Some people never change. Frank Artiles continues to prove it, one tweet at a time.
In 2017, Artiles resigned his Senate after he used vulgarities and a variation of the N-word in a barroom conversation with two black colleagues.
Three years later, it seems he’s learned a new word — kind of.
Shortly after 5 o’clock on Monday, his daily transformation into “Frank the Tank” complete, Artiles directed a flurry of insults toward yours truly.
In a true show of class, his tantrum included calling me a “shylock,” an anti-Semitic slur furthering a stereotype that Jewish people are predatory lenders.
As an aside, the term traces its roots to Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, which features a character of the same name. For a good laugh, imagine Artiles reading Shakespeare. Maybe a “consultant” he hired out of a Hooters during one of his bacchanal bouts is handling Portia’s lines.
Back to the matter at hand.
Artiles, like your average, run-of-the-mill racist, struggles to understand the meaning behind the bile he spews. If he did, maybe he would have called me a “shyster,” another anti-Semitic slur, but this time directed at crooks in the legal or political fields.
It was a layup, considering he had spent the afternoon accusing me of “shakedowns” and extortion.
But as Frank showed us all in 2017, he’s one of those lazy racists, and he hasn’t spent any of his time out of the spotlight working on his game.
— TODAY’S SUNRISE —
Bernie Sanders managed to unite Democrats and Republicans, by committing a major faux pas by saying something good about Fidel Castro — the kiss of death in Florida politics.
Also, on today’s Sunrise:
— Congressman Charlie Crist wants the state Surgeon General to be more transparent about Florida’s efforts to combat the coronavirus.
— Gov. Ron DeSantis says he has a problem with the vaping bill currently under debate in the Senate, and another bill that preempts any local government regulations over Airbnb rentals.
— A House committee investigating the Florida Center Against Domestic Violence spends hours grilling board members about the compensation for their former director, Tiffany Carr.
— The latest on Florida Man, who was hit in the penis with a taser after trying to shoplift some rib-eye steaks by stuffing them in his pants.
To listen, click on the image below:
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
—@RealDonaldTrump: The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!
—@SenRickScott: Here we go again. Another firm decides to lobby for @NicolasMaduro and his murderous regime. I will not be silent, and I hope all of my colleagues stand with me against anyone who willingly represents a dangerous dictator.
—@DebbieforFL: As the first South American immigrant member of Congress who proudly represents thousands of Cuban Americans, I find Sen. Bernie Sanders’ comments on Castro’s Cuba absolutely unacceptable.
—@GrayRohrer: Taken at face value, the testimony from the FCADV boardmembers so far indicates @, @ & Miami Herald know more about FCADV’s inner workings than its boardmembers
—@MDixon55: If you write a memo that includes the line “this is all political,” you should really hope it does not end up being read during a Florida House committee meeting
—@AnnaForFlorida: From the stress of potential war, to Islamic Republic of Iran shooting down their own people in a plane & now government failing terribly at handling coronavirus leading to deaths. Iranians just can’t get a break. Thinking about my family & the people of Iran.
“I told my wife I wasn’t gonna [cry], because I didn’t want to see [another crying meme] for the next three to four years.”
Crying Jordan had some warm words for the Mamba. pic.twitter.com/pkCvU4bLoZ
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 24, 2020
— DAYS UNTIL —
South Carolina Primaries — 4; Super Tuesday — 7; Super Tuesday II — 14; Last day of 2020 Session (maybe) — 17; 11th Democratic Debate in Phoenix — 19; Florida’s presidential primary — 21; Super Tuesday III — 21; “No Time to Die” premiers — 41; Florida TaxWatch Spring Board Meeting begins — 50; TaxWatch Principal Leadership Awards — 51; Florida Chamber Summit on Prosperity and Economic Opportunity — 80; “Top Gun: Maverick” premiers — 122; Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee begins — 139; Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” premiers — 143; 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo start — 150; Florida primaries for 2020 state legislative/congressional races — 175; Republican National Convention begins in Charlotte — 181; First Presidential Debate in Indiana — 217; First Vice Presidential debate at the University of Utah — 225; Second Presidential Debate scheduled at the University of Michigan — 233; Third presidential debate at Belmont — 240; 2020 General Election — 252.
— TOP STORY —
“Florida Dems in uproar after Bernie Sanders’ Cuba comments” via Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida — Florida Democrats insist he‘s the worst-equipped after Sanders’ refusal to condemn the Cuban Revolution thoroughly. His comments on “60 Minutes” sent shock waves through the nation’s biggest battleground state, where Democratic members of Congress, state legislators and party leaders warned that his nomination — and Sanders’ self-described “Democratic socialism” — will cost them the biggest battleground state of them all. “Donald Trump wins Florida if Bernie is our nominee,” said state Rep. Javier Fernandez, a Democratic candidate in a majority-Hispanic state Senate district. Sanders’ campaign dismisses concerns about socialism as modern-day “red-baiting” and points to polling. However, that shows he’s essentially tied with Trump in Florida, just like other Democrats like Joe Biden.
How it’s playing — Sanders’ Cuba comments —Fox News, Sanders’ defense of Fidel Castro’s Cuba evokes socialism’s brutal history — “Self-described democratic socialist Sanders’ defense of the policies of the late Cuban dictator Castro drew swift and widespread condemnation and evoked memories of some of history’s bloodiest regimes.” CNN, Democratic lawmakers slam Sanders’ comments on Castro policy — “’As the first South American immigrant member of Congress who proudly represents thousands of Cuban Americans, I find Sen. Sanders’ comments on Castro’s Cuba absolutely unacceptable,’ Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell wrote.” The Hill, Sanders under fire from Democrats over praise for Castro regime — “The uproar underscored Democrats’ fears of how Sanders would fare in the key swing state of Florida. Local 10, Bernie’s blunder may hurt support in South Florida — “Democratic Strategist Fernand Amandi said he was horrified at Sanders’ comments. ‘It’s a nightmare scenario for Democrats who understand the importance of defeating Trump.’” Miami Herald, Sanders praised Cuba, spurned Israel group. If he’s the nominee, he just lost Florida — “Sanders’ claim that it’s unfair to say that everything was bad in Castro’s Cuba is as stupid as claiming that Stalin’s Russia’s produced great dancers despite its mass murders.” USA TODAY, ‘Unfair to say everything is bad’: Sanders slammed after praising aspects of Castro’s Cuba — “’On ’60 Minutes’ last night, Sanders found the silver lining of a murderous dictator’s reign: Castro started a literacy program,’ Steve Guest, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee wrote in a statement.” Yahoo! News, After Sanders’s praise for Castro, Cuban Americans like him even less — “’Sanders here is dead in the water,’ Emiliano Antunez, a Cuban-American political strategist.”
— DATELINE: TALLY —
“Gov. DeSantis gets closeup look at FAMU’s Center for Access and Student Success” via the Tallahassee Democrat — Last May, Florida A&M University President Larry Robinson, his leadership team and members of the Legislative Black Caucus held their breath as state budget negotiators worked late into the night on final spending plans. At stake was FAMU’s request for $24.8 million to finish building its Center for Access and Student Success — a $41 million, 73,000-square-foot complex in the middle of campus for most student services, from financial aid to housing to health services. FAMU had once received $16 million from the Legislature for construction costs but did not receive any state funding for the project in the 2018 session. In the end, FAMU scored a victory: The request made the legislative cut and was spared a veto by Gov. Ron DeSantis. On Monday, Robinson stood with DeSantis; Senate President Bill Galvano; Rep. Randy Fine, chairman of the House Higher Education Appropriations Committee; and state Rep. Ramon Alexander and Sen. Bill Montford, all next to the massive four-story complex under construction just north of Gaither Gymnasium.
“DeSantis to appear at Lakeland conference” via Kevin Bouffard of The Ledger — DeSantis will visit Lakeland on Friday to speak at the Lay of the Land Florida Land Conference at the RP Funding Center. Heather Celoria, marketing manager at SVN Saunders Ralston Dantzler Real Estate, which sponsors the annual conference, confirmed Monday that DeSantis will speak at 11:45 a.m. The event is open to conference participants only and not the public.
