Good Monday morning.
A top of the ‘burn happy birthday shoutout to our fellow Gasparilla Parade reveler, Attorney General Ashley Moody.
Look for Gov. Ron DeSantis to sign HB 1557 into law. The legislation, titled Parental Rights in Education, bans certain instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom. I know, I know, the Legislature had not even sent the bill to the Governor as of Sunday night but look for an announcement about an event at Classical Preparatory School in Spring Hill.
Starting today, Florida Politics debuts the 2022 list of Tampa Bay’s 25 Most Powerful Politicians.
We asked several of the region’s leading political consultants, activists, bloggers, operatives, and local lobbyists to offer us their takes on the most powerful pols in the area — and gave no suggestions.
For this annual series, now in its ninth year, we define the Tampa Bay region as Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco, but can also include Hernando, Polk or Sarasota, especially if politicians from those areas impact either Pinellas or Hillsborough.
No. 1 on a panelist’s list earns 25 points, No. 2 with 24 points and so on. No. 25 receives one point. Add up the scores and — voilà — the comprehensive Top 25 list.
As you will see throughout the week, expect some familiar names to appear, particularly in the top four or five. And the few characters not included could indeed be a surprise (we will also name some runners-up in a separate post in the series).
So, without further ado … please stay tuned to Florida Politics starting at 10 a.m. and continuing over the next five days — who will be among the 25 most influential political figures in Tampa Bay?
Wilton Simpson’s bid for Agriculture Commissioner won a solid boost with a fresh endorsement from the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson showered praise on the Trilby Republican:
“The Florida Chamber of Commerce endorses Wilton Simpson as Florida’s next Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services. As our recent Most Valuable Legislator, Wilton Simpson has taken the lessons of being a local business owner and applied them to improving the business climate for free enterprise in Florida. Wilton has fought tirelessly for the business community’s legislative priorities, including the passage of COVID-19 liability protections for Florida employers and health care providers, protecting legacy farms from frivolous litigation through The Florida Right to Farm Act, and for lower taxes for local Florida businesses and families.”
“Florida’s businesses kept us going through the pandemic with ingenuity and perseverance, and I am proud of the work we have done to protect their opportunity to earn an honest day’s living,” Simpson said.
Simpson is currently the only major candidate in the race to succeed Democratic Commissioner Nikki Fried, who is forgoing re-election to challenge DeSantis. The endorsement comes as the Republican primary is on the verge of heating up after Army veteran Chuck Nadd announced his intent to run for the post.
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
—@AmyEWalter: Why hasn’t (Joe) Biden job approve gotten a ‘rally around the flag’ boost? New NBC poll gives us some insights. When asked if they prefer Biden focus most on inflation/Econ or end war in Ukraine, 68% pick inflation/Econ. Biden job approve on the economy: 33/63 (-30). All about the Econ
—@AshleyRParker: Now, receiving a humanitarian assistance briefing, Biden coughs, takes a sip of water, and explains to Polish President (Andrzej) Duda: “I was visiting our troops and I had pizza pie with hot peppers on it.”
—@RichardHaass: The White House walk-back of @POTUS regime change call is unlikely to wash. (Vladimir) Putin will see it as confirmation of what he’s believed all along. Bad lapse in discipline that runs risk of extending the scope and duration of the war.
—@WalshFreedom: All the President’s smart people didn’t want Reagan to say, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” And all the President’s smart people wish Biden hadn’t said, “For God’s sake, this man can’t remain in power.” All the President’s smart people are often wrong.
—@ChristinaPushaw: Today I am once again reminded how lucky I am to work for a leader who says what he means, means what he says, and doesn’t blurt out totally inappropriate, dangerous remarks at an incredibly precarious geopolitical time. Can’t imagine how hard it would be to be Biden’s press sec. —
—@NoahPransky: With summer Supreme Court decisions that could — Reverse Roe v Wade — Prohibit cities from banning guns It’s quite possible the SCOTUS’ actions will matter far more to the midterms than anything Joe Biden has done to date.
—@SenRickScott: I had a good meeting with Judge (Ketanji Brown) Jackson, but I have serious concerns with her judicial record of being overturned & giving out easy sentences to sex offenders. We can’t have a soft-on-crime justice on the Supreme Court & need to get answers this week.
