Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

Sunburn for 9.20.17 – The politics of recovery

in Peter by

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

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Joe Henderson, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has taken the first step to improve Florida’s hurricane readiness, and it sounds like a good one.

He is convening the bipartisan Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness to study what steps the state should take to prepare in the future for mega-storms like Hurricane Irma.

Excellent idea.

We’re all going to play close attention to the group’s findings.

Yes, there is more than a little bit of political grandstanding involved, but it is really good grandstanding.

In a memo to House members, Corcoran said, “…I ask all of you, and our colleagues in the Senate, to join me in setting aside the business-as-usual of pork projects and instead invest all of those funds to either assist those in need after Hurricane Irma or prepare Florida against the threat to life and property that will surely come with future storms.”

We’ll see how that goes, since the 2018 elections would usually signal a year-long pork buffet in Tallahassee. My guess is, not well.

And we have to mention that since the Speaker hasn’t ruled out running for governor while all this is going on, he’ll have critics willing to label this a political stunt designed to improve his standing with voters.

Well, guess what?

While every bit of that may true, it also is a fact that these storms have shown they will devastate large portions of this state we all love and call home.

That’s exactly why we need a group willing to study the issue in detail and issue a report that, frankly, may be hard for a lot of folks to swallow. If it happens to play well with voters, shouldn’t that tell everyone something?

Or course, anyone can make recommendations and some of what needs to be done probably is obvious – just as it has been for decades.

Developers seem intent on filling every inch of coastline with resorts and condo cities, which leaves residents especially vulnerable in a hurricane. Their attitude seems to be that it’s easier to clean up the mess and rebuild than to worry about things like 12-foot storm surges.

So, it will be Corcoran’s task to make the group’s recommendations into laws, not suggestions. There is a lot at stake here and none of it will be easy or unanimously accepted.

Leadership is about doing the right thing, though. After what Florida has just been through with Irma and likely will endure again with future storms, there is no other choice.

“Hurricane panel faces clashes with Senate, Democrats” via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay TimesCorcoran’s select committee on Hurricane Irma won’t meet for three weeks. But questions about it flew quickly … Corcoran announced formation of the 21-member panel, chaired by Rep. Jeannette Nuñez. It includes 14 Republicans and seven Democrats, most of them from counties hit hardest by the storm. Corcoran, a free-market conservative who supports less regulation – especially in health care – floated ideas that would invite more regulation, such as underground utilities or forcing fuel companies to store reserves of fuel to get to gas stations more quickly. Asked if he personally supports Scott’s emergency rule to require nursing homes to install generators within 60 days, Corcoran wavered. “I think that’s up to the committee,” he said. “But you can solve all of that in many different ways,” suggesting stiffer fines or increased transparency. Corcoran also suggested that the House and Senate consider putting at least $638 million into recovery efforts next year, the amount of what he called “pork projects” in the current budget.

Tweet, tweet:

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

— @Daniel_Sweeney: @RepWilson says she will pass legislation so that if a long term care facility has no backup power, it gets no federal dollars.

— @RepJNunez: I am honored to Chair the Hurricane Response and Preparedness Committee. Thank you @richardcorcoran

— @BrittanyWallman: By the way, all this nifty info about raw sewage flowing into local waterways was made possible by a new state law about public notification

— @MiamiSup: Returning to normalcy in our community. As previously scheduled, Thursday remains a teacher planning day

— @DanaYoungFL: Thank you to my wonderful neighbors who cleaned out their closets and found needed items for me to deliver to @MetroMinistries!

@CraigTimes: Oh, #Florida! Woman uses sexual innuendo to try to get linemen to restore her power after #HurricaneIrma. It works.

— @TroyKinsey: On the heels of @richardcorcoran‘s endorsement of @VISITFLORIDA #Irma recovery ads, @FLGovScott is ordering up an “aggressive” campaign.

— @SteveBousquet: Suspended for Irma, tolls on nearly all FL highways will return at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 21 (Turnpike Homestead Ext. still toll-free)

— @Fineout: A ninth person who was at a Broward County nursing home that lost power has died according to Hollywood police

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— THE POLITICS —

Assignment editors – Gov. Scott will meet with state and local officials in the Monroe County EOC on Wednesday morning to discuss recovery efforts following Hurricane Irma.

Bill Nelson files bill to create HHS committee on seniors in disasters” via Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times – The bill has bipartisan support, Nelson said … Its co-sponsors fellow Floridian and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio. “This bill will require the head of HHS to appoint a panel of experts to provide our state and local leaders with the guidance they need to make sure such a tragedy never happens again,” Nelson said in the release. Nelson filed the bill the same week the senator obliquely criticized his likely 2018 re-election opponent, Gov. Scott for how he responded to the nursing home tragedy. (Scott has pushed back on those criticisms.) … Once established, the panel would be charged with providing guidance to local, state and federal officials on how to better prepare seniors for an emergency, how to better evaluate their health needs during an emergency and what activities should be carried out when an emergency is declared.