Assignment editors — Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez will hold a news conference, joined by Sens. Manny Diaz Jr. and Annette Taddeo, Rep, Bryan Avila and representatives of the Florida Department of Transportation, 11:30 a.m., 4th-floor Rotunda.
“‘I think I was deceived’: In pay scandal, Florida nonprofit’s former chairs claim ignorance” via Samantha Gross of the Miami Herald — In a rare exercise of its investigative authority, the Florida House broke new ground Monday, bringing in for testimony current and former members of the board of directors and two top executives of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the state-funded organization under fire for paying its former CEO more than $7.5 million over three years. The responses of the two most recent chair of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence board were a stunning show of a lack of intimate knowledge of the decisions made by the coalition and shirked responsibility for former CEO Carr’s outsized compensation packages.
Nikki Fried launches Climate & Energy Council — Agriculture Commissioner Fried announced the launch of the new Florida Advisory Council on Climate & Energy (FACCE): Dr. Amy Albee-Levine, Lus Avilles, William Blake, Mark Bubriski, Steve Chriss, Anddrikk Frazer, Emily Gorman, Tony Guillen, Morgan Higman, Megan Houston, Doug Kettles, Berdell Knowles, Dr. Jennifer Languell, Janet Long, Temperince Morgan, Luis Nieves-Ruiz, Dr. David Norton, Susannah Randolph, Keith Rizzaedi, Andrew Sauber, Frank Stewart, Patricia “Pat” Steed, Sean Sullivan, Matt Surrency, Jeremy Susac, and Jennifer Szaro.
“Environmentalists wonder what went wrong with Chief Resilience Officer’s job” via Laura Cassels of Florida Phoenix — Julia Nesheiwat, appointed by DeSantis to a post he created, started her job July 31, 2019. She had been traveling around Florida, visiting municipalities, military bases, ports and other key sites, and had been meeting with government authorities and environmental groups. She’s now been tapped as homeland security adviser to Trump. Environmentalists who initially were encouraged by the governor’s appointment of a state resilience officer found the news about Nesheiwat’s departure disappointing though not shocking. “Obviously, something was amiss,” said Deborah Foote with the Sierra Club of Florida. “She had few people and resources, so how was this to succeed?”
Mike Hill lashes out at Alex Andrade on Facebook — Rep. Hill, one of the least effective members of the Florida House, trashed fellow Republican Rep. Andrade for lending him a helping hand. Of the bills Hill put forward this Session, only a measure renaming a bridge has a chance to pass. And that’s only because Andrade rescued it by incorporating into one of his bills. Hill was more than nonplused, equating the assist to stolen valor. “Make no mistake, Rep. Andrade stole my bill to rename the Chappie James Bridge. Like a thief in the night,” the Pensacola lawmaker said on Facebook.
— LEGISLATION —
“What’s going on with Florida’s teacher pay raise proposals?” via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — The House and Senate adopted their budgets — which differ by $150 million — almost two weeks ago. Since then, the well-known crickets. And there are just three weeks remaining before the 2020 legislative session ends. Do we need to ask again, will it happen? The House has more money in its budget for teacher salary increases. Its plan would allow six districts to reach a $50,000 minimum salary, and overall would provide some added money to nearly 168,000 teachers. But it would cover only “classroom teachers” as defined by law. The Senate version would allow for raises to a wider cross-section of education employees. But with less money in its budget, it would provide lower raises than the House.
DeSantis isn’t a fan of vacation rental bill — DeSantis said that he doesn’t think the state should preempt local government authority over vacation rentals, Arek Sarkissian of POLITICO Florida reports. “For us to be micromanaging vacation rentals, I’m not sure that’s the right thing to do,” DeSantis told reporters. “Probably, that should be determined locally.” His comments come as lawmakers consider bills to create a statewide regulatory framework for vacation rentals, which has been a priority for industry juggernauts, such as Airbnb, for several years.
Jimmy Patronis backs Digital Service bill — Legislation creating a Florida Digital Service within the Division of Telecommunications has the support of Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis’ team.“ The CFO is 100% supportive of SB 1870/HB 1391,” said Devin Galetta, Deputy Communications Director for Patronis. “We fully intend on waiving in support of this important legislation that grows jobs and optimizes the functions of state government.” Telecommunications, under the legislation, would be the new name for the Division of State Technology, which is a part of the Department of Management Services and interfaces with a variety of state agencies. The bill also creates the “Financial Technology Sandbox” within the Office of Financial Regulation.
“House Appropriations Chair Travis Cummings weighs in on bill to merge universities” via Sarah Mueller of Florida Politics — Cummings says he has not spoken directly with UF officials on their level of interest in acquiring the two independent universities. “I think they are in the early stages of evaluating the opportunity and we appreciate them being open-minded,” he said. “UF is closer than FSU to New College,” he said. “Two, UF is the highest-ranked and then, third, there would be more cost efficiencies if both go to one then split them up.” Cummings added that the University of South Florida is also a good fit for both Florida Poly and New College from a geographical standpoint. That follows the musings of DeSantis, who recently wondered why USF wasn’t also being considered to house New College.
“USF asks state for over $33 million in annual funding request” via Lauren Coffey of the Tampa Bay Business Journal — Officials have submitted a request to the Legislature for $33.8 million, with $20 million coming from preeminence status. According to a 2020-21 legislative budget request to the State University System education and general committee, the lion’s share of the funding would go toward hiring 375 new faculty members over several years. “By accelerating USF’s trajectory, this investment will create economic advantages for the state of Florida by providing numerous positive benefits for current and future USF students and faculty, for the State University System and for the state of Florida as a whole,” the request reads.
“Ascension could help more Michael victims if lawmakers restore funding” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — Ascension Florida has been providing care in the area for the better part of a century, and those roots — combined with their infrastructure in the area — have allowed them to maintain a stable presence post-Michael. As other providers have exited the region, Ascension’s role in providing behavioral health has increased substantially. The Sacred Heart Health System spans 200 miles of the Gulf Coast from Pensacola to Apalachicola, operating four hospital campuses, a children’s hospital, physician offices, a skilled-nursing facility and several outpatient centers. As other providers have exited the region, Ascension’s role in providing behavioral health has increased substantially.
“Who owns Florida’s beaches? The answer might be clearer soon” via Ann Henson Feltgen of FloridaBulldog.org — HB 631 was passed in 2018. This year Rep. Evan Jenne and Sen. Lori Berman introduced identical bills (SB 6063 and HB 1680) to repeal the law and replace it. The new law would establish the so-called “recreational customary use” of the beach above the mean high-water line (dry sand) on private property. The issue boils down to who owns Florida’s beaches. The state maintains that it owns all beach property from the mean-high tide seaward (the wet sand), a position the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with in 1974. However, private property owners whose land abuts the coastline believe it is theirs, or at a minimum, the public should not be able to cross their property to reach it.
“Give peer-to-peer car rentals the same deal as vacation rentals” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — A bill by Rep. Jason Fischer, HB 1011, cleared its final committee last week. The Senate companion, SB 1128 by Sen. Diaz, has one committee stop remaining. If either bill is successful, vacation rental platforms such as Airbnb would be required to collect and remit sales taxes to the state for the rentals they facilitate. After all, it’s easier on them to deal with one government rather than 67 counties. Yet, Fischer doesn’t see the need to set statewide rules for peer-to-peer car rentals. Hard disagree. Peer-to-peer car-sharing platforms may not admit to being rental platforms, but they too allow users to pay money in exchange for access to something they don’t own. Also known as renting.
— TODAY IN CAPITOL —
Happening today — Sen. Jeff Brandes and Veterans Cannabis Project will hold a news conference to help address veterans’ health care needs and in opposition to across-the-board THC restrictions or caps in Florida, 12:15 p.m., 4th-floor Rotunda, in front of Senate Chamber.
The Senate Agriculture, Environment and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee meets at 9 a.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.
The Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee meets, 9 a.m., Room 37, Senate Office Building.
The Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider a bill that would expand the Family Empowerment Scholarship program and the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, 9 a.m., Room 412, Knott Building.
The House Ways & Means Committee meets, 10 a.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.
The House Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee meets, 10 a.m., Room 12, House Office Building.
The Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider a proposal that would allow pharmacists to diagnose and treat the flu and strep throat, 1 p.m., Room 412, Knott Building.
The Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee meets, 1 p.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.
The House Select Committee on the Integrity of Research Institutions meets, 1 p.m., Room 404, House Office Building.
This should be cool — Assignment editors — There will be a technology demonstration using Magic Leap with Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HyperloopTT). Users will get to experience HyperloopTT’s full-scale testing facility in Toulouse, France, 11 a.m., Room 221, Senate Office Building.
— GOV. CLUB LUNCH BUFFET —
GC seafood gumbo with rice; mixed garden salad with dressings; Mache choux salad; Cajun potato salad with andouille sausage; deli board, lettuce, tomatoes, cheeses and breads; blackened red drum on Cajun cream with shrimp; Cajun chicken with bell peppers; Cajun jambalaya; not your mama’s red beans; crispy fried okra; roasted Cajun vegetables; NO bread pudding with bourbon sauce for dessert.
— SUNSHINE STATE PRIMARY —
Voters are voting — According to the Florida Division of Elections, as of Monday afternoon, Supervisors of Elections have a total of 988,768 Republican vote-by-mail ballots; 389,556 have returned, 593,543 are outstanding, and 5,669 are unsent. As for Democrats, supervisors have a total of 1,084,903 vote-by-mail ballots; 224,554 have returned, 852,438 are outstanding, and 7,911 are unsent. Those classified as “other,” 245,021 vote-by-mail ballots, 8,644 have returned, 38,559 are outstanding, and 197,818 are unsent.
“Sanders praises Castro and Florida Democrats rush to distance themselves” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida — Sanders grabbed the third rail of South Florida politics and electrifying down-ballot candidates of his own party who raced to distance themselves from his remarks. “We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba, but, you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad,” Sanders said during an interview with “60 Minutes.” “When Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?” Democrats from the party’s establishment wing have long feared that putting Sanders at the top of the ticket would cost them Florida, a key state in Trump’s reelection calculus. Miami Democratic Rep. Mucarsel-Powell is a case in point.
“Democratic Progressive Caucus defends Sanders, accuses party of putting ‘thumb on the scale’” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — “Today, Florida Democratic Party leadership revealed their hand when issuing a statement critiquing presidential front-runner Sen. Bernie Sanders for his comments on Cuba,” reads a statement from the group. The move comes after a day of widespread condemnation of a Sanders interview with “60 Minutes.” In it, Sanders defended comments he made in the 1980s praising certain actions of the Castro regime. The Progressive Caucus took particular issue with a statement from Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo. Florida Democrats “condemn dictators destroying democracies in the world, and stand in solidarity with people fleeing dictatorships in Cuba, Venezuela & Nicaragua,” Rizzo tweeted.
“DeSantis condemns Sanders’ attempt to ‘whitewash the brutality’ in Castro dictatorship” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics — “I just wanted to say in relation to some of the things that have been said by Sen. Sanders that any attempts to whitewash the brutality of the Castro dictatorship is totally unacceptable,” DeSantis said. “It flies directly in the face of the values of the people throughout the state. This is a Senator who has spoke positively throughout his whole life of the dictatorship there,” DeSantis added. “He spoke positively about Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro,” the Governor added, referring to the past and present Venezuelan chief executives. “He’s been a longtime supporter of the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. And that’s just unacceptable,” DeSantis continued.
“Marco Rubio’s anti-Sanders rant may have violated Florida’s law against texting while driving” via Jerry Iannelli of the Miami New Times — “The bottom line is unless the Democratic establishment steals it from him, Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist, is going to be the Democratic nominee for president,” Rubio said while driving a car through what is all but certainly his home state of Florida. “And that’s a really big deal because democratic socialism sounds benign, but at the core, democratic socialism is Marxism.” Though the law does not explicitly state drivers cannot record themselves ranting into their phones while driving, it certainly seems like it was designed to prevent this sort of thing. Throughout the video, Rubio clearly takes his eyes off the road and stares at the camera.
First on #FlaPol — “Poll finds three-way Democratic contest in Florida with Mike Bloomberg the slight leader” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Florida Democrats are settling almost equally on Bloomberg, Biden, and Sanders as their pick in the March 17 presidential primary, according to a new poll from Florida Southern College’s Center for Polling and Policy Research. The former New York City Mayor gets 23% support, former Vice President Biden 22% support, and Vermont Sen. Sanders 18% support. Slipping toward also-ran positions in the poll were Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren with 12%, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg with 9%, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar with 5%. California businessman Tom Steyer and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard essentially got no support. One percent said they would vote for someone else, and 9% of the Democrats surveyed said they were undecided.
“In climate change fight, advocates like Mike Bloomberg’s money – but not his plans” via Michael Wilner and Emile Cadei of the Miami Herald — As mayor of New York, Bloomberg turned the city’s iconic yellow taxicabs into hybrids, expanded bike lanes and raised floodwalls against worsening storms. As a presidential candidate, he has touted his role as one of the largest climate philanthropists in the world, giving away hundreds of millions of dollars to help shut down dirty coal plants and promote clean energy. And his campaign believes his largesse on such a priority issue for Democratic voters can make up for some of the more controversial policies from his past. Despite those efforts, the billionaire media mogul is facing skepticism from some of the nation’s largest environmental groups, who currently rank his proposal to fight climate change as among the worst of all Democrats running for president.
— FLORIDIANS ON BLOOMBERG —
In a recent focus group, Florida voters were nonplused over how Bloomberg is spending his money in the Democratic presidential race. But, according to Axios: “But they’re split over whether they’d actually vote for the New York billionaire over President Trump.”
Bloomberg is the only candidate that is affecting these voters; many are happy with Trump, feeling that the Democratic Party has changed significantly since they voted for Barack Obama.
The Axios focus group took place in Port St. Lucie the night before the Nevada debates, where many Democratic rivals savagely piled on Bloomberg, arguing that he was trying to buy the nomination. It was an argument that did not resound with Democrats, who simply want to win in 2020. Although a St. Pete Polls survey puts Bloomberg ahead by five points, it was conducted before the debate.
Trump won this county by less than 3,500 votes in 2016.
One nearly universal opinion: “If [Bloomberg’s opponents] all had that kind of money and the financial backing, they would all buy [the election] in one way or another.”
“I mean, if you put a sign of a cow up and put it everywhere in the state, people will vote for the cow,” one woman told Axios. “It’s like a subliminal message, over and over and over. You’re bombarded with his ads.”
Others said that Bloomberg was “the most polished” Democratic candidate in the race and would offer the best opportunity to beat Trump.
While Trump fatigue has not quite set in for this group, Axios believes the desire for an “outsider” would make it difficult for other Democrats to break through.
— NEW ADS —
Biden — “Can’t be trusted”:
The NRA paved the road to Washington for Bernie Sanders.
He spent the next three decades making sure they got a return on their investment.
— Mike Bloomberg (@MikeBloomberg) February 24, 2020
— MORE 2020 —
“Generational split among SC black voters could hurt Joe Biden” via Tom Foreman Jr. of The Associated Press — For James Felder, the question of which presidential candidate to support in the South Carolina primary has never been terribly complicated. The 80-year-old civil rights activist has always backed Biden, appreciative of the eight years he spent as the No. 2 to the first black president. But when Felder opened a recent forum at historically black Benedict College to questions, students in the room weren’t so convinced. J’Kobe Kelley-Mills, a junior English major, said he was torn between Biden and Sanders, the progressive Vermont senator who is now the Democratic front-runner after strong performances in the first three primary contests. “They both have decades of political experience,” Kelley-Mills said of Biden and Sanders.