Jessica Chastain praises the Pixar employees that came out against Disney’s “Don’t Say Gay” response: “It’s important for people to take a stand against discriminatory, bigoted legislation.” https://t.co/YcZNPJv3eU | Variety On the Carpet presented by @DIRECTV pic.twitter.com/stEwfyp6cO
— Variety (@Variety) March 27, 2022
OSCARS ON FLORIDA—
In their opening monologue, #Oscars hosts @amyschumer @iamwandasykes @MoreReginaHall say “For all you in Florida, we’re going to have a gay night” before repeating “gay” over and over pic.twitter.com/kBtVNI0xx6
— Evan Donovan (@EvanDonovan) March 28, 2022
—@FrogNews: BREAKING: everyone in the country is moving to Florida, every damn hotel is full, every damn restaurant slammed. You can’t even rent a damn car. Your houses are worth twice what you paid for them … But the Governor is mean, and doing a horrible job … I read it in the @SunSentinel
Freedom unleashed. Miami, Florida. pic.twitter.com/WJvfVqLfP2
— Scott Wagner (@ScottWagnerFL) March 27, 2022
— DAYS UNTIL —
‘Macbeth’ with Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga preview performances on Broadway — 2; Florida Chamber’s 2nd Annual Southeastern Leadership Conference on Safety, Health + Sustainability begins — 2; Grammys rescheduled in Las Vegas — 7; John Dingfelder to be replaced on Tampa City Council 一 10; MLB Opening Day — 11; ‘Better Call Saul’ final season begins — 22; Magic Johnson’s Apple TV+ docuseries ‘They Call Me Magic’ begins — 26; 2022 Florida Chamber Transportation, Growth & Infrastructure Solution Summit — 32; ‘The Godfather’ T.V. series ‘The Offer’ premieres — 33; 2nd half of ‘Ozark’ final season begins — 33; federal student loan payments will resume — 35; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 40; Florida TaxWatch’s Spring Meeting — 45; ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ starts on Disney+ — 59; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ premieres — 61; ‘Platinum Jubilee’ for Queen Elizabeth II — 67; California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota hold midterm Primaries — 72; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 104; San Diego Comic-Con 2022 — 116; Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner novel ‘Heat 2’ publishes — 135; ‘The Lord of the Rings’ premieres on Amazon Prime — 159; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 193; Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Passenger’ releases — 211; ‘Black Panther 2’ premieres — 230; ‘The Flash’ premieres — 233; McCarthy’s ‘Stella Maris’ releases — 240; ‘Avatar 2′ premieres — 265; ‘Captain Marvel 2′ premieres — 329; 2023 Legislative Session convenes — 345; ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ premieres — 362; 2023 Session Sine Die — 405; ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ premieres — 488; ‘Dune: Part Two’ premieres — 572; Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games — 852.
“Ethics probe into sexual harassment allegations against former Sen. Jack Latvala reemerges” via Gray Rohrer of Florida Politics — A long-dormant investigation by the Commission on Ethics into allegations against Latvala sexually harassing a Senate aide appears poised to move forward in the coming weeks.
Latvala’s attorney, Ryan Andrews, sent a letter Thursday to Tiffany Cruz, attorney for Rachel Perrin Rogers, the aide who accused Latvala of sexual harassment on several occasions. The letter says the Commission is close to recommending there was probable cause for the allegations and Andrews will depose Perrin Rogers, reviving the episode that led to Latvala’s resignation in 2017. Latvala denies the accusations.
“If probable cause is found, a trial at (the Division of Administrative Hearings) will be set and I will be forced/have no choice but to vigorously defend this matter on behalf of my client,” Andrews wrote. “While I disagree with Mrs. Rogers’ allegations, I am very sympathetic to the toll several months of discovery, numerous depositions, and the process will have on her and the healing and progress she has made over the past several years. I am loathed to have to reopen those wounds, but if probable cause is found I will have no choice. In other words, the Commission is not giving my client or Mrs. Rogers a choice.”
“Charlie Crist visits Puerto Rico” via Romy Ellenbogen of the Tampa Bay Times — In the decade since U.S. Rep. Crist served as Governor, the state has become one of the most popular destinations for Puerto Ricans moving to the U.S. mainland, approaching and at points surpassing New York. After Hurricane Maria battered the island in 2017, Florida saw a surge in new residents. That population growth has changed the political calculus of Florida candidates and made the island a common campaign stop. On Friday, Crist visited Puerto Rico for the first time as part of his campaign. Crist traveled with U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, a representative from the Central Florida area and the first Congressman of Puerto Rican descent elected in Florida.
Crist rolls out six new endorsements — A group of six elected officials and community leaders is endorsing Crist for Governor. This new batch of endorsements includes former Congressman and 2006 Florida Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jim Davis and Broward State Attorney Harold Pryor, joined by Dorothy Inman-Johnson, Tallahassee’s first Black female Mayor, Karen Perez, Hillsborough County School Board Member, Mike Suarez, former Tampa City Councilman, and Venice Mayor Ron Feinsod.
Nikki Fried names Mitchell Berger as campaign finance chair — Berger is founder and chair of Berger Singerman, a law firm with offices in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tallahassee, and West Palm Beach. Corporate and political clients range from AOL Time Warner to Vice President Al Gore and Joseph Lieberman in the post-2000 election Florida lawsuits. “Mitchell is easily one of the most well-respected attorneys and political figures in Florida,” Fried said in a statement. “He has spent his career involved in a range of issues that affect Floridians every day, from the environment to education. His experience spans decades, and I am incredibly grateful for his service.”
“In floating a campaign trial balloon, Chuck Nadd forgot some important things” via Brian Burgess of The Capitolist — Campaign silly season has officially started, and we’re already witnessing shenanigans being pulled by political operatives trying to fleece donors, or in some cases, fleece a naive candidate who doesn’t realize what they are getting into. Case in point: imagine testing the waters for a potential campaign for Florida agriculture commissioner and getting so caught up in the media attention and politics that you forget that Florida agriculture is an important part of the job. That’s what happened to poor Nadd. He seemed not to know that sugar farming is one of the many important agricultural producers operating in Florida.
