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Sunburn for 6.30.17 – Habemus Papam!

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

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

A programming note: Our Independence Day edition of Sunburn will be published on Monday, but then the hard-working staff which assembles this newsletter will be taking off Tuesday and Wednesday. We’re still debating what to do about Thursday and Friday, but that will probably depend on how late the fireworks — and dirty martinis — go on July 4th.

— SPEAKER’S RACE CONCLAVE —

Today is the day.

After months of speculation, the 27-member freshman Republican caucus is scheduled to hold a meeting today at the Hampton Inn Orlando International Airport, 5767 T G Lee Boulevard 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.

A majority of the class, or 14 members, is needed in order for any member to be selected as leader.  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.

So what can happen? It’s still anyone’s guess, but here’s some scenarios we think could play out:

— Renner wins it all on the first ballot. Even with Donalds and Grall on the ballot — or maybe because of it — Renner has the 14 votes he needs to win on the first ballot.

— Grant takes it on the first ballot. It’s an unlikely scenario, because Grant probably needs Grall’s vote for him to get to the magic number. The only way for this scenario to play out is if a lot of folks who said they were Renner’s corner were lying.

— Renner wins in Round 2. Here’s how this could happen: Renner has the support, but it isn’t as strong as he thinks. On the second ballot, Renner will likely pick up the backing of Donalds’, who will be knocked out after the first round.

— Grant gets it on the third ballot. OK, get ready for some math. Grant can pick come out on top in the third round of voting if the first ballot is 13-12-1-1, and whoever is eliminate in the first round doesn’t go to the candidate with 13 votes. The second round of voting is then 13-13-1, with Donalds/Grall (whoever gets knocked out first) going to Grant after the first ballot, and the other lowest vote getter going to Grant after the second ballot.

Does your head hurt yet? Ours do.

— All hell breaks loose. Forget the whip count, forget everything you’ve heard. Maybe everyone is lying to everyone. Maybe Renner has less support than he thinks. Maybe Grant has a vote or two more than has been whipped. Or maybe Grall has a block that just isn’t ready to throw in with anyone else. Did we mention this is the “all hell breaks loose” option?

— There’s no vote. Yep, you read that right. Since candidate were allowed to begin soliciting for support at midnight, maybe one of them locked up 14 or more votes already. And maybe those 14 members are ready to publicly commit to a candidate before there’s even a vote. That would let some people off the hook from a) schlepping to Orlando at the beginning of the holiday weekend and b) having to make a tough decision about who they really want for Speaker.

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— TIME TO SAY GOODBYE —

Five months after CFO Jeff Atwater announced he was leaving his post to take a job at Florida Atlantic University, it’s time to say adieu.

The 59-year-old announced in February he was leaving his before the end of his term to become the vice president of strategic initiatives and CFO at Florida Atlantic University. After months of speculation about when his final day would be (and who Gov. Rick Scott would tap to replace him), Atwater formally delivered his letter of resignation to Scott earlier this month, revealing his last day would be June 30.

In a brief email interview, Atwater reflected on his time in public office and how he’ll apply what he’s learned over the years at his new gig.

On his proudest accomplishments: “I’ve had the opportunity to work on a number of impactful issues, but I would have to say that ushering in a new wave of transparency in state spending tops the list. The people of Florida send their hard-earned tax dollars to the state, and they deserve to know how every single penny is spent. There was a time when no one could explain how many contracts the state had in place, what they were for or how much they were costing taxpayers, but I am proud to say that we’ve now put it all online.  In fact, when I came into office, a national organization gave Florida a ‘D’ grade for transparency in spending because of the ambiguity and lack of accessible information. Today we have an ‘A,’ and I’m proud of what my team did that got us here.”

On the issues he wishes he could have tackled as CFO: “There are two key issues that I would’ve liked to see through to the end: First, the final legal fight to hold life insurance companies accountable for shady business practices; and second, the lawsuit we filed against the Feds to take back and return unclaimed savings bonds to the people of Florida. But I know the team will take us to the finish line.”

