Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 3.18.24

Sunburn Orange Tally (8)
No FOMO here. Don't miss your first look at stories driving today's agenda in Florida politics.

Good Monday morning.

Breaking overnight — “‘It’s devastating over there.’ Grateful U.S. citizens return from Haiti on first flight” via Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald — Landing at Miami International Airport, the travelers, many of them Haitian Americans, were among 47 passengers onboard a charter flight arranged by the State Department for U.S. citizens and their immediate family members. Many were vacationing or visiting family, they said, when violence broke out Feb. 29. The U.S. government arranged the charter flight to help U.S. citizens evacuate Haiti amid the escalating violence. Late Saturday, armed groups continued to target key government installations and on Saturday looted several homes in a well-to-do community in the capital not far from the U.S. embassy. The violence is spurring a wave of panic and fear, leading to the continued cancellations of commercial flights into the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in the direction of the police’s headquarters.

The first flight of Haitian Americans arrives in Miami to escape the increasing violence and turmoil in Haiti.


On Friday, the Palm Beach County Republican Party held its Lincoln Day Gala at Mar-a-Lago to honor Congressman Matt Gaetz as Statesman of the Year.

Speakers included former President Donald Trump, U.S. Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio (by way of video); U.S. Reps. Kat Cammack and Anna Paulina Luna.

The way Matt Gaetz works a room, there is little doubt he can fundraise.

Actor Kevin Sorbo served as master of ceremonies.

According to several attendees of the event, partygoers stood in line for 40 minutes to see Gaetz, whose connection with the audience was noteworthy. During his remarks, Trump again praised Gaetz.

It’s clear that Gaetz was a hit with the Mar-a-Lago crowd and members of the Republican grassroots who were hundreds of miles away from his home district.

Watching Gaetz work the crowd, there was little doubt about his ability to fundraise.

“It’s that he doesn’t really ask for it that makes him unique,” one of the attendees said.

If there is ever a Gaetz for Governor campaign, politicos would be wise to realize there’s a whole world beyond Tallahassee — and when it comes to gubernatorial politics, the center of gravity is shifting away from Adams Street.


Arizona/Florida/Illinois/Kansas/Ohio Primaries — 1; James Madison Institute’s ‘2024 Naples Dinner’ with keynote speaker Laura Ingraham — 3; ‘3 Body Problem’ premieres on Netflix — 3; Trump’s New York hush money trial begins — 7; The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the mifepristone/abortion pill case — 8; Major League Baseball’s (MLB) 2024 season — 10; Beyoncé’s ‘Cowboy Carter’ released — 11; March Madness Final Four (women’s) begins — 17; March Madness Final Four (men’s) — 20; Florida TaxWatch’s Spring Meeting — 24; The Masters begin — 25; Kentucky Derby — 48; 2024 Leadership Conference on Safety, Health & Sustainability — 53; ‘Bridgerton’ new season (part one) premieres on Netflix — 61; French Open begins — 63; ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’ premieres — 65; Dave Matthews Band 2024 Summer Tour begins in Tampa — 65; Monaco Grand Prix — 69; the 2024 World Cup begins — 85; ‘A Quiet Place: Day One’ premieres — 103; Republican National Convention begins — 119; the 2024 World Cup ends — 123; 2024 MLS All-Star Game — 128; Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games on NBC/Peacock — 130; ‘Alien: Romulus’ premieres — 149; Democratic National Convention begins — 155; Georgia Tech to face Florida State in 2024 opener in Dublin — 159; Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour stops in Miami — 214; 2024 Florida Chamber Annual Meeting & Future of Florida Forum — 217; 2024 Presidential Election — 232; Las Vegas Grand Prix — 245; MLS Cup 2024 — 260; ‘Captain America: Brave New World’ premieres — 330; Florida’s 2025 Legislative Session begins — 351; 2025 Session ends — 410; ‘Moana’ premieres — 460; ‘Thunderbolts’ premieres — 491; ‘Fantastic Four’ reboot premieres — 494; ‘Blade’ reboot premieres — 599; ‘Avatar 3’ premieres — 641; ‘Avengers: The Kang Dynasty’ premieres — 778; Untitled ‘Star Wars’ movie premieres — 794; Another untitled ‘Star Wars’ movie premieres — 1,005; ‘Avengers: Secret Wars’ premieres — 1,145; ‘Avatar 4’ premieres — 2,104; ‘Avatar 5’ premieres — 2,826.


Florida Republicans escalate talk of safety risk posed by ‘criminal’ migrants” via Ana Ceballos and Syra Ortiz Blanes of the Miami Herald — On Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation that aims to crack down on illegal immigration by banning local community IDs that have historically benefited some migrants in places like Miami-Dade County, and by enhancing criminal penalties for migrants who drive without a license or who have previously been deported.

The Governor also amplified how his administration — preparing for what it calls a possible “invasion” — is helping patrol the South Florida shores in an effort to stop migrants at sea. DeSantis acknowledged that a surge of migrants has not materialized amid the situation in Haiti, but he said the state needs to be “proactive” and “prepared” to respond to a potential mass migration event.