“Dale Holness launches campaign to oust Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick in congressional rematch” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Holness, who lost his campaign for Congress last year by just five votes, said Saturday he’s running again. His campaign against Congresswoman Cherfilus-McCormick has been expected since she defeated him in the Nov. 2 Democratic congressional Primary to replace the late U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings. On Nov. 29, Holness filed paperwork showing he was raising money for another congressional bid. On Saturday, he made a formal “announcement,” a day after the third-place finisher in last year’s congressional primary, Barbara Sharief, said she would run in a primary for the state Senate and not make another run for Congress.
Jared Moskowitz nabs new round of endorsements — Moskowitz is unveiling new endorsements from elected officials at the state, county, and local levels in his bid to succeed Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch in Florida’s 22nd Congressional District. This brings the total number of endorsements to 71 elected officials and community leaders. The new endorsers include Sens. Tina Polsky and Bobby Powell; former Sen. Eleanor Sobel; Rep. Joe Geller, Broward County Commissioner Mark Bogen and Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber.
“Barbara Sharief says she’ll challenge Lauren Book in SD 35” via Anne Geggis of Florida Politics — Former Broward County Commissioner Sharief will be taking on Senate Democratic Leader Book to represent the new Senate District 35. Flanked by her family, she made the announcement Friday at her Davie medical home health care business office. Sharief shared her story about losing her father, who died when she was 14, and struggling to help support her large family. “I love serving my community and I’m not done yet — not by a long shot,” she said. This unlikely matchup will be a battle between Sharief, who has represented the cities in this district in one way or another for 13 years, and Book, one of the Democrats’ biggest stars, who is moving to a new district to avoid a primary with an incumbent Democratic Senator.
—“J.J. Grow drops out of House District 23 race, endorses Ralph Massullo” via Mike Wright of Florida Politics
“Democrat Ed Measom brewing candidacy in new HD 38” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Looking for a candidate to have a beer with? Measom might be able to help you with that. The newest candidate to run in the newly redrawn House District 38 is a retired brewery manager who taught beer appreciation and history for 14 years at the University of Central Florida. He has been active with the Central Florida Home Brewers Association for more than 19 years, including past service as president of the organization. In politics, Measom is challenging Rep. David Smith, along with a couple of others, focusing on education, economic development, and the environment.
“Nate Robertson to push charter schools, economy in HD 40 run” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Robertson has switched his candidacy to House District 40, declaring that his campaign will focus on increasing school choice and economic development in the predominantly low-income Orange County communities. Robertson is running on a personal freedom and economic empowerment platform. That starts, he said, with more freedom and options for parents in education, through efforts to encourage the development of more charter and magnet schools in the region. “You know, when you think about the area of Pine Hills, there aren’t a whole lot of options besides the public school system. So, I’m wanting to make sure that we’re focusing on what are the best options,” Robertson said, emphasizing his campaign’s top priority.
“Republicans build on voter registration momentum in Tampa Bay” via William March of the Tampa Bay Times — Republican voter registration has gained on Democrats over the last year in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties, according to election supervisor’s offices registration figures. No-party registrants continue to be the fastest-growing category. The change is most significant in Hillsborough, where Democratic voter numbers hit a record advantage last year over Republicans. In January 2021, Democrats led by 73,671 — 364,979 to the Republicans’ 291,308. As of Thursday, that margin had dropped to 61,879 — 344,728 to 282,849. In GOP-dominated Pasco, Republicans increased their margin from 41,836 in January 2021 to 46,427, with 160,024 registrants to the Democrats’ 113,597.
— DATELINE TALLY —
“Ron DeSantis signs bill that term limits school board members, gives parents more say in classroom textbooks” via Mark Harper of The Daytona Beach News-Journal — DeSantis signed a contentious bill Friday in Daytona Beach limiting the length of terms school board members can serve and giving parents more say in what textbooks are used in classrooms. DeSantis said the bill was “probably the strongest curriculum transparency legislation in the country.” HB 1467 sets up 12-year term limits for school board members. Its most controversial provisions give parents and members of the public increased access to the process of selecting and removing school library books and instructional materials.
“DeSantis signs bill limiting use of physical restraints on students” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — DeSantis signed a bill Friday limiting a “mechanical restraint” on students. The bill (HB 235) outright bans staff from using mechanical restraints on students unless they are school resource officers or school guardians. “Physical restraint may be used only when there is an imminent risk of serious injury and must be discontinued as soon as the threat posed by the dangerous behavior has dissipated,” the bill stipulates. The new language is an update of legislation passed last year, which allowed restraints so long as they didn’t restrict air flow, blood flow, or put students in a facedown position. This year’s legislation removes the provision and limits restraint use by “authorized personnel” on students in grades 6 through 12.
“DeSantis signs ‘seizure action plan’ bill into law” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — DeSantis signed a bill Friday allowing parents to draft “individualized seizure action plans” that school staff could follow in the event their child had a seizure. The plans will provide school staff with a student’s medical and personal information. It also will include the contact information of parents and health care providers. Rep. Nick Duran and Rep. Mike Gottlieb are the bill sponsors (HB 173). Under the new law, school employees, including nurses, bus drivers, bus aides, “or any officer or agent of the school district” will have to attend training on caring for students with a submitted seizure action plan.
