Peter Schorsch - SaintPetersBlog

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

Without challenger, Amy Foster wins in St. Pete District 8

As qualifying ended at 5 p.m. in St. Petersburg’s mayoral and City Council races, one race is over before it ever really began.

Amy Foster has been re-elected to District 8.

Foster filed her paperwork May 24, one day after St. Petersburg social worker Tharius Bethel mounted a challenge – lasting no more than a day.

Bethel was forced to drop out of the race also on May 24, after informing the City Clerk’s office that he did not live in in District 8, which covers Kenwood, Disston Heights and areas west of I-275.

On his initial filing May 23, Bethel listed his address as 4316 78th St. N.

“I have recently discovered I fall outside the required residence to apply for council member of District 8,” he wrote in his withdrawal letter. “Sorry for the inconvenience. Thank you for your time.”

Since announcing her re-election bid, Foster raised $5,000 through six contributions as of May 31, including $500 in-kind from the candidate herself.

With Foster’s unopposed victory, first-term Council Chair Darden Rice remains as the only incumbent seeking another four-year term.

Rice is facing first-time candidate Jerick Johnston, a University of South Florida St. Petersburg student.

Council members Jim Kennedy of District 2 and Karl Nurse of District 6 face term limits; while Barclay Harless and Brandi Gabbard are seeking to replace Kennedy, 11 candidates have filed for Nurse’s seat.

 

Of course Andrew Gillum should drop out

The most difficult job in Florida politics right now is the one held by Brice Barnes.

She is the finance director for the gubernatorial campaign of Andrew Gillum, the besieged Democratic mayor of Tallahassee making his first foray into statewide politics.

Part of Barnes’ job is to persuade well-heeled donors to contribute to Gillum rather than his primary opponents, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham and Winter Park businessman Chris King.

Just imagine how challenging Barnes’ job is today now that the FBI has launched an investigation into redevelopment deals involving prominent business owners and developers in Tallahassee, including a former campaign treasurer for Gillum.

If you are the kind of political donor who can cut a five- or six-figure check to a campaign, would you want to get next to the Andrew Gillum campaign right now?

Somehow, Brice Barnes has to convince possible donors to ignore the headlines.

Not that Gillum’s fundraising efforts have been stellar as of late anyway. His campaign and political committee spent $10,000 more than it collected in May, although Gillum attributes this to the birth of his son on May 15.

But it’s not the direction of Gillum’s fundraising which should concern Democratic primary voters. Rather, it’s the narrative of the last ten months. Gillum has been at the center of one controversy after another.

First, it was his atrocious response to the city being hit by Hurricane Hermine.

Then, just as he was launching his campaign, there was the scandal over his use of his government email for personal and campaign use, which is now being investigated by local authorities.

Gillum next was caught lying about the number of donors to his campaign. His campaign is being accused of stealing another candidate’s email list. And, of course, there have been the headlines associated with Tallahassee’s worst-in-the-state crime rate.

None of these individually—and even all of it together—would be enough to drive Gillum from the race. Supporters say the sloppiness is attributable to Gillum being a first-time candidate. The problems of Tallahassee, they say, are not necessarily Gillum’s problems.

And he has picked up some endorsements, mostly from black lawmakers, but also from former HUD Director Julian Castro, state Sen. Jeff Clemens and Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe.

Plus, remember that the political editor of the Tampa Bay Times just last week described Gillum as the Florida Democrats’ “best hope for governor.”

But Gillum will never win the general election. Not with the FBI lurking around the City of Tallahassee.

Gillum may not even be the real target of the FBI’s investigation (some point to City Commissioner Scott Maddox as the man in the feds’ crosshairs.) But that’s probably wishful thinking. When the FBI subpoenas everyone around someone but doesn’t subpoena that someone, guess who the target is?

And that’s beside the point. This is not about courtroom drama, this about political perception.

This is, again, about Brice Barnes’ job. Why would a donor want to contribute to this roogoodoo?

A better question may be: How does this ever get better for Gillum? How does this story end?

Does he hold onto 90 percent of the black vote in a four-way Democratic primary and edge by Graham and King? And then what? He’ll get lit up like a Christmas tree by the Republicans who won’t blink at spending $100 million to make Gillum’s Tallahassee look like Beirut.

Actually, it’s for black voters why Gillum should drop out before this gets worse.

Let’s be honest, or let’s be as honest as Gillum’s consultants have been. They have reminded every political reporter covering the governor’s race that black voters make up approximately 27 percent of the Democratic primary. In fact, that has been their lead argument for Gillum.

Assuming Gillum were to hold on to 9 out of 10 black voters, while adding some progressives and young voters attracted to his message, Gillum has a clear path to the Democratic nomination. If Phillip Levine gets into the race, that’s three other candidates chopping up the remaining 70 percent or so of the Democratic vote.

Gillum, if he makes it all the way to the primary, could win.

But if he doesn’t hang on to win, he’ll probably cost the Democrats the general election.

As long as Gillum is in the race, there’s no dislodging the black vote from him. Deep down, Graham and King know this. They won’t say it, but they won’t target the black vote like they would if Gillum weren’t in the race.

Oh sure, they’ll make the rounds at the black churches and they’ll each receive some of the black vote, but political reality will dictate that they target other demographics if they want to get past Gillum.

And so Graham or King or Levine won’t make the inroads into the black community they’ll need to if they want the black vote to show up in a non-presidential year (which is already a shaky proposition). Even if one of them slips past Gillum, black voters may be so disappointed to see one of their own lose narrowly, they may not show up much at all in November.

It’s almost a reverse Hillary Clinton, who spent so much time running up the score in the primary versus Bernie Sanders with black and Latino voters that she neglected to reach out to the white working class voters she needed in the general election.

Critics will view this assessment as an effort to urge the black candidate to drop out in order to make room for the white folks. That’s not the case.

Rather the increasingly scandalized candidate should drop out in order to make room for candidates with a clean slate.

Final rules set for House Speaker’s race voting

With just one week until freshman House Republicans are scheduled to vote for their leader, it appears lawmakers have agreed upon rules governing the election.

According to a copy of the rules obtained by FloridaPolitics.com, members will not be allowed to abstain from the vote; discussion between members between the announcement of the eliminated candidate and the next vote will be prohibited; and “the vote count will not be disclosed under any circumstances prior to the final vote.”

The 27-member freshman Republican caucus is scheduled to hold a meeting on June 30 in Orlando to vote for the class leader, and likely House Speaker beginning in 2022. Four candidates — Byron Donalds, Erin Grall, Jamie Grant and Paul Renner — have announced their candidacy, with Grant and Renner believed to be the leading contenders.

Unlike traditional Speaker’s races, the class has agreed to hold a vote by secret ballot. The election is being coordinated by Rep. Larry Metz, the chairman of the House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee, and House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues.

Establishing the rules for the election has not been an easy process.

“I can’t believe we’re still going through this kind of stuff,” Rep. Sam Killebrew wrote this week in an email to his colleagues.”

According to the rules, all 27 members of the class shall participate in selecting the class leader and “shall vote in each round of the process.” The rules note that “abstentions are not permitted,” however they do not say what, if any, penalties there are for abstaining.

A majority of the class, or 14 members, is needed in order for any member to be selected as leader. Under the rules agreed to by the candidates, “should any member be absent and unable to call in his/her vote due to an emergency in which communication with the member is impossible, the candidates will agree to the terms of extending the time frame of the race prior to leaving the meeting and each candidate will commit to compliance with said terms.”

In order to preserve the procedures for a secret ballot, the candidates have agreed not to solicit or accept pledge cards prior to the secret ballot and, according to the rules, will discourage members from making “election day declarations through print, social media or at any time during the secret ballot process.”

“Failure to adhere to the prohibition on collecting pledge cards prior to the secret ballot vote,” according to the rules, “will result in the disqualification of the candidate for whom the pledge cards were collected.”

Under the rules, members who can’t attend the meeting should deliver their votes to Metz or Rodrigues between “8 a.m. and noon” on June 30. The rules encourage them to call Rodrigues or Metz directly and allow either to record their “preference for Speaker in ranked order.”

Members who can attend the meeting will be asked to turn off any electronic devices and deposit them in a “box to be secured” by Rodrigues or Metz. No outside communication is allowed during the entirety of the meeting.

The meeting is set to begin at noon, with 10 minute speeches from each candidate. Members will then have time for questions and answers, before candidates are given 5 minutes for closing statements. After closing statements, voting is set to begin.

The rules spell out a protocol that eliminates the lowest vote-getter until one candidate receives a majority of the votes.

According to the protocol, Rodrigues and Metz will collect all of the ballots. The vote count, according to the rules, “will not be disclosed under any circumstances prior to the final vote.” The rules also state that “there will be no discussion between members between the announcement of the eliminated candidate and the next vote and members will be asked to remain in his/her seat during this time between voting rounds.”

Under the rules, if any candidate receives a majority of votes at any time, “no further ballots will be required.” Once that occurs, everyone in the room will be informed that a candidate appears to have a majority of the votes. The remaining candidates, according to the rules, “will verify the results of the count under the supervision of the Majority Leader and the Public Ethics and Integrity Chair.” Once the vote count is verified by the presiding officers and candidates, the rules state “the winner will be declared.”

 

Sunburn for 6.23.17 — ‘Somebody’s going to emergency, somebody’s going to jail’

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

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.

— GOING FROM BAD TO WORSE —

When one of Tallahassee’s top white-collar criminal defense attorneys won’t talk about a case, you know things are bad.

An assistant to Steve Andrews ‘no comment’ed on Thursday to Jim Rosica, our man in Tallahassee, when Rosica asked if the firm was representing any of those named in federal subpoenas made public earlier that day.

As the AP’s Gary Fineout first reported, “Federal authorities have launched an investigation into redevelopment deals that involve business owners and developers as well as an ally of (Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, now) running for governor.”

A Democratic consultant supporting Andrew Gillum’s campaign told POLITICO Florida, “I think he has to drop out.”

Still another person involved with the investigation told Rosica, “This is serious. Very serious. I’m sure that everyone named in those subpoenas has lawyered up. I won’t be surprised if charges are filed in the next few months.” (That individual asked not to be named.)

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in north Florida and the FBI issued subpoenas to the city and its Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) for “documents, records, bids, applications, or proposals,” as well as “emails, letters, and memoranda” and “copies of checks or wire transfers, or any payments.”

The list of those named in the records include many of Tallahassee’s movers and shakers: Adam Corey, the lobbyist/developer behind the city-financed Edison restaurant; and Paige Carter-Smith, CEO of the Downtown Improvement Authority (DIA) and a longtime ally of former Mayor and now City Commissioner Scott Maddox.

Maddox was not named in the subpoenas, though his former consulting firm, Governance Inc., was.

Others named in the subpoenas are Kim Rivers, now the CEO of Trulieve, a Florida medical marijuana treatment center; and J.T. Burnette, who among other projects helped develop the city’s former Radisson hotel into the tony Hotel Duval, now a Marriott property.  

Rivers is the DIA’s chair and Corey is the vice-chair, according to its website. Rivers also has been a “business partner” of Burnette in the Inkbridge “financial engineering” firm, according to a 2012 interview she gave 850 Business Magazine.

Inkbridge was named in the subpoenas, as was Hunter+Harp, where Rivers was once vice president, according to her LinkedIn page, and Burnette was a partner.

What are the feds looking for? No surprise, they weren’t talking Thursday.

Whatever it is, it’s not a good look for Gillum, the city’s mayor since 2014.

Over the last few months, he’s taken it on the chin with criticisms over last year’s Hurricane Hermine response, a sheriff’s inquiry into his political use of a city-owned email program, and accusations he exaggerated his gubernatorial campaign’s contributors.

One issue could be The Edison, “the product of a public/private partnership that received more than $2 million from the city and the Community Redevelopment Agency to renovate the three-story building, formerly used as the city’s power plant in the 1920s,” as the Tallahassee Democrat has reported.

“Local government watchdogs questioned relationships between Corey and restaurant investors,” the paper reported in April. Corey, who has denied any impropriety in that deal, also was campaign treasurer for Gillum’s mayoral run.

