Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 12.13.23

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Heat up your day with a dose of Sunburn, the premier first read of Florida politics and policy.

Good Wednesday morning.

A top-of-Sunburn happy birthday shoutout to the best state Party Chair in Florida, Nikki Fried of the Florida Democratic Party.

Nikki Fried celebrates another trip around the sun.


Breaking overnightSchool Board urges Moms for Liberty co-founder to resign in GOP sex scandal” via Max Greenwood of the Miami Herald — The Sarasota County School Board formally called on Bridget Ziegler to resign Tuesday as she grapples with the fallout of an ongoing sex scandal involving her and her husband, Christian Ziegler. In a 4-to-1 vote, the School Board signed off on a resolution requesting that Bridget Ziegler voluntarily step down from the post that she’s held for nearly a decade. Board Chair Karen Rose, who has long been aligned politically with Ziegler, called the Tuesday vote. Ziegler was the only member to oppose the measure. The resolution is nonbinding — as Ziegler was quick to note Tuesday — meaning the Board cannot force her from her position.

The Sarasota School District votes to ask for Bridget Ziegler’s resignation.


Bryan Koon is taking over for Madhu Beriwal as president and CEO of the global emergency management consulting firm IEM, effective Jan. 1.

Koon, who is moving up from vice president of International Homeland Security and Emergency Management, is a Navy veteran and former Florida Division of Emergency Management Director who has also held management positions at Walmart headquarters, including as the company’s Director of Emergency Management for Global Operations.

At IEM, Koon has boosted the company’s achievements in homeland security, emergency management, disaster and economic recovery, infrastructure and resiliency, and public health policy and operations. The Sector experienced a nearly tenfold increase in revenue and an eightfold increase in staff since he joined the company six years ago.

Bryan Koon takes the reins at IEM.

“I am honored and grateful to assume the role of IEM’s CEO. I am excited to take the helm of this organization and build upon the incredible work that Madhu has done. I am fortunate to work alongside a dedicated team, consistently demonstrating their expertise and commitment to excellence,” he said. “As president and CEO, I am committed to fostering a culture of innovation, collaboration, and continuous growth as we help communities build resilience. I am excited to embark on this journey with our talented team. I look forward to achieving new milestones as we shape IEM’s future.”

Beriwal founded IEM in 1985 and has been president and CEO for nearly four decades. She will continue serving as the company’s Chair.

“In Bryan, we have found an exceptional leader with the vision, expertise, and passion to guide IEM to new heights. I have had the privilege of working closely with Bryan and witnessing his outstanding contributions to IEM,” she said. “I know that Bryan will lead with integrity, inspire our team, and drive the company to greater success. I eagerly anticipate the future of IEM under Bryan’s leadership. I am enthusiastic about collaborating with him to accomplish the extraordinary feats that await us.”


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2023 Florida Chamber Annual Insurance Summit — 1; Zack Snyder’s ‘Rebel Moon’ premieres — 9; Michael Mann’s ‘Ferrari’ premieres — 11; Matt Dixon’s ‘Swamp Monsters: (Donald) Trump vs. (Ron) DeSantis ― the Greatest Show on Earth (or at Least in Florida)’ released — 27; 2024 Florida Chamber Legislative Fly-In and reception — 27; Florida’s 2024 Regular Session begins — 27; CNN to host first of two GOP Primary debates — 28; 2024 Primetime Emmy Awards — 33; House District 35 Special Election — 33; Florida TaxWatch’s State of the Taxpayer Dinner — 35; CNN’s second GOP Primary debate — 39; New Hampshire Primary — 41; Red Dog Blue Dog 2024 — 42; South Carolina Democratic Primary — 52; New Hampshire and Nevada Democratic Primaries — 55; South Carolina GOP holds first-in-the-South Primary — 73; Michigan Democratic Primary — 76; ‘Dune: Part Two’ premieres — 79; Netflix to stream “The Netflix Slam,” Rafael Nadal/Carlos Alcaraz faceoff — 81; Trump’s D.C. trial on charges related to trying to reverse his 2020 Election loss — 82; Super Tuesday — 83; 2024 Oscars — 88; Georgia Democratic Primary — 90; 2024 Leadership Conference on Safety, Health & Sustainability — 148; ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’ premieres — 162; ‘A Quiet Place: Day One’ premieres — 198; Republican National Convention begins — 216; ‘Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games — 226; Alien: Romulus’ premieres — 247; Georgia Tech to face Florida State in 2024 opener in Dublin — 255; Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour stops in Miami — 310; 2024 Florida Chamber Annual Meeting & Future of Florida Forum — 313; Las Vegas Grand Prix — 344; ‘Captain America: Brave New World’ premieres — 429; ‘Moana’ premieres — 562; ‘Thunderbolts’ premieres — 590; ‘Blade’ reboot premieres — 695; ‘Fantastic Four’ reboot premieres — 695; ‘Avatar 3’ premieres — 737; ‘Avengers: The Kang Dynasty’ premieres — 870; Untitled ‘Star Wars’ movie premieres — 896; Another untitled ‘Star Wars’ movie premieres — 1,101; ‘Avengers: Secret Wars’ premieres — 1,241; ‘Avatar 4’ premieres — 2,200; ‘Avatar 5’ premieres — 2,928.