“South Florida enviro group caught astroturfing opposition to water bill” via Brian Burgess of The Capitolist — While state lawmakers and DeSantis were engaged in a seesaw debate over the fate of a water management bill last month, one South Florida environmental front group went out of its way to exert influence on the outcome. The group, Captains for Clean Water, waged an astroturfing campaign, the practice of projecting artificial support or opposition to a political issue, as though the supporters were the real thing, to collect petition signatures to be used in opposition to Senate Bill 2508. The campaign, waged on social media sites like Facebook, showed digital images to users and asked them to sign the group’s petition in opposition to the legislation. But of the at least $25,000 that Captains for Clean Water spent on digital advertising to oppose the bill, about 91% of those dollars were spent seeking out-of-state petition signers.
— STATEWIDE —
“Florida reports 1,167 COVID-19 deaths, over 16,000 cases over the last two weeks” via Caroline Catherman of the Orlando Sentinel — There were 16,741 new coronavirus cases over the last two weeks among Florida residents bringing the cumulative total to 5,841,469. With 1,167 more fatalities on record, 73,027 Florida residents have died. The Florida Department of Health switched to biweekly reporting two weeks ago; there was no report last week. The death total over the previous two weeks reflects a decrease from the 2,070 reported two weeks prior, but deaths can take several days or weeks to be reported. Most of the newly reported deaths are people who died before this week.
“DeSantis names Erika Donalds to FGCU Board of Trustees” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — A prominent school choice advocate is among four individuals DeSantis appointed to the Florida Gulf Coast University board of trustees. DeSantis appointed Optima Ed CEO Donalds, Sunshine Ace Hardware President Michael Wynn, Dynasil Corporation of America President Peter Sulick and GrayRobinson shareholder Luis Rivera to FGCU’s Board of Trustees. Donalds is the most notable political appointment. A former Collier County School Board member and wife to U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds, the Naples Republican has been among the most vocal advocates of school choice in the state. She also previously served on the Constitution Revision Commission, an appointee of then-House Speaker Richard Corcoran.
“Republicans on verge of barring free legal help for election officials” via Fredreka Schouten of Fredericka Schouten of KAKE ABC News — Legislation recently approved in Florida would cut off free legal assistance to election officials, alarming legal advocates who have worked to defend election workers from a barrage of threats, harassment and punishing new laws. The bill, which Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature passed this month — and DeSantis is expected to sign — would extend an existing ban on private donations to help run elections to include “the cost of any litigation related to election administration.” Critics say that provision amounts to a ban on pro-bono legal help for election officials. The Florida move to prevent election officials from getting free legal assistance appears to be the first of its kind.
“‘The problem is poverty’: Florida removing more kids from poor families over alleged ‘neglect’” via Suzanne Hirt of USA Today — Families are increasingly in the crosshairs of a child welfare agency that shifted its focus eight years ago from family preservation to protecting kids at all costs. The move, sparked by news headlines about children who died when DCF left them in abusive homes, was supposed to rescue more kids from abuse. Instead, it triggered a flurry of removals for reasons that the department classifies as neglect but experts say are often just symptoms of poverty. Neglect is a catchall category that includes allegations of insufficient food, clothing, care or shelter, in addition to domestic violence. Along with inadequate housing, these allegations factored into 50% of removals in 2020, up from 25% before the policy change in 2014. The surge is the highest in the nation during that period.
“Surfside first responders from SWFL to get state funds for equipment, training” via Tomas Rodriguez of the Fort Myers News-Press — Southwest Florida first responders will soon receive their slice of $10 million to protect Urban Search & Rescue Task Force 6, one of eight teams statewide that responded to the Surfside condo building collapse last summer. Of that, $5.8 million will help supply tractors, cargo trailers, trucks, forklifts, and utility vehicles to support lifesaving search-and-rescue missions. An additional $3.9 million will be distributed among the eight urban search and rescue task forces, as well as 40 light technical rescue teams, all of which respond to statewide emergencies.
— D.C. MATTERS —
“Joe Biden lashes at Vladimir Putin, calls for Western resolve for freedom” via Chris Megerian, Vanessa Gera and Aamer Madhani of The Associated Press — Biden delivered a forceful and highly personal condemnation of Russia’s Putin on Saturday, summoning a call for liberal democracy and a durable resolve among Western nations in the face of a brutal autocrat. As he capped a four-day trip to Europe, a blend of emotive scenes with refugees and standing among other world leaders in grand settings, Biden said of Putin: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.” It was a dramatic escalation in rhetoric, Biden had earlier called Putin a “butcher,” that the White House found itself quickly walking back. Before Biden could even board Air Force One to begin the flight back to Washington, aides were clarifying that he wasn’t calling for an immediate change in government in Moscow.