“Republican Jewish group to slam Sanders in debate ad” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Republican Jewish Coalition Victory Fund intends to air a TV commercial during the next Democratic presidential debate slamming Sanders for his statements and positions relating to Israel. The 30-second spot, entitled “Insane,” cites quotes from Sanders and about him, seeking to paint him as extreme, radical, and out of touch, the RJC Victory Fund stated. The group, an affiliate of the Republican Jewish Coalition, announced it would be airing the ad in private CBS stations in Florida and the three other battleground states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Arizona, plus Washington, D.C.
To view the ad, click on the image below:
“Why Senate Dems aren’t freaking out about Sanders” via Burgess Everett and Marianne Levine of POLITICO — It’s not just Senators being courteous to a colleague known for being something of a loner in the upper chamber. Instead, Senate Democrats respect the durable political movement that he’s built over the past five years that threatened to topple Hillary Clinton and a populist streak that could be wielded against Trump to win back some of his voters. “I do believe he can beat President Trump,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. “What Bernie has shown up until now is that he has a very broad base of very, very passionate followers. That is the first thing you need for a campaign on any level. Especially in a red or purple district.”
“Sanders, Bloomberg push past Biden in New York: poll” via Rebecca Klar of The Hill — Sanders and former New York City Mayor Bloomberg leapfrogged former Vice President Biden among registered New York Democratic voters in the new Siena College poll. Sanders was backed by 25% support of respondents, followed closely by Bloomberg at 21%. Biden trails in third at 13%, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren on his heels with 11% support. Biden had previously held a 10-point lead in the poll, with 24% of respondents backing him in November. Warren’s support also decreased, down 3 points from 14% in November, based on the polls. Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Buttigieg and Sen. Klobuchar round out the top six candidates with each registering at 9%.
“Tom Steyer stirs more debate over payments in South Carolina” via Stephanie Saul of The New York Times — As he courts voters across South Carolina, Steyer has lavished money on the black community — employing black-owned businesses, hiring African Americans for his staff and buying ads with black-owned news organizations. But as he tries to forge connections with the black community, some of Steyer’s transactions have drawn increased scrutiny, and prompted suggestions that he is trying to wield influence through his spending. That spending, recently filed campaign finance documents show, includes commercial rent payments to a company owned by Jennifer Clyburn Reed, a daughter of James Clyburn, the longtime Democratic congressman whose endorsement is considered a seal of approval for candidates hoping to win the state’s critical African American vote.
— STATEWIDE —
“Report: Florida budget vastly unprepared for next recession” via the Business Observer — Florida lacks adequate revenue to manage an economic downturn without raising taxes or cutting services, according to a new study from Moody’s Analytics. If a moderate recession were to hit the U.S., the report shows, Florida would face a total shortfall equal to 5.6% of its total 2019 revenue. That’s the 10th worst outcome nationwide. The study estimates the fiscal shock of a moderate recession would equal 14.9% of the state’s 2019 funds. But Florida’s total balance of available funds is equal to 9.3%, according to the report, with just less than half designated specifically for a recession.
“Ashley Moody, Vern Buchanan stress importance of prevention for opioid abuse” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Attorney General Moody promised a focus on prevention of opioid deaths as the state wrestles a deadly crisis. “Prevention is such a vital component in the fight to end the opioid crisis in Florida and save lives,” Moody said. “We lose 15 people every day to opioid abuse, and that is why the work of our Statewide Task Force is so important.” The remarks came as Moody convened the Statewide Task Force on Opioid Abuse, which she chairs. U.S. Rep. Buchanan, a Sarasota Republican, testified to the committee about the need for action at the state and federal level. “We need to continue our efforts to fight opioids,” he said.
“Deadline extended for victims of tech support scams in Florida” via Lizandra Portal of CBS 12 — The deadline for victims of tech support scams to file claims is extending to July 15. Florida Attorney General Moody announced the filing extension follows action taken by her office that shut down multiple operating tech support scams. As a result, a multimillion-dollar claims fund is in place, with more than $7 million available for eligible victims nationwide. “My Consumer Protection Team is working hard every day to stop scams and recover lost money for Floridians. Through these efforts, millions of dollars are available for victims of tech support scams. In order to receive restitution, Floridians must take action and file a claim,” Moody said.
“Former inmates struggle to resolve financial obligations before November’s election” via Sarah Mueller of Florida Politics — Members of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition were in Tallahassee to lobby lawmakers to support re-enfranchising former inmates. But the fight for them to get the right to vote back is not playing out in the Legislature this year. The action is in the courts. That leaves formerly incarcerated people like Tashenia Owens trying to chase down everything she has been charged so she can pay it all and vote in November’s general election. Owens said she has been running around in circles after learning she also owed money in Orange County for a misdemeanor offense she says she did not commit. She served about two years for a drug offense committed in Sumter County and was released in 2012.
“Florida’s top doctor: Majority of hepatitis A-infected restaurant workers kept secret from public” via Wendy Ryan of WFTS — Florida health bosses have only told the public about 20% of hepatitis A cases in food services statewide, according to the state’s surgeon general — a stunning admission in the wake of a Dirty Dining I-Team Investigation which uncovered dozens of restaurant workers testing positive for hepatitis A.”
“Gas prices jump with ‘expected volatility’” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Gasoline prices showed what those in the industry call expected volatility, jumping 10 cents per gallon in midweek, then sliding a bit over the weekend to $2.41 per gallon on Sunday, up eight cents since last Monday, according to AAA. The low point price for Florida this year was $2.32 per gallon. The cheapest gas in Florida was in Pensacola, where drivers were paying $2.33 per gallon; Orlando, $2.37; Crestview-Fort Walton Beach, $2. 37; and Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, $2.38 per gallon. The most expensive gasoline was running $2.54 a gallon in West Palm Beach, $2.45 in Miami, and $2.45 in Gainesville. Nationally the average price for a gallon of gasoline was $2.47.
— D.C. MATTERS —
“Rick Scott sends letter shaming D.C. firm for representing Nicolás Maduro government” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Scott berated Amsterdam & Partners LLP late last week for taking on the controversial contract in which the firm will push back against U.S. sanctions on Maduro. Now, Scott is following up with a letter directly to the firm. “This is shocking news considering the absolute genocide Maduro is perpetrating on his citizens. He is a thug and a dictator who is murdering children and starving his people,” Scott said. Law firm Foley & Lardner originally handled the contract and tasked the firm to work on behalf of Venezuelan Attorney General Reinaldo Muñoz Pedroza. Maduro dispatched him in the past to intervene in U.S. court cases to recover disputed funds for the Maduro government.
“Ileana Ros-Lehtinen now works for a country that ‘propped up’ Maduro’s regime” via Alex Daugherty of the Miami Herald — In June 2017, then-Rep. Ros-Lehtinen delivered a speech on the floor of the House criticizing U.S.-based investment bank Goldman Sachs for buying bonds from Venezuelan leader Maduro. But 2 1/2 years later, Ros-Lehtinen, now a private citizen, is being paid to carry out the interests of the United Arab Emirates, where an investment firm with connections to the country’s state-run oil company provided an economic lifeline to Maduro days before the U.S. recognized National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader. The exchange of Venezuelan gold for cash by UAE investment firm Noor Capital prompted a rebuke from Republican Sen. Rubio, who warned on Twitter that any companies involved “will face U.S. sanctions.”
Assignment editors — Congressman Ted Deutch will workshop nonprofit organizations about a federal grant program for security, 9 a.m., Coconut Creek Community Center, 1100 Lyons Road, Coconut Creek.
Debbie Mucarsel-Powell praises $1.3M in housing grants for Monroe County — The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued the grants. The money is being sent to Key West and Monroe County Housing Authorities. The Key West Housing Authority will receive the bulk of that money, at nearly $1.28 million. Another nearly $95,000 will go to the county-level agency. “Almost three years ago, Hurricane Irma destroyed more than 4,000 homes in the Florida Keys — making affordable and workforce housing even more challenging to find than it already was,” Mucarsel-Powell said. “I’m pleased to see HUD prioritizing housing in South Florida at a time when it’s needed most.”