Ron DeSantis’ campaign and allied super PAC face new concerns about legal conflicts” via Steve Peoples and Thomas Beaumont of The Associated Press — DeSantis’ expansive political machine is facing a churn of leadership, stagnant polling numbers, and new concerns about potential legal conflicts.

Specifically, there has been concern in recent weeks among some within DeSantis’ operation that interactions between his campaign and his network of outside groups are blurring the lines of what’s legally permissible.

The question of coordination hangs over Ron DeSantis and Never Back Down.

Multiple people familiar with DeSantis’ political network said that he and his wife had expressed concerns about the messaging of Never Back Down, the largest super PAC supporting the Governor’s campaign, in recent months as his Iowa polling numbers stagnated in late Summer and Autumn.

DeSantis’ team shared those messaging concerns with Never Back Down’s Board members, including Florida-based members with close ties to the Governor, according to multiple people briefed on the discussions. Some of the Board members then relayed the DeSantis team’s wishes to super PAC staff, which was responsible for executing strategy, the people said.

Federal laws prohibit coordination between presidential campaigns and outside groups. There is no known lawsuit or federal complaint alleging that DeSantis’ campaign broke the law. And in the super PAC era that began with the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, murky relationships between campaigns and allied outside groups have become commonplace.

DeSantis’ campaign has strongly denied the Governor has tried to influence the network of outside groups supporting him, given the federal laws prohibiting coordination. Asked for comment, DeSantis representative Andrew Romeo described The Associated Press’s reporting as “more nonsense from unnamed sources with agendas.”


Chris Sununu endorsing Nikki Haley for President” via Adam Sexton of WMUR — After declining to run for President himself, Sununu spent the Summer and Fall on the campaign trail with various candidates, looking for the one he felt would be best positioned to take on Trump in the Republican Primary. Sununu has said he does not think Trump can win next year and wants the Republican Party to turn the page. Since September, the Governor has spent the most time on the trail with Haley, DeSantis and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. From what the Governor has already said about how he plans to approach this, we’re going to be seeing him really put his popularity and political clout behind his chosen candidate, Haley.

Chris Sununu backs Nikki Haley, a slap in the face for DeSantis.

DeSantis sinks to new low in Florida GOP Primary polling” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — In a Victory Insights survey of 1,220 voters conducted Dec. 8 and 9, the Governor has hit a new low in polling against Trump. Trump has 59% support, with DeSantis at 19% and Haley at 8%. Compounding the difficulty for DeSantis, 95% of respondents say they are committed to their choice. “Trump boasts a more than 40% lead over any of his challengers, and even if the race came down to only Trump and DeSantis, Trump still leads by more than 30 points,” notes pollster Ben Galbraith. A head-to-head matchup between Trump and DeSantis is likewise lopsided, with Trump at 57% and Trump at 26%.

Joseph Ladapo to campaign for DeSantis in U.S. Virgin Islands” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Ladapo will appear at Republican Party receptions Dec. 17 on St. Thomas and Dec. 18 on St. Croix to aid DeSantis’ campaign for the party’s nomination. Not to be outdone, U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds will be at the same events on behalf of Trump. The Virgin Islands hold caucuses Feb. 8, with nine delegates at stake via ranked choice voting, meaning that the gains a given campaign can get are modest. But given the early placement of the Virgin Islands vote in the calendar, the territorial vote has outsized implications for the narrative of the campaign.

— MORE 2024 —

Joe Biden-Donald Trump rematch would be close, with RFK, Jr. a threat to Biden” via Jason Lange and James Oliphant of Reuters — A looming election rematch next year between Biden and his predecessor Trump would be closely fought, a new poll found, with both candidates saddled with profound vulnerabilities that could cost them the White House. Biden continues to be plagued by voters’ doubts about the strength of the economy, as well as concerns about the security of the U.S.-Mexico border and worries about crime. Trump faces his own worries, including four criminal trials on a bevy of charges related to his attempts to overturn the 2020 Election and his handling of classified documents. A conviction before the Nov. 5, 2024, election could cost him significant support.

A rematch will be close — very close.