Still another source said Josh Doyle, a Tallahassee FBI agent soon to become the next executive director of The Florida Bar, had been “deeply involved” in the ongoing investigation, which “goes back about two years.” Doyle wasn’t in the office Thursday.

According to the subpoenas, FBI Special Agent Evan Hurley and Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Kunz, both based in Tallahassee, are on the case.

A federal grand jury looking into the matter is scheduled to meet on July 11.

Tweet, tweet:

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— CAPITOL INSIGHT —

“Rick Scott gets more time to respond to judicial appointments lawsuit” via Florida PoliticsThe Florida Supreme Court on Thursday granted Gov. Scott’s request for 14 extra days to respond to a lawsuit claiming he doesn’t have authority to appoint three new justices on the last day of his term. Scott general counsel Daniel Nordby filed the request Wednesday, asking to move the deadline to July 19. “Multiple extensions of time for the same filing are discouraged,” the court’s order says. “Absent extenuating circumstances, subsequent requests may be denied.” Nordby’s reasons for extension included the need for legal briefings on bills still on the governor’s desk (68 as of Thursday morning), and “official duties associated with Section and Committee meetings at the 2017 Annual Bar Convention,” meeting in Boca Raton this week.

“State announces Medicaid managed care bid date” via Florida Politics The Agency for Health Care Administration said Thursday it will post material for the next bidding for the Statewide Medicaid Managed Care (SMMC) program “on or around July 14.” That’s when the Invitation to Negotiate (ITN) for the re-procurement will go live on the Florida Department of Management Services’ Vendor Bid System website. Companies who put in a proposal will be subject to a 72-hour blackout period, in which they can’t contact “any employee or officer of the executive or legislative branch concerning any aspect of this solicitation,” according to a state law.

Final rules set for House Speaker’s race voting” via Florida Politics – With just one week until freshman House Republicans are scheduled to vote for their leader, it appears lawmakers have agreed upon rules governing the election. According to a copy of the rules obtained by FloridaPolitics.com, members will not be allowed to abstain from the vote; discussion between members between the announcement of the eliminated candidate and the next vote will be prohibited; and “the vote count will not be disclosed under any circumstances prior to the final vote.” Unlike traditional Speaker’s races, the class has agreed to hold a vote by secret ballot. The election is being coordinated by Rep. Larry Metz, the chairman of the House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee, and House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues.

Legislative leaders announce committee week schedule — Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran outlined the interim committee week schedule in memos to their respective members Thursday. The schedule, as it stands right now, includes one week in September, two weeks in October and November, and one in December. The first week of committee meetings begins on Sept. 12. Members will then return for meetings during the week of Oct. 9 and Oct. 23. They’ll be back in Tallahassee for meetings during the week of Nov.6, but both Negron and Corcoran note “meetings will conclude prior to the observance of the Veterans’ Day holiday” on Friday, Nov. 10. Members will be asked to return to the capital city for committee meetings during the week of Nov. 13. The only committee week scheduled in December is during the week of Dec. 4.

— “Is U.S. Term Limits coordinating a grassroots campaign against Jamie Grant?” via Florida Politics

Fix inequitable treatment between charter, traditional schools, George Gainer says” via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times – Gainer, a Panama City Republican, was expected to oppose HB 7069 in the state Senate’s final vote. He spoke against the imbalance of treatment between charter schools and traditional public schools during that debate, and said he wouldn’t take much more special favors for charters. In the end, he backed the bill but said he would take the issue under greater consideration going forward … without fixes, problems lie ahead … he remains “very much a fan of the governor,” however, he adds to Kelley’s warning that that if lawmakers don’t return next session to fix the inequitable treatment between charter and traditional schools “we’re all in trouble.”

“Absent any takers, Senate mural in limbo” via Florida Politics At least 10 museums or other institutions have declined an offer from the Florida Senate to donate its “Five Flags Mural“—now in storage—that formerly adorned the wall outside the chamber’s 5th floor public and press galleries in the Capitol. “Most cited the size of the mural and their limited capacity for storage as the reason why they could not accept it,” Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta said Thursday. The nearly 40-year-old mural, installed during construction of the current 1978 Capitol building, is 10 feet by 16 feet. But it may not help that it also depicts a Confederate general and flag. Contention has been stoked recently across Florida, including Tampa and Orlando, and the South as cities debate and have begun removing Confederate statues and other memorials.

— NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL —

Gillum releases women’s contraception coverage plan” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Gillum said in a statement Thursday he would push for statewide legislation that would require health insurance policies that cover prescriptions to include full coverage for any FDA-approved prescription contraceptive drug or device. Gillum’s proposal would prohibit insurers from imposing co-pays co-insurance fees or other costs for contraception. In announcing the plan, Gillum’s campaign noted that contraception drugs also can reduce risks of certain kinds of cancer, manage debilitating symptoms, and treat diseases. His plan would allow for exemptions for religious-based organizations, including hospitals and universities, similar to such an exemption in the Affordable Care Act. “As governor, I’m going to stand with women and ensure that neither the government nor their employer, stand between a woman and her doctor in making the critical health decisions that affect her life,” he said in a statement. “This is an essential part of providing better quality care and economic security and stability to more Floridians.”

Happening today: Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine is scheduled to speak during POLITICO Magazine’s “What Works” series, which kicks off at 8:30 a.m. at the Eden Roc, 4525 Collins Ave in Miami Beach. The program will feature a series of one-on-one interviews with mayors what they are doing to foster innovation, promote sustainable cities, and implement change in their region. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh are also scheduled to attend. The event is held in conjunction with the U.S. Conference of Mayors annual meeting in Orlando.

— Bill Clinton coming to Miami Beach Saturday for mayors’ convention via Doug Hanks of the Miami Herald – A friend of Miami Beach Mayor Levine, who lobbied to bring the event to Miami Beach in 2017, Clinton will speak at the day’s luncheon at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach. It is closed to the public. No details were released on Clinton’s speech, but he will be addressing mayors during a lunch with a theme of “city livability.”

Assignment editors: Adam Putnam will host an “Up & Adam” breakfast for supporters at 9 a.m. at The Club at Candler Hills, 8139 SW 90th Terrace Road in Ocala.

Scoop –Mike Miller looking at run for Congress in CD 7” via Scott Powers of Orlando Rising — Republican state Rep. Mike Miller is considering running for Congress in Florida’s 7th Congressional District against incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy next year. … “I’m strongly considering it. I think it would be an incredible honor, but if I do I want to make sure I do it for the right reasons,” Miller said. If he does, he could draw stiff Republican primary competition. State Sen. David Simmons from nearby Altamonte Springs has said he is 98 percent certain he would run for the seat, but he has not yet pulled the trigger.

Florida doctors back Pepi Diaz in SD 40 — The Florida Medical Association is throwing its support behind Jose Felix Diaz in the special election to replace Sen. Frank Artiles in Senate District 40. “The FMA PAC is proud to endorse Rep. Diaz for Senate District 40. During his time in the Florida House, the FMA has worked closely with him on many important issues and our physicians have appreciated his unwavering support,” said Dr. Mike Patete, the president of the FMA PAC in a statement. “We look forward to continuing our work with him in the Senate and moving forward important healthcare legislation.”

Dennis Ross backs Ben Albritton in SD 26 — Rep. Dennis Ross announced Thursday he was endorsing Ben Albritton in his bid to replace Denise Grimsley in Senate District 26. “Ben Albritton is a committed and consistent conservative,” said Ross in a statement. “He has a track record of principled leadership in the Florida House, and his integrity and genuine concern for people have served his constituents well. I look forward to continuing working with him when he is in the Florida Senate.” Ross was first elected to Congress in 2010, after serving four terms in the Florida House. He is the vice chair of the Housing and Insurance Subcommittee, and serves on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “Congressman Dennis Ross is an outstanding public servant, and I am honored to have his support,” said Albritton. “Throughout his career at both the state and national levels, he has been a stalwart conservative, and I look forward to continuing to work together on policies to strengthen our area and our state.”

“Jay Fant touts endorsements from outside Northeast Florida” via Florida Politics — Seven legislators — Rep. Mike Miller of Orlando; Rep. Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs; Rep. Rene Plasencia of Titusville; Rep. Joe Gruters of Sarasota; Rep. Stan McClain of Belleview; Rep. Colleen Burton of Lakeland; and Rep. Julio Gonzalez of Venice — announced they were endorsing Fant in his bid to replace Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2018. “I’m honored to have earned the support of these colleagues in the Florida House. I’ve worked alongside my fellow House members on legislation important to all Floridians, and I hope to continue working with them from the executive branch,” he said in a statement. “We have a vision for Florida consistent with our values that freedom comes first and that we have a duty to protect our citizens from too much government.”

Save the date:

Save the date: Democrat Emma Collum will host a Fourth of July Kick-Off fundraiser for her House District 93 campaign at 6 p.m. on June 30 at Funky Buddha, 1201 NE 38th Street in Oakland Park.

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— STATEWIDE —

Census: Latino growth fastest in exurbs of Orlando, Tampa” via Mike Schneider of The Associated Press – Among counties with more than 100,000 residents, St. Johns County near Jacksonville led the state in Latino population growth rate from July 2015 to July 2016. The county’s Latino population grew 7.5 percent, to almost 15,500 residents, in that period. Counties with the next-fastest Latino growth rates were in exurbs of Tampa and Orlando: Hernando, Lake, Polk and Pasco counties. These central Florida counties had Latino growth rates ranging from 6.5 percent to 7.2 percent. Miami-Dade continued to be the county with Florida’s largest Latino community – about 1.8 million residents, or two-thirds of the county’s overall population. Its Hispanic population increased by just less than 27,000 residents, or 1.5 percent, from 2015 to 2016.

Board of Governors agrees on university performance-based funding” via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – The State University System’s Board of Governors approved $245 million in state money for performance-based funding for universities. The University of Florida, who scored 95 points on the performance metrics, received the biggest portion of the pot — $55.1 million — followed by the University of South Florida and Florida State University … three universities did not qualify for new state performance funding in the budget year that starts July 1: Florida Gulf Coast University, Florida A&M University and the University of North Florida. The allocation of the state funding, which the Legislature increased by $20 million this year, is based on 10 measurements of performance by each of the 11 institutions, including a six-year graduation rate, salaries of recent graduates, retention of students and student costs.

Bob Buckhorn: It was Hillsborough, not Tampa, which voted to keep Confederate monument” via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – “Confederate monument in Tampa will stay put” is the headline published on CNN’s website … Buckhorn sought to make sure everyone knows that it was the government of Hillsborough County – and not the city he runs – which made that controversial vote. “There is no honor in treason and there is no valor in enslaving people because of their race,” said the Mayor. “That statue represents the worst of humanity not the Tampa that we aspire to be. This decision doesn’t speak for our city and the people that I represent.” On social media day, angry citizens noted that all four commissioners who supported the proposal to maintain the monument – Stacy White, Victor Crist, Ken Hagan and Sandy Murman – are all running on the 2018 ballot, and they vowed retribution at the polls.

Designated player games return to Florida poker rooms” via Nick Sortal of the Miami Herald – … thanks to a change of heart by the state. The state formally gave approval in 2014 after card room operators persuaded them that the games were classified as poker, under the reasoning that patrons vied against a designated player, rather than the house. The Seminole Tribe, which like most casinos has Three-Card Poker and Ultimate Texas Hold ’em in their table games pits — not in the poker room — argued that the racetrack casinos were infringing on the tribe’s exclusive rights to table games, and in December 2015 Gov. Scott ordered the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering to withdraw its approval. The tribe also filed suit, and in November 2016, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle declared the racetrack’s version of the games “egregious example of the cardrooms’ attempt to evade the prohibition on banked card games,” and ruled that their existence carved into the tribe’s exclusivity. But after the Legislature failed to agree on terms for a comprehensive gambling bill this spring, or even new terms to the Seminoles’ compact, the card rooms are revving up their games, with state approval.

