Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.
By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Joe Henderson, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.
We can’t help wondering if Hurricane Irma isn’t the “one” that could turn coastal Florida into the next catastrophe. It has happened before.
If you have lived in Florida for long, you surely remember 2004. That’s when four hurricanes used the state as a punching bag over six weeks, bringing death, billions of dollars in devastation, and long-term human misery.
Charley, with its 150-mph punch, blew ashore in Port Charlotte. Frances hit Palm Beach with 105-mph winds, causing parts of Interstate 95 to collapse. Ivan brought 120-mph force to Pensacola and destroyed parts of the Escambia Bay bridge.
Jeanne hit Palm Beach again with 120-mph winds.
Residents who go farther back can remember the unspeakable devastation Hurricane Andrew brought to Homestead. It looked like the hand of God had just swept across that part of the planet, like someone clearing off a shelf.
We remember all of that, so we don’t know about you but watching that monster Irma headed in this general direction, maybe, is enough to sound the bugle charge to be ready — assuming you can be ready for a storm of that size and force.
Maybe it will prove to be just another hurricane drill, where we feel uneasy for a few days before the storm turns north and, we all pray, out to sea. After what we just saw in Texas, though, Floridians — particularly on the east coast — aren’t taking any chances.
The devastation from Hurricane Matthew last summer, particularly to the wonderful city of St. Augustine, is still fresh for many people. And this forecast is another reminder that the force of nature can be unfathomable.
The Sun-Sentinel did an interesting retrospective on the 10-year anniversary of the 2004 carnage, pointing out that we are better prepared today when one of these storms makes landfall.
As the newspaper wrote, social media didn’t exist in 2004. Forecasting wasn’t as accurate as it is now. People have much more warning than they did before, and shelters have more time to prepare.
But we saw in Houston that while preparation can mitigate the damage, a storm like the one that struck Texas is going to leave devastation in its wake, and there isn’t much anyone can do about it. Florida, like Houston, is overbuilt. If an evacuation order comes, too many people would be trying to crowd into too little space to escape.
What to do?
Well, keep an eye on the forecast (ok, maybe two eyes). Don’t wait too late to make a plan. Be alert, be informed, and just understand one important thing. If we get lucky this time, it just means we’re overdue.
“Rick Scott to Floridians: get a plan!” via Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida — Scott, who has found a niche in the past year as Florida’s hurricane-defender-in-chief, wasted little time over the holiday weekend kicking into storm prep mode. Scott … tweeted out a series of advisories … as an ominously powerful hurricane called Irma plowed westward on a path across the Atlantic. Some projections put Florida on the edge of the “cone of death” by the week’s end. “Families should take time today to make sure you have a disaster plan and fully-stocked Disaster Supply Kit,” Scott tweeted. “I am continuing to coordinate with emergency management officials as we monitor Hurricane Irma.” Scott added weather briefings with Florida Emergency Management Director Bryan Koon to his daily calendar … Scott repeatedly posted a link to the FDEM’s disaster prep page. “FL knows how important it is to be prepared. Encourage your loved ones to have a plan ahead of any potential storm. floridadisaster.org/GetAPlan/” Scott tweeted.
— “Could Houston-type flooding happen in Central Florida?” via Kevin Spear of the Orlando Sentinel
Meanwhile … “Emergency agency replaces fired employee with former high-dollar consultant” via Arek Sarkissian of the Tallahassee Democrat — In the months after Hurricane Hermine tore through Tallahassee, the local governments paid more than $2.6 million to Wheeler Emergency Management Consulting, founded by Jason E. Wheeler. He was hired by the Florida Division of Emergency Management as its recovery bureau chief in August. He replaced one of three agency veterans, who were terminated for botched appeals made by local governments for federal dollars that missed crucial deadlines. State business records show Wheeler stepped down as president of his firm Aug. 21. The company still holds a contract with Leon County to serve as a representative to the Federal Emergency Management Agency during disaster cleanup. Leon County records show the Wheeler firm received more than $1.79 million in payments since Oct. 27, 2016, to verify the work done by tree removal vendors. The city of Tallahassee paid the firm more than $823,000 to help navigate the FEMA reimbursement process in the wake of the September 2016 storm, records show.
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— DACA CRISIS: DONALD TRUMP EXPECTED TO END PROGRAM FOR YOUNG IMMIGRANTS —
President Donald Trump is expected to announce that he will end protections for young immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children, but with a six-month delay, people familiar with the plans said.