Ron DeSantis complains (again) about immigration.

“It’s the same thing we do when we have hurricanes,” DeSantis said, noting that his focus is on “protecting Floridians.”

The tone of the news conference — one of urgency and alarm — underscores how the politics of immigration is once again taking center stage in the minds of Florida Republicans, who are blaming President Joe Biden’s administration for the border security issue and endangering Americans.

Another guest at the news conference, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, said that undocumented immigrants “are coming here not just to find a better way of life like many of our forefathers did, but they are coming here to kill our people while they make enormous profits,” in reference to the fentanyl crisis.

In relation to Judd’s fentanyl comments, government data shows that between October 2021 and September 2022, 88% of fentanyl trafficking offenders were U.S. citizens, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission. It was around the same percentage of Americans the previous year.

—“Ron DeSantis blasts Congressional Republicans, Joe Biden on the border at bill signing in Polk” via Ana Goñi-Lessan and Sara-Megan Walsh of USA Today Network

DeSantis confirms rescue flights to Haiti for ‘Christian missionary groups’” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — “I have authorized rescue flights like we did in Israel after the Oct. 7 (Hamas attacks) because we’ve got a lot of folks who are part of Christian missionary groups and they do things to try to actually help a very troubled country. And so, they really are doing good work, they need to get out,” DeSantis said. Operational details, meanwhile, such as cost and vendors getting the contracts, are still not to be divulged to the public. These can add up: the Israel flights cost $19 million. “We don’t want to say anything too publicly about what exactly we’re doing until it happens,” DeSantis said. “It’s a very dicey situation. But we do feel an obligation to go in and help Florida citizens who were caught in the crossfire of a very difficult situation.”


Florida knows best? In 2024, the Legislature overruled a host of local laws” via Ryan Gillespie of the Orlando Sentinel — Amid a battle with Orlando’s code enforcement office over an electric fence it installed at an auto repair shop lot in Parramore, a national company turned to Florida lawmakers for help. Seven months after a trial court backed the city’s removal order, legislators signed off on a bill that essentially prevents local governments from regulating such fences altogether. The increasingly common tactic flummoxes local officials, who bristle at what is known as “preemption,” an approach in which the state blocks cities and counties from regulating various matters.

The Session ends with more preemption of home rule.

Calls mount for DeSantis to veto bill that makes it harder to file ethics complaints” via John Kennedy of the USA Today Network — A week after Florida lawmakers approved sharp new restrictions on ethics complaints filed against public officials, calls are increasing for DeSantis to veto the measure to guard against corruption. Nine organizations signed onto a letter sent to DeSantis while local ethics officials and open government organizations are endorsing another pushing the Governor to reject the legislation approved shortly before Florida’s 2024 Session adjourned last week.

If DeSantis signs school chaplain bill, a ‘Hindu statesman’ from Nevada eager to volunteer” via Lauren Costantino of the Miami Herald — DeSantis has yet to sign a bill that would allow chaplains to offer counseling in public schools, but one colorful religious figure says he is already eager to volunteer. He’s a self-described “Hindu statesman” from Nevada who says he would like to bring “the wisdom of ancient Sanskrit scriptures” to students — perhaps not exactly what Florida lawmakers had in mind when they approved a bill that supporters tout as a way to make up for a shortage of mental health counselors in many schools.

‘It’s bad’: In state budget, arts groups get short shrift via Matthew Palm of the Orlando Sentinel — The state budget approved by the Florida Legislature paints a grim picture for cultural organizations. Jennifer Evins, president and CEO of United Arts of Central Florida, doesn’t mince words: “It’s bad for the arts.” Arts organizations approved for general support funding will receive less than half their eligible allowances. A program for specific cultural projects went completely unfunded — leaving multiple Central Florida organizations empty-handed.

Lawmakers are planning to buy more than 220 acres of land in Wakulla County” via Adrian Andrews of WFSU — It’s being called a huge win for Florida’s environment. Last summer, hundreds of state environmentalists and local Wakulla citizens voiced concerns about a piece of land in the county being eyed for a gas station. The property stretches 225 acres and sits 14 miles south of Florida’s Capital city in Wakulla County. The land is home to the largest underwater cave system in the United States.

Wakulla County will get environmental protections for another 220 acres of land.

Legislature boots standards for storing guns in cars, boats” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Several Democratic lawmakers from South and Central Florida took a shot at passing legislation to improve storage standards for guns in cars and on boats. Every measure died without a hearing. One proposal (SB 1250, HB 1087) by Sen. Lori Berman, Rep. Joe Casello and Rep. Dan Daley would have required guns left in unoccupied vehicles and vessels to be kept out of plain sight and in the trunk or a “securely affixed,” locked container. No such law exists in state statutes today, Daley and Casello said. However, Florida law does require similar gun storage at home. Violators would have faced a second-degree misdemeanor charge, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and $500 in fines — the same as exists for at-home storage now.