On what his time in office has taught him: “First, I hope I am a better person and a better leader by having had the privilege of working alongside true public servants, from the staff in city hall during my time in North Palm Beach, to the team in the legislature and in the CFO’s office. Most people have no idea how incredibly valuable and hardworking the staffs of government are, so I can’t wait to learn from my new team at FAU. Second, time is short, be bold. There will always be naysayers—be bold!”

His time in the Florida Cabinet has led to a bit of a boost in his net worth. Financial disclosure reports posted to the Florida Commission on Ethics website show Atwater reported a net worth of nearly $2.6 million as of Dec. 31, 2016. That’s up from the nearly $1.6 million he reported back in 2010 when he first ran for CFO.

Atwater — who served served in the Florida Senate, including a stint as Senate President, the Florida House, and as the vice-mayor of the Village of North Palm Beach — at Florida Atlantic University, where he’ll manage finances and economic development, next week.

Scott tapped former state Rep. Jimmy Patronis to serve as the next CFO. Patronis will be sworn-in today.

Back in May, we asked Atwater what advice he’d give his replacement. His response?

“No advice, but I would say to them: ‘Congratulations, you have just accepted the best job in all of Florida,’” he said.

Assignment editors: Gov. Scott will hold a swearing-in ceremony for incoming CFO Patronis at 9 a.m. in the Governor’s Office, 400 South Monroe Street in Tallahassee.

— NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL —

Gwen Graham rolls out more endorsements for Governor — The former U.S. Rep. announced she picked up five more endorsements in her 2018 gubernatorial bid Thursday, including from former state House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford and state Reps. John Cortes and Katie Edwards. She also grabbed the endorsement from former Jacksonville Mayor and Councilman Tommy Hazouri and Duval Soil and Water Chair Shannon Blankinship.“This isn’t just about the next election. After almost twenty years of Republican rule, we are out of time. Our future and our very way of life are at stake,” she said in a statement. “I’m proud to have the support of these elected officials. Together, we will renew our promise to public schools, protect our environment and build an economy that works for everyone.”

United Steelworkers endorse Graham — The former Democratic congresswoman from Tallahassee announced Thursday she earned the backing of United Steelworkers, her first labor union endorsement in her race to replace Gov. Rick Scott in 2018. “Gwen Graham is clearly the best choice to represent the interests of all Floridians,” said USW International President Leo W. Gerard in a statement. “In Congress, she fought for policies to lift workers and our families, including her support for new laws to ensure fair pay and protections from workplace discrimination.” 

First on #FlaPol – “Mike Miller announces he’s running for Congress in CD 7” via Scott Powers of Orlando RisingThe Republican state Rep is running for Congress in Congressional District 7 against incumbent U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, he announced (Thursday). Miller, of Winter Park, is running in a district covering Seminole County and north-central and northeast Orange County that had been Republican for decades but shifted to slightly Democrat in the last election, allowing Murphy to knock off longtime incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica. … “It’s time for Congress to represent the views, the values and the priorities of the people,” Miller stated in a news release “And making that happen starts right here at home, by electing a member of Congress whose vote is guided by what’s right, and what’s in the interest of our people, our community and our nation. This district should no longer be represented by someone whose vote is controlled by Nancy Pelosi and the ultra-left.”

Tweet, tweet:

>>>Hearing that Eddie Fernandez is already eyeing Miller’s House seat.

>>>Tweet, tweet: @MCIMaps: FL HD47 was 53-41 Clinton, 49-47 Murphy, 48-45 Crist, 49.5 – 49 Obama.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri backs Ed Hooper in SD 16 — Gualtieri announced Thursday he was endorsing Hooper in the race to replace Sen. Jack Latvala in Senate District 16. Gualtieri said Hooper’s “real-world, first-hand insight” will serve him — and Florida voters — well in the Florida Senate. “For as long as I’ve known Ed Hooper he has been a staunch supporter of our law enforcement and first responder community,” he said. “His background as a firefighter gives him a unique perspective on the daily sacrifices of our men and women in uniform who protect and serve our neighbors.” Hooper, a former state representative and former member of the Clearwater City Council, said he was pleased to have “one of the most proactive, engaged Sheriffs in the country” on his campaign team.  “Sheriff Gualtieri’s passion for protecting citizens is on display each and every day. He is constantly in our neighborhoods and communities getting feedback from residents and engaging with his deputies to keep our streets safe and morale high,” said Hooper. “I’m grateful for Bob’s generous support, and I look forward to working with him here in Pinellas County and in Tallahassee.”