—“‘Stop misspeaking’: Rick Scott blasts Biden’s gaffe about Russian regime change” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics
“Biden’s job approval falls to lowest level of his presidency amid war and inflation fears” via Mark Murray of NBC News — Amid Europe’s largest land war since World War II, 7 in 10 Americans expressed low confidence in Biden’s ability to deal with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in a new NBC News poll, and 8 in 10 voiced worry that the war will increase gas prices and possibly involve nuclear weapons. And during the nation’s largest inflation spike in 40 years, overwhelming majorities said they believe the country is headed in the wrong direction and disapproved of the President’s handling of the economy. Those are some of the major findings of the new poll, which found that Biden’s overall job approval rating had declined to 40%, the lowest level of his presidency.
“Biden budget seeks minimum tax on households worth $100m” via Josh Boak of The Associated Press — Biden intends to propose a minimum tax of 20% on households worth more than $100 million and cut projected budget deficits by more than $1 trillion over the next decade. Introducing the minimum tax on the wealthiest Americans would represent a significant reorienting of the tax code. It would apply to the top 0.01% of households, with half the expected revenue from households worth $1 billion or more. The minimum tax would effectively prevent the wealthiest sliver of America from paying lower rates than families who think of themselves as middle class, while helping to generate revenues to fuel Biden’s domestic ambitions and keep the deficit in check relative to the U.S. economy.
“Pressure builds on White House to end divisive health-border policy” via Krista Mahr of POLITICO — Pressure is increasing for the Biden administration to end a Donald Trump-era public health order being used to turn away migrants at the U.S. border, as COVID-19 cases drop and pandemic restrictions relax across the country. congressional lawmakers, public health experts, and immigration advocates say the expulsions are not being used to keep COVID-19 out of America but to stop migrants from coming in and, in the process, denying people fleeing violence and persecution the chance to seek asylum.
“Delta calls Biden administration to end COVID-19 travel restrictions” via Delta.com — Delta CEO Ed Bastian and other airline CEOs sent a letter to Biden urging the elimination of COVID-19-era transportation mandates, such as the federal mask requirement on airplanes and in airports that was recently extended to April 18. The CEOs also ask to remove the international pre-departure testing requirement for U.S. inbound customers. “Considering the improved public health metrics in the U.S. and medical advancements to prevent the worst outcomes of COVID-19, the federal mask mandate and pre-departure testing no longer fits with the current environment,” Bastian said. “We appreciate the leadership of the federal government throughout the pandemic. Current data and science show it’s time to move from mandates to guidance and personal health choices.”
“Biden: I would be ‘very fortunate’ to run against Donald Trump in 2024” via Myah Ward of POLITICO — Biden on Thursday said he would be “very fortunate” if he were to face off against Trump in the 2024 Presidential election. Biden broke with the long-standing norm that Presidents don’t talk about domestic politics while abroad. “In the next election, I’d be very fortunate if I had that same man running against me,” Biden said. Biden, who has long touted his decades of experience in foreign policy, has used the world stage to stand in contrast with his immediate predecessor, who was accused of harming Washington’s relationships abroad and cozying up with leaders like China’s Xi Jinping and Putin.
—“If prosecutors are finished investigating Trump, they should say so” via Norman Eisen, E. Danya Perry and Joshua Perry of The Washington Post
“Stephanie Murphy tries talking sense to her Party” via Bill Cotterell of the Tallahassee Democrat — A Florida congresswoman whose promising political career will end far too early is departing Washington with some ominous advice for her fellow Democrats, who probably won’t listen. U.S. Rep. Murphy announced late last year that she wouldn’t run for re-election. Considered a moderate in a Democratic caucus dominated by its farthest-left members, Murphy is among at least 31 members calling it quits. In a blunt interview with Politico’s “Deep Dive” feature, she recently said the Biden White House and liberal forces in the House Democratic Caucus have made it clear that moderates like herself are not welcome. The “party of the big tent” Hubert Humphrey and Lyndon Johnson built is a distant memory, if it’s recalled at all by today’s Democrats.
“Byron Donalds champions bill to help those affected by harmful algal blooms” via Amy Bennett Williams of the Fort Myers News-Press — Politicians on both sides of the aisle are lining up behind proposed harmful algal bloom legislation championed by Donalds. Among other things, the Protecting Local Communities from Harmful Algal Blooms Act would give a push to research on airborne toxins caused by harmful blooms, as well as making it easier for bloom-affected communities to get government help. Though toxic algae blooms have plagued South Florida in recent years, Donalds, a Naples Republican, points out that they’re a challenge nationwide. The international Global Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms research program estimates freshwater blooms cost the United States $4.6 billion annually.
— LOCAL NOTES: N. FL —
“Where does the federal criminal case against former JEA executives go from here?” via Nate Monroe of The Florida Times-Union — A court filing earlier this month foreshadowed one of the first clashes likely to occur between federal prosecutors and attorneys representing former JEA executives Aaron Zahn and Ryan Wannemacher. The debate will center around a complex concept called Garrity Rights: Legal protections specifically provided to government employees when compelled to cooperate in workplace investigations. Garrity protections look to resolve that dilemma by providing employees with use and derivative use immunity, meaning the government can neither use Garrity-protected statements nor any evidence that can be tied back to those statements to prosecute those employees for criminal conduct.