Pornhub is now blocked in Texas. Could Florida be next?” via Douglas Soule of the USA Today Network —Texas and a growing number of states have passed laws requiring age verification to watch porn. Pornhub has responded by restricting access in most of them. The Florida Legislature recently approved a bill that, too, requires age verification. It’s expected to be signed by DeSantis and take effect at the start of 2025 if it survives expected legal challenges. When asked what its Florida plans were, a Pornhub representative declined to “discuss the hypothetical scenario.” But Aylo, the parent company of the website said such laws create data privacy issues.

Pornhub is blocked in Texas. Will Florida be next?

Florida picks Moms for Liberty members for group to advise librarians on book removals” via Douglas Soule of the USA Today Network — Some of Florida’s loudest advocates for public schoolbook removals make up half a state government-sponsored group to advise school districts on how to select titles and when to pull them off shelves. Moms for Liberty members made up three of six members of a Department of Education work group that met Thursday in Tallahassee to redevelop an online training program for school librarians and media specialists following a 2023 state law focused on book challenges.

Lobbying compensation: Greenberg Traurig pulls down $8M in 2023” via Florida Politics — According to compensation reports, the international law firm netted $4.7 million lobbying the Legislature and an additional $3.3 million lobbying the executive branch in 2023, for a grand total of $8 million in revenue. Using median estimates, Greenberg Traurig routinely ranks among the Top 10 firms in Florida Politics’ Lobby Firm Rankings. Additionally, the firm’s 2023 haul marks an increase from 2022, when the team reeled in an estimated $7.6 million in overall lobbying earnings. Greenberg Traurig’s legislative lobbying reports featured 13 clients that paid the firm $100,000 or more throughout the year. Greenberg Traurig’s executive branch report included mostly the same clients, with Heritage once again marked down at the $180,000 level.

Lobbying compensation: Rubin Turnbull tops $11M in 2023” via Florida Politics — The firm led by Bill Rubin and Heather Turnbull collected $5.5 million lobbying the Legislature last year and an additional $5.6 million lobbying the executive branch for an overall total of $11.1 million. Rubin Turnbull’s legislative compensation reports show more than a dozen clients that paid the firm $100,000 or more last year. The 21st Century Family Empowerment Council topped the list with $300,000 in payments last year, followed closely by HCA Healthcare at $273,000. Orchid Cove Health Group and The Richman Group of Florida split the No. 3 spot, both at the $140,000 level. A significant portion of the firm’s legislative clients were in the health care industry. Based on median estimates, Rubin Turnbull & Associates posted the fifth-highest compensation tally among all firms last year, earning the No. 5 ranking based on Florida Politics’ estimates. At the top end, the firm may have earned more than $15 million.

As Florida winds down Medicaid eligibility review, more children under 5 are losing coverage” via Jackie Llanos of the Florida Phoenix — With two months left in the Medicaid eligibility review process, Florida has reduced the number of residents it has bumped from the health coverage meant for low-income people. But last month, more children younger than five lost access to Medicaid than any other age group. Overall, more Floridians received Medicaid coverage in February than those who lost it, according to a report the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration published earlier this week. There were 6,912 more Floridians enrolled in Medicaid last month than in January.

Ethics complaint against Moms for Liberty ethics board member is rejected” via Jeffrey Schweers of the Orlando Sentinel — A political consultant and blogger will have to refile his ethics complaint against Moms for Liberty co-founder Tina Descovich, according to a letter he got from the Commission on Ethics. The commission’s executive director returned Robert Burns III’s paperwork and explained that the Senate President and House Speaker must review complaints about its members according to Florida law, which instructs them to appoint a joint committee to handle the matter. Burns, who lives in Melbourne, said he feels like he’s entering uncharted territory because he could find no previous ethics commissioner being the subject of an ethics complaint.

— 2024 —

Behind the scenes, Biden has grown angry and anxious about re-election effort” via Peter Nicholas, Courtney Kube and Carol E. Lee of NBC News — Biden was seething. In a private meeting at the White House in January, allies of the President had just told him that his poll numbers in Michigan and Georgia had dropped over his handling of the war between Israel and Hamas. Both are battleground states he narrowly won four years ago, and he can’t afford any backsliding if he is to defeat Trump once again. He began to shout and swear, a lawmaker familiar with the meeting said. He believed he had been doing what was right, despite the political fallout, he told the group. Asked about the episode, Andrew Bates, a White House spokesperson, said: “President Biden makes national security decisions based on the country’s national security needs alone — no other factor.” Biden’s 38% approval rating at this stage in the calendar is lower than that of the last three Presidents who went on to lose re-election.

Joe Biden is frustrated with his efforts to be re-elected.

Biden campaign has amassed $155M in cash on hand for 2024 campaign and raised $53M last month” via Colleen Long of The Associated Press — Biden’s campaign amassed cash on hand far exceeding the in-hand total for his Republican opponent, Trump. The President raised $53 million alone last month, which was the strongest grassroots fundraising month since the campaign launched, according to campaign officials. Among those efforts was a contest for supporters to attend a fundraiser on March 28 in New York with Biden, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton that raised $4 million last month.