The delay in the formal dismantling of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program, would be intended to give Congress time to decide whether it wants to address the status of the so-called Dreamers legislation, according to two people familiar with the president’s thinking. But it was not immediately clear how the six-month delay would work in practice and what would happen to people who currently have work permits under the program, or whose permits expire during the six-month stretch.
It also was unclear exactly what would happen if Congress failed to pass a measure by the considered deadline, they said.
The president, who has been grappling with the issue for months, has been known to change his mind in the past and could still shift course.
Trump has been wrestling for months with what to do with the Obama-era DACA program, which has given nearly 800,000 young immigrants a reprieve from deportation and the ability to work legally in the form of two-year, renewable work permits.
The expected move would come as the White House faces a Tuesday deadline set by Republican state officials threatening to sue the Trump administration if the president did not end the program. It also would come as Trump digs in on appeals to his base as he finds himself increasingly under fire, with his poll numbers at near-record lows.
“Rick Scott sides with ‘dreamers’ on DACA” via Sergio Bustos of POLITICO Florida — Scott joined with other Republicans across the country in pressuring Trump not to end an Obama-era program that grants work permits to hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as children — a group often referred to as Dreamers. “These kids must be allowed to pursue the American Dream, and Congress must act on this immediately,” said Scott in a statement. … An estimated 33,000 DACA beneficiaries live in Florida. In what was a rare show of independence for Scott, who is close to the president and typically defers to Trump on almost every issue, he forcefully and unequivocally stated his opposition to deporting young illegal immigrants. “I do not favor punishing children for the actions of their parents,” said Scott, who did not indicate whether he had shared his opinions with Trump.
“Jack Latvala defends dreamers: ‘We must lead with a compassionate heart’” via Dara Kam of the News Service of Florida
More Florida reaction from Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham, Chris King, David Richardson, Mary Barzee Flores here.
— NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL —
Assignment editors — Gwen Graham will spend a Workday at an addiction treatment facility beginning 10:30 a.m. to learn more about the opioid crisis in South Florida, works with the staff and receives a neurological scan. Out of respect for patient privacy, reporters interested in attending are asked to please RSVP for the facility address to Matt Harringer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Former Doral city official to run for Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s seat as a Republican” via Alex Daugherty and Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald — Former Doral Councilwoman Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera will run as a Republican for Ros-Lehtinen’s Miami-based seat in 2018 … “When I saw that she was not going to be running again, I thought that was interesting, and I had several people from the community call me and ask me to consider running,” Rodriguez Aguilera said. “I have been involved in community activism, human rights, economic development and international affairs all my life, and I feel that this is a good fit for me.” Rodriguez Aguilera, 59, works as an entrepreneur and teaches at Miami Dade College. She was a Doral Councilwoman from 2012-2014 and served as the city’s first economic developer.
First in Sunburn — Republican Nick DiCeglie to run for House District 66 — District 66, which encompasses portions of Pinellas County, is currently held by term-limited Rep. Larry Ahern … “Growing up working in a family business taught me the value of a dollar and hard work at an early age,” said DiCeglie. “Since then I’ve spent my entire life in the private sector, growing a small business and serving our community in any way I can.” Nick moved to Florida in 1996 and currently lives in Indian Rocks Beach … Nick has owned Solar Sanitation Inc. since 2001 … DiCeglie is actively involved in the Pinellas County community. He served two terms as Chair of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, served as a Governor Appointee on the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, and as a member of the Indian Rocks Beach Planning and Zoning Board for six years. His current leadership roles include serving as Chair of the Pinellas County Republican Party, as well as a member of the Pinellas County Economic Development Council. In 2011, DiCeglie was recognized as an Up & Comer by the Tampa Bay Business Journal and, in 2011, Solar Sanitation was recognized by the Clearwater Chamber of Commerce as the Medium Business of the Year.
Dates set for HD 72 special election via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Scott announced a special election to replace state Rep. Alex Miller — a Sarasota Republican who unexpectedly resigned her legislative job — will be held Feb. 13. The election date means that Sarasota County will be missing a key member of its legislative delegation for much of Florida’s 2018 legislative session, which runs from Jan. 9 to March 9. James Buchanan, the son of U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, immediately announced his intention to run for Miller’s District 72 seat. The House district covers most of northern Sarasota County. No other Republicans or Democrats have announced their candidacy for the District 72 race, which also includes Libertarian candidate Alison Foxall. Scott set Dec. 5 as the date for the District 72 primary election. The qualifying period for candidates who wish to run for the seat is 8 a.m. to noon on Sept. 28. The deadline to register to vote in the primary election is Nov. 6, and Jan. 16 for the general election.