“Jacksonville City Council members discuss possibly pausing part of gas tax increase” via Lauren Verno of News4Jax — It’s a hot topic among political leaders — finding a way to give drivers at least some break from the soaring cost of gas. Jacksonville City Council members have joined the trend. A 6-cent increase in the local gas tax hit the pumps in January. Now, council members are considering possibly suspending part of that increase. According to AAA, the average price for a gallon of gas in Florida was $4.12 — about 10 cents less than a week ago. But the real question is, is that trend here to stay? “I think it’s a little too early to say yet,” said Patrick De Haan, Gas Buddy head of petroleum. De Haan has accurately predicted gas trends over the last few weeks.
“Court demands status update in Rayonier, Nassau lawsuit” via Wes Wolfe of Florida Politics — The legal fight between forest and property giant Rayonier, and defendants Nassau County and Mike Mullin, the former county attorney, took a new turn this week when the 1st District Court of Appeal requested a status update from the parties involved. The lawsuit stems from accusations that Mullin and the county played roles in destroying and withholding public records relevant to another lawsuit. That other suit concerns Rayonier’s allegations that Mullin took inside knowledge from his time working with the company to his job with Nassau County and used that knowledge to thwart Rayonier’s property development goals around what is now known as Wildlight.
“Fernandina Port dropped the ball on federal grant reporting” via Wes Wolfe of Florida Politics — An independent auditor has found that the Fernandina Port has been negligent in its quarterly grant reporting. The finding is the latest piece in the ongoing drama between the Fernandina Port Authority and the man heading the company that runs the port. “The Authority did not submit its quarterly progress reports timely, that’s basically what it’s saying,” OHPA Chair Danny Fullwood said, referencing the report given to board members. The federal grant requires quarterly filings, Pierre LaPorte said. “Who’s responsible for that?” Fullwood asked. Nine seconds passed before LaPorte responded, “I don’t know.”
“Grand jury blasts 122% pay raise Quincy city commissioners gave themselves; no charges filed” via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat — A Gadsden County grand jury lambasted Quincy city commissioners who voted to give themselves a 122% raise last year, calling it “unjustified and wrong” in a scathing presentment. The State Attorney’s Office released the grand jury report on Friday. It included revelations about secretive meetings between Mayor Ronte Harris and City Commissioner Keith Dowdell before a vote on the raises that former City Manager Jack McLean Jr. alleged were violations of the Sunshine Law. The panel had insufficient evidence to continue with any criminal charges. But it opined that the raises were “inconsistent” with the City Commission’s mission and the salaries of other commissioners across the state.
“Mayoral race heats up after candidate accuses opponent of ‘anti-immigrant’ views” via John Henderson of The Gainesville Sun — Sparks are flying between two Gainesville mayoral candidates who are still months away from public debates. The latest feud comes between former Gainesville Regional Utilities General Manager Ed Bielarski and City Commissioner David Arreola, accusing his opponent of making “anti-immigrant” comments on Facebook earlier this week. The debate boils down to the city’s recent decision to move forward with a language access program, which, if approved, could bridge the language barrier between non-English speaking residents and local government. The estimated annual cost is about $316,000.
“Pinellas Democrats search for Kathleen Peters opponent” via the Tampa Bay Times — Will Pinellas County Commissioner Peters win re-election with no significant opposition? Pinellas Democrats are searching for a prominent challenger to Peters, a Republican former state House member now finishing her first term as a commissioner. But so far, with qualifying June 13-17, they’re coming up dry. The candidate many had hoped would run, former St. Petersburg City Council member Darden Rice, said this week she won’t. Rice just finished an unsuccessful campaign for mayor and is applying for a job as deputy director of the Florida Sierra Club.
“Did teen’s big size factor in Florida amusement ride death?” via Curt Anderson of The Associated Press — A rising middle school football player in Missouri, only 14 but already 6 feet, 5 inches tall and well over 300 pounds, Tyre Sampson fell to his death from a towering Florida amusement ride. Lawyers for his family want to know if negligence about his size, or other factors, played a role. “This young man, he was athletic, and he was big. He had no way of knowing,” said Bob Hilliard, a Texas attorney who represents Tyre’s mother, Nekia Dodd, in an interview Saturday. Investigators on Saturday continued to examine what happened Thursday night when Sampson dropped out of his seat from a 430-foot, free-fall amusement park ride that is taller than the Statue of Liberty along a busy street in the heart of Orlando’s tourist district near Disney World.
— MORE LOCAL: S. FL —
“Feds target illicit Russian riches in South Florida. Ordinary residents not on their radar” via Jay Weaver of the Miami Herald — Just after Russian troops invaded neighboring Ukraine in late February, the Biden administration announced an aggressive sanctions policy targeting a list of major Russian banks, businesses, and oligarchs with financial interests in the United States. In South Florida, agents with Homeland Security Investigations and the FBI immediately began searching bank, property, and corporate records along with other databases, focusing first on enclaves such as Aventura and Sunny Isles Beach, home to thousands of wealthy expatriate Russians, Ukrainians, and other Eastern Europeans.