Pandemic? What pandemic? Four years later, coronavirus no factor in 2024 Biden-Donald Trump rematch” via Antonio Fins of the Palm Beach Post — The country is mired in another presidential election, a rematch pitting the former President against the incumbent who defeated him. Except this time, there is no social distancing and next to no one is wearing a mask. There’s also one other difference: Biden and Trump rarely even mention the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic, so fresh in the American collective memory, has been buried deep in the recesses of the U.S. electoral hippocampus.

Mike Pence won’t endorse Trump” via The Associated Press — Pence says he will not be backing Trump in the 2024 Election. “It should come as no surprise that I will not be endorsing Donald Trump this year,” Pence said in an interview with Fox News Channel on Friday, weighing in for the first time since the former President became the presumptive GOP nominee. The decision makes Pence the latest in a series of senior Trump administration officials who have declined to endorse their former boss’s bid to return to the Oval Office.


Matt Gaetz subpoenaed in lawsuit regarding Joel Greenberg sex scandal” via Martin E. Comas of the Orlando Sentinel — Gaetz must testify under oath as part of a lawsuit that involves his past friendship with disgraced Seminole County Tax Collector Greenberg and allegations Gaetz had sex with a teenage girl. A subpoena was issued to Gaetz Thursday by attorneys representing the woman, known in court filings as A.B., who is now in her early 20s. Gaetz is scheduled to give his testimony and answer questions on April 5. The subpoena doesn’t list any topics Gaetz, who represents the Florida Panhandle, would be asked, said attorney Laura Wolf of Spark Justice Law, a Colorado law firm representing the woman, in an email Friday.

Joel Greenberg’s sex scandal once again ensnares Matt Gaetz.

Mitch Albom recalls evacuation from Haiti by Cory Mills” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — The author recalled a swift transition when U.S. Rep. Mills airlifted him and others from Haiti. “It was the middle of the night thing you know,” Albom told Fox News Sunday. “We came running out of place where we were really held, 67 seconds, we were thrown into a helicopter and up and out.” Albom and his wife, Janine Sabino, were among those evacuated out of the Have Faith Haiti orphanage. That’s a facility run by the A Hole In The Roof Foundation and named for one of Albom’s books, “Have a Little Faith.”

Happening today — U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor and Tampa housing leaders will hold a media availability after they unveil plans for the Robles Park Smart Community Hub, thanks to $4 million secured by Castor: 10 a.m., Sacred Heart, 3515 N. Florida Ave., Tampa. Please RSVP to [email protected].


Democrat rises to challenge Kiyan Michael in HD 16” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Despite long odds and powerful backers for her opponent, Democrat Rachel Grage is challenging the Republican incumbent. The eastern Duval County district has more than 56,000 Republicans and fewer than 34,000 Democrats. With more than 30,000 registrants being no-party voters, it’s clear that Beaches Democrats are small in number compared to the overall district. What’s also clear is that Republican Michael is uniquely connected to leadership in Tallahassee. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ endorsement propelled her to an unlikely win in 2022’s Republican Primary, but she has figured out the House very quickly, calling future Speaker Sam Garrison a “mentor” and has carried several out-of-district appropriations requests for current Speaker Paul Renner.

Rachel Grage will be taking on incumbent Kiyan Michael in HD 16. Image via Rachel Grage.

Tyler Sirois wants space program pioneer Dave Weldon to join him in the Florida House” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — State Rep. Sirois is endorsing Weldon for House District 32 in the Melbourne area. Sirois, who represents nearby House District 31 in Central Brevard County, called Weldon a “principled leader who served his nation in uniform, served us with distinction in Congress and who will ably serve Brevard once again.” “We owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Weldon for his good work to expand the space program, improve health care for Brevard veterans, preserve our environment, and protect our values in Congress,” Sirois said. “Dr. Weldon is a man of integrity, faith, and deeply held conservative values. In Tallahassee, I know Dr. Weldon will serve Brevard well and champion solutions to the issues that affect our families, from good jobs, lowering the cost of living, improving schools, and keeping us safe from illegal immigration and crime. Dave Weldon is a good man, and he will do Brevard proud.”

Richard Gentry lands support from all HD 27 Sheriffs” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Every Sheriff in House District 27 has endorsed Gentry’s run for House District 27. The Astor Republican announced endorsements from Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood, Lake County Sheriff Peyton Grinnell and Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods. Gentry, who announced his candidacy in January, embraced the support. “Having the support of our area’s top law enforcement officials is humbling, to say the least,” Gentry said. “However, I want you to know my No. 1 priority has and will always be public safety.” The sheriffs offered praise to the attorney, who previously served as Florida Public Counsel.