Trump reassures his loyalists that he’ll do better next time” via Shawn McCreesh of New York Magazine — Iowa is just weeks away, and the Republican Party’s Primary system has never been as rigged to favor the front-runner as it is now. If you needed any more evidence that things are going their way, last week, the liberal mainstream media began banging the gong about how, if Trump gets back in the White House, this time he’ll really be a dictator. The gala-goers, many of them not particularly young, seem quite pleased by all this dictator discourse. Hopeful, even. “I am being indicted for you,” Trump says. “These are not indictments in the traditional sense. These are Biden indictments against their political opponent.”

Brian Fallon to join Biden campaign as Kamala Harris’s communications director” via Tyler Pager of The Washington Post — Fallon, a former top aide to Hillary Clinton who recently stepped down as head of the group Demand Justice, will join the Biden campaign as Vice President Harris’ communications director. Fallon, who is known for a hard-hitting, nimble communications style, joins a growing team of aides focused on supporting the Vice President’s political activity, with top Biden campaign aides planning an expansive role for her over the next year. “Brian brings a wealth of expertise and knowledge on the issues that matter most to the American people,” Sheila Nix, Harris’s campaign chief of staff, said.


GOP looks ready to remove Christian Ziegler as Chair, analysts say” via Steven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — Embattled Florida Republican Party Chair Ziegler faces a vote Sunday to remove him from his $120,000 a year job following rape allegations lodged against him and the admission that he and his wife had a three-way affair. So far, he has steadfastly refused to resign even as DeSantis and most state Republican leaders want him out. Christian Ziegler’s wife Bridget, a co-founder of the powerful conservative group Moms for Liberty, faced a resolution Tuesday night calling for her removal from the Sarasota County School Board. Given the continual bad headlines and lack of support, Christian Ziegler’s time as Chair could soon be over, whether charges are filed or not, political analysts said.

Are Christian Ziegler’s days numbered at the Florida GOP?

‘He’s not Trump’: GOP activists say Ziegler’s defiance won’t save job amid rape accusation” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Ziegler has invoked — viewed by many Republicans as an unjustly persecuted figure — when confronted about resigning and is emulating his defiant stance in the face of legal troubles, but Florida GOP activists say they view the accusations against the two men very differently. “The writing’s on the wall: if he doesn’t resign, he’s going to be removed,” Pinellas County GOP Chair Adam Ross said. “If Ziegler thinks he can play a Trump card and try to position himself as a persecuted figure, he’s mistaken, said the Rev. John Vacchiano, Chair of the Indian River County GOP and a member of the Republican Party of Florida’s Executive Board.

Officials punish Broward high school that allowed trans student to play girls sports” via Jimen Tavel Sommer Grugal of the Miami Herald — State officials found that Monarch High School broke two rules for allowing a trans female student to play on the girls volleyball team, and punished the school with a one-year administrative probation and a penalty of $16,500. In a three-page letter sent to the school’s interim principal Tuesday, the associate director of eligibility and compliance services for the Florida High School Athletic Association said the school “permitted a biological male to participate on the girls volleyball team,” listing 13 games in the 2022-23 season and 20 in the 2023-24 season. The letter accuses the high school of breaking a state law called the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” which prohibits trans girls from playing on female sports teams, and an FHSAA bylaw that mandates the same.


Personnel note: Heather Williams named permanent President at DLCC” via Southeast Politics — The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee announced Tuesday that Williams will serve as the Committee’s new permanent President. Williams has served as interim President since January and has worked to build Democratic infrastructure in state Legislatures. During her interim role, Williams helped the DLCC overperform in Special Elections in 2023 by an average of 6 points and clinch historic victories in Virginia and across the country. “I’m honored to take on my new role as the DLCC’s new President. I’m so grateful for the confidence that the DLCC Board of Directors has entrusted in me. Investing in Democratic power in the states has been my lifelong passion, and leading the DLCC in this mission will be one of my life’s greatest honors,” said Williams.

Heather Williams gets a permanent gig at the DLCC.


Home-hardening grant program is lowering insurance premiums for some, but not all homeowners. Here’s why.” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — A home-hardening initiative Florida lawmakers resurrected last year to improve property wind resistance and insurance premiums is rolling ahead, with nearly 10% of the program’s grant pot already distributed to residents who upgraded their houses. So far, fewer than half have reported lower insurance costs. Steven Fielder, the chief business officer at the Department of Financial Services (DFS), gave lawmakers an update on the My Safe Florida Home program, which received its first grant application on Nov. 18, 2022. Since then, the state has completed more than 92,600 house inspections and 22,240 grant applications and reimbursed homeowners who installed impact windows and doors or replaced their roofs with a combined $38.5 million.