FCC proposes record fine for faking robocall numbers” via David McCabe of Axios – The FCC proposed a $120 million fine against a Florida man allegedly behind millions of robocalls that used faked numbers. It’s the largest fine the agency has ever proposed. The agency says Adrian Abromovich‘s “operation apparently made the spoofed calls in order to trick unsuspecting consumers into answering and listening to his advertising messages.” Spoofing is when a robocaller fakes the number the call is coming from so the called consumer will pick the phone up. The agency said that the “proposed fine is based on 80,000 spoofed calls that the Commission has verified.” The FCC decision was to lodge its allegations against Abromovich. Now he has a chance to respond, and then the process proceeds from there.

FLORIDA TODAY building for sale” via Wayne Price of FLORIDA TODAY – The expansive facility is located off U.S. 1 between Rockledge and Melbourne. When purchased, FLORIDA TODAY’s news and business operation will move to a yet-to-be identified space in Brevard County. There is no timetable for that move. “We will miss the rich history this home served for Gannett, USA TODAY and FLORIDA TODAY,” [FLORIDA TODAY President Jeff] Kiel said. “However, needs have changed from mixed-use manufacturing, warehousing and office operations to space that allows us to deploy more technology with open and collaborative space and specialized work areas. We believe this is critical to our continued success and growth.”

— MOVEMENTS —

“Scott reappoints picks to State University System Board of Governors” via Florida Politics Gov. Scott announced the reappointment of Syd Kitson and Darlene Jordan to the Board of Governors of the State University System. The move comes after the Florida Senate, which must confirm Scott’s appointments, failed to do so during this year’s Legislative Session … Scott also appointed Alan Levine. His term runs concurrent with Kitson and Jordan, from Thursday to Jan. 6, 2024.

AppointedKymberlee Curry Smith to the Florida Elections Commission; Jason Robbins to the Workers’ Compensation Panel; Dr. Diana Worrall to the Florida Building Commission; Raja Shekhar Komuroji to the Board of Employee Leasing Companies and Ted Feaster to the Construction Industry Licensing Board (following the Florida Senate’s failure to consider him for confirmation before Sine Die).

“Personnel note: Amy Zubaly named new head of FMEA” via Florida PoliticsZubaly has now gone from interim to permanent executive director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association (FMEA), and the first women to head the organization, according to a Thursday press release. The board of directors in January had tapped Zubaly, then deputy executive director of public affairs and strategic communications, to helm the association while it looked for a new leader … Now, Zubaly will continue “to manage the day-to-day operations of the association, handle member and board relations, oversee the association’s government affairs, communications and education functions and provide strategic planning.”

“Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers seeks to enter FAMU hazing case” via Florida Politics – The association, known as FACDL, asked the court for permission to file a friend of the court brief. The justices will consider an appeal from Dante Martin, convicted in the 2011 hazing death of FAMU drum major Robert Champion. Martin and Champion were both members of the school’s famed “Marching 100” band. Champion, 26, succumbed to internal injuries after a brutal beating ritual with fists, mallets and drumsticks in a band bus that was parked outside a game in Orlando. Martin, now 30, was sentenced in 2015 to 6 years and 5 months in prison on felony manslaughter and hazing charges, according to the Department of Corrections website.

New and renewed lobby registrations: Tanya Jackson, Adams St. Advocates: Unisys Corporation

— WEEKEND TV —

Black Almanac with Dr. Ed James on WWSB, ABC 7 in Sarasota: James will discuss “GOPs stealth health care plan” with political analyst Dr. Lawrence A. Miller.

Facing South Florida with Jim DeFede on CBS 4 in Miami: The Sunday show provides viewers with an in-depth look at politics in South Florida, along with other issues that affect the area’s citizens.

Florida This Week  on Tampa Bay’s WEDU: Panelists this week include Tampa Bay Times Deputy Managing Editor for Politics and Business Amy Hollyfield, Tampa Bay Times reporter Chris O’Donnell, attorneys Ron Christaldi and Brian Willis.

Former Congressman Ander Crenshaw will provide insight on This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice.

In Focus with Allison Walker-Torres on Bay News 9: A discussion on “food deserts,” getting nutritional food into areas where access to such food is limited, with David Overfield and Deepa Mathew from the Orange County Department of Health, and Lakeisha Hood from the Florida Department of Agriculture. Also, they will examine the Goldsboro area of Sanford (In Seminole County) and talk to people about what they have to do to put good food on the table.

Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando and Bay News 9 in Tampa/St. Pete: Longwood Republican State Sen. David Simmons talked about the 2017 Legislative Session, budget deals, education funding, environmental policies and more. PolitiFact Truth-O-Meter will rate a claim about the American Health Care Act.

The Usual Suspects on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Hosts Gary Yordon and Steve Vancore will talk with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham.

This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice on Channel 4 WJXT: This week, Justice will speak with former U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, who represented Jacksonville in Florida’s 4th Congressional District. Also appearing is Florida TaxWatch president and CEO Dominic Calabro.

— ALOE —

At James Madison’s home, slaves’ lives matter as much as the man who owned them” via Alyssa Rosenberg of The Washington Post – With the help of a $10 million gift from philanthropist David Rubenstein, the staff [at James Madison’s Montpelier, in Orange, Virginia] has devoted new attention and resources to that untold story. The result is a series of reconstructed dwellings in the South Yard and a new permanent exhibit, “The Mere Distinction of Colour,” on the basement floor of Montpelier. The new galleries, which opened June 5, do something radical: They treat the people who were enslaved at Montpelier as if their lives were as worthy of historical examination as that of the man who owned them. These displays at Montpelier provide ample evidence for visitors to consider as they reckon with the fact that the same James Madison who drafted the Bill of Rights also spent considerable time trying to track down a runaway slave named Anthony. (Madison’s own enslaved valet, John, went to his grave without telling Madison anything about Anthony’s whereabouts.)

Disney permit signals future work at Epcot” via Gabrielle Russon of the Orlando Sentinel – A recently approved permit signals parking changes could be part of the work being planned at Epcot. The plan is to reconfigure an existing canal to “to provide a more contiguous area for possible future changes to parking capacity and back of house areas within Walt Disney World’s EPCOT Center,” according to a staff report included with the permit. The project also includes creating two dry retention areas for water treatment at the park “where future construction is planned,” the report said. “It will be more Disney. It will be even more relevant than it is today,” said [Disney executive Bob] Chapek, who oversees the theme parks. “And, at the same time, it will stay true to our original vision. Stay tuned, there’s a lot more to come on Epcot.”

Ritz-Carlton isn’t all about hotels anymore. Now it’s launching a cruise line” via Chabeli Herrera of the Miami Herald – Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company is launching a luxury cruising yacht line scheduled to hit the water in the fourth quarter of 2019 … Ritz-Carlton will enter a crowded field of luxury cruise lines. In doing so, it follows a path similar to Disney when it founded Disney Cruise Line in 1996. Ritz-Carlton, part of Marriott International, is planning to build three 298-passenger yachts for its new Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, to be based in Coconut Grove. The Yacht Collection is a venture created by maritime experts Douglas Prothero, who was the CEO and founder of the Canadian Maritime Group, and Lars Clasen, former president of Aida Cruises. Each ship will feature 149 balcony suites and two duplex penthouse suites.

Happy birthday belatedly to Drew Weatherford and Amy Young. Celebrating today is Rep. Bryan Avila. Celebrating this weekend is my friend Rich Newsome.

Amy Zubaly

Personnel note: Amy Zubaly named new head of FMEA

Amy Zubaly has now gone from interim to permanent executive director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association (FMEA), and the first women to head the organization, according to a Thursday press release.

The board of directors in January had tapped Zubaly, then deputy executive director of public affairs and strategic communications, to helm the association while it looked for a new leader. She’d been with the organization for 17 years.

Longtime FMEA executive director Barry Moline resigned last year to lead the California Municipal Utilities Association (CMUA) in Sacramento.

Now, Zubaly will continue “to manage the day-to-day operations of the association, handle member and board relations, oversee the association’s government affairs, communications and education functions and provide strategic planning.”

“As we celebrate our 75th anniversary and rich history, it’s fitting that Amy—the first woman to serve as the association’s executive director—lead us into the future,” said Clay Lindstrom, FMEA President and Fort Pierce Utilities Authority General Manager.

“Amy’s long record of service to the organization and her deep understanding of the issues important to our members make her ideal for this role,” he said. “We look forward to taking the association in new directions under her leadership.”

Zubaly added: “It is a great honor to continue serving FMEA in this capacity and I deeply appreciate the board’s confidence in me. I am thankful for the opportunity to lead FMEA as we provide support and advocacy for our members today and into the future.”

Here’s more from the release: 

Originally called the Florida Municipal Utilities Association, FMEA was established in 1942 in response to World War II fuel shortages. Today, the association actively represents and advocates for member cities’ interests on a wide variety of state and federal issues, provides education and training for members and serves as a clearinghouse for industry news and information.

Municipal electric utilities provide affordable, reliable electric service, and have been doing so for more than a century. As community-owned and locally managed organizations, these utilities are focused on serving local needs and interests while reinvesting back into the community for services, such as police and fire protection.

Sunburn for 6.22.17 — Postcard from the City Beautiful; Rick Scott vs. Conn; Corcoran PAC brings in the bucks; More endorsements for Ashley Moody; New Game of Thrones trailer drops

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

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.

Good morning from the City Beautiful. I’ve spent the last three days in Orlando presenting to two groups of hedge fund managers and analysts (all of whom were very interested in Sunshine State politics) as well as meeting with several elected officials and candidates.

I also spent time interviewing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King who may just be the most telegenic statewide candidate we’ve seen since Charlie Crist was a state Senator challenging Bob Graham. The up-and-comer did not win that race against one of the most storied names in modern Florida history, just as King is up against a formidable opponent who also has Graham as her last name. But like Crist circa 1998, the young man bears watching.

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— SCOTT WORLD — 

The state’s leading LGBTQ-rights organization says Gov. Rick Scott went back on his word that he’d sign an executive order protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other state employees from discrimination.

Leaders of Equality Florida said they met with the governor’s staff days after last year’s Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando, and were told staff “needed a few weeks” to draft the language. Nothing happened.

Now, the organization and the Florida Democratic Party are tired of waiting.

“In the wake of an unprecedented tragedy, Rick Scott made commitments to protect LGBTQ Floridians in the workplace so they can earn a living without fear of discrimination or losing their job,” FDP spokesperson Johanna Cervone said in a statement.

Connecticut tells Rick Scott to take his job (poaching tour) and “shove it.”

“Now Scott is breaking those promises. Rick Scott talks a big game about jobs, but doesn’t seem to care about LGBTQ Floridians trying to make a living.”

Added Hannah Willard, public policy director of Equality Florida: “It seems if there was ever a moment for him to issue an executive order, it was then, and by failing to do so, we now want to publicly hold him accountable for not taking meaningful action to protect LGBTQ people in Florida.”

An executive order wouldn’t go as far as The Florida Competitive Workforce Act, however.

That’s the bill that has come before the Legislature every year since 2010. It would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in employment, housing and public accommodations.

“Florida is a state that does not tolerate discrimination of any form,” Scott spokeswoman Lauren Schenone told FloridaPolitics.com.

“In accordance with federal guidelines, Florida state agencies do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, and state employees should not be discriminated against in any way,” she added. “Our office will continue to review ways we can work to eliminate discrimination of any kind.”

Meantime, proposals filed with the Constitution Revision Commission, the body reviewing the state’s governing document, have several versions of general anti-discrimination language intended as amendments.

One proposal would prohibit discrimination “in housing, employment, or services based upon race, country of origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, disability …”

But given the overarching conservative makeup of that panel, and the fact that CRC Chair Carlos Beruff was appointed by and is closely aligned with Scott, a constitutional fix seems even less likely than a statutory one.

Connecticut newspaper to Scott: ‘go back to Florida and stay there’” via Katie Sanders of the Miami Herald — Scott told a small crowd in Norfolk, Connecticut, to “go ahead and give up … capitulate, and come to Florida and make it easier on yourselves,” and not stay in Connecticut with its higher income taxes and lack of palm trees. The Hartford Courant editorial board fired back in a feisty Wednesday editorial detailing Florida’s flaws and telling Scott to shove it: “Here’s some advice for Florida Gov. Rick Scott: Go back to Florida and stay there … With all due respect, Mr. Scott, no thanks. Promises of a better climate and pictures of palm trees are nice, but there’s more to a state than its shrubbery. Peel the lemon, and the truth is obvious: Florida can’t compare to Connecticut.”

