according to Miami Herald calculations of data published by the CDC. Over the past three weeks, on average, 153 fewer new cases were logged each day in Florida, showing a decrease in trends. From March 3-10, Florida has seen 10,211 new cases. New cases were 27% less than those added the previous week. As of Tuesday, March 15, more than 14,220,000 people are fully vaccinated in Florida. The state has logged at least 5,828,601 cases and 72,055 deaths since the pandemic began in March 2020.
“Finding good in the bad: Escambia schools use federal-COVID-19 funding to pilot new programs” via Colin Warren-Hicks of the Pensacola News Journal — The pandemic played havoc on public school districts across the country, and the Escambia County School District did not escape the tumult. With the interruption to tried and true teaching practices predicated on in-class instruction, certain students fell further and further behind the longer that virtual learning continued. At the same time, ECSD’s expenditures meant to stem the tide of ever-dipping grades grew and grew. But despite the hardships over the last two years, Superintendent Tim Smith said he has continually kept his eye on a potential positive at the end of the long and dark COVID-19 tunnel.
“Disney drops Skyliner mask requirement for vaccinated guests” via Katie Rice of the Orlando Sentinel — Starting Wednesday, fully vaccinated Disney World guests no longer have to mask up while riding the Skyliner gondolas, according to the resort’s updated coronavirus guidelines. Disney still requires all visitors ages 2 and older to wear masks on other enclosed forms of transportation, such as buses and the monorail. Unvaccinated visitors must wear masks on all transportation and while indoors across the resort. Disney’s mask guidelines, which appear to have been updated Tuesday, further relax the face-covering rules for vaccinated guests that were last changed in February. Fully vaccinated guests have been able to go maskless at indoor areas of the resort since Feb. 17.
“Home Depot seeks 2,000 South Florida workers for spring sales season” via David Lyons of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Home Depot is still in the hunt for up to 2,000 new full- and part-time employees in South Florida as consumers continue to snap up items to remake their home offices or pull off other improvements. The Atlanta-based company is seeking help in customer service/sales, store support, freight, merchandising, and warehousing at 37 stores in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties. Some applicants could receive job offers within a day of applying. The latest hiring effort extends a national initiative that started on Feb. 1, when Home Depot announced it was seeking 100,000 new workers.
— CORONA ECONOMICS —
“What China’s COVID-19 uptick means for cars, iPhones and other things you buy“ via Keith Bradsher of The New York Times — As Chinese officials scramble to contain the country’s worst outbreak of COVID-19 since early 2020, they are imposing lockdowns and restrictions that are adding chaos to global supply chains. The measures in China, home to about one-third of global manufacturing, are disrupting the production of finished goods like Toyota and Volkswagen cars and Apple’s iPhones and components such as circuit boards and computer cables. Case numbers are small compared with many other large countries, but China has taken a zero-tolerance approach to outbreaks. To some foreign investors, the outbreak itself may be less unnerving than the unpredictability of government measures. “The business risk in China now is higher than at any time since late spring 2020,” said Julian MacCormac, chair of the British Chamber of Commerce in China.
“Inflation surge, war cloud Fed’s interest rate trajectory” via Howard Schneider of Reuters — New economic projections from the Federal Reserve this week will show how far and how fast policymakers see interest rates rising this year, in a first test of the impact of Ukraine war and surging inflation on the coming shift in U.S. monetary policy. The Fed’s policy-setting committee is expected to raise borrowing costs by a quarter of a percentage point at the end of its two-day meeting on Wednesday. The latest quarterly economic projections, due to be issued along with a policy statement Wednesday, will show what officials anticipate in terms of key indicators, including GDP growth, inflation and unemployment. In particular, updated outlooks will signal how aggressive policymakers may be in raising interest rates and whether that could jeopardize an expected record-setting run of low unemployment.
“Airlines say fliers are flocking back, despite higher ticket prices” via Alison Sider of The Wall Street Journal — After omicron slowed travel bookings at the start of 2022, airline executives said demand has rebounded more quickly than they anticipated. As a result, carriers said they expect to be able to absorb higher jet fuel costs by paring back flying capacity and passing the costs along to customers. To cover fuel price increases, airlines typically try to boost fares and cut less profitable flying, which results in fewer flights and in turn, higher prices for travelers. Some industry analysts have questioned whether those moves will work this time around, with price-sensitive leisure travelers accounting for the lion’s share of fliers now. But airline executives said Tuesday that travelers are willing to pay higher fares, allowing carriers to raise them without undermining demand.