“Supreme Court to consider religious rights case involving same-sex couples” via Jess Bravin and Brent Kendall of The Wall Street Journal — The case — a potential watershed for religious rights — pits the city of Philadelphia against Catholic Social Services, an arm of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that has been placing foster children in homes since 1919. The city suspended referrals to the organization after learning it wouldn’t consider same-sex couples, and it declined to renew its contract. Catholic Social Services sued, contending that the constitutional guarantee of religious exercise prohibited the city from imposing the nondiscrimination requirement on its foster-care contracts. Philadelphia solicitor Marcel Pratt said the case “is ultimately about serving the youth in our care, and the best way to do that is by upholding our sincere commitment to the dignity of all people, including our LGBTQ community.”
“U.S. appeals court upholds Donald Trump rules involving abortions” via Gene Johnson of The Associated Press — A U.S. appeals court upheld rules that bar taxpayer-funded family-planning clinics from referring women for abortions. The 7-4 ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned decisions issued by judges in Washington, Oregon and California. The court had already allowed the administration’s changes to start taking effect while the government appealed those rulings. The changes ban taxpayer-funded clinics in the Title X program for low-income women from making abortion referrals, a restriction opponents characterize as a “gag rule.” Beginning March 4, the rules will also prohibit clinics that receive federal money from sharing office space with abortion providers, which critics said would force many Title X providers to find new locations, undergo expensive remodels or shut down.
“Who is No. 1? Whoever gets to fill out 2020 Census form” via Mike Schneider of The Associated Press — It’s a question spouses, domestic partners and roommates are going to be forced to confront in the next few weeks as they fill out their 2020 Census forms: Who gets to be the primary person in the household? Everyone else who lives in the home must be identified on the form by how they are related to “Person 1.” It’s a question that even the most egalitarian homes are going to have to figure out — though it’s sure to spark some intriguing conversations. Deciding who fills out the questionnaire may force spouses or domestic partners to talk about power dynamics they might not have discussed for 10 years, said Diana Betz, an assistant professor of psychology at Loyola University Maryland.
— RUBIO TALKS COMMON GOOD —
In a conversation with the editors of American Affairs magazine, Rubio discusses being a believer in “American exceptionalism and the consistent evangelist of the American dream.”
America always had a “political class” made up of politicians, consultants, donors, and the media who guide the narrative of what politics should focus on, particularly the idea that many of the issues of modern society can be solved by either a “tax credit or a government program.”
But the rise of China showed Rubio that American problems are structural, more fundamental, and that “demand deeper political attention.”
One of the issues Rubio touched upon was the assumption that “middle-class American families would be better off with cheaper imported goods and better financing terms on consumer debt.”
“Failing to set an economic course has been ruinous for our nation, and the repercussions extend to every part of our society,” he said.
Among Rubio’s solutions: “The SBA already guarantees some debt and equity investments in these [manufacturing] companies. I am proposing to reform and expand these programs so that the SBA functions closer to how it was originally created to work.”
Rubio also discussed the concept of “dignified work,” which allows Americans to make a good living through “steady, stable wages so they can give their time and treasure back to their families and communities.” This idea was what historically empowered the success of our nation, “allowing families to raise kids to ‘do better’ than their parents.”
As for “common good capitalism,” Rubio believes the nation “does not exist to serve the interests of the market or the government; the market exists to serve our nation.”
— CORONAVIRUS —
“China’s early warning system didn’t work on COVID-19. Here’s the story.” via Dali Yang of The Washington Post — In a country known for its bureaucratic hierarchy, this information system is designed for attention escalation — and rapid response. Hospitals with infectious disease cases input the cases into the info system, and this information needs to reach the China CDC within hours. A dedicated team at the China CDC headquarters monitors the information flows 24/7 and reports to the CDC leadership at least once a day. According to Feng Zijian, deputy director-general of the China CDC, the direct reporting system was “not activated that expeditiously.” What ensued in Wuhan has received enormous coverage. As political leaders met in Wuhan for annual meetings, WHC kept the number of the infected artificially low, and repeatedly downplayed the risks of contagion.
“U.S. stocks have worst day in two years as coronavirus fears spread” via The Financial Times — The S&P 500 fell 3.4%, its worst one-day decline since February 2018, dragged down by energy and technology stocks. The Nasdaq Composite lost 3.7% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average shed more than 1,000 points to close the day 3.6% lower. Energy stocks led the decline, driven by the weakening oil price, followed by technology shares. Transport stocks were among the worst performers with American Airlines, Delta and FedEx all dropping more than 5%. The KBW index of US banks dropped 3.6%, its worst day since August. Citi, Bank of America and BNY Mellon were among the index’s worst performers with losses of more than 4%.
“Trump’s soft touch with China’s Xi Jinping worries advisers who say more is needed to combat coronavirus outbreak” via Yasmeen Abutaleb and Josh Dawsey of The Washington Post — Worries about rattled financial markets and their effect on the economy as well as the delicate negotiations with China over a trade deal — a key to Trump’s reelection — have played a large role in influencing the President’s friendly posture toward China. “I had a long talk with President Xi — for the people in this room — two nights ago, and he feels very confident. He feels very confident. And he feels that, again, as I mentioned, by April or during the month of April, the heat, generally speaking, kills this kind of virus,” Trump told the nation’s governors last week. “So that would be a good thing. But we’re in great shape in our country.”
“Trump sending coronavirus budget request to Congress” via Nancy Cook of POLITICO — The package proposes using untouched money, like unspent funds for Ebola, as well as new money, totaling over $2 billion, the Office of Management and Budget said. More than $1 billion would go toward vaccine development, and the other funds would go toward stockpiling protective equipment like masks. While the money is meant to be spent in 2020, the request contains language that would allow the spending to continue through 2021 if needed. “The Trump Administration continues to take the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus Disease very seriously,” said Rachel Semmel, a spokesperson for the Office of Management and Budget, in a statement.
“Charlie Crist asks Trump to appoint ‘Coronavirus Czar’” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — U.S. Rep. Crist is calling on Trump to appoint a czar to oversee the U.S. response to the coronavirus outbreak that has spread in recent months. That virus appears to have originated in China, but has since spread to several other countries, including the U.S. While the effect on Americans has been only slight so far, recent reports have detailed a spike in cases in both Italy and South Korea. Crist, who represents Florida’s 13th Congressional District, argues the federal government should appoint a czar to coordinate preparedness efforts here at home.
“Florida’s race to stop the spread of new coronavirus before it hits” via Cindy Krischer Goodman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Florida’s role in the race to prevent the new coronavirus from turning into an outbreak in the United States will be critical with the state’s vulnerable elderly population and the flood of international visitors. Florida’s health officials say there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state. But health care providers and government officials in Florida desperately want to get ahead of the new virus that originated in China and has spread to more than two dozen countries. Florida hospitals are making preparations, researchers are scrambling to find treatments, and manufacturers are trying to create test kits that work.
“You’re likely to get the coronavirus” via James Hamblin of The Atlantic — Four coronaviruses commonly infect humans, causing colds. These are believed to have evolved in humans to maximize their own spread — which means sickening, but not killing, people. With its potent mix of characteristics, this virus is unlike most that capture popular attention: It is deadly, but not too deadly. It makes people sick, but not in predictable, uniquely identifiable ways. Last week, 14 Americans tested positive on a cruise ship in Japan despite feeling fine — the new virus may be most dangerous because, it seems, it may sometimes cause no symptoms at all. At this point, it is not even known how many people are infected. With so little data, prognosis is difficult.
Actual news release — “Guardian Angels patrol Chinatown, NYC, ease fears, anxieties.”