“Texts show Scott’s influence over panel’s recommendations for FDOT chief” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – During the May 11 meeting, the Florida Transportation Commission — whose members are appointed by Scott — was ready to recommend three names. But the initial list of candidates did not include the Florida Department of Transportation chief of staff Mike Dew, the applicant Scott ultimately appointed secretary. “The gov office is texting me to wait till [next] week,” Trumbull texted toward the end of the meeting to Commissioner Beth Kigel. … It was clear that the governor’s influence was felt by members as they were discussing in the May 11 meeting when they should vote on their recommendations. In a text message to Trumbull, Commissioner John Browning said he was concerned that if the wrong decision was made, Scott would toss the recommendations and make the commission start over.

“Scott asks for extension in judicial appointments lawsuit” via Florida Politics — Scott asked the state Supreme Court for 14 extra days to respond to a lawsuit claiming he doesn’t have the authority to appoint three new justices on the last day of his term. “This motion is supported by good cause and is not opposed by petitioners,” says the motion by Scott general counsel Daniel Nordby. It asks to extend the filing deadline to July 19. Among the reasons cited: Legal briefings on bills still on the governor’s desk and Scott’s lawyers’ “official duties associated with Section and Committee meetings at the 2017 Annual Bar Convention,” meeting in Boca Raton this week. Scott, a Naples Republican, has said he plans to name the replacements for the court’s liberal-leaning trio of Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy A. Quince. They face mandatory retirement on the same day — Jan. 8, 2019 — that is Scott’s last in office as governor. The lawsuit by The League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause says Scott can’t replace those justices because he’ll be out of office earlier on the same day all three retire, and their terms last till midnight.

Bill watch — Scott shot down two more bills Monday, bringing his total to six vetoes for 2017. The governor withheld his approval for SB 2512 on the Capitol Complex Advisory Council, and HB 5501 on “Economic Programs.” On the proposed Council, Scott said in a veto letter it would “add an unnecessary layer of red tape and bureaucracy.” On the economic programs bill, he said it was “made obsolete by House Bill 1A,” passed during the recent Special Session and funding development and tourism marketing. Sixty-eight bills remain on the governor’s desk.

SCOTT MAXWELL’S TOUGH COLUMN

In a letter to the Orlando Sentinel, Cissy Proctor — the head of Scott’s jobs division — took issue with a recent Scott Maxwell column saying Orlando’s wages “stink.” Proctor disagreed, saying Orlando wages are “higher than 60 percent of our nation’s metro areas.” Maxwell shot back, saying a comparison of “metro areas” wasn’t apples-to-apples. Proctor didn’t stick with similar sized communities or “even close,” he writes.

Key Points from Maxwell:

— “Rick Scott wants you to think he’s created a stellar economy. And employers who pay poverty-level wages don’t want to talk about that. But I’m not trying to spin. I just want to give you the honest numbers about wages. And the numbers show that Orlando wages stink.”

— “In a letter to the editor, Cissy Proctor — the head Gov. Rick Scott’s jobs division — took issue with a column I wrote last month about Orlando’s low wages. I said our wages stink. Proctor disagreed, claiming Orlando’s wages help families ‘flourish’ and are ‘higher than 60 percent of our nation’s metro areas.’ That sounds good, doesn’t it? Yet it also sounds completely at odds with everything this paper has ever reported. (‘Central Florida job metro area market is lowest-paying in country’ and ‘Orlando: No. 1 in tourism, dead last in wages’).”

— “The facts, however, are that Orlando is still where this newspaper has long reported. Our wages are A) Way below the national average; and B) Rock bottom compared to other major metros. (50 out of 50 in median wages; 47th or 48th out of 50 in average wages, depending on the survey.)”

Orlando low-wage jobs led Cissy Proctor — Rick Scott’s jobs division head — to spar with Scott Maxwell, who wrote in the Orlando Sentinel that the city’s wages “stink.”

— NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL —

“Scott remains tight-lipped about U.S. Senate bid” via Florida Politics — Scott remains tight-lipped about his 2018 plans, telling CNN he won’t make any decision about the U.S. Senate race until a later date. “I’ve always said the same thing: It’s 2017. The race is in 2018. I won’t make a decision until later,” said Scott during an interview with Erin Burnett on her show Erin Burnett OutFront. “Politicians seem to worry about their next job. I’ve got 570 days to go in this job. I’m trying to make Florida No. 1 for jobs, No. 1 for people being safe … and No. 1 for education.” Scott is widely believed to be considering a U.S. Senate run in 2018. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson has already said he plans to run for re-election.

Kirsten Gillibrand backs Gwen Graham for governor — The New York Democrat announced Tuesday she was endorsing Gwen Graham in her bid for governor. “I am proud to join thousands of others in supporting Gwen Graham, a strong progressive leader, for Governor of Florida. In the age of Trump, we need courageous leaders like Gwen who will always put people over politics and aren’t afraid to stand up to anybody to do what is right,” said Gillibrand in a statement. “For her strength and leadership skills, her fortitude and passion, I offer my strongest endorsement of Democrat Gwen Graham for Governor of Florida. Take it from me: with Gwen Graham as governor, Florida will have a champion for progressive values in the Governor’s office.” The endorsement comes on the heels of the annual Leadership Blue Gala. Graham said Gillibrand’s “support and the support of women from across the country who share our mission to turn Florida blue is humbling and drinking our campaign forward.”

New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand backs Gwen Graham for Governor.

Chris King brings home his ‘progressive entrepreneur’ campaign message” via Scott Powers of Florida PoliticsKing … sought to distance himself from both his Democratic challengers, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and former U.S. Rep. Graham, as well as the Republicans. It’s a continuation of the “progressive entrepreneur” theme King initiated when he kicked off his campaign in Orlando two months ago. King criticizes Florida Republicans for overseeing a drop in inflation-adjusted wages and benefits, or doing nothing about it, and for, he said, leading Florida to place at the bottom of the nation’s 10 most populous states in per capita income, productivity, gross domestic product, and mental health care services. … “You can be a progressive, and believe in equality, and opportunity, and fairness, and justice, and care for the neediest among us. You can also marry that to entrepreneurship, to integrity, and hard work, and discipline, and stewardship. When those things are brought together, I’ve found in business it was a magical formula,” King said. “In government, it can be a game-changer for the Democratic Party.”

Richard Corcoran’s Watchdog PAC pulls in $608,000 in first month — including $100k from Norm Braman” via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald — The Braman gift, however, is telling as Corcoran is rumored to be using the PAC to position himself for higher office. Miami’s business leaders were in a serious tizzy in late April, when it appeared that Miami Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the House’s lead negotiator on a gambling bill, presented an offer to the Senate that indicated House leadership was prepared to overcome years of resistance and agree to authorize a new gaming facility in Miami-Dade. Braman joined health care executive Mike Fernandez, and Miami developer Armando Codina calling legislators enraged that they would move forward with the idea without understanding the impact it could have on the city, local businesses and the city’s successful economic boom. In less than a week, talks collapsed and the bill was declared dead. Corcoran’s report, posted on his Watchdog PAC site, indicates he raised another $183,000 in donations of between $100 and $1,000 before his much-publicized fundraisers hosted by Orlando trial attorney John Morgan at the home of another Orlando trial attorney, Zander Clem.

Assignment editors: Adam Putnam will host an “Up & Adam” breakfast with supporters at The Copper Monkey, 14209 West Newberry Road in Newberry.

Simone Marstiller takes herself out of Attorney General contention” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — Former appellate judge and Republican Marstiller said on Facebook she will not run for Attorney General in 2018. “NOT running for AG,” she posted Monday night. “Holding that office has been a dream of mine for a long time. But I’ve reluctantly concluded that running for the office just isn’t financially feasible for me. Thanks from the bottom of my heart to all of you for encouraging me and pledging your support. I am blessed beyond measure to have people like you in my life. The adventure continues …” … Her name was first floated in a January post on The Capitolist by Brian Burgess, who included her among his picks to replace current Attorney General Pam Bondi amid rumors she was leaving to take a post in Trump‘s administration. Bondi is term-limited in 2018.

Former appellate judge and Republican Simone Marstiller bows out of Attorney General race.

Ashley Moody endorsed by three Tampa Bay-area state Senators — Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, Sen. Tom Lee, and Sen. Dana Young have endorsed Moody in her race to replace Bondi in 2018, the Moody campaign announced Tuesday. “We are proud to have the support of three of our state’s most trusted Republican leaders. They are not just leaders in Tallahassee, but in their respective communities,” said Moody in a statement.” They are champions for the common sense, conservative principles that have helped make our state a great place to live, work, vacation, and retire. I’m extremely thankful for their support and I hope to work with them in the years to come to continue to make Florida safer and stronger.” Moody, a Hillsborough County Republican, faces Jacksonville Republican Rep. Jay Fant in the Republican primary to replace Bondi.

Hillsborough County leaders back Moody for AG — Rep. Jackie Toledo, Hillsborough County Doug Belden, and Hillsborough County School Board member Melissa Snively announced they were endorsing Moody in the race to replace Bondi in 2018. Moody, a former Hillsborough circuit judge, said she was pleased to have their endorsements. “Doug works each and every day to save taxpayers money and make government more efficient and effective. He is recognized statewide as an outstanding Tax Collector and public servant. I’m so humbled to call him a friend and I thank him for his support,” she said in a statement. “The well-being of our children and the quality of their education are top priorities of Melissa Snively. As a mother, I can’t thank her enough for her dedication to our children and improving our public-school system. Representative Toledo’s passion for public service is apparent to each and every person she meets. Her commitment to her constituents and making our community and state a better place sets a shining example for all public servants. I’m thankful for her leadership in Tallahassee and for the support of all of these outstanding elected officials.”

Bernie Sanders isn’t backing Tim Canova in his second bid against Debbie Wasserman Schultz” via Alex Daugherty of the Miami Herald — Canova announced he will challenge Wasserman Schultz again in 2018 despite a 14-point loss in the Democratic primary to the longtime congresswoman from Weston. But this time around, Sanders isn’t on board. “I have no idea about Tim Canova, I honestly don’t,” Sanders said when asked if he plans to support Canova’s second bid against Wasserman Schultz. “I know nothing about Tim Canova.” Sanders declined to answer whether he thinks Wasserman Schultz should face a primary challenge from a more liberal-leaning Democrat. The Canova campaign said the lack of support from Sanders doesn’t matter even though it could mean millions in contributions from supporters of the Vermont senator.

Tim Canova is not feeling the love from Bernie Sanders this time.

Florida Chamber endorses Jose Felix Diaz in SD 40 — The Florida Chamber of Commerce announced it was backing Diaz in the special election to replace Sen. Frank Artiles in Senate District 40. “Representative Jose Felix Diaz continues to put Florida families and businesses first, and has remained an advocate for free enterprise and job creation,” said Marian Johnson, the senior vice president of political strategy at the Florida Chamber of Commerce. “The Florida Chamber is proud to endorse Representative Jose Felix Diaz for the Florida Senate.” Diaz faces former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla and Lorenzo Palomares in the July special primary to replace Artiles, who resigned earlier this year amid scandal. “If you ask the residents of District 40 what their biggest issues are — the answer is clear — jobs and the economy. The Florida Chamber of Commerce represents the biggest job creators in Florida, and I am honored to have their support for my State Senate race,” said Diaz in a statement. “I am proud of my record in support of low taxes and a responsible regulatory environment that both promotes sustained economic growth and protects consumers.”

Republican rivals disagree on key issues in Miami Senate forum” via Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald — State Rep. Diaz and attorney Lorenzo Palomares told about 100 people gathered at Miami Dade College Kendall Campus where they stand on key issues. Primary candidates tend to have few differences — but not in this case. On recently passed education legislation known as House Bill 7069: Diaz supports it, Palomares doesn’t. On a legislative deal to implement medical marijuana rules: Diaz supports it, Palomares doesn’t. On the future of transit in Miami-Dade County: Diaz envisions autonomous vehicles, Palomares wants to expand the Dolphin Expressway past the western edge of the Urban Development Boundary. … Notably absent from the nevertheless largely amicable discussion was former state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, who is locked in a bitter campaign chiefly against Diaz.