“Unemployment ticked up in January across Southwest Florida, as labor force grows” via Laura Layden of the Naples Daily News — Unemployment is on the rise in Southwest Florida. At least, it ticked up in January, from where it stood at the end of last year. That’s actually good news for local employers and the local economy. It reflects a growing labor market. “We have more people not only employed, but willing to work — and they are actively looking for a job,” said Amir Ferreira, an economics professor and interim director of the Regional Economic Research Institute at Florida Gulf Coast University. A report released Monday by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity puts numbers on what employers hope is an emerging trend. It shows the labor force grew by more than 24,500 over the past year in Lee and Collier counties.
“Marion County workforce: January unemployment rate was 4.1%, up from December’s 4.0%” via Joe Callahan of the Ocala Star-Banner — Marion County’s unemployment rate was 4.1% in January, up from 4.0% in December. Marion County’s unadjusted unemployment rate was 4.1% in January, down 2.2 percentage points since January 2021. Marion’s labor force grew by 2,335 and the number of employed increased by 5,334 in one year. In January, the labor force in Marion County was 143,205, up 897 from December. The labor force was 140,870 a year ago. In January, the number of people employed was 137,335, down from 137,642 in December but up from 132,001 in January 2021. The number of unemployed was 5,870 in January, up from 4,666 in December. There were 1,204 more people unemployed in January when compared to December.
— MORE CORONA —
“Pfizer asks U.S. to allow fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose for seniors” via Zeke Miller and Lauran Neergaard of The Associated Press — Pfizer and its partner BioNTech asked U.S. regulators Tuesday to authorize an additional booster dose of their COVID-19 vaccine for seniors, saying data from Israel suggests older adults would benefit. The new application seeks to add a fourth shot only for the over-65 population hit hardest by the pandemic. The FDA and CDC would have to approve the request. While some early data left unclear just how much benefit another shot offered — or for how long — Pfizer said Tuesday that an analysis of health records of more than 1.1 million Israeli seniors showed confirmed infections were two times lower, and rates of severe illness were four times lower among those who got two boosters instead of just one.
“What rising COVID-19 infections in the U.K. and Europe could mean for the U.S.” via Brian Rodriguez of Aviation Analysis — The situation in Europe worries public health officials for two reasons: first, the UK offers a glimpse of what could happen in the U.S., and second, something unusual appears to be happening. In previous waves, increases in COVID-19 hospital admissions reversed jumps in cases by about 10 days to two weeks. Now, in the U.K., cases and hospitalizations appear to be rising side-by-side, something that has baffled experts. “The hospitalization problem is a bit puzzling because despite the increase in hospital admissions, it is very clear that their use of intensive care beds has not increased,” Anthony Fauci said.
“Omicron BA.2 sub-variant now nearly a quarter of new COVID-19 cases in U.S., CDC estimates” via Alexander Tin of CBS News — The BA.2 sub-lineage of the Omicron variant now makes up nearly a quarter of new COVID-19 infections nationwide, the CDC estimated Tuesday, up from around 1 in 10 new cases just a week prior. BA.2’s prevalence is the highest in the Northeast, according to the CDC’s “Nowcast” estimates published Tuesday. In the region spanning New York and New Jersey, the agency estimates 39.0% of circulating viruses are BA.2. In New England, prevalence of BA.2 is at 38.6%. The new estimates come as the sub-lineage has raised concerns abroad, where it has grown to dominate cases reported worldwide — including in countries that are now facing a renewed surge of infections just as they had moved to lift many of their pandemic restrictions.
“South Korea reports record deaths amid omicron surge” via Kim Tong-Hyung of The Associated Press — South Korea had its deadliest day yet of the pandemic on Tuesday, with 293 deaths reported in the latest 24 hours, as the country grapples with a record surge in coronavirus infections driven by the fast-moving omicron variant. The 1,196 virus patients in serious or critical conditions were also a new high. Health officials said the country’s medical response remains stable following efforts to expand resources, with more than 30% of intensive care units designated for COVID-19 treatment still available. But the strain on the hospital system is expected to increase in coming weeks, considering the time lags between infections, hospitalizations and deaths.
— PRESIDENTIAL —
“Joe Biden to announce $1 billion in new military aid to Ukraine Wednesday” via Gordon Lubold, Vivian Salama and Nancy A. Youssef of The Wall Street Journal — Biden is expected to announce more than $1 billion in new military assistance to Ukraine government as early as Wednesday, according to U.S. officials, as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is expected to make a plea to Congress for more aid to defend his country. The $1.01 billion is expected to include more of the same kinds of military equipment the U.S. says the Ukrainians need the most: antiarmor and antiair systems, including portable air defenses such as Javelins and Stingers. While the White House is considering sending more troops to Europe to add to the roughly 15,000 deployed there since the Russia-Ukraine crisis began, Biden isn’t expected to deploy more troops now, U.S. officials said.