“‘Extremely frustrating.’ Workers feel the pinch as Spring Break curfew subdues South Beach” via Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald — As the lights switched on and workers started stacking chairs inside Mango’s Tropical Cafe at midnight Friday, server Yubeisy Deleon said the city’s new Spring Break curfew in South Beach wasn’t only sending tourists home early. A 15-year employee at the Ocean Drive club, Deleon said she would leave her job early, too, without the roughly $500 she said she typically makes on a Friday night in March. She usually works until 4:30 a.m. and banks on the early morning hours of her shift to earn tips from bottle service. “Our checks are going to be light,” Deleon said in Spanish. “We’re not going to have enough money to pay our bills.”
“How pandemic ‘revenge travel’ is bringing a big boost to South Florida tourism” via Brooke Baitinger of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — You aren’t imagining it: There really are way more people visiting and vacationing in South Florida than ever before, including before the pandemic. Spring Break and postcard-worthy weather helped lure tourists here this busy spring season, but it hasn’t only been college kids on break sprawling on the beach and filling downtown beachside hotels, restaurants and bars. South Florida also sees more families, including parents bringing their children for Spring Break or those who haven’t been able to get out on a family vacation in the past few years. They see South Florida as the best environment due to our balmy weather and endless selection of outdoor activities, and a particularly frigid and icy winter across the country drove them south.
“They didn’t pay a hit man with the cash. Why aren’t more minority PPP loans in Miami being forgiven?” via the Miami Herald editorial board — There have been headline-making abuses of federal Paycheck Protection Program loans in South Florida, known for years as the fraud capital of the nation. There was the woman who allegedly used a $15,000 PPP loan to hire a hit man to kill a Miami federal airport officer. According to prosecutors, a man who, after his South Florida moving businesses got almost $4 million in PPP money, used some of those taxpayer dollars to buy a $318,000 Lamborghini Huracan Evo. A North Miami couple who lied when they claimed to be farmers, despite living in suburbia, to get hundreds of thousands of dollars in PPP money. But despite all the bad actors, PPP loans were a lifesaver for a lot of small businesses.
“Brightline train kills pedestrian in crash, fifth Palm Beach County collision in two months” via Giuseppe Sabella of The Palm Beach Post — A southbound Brightline train hit and killed a man in Lantana on Saturday afternoon. The crash between the train and pedestrian unfolded at about 2 p.m. near the intersection of South Dixie Highway and West Central Boulevard. Lantana Police Sgt. Constantine Laganas said no further information was available Saturday afternoon. Last month, Brightline trains were involved in at least four collisions during a one-week period in Palm Beach County.
“‘We came to make peace’: Lee County NAACP, First Street Restaurant owner meet over racism allegations” via Michael Braun and Kate Cimini of the Fort Myers News-Press — Lee County NAACP President James Muwakkil, stood in front of First Street Restaurant early Friday afternoon. The sun shined in his eyes; the doors to the restaurant behind him shut tight. “We came to make peace,” he said. Muwakkil sought an apology from First Street owner Vasil “Bill” Babamov after Black residents alleged they endured racist comments and treatment from staff. But no such apology was forthcoming. Instead, Muwakkil said, he presented Babamov with the allegations the Lee County NAACP had received, and Babamov promised to review them and apologize for any fact-based problems that arose in a meeting “soon.”
Happening today — Anti-Defamation League CEO and National Director Jonathan Greenblatt will speak to the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches, noon, Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach.
— TOP OPINION —
“DeSantis’ dangerous game” via Tina Nguyen of Puck News — Other potential 2024 candidates are seizing the opportunity to differentiate themselves on the Russia issue. Meanwhile, DeSantis has spoken volumes about his presidential ambitions by saying practically nothing about Russia at all. That’s not entirely surprising, given that the (Tucker) Carlson-watching, Putin-curious Trump voter is still a meaningful G.O.P. constituency. If Trump doesn’t run for re-election, millions of voters will be looking for a candidate reminiscent of the former President in style or substance. And DeSantis, who consistently ranks as the leading non-Trump front-runner for the ‘24 nomination, has always been careful to avoid alienating the MAGA base, whose issues skew aggressively domestic: culture wars, mask mandates, America First.
— OPINIONS —
“Biden delivers a clarion call for democracy. Now bring it home.” via Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post — Speaking Saturday at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, on the front lines of European democracy as war rages in neighboring Ukraine, Biden no doubt intended to evoke two great Cold War speeches. The speech might be known in future years for one line, which the White House quickly walked back. “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” Biden exclaimed, after earlier declaring that Russia had already lost its strategic objective. That was a bold declaration, one that essentially wrote off any direct relations with Russian President Putin, though Biden did not call for the United States to bring about regime change, leaving that to the Russian people. The speech might also be remembered for the heartfelt remarks offered directly to ordinary Russians.
“Decriminalization: The pathway to legalization and cannabis equity” via Nikki Fried for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Cannabis, for all intents and purposes, is already legal. Nearly two-thirds of our nation’s population has legal access to some form of cannabis. Right here in Florida, we voted overwhelmingly in favor of medical marijuana in 2016. Yet, as you are reading this, people are sitting in jails across the state for the possession of a substance that many others can purchase without any repercussions. The question before us isn’t whether we should legalize cannabis, the question is how. The answer is equitable cannabis legalization and implementation at all levels of government. I have seen firsthand the devastating effects that minor drug offenses can have on people’s lives.