Assignment editors Rubio’s staff will offer recovery assistance to individuals affected by hurricane Irma in Marathon, helping Monroe County residents sign up for FEMA assistance. Application checklists will be available in English and Spanish. Staff will be available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. EDT at the Marathon City Hall, 9805 Overseas Hwy.

“Janet Cruz: Hurricane prep should be bipartisan” via Mitch Perry of SaintPetersblog – Much has been said about how the intensity of emotions regarding Hurricane Irma brought with it a spirit of togetherness among Floridians who got through the storm, but can that spirit pervade the state Legislature? There’s certainly a sense of bipartisanship after Speaker Corcoran announced that he was forming the Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness. “It is my sincere hope that the Committee will be a good-faith, bipartisan effort at improving Florida’s readiness for future storms,” House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz said in a statement. “As our oceans continue to rise and become warmer, being prepared to confront larger and more frequent storms is essential to protecting the health and safety of all Floridians,” she added, while warning that Democrats will not roll over if the committee intends to weaken existing regulations.

— THE TRAGEDY —

Two more lawsuits say Hollywood nursing home and FPL share responsibility for deaths” via Daniel Chang of the Miami Herald – Last month, Manuel Mendieta and Carolyn Eatherly celebrated their final birthdays while living at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills. Both died under the same sweltering conditions on Sept. 13, three days after Hurricane Irma knocked out power to the facility’s central air conditioning. In separate lawsuits filed this week, Mendieta’s and Eatherly’s survivors accuse the nursing home’s administrators and staff of failing to evacuate the facility after the AC crashed and the temperature spiked … But unlike the lawsuits filed last week by residents who survived the nursing home’s evacuation on Sept. 13, the two new suits allege that Florida Power & Light was at fault as well as the nursing home. Carlos Silva, a Coral Gables attorney representing Mendieta and Eatherly in the lawsuits, said the nursing home’s administrators had the greatest responsibility to ensure the safety of its patients but that the state’s largest electric utility should have prioritized the nursing home for power restoration and done a better job of maintaining its infrastructure.

“9th person dies week after Florida nursing home evacuation” via the Associated Press– “Hollywood Police Department spokesman Miranda Grossman says in a news release that a 93-year-old man who had been a patient at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills died Tuesday. Facility staff began calling 911 on Sept. 12, three days after Irma hit. By the next morning, rescue officials realized how bad the situation was at the center, which had operated for days without air conditioning and made the rooms stiflingly hot.”

Governor releases state’s own timeline as death toll at nursing home climbs to 9” via Carol Marbin Miller of the Miami Herald – Four days after the owners of a Hollywood nursing home released a detailed time line casting blame for the deaths of nine elders on Florida health administrators and a local utility, Gov. Scott’s administration issued a time line of its own — declaring that the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills “failed to do their basic duty to protect life.”

— LIGHTS OUT —

Power restored except South, Southwest, Central Florida pockets” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – The latest data provided by the Florida Division of Emergency Management shows that the power companies have managed to restore electricity to more than 98 percent of the state … Almost all the exceptions were counties in South, Southwest and Central Florida. A few very small outages – a couple of hundred customers here or there, remain in a handful of other counties. Florida Power & Light continues with the largest outages, primarily in Southwest and South Florida, 98,000 homes and businesses combined, mainly in Collier, Lee and Miami-Dade counties. Duke Energy has just 37,000 customers statewide without power, with just under half of those in Highlands and Hardee counties in Southwest Florida, and the rest in Orange, Seminole, Lake, Polk and Volusia counties in Central Florida. Another 37,000 powerless homes and businesses remain under a handful of municipal electric and electric cooperatives, primarily in Monroe County, Collier and Lee. Highlands still had 16,000 homes and businesses without power.