— LOCAL: S. FL —

Fire at Jewish community center in Fort Lauderdale was arson, but not a hate crime, officials say” via Shira Moolten of the Orlando Sentinel — A fire at the Las Olas Chabad Jewish Center in Fort Lauderdale Saturday morning was intentionally set, but not a hate crime, officials say. The alleged arsonist, Scott Hannaford, 50, is now charged with two counts of arson, criminal mischief and possession of cocaine, according to Fort Lauderdale Police spokesperson Casey Liening. He is a transient resident who has trespassed on the property before. Fort Lauderdale Police and Fire Rescue responded to a call about a vehicle fire at the center on Tarpon Drive and East Las Olas Boulevard a little after 7 a.m. Saturday, according to Liening and Battalion Chief Greg May. By the time firefighters got there the fire had spread from the vehicle to the actual building, he said.

An arsonist sets the Las Olas Chabad Jewish Center on fire, but it wasn’t a hate crime. Image via NBC 6.

Fort Lauderdale is looking at raising roads to battle rising seas” via Susannah Bryan of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — It’s a scary thought: Sea levels rising by as much as 2 feet, swallowing up land, homes and everything else not on high ground. It could happen as soon as 2060, experts say. Fort Lauderdale, with its overabundance of low-lying neighborhoods both inland and along the coast, is already looking at one drastic, “last resort” option to help keep streets high and dry: Raising roads. Higher sea walls, bigger pipes and better pumping stations won’t be enough to armor the city, Fort Lauderdale officials warn. Fort Lauderdale is seeking input from experts with the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit organization made up of land-use experts. Fort Lauderdale is raising sea walls, upgrading drainage and installing tidal valves in an attempt to reduce coastal flooding.

Miami-Dade GOP slams vape expo as ‘mockery of our federal government’s failed enforcement’” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — As vaping and cannabis enthusiasts converge on the Alternative Products Expo in Miami, the Miami-Dade GOP is sounding the alarm that many of the products there are federally banned, but still being openly sold. Fortunately, the state of Florida seems poised to address it when the federal government has not. Rep. Alex Rizo, the organization’s Chair, said in a statement that the expo and company’s “brazen defiance of federal law” must be called out and products with child-enticing designs and flavors must be purged from the Florida marketplace. “Illegal disposable vapes in flavors like ‘Rainbow Candy’ and wrapped in cartoon packaging are banned in the United States, but the predatory marketing practices of these Chinese manufacturers are the reason these sinister products have become the most popular products for middle and high school students,” he said in a statement.

Surfside election features rematch for Mayor, 10 candidates for 4 Town Commission seats” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Surfside voters will decide whether to change or preserve most of their elected leaders in a General Election featuring a rematch for Mayor and 10 candidates vying for four Town Commission seats. Atop the ballot, first-term Mayor Shlomo Danzinger defends against former Mayor Charles Burkett, who lost by just 35 votes two years ago. The two squared off in a Mayor’s candidate forum on Jan. 30.

How Cuba recruits spies to penetrate inner circles of the U.S. government“ via Brett Forrest and Warren Strobel of The Wall Street Journal — Manuel Rocha was on alert, zigzagging through Miami’s Brickell district, en route to a clandestine meeting—at a church. The retired U.S. ambassador was fearful of being tailed. But “a message for you from your friends in Havana” was waiting, promised a text from the man who had requested the covert encounter, according to a federal criminal complaint.

Happening today — State Attorney Dave Aronberg will hold a news conference to announce recent arrests as a result of the State Attorney/PBSO task force that targets individuals who defrauded the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP): 11:15 a.m., State Attorney’s Office, 2nd Floor Conference Room, 401 North Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach.

— LOCAL: C. FL —

Sanford group completes first step toward ousting Kerry Wiggins” via Martin Comas of the Orlando Sentinel — A group of Sanford residents is one step closer to its goal of ousting City Commissioner Wiggins. The Concerned Citizens Task Force collected 1,110 signatures from registered voters in the city’s District 2 — four more than required by state law — and turned them in to City Clerk Traci Houchin. Houchin sent the petition to Seminole Supervisor of Elections Chris Anderson, whose staff members have 30 days to verify signatures. Wiggins then has five days to challenge the recall effort with a written defense.

A group of Sanford residents have knives out for Kerry Wiggins.

Developer proposes huge entertainment complex near Disney” via Laura Kinsler of the Orlando Sentinel — One of the worst blighted areas in Orlando’s tourism corridor could be transformed into a sprawling new entertainment district called Ovation with luxury hotels, dining and attractions, including a 175-foot-tall Ferris wheel that can be seen from Interstate-4. “It’s going to be very cool,” said Bill Shewalter, vice president of development for Meyers Group, which wrapped up more than two years of planning to create the Ovation master plan on a 77-acre abandoned hotel site at the I-4 interchange with U.S. Highway 192 in Kissimmee.

Eatonville submits bid to become home of Florida African-American history museum” via Stephen Hudak of the Orlando Sentinel — The town of Eatonville, long known for its historic origins as the nation’s first incorporated Black municipality, officially submitted its bid package Friday hoping to make it the home of Florida African-American history museum. The application includes a letter of conditional support from Orange County Public Schools for the museum to occupy up to 10 acres of the former Robert Hungerford Normal and Industrial School site, currently in a legal dispute.