“Poll: Americans warm to Biden’s approach on Russia and Ukraine” via Andrew Romano of Yahoo News — Biden’s approval rating for his handling of Russia and Ukraine has risen 5 percentage points since the start of the war in Eastern Europe more than two weeks ago, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll — including a 12-point gain among self-described independent voters. The percentage of respondents who now say Biden is doing “a better job leading his country” than Putin, for instance, climbed 7 points (from 33% to 40%), while the percentage who say Putin is doing a better job leading than Biden fell by roughly the same amount. This reflected both an increase in Democrats choosing Biden (from 68% to 80%) and a decrease in Republicans choosing Putin (from 36% to 19%), with a corresponding rise in Republicans choosing “neither” (from 46% to 63%).
“Biden to withdraw nomination for Fed’s top bank cop” via Jeanna Smialek and Emily Cochrane of The New York Times — Biden will withdraw his nomination of Sarah Bloom Raskin to serve as the Federal Reserve’s top bank regulator on Tuesday, after a Democratic Senator said he would join Republicans in voting against her, most likely dooming her chances of confirmation. Raskin earlier on Tuesday sent a letter to the White House asking to withdraw her name from consideration to be the Fed’s vice chair for supervision, according to two people familiar with the decision. “Sarah was subject to baseless attacks from industry and conservative interest groups,” Biden said in a Tuesday statement. While the end of Raskin’s candidacy will leave the administration without the regulatory voice it was hoping for, it could pave the way toward confirmation for the White House’s other Fed picks.
“Half of Americans doubt Joe Biden will run in 2024, WSJ poll shows” via Ken Thomas and Catherine Lucey of The Wall Street Journal — A new Wall Street Journal poll found that 52% of Americans don’t think Biden will run for re-election in two years, while 29% do expect him to pursue a second term. Nineteen percent are undecided about his future. Biden and the White House have said he intends to run for re-election. People close to the President have suggested he will make a final decision after November’s midterm elections. But interviews conducted in recent weeks with dozens of voters, activists and local officials in the nation’s top battleground states, along with poll respondents, found a degree of ambivalence and uncertainty over whether Biden, who is 79 years old, should seek another term.
— D.C. MATTERS —
“Mike Pence could testify explosively to Trump’s Jan. 6 corruption. Will he?” via Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent of The Washington Post — As the House select committee examining the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol gains steam, one of the strangest arguments floated in Trump’s defense has been this one: Whatever Trump might have done, he truly believed the election was stolen from him, and was merely using available processes to try to set things right. But new evidence undercuts this idea. The key revelation here is that Pence’s counsel Greg Jacob’s testimony to the committee suggests John Eastman may have fully understood he was pushing Pence to do something wildly corrupt. And Eastman was seemingly operating on Trump’s behalf, as Trump and Eastman collaborated to pressure Pence.
“Senate unanimously approves making daylight saving time permanent” via Alexander Bolton of The Hill — The Senate on Tuesday approved a proposal to make daylight saving time permanent, which if passed in the House and signed by Biden, would mean Americans would never again have to set their clocks back an hour and lose an hour of afternoon daylight in the fall and winter. If enacted into law, it would also mean that early risers lose an hour of daylight in the mornings in November, December, January and February. In New York, for example, under current law the sun will rise at 7:15 a.m. on Dec. 21, the shortest day of the year. If the Sunshine Protection Act becomes law, New Yorkers won’t see the sunrise until 8:15 a.m. that day.
— CRISIS —
“Document in Jan. 6 case shows plan to storm government buildings” via Alan Feuer of The New York Times — The document, titled “1776 Returns,” was cited by prosecutors last week in charging the far-right leader, Enrique Tarrio, the former head of the Proud Boys extremist group, with conspiracy. The indictment of Tarrio described the document in general terms, but the people familiar with it added substantial new details about the scope and complexity of the plan it set out for directing an effort to occupy six House and Senate office buildings and the Supreme Court last Jan. 6. The document does not specifically mention an attack on the Capitol building itself. But in targeting high-profile government buildings in the immediate area and in the detailed timeline it set out, the plan closely resembles what actually unfolded.