– “FPL president visits utility crews in Fort Myers; vows all power back on by Friday” via Michael Braun of the Naples Daily News

FPL’s Irma storm charge for customers could come before full cost analysis” via Marcia Heroux Pounds of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel – Florida Power & Light customers are still paying a special charge to cover $318.5 million in costs to clean up after Hurricane Matthew … And when the time comes to pay the bills for Hurricane Irma, a separate charge is likely to appear on customer bills even before FPL has fully explained the costs for that storm. Despite the approval for the additional Hurricane Matthew charge, FPL still hasn’t filed a ‘cost recovery’ report documenting the causes and charges, according to Florida Public Counsel J.R. Kelly and confirmed by the PSC. “I can’t believe they haven’t filed it yet,” said Kelly, who represents ratepayers. The public counsel and his staff won’t be able to look at any of the Hurricane Matthew costs being charged to customers until FPL files the report. The same applies for Hurricane Irma. “That won’t be for another year,” he said. “Costs for 2017 storms will be reviewed when the utilities file a petition for cost recovery,” said Cynthia Muir, director of the office of consumer assistance at the commission, which regulates FPL and other utilities in the state.

Utilities face barrage of questions as power returns to Tampa Bay” via Zachary Sampson of the Tampa Bay Times – Much of residents’ ire during and after the storm was directed at Duke Energy, the main provider in Pinellas County, where roughly 400,000 customers were left in the dark last week. “I’m very concerned about the outages and the process that took place,” said state Rep. Chris Sprowls, who was named to a special House committee that will look at hurricane preparedness after Irma. “I intend to ask a lot of difficult questions.” Duke Energy Florida President Harry Sideris admitted that the company’s automated system broke down during Irma, leading workers to manually (and less reliably) track outages and restoration times. “We deeply apologize for not meeting our customers’ expectations,” Sideris said in a statement. “They expect and deserve better from us.”

Trees and power lines: Has Coral Gables been entirely honest with its citizens?” via Nancy Smith of the Sunshine State News – During a special meeting, Coral Gables city commissioners and residents took it in turn to lambaste Florida Power and Light Co. for virtually everything Hurricane Irma did to collapse and darken the sweltering Miami-Dade city. You name it: Failure to remove a transformer from a tree, broken power poles, downed trees left tangled in power lines, crews seen “just standing around” and, of course, the big one — slow-to-no power restoration. All FPL’s fault. … [But] of all the municipalities in Florida devastated by the big storm, Coral Gables was probably the least entitled to point fingers when the lights and air conditioning went out. It’s because – and here’s the important thing – not once during the near 90-minute meeting did commissioners tell their residents that FPL had warned them about Coral Gables’ practice of planting the wrong trees in the wrong place – failing to trim them – that city vegetation policies and practices invite outage in little more than a stiff wind. In fairness to the city, commissioners did vow to “have a serious conversation” about underground power lines when the storm is behind them. But, while that will keep the power on, it won’t stop badly planted giant trees from blowing over and damaging other property.

— THE PATH FORWARD —

After Irma, Florida Jews seek respite in High Holy Days” via Rachel Zoll and Terry Spencer of The Associated Press – During Hurricane Irma, Temple Shalom served as a sanctuary of a different kind. When the storm changed course at the last minute, the Naples synagogue suddenly became an emergency shelter. As power stayed off for days, the Reform temple, which had only minimal damage, was a place for neighbors to escape the heat and have a free meal. Now, amid the upheaval caused by Irma, Rabbi Adam Miller has decided the sermons he had carefully planned for the Jewish High Holy Days, starting Wednesday night, are no longer relevant. “Those are in the trash can,” said Miller, who rode out the storm in Memphis, Tennessee, carrying one of the synagogue’s Torah scrolls for safekeeping. “The new message now is bringing the community together. No matter how challenging it might seem, we can pick up the pieces and rebuild.” In Florida’s large Jewish community, the solemn period starting with Rosh Hashana has taken on new meaning as congregants facing desperate uncertainty about the state of their homes, neighbors and livelihoods seek as much comfort as inspiration in the new year. “The hurricane was so incredibly disruptive psychologically,” said Rabbi Michael Resnick of Temple Emanu-el of Palm Beach … “For me, it was a reminder of how small and fragile we are and that we really have no control over a whole lot.”

“Floridians without flood insurance face astronomical bills” via Casey Logan of News-Press.com Robert Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America, has more than 50 years of experience in the industry. In the 1970s, he ran the National Flood Insurance Program, which provides flood insurance to homeowners, renters and business owners. “From an insurance point of view, I first thought Irma was going to be a major wind event and then I began to realize it was going to be a major wind event and a major flood event,” he said. Hunter expressed concern for financially strapped homeowners who live in more inland communities such as Lehigh Acres who did not carry flood insurance and who may already have been just scraping by. “Being poor, some people have high mortgages with little equity,” he said. “What happens next? It all depends on how damaged the house is, how much money the family has, how much equity in the home they have in terms of what they do.” Hunter admonished FEMA for doing a poor job of ensuring those homeowners mandated to carry flood insurance are doing so. “FEMA has done a terrible job of monitoring the banks to make sure they have flood insurance,” he said. “Something is really, really wrong.”