Republican rivals in Miami House race are still trying to out-Cuban each other” via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald — Foreign policy is not the purview of state lawmakers. Nevertheless, on Friday, after Trump’s East Little Havana event, candidate Jose Mallea‘s campaign put out a robocall to House District 116 Republican voters touting Mallea’s support for Trump’s policy shift. “Mallea is a real Republican, Cuban-American, who wants to fight for a free Cuba,” the call said. “In contrast, his opponent, Daniel Perez, was a beneficiary of the Obama-Castro policy, going to Cuba on a luxury vacation to take his engagement photos.” … Meantime, Perez’s campaign was sending voters a letter, in English and Spanish, from Perez’s parents, vouching for their son’s Cuban roots. The family left Cuba in 1969, Guelcys and Eugenio Perez wrote in their “personal message,” which also said Perez’s uncle Antonio Perez “died fighting against the Castro regime.” “The truth is that Danny traveled to Cuba with his fiancee, Stephanie, to visit her sick uncle and her family,” they wrote. “Danny was NOT in Cuba as a tourist, as his opponent and The Miami Herald are attempting to falsely portray!!”

Four Republicans, one Democrat qualify to run in HD 44 special election” via Scott Powers of Orlando Rising — The Republicans who qualified are former Winter Garden Commissioner Bobby Olszewski, who ran in a similar region last year in an unsuccessful, but close, bid for Orange County commissioner; John Newstreet, president and chief executive officer of the Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce; businessman Bruno Portigliatti, and urgent care physician Dr. Usha Jain. Businessman Paul Chandler is the Democrats’ candidate. Republicans may be looking ahead from this election. If a Republican wins, it’ll give that person a year’s head-start on campaigning, fundraising, and collecting IOUs for the prospect of becoming Speaker of the House for the freshmen class of representatives who’ll new voted into office in 2018.

— “Democrat Nuren Haider withdrawing from HD 44 special election” via Scott Powers of Orlando Rising

— “Republican HD 44 candidate John Newstreet fundraiser claims $20K” via Scott Powers of Orlando Rising

Mark Lipton files to run in HD 79 — State records show Lipton has filed to run in House District 79 in 2018. Lipton filed the necessary paperwork to replace Rep. Matt Caldwell Monday. The North Fort Myers Democrat joins Republican Michelle Graham in the race to replace Caldwell, who can’t run again in 2018 because of term limits.

The Miami Beach mystery PAC is under state investigation” via Nicholas Nehamas, Joey Flechas and David Ovalle of the Miami Herald — A public-corruption probe is underway into a controversial political group linked to Miami Beach commissioner and mayoral candidate Michael Grieco … At least one donor to the political action committee has been subpoenaed by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, according to a Miami Beach defense attorney representing the donor … The list of donors to People for Better Leaders is stocked with Miami Beach vendors, lobbyists and developers with business before the city. The PAC raised $200,000 in 2016. It’s not clear how many of the 23 individuals and corporations that gave to People for Better Leaders received subpoenas. In the Beach, a violation of the city’s ethics ordinance is not a criminal offense, carrying just a small fine. If a commissioner or candidate solicited donations or coordinated with someone else to solicit on their behalf, a fine of $500 per violation would be issued, according to the city code.

Miami Beach Commissioner and mayoral candidate Michael Grieco is linked to the mysterious PAC People for Better Leaders.

Former police chief Jane Castor tops early poll looking at 2019 Tampa mayor’s race” via Richard Danielson of the Tampa Bay Times — The automated telephone poll, commissioned by Tampa insurance executive Guy King and done by StPetePolls.org, surveyed 647 registered voters in Tampa. It had a 3.9 percent margin of error and a 95 percent confidence level. When respondents were asked if the election were held today and were given six names to choose from, they responded: Castor, 37.3 percent. Unsure, 29.1 percent. City Council member Mike Suarez, 9.7 percent. Former state Rep. Ed Narain and former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik, 7.7 percent each. City Council member Harry Cohen, 6.2 percent. Architect Mickey Jacob, 2.3 percent. King said he commissioned the poll because, “I’ve seen the last few years how important having good leadership in the mayor’s office is, (and) I started wondering, when our current mayor is gone, who’s going to fill those shoes?”

“Major project at the Vinoy will require St. Pete voter approval” via Janelle Irwin of the Tampa Bay Business Journal — A portion of the $50 million renovation plan will need voter approval before construction can begin. Hotel owners announced its one-story parking garage with eight tennis courts on the roof will go before voters for a vote Nov. 7 alongside St. Petersburg mayoral and City Council candidates. If approved, the garage would be built immediately behind the hotel where eight existing tennis courts are located. A 1984 city charter requires construction on historic locations in downtown St. Pete to receive voter approval. The garage won’t require taxpayer funding and will not change the hotel’s overall footprint or impede on St. Pete’s waterfront park system. It will provide approximately 270 new parking spaces for hotel guests, guests of on-site events, Vinoy facility members and people dining at one of the hotel’s restaurants, which are open to nonmembers.

Rendering of one concept for the Vinoy Renaissance Resort & Golf Club’s two-year, multi-phased renovation and redevelopment project.

— STATEWIDE —

“With no legislative action, Confederate statue remains in U.S. Capitol” via Florida Politics — The General abides. With lawmakers taking no action this year, a bronze statue of a Confederate general representing Florida shall remain indefinitely in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. Two competing bills died this Legislative Session. One called for a likeness of educator and civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune to replace the statue of Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith. Another proposed a statue of environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas, author of “The Everglades: River of Grass,” to take Smith’s place. “Next year, we expect movement in the House and we’ll pass it in the Senate,” said state Sen. Perry Thurston, who sponsored the Bethune measure. “I am encouraged we will get it done next year.”

David Simmons: We’re not done yet with HB 7069” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — At a panel discussion, with three Republican state representatives, held by the Seminole County Chamber of Commerce, Simmons sharply criticized the “Schools of Hope” provisions in HB 7069, which he voted against, saying it is setting up underperforming public schools and their students to fail completely. “I don’t think the book is completely written yet on this bill you’ve probably all read about, House Bill 7069,” Simmons said. “It was the amalgamation of at least 20 different subject matter issues that the house put into a bill. Various of us voted against it even though there were a lot of good things in it.” In particular, Simmons charged the Schools of Hope program’s provision that requires schools with consecutive Ds or Fs to be shut down, move all the students to other schools, or create a “district-operated” charter school, which essentially could not be run by the district.

Joe Henderson: Dan Raulerson ‘certainly’ not backing down after saying everyone should be armed” via Florida Politics — Raulerson’s remarks came during a forum at the Tampa Tiger Bay Club in response to a question about how the (Alexandria, Virginia) shooting impacted Florida and the nation. I asked him if he would say the same thing now if he had it to do over again. I got a one-word answer. “Certainly.” Then I got a lot more words. Raulerson isn’t backing down from what said because, and this is important, he honestly believes it’s the right thing to do. “Here’s what I think people are misunderstanding,” he said. “I’m not suggesting we all walk around with 6-shooters in holsters and shoot everybody up. But had (Steve Scalise) not been on the ball field in Washington, there wouldn’t have been two police officers there with guns. He was the only one with a security detail. Without those officers, it would have been a massacre. This isn’t something I’m shying away from. We need to open our eyes and understand we live in a world that is vastly different from 15 years ago.”

Tag, you’re it: Latest state database ‘slowdown’ hinders motorists” via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times — Florida’s fickle state-run driver database had more service interruptions Monday, and county tax collectors said they couldn’t give motorists the service they deserve as taxpayers. But the system was back in full working order Tuesday morning. Monday was the first day that the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles migrated to a new cloud-based solution as part of a long-term modernization of its decades-old databases. The agency said “slowdowns” in its system affected only vehicle registrations. Driver’s licenses, license renewals and vehicle titles were not affected and police had full access to its data, spokeswoman Beth Frady said. Why were only tag services affected? “We’re trying to get to the bottom of that,” Frady said.

Visit Florida explains changes to local tourism groups” via Gabrielle Russon of the Orlando Sentinel — Visit Florida is sending a message to the state’s local tourism-marketing organizations when it comes to the financial disclosure rules that are intended to make public tax dollars more transparent: Call your attorney. Last week, Visit Florida held a call with the other local organizations to brief them as best they could and answer questions. Agency spokesman Stephen Lawson said they believe local organizations that receive 50 percent or more of revenue from bed taxes and also work with Visit Florida for marketing purposes will be required to disclose how much they pay their board of directors. The new changes were intended to reveal what — if anything — board members were paid for serving the tourism organizations, said Fred Piccolo, spokesman for House Speaker Corcoran who pushed for more transparency at Visit Florida.

— UP IN SMOKE — 

John Morgan ready to sue state over smokable pot” via Dara Kam of News Service Florida — “Great Scott!! I’ll be filing my lawsuit for smoke as soon as it goes into law. Independence Day 🇺🇸 #NoSmokeIsAJoke,” Morgan (@JohnMorganESQ) promised on Twitter … Morgan’s tweet references a quote from Scott, who pledged to sign into law a measure (SB 8A), passed by lawmakers during the special session that lays out the framework for the constitutional amendment, approved by more than 71 percent of voters in November. Morgan has vowed to sue over the issue of whether patients should be able to smoke the marijuana treatment. Despite Morgan’s threats, the proposal now awaiting Scott’s signature bans smoking of marijuana, but it does allow patients to vape marijuana products. In a recent interview, Morgan said that’s not good enough.

John Morgan doubles down on suing the state of Florida over smokable medical marijuana.

“Health Department getting started on medical marijuana rule-making” via Florida Politics — In the wake of the Special Session’s implementing bill, the Florida Department of Health is gearing up to make rules governing the use of medical marijuana. The Department published a “notice of proposed regulation” in the Florida Administrative Register. But the state still could face a lawsuit from Morgan, who backed the constitutional amendment on medical marijuana that passed in 2016 with 71 percent of the vote. He has said he will sue because lawmakers would not allow medical marijuana to be smoked. The implementing bill (SB 8-A) is pending Gov. Scott’s review, though he said he will sign it.

Lakeland scraps medical-marijuana dispensary rules” via Christopher Guinn of the Lakeland Ledger — Lakeland will scrap its medical-marijuana dispensary zoning ordinance in utero as the proposed language, which was slated for a vote July 5, contradicts rules created by the Florida Legislature in a special session. Under the rules approved by the Legislature and awaiting the governor’s signature, cities and municipalities are not able to limit the location of medical-marijuana dispensaries more strictly than they do for pharmacies. The Lakeland ordinance that was up for second of two required readings in front of the public would have prevented the clustering of medical-pot shops, set a minimum proximity to houses of worship and allow them in only two types of building zones. Under the state legislation, cities and counties will be able to ban medical-marijuana dispensaries, but even the commissioners preferring stricter restrictions have not voiced the idea.

Tampa’s Joe Redner wants to grow his own cannabis plants, says suit” via Justine Griffin of the Tampa Bay Times — Tampa’s outspoken strip club entrepreneur, Redner, wants to grow his own marijuana plants. So much so that he’s filed a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Health, which under current rules bars Floridians from growing cannabis plants for their personal use, even those who are legally registered as medical marijuana patients. Redner, 77, is a registered patient in Florida and uses cannabis products to treat conditions related to his stage-four lung cancer. While he actively purchases cannabis oil products from local dispensaries, he says he wants the right to grow his own plants, according to the suit filed in Hillsborough County.

Tampa’s outspoken strip club entrepreneur Joe Redner is suing to grow his own medical marijuana.

— SOBER HOMES IN THE SPOTLIGHT —

South Florida’s trials and tribulations with sober homes was in the spotlight this week after Lizette Alvarez with The New York Times looked at the impact opioid addiction — and the state’s sober home system — was impacting Palm Beach County.

According to the report, Delray Beach paramedics responded to 748 overdose calls last year, 65 of which ended in fatalities. All in told, Palm Beach County dealt with 5,000 overdose calls last year.