“Proud Boys leader charged in Jan. 6 plot jailed until trial” via Adriana Gomez Licon of the Orlando Sentinel — A leader in the far-right Proud Boys extremist group will remain jailed until his trial on charges that he remotely led a plot to stop Congress’ certification of Biden’s 2020 presidential victory. In a Miami courtroom Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Lauren F. Louis cited the danger that prosecutors say Tarrio poses to the community. The judge said her decision would be explained in detail later in a written order. Though he wasn’t at the Capitol with other members of the Proud Boys during the violent insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, prosecutors say Tarrio created the leadership structure, organized the group of men and directed them to the Capitol.
“Fearing political violence in 2024, judges sentence Jan. 6 defendants to probation through the next election” via Spencer S. Hsu and Tom Jackman of The Washington Post — U.S. judges including those appointed by Republican presidents are increasingly sentencing defendants who participated in the Jan. 6 breach of the Capitol to three-year terms of court supervision, fearing they could be misled into committing political violence in the 2024 presidential election. Judges have also raised concerns about elected officials who continue to play down the violence of the attack. “Many politicians are writing a false narrative about what happened. I think they are misleading people. … I am terribly afraid that people are going to follow that false narrative,” U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan said in sentencing a 25-year-old Utah man to three years’ supervision this year.
“North Carolina man told FBI that Antifa lured him into the Capitol on Jan. 6. A judge didn’t buy it” via Michael Gordon of The Charlotte Observer — A federal judge in Washington sentenced North Carolina truck driver James “Les” Little to jail and long probation on Monday — not only for his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol but to keep the Catawba County man from joining “another riot” after the next presidential election. Little will spend 60 days in custody and serve three years of supervised release after pleading guilty in November to a misdemeanor charge of parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building. Little said the defeated President’s supporters had been lured into the Capitol by members of Antifa waving Trump flags, according to a recording of a Jan. 13, 2021, interview played in court. He blamed police for escalating the violence with tear gas and rubber bullets.
“Conservative and far-right speakers to headline third Patriot Fest this weekend in Naples” via Kate Cimini of the Naples Daily News — Nearly two dozen local and national far-right and conservative speakers will take the stage this weekend at Naples’ third Patriot Fest, including U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, singer Ted Nugent and former entertainment lawyer-turned-conservative commentator Rogan O’Handley, also known as DC Draino on Instagram. Speakers will cover topics such as school boards, how race is addressed in schools, DeSantis and Florida politics, said Brendon Leslie, organizer of the event and founder and editor-in-chief of the far-right news site Florida’s Conservative Voice. Leslie said he hopes Patriot Fest will “bring positivity back to politics, bring the message directly to the people and promote America (first) policies.”
— EPILOGUE: TRUMP —
“Eric Trump thinks he knows why Putin didn’t invade Ukraine while his dad was President” via Chris Cillizza of CNN — Much has been made by Trump and his allies that Putin didn’t invade Ukraine until the Republican had left office. Now, Eric Trump — the second-eldest son of the former President — thinks he knows why that is. “Putin was in with KGB,” he told Fox’s Sean Hannity. “He can read people and he could tell that Donald Trump was a very strong person.” First off, Eric’s comment — almost certainly unintentionally — echoes what George W. Bush once said about Putin. “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy,” said Bush of Putin following a summit in Slovenia in June 2001. Eric Trump’s insistence that, somehow, Putin made a psychological assessment of his father, and that’s why he didn’t invade Ukraine, is also ripe for mockery.
“John Bolton’s crusade to debunk Donald Trump’s revisionist history on Russia and Ukraine” via Aaron Blake of The Washington Post — When Trump hasn’t been praising Putin’s strategic savvy in invading Ukraine, he’s generally fallen back on one big talking point: that this wouldn’t have happened if he were still in charge. And yet all along, one of his top former foreign policy aides has sought to make sure this claim doesn’t go unchallenged. Bolton has now said repeatedly that this simply isn’t how it went down. And he’s made quite the opposite case: that Putin didn’t do stuff like this during Trump’s presidency because Trump was already doing the work for him — specifically, by undermining NATO. And it’s a case that tracks with plenty of what we already knew, even as few Trump allies-turned-critics have seen fit to weigh in publicly of late.
“Trump denies his private 757 jet ‘mothballed,’ says it will be back in service in 90 days” via Antonio Fins of the Palm Beach Post — So, just what is the status of the Boeing 757 dubbed “Trump Force One?” Former President Trump on Saturday said that reports that his private 757 aircraft was “mothballed” at a New York state airfield were “fake news.” Trump said the plane was undergoing “a major scheduled maintenance program, which will be completed in approximately 90 days.” But photos of the decayed Boeing 757, which sports a red, white and blue design with Trump emblazoned atop the fuselage, had circulated online since the former commander in chief left the White House in January 2021. The absence of the aircraft became even more glaring as Trump began rallies last year where he teased a 2024 comeback.