Hurricane challenges grocery pipeline” via Kyle Arnold of the Orlando Sentinel – Hurricane Irma has pushed Florida’s grocery supply line to the brink, leaving shelves empty of staples days after the storm passed. Even a full week after the storm, some stores had empty spaces and shortages of basic items … Watching Irma’s long, powerful march toward Florida for more than a week also taxed supplies, giving shoppers a reason to stock up on a big scale. Some stores couldn’t operate because of outages; some couldn’t get food because distribution lines were slowed down. When they did open, much of their perishable food had spoiled. There was a surge in demand from customers who hadn’t shopped in days and saw food spoil. Stores and retail analysts say Hurricane Irma’s size and path made it the perfect storm to cripple Florida’s grocery supply lines. “In terms of damaging the state’s infrastructure of power and clogging roads, Irma’s about as bad as we’ve ever seen,” said Mark Johnston, a professor who studies retail at Rollins College, Crummer Graduate School of Business. “Stores can’t run without power and trucks were held up for three days or more.” Irma showed the strength and weaknesses of the modern food distribution system, where stores rely on daily deliveries of fresh food, Johnston said.

Irma leaves behind foul stink across Central Florida” via Jeff Weiner of the Orlando Sentinel – Residents across the region reported catching a whiff of a foul, rancid smell that officials blamed on dead fish, stagnant water, flooded ponds and rotting debris — but likely not sewage. Officials say the rotten smell is common in the aftermath of a storm, such as Irma … Rotting fish are likely a factor because flooding can kill them off in large numbers by disrupting the salinity and oxygen levels in lakes, rivers and oceans … Orlando officials also noted that heavy rains can saturate the groundwater, resulting in a sulfur-like smell similar to rotten eggs. The muck and sediment left behind as flooding recedes can also stink, they said. The storm also prompted widespread sewage overflows when pumping stations lost power. While spilled sewage stinks, it’s unlikely to produce the rotten egg smell many described, or to blanket the entire region in a funky odor, officials said. Irma also blanketed the region with fallen leaves, branches and entire trees. While it’s unlikely those are noticeably rotten already, local governments are expected to need weeks to collect all the yard waste that residents have piled up since the storm.

Dan Marino kicks off touchdown drive of Hurricane Irma relief to the Florida Keys” via George Richards of the Miami Herald Marino, the Hall of Fame quarterback from the Dolphins, joined a group at BB&T Center in Sunrise gathered to load up almost two dozen trucks which would soon head south toward the Florida Keys. The Florida Panthers collected over 80 palettes worth of supplies such as dry goods, bottled water and clothing by holding relief drives at their arena and training facility in Coral Springs. More than 20 Ford trucks were part of the caravan into storm-stricken Monroe County. “We’re just proud to be a part of this and this initiative to go to the Keys and do anything we can,” Marino said. “Just for me and being down here for over 30 years, to see the people and the great community we’ve had … I would just encourage everyone … not over just the next few days but for the next year to help the people in the Keys and all over South Florida to the best you possibly can because there are a lot of people really in need of a lot of things.”

– “Rays’ Evan Longoria, Kahwa coffee partner for exclusive blend for Irma aid” via Florida Politics

“Jake Owen pitches in after Irma” via Florida Politics – Florida native and country music artist Owen is helping relief efforts for those affected by Hurricane Irma, Gov. Rick Scott announced. “Jake reached out to the governor to find out the best way to help people in his home state who have been affected by Hurricane Irma,” according to a press release. “The result is a campaign called ‘Bring Back the Sunshine’ where 100 percent of funds raised will help victims in the Sunshine State. Funds will go toward disaster-related response and recovery through the Florida Disaster Fund,” Florida’s official private fund for disaster relief. “We are thrilled that Jake Owen is lending a helping hand to Floridians in need,” Scott said. “As a native Floridian, Jake’s generosity and support is especially meaningful as our state continues the recovery process.”

— THE PATH FORWARD —

Gov. Scott: I won’t let Florida tourism miss a beat” via Allison Nielsen of the Sunshine State NewsScott says Florida won’t be giving up on trying to woo tourists to travel and vacation in the Sunshine State … Scott directed the state’s tourism agency, Visit Florida, to launch an “aggressive new marketing campaign” to highlight the state following Hurricane Irma. “As communities around Florida continue to recover from Hurricane Irma, we are doing everything possible to help families and businesses get back on their feet and get people back to work,” Scott said in a statement. “While our top focus remains on the recovery of Florida families, especially those in the Florida Keys and Southwest Florida, we cannot forget about the many communities which rely on Florida’s incredible tourism industry and millions of visitors.” Scott said the campaign will be “multi-phased” and will include digital, social, broadcast and traditional components in both domestic and international markets.