Is your house hurricane ready? My Safe FL Home is here to help.

Local communities keep trying to help workers. Corporate lobbyists and Florida politicians keep teaming up to stop them.” via Jason Garcia of Seeking Rents — Urged on by lobbyists for some of the state’s biggest businesses, Republican lawmakers in Tallahassee proposed new legislation that would crush local laws meant to make corporations pay higher wages, provide better benefits or ensure safer workplaces. It is also the latest offensive in a more than 20-year-long campaign by the state’s unified business lobby to weaken — and ultimately wipe out — even the most basic of labor protections for workers in Florida. That campaign has been led by front groups like Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Retail Federation and the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association — organizations that exist to push unpopular policies while protecting the brands of the corporations that fund them from any public backlash. And while there’s no way to know for sure what will come next, it’s worth remembering that DeSantis and the Legislature have flirted with pulling Florida out of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Senate Committee unanimously approves ‘Learn Local’ bills amid widespread public support” via Caden DeLisa of The Capitolist — The Florida Senate Committee on Fiscal Policy unanimously advanced three education bills on Tuesday against the backdrop of widespread support from education officials. The trio of measures, Senate Bills 7000, 7002 and 7004, collectively referred to as the “Learn Local” initiative, aim to streamline various aspects of the educational system, including assessments and instructional protocols. The most comprehensive of the three, SB 7004, addresses the deregulation of public school assessment and accountability by proposing changes in how schools measure student progress and implement improvement programs.

AARP on board with Kathleen Passidomo priority — AARP of Florida praised the Senate Health Policy Committee for introducing the bill housing Senate President Passidomo’s “Live Healthy” priority, which aims to address health care staffing shortages and boost health care access. “We support the Live Healthy initiative because a robust health care system is a fundamental component of an age-friendly or livable community. Even though this bill is premised on projections of a shortage of health care providers in Florida in the future, some residents are already encountering difficulties in getting the care they need today. This shortage echoes across the health care profession, particularly impacting long-term care providers, both in-home and in institutional settings, jeopardizing the health and well-being of vulnerable adults in need of assistance,” AARP Florida State Director Jeff Johnson said. He added, “AARP will be listening to our members to hear what their concerns and experiences are related to our health care workforce, and we will continue bringing their voice to the legislative process.”

Senate scraps ending recess mandate, but other reforms move ahead” via Leslie Postal of the Orlando Sentinel — The Florida Senate backed away Tuesday from plans to end the state’s recess requirement after objections from “recess moms” but moved ahead with proposals to scrap key and controversial, parts of the Republican education agenda. The Senate’s Fiscal Policy Committee agreed by an 18-0 vote to end policies ushered in by Jeb Bush more than 20 years ago. Those include requirements that high school students pass two exams to graduate and that third graders pass a reading test to move on to fourth grade. Under the bill approved by the GOP-dominated Committee, students would no longer have to pass an Algebra 1 and a language arts exam to earn high school diplomas. Sen. Corey Simon, the sponsor of the bill (SB 7004), said the goal was to encourage schools to provide reading help to struggling youngsters. He rejected the idea that it was a move to lower standards.

Bill advances that would expand list of crimes eligible for enhanced penalties for traveling criminals” via Anne Geggis of Florida Politics — The Grinch is real, Rep. John Snyder told lawmakers and apparently, the Stuart Republican believes he’s got more on his mind than ruining Christmas. Snyder’s bill (HB 531), which the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee advanced at its first Committee stop, would expand the crimes eligible for enhanced penalties if the perpetrator traveled across county lines to commit them. Right now, burglary is the only crime that gets an enhanced charge for traveling across county lines to do the deed. Snyder’s legislation follows two other laws that he proposed and had signed into law to bolster punishment against burglars called “traveling criminals.”

Boca Raton-inspired bill would require advance notice of roadside memorial relocation, removal” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — After the removal of a long-standing roadside memorial this year blindsided the families of those it honored, lawmakers are proposing a fix to ensure such a thing never happens again. Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez and Rep. Peggy Gossett-Seidman filed twin bills (SB 572, HB 421) to require government or private entities to “make best efforts” to give advance notice of any changes to a roadside memorial. That includes removal, alterations, dismantling or destruction of the structure. Notice would be due to the entity or person that installed the memorial and “any person whose deceased loved one is commemorated” by it.

Rape kit evidence must be preserved for eight years under bill House panel advances” via Anne Geggis of Florida Politics — An advancing bill would require rape kit evidence to be stored for at least eight years after being gathered, even if a crime was not reported to law enforcement. The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee gave its nod to legislation (HB 607) that Rep. Rachel Plakon proposed. Sen. Linda Stewart has introduced a similar bill (SB 764) awaiting its first Committee hearing. The bill is an effort to standardize the handling of this evidence just in case the victim changes his or her mind about whether to make a police report about it, Plakon explained.