— LOCAL NOTES —
“LCSO says ‘no foul play’ after inmate’s death; at least fourth death since August tied to jail” via Christopher Cann of the Tallahassee Democrat — The Leon County Sheriff’s Office began investigating the death of an inmate Friday after he died in a local hospital. James Reed was brought to the hospital on March 3 after “officers found him unresponsive in his cell.” “No foul play is suspected.” The Sheriff’s Office’s Violent Crimes Unit is heading the investigation “as standard procedure for any death that occurs while in custody,” wrote spokesperson Angela Green. An autopsy is pending, she added. “The death of any Leon County citizen is unfortunate, and our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Mr. Reed,” Green wrote in a statement.
“Nassau’s County Attorney resigns after State Attorney’s Office findings that he ‘committed criminal acts’” via Dan Scanlan of The Florida Times-Union — Nassau County Attorney Michael Mullin has agreed to officially resign after a State Attorney’s Office investigation strongly suggests he “committed criminal acts” by deleting text messages sought by a developer in a long-running battle over the Wildlight residential development. Wildlight is part of the 23,600-acre East Nassau Stewardship District under development by Rayonier, and Mullin represented the developer as a private-sector attorney from 2007 to 2015 when he became County Attorney. In a letter to Nassau County Commissioners, Mullin officially announced his March 31 resignation, mentioning nothing about text messages or Rayonier.
“Amelia Island tax dollars slated for off-island tourism” via Wes Wolfe of Florida Politics — To justify paying a consulting firm more than $210,000 to layout Nassau County’s tourism strategy, county staff noted three big numbers, tourists provide more than one-third of the county’s sales tax revenue, support around 25% of county jobs and are responsible for more than $850 million in economic impact. County commissioners unanimously approved awarding Jones Lang LaSalle an estimated $214,500 contract Monday night, without discussion. The idea is to “develop a countywide tourism strategic plan and evolve the tourism market by creating a strategic road map to tourism sustainability both on and off-island.” The Amelia Island Tourism Development Council (TDC) previously approved a resolution stating the same.
“Marianna adults with autism program to launch at former Dozier School for Boys site” via Tristan Wood of Florida Politics — A program to help teach adults with autism has started in Marianna. Its future home is on the site of one of the city’s most infamous locations. NextStep at Endeavor Academy, a program helping adults with autism develop employment and independent living skills, launched its 12-week pilot program out of Chipola College in late January. The program’s future home is Endeavor Park, a mixed-use development currently being renovated at the former site of the infamous Dozier School for Boys. Currently, the program’s future site is still being renovated, said NextStep Program Director Tammy Dasher. Once it is completed, the program will offer a two-year residency program for adults with autism aimed at helping them live independently and enter the workforce.
“The cemetery deal that helped bury John Dingfelder’s future on the Tampa City Council” via Daniel Figueroa of Florida Politics — A move to rezone portions of a Tampa cemetery dedicated to carnival and circus workers played a role in killing the City Council career of Dingfelder, according to documents from the City of Tampa. On Monday, Dingfelder delivered his resignation as part of a settlement agreement between him and development consultant Stephen Michelini over a public records lawsuit. Last month, Michelini, through his attorney Ethan Loeb, submitted an ethics complaint against Dingfelder to the city’s legal team. Dingfelder was sent a list of 18 potential ethics violations between February and September 2021. The majority of them related to the Showman’s Rest Cemetery.
“10 green iguanas live behind the SPCA Tampa Bay, suspended in time” via Stephanie Hayes of the Tampa Bay Times — The iguanas lazed resplendent on a sunny afternoon, luxuriating in a haze of mist. They wound curvy claws through the enclosure grate and bobbed their heads to talk fanning flappy dewlaps. File this one under: Did you know? Many visitors to the SPCA Tampa Bay don’t know an odd little iguana sanctum is tucked out back in the vicinity of a goat and a pig. Most would-be pet parents come to see adoptable dogs and cats inside. Indeed, 10 green iguanas lurk magnificently in Largo. The reptiles are bulky and spiny, some several feet long. Despite their name, they come in various colors that vary with age and temperature. They move with surprising urgency, scuttling to different spots in the structure to feast on lettuce, squash and carrots.
“St. Petersburg’s Round Lake is nearly dry. Here’s why” via Colleen Wright of the Tampa Bay Times — Historic Round Lake has been drying up since November because of the dry winter and a broken pump that wasn’t supposed to be pumping into the lake in the first place. The pump was installed at the lake in the Historic Uptown neighborhood west of Fourth Street N near downtown in the 1970s, but the Southwest Florida Water Management District now prohibits pumping water into lakes. The city didn’t realize that until workers discovered the pump had broken on Nov. 30. The city spent $9,900 to have the pump fixed Thursday, though it is only used for irrigation around the lake. City spokesperson Janelle Irwin Taylor said the city is considering applying for a permit to refill the lake but said they are not sure if they will be successful.