— “Scott Plakon draws Democratic opponent” via Orlando Rising
— “Democrat Tracye Polson files to run in HD 15” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics
— “Professional speaker Monica Wofford joins race for HD 32” via Florida Politics
— “Pride Fund endorses Anna Eskamani in HD 47 race” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics
— “Thomas ‘Tommy’ Zeichman enters 2018 contest for HD 89” via Florida Politics
— RON DESANTIS TACKS TO THE RIGHT —
Florida Congressman Ron DeSantis is looking at ending an investigation into President Donald Trump’s purported pre-election ties to Russia, even as “campaign cash continues flowing to a state political committee” tied to him, POLITICO Florida reported last week. DeSantis, a Ponte Vedra Beach Republican, said he feared the probe would turn into a “fishing expedition.” The story’s highlights:
— “Imposing a deadline will force the special counsel to put up or shut up,” DeSantis wrote in a recent post for Fox News. His language, planned to be attached as an amendment to government spending legislation, would stop the six-month-old investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller.
— (However, it’s “not likely that these provisions will receive a vote, let alone become part of the final bill,” The Washington Post reported.)
— DeSantis also “openly acknowledged that he is considering a bid for governor, but has not yet made any formal decision,” POLITICO Florida said. In July, “a super PAC that supported DeSantis’ failed bid for Senate in 2016 (gave) $300,000 to a state political committee called Fund for Florida’s Future,” home to some of DeSantis’ federal donors.
— DeSantis told POLITICO Florida his Mueller amendment has nothing to do with politics. “It can pass the House in my judgment,” he told the website.
Assignment editors – Gov. Scott will highlight Pyure’s new facility and job growth with a 10:30 a.m. news conference at 5405 Taylor Road, Unit 10, in Naples. Pyure is an independent stevia sweetener company. At 2:15 p.m., the governor will make a new jobs announcement at Cognizant Technology Solutions, 10401 Highland Manor Dr., Suite 300, in Tampa. Scott will also provide an update on the projected path of hurricane Irma and the state’s preparation efforts.
“Lauren Book to present security funding to Jewish schools” via Florida Politics — State Sen. Book, a Plantation Democrat, will present a $654,491 check to Florida’s Jewish Day Schools to increase security measures in the wake of anti-Semitic bomb threats made earlier this year. The check will be presented 9 a.m. Tuesday during a school visit to Cooper City’s Temple Beth Emet Day School. “These funds will ensure security and safety for 10,000 Florida students, and provide peace of mind to Jewish children and families for years to come,” said Book, who is Jewish. Earlier this year, more than 100 Jewish centers across the country received bomb threats. Book and others fought for the funding to increase security measures at Jewish Day Schools in the state. The appropriation will be distributed to 35 schools in 9 counties to be used for fences, blast proof doors, cameras, gates, monitoring systems, and security officers.
“Erik Fresen poised for sentencing after tax plea” via the News Service of Florida — After pleading guilty in April to a charge of failing to file a tax return, former state Rep. Fresen is slated to go before a federal judge this month for sentencing, according to court documents. Fresen … faces a maximum of one year in prison after the plea to a charge of failing to file a tax return in 2012. U.S. District Judge Robert Scola Jr. is scheduled to hold the sentencing hearing Sept. 11 in federal court in Miami … The sentencing was originally scheduled for Aug. 18, but Fresen requested a delay as part of an agreement to pay outstanding taxes and interest before sentencing. “Mr. Fresen is in the process of obtaining financing in order to fulfill his obligation to make payment of any outstanding taxes and interest prior to sentencing,” Fresen’s attorney said in a July 27 motion to postpone the sentencing.
— STATEWIDE —
“Officials push deadline for disclosing finances” via Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida — Seven state lawmakers were among more than 600 state and local officials and employees testing a two-month grace period to file personal financial disclosure forms. Fines of $25 a day start to be imposed Saturday for those who don’t file or get their annual reports in the mail and postmarked Friday. Officials faced an initial July 3 deadline but were given until Sept. 1 to comply. “The point of the law is transparency, it is disclosure,” Florida Commission on Ethics spokeswoman Kerrie Stillman said. “It’s a lot better to go ahead, to urge them to do everything possible to get it in on time than to go through the cost and additional work involved in fining people.” In addition to certified letters that were required to go out to people missing the initial deadline, the Commission on Ethics sent out postcard reminders a month ago. And last week, agency employees spent a day attempting to personally call each person who had yet to file … Among the seven legislators whose reports had yet to be received by the Commission on Ethics as of Friday morning were Sen. Gary Farmer and House Education Chairman Michael Bileca … one of the wealthiest lawmakers. Of the reports available from state legislators, 127 have reported increases in net worth, while 26 show they have lost money year to year.