— MOTHER NATURE —
“Florida hits peak in strawberry production” via FreshPlaza.com — “The berries out of Florida have been really good this season. They’re nicely sized, have good color and flavor and we’re really pleased with the crop,” says Jim Grabowski of Well Pict based in Watsonville, California. Grabowski notes that while the Florida berry season started on time around mid-December when it will wrap up somewhat depends on the upcoming weather. Temperatures have been on the rise in the state, even as recently as last week. “If it stays warm like that, it’ll probably make for a sooner end to the Florida deal. Strawberries are a crop that doesn’t like heat,” he says. “We like cooler nights and warm days rather than hot days.”
Who knew this was a thing — “Officials cracking down on turtle smugglers in Florida” via Kimberly Miller of the Lakeland Ledger — Turtle launderers, who wash wild-caught animals through illegal trafficking rings like ill-gotten cash, have been targeted by Florida Fish and Wildlife since a 2009 rule banned the commercial harvest and sale of natural-born turtles. Undercover investigations such as “Operation Donatello” have since retrieved thousands of stolen turtles worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. But FWC commissioners were told to be prepared for an uptick in criminal activity as some coveted species become “literally worth more than gold.” “International prices will continue to go up,” said Col. Curtis Brown, FWC’s director of law enforcement. “We have one of the most densely populated areas in the world for turtle diversity, which makes us a target for illegal trafficking.”
“Reflections of a North Florida organic farmer” via Aaron Suko — The primary concerns of sustainable agriculture in Florida are managing nutrients, water, and soil in ways that minimize negative environmental impacts, and conserve and even improve these resources, all while bringing in profitable harvests. Farming impacts water and wetlands through fertilizers and pesticides used to promote crop growth. These inputs can end up in the Apalachicola River, Wakulla Springs, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Floridan Aquifer. To lessen or prevent this contamination, we focus on building up from the soil using natural inputs. It takes a lot of work to build and maintain productive soils in our hot, humid climate. The soil in this area is very old and worn out from a geological standpoint.
“The remarkable restoration of the Kissimmee River, a modern flyover” via Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch — “Kissimmee restoration began in 1999 with phases 1 and 4 completed first. Phases 2 and 3 are expected to be completed by 2020. You will see as you travel up the winding river the long gash of the C-38 Canal backfilled with the same dirt that was dug from its own flesh, and the winding oxbows, like capillaries, filling up to come back to life! This restored habitat will help wading bird communities and naturally filter water as it flows south to Lake Okeechobee rather than mainlining pollutants. We can now begin to grasp the scale of this massive project!
Assignment editors — The University of Florida begins a two-day Water Institute Symposium, with University President W. Kent Fuchs making opening remarks, 8:30 a.m., University of Florida, J. Wayne Reitz Union, Gainesville.
Save the date — Wake Up Naples talks ‘The Future of Agriculture in Southwest Florida’ — The Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce is hosting Mitch Hutchcraft, the vice president of real estate at King Ranch/Consolidated Citrus, to discuss the future of agriculture in Southwest Florida at Wake Up Naples. The event will be at the Hilton Naples on Wednesday, March 4. Networking begins at 7:30 a.m.; the program starts promptly at 8 a.m. Hutchcraft will discuss the opportunities and challenges the region’s agriculture industry faces, as well as the role that industrial hemp and medical marijuana will play. Hutchcraft has 30 years of experience as an expert in agricultural land-use strategies. Vi at Bentley Village is sponsoring the event. Information and registration here.
Happening today — Leaders of the Florida Democratic Party, Forward Florida, Alianza for Progress, and New Florida Majority will gather to discuss reaching 5,000,000 active registered Democrats for the first time in the state’s history, 10:30 a.m., AFL-CIO Union Hall, 4349 NW 36th St., Miami Springs.
“Political oddsmaker downgrades Ross Spano, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Political prognosticators at Inside Elections say Spano may be in trouble. Mucarsel-Powell could also be in a better place. Meanwhile, editor Nathan Gonzales lists incumbents like Buchanan, Stephanie Murphy and John Rutherford as “safe.” The most recent update of the nonpartisan operation’s House Outlook shows 35 Democratic seats in play this election cycle, compared to 30 Republican seats. But the update delivered a sign of trouble for the GOP. The team there most notably moved Spano from the “Solid R” to “Likely R” list. The site notes Democratic contenders have raised significant resources for the race, including state lawmaker Adam Hattersley and former journalist Alan Cohn.
“Trio of top Orlando Democrats endorse Stephanie Murphy’s reelection” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, and Orange County Sheriff John Mina weighed in early in the 2020 race for Florida’s 7th Congressional District, which covers Seminole County and parts of northern and central Orange County, including much of Orlando through downtown. The endorsements come two weeks after Murphy picked up a challenge from the left in the August primary, from nonprofit leader Sandra Henry. “Despite all the chaos in Washington, Stephanie’s pragmatic approach to governing has been key to her long list of bipartisan accomplishments. I’ve known Stephanie for many years,” Dyer wrote in a news release.
CD 3 candidate Ryan Chamberlin announces Marion County team — Chamberlin’s campaign announced Monday that Roy Abshier, Gregory Flanagan, Stan and Lisa Plappert, David Tillman, and Bishop James E. Varnum have been tapped for his Marion County leadership team. “These men and women have been key players in both state and local politics and business,” Chamberlin said. “It is an honor to have their support, and I will lean on them for guidance and organizational support as we implement our plan necessary for victory.” Chamberlain is one of several Republicans running for CD 3, which is open in 2020 due to the retirement of current U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho.
“Pam Hightower first to challenge Rocky Hanna in Leon County Schools Superintendent race” via CD Davidson-Hiers of the Tallahassee Democrat — Leon County Schools Superintendent Hanna has drawn an opponent in the partisan race for reelection. Hightower, a registered Democrat, filed to run against Hanna at 4:55 p.m. Friday. The Leon County Supervisor of Elections website updated the main candidate page with her information Monday morning. Hanna is running with no party affiliation. Hightower began as a teacher in 1984 at Killearn Lakes Elementary School and worked her way up through administrative roles. After turning around a failing Leonard Wesson Elementary School in a year (which later merged with Bond Elementary School), Hightower retired as principal of Bond in 2012.
— LOCAL —
“Attorneys tell JEA investigative committee that executives misled board about utility’s financial picture” via Christopher Hong of the Florida Times-Union — JEA executives presented overly pessimistic and misleading figures to its board of directors last year to make the case the city-owned utility was in financial trouble in order to get permission to pursue a sale, according to two attorneys who provided testimony to a special Jacksonville City Council investigative panel. The attorneys also said JEA executives omitted major details they had a fiduciary responsibility to disclose to the board about JEA’s ill-fated bonus plan, which the attorneys believed would have mostly been awarded to managers and executives. “I’m reluctant to characterize it as fraud, but it certainly looks like it,” said one of the attorneys, Daniel Nunn.
“JEA gets a credit downgrade by Wall Street firm” via David Bauerlein of the Florida Times-Union — The downgrade by Standard & Poor’s shows the stakes for JEA in the coming months when a brand-new board will hire a CEO while Jacksonville City Council moves forward with a host of JEA reforms put on the table during a council workshop. Those proposed changes could result in voters casting ballots on referendum initiatives later this year. So far, Standard & Poor’s is the only one of the three rating agencies to downgrade JEA after the fallout from the utility’s abandoned negotiations for a possible deal to sell JEA.
“Duval School Board proposes settlement with city on sales tax referendum” via Emily Bloch of the Florida Times-Union — The agreement — which was delivered to the Office of General Counsel Monday evening — said the School Board’s master plan would be put forward unchanged on the November 2020 general election ballots. The half-cent sales tax would fund a $1.9 billion plan to improve and rebuild schools. “It’s unfortunate we had to get to this point,” School Board Chair Warren Jones said. “We thought the most difficult part … would be selling this to the voters.” Though an hour’s worth of the meeting was held “in shade” — when public officials meet privately with attorneys without the presence of the general public or media — City Council member Brenda Priestly Jackson attended and spoke during the public comment portion.