A bill from Linda Stewart and Rachel Plakon will store rape kits for longer, to help victims.

Republicans propose enhancing charges for organized ‘smash-and-grab’ retail theft” via Anne Geggis of Florida Politics — Two Republican lawmakers are doing what they can to discourage mass retail theft in the Sunshine State. The videos, shown on social media platforms and nightly newscasts, are hard to miss: Many masked people sow chaos as they invade a store, smash displays, and make off with valuable goods. How often these “flash mobs” have been striking is hard to quantify, as they are classified differently among various jurisdictions, National Public Radio reports. Also, “organized retail theft” is not currently a category in the state’s uniform crime reporting.

Bill classifying intentionally released balloons as litter flies through first Committee stop” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Legislation to crack down on balloon pollution in Florida floated through its first Committee stop with buoyant support. The House Agriculture, Conservation, and Resiliency Committee voted unanimously for HB 321, which would reclassify intentionally released balloons as litter. The measure drew bipartisan plaudits from both sides of the dais, including airy praise from members of the Humane Society, Sierra Club Florida, Oceana, Florida Retail Association and others. “There’s no good reason to intentionally release a balloon,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Linda Chaney. “Balloons do not go to heaven. Hopefully, balloons will go into statutes.”

House advances calls for constitution conventions on a balanced budget, term limits” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Proposals for Florida to call for constitutional conventions on term limits and a balanced budget are advancing in the House. The House State Affairs Committee OK’d concurrent resolutions that potentially could lead to the first constitutional convention since the nation’s founding. Rep. Tyler Sirois said such a convention is one of the only ways the Legislature can provide a check on Congress. He sponsored legislation (HCR 703) that ultimately seeks an amendment to the U.S. Constitution requiring a balanced federal budget. “Congress has failed to act on this issue with an unsustainable budget deficit,” Sirois said. “We should use a tool available to us and ask for them to have a convention.”

— SKED —

8 a.m. The House Local Administration, Federal Affairs & Special Districts Subcommittee meets to consider PCB LFS 24-02, which would make a series of changes related to special districts, including creating 12-year term limits for elected Board members of most types of independent special districts. Morris Hall, House Office Building.

8:30 a.m. The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee meets to consider SB 7014, which would make a series of changes in ethics laws. Room 110, Senate Office Building.

8:30 a.m. The Senate Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee meets for an update from Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Mark Glass. Room 301, Senate Office Building.

8:30 a.m. The Senate Regulated Industries Committee meets to consider SB 280, from Sen. Nick DiCeglie, which would revamp laws about vacation rental properties. Room 401, Senate Office Building.

9 a.m. The Senate Judiciary Committee meets to consider SB 462, from Sen. Erin Grall, which would require excusing from jury duty new mothers who make requests. The bill would apply to mothers up to six months after they give birth. Room 412, Knott Building.

9 a.m. The House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee meets for an update on DeSantis’ proposed 2024-2025 budget. Room 212, Knott Building.

9 a.m. The Education Estimating Conference will analyze issues related to student financial aid. Room 117, Knott Building.

10 a.m. Aides to DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson and state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis meet to discuss issues in advance of a Dec. 19 Cabinet meeting. Cabinet Meeting Room.

10:30 a.m. The House Choice & Innovation Subcommittee meets for an update about a new law (HB 1) to expand eligibility for school vouchers. Reed Hall, House Office Building.

10:30 a.m. The House Infrastructure & Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee meets for an update on DeSantis’ proposed 2024-2025 budget. Room 314, House Office Building.

10:30 a.m. The House Insurance & Banking Subcommittee meets to consider HB 623, from Rep. Kevin Steele, about the transfer of home warranties. Morris Hall, House Office Building.

11 a.m. The Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee meets to consider SB 474, from Grall, which would create a public-records exemption for photos and recordings of people committing suicide. Room 37, Senate Office Building.

11 a.m. The Senate Transportation Committee meets to consider SB 260, from Sen. Nick DiCeglie, which would require the installation of ignition interlock devices on vehicles of people who refuse to take breath tests after being stopped for suspected drunken driving. Room 110, Senate Office Building.

1:30 p.m. The House constitutional Rights, Rule of Law & Government Operations Subcommittee meets to consider HB 357, from Rep. Jeff Holcomb, which would designate each November as “Veteran Appreciation Month.” Room 404, House Office Building.

1:30 p.m. The House Healthcare Regulation Subcommittee meets for an update on the state medical marijuana program. Reed Hall, House Office Building.