“‘Basically an eviction.’ At Miami rent rally stories of $750 increase and grim choices” via Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald — Emily Moloney felt good about her place in the Miami economy when the year began: She was earning $85,000 in a tech job and covering rent on a one-bedroom downtown apartment. Then came the notice of a $750 rent increase within 90 days. “I let them know this is basically an eviction,” Moloney, 31, said of the 40% hike needed to stay in her home. “I found Miami pretty affordable until now.” Moloney was one of about 30 people who joined Miami’s latest rally to protest rent spikes and demand government action on a housing market that’s considered a crisis by affordability activists, elected leaders, and others warning of rising prices endangering the workforce.
“Reporter Enrique Flor, a leader in investigative journalism, dies in Miami. He was 50” via Sarah Moreno of the Miami Herald — Flor, an El Nuevo Herald reporter and a prominent figure in investigative journalism in Spanish, died Sunday night at the Jackson Memorial Perdue Medical Center in Miami after suffering from multiple strokes. The winner of several awards for his investigative reporting in Latin America and South Florida, Flor stood out for his sense of justice, his tenacity when investigating corruption. “Enrique was proud to do investigative journalism against corruption in Miami. He always told us, ‘Be brave, because as a journalist you must do your duty, and your duty is to question everything,’” said reporter Erika Carrillo, who began collaborating with Flor when she was a reporter for América Tevé and later for Univisión.
“Fort Lauderdale’s fired city auditor continued to work. Now he’s been sent on his way with paid leave” via Susannah Bryan of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — In the latest political melodrama gripping Fort Lauderdale City Hall, Auditor John Herbst was placed on paid leave Tuesday, exactly one month after being fired during a late-night Commission meeting on Feb. 15. Herbst, city auditor for nearly 16 years, was still on the job due to a rare clause in his employment contract that allows him to stay on for another 60 days. He was fired in mid-February after the Mayor accused him of overstepping his authority by investigating whether then-Police Chief Larry Scirotto was working a second job as a college basketball referee while on city time. Then on Tuesday, commissioners placed Herbst on paid administrative leave.
“Bob Saget’s fractures possibly caused by fall on carpeted floor in Florida” via The Associated Press — Fractures around Saget’s eye sockets and bleeding around his brain were possibly caused by the comedian hitting “something hard, covered by something soft,” such as a carpeted floor. In the incident report released by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in Orlando, a detective notes that Chief Medical Examiner Joshua Stephany said the fractures “would have stunned Mr. Saget,” and that he would have experienced dizziness. Had he been with people at the time, they would have noticed “confusion, balance, and/or slurred speech,” the report states. It does not pinpoint a location for Saget’s fall.
“Orange Blossom Mall becoming Renaissance Business Park; Fort Pierce expecting 600 new jobs” via Thomas Weber of Treasure Coast Newspapers — What once was the Orange Blossom Mall is on its way to becoming a business park with education services and office space, bringing an estimated 600 jobs to Fort Pierce. Prime Rock Energy Capital, the developer that purchased about two-thirds of the mall’s property in July for $11 million, is transforming the 39 acres into Renaissance Business Park, which will encompass shops, office and industrial space and education services. “It’s a giant site, like five city blocks in size,” said Michael O’Neill, Prime Rock Energy Capital’s principal.
“Vero Beach boy shot, killed Jan. 30 while playing with gun made from parts bought online” via Corey Arwood of Treasure Coast Newspapers — Police released information for the first time Tuesday of their investigation into a Jan. 30 shooting death of a 14-year-old boy they said was accidentally shot by a friend playing with a loaded weapon he built from parts bought online. The agency called the shooting a “tragic accident” in a news release and said it would not pursue criminal charges against anyone involved. The teen died from the gunshot wound despite what rescue officials said were paramedics’ immediate, life saving measures. Police officials and detectives said Tuesday that for over a year, the teen bought parts to make the untraceable 9 mm, referred to as a “ghost gun.”