John Newstreet adds NFIB, Florida Realtors to his backers in HD 44 race” via Orlando Rising —Republican John Newstreet has added the National Federation of Independent Businesses and the Florida Realtors to his list of endorsers that already included the Florida Chamber of Commerce, in his bid for the special election to fill the House District 44 open seat. Newstreet, chairman and chief executive officer of the Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce, is running in a field of four Republicans and one Democrat, with a primary election set for Aug. 15 and a general election for Oct. 10. … “For most of my life, I have worked with businesses to grow and create jobs for Floridians,” Newstreet stated in a press release issued by his campaign. “Along with serving veterans, economic development and an improved economy for Florida will be my focus if the voters ask me to serve them as their representative.”

Republican candidate for Florida House accuses primary rival of ‘betraying’ Rubio” via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami HeraldDaniel Perez, a Miami Republican running for the state House, used his first TV ad to attack rival Jose Mallea as insufficiently loyal to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. Mallea ran Rubio’s long-shot 2010 Senate campaign. But the ad appears to refer to 2016, when Mallea worked backed Jeb Bush instead of Rubio for president. Mallea was an aide to then-Gov. Bush years before he managed Rubio’s Senate campaign. Bush’s super PAC poured money into attacking Rubio. “Candidate Jose Mallea betrayed us,” the Spanish-language TV ad says. “He says he’s a friend of Marco Rubio’s, but when we had the opportunity to elect one of our own to the White House, Jose Mallea directed millions of dollars in false attacks against Rubio.”

Click on the image below to watch the video. 

Miami House candidate lists home under construction as residence” via Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald Daniel Perez lists the house on Southwest 84th Street in Kendallwood as his residence on his voter registration and all of his candidacy documents. But he isn’t currently sleeping there. Perez said that while the house is under construction, he has been living with father in an apartment elsewhere in the district. He refused to provide the address to verify if it’s within House District 116 boundaries. His parents own a house outside the district, public records show. Florida requires legislators to live in the districts they represent by Election Day. For Perez, that’d be Sept. 26, if he defeats rival Jose Mallea in the July 25 primary. Perez said he’s unsure if construction on his new home will be finished by Sept. 26.

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— STATEWIDE —

State budget among new laws hitting the books Saturday” via Jim Turner for the Tallahassee Democrat – Rideshare services, such as Lyft and Uber, will have to comply with statewide rules, and students and teachers will be allowed to express their religious beliefs at public schools, under new laws that will go into effect Saturday. The changes — including two bills from the special session — are among 125 revisions to Florida statutes that hit the books July 1. The new laws include Florida’s $82 billion budget, along with a package offering $91.6 million in tax breaks during the upcoming year and new rules regarding public notification of toxic spills. A controversial law regarding charter schools will also go into effect. Lawmakers sent 241 bills to Scott during the regular legislative session that ended in May, along with four proposals passed during a three-day Special Session earlier this month. The governor has signed 234 measures and vetoed 11.

Jeb Bush foundation issues legislative grades; aces for Richard Corcoran, Joe Negron” via Florida Politics – Foundation for Florida’s Future gave both Republican lawmakers an “A+” this year and included both on their “honor roll,” which the group says, “recognizes the legislative leaders who championed bold education reforms that keep the promise of a quality education for each and every student.” “His determination to ensure every child, regardless of location, income or ability level, has access to a high-quality education earned him a top spot on Florida’s 2017 Education Report Card,” the group said of Corcoran. “His tireless advocacy and leadership will undoubtedly improve the educational outcomes for thousands of Florida students.” Negron also received praise for expanding the Gardiner Scholarship Program, a program for disabled students passed during former Sen. Andy Gardiner’s time as the chamber’s president, and for rallying senators “to embrace student-centered education policies that empower parents and expand educational options.”