One vote killed a House-approved measure to revamp the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority” via Craig Kopp of WUSF — A bill that would have radically changed the makeup and operation of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority was approved by the House this Session. It died, however, when it got to the Senate because of the vote of one state Senator, Darryl Rouson. The measure before the Florida Legislature would have downsized the transit authority’s Board from 15 to 11, eliminating appointed citizen Board members. But when a House bill is locally focused, the rules say one member of the Senate can block it from being heard.

Darryl Rouson puts a hold on the proposed revamp of the PSTA.

Race for east St. Petersburg City Council seat heating up” via William March of the Tampa Bay Times — The St. Petersburg District 3 City Council race shows signs of becoming a highly competitive donnybrook with more excitement than usual for a non-mayoral election. So far, there are five candidates in the race, all with at least some significant levels of public prominence, influential backers or both, and more candidates are possible.

Construction is complete on Feeding Tampa Bay’s new facility, set to open in May” via Jo-Lynn Brown of TBBW — Ryan Companies has completed Feeding Tampa Bay’s new headquarters, a 210,000-square-foot industrial, distribution and office facility dedicated to supplying meals for millions of families facing food insecurity in West Central Florida. The headquarters is expected to open in May and will allow Feeding Tampa Bay to provide more meals and additional services that will lift the 10 counties they serve. The new headquarters will act as the primary distribution facility for the organization and includes 31,000 square feet of cold storage, an 11,000-square-foot kitchen that will serve daily meals and versatile spaces for a food bank and clinic.

— LOCAL: N. FL —

Former Jacksonville Public Defender Matt Shirk disbarred” via Andrew Pantazi of The Tributary — The Florida Supreme Court has disbarred Jacksonville’s disgraced former public defender, Shirk, once a rising Republican star who then squandered his chances at a political future when he hired women based on their physical appearance, propositioned them, fired them after his wife told him to, deleted public records, drank in the office, diverted campaign funds to his child’s private school, violated the attorney-client privilege of a 12-year-old, paid his attorneys the lowest salaries in the state, gave away office guns to a motorcycle club without documenting it and used the office’s spending power to pay for lavish hotels. Shirk would face two criminal investigations, a grand jury, a state ethics investigation, a state Auditor General investigation, and multiple Florida Bar complaints. In the end, it was the unlicensed practice of law that did Shirk in.

After all of Matt Shirk’s shenanigans, it was the unlicensed practice of law that did him in.

Not the right time? Duval School Board drops hunt for new headquarters, citing budget issues” via Steve Patterson of The Florida Times-Union — Duval County’s School Board won’t be moving its headquarters off downtown’s Southbank riverfront anytime soon, as the Board voted to reject the last two alternatives left on the table. “We need to move off the river. I’m just not sure that this point this is the right time to do that,” member Warren Jones said, a little before the Board canceled an invitation for negotiations over potential sites for new school district offices. That vote ended, at least for now, a set of steps the Board started in 2020.

Florida GOP suspends St. Johns County Chair Blake Paterson” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — The Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) has removed the St. Johns County GOP Chair. State Chair Evan Power informed Paterson in an email that he was removed, effective immediately, as both the St. Johns County Republican Executive Committee Chair and as a precinct Committee member. His duties will temporarily be assumed by Jamie Parham, a county GOP Vice Chair whom the party said Paterson wrongly suspended months ago. “You are prohibited from holding any position within the St. Johns GOP, the RPOF, or any RPOF chartered club in St. Johns County for a period of two (2) years,” Power wrote.

GRU shake-up: All members of Governor-appointed Gainesville Regional Utilities Authority Board to resign” via Nora O’Neill of The Gainesville Sun — All four members of the Governor-appointed GRU Authority Board have submitted resignation letters over a lawsuit filed by a local citizen group, Gainesville Residents United. The lawsuit questions the eligibility of the authority members based on their residency statuses. According to Robert Hutchinson, the president of Gainesville Residents United, all of the resignations will take effect within 60 days, though it is unclear whether any of the members resigned effective immediately.

Alachua County Supervisor of Elections sues church after injury” via Ryan Wyatt Turbeville of WCJB — Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Kim Barton is suing a Gainesville church after she tripped and fell while delivering voting materials. Barton was delivering the materials to Gateway Christian Center on Oct. 22 when she tripped on a riser. She alleges the riser was improperly installed with the wrong screws. Barton had to undergo multiple surgeries for her broken kneecap and arm. Alachua County paid the medical bills and wages. County officials are seeking reimbursement for the payments. The lawsuit seeks a judgment of $50,000 from the church for the negligence which led to the injury.