“Mark Ruffalo urging progressives to help with hurricane relief” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – Actor Ruffalo is pushing progressives nationwide to help raise money for hurricane relief in Florida. One of the stars of “The Avengers,” “Spotlight,” and “Now You See Me,” who’s also a progressive political activist, is sending a message Tuesday to members of progressive groups throughout the country through the Progressive Change Campaign Committee raising the issue of climate change and urging people to contribute to a Hurricane Irma recovery fund. Ruffalo said the money will be used for hurricane relief. He maintains that more than a dozen Florida progressive grassroots organizations already are on the ground providing assistance, and they formed the Hurricane Irma Community Recovery Fund, and have raised $30,000.

Tolls return Thursday morning via Florida Department of Transportation – Tolls on a vast majority of Florida’s Turnpike system, all Florida Department of Transportation roads and bridges, and all regional toll facilities throughout the state will be re-instated this Thursday at 12:01 a.m. Tolls were suspended last Tuesday to help with Hurricane Irma evacuation and relief activities. Tolls will remain suspended, however, on the Homestead Extension of Florida’s Turnpike south of the interchange with State Road 874 (Mile Post 0-17) to assist Monroe County residents with recovery efforts.

Former USF St. Pete leader ousted from position for Hurricane Irma negligence” via Janelle Irwin of the Tampa Bay Business Journal – Former Regional Chancellor of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg Sophia Wisniewska was forced to resign from her top position at the school after she negligently handled safety precautions ahead of, during and following Hurricane Irma. Wisniewska implied in an email that she was on campus in St. Pete when she had already evacuated to Atlanta. Email correspondence in her personnel file shows she did not inform USF leadership she had evacuated until the morning of Sept. 10, writing in a postscript that she had arrived in Atlanta the previous night and planned to stay for two days. In an email sent after 11 p.m. on Sept. 9, Wisniewska wrote that she “heard more birds chirping than students talking” on campus. In a scathing draft letter to Wisniewska, USF System President Judy Genshaft said Wisniewska created an “intolerable safety risk” to students and faculty and her actions revealed that she “did not exercise, or [does] not have, the requisite level of competence” to limit safety risks. The letter Genshaft wrote was never officially delivered to Wisniewska because she negotiated her resignation with the school Monday. Wisniewska will receive 60 days’ pay at her regional chancellor salary of $289,075 annually, and then a faculty salary — about $80,000 annually – until May 1.

— HURR-OPINIONS —

Tom KarstStaring down the OJApocalypse” via ThePacker.com – We don’t know how much of a staggering blow that Hurricane Irma is to the citrus industry, but reversing the trend of declining orange juice consumption will be that much harder for Florida growers after the storm. With Florida’s struggles with citrus greening in the last decade, the amount of orange juice produced in the U.S. has declined to just 609 million gallons in 2015, the most recent year with available statistics. Meanwhile, U.S. orange juice consumption – even with imports of orange juice more than 60 percent above 1998 levels – has declined to 2.87 gallons per person in 2015, just half of 1998. Aside from the question of how soon the federal government can give aid to Florida (curb your expectations) and much will it be (not enough), how eager will growers be to put their financial future on the line again with oranges and grapefruit when citrus greening has not been solved? Consumers, unfortunately, may find old or new alternatives to orange juice and fresh grapefruit in the years during which researchers are looking for answers and growers clinging to hopes of recovery. We can hope that grand apocalypse never comes, but the Florida citrus version is lurking uncomfortably close.

Theodore Kury: Should power lines go underground?” via Florida Politics – When it comes to electricity, people turn their attention to the power lines overhead and wonder if their electricity service might be more secure if those lines were buried underground. But having studied this question for utilities and regulators, I can say the answer is not that straightforward. Burying power lines, also called undergrounding, is expensive, requires the involvement of many stakeholders and might not solve the problem at all. The damage from Hurricane Irma on the Florida Keys was extensive. Putting power lines underground will make electricity service more resilient to wind damage but also make flooding a bigger concern. To provide insurance for electricity service, regulators and utilities must aggregate the preferences of individual customers into a single standard for the grid. It’s a difficult task that requires a collaborative effort. Burying power lines costs roughly US$1 million per mile, but the geography or population density of the service area can halve this cost or triple it. In addition to the capital cost, undergrounding may make routine maintenance of the system more difficult, and thus more expensive, because of reduced accessibility to power lines. This may also make it more difficult to repair the system when outages do occur, prolonging the duration of each outage. Utility regulators and distribution utilities must weigh this cost against the costs of repairing and maintaining the electricity system in its overhead state.

— NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL —

“Brad King endorses Ashley Moody for AG” via Florida PoliticsMoody “is a dynamic, conservative leader who will serve Floridians with honor and distinction as our next Attorney General,” said King on Tuesday. He is the elected State Attorney for the 5th Judicial Circuit, serving Marion, Citrus, Lake, Sumter, and Hernando counties. He was named by Gov. Scott to handle death penalty cases that Scott had removed from Orlando-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala. “Ashley is faithfully committed to the law … I look forward to working with her in the years to come and I’m proud to endorse her candidacy,” King added.   

ACLU plows money into felons’ rights initiative” via the News Service of Florida – The American Civil Liberties Union contributed another $850,000 in August to support a Florida ballot initiative that would restore voting rights for felons who have completed their sentences … The ACLU has provided cash contributions of nearly $1.38 million to Floridians for a Fair Democracy, Inc., a political committee trying to collect enough petition signatures to get the initiative on the November 2018 ballot … The initiative, if approved, would automatically restore voting rights for all nonviolent felons who have served their sentences, completed parole or probation and paid restitution. Felons convicted of violent crimes, such as murder, would not be eligible.

Alan Grayson’s campaign committee begins ‘internal audit’ amid FEC concerns” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida Grayson is conducting an “internal audit” of his campaign account after a long list of warning letters from Federal Election Commission officials that included concerns about paying campaign credit card bills and not initially reporting candidate loans. Grayson said the sloppy bookkeeping was the result of a campaign accountant who was “overwhelmed” by the volume of small-dollar donors flowing into the campaign. “There were hundreds of thousands of transactions to track, because we had the only major Senate campaign last year that raised most of its money from small dollar donors,” the former congressman told POLITICO in a text message. “We deserve credit for initiating an internal audit of such a massive number of transactions, without the FEC or anyone else requesting it,” he continued.

— DRILLING INTO THE NUMBERS IN SD 40 —

Early vote totals give Republican Jose Felix Diaz a strong advantage over Democrat Annette Taddeo in the race to replace former Sen. Frank Artiles in SD 40.

A week out from the special election, 20,314 ballots have been returned by absentee and early voters and those early votes show the Republican base is turning at a significantly higher rate than Democrats.

So far the tally shows 8,838 Republican votes, 7,587 Democratic votes and another 3,866 votes from NPA voters.

For those keeping score at home, that’s a 1,251-vote advantage for the GOP based on party registration alone. Even assuming a 60-40 split in Taddeo’s favor among NPA voters, she still trails by 478 votes, or about 2 points.

That’s not an insurmountable lead, things start to look a little more dire for her camp when partisan scoring is factored in to the equation. A review of 2016 turnout based on partisan scoring shows that 2-point deficit jumping to 6 points.

Diaz has a nearly 2-to-1 advantage over Taddeo when it comes to the most conservative versus the most liberal voters, and the only group he’s really under performing in compared to the perennial Democratic candidate are moderates – Taddeo does better with middle of the road Dems than Diaz does with moderate Republicans.

All this assumes an 18 percent turnout model, but that’s not realistic after Gov. Rick Scott’s decision not to delay the election in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

One of the last places struggling with significant power outages on the FPL grid is Richmond Heights, a predominantly African American neighborhood that any Democrat would absolutely need to turn out to make a play for SD 40.

With those voters not yet back to their everyday lives post-Irma, Taddeo could be in for a rough Election Day barring one of the most perfectly executed get-out-the-vote efforts in Florida Democratic Party history heading into the final stretch.

— CAPITOL INSIGHT —

Florida earns C for govt spending, budgeting” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat – The annual  Financial State of States by Truth in Accounting faulted Florida for the underfunded pension and health care programs for retired public service employees. The two items make up about a quarter of state debt. TIA found Florida has $61.4 billion available in assets and revenue to pay $71.3 billion in bills. The state has issued $31 billion in bonds, has $18 billion in unfunded benefits for retirees, and another $13 billion in capital debt. The remaining obligations of about $34 billion consist of accrued liabilities including tuition and housing, payable claims and public/private partnership debts. Florida finished just ahead of Virginia and behind New Mexico among the 13 states whose taxpayers’ share of state debt is less than $4,900.

Jay Fant’s thank you to Florida power workers knocks it out of park  This post by the candidate for Attorney General has reached more than 3 million people and growing, and has a Facebook “relevance score” of a 10 out of 10. In the past week, his page views have increased by 202 percent. What can we glean? Floridians are grateful for their power restoration, linemen and linewomen are exceptionally hardworking, and Fant’s and his digital team (Strategic Digital Service) are on the ball. Or the bulb.