“Busch Wildlife breaks ground on Jupiter Farms sanctuary for 200+ animals. When will it open?” via Katherine Kokal of the Palm Beach Post — Five wetlands, hundreds of native trees and no interstate noise. Those are some of the benefits of a new 19.4-acre site in Jupiter Farms for the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary and its 200 animals. Crews broke ground on the new $15 million sanctuary last week. It sits at Rocky Pines and Indiantown roads, 6 miles northwest of the current sanctuary, which is sandwiched between Interstate 95 and Central Boulevard on land owned by the Loxahatchee River District. Right now, visitors to Busch Wildlife Sanctuary drive through an industrial area that is home to limousine services, landscaping agencies and construction companies to access the sanctuary.
“Central parents say their kids don’t have the same opportunities. That is set to change.” via Alex Miller of the Pensacola News Journal — As the sun comes up, peeking its face at the rural landscape across Allentown, the hustle and bustle of a new school day disturbs the surrounding calm. Central School sits on a corner amid vast parcels of land about 20 minutes north of Milton. Buses pull into a designated lane, the parking lot begins filling up and suddenly, this smaller K-12 school gives off the same excited, hurried morning energy people would see at one of the larger schools in the district. Inside its halls, however, Central School shows some distinct differences from some of its larger peers around Santa Rosa County.
“Gulf Breeze to appeal lawsuit over Tiger Point golf course, will pay back taxes for now.” via Alex Miller of the Pensacola News Journal — Gulf Breeze will appeal the state’s 1st District Court of Appeal ruling that it should not have received a tax exemption for Tiger Point Gulf Club. Mayor Cherry Fitch and the City Council made the decision to appeal Monday night at a special meeting. Next steps will involve the case going back to the state’s 1st District Court of Appeal. The decision comes almost five years after former Santa Rosa County Property Appraiser Gregory Brown sued the city of Gulf Breeze, arguing the property was not ad valorem tax-exempt after Gulf Breeze bought on the company IGC, Tiger Point Golf Club LLC to operate the course in 2015.
“UF announces Artificial Intelligence Academic Initiative Center” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — The University of Florida announced Tuesday that it will create an Artificial Intelligence Academic Initiative Center. The new center, led by Associate Provost for Strategic Initiatives David Reed, will be the campus focal point for artificial intelligence- and data science-related academic activity at the university. UF said the Center will coordinate and develop programs and certificates; identify opportunities for faculty and students to engage with AI; co-organize seminars and conferences; develop an AI Scholars program; and partner with UF’s Career Connections Center, the Florida College System and private industry to promote an AI-ready workforce and help businesses integrate AI into their current processes.
“Florida man accused of stealing $30K worth of turtles” via Garfield Hylton of the Orlando Sentinel — A Florida man is accused of stealing 18 turtles worth $30,000. On Monday, Jermaine Wofford allegedly stole the turtles from a Southwest Florida turtle breeder. Marcus Cantos, the owner of Turtle Source, said Wofford was supposed to be fixing a beverage cooler, but when a turtle named “Huncy” went missing, he decided to check the surveillance footage. “The camera is right up here, not hard to see, and the guy looked right in the camera, and that’s how the sheriff’s department was able to use the facial recognition, and he was just helping himself to all of these,” said Cantos.
— TOP OPINION —
“How does DeSantis sleep at night?” via Dana Milbank of The Washington Post — Until now, we’ve known that COVID-19 death rates were higher among the unvaccinated, and also higher in counties that went for Trump, whose supporters were more likely to resist vaccinations, masks and other pandemic precautions. Now that the omicron wave is over, a couple of new analyses of state-by-state data both point to an inescapable conclusion: Living in states run by a Republican governor is dangerous to your health. Using data from the CDC, consultant Doug Haddix reported Sunday that since July 1, the 14 states with the highest death rates were all run by Republican Governors.
— OPINIONS —
“Wake up, Democrats: Three’s a crowd in the Governor’s race” via Sarasota Herald-Tribune editorial board — As DeSantis continues to view Florida as little more than a 65,758-square mile petri dish to test out and hone his blustering one-liners, divisive policies and cynical strategies for a run for the Republican Party’s 2024 Presidential nomination, one thing has become increasingly evident: While there are three major contenders seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination to face DeSantis in the November general election, Charlie Crist, Fried and Annette Taddeo — that’s already become two candidates too many. It’s time for two Democrats to pull out of the party’s Aug. 23 gubernatorial primary and throw their support behind the remaining candidate who is truly best suited to challenge the heavily favored DeSantis. It’s time for two Democratic candidates to make the selfless move to allow the general election race to effectively begin right now.