Even after Marsy’s Law ruling, Tallahassee police shield officer involved in shooting” via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat — After the Florida Supreme Court held Marsy’s Law can’t be used to hide the identities of law enforcement who used deadly force, the Tallahassee Police Department is refusing to release the name and personnel file for one of two officers at the heart of the landmark case. The state’s high court ruled Nov. 30 that Marsy’s Law, a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2018 that grants certain rights to crime victims, doesn’t guarantee anonymity for any victim, police officers included.


Conservancy scores big win against Burmese pythons — most wanted invasive species in Florida” via Mark H. Bickel and Natalie Neysa Alund of the Naples Daily News — The new year is just over two months old, but already the Conservancy of Southwest Florida is putting an impressive dent in the invasive Burmese python population. The Conservancy posted on its Facebook page on March 1 that its scientists captured and humanely killed 11 pythons recently. The combined weight of the 11 snakes was a whopping 500 pounds. One of the snakes was 16 feet long. The Facebook was made during National Invasive Species Week and underscored the decadelong efforts by the Conservancy to remove pythons from the environment.

Conservationists were able to humanely remove a quarter ton of Burmese pythons.


Democrats are hemorrhaging support with voters of color” via Nate Silver of the Silver Bulletin — As you may know, I’m not much of a fan of digging into poll cross tabs. Because of the small sample sizes and difficulties in reaching certain underrepresented groups, you can always find something “wrong” with them and use that to dismiss polling results you don’t like.

However, Adam Carlson of Split-Ticket has been performing an invaluable service by aggregating the results of different polls together, which at least solves the sample size problem. And he’s finding that Biden’s share of the vote has dropped dramatically among Black and Hispanic voters compared with an average reliable estimate of the 2020 vote.

Biden’s margin against Trump has basically not moved an inch among White voters; he’s losing them by 12 percentage points, as he did in 2020. However, Biden is now only winning Hispanics by 7 percentage points — down from 24 points in 2020 — and Black voters by “only” 55 points, as compared with 83 points in 2020.

I’m not going to cover every possible difficulty when surveying non-White voters, who generally have lower response rates to polls than White voters do. I’m just saying this has been a consistent pattern; Carlson has been doing the same analysis for months now, and he’s been finding the same thing every time. So, at the very least, Democrats can’t wish this problem away by complaining about small sample sizes, although that doesn’t mean they won’t try.

Let’s keep it to that, for now. Although the theory is plausible — that Democrats’ increasing progressivism and generational turnover is the root of the problem — that’s something that deserves a longer analysis. What he’s seeing in the data shouldn’t be dismissed as some kind of outlier, however. It’s been replicated in poll after poll, and it has become increasingly apparent in election results, too.


Going it alone isn’t a COVID-19 strategy. Just ask Florida” via Mary Ellen Klas of Bloomberg — One of the enduring lessons of the pandemic is that politics reigned over public health. Rather than asserting leadership at the federal level, Trump left most of the decisions to the states. The absence of a coherent federal response meant state public health strategies varied widely. DeSantis was so determined to boost Trump’s re-election campaign in the Spring of 2020 that he kept residents in the dark about evidence that the virus was spreading because it contradicted the President’s claims that things were getting better. Florida only provided data that presented its outbreak in the most favorable light. One public health expert considered the state data so misleading, he built his own Florida COVID-19 Dashboard, using numbers augmented by federal data.

Verdict brings closure to JEA mess left in ex-CEO Aaron Zahn’s wake” via Nate Monroe of The Florida Times-Union — The corruption trial of JEA’s former executives, which was historic in this town by any measure — the size of the attempted raid on the public treasury, the number of juries, the length, its long shadow over city politics — was Zahn’s big chance, the platform upon which he could finally show all of us haters, all of us doubters, all of us dummies, how wrong we were and how courageous, how forward-thinking, how smart he of Yale was, lo these many years. Instead, Zahn’s defense was marked by the very mendacity and bad faith that defined his brief but catastrophic tenure as the chief executive of Jacksonville’s city-owned electric, water and sewer utility. His defense was a collection of crackpot conspiracy theories and too-cute-by-half obfuscations.

JEA saga led to outrage and, in the end, an outrageous defense” via Mark Woods of The Florida Times-Union — It was quite the outrageous path to take at the end of all of this. To spin the charges around and say not only wasn’t Zahn involved in a conspiracy, he was the victim of one. To throw out the baited words “deep state” and then point accusatory fingers at the Council auditors, the State Attorney’s office, business leaders in the Civic Council, and, out of the blue, one current Board member never mentioned in the trial before this point. Regardless of the verdicts, even long before this went to trial, I’d comfortably say one thing: Let history and the record show that, when it came to the JEA saga, we saw outrage in Jacksonville. Plenty of it. That’s a significant part of this chapter in Jacksonville’s history.