“Robert Asencio calls for expedited debris clean-up” via Florida Politics – The Democratic state representative from Miami sent a letter Tuesday to Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez calling for the expedited clean-up of roadside debris from Hurricane Irma. The letter mentions “not just the unsightliness of debris,” but also health risks from “large piles of garbage” with “decaying food, toxic chemicals, sharp objects, and disease-carrying vermin lining the streets,” Asencio said. “It is vital that we do all we can to expedite a return to a sense of normalcy for all of our citizens,” he added.

Ross Spano proposal calls porn ‘public health crisis’” via the News Service of Florida – The Dover Republican wants state lawmakers to approve a measure that says pornography is creating a public health crisis. Spano proposed a resolution (HR 157) to recognize that pornography is “contributing to the hyper-sexualization of children and teens.” Spano’s proposal points to internet pornography that is accessible to children “at an alarming rate” and “often serves as their main source of education regarding human sexuality.” The proposal says pornography “objectifies women, normalizes violence and the abuse of women and children” and can place children at a higher risk of developing low self-esteem, eating disorders or a desire to engage in dangerous sexual behavior.

House committees scheduled for three days” via the News Service of Florida – House committees and subcommittees could hold more than 30 meetings during the second week of October, including a meeting of the newly formed Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness …The House meetings will be held Oct. 10 to Oct. 12, as lawmakers begin getting ready for the 2018 legislative session, which starts in January. Committee meetings scheduled last week were canceled because of Hurricane Irma. The Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness, unveiled by House Speaker Richard Corcoran is scheduled to hold its first meeting Oct. 12. Top House policy and appropriations committees are scheduled to meet Oct. 10.

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— STATEWIDE —

Lake Okeechobee rise spurs more water releases” via the News Service of Florida – Water started to be released southwest from Lake Okeechobee, as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers seeks to stem a post-hurricane rise in the lake’s water level. The Army Corps had resumed flows Friday from the lake east toward the St. Lucie Estuary but held off on western releases because of flooding from Hurricane Irma that has slowed storm recovery in Southwest Florida. “The challenges with high water that we saw on the Caloosahatchee last week have subsided,” Col. Jason Kirk, Jacksonville District Commander of the Army Corps, said in a prepared statement, referring to the Caloosahatchee River in Southwest Florida. “Starting releases from the lake now will help slow the rise so we can retain as much storage as possible in the lake for future precipitation events.” Water releases stem, at least in part, from concerns about the Herbert Hoover Dike …The risk of failure for the dike occurs when the water level reaches 18 feet or higher, and projected inflows on Friday had the lake level soon reaching around 17 feet. The lake stood at 14.83 feet on Friday and had increased to 15.5 feet on Monday, as water rushes in from the Kissimmee River to the north and from agricultural lands south of the lake. “It’s very frustrating,” said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida and a prominent environmental lobbyist. “This is every reason why we need the ability to send that (lake) water south and why we need that additional storage capacity in the Everglades.”

“Court throws out charities lawsuit against Pam Bondi” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – A Tallahassee judge has tossed out a lawsuit against Attorney General Pam Bondi that accused her of improperly coercing businesses to donate millions of dollars to unregistered charities. Those donations are part of settlements in consumer protection cases her office pursues under the “Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.” Orlando entrepreneur John D. Smith, who was investigated on a consumer fraud allegation by Bondi’s office, filed suit over the practice. Since she first assumed office in 2011, Bondi’s office settled enforcement actions with 14 businesses in which they wound up paying more than $5.5 million to 35 unregistered charities, Smith’s suit said. In a Friday order, Circuit Judge Charles Dodson agreed with Russell Kent, Bondi’s special counsel for litigation, that lawmakers “did not provide that any such contributions must either be charitable or go to a charity, registered or otherwise.”

St. Pete attorney sues Equifax over data breach” via Florida Politics“Matt” Weidner is a Preeminent-rated attorney who specializes in foreclosure defense, consumer law, probate and trusts. He is president and managing partner at Weidner Law, a three-attorney firm based in St. Petersburg. On Sept. 7, Equifax announced “criminals” had gained access to personal information the company kept on roughly 143-million U.S. consumers. Data included names, Social Security numbers, birthdates, addresses and (in some cases) credit-card numbers and other items. In a complaint filed Sept. 15 in Pinellas County Circuit Court, Weidner accused Equifax of violating rights in multiple ways … Among the accusations, Weidner says the company failed to take adequate measures to safeguard sensitive personal information from disclosure, despite “fraudulently” promising such data would be secure. Next, Weidner accuses Equifax of waiting “more than a month” after discovering the breach before making the announcement. Also, Equifax allegedly failed to place a promised “security freeze” on Weidner’s credit file, despite several attempts by him to call and request it. Weidner is seeking damages and legal fees.