1:30 p.m. The House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee meets for an update on DeSantis’ proposed 2024-2025 budget. Morris Hall, House Office Building.

1:30 p.m. The House Regulatory Reform & Economic Development Subcommittee meets to consider HB 49, from Rep. Linda Chaney, which could lift restrictions on the number of hours that 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds can work. Room 212, Knott Building.

2 p.m. The Senate Rules Committee meets to consider SB 276, from Sen. Bryan Avila, which would require agencies to file annual reports about advisory bodies. Room 412, Knott Building.

4:30 p.m. The Joint Legislative Budget Commission will consider a series of issues, including a request for $25.1 million to extend the use of Florida National Guard members to work at state prisons. The extension, which would last through June 30, stems from staffing shortages at prisons. Room 412, Knott Building.

Happening tonight:


— LOCAL: S. FL —

‘Back to the drawing board.’ Miami-Dade Mayor backs off pricy building purchases” via Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald — Mayor Daniella Levine Cava on Tuesday backed off her plan to spend $133 million above market value for two aging office complexes after County Commissioners objected to revelations of the pricy deals in a battered commercial market. “We want to work on getting some better terms,” said Commission Vice Chair Anthony Rodriguez, who sponsored legislation to authorize one of the two deals in the $365 million real estate package to create new South Dade and West Dade government centers. Commissioners agreed to a last-minute Levine Cava request to remove the legislation for the building purchases from Tuesday’s agenda.

Daniella Levine Cava changes her mind about a wildly overpriced real estate deal.

Miami must cut $25M after contentious budget vote exposes rifts on Commission” via Joey Flechas of the Miami Herald — Miami’s city government needs to cut $25 million from its billion-dollar budget, the latest result of a Commission grappling with the fallout of a corruption scandal and a shift of power following the November election. The city faced the potential of losing $63 million in tax revenue after state regulators told the city its September vote on the property tax rate was invalid after former Commissioner Alex Díaz de la Portilla was removed from office amid corruption charges. During a special meeting, it quickly became clear that the Commission, with two new members, would not simply pass the same tax rate.

Battered by conservation groups, Miami Wilds water park ‘dead’ after county vote” via Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald — Miami-Dade Commissioners unanimously turned on a Miami Wilds water park that once enjoyed broad support in County Hall, voting to abandon a lease modification needed to keep the deal alive. “This horse is dead,” said Oliver Gilbert, Chair of the 13-member Board. Conservation groups fought the attraction planned for Zoo Miami parking lots, arguing the project would eliminate vital nighttime feeding grounds for endangered bats that live in the surrounding forest. Federal wildlife regulators backed that argument, notifying Miami-Dade that the county-owned acreage was environmentally sensitive. Tuesday’s vote to formally withdraw the lease modification from consideration leaves the stalled Miami Wilds project with a 2022 lease that requires construction to begin by the end of this month.

— LOCAL: C. FL —

Orange Commissioner praises stadium as ‘good neighbor’ in funding appeal” via Stephen Hudak of the Orlando Sentinel — A proposed $400 million project to improve Camping World Stadium got a boost from Orange County Commissioner Mike Scott, who called the Orlando venue a “good neighbor” that has helped lift the community around it. He appealed to his Board colleagues to consider not only the stadium’s role as host of events drawing hundreds of thousands of tourists annually to Orlando but also its contribution to transforming the neighborhood of West Lakes. Scott gave an example of how an old funeral home was replaced by an early learning center and a health and wellness facility.

Mike Scott calls Camping World Stadium a ‘good neighbor.’

Orlando commits $6M to renovate Christian Service Center as ‘front door’ for unsheltered” via Ryan Gillespie of the Orlando Sentinel — Orlando City Commissioners signed off on a sweeping renovation of the Christian Service Center, which is poised to transform a facility with limited amenities into the region’s first comprehensive day services center for the homeless. The unanimous vote moves forward a package of funding totaling just over $6 million, with money from the city’s Accelerate Orlando account going toward construction costs and the Community Redevelopment Agency committing about $1.1 million for the renovations, plus $900,000 over three years to help fund operations. “This is a historic day,” Mayor Buddy Dyer said following the vote. “Since the first day I became Mayor, we’ve been talking about this specific issue.”

SeaWorld files plans for long-discussed hotel near theme park” via Richard Bilbao of the Orlando Business Journal — SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. is finally making a move into the hotel game in the Orlando market. SeaWorld of Florida, an entity tracing back to SeaWorld’s 7007 Sea Harbor Drive Orlando address, filed a development plan review application with the county on Dec. 11 for a project called “Starboard DP.” More details with the filing show the project request is “to construct a 504-room hotel on 29.92 acres.” SeaWorld is the only major theme park in Orlando that lacks its own internally operated hotel property. Experts have said hotels are big revenue generators for theme parks, as well as strategic moves for theme parks to have more say on visitation and travel packages. Also, new hotel properties can create an influx of construction work and permanent jobs. In addition, new hotel development can lure other projects to meet the needs of that new capacity.