Coming up next Session: power struggle over university performance funding” via Jessica Bakeman of POLITICO Florida – The State University System’s board of governors created a system they use to evaluate each public institution’s performance, a 10-metric rubric that emphasizes graduation and retention rates, graduates’ starting salaries and more. Universities are awarded up to 100 points for achieving excellence or improvement on the standards. Since the system first went into place in 2014-15, the board has used the metrics as a guide for how to dole out hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, with underperformers risking getting cuts. Scott, who appoints board members, has been a vocal proponent of performance funding and has consistently proposed adding more to the pot. But lawmakers, particularly in the House, want to redesign that system, which they argue unfairly rewards or punishes some universities in ways that might be politically motivated. Lawmakers are hoping they’ll learn from performance-funding policies in other states and apply those lessons here.

“Florida Council of 100 Releases ‘Horizons 2040 Project’ report” via Florida PoliticsThe Council on Thursday released its “Horizons 2040 Project: Prekindergarten Through Grade 3,” establishing a “long-term educational vision, mission, and set of values for Florida and ‘beacons’ to light the way for grades PreK-3 over the next 25 years,” a press release announced. “While the state has a five-year, short-term plan to guide K-12 education, the Florida Council of 100 firmly believes that a long-term vision is key to keeping Florida on track to achieve even greater success,” said David Dyer, chair of the Council of 100’s PreK-12 Education Committee. “That’s what the Horizons Project is all about – bringing a business planning model to bear on the future of our students.”

Redirect Florida’s class size reduction funds, business group recommends” via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times – Since its implementation in 2003-04, Florida’s class size amendment has cost nearly $37 billion in construction and operating expenses. The average annual investment since 2010, most of it funding operations such as hiring enough teachers, has been right at $3 billion. And that’s too much, the Florida Council of 100 argues. In its new Horizons 2040 proposal, the group of business leaders calls for the money to be spent differently, on education programs it sees as more beneficial. Those include: Extending the state’s prekindergarten program to 3-year-olds. It currently is offered to 4-year-olds only. The plan includes shrinking class sizes in prekindergarten through third grade, where research suggests it has the most influence; paying for top teachers with increased, nationally competitive wages. Added training also would be available and investing in the expanded use of classroom technology.

“Personnel note: Jim Poppell named Lottery Secretary” via Florida PoliticsFlorida Department of Economic Opportunity chief of staff Poppell will be the next Secretary of the Lottery, Gov. Scott’s office announced Thursday … Poppell starts July 10, taking over from David Mica Jr., the Lottery‘s chief of staff who was interim secretary. The vacancy was created by the departure of former Secretary Tom Delacenserie, now president and CEO of the Kentucky Lottery. Poppell, an attorney and former minister, also has been DEO’s General Counsel.

Florida’s death row population lower today than it was in 2005” via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – … as courts continue to vacate death sentences and order new sentencings for convicted killers, in most cases as a direct result of the precedent-setting Timothy Hurst case that struck down the state’s death penalty sentencing system as unconstitutional. A total of 367 men and women reside on death row at Florida State Prison and Union Correctional Institution, down from 383 at the start of this year. By comparison, there were 369 death row inmates June 30, 2005. In March of last year, the death row population was 389. Since Jan. 1, the state Department of Correction says, 15 inmates have been removed from death row because of court decisions and a 16th, Wydell Evans, died while being transferred to a court hearing in Brevard County.

Major state contractor accused of bilking taxpayers with bogus highway dividers” via Daniel Ducassi of POLITICO Florida – The accusations against Hazleton, Pennsylvania-based DBi Services came in a whistleblower lawsuit filed under seal last year by Fort Myers-based Flexstake, which manufactures state-approved highway dividers. The lawsuit was moved back to circuit court in Leon County this month after being moved to federal court last month. Two related federal lawsuits also accuse the company of installing counterfeit poles. DBi has a 7-year, $47 million contract with the Florida Department of Transportation to provide road maintenance services on parts of I-95 in Miami-Dade County, where DOT has set up express lanes. Flexstake says in the lawsuit that DBi had been ordering the dividers from them, but that Flexstake workers noticed the orders dropped off as time went on. Flexstake says DBi started placing counterfeit posts that were “substantially inferior in performance, were unsafe,” and rip-offs of the poles made by Flexstake, and the reflective sheeting made by the American subsidiary of a German company called Orafol.