“One Florida bank is willing to risk it all on cannabis when others won’t” via Justine Griffin of the Tampa Bay Times — Marijuana is still considered an illegal substance at the federal level, despite the 29 states that have legalized it for recreational or medicinal use in recent years. That makes it nearly impossible for banks to fund marijuana distributing companies, which in turn makes it hard for those companies to sign a lease for a store or warehouse or even get insurance. First Green Bank, a community bank that began in 2009, is working with six out of the seven currently licensed medical marijuana dispensing companies in Florida. “It all comes down to compliance and transparency, since we’re subject to enhanced money laundering rules,” said James Whitcomb, the chief financial officer of Surterra Holdings Inc., an Atlanta-based medical marijuana company which has grow operations and dispensaries in Florida, including in Tampa. Surterra is a client of First Green Bank. “In order for banks to be compliant with us as customers, they have to perform a lot more due diligence. It basically means they have to track every single transaction we make to ensure that no dollar goes to any gang or criminal enterprise,” Whitcomb said. Lex Ford, a senior vice president at First Green Bank, said he couldn’t think of a competitor in Florida who was willing to try.
“State gets land for base buffering” via Florida Politics — The state has inked a $1.67 million deal for just over eight acres known as “Barefoot Palms” as a buffer around Naval Support Activity (NSA) Panama City. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced the completed purchase. NSA Panama City sits on 657 acres in the Panhandle. “The acquisition of this property will prevent further incompatible development adjacent to NSA Panama City and prevent potential major interruptions to their military mission,” said David Clark, the DEP’s Division of State Lands director, in a statement … NSA Panama City, which employs around 3,000 military and civilian personnel, is home to the Naval Surface Warfare Center’s Panama City Division, and the Navy Experimental Diving Unit, among others.
“Florida State answers report alleging academic favoritism” via Joe Reedy of The Associated Press — Florida State University once again finds itself answering allegations of academic fraud involving its football program. The New York Times reported that six players on the 2013 National Championship team received special treatment in online courses. The university said in an email to The Associated Press that an independent investigation found no wrongdoing. “Florida State University retained a leading law firm with a highly experienced collegiate sports practice to conduct an independent investigation of the course in question,” said university spokeswoman Amy Farnum-Patronis. “After a thorough examination of the facts, no NCAA violations were found. The course was subsequently modified for other reasons.” The case is a major part of Mike McIntire‘s book “Champions Way: Football, Florida, and the Lost Soul of College Sports,” which will be released Tuesday. Christina Suggs, a former teaching assistant and doctoral student, said in the book that she felt extra pressure to give breaks to student-athletes taking hospitality courses on coffee, tea and wine. Suggs provided evidence to the Florida State inspector general in August 2013 before the case was taken over by university attorneys.
— D.C. MATTERS —
“Marco Rubio, Bill Nelson blast Donald Trump’s NASA pick” via Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida — Florida’s senators are voicing opposition to Trump’s pick for NASA administrator, Oklahoma Congressman Jim Bridenstine, saying a “politician” shouldn’t lead the nation’s space program … Rubio and Nelson wouldn’t say whether they’d buck the president and vote against Bridenstine, who was nominated Friday. But they suggested the GOP congressman’s political past would needlessly spark a partisan fight in the Senate that could ultimately damage NASA. Bridenstine also trashed Rubio during last year’s GOP presidential primary, although Rubio said he doesn’t hold that against the congressman. The bipartisan pushback against Trump’s nominee for NASA administrator underscores the importance of the agency to Florida, home of the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. Nelson, as a member of Congress, in 1986 flew on a Space Shuttle Columbia mission; he also has a home on what’s known as the state’s Space Coast. “The head of NASA ought to be a space professional, not a politician,” Nelson said.