Citrus County Sheriff Mike Prendergast finds tepid support for DOJ grant” via Mike Wright of Florida Politics — Citrus County Commissioners reluctantly backed a federal grant the Sheriff’s Office received in November that could cost millions of unbudgeted dollars. During a contentious and, at times, confusing 90-minute dialogue with Sheriff Prendergast, Commissioners made clear they were not ready to pay the price that comes with a U.S. Department of Justice community policing grant. The county in May agreed to apply for the grant to hire 44 new deputies over three years. While the grant partially covers pay and benefits, it doesn’t cover overhead — vehicles, equipment and uniforms.

— LOCAL: N. FL —

Council poised to largely approve Donna Deegan transition initiatives in early test of collaboration” via David Bauerlein and Hanna Holthaus of The Florida Times-Union — Mayor Deegan is poised to cap her first six months in office by winning City Council approval for the lion’s share of spending she proposed for the first big-ticket initiatives of her term — $27 million in the areas of housing, public health and youth programs. The vast majority of programs recommended by her resident-led transition teams passed through Council Committees last week. However, Council members cut about $1 million from the bottom-line amount after deciding whether some proposals duplicated existing city programs or could be done at a lower cost.

Donna Deegan gets her first real test of collaboration. Image via COJ.

‘Forever taken’: Charlie Adelson sentenced to life in jail as Dan Markel’s father reflects” via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat — Adelson, the wealthy Fort Lauderdale periodontist who financed and planned the 2014 hit on his former brother-in-law, Markel, was sentenced to life in prison for the heinous murder. Leon Circuit Judge Stephen Everett imposed the sentence Tuesday during a short but emotional hearing in which Markel’s father, Phil Markel, spoke out on behalf of his family. Phil Markel urged Everett via Zoom to impose the maximum sentence on Adelson. “Dan’s life was abruptly cut short, and he was forever taken away from me, the boys and the rest of his family and all his many friends and colleagues,” Phil Markel said.

Adelson gets life sentence for someone else’s problem” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — By all accounts, Adelson didn’t care too much where his sister Wendi Adelson lived. He had his own life, a lucrative career as a traveling periodontist with side gigs in real estate, investments, steroid peddling and more; a Ferrari, a limo and a boat; a house with a pool and hot tub on the Ft. Lauderdale intercoastal; plenty of girlfriends, and plenty of time to enjoy it all. Charlie was encouraging of Wendi’s deep desire to leave Tallahassee, sure, but it wasn’t really his problem when the divorce court conclusively ruled that Wendi would have to stay in Leon County as long as Markel himself was living there. Relocation was Wendi’s problem, but by extension, a source of great stress for their mother Donna Adelson, who desperately wanted Wendi and her grandsons to live near her in South Florida.

Panama City will file two complaints against Mayor: Misusing office and sexual harassment” via Nathan Cobb of the Panama City News-Herald — City Commissioners voted Tuesday to file a formal ethics complaint against Mayor Michael Rohan. Panama City Commissioners want the Florida Commission on Ethics to investigate two allegations against Rohan: that he used his official office to obtain a special privilege or benefit, and that he sexually harassed a city employee earlier this year. The first allegation was considered at the Commission’s last meeting on Nov. 28, sparking leaders to seek outside legal counsel to determine whether an ethics complaint should be filed. But Tuesday marked the first time they publicly discussed the allegation of sexual harassment. It dates to July.

State Attorney reviewing Escambia Commissioners’ texts for possible Sunshine Law violation” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News Journal — State Attorney Ginger Bowden Madden announced Monday that her office is conducting a review of communications between Escambia County Commissioners after her office received several concerns and allegations that there was improper communication. The announcement comes in the wake of an article published by the News Journal that details leaked text messages from 2021 between District 1 Commissioner Jeff Bergosh and The Lewis Bear Company CEO David Bear, in which Bergosh asked Bear to share his redistricting proposal to move Perdido Key to his district with other Commissioners.

Texts between David Bear and Jeff Bergosh are under the microscope.

Escambia County approves $90,000 settlement with former medic tied to training scandal” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News Journal — The Escambia County Commission approved a $90,000 settlement with a former paramedic tied to the 2019 training document scandal in a divided 3-2 vote on Thursday. Escambia County will pay former Emergency Medical Services head of administration Katherine Kenney $90,000, and her termination from the county will be changed to a resignation in her personnel file. Kenney was fired from Escambia County in 2020 after she was one of four former EMS members arrested and charged with 11 felony counts and four misdemeanor counts related to falsifying training documents.