But as The New York Times notes, “most of the young people who overdose in Delray Beach are not from here.” Instead, many are visitors who come to a community that has “long been hailed as a lifeline for substance abuse.”

The report notes that what many people find is a “crippled and dangerous system, fueled in the past three years by insurance fraud, abuse, minimal oversight and lax laws.” The result has been a “rapid proliferation of troubled treatment centers … and group homes where unknowing addicts, exploited for insurance money fall deeper into addiction.”

“We have these people sending us their children to get healthy,” said Dave Aronberg, the state attorney for Palm Beach County, who established a sober homes task force to combat the problem, “and they are leaving in ambulances and body bags.”

— “Haven for recovering addicts now profits from their relapses” via Lizette Alvarez of The New York Times

— The Palm Beach Post took a hard look at the addiction treatment and sober home industry with its series “Addiction Treatment: Inside the Gold Rush.”

— MOVEMENTS —

Kendrick Meek joins King & Spalding — The former Miami congressman has joined King & Spalding as a senior adviser in the government advocacy and public policy practice in Washington, D.C., the firm announced. Meek will focus on health care, homeland security, agriculture, and financial services sectors. “Congressman Meek has built a strong reputation as a bipartisan leader and is highly-regarded by his fellow lawmakers as a strategic negotiator and advocate for his constituents,” said Tom Spulak, chair of the firm’s Government Advocacy and Public Policy practice, in a statement. “Our clients will benefit from his insights and his deep experience as a legislator at the state and federal level.” Meek served in the U.S. House from 2002 until 2010, during which he served on the House Ways and Means Committee. He sponsored and passed legislation focused on tax, trade and health care issues. Meek did not run for re-election in 2010, choosing instead to run for U.S. Senate, where he came in third behind then-candidate Republican Marco Rubio and then-independent candidate Charlie Crist.

“Miami-Dade school district hired Ballard Partners at $108,000 a year” via The Miami Herald – At a meeting on Wednesday, the School Board approved a three-year contract — at $108,000 a year — with Ballard Partners to advocate for the district’s interests before Congress and several federal agencies. … It’s not unusual for a large school district to have a lobbyist at the federal level. The Broward County school district is represented by the firm Alcalde & Fay in Washington, D.C., and the Palm Beach County school district had a contract with a lobbying firm up until 2010.

New and renewed lobby registration

Angela Dempsey, PooleMcKinley: Gigamon

Matthew Leopold, Carlton Fields Jordan Burt: Resource Environmental Solutions

Lincoln Quinton, NorthPointe LLC: Sandata Technologies

William Rubin, Amy Bisceglia, Christopher Finkbeiner, Matthew Sacco, Heather Turnbull, The Rubin Group: Our Children PSN of Florida

Jessica Janasiewicz, Corrine Mixon, Mixon & Associates: Matific USA

Danny Jordan, One Eighty Consulting: Centrify

Samuel Verghese, Don Yaeger, Jeanette Yeager, One Eighty Consulting: Dell Technologies

— ALOE —

That flaming sword in the new Game of Thrones trailer has an important purpose” via Megan McCluskey of Time magazine — Following his brief reappearance in Game of Thrones’ sixth season, Beric Dondarrion is set to make an epic return in the coming seven episodes. The leader of the Brotherhood without Banners — who has been repeatedly resurrected after being originally killed by the Mountain — was last seen successfully recruiting the Hound to travel north. Based on footage from Thrones’ new season seven trailer, it looks as if Beric will wield his famed flaming sword in a battle against the White Walkers. However, this sword — which he first used during the Hound’s season three trial by combat — isn’t just an intimidating weapon. It’s also an integral part of the legend of the One Who Was Promised, a prophesied savior in the religion of R’hllor who is the reincarnation of hero Azor Ahai. Click on the link below to watch the new trailer.

Uber will add a tipping option to its app” via Kia Kokalitcheva of Axios — The feature is first available in Seattle, Minneapolis, and Houston and to all U.S. drivers by the end of July 2017. Uber has notoriously resisted adding a tipping feature to its app since its beginning, even despite it being available via rival Lyft’s service. Last year, as part of a settlement proposal, Uber said that it would tweak its language in regard to tips to clarify to riders that while they’re not expected to tip, they can do so in cash or other means — though it still declined to add an in-app feature. In April, the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission said it will propose a new rule that would force credit-card only companies to add in-app tipping. However, Uber has been working on its tipping feature since before this development and is unrelated.

Wolfgang Puck Grand Cafe files closure notice” via Terry Roen of Orlando Rising — Grand Café plans to lay off all 193 employees when it closes its Disney Springs location Aug. 1 … The café is owned by Chicago-based Levy Restaurants. Some of the employees, who transferred from Levy’s Portobello Country Italian Trattoria, will return to Portobello, when it reopens after renovations are completed this fall. The remainder have been encouraged to apply at other Levy properties, including Paddlefish and Amway Center, according to Kristi House, regional director of employee relations at Levy. Disney Parks blog reported last month that a new Puck concept is planned for 2018 in the Town Center area of Disney’s shopping and dining complex.

Happy birthday to Rep. Chuck Clemons.

 

The Delegation for 6.21.17 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

An eventful two weeks on Capitol Hill

Over the past two weeks, shootings, Kumbayas, tensions in Syria, and a hotly contested special election have relegated the incessant chatter and leaks about Russia to second tier status. The investigation goes on, but the issue – and the leaks – now share the spotlight with more timely events. Health care will soon take center stage.

This race in the Atlanta suburbs was for a GOP-leaning seat once held by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. It was set up as a referendum on President Donald Trump and was the talk of the political world in Florida and around the country.

With the GOP holding serve with Karen Handel’s victory, Republicans in swing districts such as Carlos Curbelo, Brian Mast and Mario Diaz-Balart might be breathing a bit easier, at least for a while. For Democrats like Stephanie Murphy and Charlie Crist, the results likely triggered an opposite reaction.

When it comes to health care, perhaps the GOP is trying to take advantage of the noise surrounding the Trump/Russia hysteria and the other front burner issues. With all of the distractions, the Senate is going full speed trying to pass their version of the repeal of Obamacare.

Florida’s senior senator, Democrat Bill Nelson is not happy about this at all. He offered the common view among his party’s caucus in the Senate.

“If you’re going to fix the health care system, you’re going to have to do it together in a bipartisan way, building consensus” he said earlier this week on the Senate floor. “And that’s what I urge the Senate to do instead of what we are seeing behind closed doors.”

Nelson’s counterpart, Republican Senator Marco Rubio, also advises against limiting input.

“The Senate is not the place where you can just cook up something behind closed doors and rush it for a vote,” he said. “So, the first step in this may be crafted among a small group of people, but then everyone’s going to get to weigh in.”

Rubio’s scenario seems to describe the next step in the Senate process. The closed doors are set to open with a “discussion” bill set to emerge this week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the real debate will begin “likely next week” after receiving a score from the Congressional Budget Office.

At that point, the come-togetherness of the House and Senate spawned by the recent shootings, will likely devolve back into name-calling and other rhetorical bomb throwing. With public opinion seemingly shifting away from Republican plans, some running for re-election in 2018 may have an important piece of history in their minds.

They are in the same place Democrats were in 2010 following passage of Obamacare. It would be no surprise to see the final bill include measures that do not kick in until after 2018.

While that could Republicans through this cycle (but Democrats were hammered in 2010), the American Health Care Act had better work….or else prepare for consequences.

Meanwhile, here are this week’s insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State.

Rubio, Diaz-Balart join Trump in Miami for new Cuba policy rollout

Florida’s junior senator predicted he would be pleased with President Trump’s new Cuba policy once it was revealed on Friday in Miami. He was not disappointed.

As Sen. Rubio and Miami Republican Rep. Diaz-Balart urged, Trump rolled out his new policy that forbids travelers to Cuba from engaging with entities that have ties to the Cuban military. The military controls much of the tourism industry. In Trump’s remarks, he said he was “canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba.”

Speaking before Trump, Rubio offered his view of the difference between the policies of the Obama and Trump administration.

President Donald Trump shows a signed executive order on Cuba policy during an event in Miami on Friday. (Photo via the Associated Press.i)

“A year and a half ago, a president, an American president, landed in Havana, to outstretch his hand to a regime,” Rubio said in reference to former President Barack Obama. “Today, a new president lands in Miami to reach out his hand to the people of Cuba.”

As expected, the President did not close the American Embassy, nor ban travel to the rogue island nation or hinder the ability to acquire items such as Cuban cigars.

Diaz-Balart took his opportunity at the microphone to praise Trump’s commitment to freedom for the Cubans.

“I have a message for the Cuban people, and to all of those struggling for freedom, President Trump stands with you,” Diaz-Balart told the supportive crowd. “He will not stand for the suppression of basic rights.”

Paulson’s Principles: Rubio drafts new Cuban policy

In 2014, the Obama Administration overturned a half-century travel ban by Americans to Cuba and opened up diplomatic relations with the Cuban government. As a result of those changes, travel to Cuba has sky-rocketed.

80,200 individuals traveled to Cuba from the city of Tampa in 2016. During the first five months of 2017, 63,635 individuals have flown to Cuba, most by way of SW Airlines. Two cruise ships also depart from Tampa with Cuban destinations.

In reversing Obama’s policy, President Trump maintained he was keeping his campaign promise to roll back the “terrible and misleading deal” by Obama. The last week of the campaign, Trump campaigned in Miami at the Bay of Pigs Museum. He promised changes in Obama’s Cuban policy and received the endorsement of Brigade 2506, veterans of the 1961 failed invasion of Cuba. This was the group’s first endorsement of a presidential candidate.

Senator Rubio was the key architect of the new policy, along with input from Representative Mario Diaz-Balart and Governor Rick Scott. Trump praised Rubio for “working diligently behind the scenes with the administration.” Rubio considered it a personal victory and Tweeted a photo of himself and Diaz-Balart with a comment that they “hammered out new Cuban policy.”

The new policy keeps in place diplomatic relations, and allows travel and money to flow to Cuba. The major change is that it prohibits Americans from staying in lodging or eating in restaurants controlled by the Cuban military. About 80% of tourism in Cuba is controlled by the military.

Facilities controlled by Groupa de Administration Empresarial, S.A. (GAESA) will be off-limits to American visitors. They must stay in lodging and eat in restaurants owned by Cuban citizens. This, according to Rubio, will benefit Cuban entrepreneurs and not the military.

The new policy will also require the Justice Department to report on American fugitives in Cuba. The best-known fugitive is Assata Shakur, also known as JoAnne Chesimard, who was convicted of murdering a New Jersey trooper in 1973. She escaped from prison and fled to Cuba.

The overall response to Trump’s new Cuban policy was generally negative among both Republicans and Democrats. This was not surprising since public opinion polls found that most Americans and most Cuban-Americans backed the Obama changes.

Congresswoman Kathy Castor led the opposition to the Trump changes, calling Trump’s new policy “regrettable,” saying that “it takes us backwards.” Tampa is home to the third largest Cuban-American population in the nation.

The policy was supported by Cuban-American members of the Florida delegation. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the senior Republican member of the Florida delegation and a frequent critic of the president, commented that she “fully supported President Trump’s announcement on his new Cuban policy and I commend my legislative brothers, Senator Marco Rubio and Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, for playing an instrumental role in crafting this initiative.”

Obama’s Cuban policy was achieved through executive order with no congressional action required. Trump’s changes were also done by executive order. Who knows what will occur with the next regime.

Delegation works toward flood insurance reform

Flood insurance plans put Rubio, Elizabeth Warren in same boat, upsetting Florida agents —A fix to the federal flood insurance program, curbing costs and threats to real estate markets have created an unlikely duo — Rubio and liberal firebrand Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

But as The Palm Beach Post reports, Florida agents, facing a Sept. 30 deadline to reauthorize the flood program, are rising alarm, provoked by a House agreement that seeks to slash payments to agents and other private groups that sell and administer National Flood Insurance Program policies. Florida is the No. 1 flood insurance market, with about 40 percent of the 5 million flood policies in the U.S.

“I am deeply concerned that Congress is attacking this essential lifeline to hard-working American insureds by trying to underfund its administration,” said Corey Mathews, CEO of the Professional Insurance Agents of Florida.