Claim: State pressured CFO, used secret recordings to shut down Universal Health Care” via Susan Taylor Martin of the Tampa Bay Times – The founder of St. Petersburg’s Universal Health Care alleges that Florida regulators conspired with the company’s chief financial officer to drive the once high-flying Medicare insurer out of business. In a response this month to a lawsuit against him, Dr. Akshay Desai says regulators pressured CFO Alec Mahmood into cooperating with them or face being blackballed from the insurance industry. The response says Mahmood “secretly and criminally” recorded at least 11 conversations with Desai and other Universal executives as regulators moved to put the company into receivership. Universal filed for bankruptcy in February 2013 and shut down a month later after FBI agents raided its headquarters. The company’s collapse left more than 800 employees without jobs, scores of providers unpaid and thousands of members searching for alternative Medicare Advantage plans to cover their health care needs.

“Former South Florida lawmaker suspended from practicing law” via Florida Politics – Attorney and former state Rep. Phillip J. Brutus, the first Haitian-American elected to the Legislature, has been suspended from practicing law for one year, The Florida Bar announced Thursday. The suspension became effective June 3. Brutus, of Lauderdale Lakes, also will be on probation for two years after his reinstatement (and) was further ordered to reimburse the Bar for costs of $11,787.50, records show. “In handling a (divorce) proceeding, Brutus disbursed funds from the former husband to the client and himself, and the remainder to costs, without a court order or settlement agreement indicating how the money would be disbursed,” the Bar’s press release said. “A Bar audit also found that Brutus did not properly maintain his trust account in accordance with rules,” it added.

“Tropiflora seeks holdup of new medical marijuana implementing bill” via Florida Politics – A Florida nursery that previously filed a protest over the Department of Health’s award of medical marijuana licenses is back in court this week. Tropiflora LLC of Sarasota is asking a judge to delay enforcement of part of the state’s new medical marijuana implementing bill, passed during the recent Special Session. The company filed a motion Monday in Leon County Circuit Civil court. Specifically, it’s asking for a “stay” of the section of the law‘s “medical marijuana treatment center” licensing scheme. The nursery says the department “wrongfully refused” to consider its license application.

“Flags at half-staff to honor the ‘Whistling Justice’ ” via Florida PoliticsThe U.S. and state flags were at half-staff to honor the late Florida Supreme Court Justice Parker Lee McDonald. The body of McDonald, who died Saturday at the age of 93, lay in state Thursday in the rotunda of the Supreme Court building in Tallahassee. Gov. Scott ordered flags at half-staff “as a symbol of respect” at the Leon County Courthouse, Tallahassee City Hall, and the Capitol from sunrise to sunset. The flags at the Court building were separately ordered at half-staff by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga.

The body of former Chief Justice Parker Lee McDonald, who served as Florida’s 68th Justice on the court from 1979-93, is displayed at the Florida Supreme Court for lying in state ceremony on Thursday. Photo credit: Joe Rondone of the Tallahassee Democrat.

Confederate streets force Hollywood, Florida, to grapple with Civil War ghosts” via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald – Of all the places still grappling with the Civil War’s ugly legacy, the most unexpected might be sleepy Hollywood, a Broward County bedroom community founded 60 years after the war’s end, with zero claims to its history … Yet the city has stuck with Confederate streets in a black neighborhood, ignoring renaming requests a decade and a half ago … Exasperated by Hollywood’s dawdling, a protest calling for the streets to be renamed turned nasty last week when pro-Confederates arrived and, according to a black state legislator, hurled racial epithets at him and other African-American and Hispanics. The demonstration of about 150 people outside City Hall ended with five arrests when protesters disrupted a commission meeting. “Blacks see what’s happening nationally and think, ‘Hell, no, this is not about to happen again,’” said state Rep. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat from neighboring West Park who said he was called a “monkey” and a “nigger.” “We will be vocal, and we will not sit on the sidelines.”