Lawmakers didn’t fix prisons. They may wish they had” via Robert Sanchez of the Miami Herald — It’s not easy to muster public sympathy or political support for a purpose linked to a group that includes murderers, rapists and child molesters. So, the 2024 Legislature’s refusal to adequately address festering problems within the state’s massive prison system was not a total surprise. Even so, the failure to act responsibly was doubly shameful because the Legislature was well aware of the problems, They were outlined in a state-commissioned report by the KPMG consulting firm. You can read it here. KPMG had recommended $2 billion in spending right away to begin addressing some of the more pressing problems. Instead, in the $117 billion state budget, the Department of Corrections will get $100 million now and maybe more in the future to deal with these urgent needs. Why did the legislation supporting the KPMG report’s recommended level of spending fail to advance? Maybe the problem was the way they were presented.

Jeffrey Epstein case shows problem with grand jury secrecy” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — DeSantis recently signed a bill that could reveal what happened when Florida prosecutors went behind closed doors and ended up offering a ridiculous sweetheart deal to Epstein. Good. Answers are way overdue. The way Epstein’s case was originally handled is considered one of this state’s highest-profile cases of perverted justice. A supremely wealthy man with connections to everyone from Bill Clinton to Trump was accused of abuse by more than a dozen girls and young women. Yet state and federal prosecutors used secretive grand jury proceedings to emerge with a deal that was so lax that Epstein received a short stint in jail where he wasn’t even required to stay behind bars and was instead allowed to visit his West Palm Beach office six days a week. It wasn’t until a decade later that federal prosecutors in New York went after Epstein again, saying he had to account for a litany of crimes against minors.

Thank you, Florida legislators, for supporting Florida Polytechnic” via Randy Avent for The Ledger — The Florida Polytechnic University community is grateful for the strong support we received from the Polk County Legislative Delegation during the 2024 Session. Sens. Colleen Burton and Ben Albritton and Reps. Josie Tomkow, Jennifer Canady, Melony Bell and Sam Killebrew have been staunch advocates for our university, and I want to thank them for believing in our mission and for their service to our community. As a result of this support and that of the legislative leadership, we can continue our growth efforts by expanding our in-demand academic programs, our talented student body, top faculty, and essential campus facilities.


— ALOE —

Will Robinson prepares for 10K at preserve named for his father” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — There’s an important run on the horizon for Robinson, even though he remains unopposed. The Bradenton Republican will join throngs of runners at the Robinson Preserve Twilight 5K &10K. While anyone who visited the state Representative’s Tallahassee office likely noticed the finisher medals on display, this annual run remains especially dear to the lawmaker. It’s held at the Robinson Preserve, 487 acres of public land named for Robinson’s father William Robinson, Sr.

Will Robinson laces up for a 10K run in his father’s honor.


Celebrating today is Andy Ford, formerly of the Florida Education Association, Chelsea Lunn, Ron Matus of Step Up for Students, Orlando Pryor, and former Rep. Deborah Tamargo. Because Sunburn was off, we missed our friend Christian Minor‘s birthday. We trust it was a great one! More belated happy birthday wishes to Kelsey Lehtomaa Frouge and former Rep. Sean Shaw.


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.

One comment

  • Rupert Montagu

    March 18, 2024 at 5:27 am

    Why hasn’t the West intervened in Haiti? How sad and sickening to witness the lawless violence so close to other Caribbean beauty spots. Haiti is indeed such a beautiful country and we have so many fond memories of visiting Haiti. Talking of Port au Prince, Graham Greene and the Hôtel Oloffson, Haiti may be a shocking place to live now but not everyone thinks Haiti is Hell and that sentiment would not just be limited to Graham Greene were he alive. Of course, Graham was one of the great writers of the 20th Century and an MI6 spook.

    One other ex-spook used to love Haiti until the TonTon Macoute hunted him down like a wild animal. Maybe he deserved it? Was he front running the real CIA Haitian equivalent to the Cuban Bay of Pigs?

    If you relish and yearn for Haitian spy thrillers as curiously and bizarrely compelling as Graham Greene’s Comedians, crave for the cruel stability of the Duvaliers and have frequented Hôtel Oloffson you’re never going to put down Bill Fairclough’s fact based spy thriller Beyond Enkription in The Burlington Files series. His Haitian experiences may have been gruesome but they make for intriguing reading compared with today’s grim news.

    Beyond Enkription is an intriguing unadulterated factual thriller and a super read as long as you don’t expect John le Carré’s delicate diction, sophisticated syntax and placid plots. Nevertheless, it has been heralded by one US critic as “being up there with My Silent War by Kim Philby and No Other Choice by George Blake”. Little wonder Beyond Enkription is mandatory reading on some countries’ intelligence induction programs.

    Beyond Enkription is so real you may have nightmares of being back in Port au Prince anguishing over being a spy on the run. The trouble is, if you were a white spook being chased by the TonTon Macoute in the seventies you were usually cornered and … well best leave it to your imagination or simply read Beyond Enkription.

    Interestingly Fairclough was one of Pemberton’s People in MI6 (see a brief intriguing News Article dated 31 October 2022 in TheBurlingtonFiles website). If you have any questions about Ungentlemanly Warfare after reading that do remember the best quote from The Burlington Files to date is “Don’t ask me, I’m British”.

Comments are closed.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704