Sarasota Democrats, Support Our Schools issue fresh call for Bridget Ziegler’s resignation” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Sarasota County Democrats and Support Our Schools are continuing to push Ziegler to resign from the Sarasota County School Board. The groups will hold a joint news conference at 4:30 p.m., ahead of a 6 p.m. School Board meeting. There, leaders intend to reiterate a demand the social conservative step aside amid a sex scandal. “It’s a disruption to the work of the School Board, which is supposed to be a nonpartisan effort to help our children in this county,” said Daniel Kuether, Chair of the Sarasota County Democratic Party.

More voices call for Bridget Ziegler’s resignation.

Developers avoid court costs, leaving Sarasota taxpayers with the bill in Siesta Key suit” via Derek Gilliam of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — An effort by Siesta Key resident Lourdes Ramirez to force hotel developers to pay part of her legal fees in her successful lawsuit against Sarasota County was rejected by a circuit judge, leaving county taxpayers on the hook for a bill that could be hundreds of thousands of dollars. Sarasota Circuit Judge Hunter W. Carroll allowed the hotel developers to intervene in the case soon after Ramirez sued the county in 2021 after the County Commission removed a hotel size cap on the barrier island that would have paved the way for the first hotel development on Siesta Key in decades. That status allowed the developers’ attorneys to file motions, participate in depositions and request documents.

New College Board approves terms for a major land deal with the SRQ airport” via Jesse Mendoza of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — New College of Florida inked a preliminary agreement for a major land purchase from the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, and the college is now preparing its pitch to state legislators for millions of dollars in investment for campus improvements. The college will purchase 30.94 acres of land leased from the airport at below market rates since 1957. The 99-year lease was grandfathered into place when the Federal Aviation Administration changed laws to require airport land to be leased at market-rate value. If a long-term agreement is not reached, and the terms of New College’s current lease expire, the college could face a major rent hike.

Sports grabbing larger share of tourism economy for Sarasota-Manatee region” via Jim DeLa of Community News Collaborative — At 8 a.m. on a recent Friday, hundreds of teenage soccer players and their parents filed into Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch. The three-day tournament drew 240 teams to the Suncoast from across the United States to compete in front of college coaches. Participating is not cheap, said Renee Tanner, who traveled with her 16-year-old son from Utah for the tournament. “It’s thousands of dollars.” “It’s a lot,” agreed Tu Nguyen, who flew to the Suncoast with his son from Chicago. With 12-15 players on a team and at least one parent per player making the trip, which adds up to a lot of hotel reservations and money flowing into local pockets.


The DeSantis strategy: Attack, accuse, then hope no one checks the facts” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — There’s more to be said about this case of a Governor deciding to override a local election simply because he didn’t like the results. But there’s a bigger issue here — a Governor with a record of making accusations and incendiary claims that simply don’t pan out. The strategy seems to be: Score big headlines with inflammatory claims and then hope nobody follows up. Admittedly it’s sometimes hard to vet claims when they’re thrown out late in a day’s news cycle. But the media need to do a better job of explicitly saying what facts they could verify and which ones they couldn’t. It seems like facts are just an afterthought with this administration. DeSantis has also just casually claimed in fundraising appeals that he has won “every single time” in battles with “woke corporations” and “legacy media” when he has actually lost one court battle after another, often at the hands of conservative judges.


She’s a dangerous hypocrite, but Moms for Liberty co-founder shouldn’t have to leave School Board” via the Miami Herald editorial board — Bridget Ziegler helped turn Florida against LGBTQ kids and transform schools into battlegrounds for culture wars. Ziegler is not entitled to any empathy now that she’s been roped into a sex scandal after a woman accused her husband of rape. Some members of the Sarasota County School Board, where Ziegler has served since 2014, are demanding she resign. That puts us in the awkward position to say that pressuring Ziegler to step down — when she has not been accused of any crimes — goes against democratic principles. Indeed, the allegation of rape against her husband and the apparent insincerity of her purported moral values are big distractions for the Sarasota School Board. Voters are the ones who should hold her accountable.




Celebrating today are Paula Cobb, Senior Southeast Regional Policy Manager for Clean Air Task Force, Hayden Dempsey of Greenberg Traurig, Mike Millner, and Mike Stone.


Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Daniel Dean, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, and Drew Wilson.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises Media and is the publisher of, INFLUENCE Magazine, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Previous to his publishing efforts, Peter was a political consultant to dozens of congressional and state campaigns, as well as several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella. Follow Peter on Twitter @PeterSchorschFL.


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