Uber, Lyft to begin service at Orlando International Airport” via Terry Roen of Orlando Rising – … starting Saturday, ending a three-year battle by the ride-sharing services to gain access to millions of tourists and residents who land in Orlando. A new state law, which abolished local rules that restricted ride-sharing services, goes into effect July 1. Previously, ride-sharing companies could only drop off passengers at Orlando International Airport (OIA). The Greater Orlando Aviation Authority (GOAA), which runs the airport, approved a fee June 21 of $5.80 per pickup for ride-sharing services. The charge includes $3.30 for access to the airport and $2.50 for time spent waiting for passengers. Taxis, which are considered on-demand services, pay $3.30 for each pickup. Uber and Lyft are not happy about the fees and claim they favor taxis.

— MOVEMENTS —

Personnel note: Jessica Bakeman leaving POLITICO Florida – The website’s K-12/higher education policy and politics reporter is heading to South Florida to work for WLRN Public Media. She moved to Tallahassee in August 2015, according to her online bio, “to assist in (POLITICO’s) national expansion.” Bakeman helped launch POLITICO New York’s Albany bureau in 2013. Before that, she covered New York politics for the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, as well as Gannett’s six New York newspapers. She’s also an alumna of the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi; the Minneapolis Star Tribune; the Reading Eagle in Pennsylvania; and the Plattsburgh Press-Republican in New York. She’s a Rochester native.

— LOBBY UP —

The PGA TOUR has tapped a team of golf-loving government affairs pros to represent its interests in the capital city.

The tour recently hired The Fiorentino Group to serve as its lobbyists in Tallahassee. It’s a big get for the Jacksonville-based firm, which is regularly ranked among the top earning lobbying firms in the state, especially since it has been several years since the organization has had a team of registered lobbyists.

Based out of Ponte Verda Beach, the PGA TOUR is a tax-exempt membership group of professional golfers that plays about 130 official tournaments on six tours.

The team at the Fiorentino Group is no stranger to golf — at least when it comes to the lobby corps. State records show the World Golf Hall of Fame & Museum tapped Marty Fiorentino, Joseph Mobley, and Mark Pinto as its lobbyists for the 2017 Legislative Session.

— ALOE —

Disney’s Vero Beach resort awarded AAA Four Diamond rating” via Terry Roen of Orlando Rising – The Old Florida-style hotel, which is Disney Vacation Club resort, is two hours south of Walt Disney World Resort. A Four Diamond hotel is refined and stylish, providing upscale physical attributes, extensive amenities and a high degree of hospitality, service and attention to detail, according to AAA. The oceanfront Vero Beach resort boasts a variety of water-themed activities, including access to the Atlantic Ocean, a children’s water play area, a miniature golf course, and a Mickey Mouse-shaped swimming.

Florida zoo staff hand-raises abandoned baby kangaroo” via The Associated Press – Brevard Zoo officials said that Lilly, who was born in August, was found abandoned on the floor of the zoo’s habitat Jan. 23. Zookeepers believe stress caused by a severe storm the night before likely caused her mother to eject the baby from her pouch … zookeepers weren’t able to reunite the pair so the staff started taking care of Lilly. The baby kangaroo was so tiny she spent several weeks in a temperature and moisture-controlled incubator. Zoo collection manager Lauren Hinson became Lilly’s primary caretaker, bottle-feeding her six times a day, eventually taking her home at night and wearing a fabric pouch to carry her. Lilly’s been making supervised visits to the zoo since late May and this week officials felt it safe to finally leave her there. She’ll continue to be monitored and she’ll be bottle-fed twice a day for several months.

’Game of Thrones’: Emilia Clarke, the Queen of Dragons, tells all” via Alex Morris of Rolling Stone – She promises the upcoming episodes of the epic will not disappoint. “Spoiler alert – I normally don’t spend very much time in Belfast, but this last season I spent a little more time there,” she says, throwing a hint to the GoT obsessives. “It’s a really interesting season in terms of some loose ends that have been tied, some really satisfying plot points, some things where you’re like, ‘Oh, my God. I forgot about that!’ Rumors are going to be confirmed or denied.” But Khaleesi’s plotline will continue through to the end. “I mean, I have no doubt there’ll be prequels and sequels and who knows what else. But I am doing one more season. And then that’ll be it.” After that eighth and final season, Clarke will have a freedom that she hasn’t had since she was cast at age 23 … for all Khaleesi has given Clarke, Clarke’s in the process of reciprocating. “Khaleesi got a little something extra this year, you know what I mean? She got a little something else going on.”

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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.

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