“Miami lawmakers wanted to ban tolls on Palmetto Expressway. Tallahassee listened.” via Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald — Florida State Sen. Manny Díaz has been driving on the Palmetto Expressway since he got his license more than 30 years ago. Traffic has never been worse, he said. Residents agree. Now, the Florida Department of Transportation is suspending tolls on State Road 826 and rolling back the express lane program that critics say has created more traffic issues than it solved. Under the new strategy, the number of regular lanes on the Palmetto will reset to what it had been before the Florida Department of Transportation installed tolled express lanes on State Road 826 last year, Díaz said.
“Mayor Jane Castor nears deal on three Tampa union contracts” via Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times — Castor’s administration is nearing deals with the police and fire unions while having already reached an agreement with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1464, which represents 1,900 workers who treat the city’s sewage, collect its trash and perform a host of other jobs. That union approved its deal by more than 95 percent of votes cast. Along the way, her administration, led by chief of staff John Bennett and interim Human Resources Director Kelly Austin, is winning praise from union negotiators. Stephen Simon, president of the blue-collar union, said the Castor administration worked with him to improve life insurance, add $1 per hour for evening and weekend shifts and guaranteed a $15 an hour minimum wage.
What Melissa Seixas is reading — “City’s profile as tech hub on the rise” via the Business Observer — The Greater St. Petersburg Area Economic Corp. wants to help position the Sunshine City as the nation’s next tech mecca. To get there, it recently unveiled a marketing campaign, Become St. Pete, aimed at luring New York- and New Jersey-based tech, data and financial services firms and workers to the area. The first salvo is a video series that dubs St. Pete “Silicon Shores” — a play on San Francisco’s Silicon Valley, Seattle’s Silicon Forest and Denver’s Silicon Mountain tech communities. The first episode dropped Feb. 12 and features fast-growing St. Pete tech startups InsideOut, The Penny Hoarder, Intrinio and Station House.
— MORE LOCAL —
“State attorney’s probes raise more red flags about former Orlando police officer of the year” via Jeff Weiner and David Harris of the Orlando Sentinel — Orlando Police Department Officer Jonathan Mills said he was trying to stop a suspected drug dealer from swallowing crack cocaine when he slapped a soda can out of the man’s hand outside a convenience store in December 2018, before tackling him to the ground and handcuffing him. Though he never found any drugs, Mills arrested the man for resisting arrest and destruction of evidence. But when the Orange-Osceola State Attorney’s Office compared footage from Mills’ body-worn camera to his report, the agency identified several inconsistencies in the officer’s account.
“Body camera video: 6-year-old girl cries, screams for help as Orlando police arrest her at school” via Grace Toohey of the Orlando Sentinel — Kaia Rolle was sitting, listening to a school employee read her a story when two officers came in the room to arrest her. “What are those for?” the 6-year-old girl asked the Orlando police officers. “They’re for you,” Officer Dennis Turner said about the zip ties, before another officer tightened them around her wrists. Kaia immediately began weeping. “No … no, don’t put handcuffs on!” she wailed in body camera footage from the arrest, which Kaia’s family shared with the Orlando Sentinel Monday evening. The arrests of the girl and another 6-year-old at Lucious & Emma Nixon Academy in September drew national headlines and widespread condemnation, leading to the officer’s firing.
“After five years of indecision, St. Pete officers may finally get body cameras” via Kathryn Varn — It has been more than five years since Police Chief Tony Holloway expressed cautious support for body cameras. He liked the idea of bringing them to St. Petersburg, he said in September 2014, two months after he was hired, but he wanted to make sure the technology and policies fit the needs of his department. That non-committal posture would continue for years as body camera programs proliferated across the state and country. Yet the technology stalled in St. Petersburg as the chief was appointed to help lead a national body camera task force, his own agency’s pilot program failed, and mounting public pressure grew so tense that a civil rights leader and the chief squared off over the issue during a 2018 City Council meeting.
“Car veers onto Florida History Museum grounds, narrowly misses statues” via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat — It happened near the intersection of Pensacola and South Bronough streets. A silver Kia Rio collided with a black Mitsubishi, sending the Kia onto the grounds of the R.A. Grey Building, where the museum is located. The Mitsubishi ended up in a bike lane. No serious injuries were reported. The Leon County Sheriff’s Office and a single ambulance responded to the crash. The Kia went up a hill on the Pensacola Street side of the museum grounds, missing the statues, a pedestrian crossing signal and a utility pole.
“FSU police promote safety as John Thrasher meets with pedestrian bridge advocate” via Byron Dobson of the Tallahassee Democrat — Florida State University police on motorcycles and in patrol cars have stepped up their presence on West Tennessee Street and at campus intersections to monitor pedestrian safety. That’s a result of the university’s efforts to make the campus safer following two pedestrian-involved crashes, one resulting in a 19-year-old student’s death. “We’ve got people coming in on their days off to target intersections with heavy pedestrian traffic to give out (safety) educational instructions and to look for traffic violations committed by drivers,” FSUPD spokesman Lt. John Baker said. FSU President Thrasher and university staff have held talks with state and local officials about improving pedestrian safety on and off-campus.
“Nearly $300,000 awarded in charter school fight” via the News Service of Florida — The Manatee County School Board should receive nearly $300,000 in legal fees and costs after a battle over the termination of a contract with a charter school, an administrative law judge ruled. Judge Robert Cohen ordered Lincoln Memorial Academy Inc., to pay $297,987 to cover the school board’s legal fees and other expenses such as accounting costs stemming from the dispute. Cohen in September issued a 95-page ruling that backed the board’s decision to terminate a contract with Lincoln Memorial Academy, saying the charter school showed “gross financial mismanagement,” including failing to pay salaries and payroll taxes, getting cut off by food suppliers and facing a shut-off of water service.
Southwest Florida reporters unionize — Journalists at the Naples Daily News, The News-Press, The Banner and the Marco Eagle announced Monday they formed a union, the Southwest Florida News Guild. Reporters at the Gannett newspapers made clear the move comes in response to a merger with GateHouse Media. “Even before the merger, we faced stagnant salaries, increased workloads, rising costs for health insurance, inadequate compensation for mileage and, most critically, the inability to retain many of our most talented peers,” reads a Guild statement. “This has taken a toll on our working conditions. We have lost skilled journalists, and in many cases, their positions have not been filled. That makes it difficult for us to maintain the level and quality of coverage our communities deserve.” A website lists 34 members and calls on Gannett to voluntarily recognize the union.
— TOP OPINION —
“Help families before they are in crisis” via Casey DeSantis for the Tampa Bay Times — The alarming revelations of abuse of taxpayer funds within an entity designed to help victims on domestic violence has underscored the need to double down on these efforts. I could not be prouder of the Governor for demanding organizations receiving public resources be held accountable. Earlier this year, Sen. Wilton Simpson, with the support of Department of Children and Families Secretary Chad Poppell, introduced the DCF Accountability Act. This legislation will enable DCF to fulfill its mission to work in partnership with local communities to protect the vulnerable and promote strong and resilient families by requiring more rigorous accountability upon themselves and their partners.
— OPINIONS —
“DeSantis keeps making lousy political appointments … do better” via the Orlando Sentinel editorial board — An Orlando Sentinel article in March 2019 detailed how Randall Hunt, the Governor’s recent appointment to the Greater Orlando Airport Authority, was facing a six-figure tax lien. The head of a taxing watchdog group called the back taxes a “red light.” DeSantis blew right through that red light barely nine months later. He promoted Hunt — an ally of congressional flamethrower and DeSantis confidante Matt Gaetz — from the airport board to head of the Florida Lottery, an agency with 400 employees and a $7 billion budget. The rapid rise of a Seminole County man with questionable qualifications but helpful political connections — and a sweet golf swing — to a senior position in state government is not DeSantis’ only dance with appointment misjudgment.
“Lawmakers promote secrecy while citizens remain in the dark” via Lucy Morgan for the Florida Phoenix — Some Florida legislators want more privacy. They’d like to live secretly, in houses where no one can find them. Yes, as dumb as this sounds, this has become an actual bill in the Florida Legislature. The Senate sponsor is Republican Kelli Stargel, who represents parts of Lake and Polk counties. She already lives at a secret address because she’s married to a former legislator who is now a judge in Polk County. I can see some reason to make the home addresses of judges exempt from Florida’s public records law, just in case some convicted criminal gets out of prison and wants to pay a visit. But state legislators? Hardly.