— MOVEMENTS —

“Personnel note: Bob Ehrhardt to become top gambling regulator” via Jim Rosica of Florida PoliticsEhrhardt, now a senior attorney for the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, will become the state’s top gambling regulator, sources told Florida Politics Tuesday. Ehrhardt would replace Tony Glover as head of the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering. Glover left the state earlier this month to open his own law firm. Both divisions fall under the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. A department spokeswoman acknowledged a request for comment Tuesday but did not immediately confirm or deny the appointment. According to his LinkedIn page, Ehrhardt also was an assistant prosecutor in the 6th Judicial Circuit for Pasco and Pinellas counties … Ehrhardt is the son of retired Florida State law professor Charles Ehrhardt, the leading expert on Florida evidence law.

New lobbying registrations:

Bill Rubin, Melissa Akeson, Amy Bisceglia, The Rubin Group: ServiceMaster, Thompson Construction Group

Jason Allison, Robert Hosay, Foley & Lardner: Convent Properties

Alan Bowser, Joel Whidden: Bridgewater Associates

Emily Buckley, Christopher Moya, Jennifer Ungru, Jones Walker: SEACOR Holdings

Dean Cannon, Rheb Harbison, Jessica Love, Robert Stuart, GrayRobinson: Florida Nurses Association

Bill Rubin, Christopher Finkbeiner, The Rubin Group: Ashbritt, Path Medical

Maya Goldman: Southern Poverty Law Center.

Ashley Kalifeh, Capital City Consulting: Ceres Environmental Services.

Richard Pinsky, Akerman: First Coast Biofuels, Viesel Biofuel Environmental

Johnathan Setzer, Southern Strategy Group: Boyd Development

Robert Shave, Capitol Energy Florida; GrayRobinson: Lighthouse Central Florida

Heather Turnbull, The Rubin Group: Thompson Construction Group

Beth Vecchioli, Carlton Fields Jorden Burt; Holland & Knight: AvMed

Facebook status of the day:

— ALOE —

Congratulations to John Fox of the Florida Justice Association, and wife Crystal, a Hillsborough County math teacher. They announced, during Hurricane Irma no less, that they’re expecting their second child.

Back to work: Florida State prepares for long grind” via Joe Reedy of The Associated Press – Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher is glad to get back to a normal game-week schedule after Hurricane Irma forced the 12th-ranked Seminoles to take two weeks off. They are facing an upcoming stretch that is becoming quite familiar. Starting with Saturday’s game against North Carolina State, the Seminoles will be playing at least 10 consecutive weeks. It marks the third time in the past four seasons Florida State has had stretches of playing nine straight weeks or more. Florida State … was supposed to have its open date on Oct. 7. Instead, they will be facing No. 14 Miami after last weekend’s game was moved due to storm damage throughout the state. “It feels weird to know that other people are playing and you’re not playing. There’s no doubt about that,” Fisher said. “It was for a reason. It was a lot bigger than football.”

Halloween Horror Nights limiting libations” via Terry Roen of Orlando Rising – The theme park had promoted on its blog that it would be selling watermelon-flavored Jell-O shots in squeezable heart-shaped containers. “And when we say ‘heart shaped,’ we are talking the human organ here, not Valentine’s shapes,” according to the ad. But the shots could not be found and fans complained on social media about the lack of hard liquor, usually sold at kiosks throughout the event. Universal has taken down the blog post page that promoted the heart shots. “Universal Orlando this year seems to have triggered a different type of fear this year, however, and that’s left a lot of fans howling, not laughing,” said Robert Niles, who authors the Theme Park Insider blog. “It’s the fear that the nation’s most popular Halloween event might be taking steps toward becoming a dry event like its Hollywood sibling.”

Live sports audiences are getting older” via Sara Fischer of Axios – … according to Magna Global’s latest sports media report. Advertisers typically rely on live sports to reach a relatively young, engaged audience, particularly for consumer goods. That live TV audience seems to be migrating to digital pretty quickly. Time spent on sports content on social media has increased among younger audiences, as many are turning to social media to catch highlights and reels of games, instead of watching games live. Sports with more multicultural audiences, like basketball and soccer, have had better luck retaining younger audiences, except for the NCAA. (The median age for the NCAA basketball tournament, one of the first major sporting events to be streamed live, crossed the line into the 50s last year.)

Happy birthday to Sen. Dorothy Hukill, Reps. James W. Grant and Frank White, Kevin Derby of Sunshine State News, and the Governors Club’s Barry Shields.

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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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