Crist pushes flood insurance affordability — The St. Petersburg Democrat is seeking measures for more affordable flood insurance. He is proposing two amendments to legislation aimed at renewing the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The lack of affordable flood insurance would be “devastating for communities like Pinellas County.”

He contends affordability is not covered in the legislation under discussion in the House Committee on Financial Services. One measure proposed by Crist calls for repealing “unnecessary rate hikes,” while another prevents NFIP policy holders from being forced “into the volatile private insurance market.”

“Pinellas families know the cost of flood insurance is already too darn high,” Crist said at last week’s committee hearing. “We need to come together and do the right thing for middle class families, helping preserve the American dream of home ownership.

Floridians account for one-third of all NFIP policies in the nation and paid almost $1 billion into the program last year.

“Affordability means that families will be better able to protect themselves before a disaster rather than relying on the good graces of FEMA after the fact,” he said.

Republicans Dennis Ross and Bill Posey are also members of the committee.

Gaetz holds “Open Gaetz Day” on Fort Walton Beach

Rep. Matt Gaetz spent a recent Saturday hanging with his constituents, hosting a town hall, chatting with residents at an assisted living community, and attending a military roundtable to talk about the everything from the defense budget to PTSD.

The day-long event was the most recent “Open Gaetz Day,” giving Fort Walton Beach residents a chance to get to know their congressman and talk to him about the issues important to them.

Gaetz kicked off his day with a town hall at KC’s Sandbar on Miracle Strip Parkway, before visiting residents and staff at the Bob Hope Village Hawthorn House.

Rep. Matt Gaetz answers questions during a town hall meeting as part of his “Open Gaetz Day” in Fort Walton Beach on Saturday. (Photo via Rep. Matt Gaetz Office)

The congressman also toured the Fort Walton Beach Medical Center and Ambulatory Center, which, as a state representative, Gaetz played a key role in helping expand care to trauma patients. After the tour, he attended an employee appreciation event.

Gaetz also stopped by the newly opened Aquatic Center at the Children’s Center, followed by a military roundtable. He ended the day at the Latin Salsa Festival at Fort Walton Beach Landing.

Pensacola set to welcome new Coast Guard cutters

More than 150 Coast Guardsmen and women, along with their families, will soon be calling Pensacola their new home. Last week the U.S. Coast Guard announced the Coast Guard Cutter Decisive and the Coast Guard Cutter Dauntless would relocate to Pensacola.

Both crafts, 210-foot Medium Endurance Cutters, will be docked in their new home not later than August, 2018. They will join the Coast Guard Cutter Cypress, which is already based at the Naval Air Station Pensacola.

“This is incredible news for Pensacola and for all northwest Floridians,” said Rep. Gaetz. “Not only is northwest Florida gaining 152 new families, but the safety and security of the Emerald Coast and the Eastern Gulf of Mexico is significantly enhanced.”

Coast Guard cutters routinely conduct drug enforcement missions, patrol for illegal immigration attempts by sea, search and rescue, maritime law enforcement and defense readiness. In 2016, the crew of the Dauntless worked with the Royal Canadian Navy to seize 26 tons of cocaine worth $715 million.

The Decisive is currently ported in Pascagoula, Miss. while the Dauntless is based in Galveston, Texas.

Yoho urges Ben Carson to reverse Obama-era ‘Housing First,’ reinstate homeless shelter funds

Rep. Ted Yoho, joined by 22 other House Republicans, co-signed a letter calling Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson to reverse the “Housing First” emphasis in policies during the Obama administration.

“Housing First” holds that the best solution for homelessness is moving people into permanent, independent housing as quickly as possible. To implement those guidelines, HUD began increasing programs following that approach, cutting support for traditional shelters.

GOP lawmakers say that because of Housing First, successful homeless shelters in their districts have lost federal funding; they believe Carson needs to review the policy now.

“The Housing First approach may work for some, but it isn’t — and can’t be — the answer for all,” says California Republican Darrell Issa, who also signed the letter. “This misguided policy has caused some of the most effective homeless assistance programs in our district to walk away from the funding they need to help families get back on their feet.”

Rutherford: ‘Not concerned’ about Russian collusion with Trump campaign

Rep. John Rutherford wants officials to look into Russia’s attempt to interject itself into the 2016 election, but doesn’t think there was any collusion between Russians and the Trump campaign, reports A.G. Gancarski with Florida Politics.

“If they were going to find collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, I think it would have already been uncovered,” said Rutherford, a Jacksonville Republican and an ally of President Trump. “So I’m not concerned at all about that. And I’m also not concerned about this idea that somehow … whatever the conversation was with [former FBI Director James] Comey, obstruction of justice.”

A member of the House Judiciary Committee, Rutherford said he doesn’t expect the panel to take up the issue of Russian interference in the election any time soon. Rutherford said he believes the “Intelligence Oversight Committee in the House and the Senate is doing their job.”

Lawson bill seeks to extend life of Social Security, provide more benefits

The Democrat from Tallahassee has introduced legislation aimed at preserving the long term health of Social Security while extending benefits to certain Americans. The Social Security for Future Generations Act of 2017 would, among other things, extend the life of Social Security by 15 years, increase some benefits, and levy payroll taxes on wages above $250,000.

“As the program is currently operating, the Social Security trust fund will be depleted by 2034,” Lawson said in a release. “I call on my colleagues in the House to join me in increasing benefits and extending the life of one of our nation’s most sacred commitments.”

Lawson’s proposal would also extend student benefits to age 22, create a “sustainable benefit” for those who lose a spouse or loved one, provide across-the-board cost of living adjustments, and establish a minimum benefit for long-term low wage workers.

The bill has gained 17 Democratic co-sponsors including Alcee Hastings of Miramar and Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens. Among the interests groups signing on are the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, Social Security Works, Alliance for Retired Americans and Justice for the Aging.

Murphy helps family reclaim father’s military medals

With all of the rancor on Capitol Hill and the shooting of Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise, the Winter Park Democrat had the chance to make a constituent happy. On Saturday, Murphy presented military service awards to the daughter of a World War II veteran.

Paul Linton was a naval officer aboard the USS Harry Lee in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. During his service, Linton earned 6 medals as a navigator, but his daughter Marie and her siblings played with them “and lost them or destroyed them,” she said.

Marie Delaney asked Murphy if she could help to have the medals re-issued.

“I said ‘why don’t we see if we can get his medals’ just to have them for the family and his grandchildren so they would know what their grandfather did,” Delaney said.

Murphy was happy to help.

Rep. Stephanie Murphy presented Marie Delaney with six medals her father, Paul Linton, a naval officer during World War II, was awarded over the weekend. The original medals were damaged or lost over the years, and Delaney asked Murphy for her help to get them re-issued. (Photo via Rep. Stephanie Murphy’s Facebook page.)

“They should be so proud of their father for his service to this country and the man he was,” Murphy said at a ceremony in Oviedo. “I’ve so enjoyed meeting the family and hearing the clear lessons he’s taught his family, and they carry on his legacy.”

On the eve of Father’s Day, memories of her late father rushed to her.

“To honor my father, that we have these back – all of them – it’s just for his children, myself included, that we can see just what our dad did,” said Delaney

Castor: Despite Trump policy, Tampa Bay area will continue to engage Cuba

The Tampa Democrat is not a fan of President Trump’s new Cuba policy. Two hours after Trump spoke in Miami, laying out an order prohibiting transactions with Cuban military-controlled entities, Castor said the Tampa Bay area will continue to engage the communist island.

“I think President Trump’s new policy is regrettable and it takes us backward, because what it will do will really complicate our neighbor’s ability to travel to Cuba,” Castor said. “It’s going to make it more expensive, more costly and add bureaucratic red tape.”

Trump’s order specifically limits commerce with GAESA, the business conglomerate owned by the Revolutionary Armed Forces. According to the Miami Herald, GAESA controls more than 50 enterprises.

The president’s call for more freedom for the Cuban people drew skepticism from Castor as well.

“When you look at what they’ve said in Saudi Arabia, the relationship with Turkey, the Philippines, where the leader there is outright taking the lives of some of his citizens, there’s a great inconsistency there,” Castor said.

Buchanan touts legislation to target synthetic opioids

Rep. Vern Buchanan is co-sponsoring legislation that targets synthetic opioids like fentanyl. The Sarasota Republican supports efforts to strengthen the hand of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection in their efforts to intercept these narcotics that are killing Americans at an alarming rate.

The INTERDICT Act would help stem the flow of fentanyl and other drugs by providing border agents with drug-detecting chemical screening devices at ports of entry. It authorizes $15 million in federal resources for the screening devices and for hiring scientists to assist in the effort.

A lethal dose of heroin next to a lethal dose of fentanyl (Photo: New Hampshire State Police)

“Fentanyl is a real and alarming threat to the Suncoast,” said Buchanan in a release. “American border patrol agents are on the front lines and need the resources to block these deadly drugs from entering our country.”

Two counties in Buchanan’s district, Sarasota and Manatee, had the highest and second-highest number of fentanyl-related deaths per capita in the state in 2015.

Fentanyl is 50 times more powerful than heroin. A lethal dose of the drug is similar to two or three grains of salt.

It can be produced in other countries and sent to the U.S. via mail. Buchanan is also a co-sponsor of the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Protection (STOP) Act, a bill designed to target this method of transporting killer drugs.

T. Rooney language saves rural VA clinics

The Okeechobee Republican reacted strongly to a recommendation that the Veterans’ Administration close two rural clinics in south Florida. Early last week, Rep. Tom Rooney and Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart wrote to Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, calling on him to reject the recommendation.

Instead of waiting, Rooney went ahead and got the funding for the clinics. Late last week, the House Appropriations Committee, of which Rooney and Diaz-Balart are members, passed their 2018 appropriation which $250 million for rural health thanks to language inserted by Rooney.

“Our men and women who selflessly put their lives on the line have a hard enough time receiving care as it is without the VA closing the clinics that are closest to their homes,” said Rooney, an Army veteran. “This bill is a prime example of the bipartisan work that occurs in the House of Representatives every day.”

The appropriations bill passed the full committee by voice vote. In another sign of true bipartisanship, the GOP-dominated committee inserted language proposed by committee member and Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz that exempts the Veterans Crisis Line from the federal hiring freeze.

Both the new language and the full appropriations bill were approved by voice vote.

Frankel touts FEMA grant to cover hurricane costs

The West Palm Beach Democrat was happy to tout a $1 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The funds come to help cover the costs incurred when Hurricane Matthew swept through the area in October.

The grant covers costs incurred by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office as they worked to protect citizens before and after the storm approached. Fortunately, the area was spared a direct hit.

“Hurricanes wreak havoc on communities and also their budgets,” Frankel said in a statement. “This grant offers relief to Palm Beach County’s Sheriff’s Office, allowing them to put their resources toward serving the county.”

This grant is the second federal reimbursement over recent weeks. Frankel, Boca Raton Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch and local officials sought, and ultimately received, reimbursements for heightened use of local law enforcement covering President Trump’s visits to his Mar-a-Lago estate.

National Democrats take aim at Rick Scott over health care

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is once again targeting Gov. Rick Scott over his support of the Republican health care agenda.

The committee announced this week it was launching full-screen, Google takeover ads featuring new versions of a DSCC called “The Price” aimed at Scott’s support of the health care plan and its impact on Florida families. The ad, which the national Democratic organization says will reach targeted voters in Florida who make up key elements of the 2018 midterm electorate, is part of an ongoing six-figure digital ad buy.

“Rick Scott cannot escape the toxic impact his health care proposals will have: spiking costs, sabotaging care and stripping coverage for hardworking families in order to give another handout to himself and big insurance companies,” said David Bergstein, a spokesman for the DSCC. “This week the stakes for middle class families could not be higher — if Scott has his way the consequences for Floridians who actually work for a living will be expensive and horrific. We are standing with voters in opposing a plan that is deeply unpopular in Florida, and will hold Gov. Scott accountable for his actions.”

The 30-second spot features images of a man and woman selling their vehicle and jewelry, before appearing at the hospital bed of a child. At the end of the advertisement, the words “What will Rick Scott’s health care plan cost you?” flash across the screen.