“Florida private schools that accept vouchers should not discriminate” via Darryl Rouson for the Tampa Bay Times — Let’s be clear. A relatively small number of private schools that receive vouchers have policies that specifically refuse to serve some students if they or their parents are LGBTQ. But even one school that uses taxpayer dollars and discriminates is one too many. This is not an issue of religious freedom. No private schools are required to abandon the tenets of their faith any more than they are being required to participate in the voucher program. They have total freedom to choose. But if they get public dollars, they should not be permitted to say to any child or any parent: “Your kind are not welcomed here.”
“Shevrin Jones: The power of public schools” via Florida Politics — As a product of Florida public schools and former educator in Broward County, I hold education and our local teachers close to my heart. Our public schools teach children how to think critically, problem-solve, and build relationships that they will carry throughout their lives. Strong public schools have the power to provide an environment where all students can succeed beginning in their earliest years, regardless of who they are or where they live. None of this is possible without dedicated educators. Teachers have the power to shape young minds and empower their students to dream about what’s possible. Teachers can make or break a child’s future based on their approach with that child and their passion for their subject.
“No dang wetland should ever interfere with the pursuit of profit!” via Diane Roberts of Florida Phoenix — Stop worrying your pretty little head. The state of Florida knows what’s best for that ecosystem thingamajig. The Deep Staters of the federal government have long been in charge of most Florida wetlands permits, and boy, are they not in a hurry! They get the Army Corps of Engineers, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and a slew of unelected bureaucrats and so-called “scientists” involved, and the next thing you know, the tree-huggers and the bunny-lovers have had time to gin up opposition to your beautiful plan to, say, dredge sea grass beds to build a deep water marina and build a huge resort on land that floods if you stare at it hard. So unfair.
— EARNINGS —
“The Southern Group reeled in $15.4 million in 2019” via Florida Politics — The Southern Group had an impressive 552 contracts last year. Of those, 265 clients paid the firm to provide legislative lobbying work. That came out to $8.4 million in revenue in 2019. Another 287 clients contracted with The Southern Group for executive lobbying services, which added up to $7 million in fees last year. Lobbying firms report their pay in ranges covering $10,000 increments to the Florida Lobbyist Registration and Compensation database. Florida Politics uses the middle number of each range to estimate total revenue. The top end of those ranges shows The Southern Group could have earned up to $23.11 million last year. In 2018, the top-dollar estimate rung up at $22.1 million.
“Holland & Knight topped $1.9M in 2019 earnings” via Florida Politics — There were a total of 83 clients who took out contracts for lobbying work with Holland & Knight last year. Out of those, 41 retained the firm for legislative lobbying services. That amounted to $1.21 million in pay on the legislative side of Holland & Knight’s 2019 revenue estimate. Meanwhile, the firm signed 42 clients who sought executive lobbying services. Those contracts combined to $705,000 in median earnings. Lobbying firms report their pay in ranges covering $10,000 increments to the Florida Lobbyist Registration and Compensation database. Florida Politics uses the middle number of each range to estimate total revenue last year. Holland & Knight’s top client on the legislative side was State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance.
— MOVEMENTS —
“Governor taps David Broskie for top Clay schools position” via Steve Patterson of the Florida Times-Union — Gov. DeSantis on Monday appointed Broskie, the Clay County school administrator, to replace departing schools Superintendent Addison Davis. Broskie is a 30-year school system employee who has been an assistant superintendent since 2015 overseeing hiring, personnel and union contracts. His human resources post is one of four assistant superintendent slots in the county’s school system. A former teacher and assistant principal, Broskie spent 12 years as a principal before entering the school system’s top leadership, overseeing Orange Park Junior High, Middleburg High and Oakleaf High schools. The superintendent’s job became open when the Hillsborough County School Board last month chose him over a series of competitors to become that county’s superintendent.
“Tim Nickens to retire as Tampa Bay Times’ editor of editorials” via Amy Hollyfield of the Tampa Bay Times — Chairman and CEO Paul Tash made the announcement in a note to the staff saying, “Of course, Tim’s singular contribution to the public good is the work that won him (and colleague Daniel Ruth) a Pulitzer Prize — the campaign that put fluoride back in Pinellas County’s drinking water. But his painstaking labors in the vineyards of local governance — all those editorial interviews and recommendations for judges, school board members, local officials and state legislators — leave a broad influence on our region and state.” Nickens, 60, has worked at the Times for 30 years, starting in 1983 as a reporter in the Clearwater bureau and then in St. Petersburg.
“Susan Taylor Martin retires from the Tampa Bay Times after illustrious career” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Martin worked for The Times for 37 years and was known for her reader-friendly storytelling and real estate reporting chops. Martin’s most recent accolade was the 2019 Futrell Award for Outstanding Achievement in Communications and Journalism, an annual award given to a Duke University alumnus. Through her nearly four-decade tenure with the Times, Martin has covered business and real estate and has served as a national reporter and foreign correspondent. Martin has collected many awards, including the National Sigma Delta Chi Award for non-deadline reporting, the Society of Features Journalism award for narrative feature writing, the Green Eyeshade Award for business reporting and the Paul Hansell Award, which is given to a Florida journalist for an outstanding body of work.
“Personnel note: Jennifer Meale Poggie joins AIA Florida” via Florida Politics — Poggie is leaving the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for a new job at the Florida branch of the American Institute of Architects. Poggie will serve as communications director for AIA Florida, which bills itself as “a united association of architects shaping Florida’s future through advocacy, leadership, and architectural excellence.” The new role will see her help the organization promote talented architects in Florida and the Caribbean. She reports for duty next week. Poggie, an alumna of Brown University, has held several top-level jobs in state government, including stints leading communications efforts for the Governor’s and Attorney General’s offices.
“Rick Rodriguez Piña set to launch biweekly education newsletter ‘The Pineapple Report’” via Florida Politics — Rodriguez Piña, the veteran governmental consultant, says he’s planning to dive into the media space by launching the first digital media platform of its kind for news and information through a podcast series and a newsletter focused around issues affecting Florida’s K-12 school districts. Dubbed the “Pineapple Report,” the publication aims to pull on Rodriguez Piña’s more than three decades of experience in the education realm. The first edition is scheduled to drop in the coming weeks. “I see where these different silos are, and they don’t necessarily communicate with one another and share what they are doing and their best practices and policies.” That’s the gap Rodriguez Piña seeks to fill with his digital news media platform.
— INSTAGRAM OF THE DAY —
— ALOE —
“Bill Murray shows up to watch No. 6 Florida State vs. No. 10 Louisville basketball” via Erik Hall of the Tallahassee Democrat — He was in Tallahassee to see the No. 10-ranked Louisville men’s basketball team face No. 6 Florida State in an Atlantic Coast Conference contest. Murray‘s son, Luke Murray, is an assistant coach for Louisville. Bill Murray walked into the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center wearing a blue floppy hat and a light green shirt.
— REST IN PEACE —
“NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, depicted in ‘hidden figures,’ dies at 101” via Marisa Fernandez of Axios — Johnson, whose calculations helped astronauts reach orbit and eventually land on the Moon, died at 101. Her work, dramatized in the 2016 film “Hidden Figures,” helped to create some of the agency’s core mathematical principles behind manned space travel. While she wasn’t the first black woman to work as a NASA mathematician, her barrier-breaking story was key in recognizing the achievements that African American scientists contributed to spaceflight during the 1960s. Johnson’s work “was overshadowed in the popular imagination by the life-risking astronauts whose flights she calculated, and to a lesser extent by the department heads under whom she served,” The Washington Post writes. Former President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Celebrating today are U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, state Rep. Mike LaRosa, Ambassador Carlos Trujillo and Joel Brown, government and community affairs regional manager at the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.