“Partisan power grab imperils future of Fair Districts in Florida” via the Orlando Sentinel and South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial boards — State courts would lose all jurisdiction over congressional redistricting if a developing Republican legal strategy prevails. The courts could not overturn gerrymanders or adopt maps when a Governor and Legislature deadlock, as is happening in Florida. One party’s Legislature could all but banish the other from the state’s delegation. The radical “independent legislature” theory is a prescription for tyranny that rests on a tortured interpretation of the U.S. Constitution’s elections clause (Art. I, Sec. 4). Proponents of the theory say the elections clause allows only Congress to check how legislatures decide the “times, places and manner” of electing senators and representatives.
“Governor tainting Congressional maps” via The Palm Beach Post editorial board — DeSantis to Florida: If your skin is dark, don’t vote. DeSantis has stepped in with a proposed map of Florida congressional districts even more partisan than the ones the Republican-dominated state Legislature proposed. He would redraw the map to diminish the ability of Black voters in northern and central Florida to elect candidates of their choice and which tilts against a Hispanic district for good measure. DeSantis’ boundaries could enable Republicans to win 18 of the state’s 28 congressional districts, up from the current, 16-11 majority in Florida’s delegation. The nonpartisan Princeton Gerrymandering Project rates DeSantis’ plan an “F” for partisan fairness.
“Redistricting is just coal for the crazy train, and gets worse every election” via R. Bruce Anderson of The Lakeland Ledger — Ever since the Supreme Court’s landmark “Baker v. Carr” (1961) ruling, redistricting has become a decennial celebration of vicious party war. Skewing legislative districts to partisan advantage in the United States is constitutional and taken as a right by the winners: It’s the spoils of holding a majority in the Legislature. The most popular methods are either stuffing more and more opposition voters into fewer and fewer districts or diluting the impact of the opposition’s voters by spreading them around in districts that are safely your own: the so-called “packing” and “cracking” of legislative districts. The hidden peril of really good line drawing is that it almost always brings out the worst (or at least most radical) candidates in both parties.
“You should always be allowed to say ‘Gay’ at Orlando Pride games” via Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel — I’m glad the Orlando Pride owned their mistake, quickly released a statement and apologized profusely for what happened at last week’s match when the team forced its official supporter’s group — the Black Swans Drinking Club — to remove a banner that simply read “Gay.” Whoever ordered the banner taken down at Exploria Stadium was strictly following a standard policy implemented at most sports venues, including the Amway Center, which prohibits spectators from displaying signs or banners with political messages. And sadly, in our state, the word “Gay” itself has become a divisive game of partisan political football between Republicans and Democrats.
“Tips for new Florida residents to assimilate quickly with hostile local population” via Frank Cerabino of The Palm Beach Post — Attention, new Florida residents. The natives are restless. A survey of 1,000 Florida homeowners last month found that most of them complained about the influx of new out-of-state homebuyers, to the point where they were considering moving to another part of Florida or out of state. Of course, they’re not going to move away. That’s just typical grousing. The latest batch of arrivals brought extra attention upon themselves by being such big spenders that they’ve spiked the demand for homes, causing many Floridians who are already here to feel priced out of the housing market and resentful. So, the new arrivals are getting blamed for it. The survey found that 73% of Floridians opined that too many people moved here from out of state.
— ALOE —
“After 50 years at the Florida Capitol, John Phelps quietly steps down” via Samuel P. Bell and Marjorie Turnbull of the Tallahassee Democrat — This month, without fanfare, one of the finest people ever to serve the Florida Legislature retired. For nearly 50 years, the Phelps, Clerk of the House and Director of the Senate Rules Committee, served both chambers with immense distinction. Yet his contributions are often unacknowledged, since he worked quietly as a counselor to House Speakers, Senate Presidents, and committee staff directors, and never sought the credit he richly deserved. Phelps was the quiet, competent, trusted right hand to the powerful who ruled the Legislature and made the laws. His influence can never be fully measured because he lets the credit go to the leaders he served. But all of them felt his guiding hand and wise counsel.
“Rehabilitated dolphin arrives at Florida Keys facility” via The Associated Press — A juvenile bottlenose dolphin has been flown to the Florida Keys for permanent sanctuary after spending nine months healing at a Texas-based marine rehabilitation center. The orphaned male calf, named “Ranger,” arrived Friday at the Florida Keys-based Dolphin Research Center. He was rescued in June 2021 after being discovered stranded in waters around Goose Island State Park in Texas, suffering from an underlying respiratory infection and dehydration. He was found near his dead mother and was transported to the Texas State Aquarium Wildlife Rescue Center. The National Marine Fisheries Service determined the dolphin could not survive in the wild and chose the Dolphin Research Center to care for the marine mammal for the rest of his life.
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Best wishes to Chris Bailey, director of State Government Affairs for Spectrum. Belated happy birthday wishes to Autumn Beck Blackledge and Brittany Dover.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Daniel Dean, Renzo Downey, Jacob Ogles, and Drew Wilson.