“Eight months in office, John Rutherford backs Trump, laments partisanship” via Nate Monroe of the Florida Times-Union — Rutherford, a Republican who took office in January, regularly inveighs against partisanship (“the ideologues have taken over,” he’ll say in a familiar refrain), and has broken with GOP orthodoxy and Trump on some issues, like his opposition to seismic testing for oil off Florida’s Atlantic coast. “We have to move the ball down the field. I can’t be an ideologue that sits in my corner throwing Hail Mary passes,” he said in a recent interview. “You can’t do that.” Yet Rutherford will defend some of Trump’s most controversial moments in office — the pardon of former sheriff Joe Arpaio, his comments in the aftermath of violence in Charlottesville, Virginia — and has aligned himself with key GOP priorities, like the ill-fated and highly partisan fight to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama’s landmark health care law. He is against the death penalty. He wants to see a return of earmarks — he believes allowing members of Congress to attach district-specific funding to legislation would help make more bipartisan deals. He wants the U.S. Senate to kill the rule that requires 60 votes to end debate on bills. He wants to reinvest in America’s infrastructure. He thinks Confederate monument debates should be settled by local referendums. He’s been working with his Democratic counterpart, U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, who represents the other half of Jacksonville, on mental-health legislation. As the top cop in Jacksonville for 12 years, Rutherford got used to saying what he liked.
— OPINION —
“Christian Cámara: In Florida insurance market, all is not equal” via Orlando Rising — The good news is reinsurance prices have dropped precipitously over the past decade. This “buyer’s market” has allowed insurance companies to purchase more coverage for less, thus strengthening their finances and permitting them to write more policies. As such, Florida’s property insurers should be able to weather a large hurricane, all things being equal. The bad news is, all things are not equal. Currently, Florida’s insurance market is being undermined by a cottage industry exploiting an insurance practice called assignment of benefits (AOB). This allows a third-party contractor — such as a roofer or water-extraction company — to assume control of a homeowner’s policy to collect payment directly from the insurance company. Although a normal practice in other areas such as health insurance, Florida’s litigious environment has encouraged bad actors to inflate their bills and then file frivolous lawsuits for small, simple or even uncontested claims. The result: higher insurance rates. But leaving AOB abuse unaddressed doesn’t just cause higher rates. The models used to calculate an insurer’s risk exposure, which then determines how much surplus and reinsurance they must maintain, do not normally factor fraud and abuse costs. Therefore, a storm may actually wind up costing more than models suggest. Therein lies the problem: companies that have amassed enough resources to cover legitimate hurricane claims, as required by law, may not have enough to cover fraud, unnecessary litigation or other AOB-related abuse.
— MOVEMENTS —
“Donald Trump taps Carlton Fields attorney for EPA legal post” via Janelle Irwin of the Tampa Bay Business Journal — Trump plans to nominate Carlton Fields attorney Matthew Leopold as the highest-ranking legal adviser to the Environmental Protection Agency. Leopold has practiced in the Carlton Fields’ Tallahassee office since 2015, handling environmental, energy and water law cases. Carlton Fields has a strong presence in Tampa, employing dozens of attorneys and legal advisers. The nomination requires U.S. Senate confirmation. If confirmed, Leopold will leave his post at Carlton Fields. The official White House announcement said he will be nominated to be an assistant administrator of the EPA, general counsel.
“Personnel note: Marty Monroe hired as League of Women Voters of Florida lobbyist” via Florida Politics — Monroe has worked in the Florida Department of Education as a regional coordinator, and was a part-time lobbyist for the Florida Association on Aging/Florida Council on Aging … She also was a sales representative for publishing companies Scott Foresman/Addison Wesley and Glencoe McGraw-Hill, and later worked for Compass Learning, a leading national integrated software curriculum company, and Alabama for Scientific Learning, a neurological intervention software company. Her most recent position was Southeast Sales Account Manager for Educational Solutions Development, which provides administrative software for school systems nationwide. She’s been a member of the League of Women Voters for many years, and most recently served as interim executive director of the LWVFL.
“Personnel note: Michael Millett appointed to TBARTA” via Florida Politics — Gov. Scott has named Millett, vice president of operations at Weatherford Partners, to the board of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority (TBARTA). Weatherford Partners is the venture capital group created by former Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford and his two brothers, Sam Weatherford and Drew Weatherford, a former Florida State University quarterback and business consultant. Millett, a 36-year-old Tampa resident, was an attorney at Holland & Knight before joining the Weatherfords. There, he “represented banks and government entities in the issuance of municipal bonds and other forms of tax-exempt financing,” his bio says. He also was a vice president at Citigroup, and an analyst for Goldman Sachs. Millett got his undergraduate degree from Florida Gulf Coast University and his law degree from Stetson University College of Law. He was appointed to the TBARTA board for a term beginning last Friday and ending Sept. 1 of next year, the Governor’s Office said.
Happy birthday belatedly to one of the brightest minds in Florida politics, Ryan Tyson. Celebrating today is our friend Valerie Wickboldt.