Scott is believed to be preparing for a run against Sen. Bill Nelson in 2018.

Mark your calendars

Happening Sunday:

Seminar series features Diaz-Balart, Mast — The Florida House on Capitol Hill’s popular intern summer series is in full swing.

The annual series gives Florida college students a chance to interact and exchange ideas with each other, members of the Sunshine State’s congressional delegation, and business and government leaders.

According to the Florida House, Rep. Diaz-Balart is scheduled to speak at 8:30 a.m. Thursday. Upcoming speakers include Rep. Brian Mast on June 29 and Rep. Castor on July 13. A tour of the Supreme Court is tentatively scheduled for 10 a.m. on July 6.

Seminars begin at 8:30 a.m., with a light breakfast served at 8 a.m. The seminars take place at Florida House. Students interested in attending can RSVP to each event at rsvp@floridahousedc.org.

JAX Chamber talks priorities in D.C.

The JAX Chamber is making good use of its connections in the nation’s capital.

About 30 members of the JAX Chamber traveled to Washington, D.C. last week for its annual D.C. Fly-In.

The annual trip is an opportunity to meet with the congressional delegation and federal agencies to talk about the priorities for Northeast Florida’s business community. The group has expanded the number of international meetings over the years, calling on embassies to build and strengthen relationships with partners across the globe. This year, members attended meetings on several issues, including transportation, energy, military and international trade.

Members of the JAX Chamber attended an event at the White House last week as part of its annual D.C. Fly-In. (Photo via the JAX Chamber.)

“Any time we have an opportunity to sell Jacksonville and talk about our city, we do it, and we’ve seen tremendous success from recent D.C. Fly-Ins,” said Daniel Davis, the president and CEO of the JAX Chamber. “When we’re up there, people know we’re a city with a strong port, that’s making huge strides in energy and is open for international business.”

A.G. Gancarski with Florida Politics reported members of the Jacksonville delegation attended a White House event organized by Omarosa Manigault, who recently married Pastor John Newman. Gancarski reported Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to President Trump, also made an appearance at the event.

Matt Brockelman with Southern Strategy Group has a cool behind the scenes look at the trip to D.C.:

Meek joins King & Spalding

Former U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek has joined King & Spalding as a senior advisor in the government advocacy and public policy practice in Washington, D.C.

“Congressman Meek has built a strong reputation as a bipartisan leader and is highly-regarded by his fellow lawmakers as a strategic negotiator and advocate for his constituents,” said Tom Spulak, chair of the firm’s Government Advocacy and Public Policy practice, in a statement. “Our clients will benefit from his insights and his deep experience as a legislator at the state and federal level.”

Meek will focus on health care, homeland security, agriculture, and financial services sectors. He is expected to split his time between D.C. and Florida, according to POLITICO Influence.

Former U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek has joined King & Spalding as a senior advisor in the government advocacy and public policy practice. (Photo via the Associated Press.)

“King & Spalding’s stellar reputation in the area of government advocacy and its deep bench of talent from both sides of the political aisle made it a great fit for me,” said Meek in a statement.

According to POLITICO Influence, Meek is the second former Florida congressman to join King & Spalding this year. In March, former Rep. Ander Crenshaw joined the firm as senior counsel.

Meek served in the U.S. House from 2002 until 2010, during which he served on the House Ways and Means Committee. He sponsored and passed legislation focused on tax, trade and health care issues.

Meek did not run for re-election in 2010, choosing instead to run for U.S. Senate, where he came in third behind then-candidate Republican Marco Rubio and then-independent candidate Charlie Crist. Prior to serving in the U.S. House, Meek served in both the Florida House and Senate.

McFaul talks Scalise shooting

Dan McFaul, a partner at Ballard Partners in Washington, D.C., said he hoped “some good” could come out of a shooting at an Alexandria, Virginia baseball field that left several people, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, injured last week.

“When something serious like this happens, you see partisanship dramatically go down,” said McFaul to Rick Outezen on his Pensacola Speaks podcast last week.

McFaul served as Rep. Jeff Miller’s chief of staff, as well as a stint as Rep. Matt Gaetz’s chief of staff, before joining Ballard Partners. Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican, was on the congressional baseball team, but was not present at the practice.

Members of both congressional teams bow their heads for a moment of silence for Rep. Steve Scalise before the Congressional baseball game on June 15, 2017 in Washington. The annual GOP-Democrats baseball game raises money for charity. (Photo via the Associated Press.)

The Louisiana Republican was one of five people injured when a gunman opened fire at the field where GOP congressmen were practicing for their annual charity baseball game against Democrats. The Associated Press reported a bullet entered Scalise’s hip and shattered bones, blood vessels and internal organs, causing massive internal bleeding that put his life at risk. He has undergone several surgeries, and was upgraded from critical to serious condition over the weekend.

McFaul said it “was a shock” when he heard about the shooting on the radio. Still he said he was hopeful something good could come from it.

“There’s things that are more important than party, and certainly this is one of those things,” he said. “It’s my hope some good can come from this, some lessons can be learned and we can all learn to play a little nicer with each other.”

Ros-Lehtinen a popular teammate on Congressional Women’s Softball team

Last week’s Congressional Baseball Game, won by Democrats 11-2, attracted nation-wide attention and record-breaking charitable fund raising following the shootings in a Virginia park the day before. A similar event, the Congressional Women’s Softball Game is less known, but gaining extra attention this year.

The game features a bipartisan group of Congresswomen against women members of the media known as the Bad News Babes. Just days before the game is set to be played, the event, just like the men’s game, is breaking fundraising records. More than a quarter-million dollars has already been raised to benefit the game’s charity, the Young Survival Coalition, which supports young women with breast cancer.

One who has been there since the event began in 2009 was Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. She is clearly among the most popular players on the team.

With her impending retirement from Congress, many teammates are already lamenting her impending departure from the game. Ros-Lehtinen is one of three captains for the Congressional team along with Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz and New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who has been a member of the Congressional Women’s Softball team since it started, was expected to play in her penultimate game this week. She’s retiring when her term ends in 2018. (Photo via the Congressional Women’s Softball Game)

“Ily has one of the best attitudes of anyone on our Congressional Women’s Softball Team,” Illinois Democrat Cheri Bustos told Roll Call. “She shows up to every practice, dutifully will run out to right field, catch what she can and run after what she misses – smiling all the way.”

Ros-Lehtinen will likely have one more game in 2018 before her retirement, but her absence will be felt.

“She has been a consummate teammate, starting as a softball novice in our first year to becoming a team co-captain,” said Wasserman Schutlz. “She truly embodies the spirt of the game, where partisan differences are set aside for some healthy athletic competition and the pursuit of a higher cause – raising the funds to tackle the critical issues unique to young women who are diagnosed with breast cancer.”

As Ros-Lehtinen prepares to step aside, another Floridian joins the roster for the first time. Winter Park first-term Democrat Stephanie Murphy seeks to help her teammates beat the press.

 

Rick Kriseman’s financial disclosure shows legal work still paying off

Rick Kriseman‘s financial disclosure is a straightforward affair that reflects a career dedicated to lawsuits and public service.

Last week, the St. Petersburg mayor made his bid for a second term official, a process that includes a disclosure of his net worth, assets, and liabilities.

According to his Form 6 declaration, the first-term incumbent is worth $360,505.

As St. Pete mayor, Kriseman earned $170,906 in 2016; as a personal injury attorney, he earned another $133,171 last year.

Kriseman’s campaign said that the mayor is not actively practicing law; instead the six-figures in legal income is from settlements reached before Kriseman’s time in office.

Much of Kriseman’s wealth is based on the St. Petersburg house, valued at $650,000. His sole liability is a mortgage through Regions Mortgage Bank listed as $319,495.

Kriseman also itemized household goods and personal effects at $30,000.

Unlike almost every other candidate running for office in St. Petersburg who also has a positive net worth, Kriseman does not list owning a checking or a saving account.

It’s possible this account could be listed solely under his wife’s name, which would not require a disclosure. But if his name is on the account and it’s worth more than $1,000, it should be disclosed.

Under intangible personal property, the mayor also declared a financial interest in Fidelity Financial Services, based in Dallas, Texas, for an undisclosed amount.

On the form, Kriseman listed no other secondary source of income or real property.

Andrew Gillum blasts Republicans for hiding ‘immoral disaster’ of Senate health care bill

Andrew Gillum blasted Senate Republicans Tuesday for “hiding” behind its Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill, an “immoral disaster” which is being written largely behind closed doors and without Democrat input.

But the Tallahassee Mayor and Democratic candidate for Florida Governor is not the only one. Gillum is part of a growing chorus of disapproval coming from both sides of the aisle.

Several Senate Republicans have also criticized their own party, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who questioned the lack of transparency in the process.

“The Senate is not a place where you can just cook up something behind closed doors and rush it for a vote on the floor,” the Rubio said Sunday on “Face the Nation.”

Despite Republicans wanting to vote on the bill is soon as next week, there has been, so far, no legislation presented for examination and few lawmakers (of either party) who even know what is in the proposal.

On Monday evening, Democrats took to the Senate floor for a series of lengthy speeches chastising Republicans — notably Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — for trying to push through a massive “back door” bill repealing the Affordable Care Act.

In response, Gillum released a statement giving somewhat backhanded praise to Rubio for cautioning against ramming a health care bill through the Senate.

“Senate Republicans are hiding their health care bill for one reason only: it’s an immoral disaster that will likely take health care away from more than 20 million Americans,” Gillum said. “Health care is a right in this country and state, and they are hiding behind closed doors because they don’t want us to know the truth.

“I was heartened to see Senator Rubio raise the transparency issue this weekend — if he feels so strongly about it, he should refuse to vote for it unless it receives full scrutiny.

“I’m glad his Democratic colleagues held the floor last night — we need to put up as many obstacles as possible to prevent Republicans from passing this bill that threatens the quality of life for so many Floridians.”

Florida Democratic Party chair Stephen Bittel is a rich a*shole, but…

Stephen Bittel is a rich a*shole.

And I was always of the opinion that was precisely why the battered and marginalized Florida Democratic Party selected him to lead it out of these dark, Trumpian, perpetually-irrelevant-in Tallahassee, times.

There was also a vocal minority of the party’s grassroots which disagreed with that notion, preferring a chair who represented the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party.

They lost. Just as Sanders lost in Florida by a nearly 2-1 margin.

So both factions of the party knew full well what they were getting with Bittel, and they got it: a rich a*shole.

To be clear, Bittel’s behavior surrounding the scheduling conflict that has been the source of the recent controversy was way out of line. Blaming black lawmakers for a slight felt by the entire Democratic legislative caucus was, in Bittel’s own words, “childish” at best, and racist at worst.

I’m pretty sure it was childish and born from the fact that we’re talking about an older, wealthy, CEO-type used to trains running smoothly and on time, dealing with the hair-pullingly frustrating chaos and logistical insanity of a major political event.

That explains his behavior. It doesn’t excuse it. But the man has apologized sincerely and profusely. Again, today he did so personally with Senate Democratic leader Oscar Braynon and incoming House leader Kionne McGhee.

Democrats need to move on. Stephen Bittel is not Frank Artiles. He’s not even Bill Maher.

He’s the rich a*shole that Democrats chose — by a fairly significant margin, if memory serves — to lead them out of the abject political wilderness they’ve found themselves. He was the only real choice to do so then, and so he remains.

Consider this:

What’s been lost in all this internecine drama since the weekend, is the fact that Florida Democrats cleared over $1 million in donations for their annual gala. A big part of that was the undeniable draw of former Vice President Joe Biden, who Bittel personally cajoled into headlining the event (and who the former VPOTUS thanked and praised in his remarks).

There is no planet in which the FDP could have pulled off this past weekend of fundraising and party-building — which but for the unfortunate conflict arising between Bittel and black lawmakers, went off flawlessly — under the leadership of any other chair.

Democrats need to accept Bittel’s apologies and accept that Bittel’s flaws are his strengths.

Florida Republicans love rich a*sholes, and they control the Legislature, Governor’s Mansion, and the Cabinet. A rich a*shole on the Democratic side has stepped up to help his flagging party.

Florida Democrats, take the help. You need it.

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