“DeSantis vs. Disney: The ‘Don’t Say Gay’ fight Disney helped fuel” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — You have to imagine there was a moment when Disney CEO Chapek was watching the Governor of Florida and his staff accuse him of coddling communists and siding with pedophiles when Chapek thought: What the hell just happened? I’ll tell you what happened, Bob: You guys got caught trying to play both sides in politics. You were spreading feel-good talk about equality and civil rights but steering campaign cash to politicians with a long history of supporting anti-LGBTQ legislation. No. 2 was that, after being caught, you dared to speak up to DeSantis, who operates from a political playbook that says: Everyone who disagrees with me is a communist. Or a socialist. Or a freedom-hater. And now maybe even a friend to pedophiles.
“Florida can’t outlaw my family” via Claire McCully of CNN — DeSantis recently defended a bill his opponents call a “don’t say gay bill” by claiming that this law prohibits “sexual instruction in grades pre-K through three.” I reject the fearmongering and dishonesty from the likes of DeSantis and his anti-LGBTQ colleagues and allies. The idea that school districts are actually trying to add anything like “sexual instruction” to pre-K through third-grade curriculum is ludicrous. What is really angering anti-LGBTQ alarmists in Florida and other states, most notably in Texas, is that schools and society at large are promoting acceptance and inclusion for gender-nonconforming children and LGBTQ parents.
—TODAY’S SUNRISE —
DeSantis kills standardized testing in Florida schools with the stroke of a pen … and then knocks recently approved term limits for school board members, saying they’re too short.
Also, on today’s Sunrise …
— Agriculture Commissioner Fried likes all the AG money the Legislature put in the budget. The rest of the Session — not so much.
— Catching up on Session postmortems — this time with Senate Democrats.
— Rubio may be seeing light at the end of the tunnel in his campaign for permanent daylight saving time.
To listen, click on the image below:
— ALOE —
“Unofficial Lego version of Volodymyr Zelenskiy raises money for Ukraine” via Kate Gibson of CBS News — A custom-printed Lego version of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy — along with tiny toy Molotov cocktails — raised $16,000 for Ukraine relief efforts, according to the Chicago toy company behind the products. Independent retailer Citizen Brick this month offered a limited supply of the items, saying all of the money raised would go to help Direct Relief deliver medical supplies to people in Ukraine. “The minifigs sold out almost immediately. We made as many as possible in a frantic 24 hours, with the CB crew coming in on their day off to print,” the toymaker wrote on Instagram. “We know there were some folks who tried to get one and couldn’t. We hope they’ll consider making a direct donation to a relevant charity nonetheless.”
“California’s first lab-grown mosquitoes may take flight — stirring controversy” via Lisa M. Krieger of PhysOrg — A biotech firm is seeking permission to release genetically modified mosquitoes into the open air of California for the first time later this year, aiming to reduce the expanding populations of invasive mosquitoes and prevent deadly disease. Over time, the controversial research project will introduce 2 million male mosquitoes with a “kill switch” built into their DNA. When they mate with wild insects, their offspring die, causing an eventual collapse of the population. The lab-bred insects are male, so they don’t bite or spread disease. Modified they only mate with others of their species, not California’s native mosquitoes. Only the female offspring die; the males live and become carriers of the deadly gene, passing it on to shrinking future generations.
“Nicolas Cage’s ‘Unbearable Weight’ gets rare perfect Rotten Tomatoes score, a career-best” via James Hibberd of The Hollywood Reporter — Cage is getting some of the best reviews of his career … for playing himself. In the new comedy, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, Cage plays a fictionalized version of himself who’s offered $1 million to appear at the birthday party of a mega fan. But the fan may not be as he seems, and “Cage” soon finds himself falling down a funhouse mirror rabbit hole of his past roles, eventually landing in a Cage-style action movie. The Unbearable Weight reviews are all the more ironic given Cage’s enormous initial reluctance to do the film. “I turned it down three or four times, I wanted no part of it,” the actor told THR in a recent candid interview.
“Ferg’s is selling pizza from an ATM. Is it any good?” via Helen Freund of the Tampa Bay Times — I’m not usually one for automated technology replacing human interactions, especially when it involves my meals. But when a colleague tipped me off that Ferg’s Sports Bar & Grill in St. Petersburg had started selling pizzas out of an ATM, my interest was piqued. The idea seems straightforward enough: pizza, delivered out of an ATM, 24 hours a day. Guests order using a touch-screen system, and four minutes later a cardboard box full of hot, cheesy pizza pops out. So, what does ATM pizza actually taste like? No big surprises here: It tastes like a pretty average pizza.
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Best wishes to Rep. Chip LaMarca. Also celebrating today are former Rep. Carey Baker, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, John French, Eric Johnson, Jan Gorrie, Alexander Pantinakis, and Joseph Salzberg of GrayRobinson.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Daniel Dean, Renzo Downey, Jacob Ogles, and Drew Wilson.