Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

Sunburn for 9.21.17 – POTUS vs. the NFL; Puerto Rico begs for help; Irma aftershocks; Bill Nelson’s still running; Ballard’s latest signing; Happy b’day, Christina Johnson!

in Peter/Top Headlines by

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

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

Let’s begin the week with some exciting news …

“Personnel note: Ana Ceballos joins Extensive Enterprises Media” via Florida Politics — Ceballos, who was The Associated Press’ legislative session relief reporter in Florida this year, is joining the lineup of writers for Extensive Enterprises Media, publisher Peter Schorsch announced. Ceballos — whose stint included writing about immigration, the environment, criminal justice and social welfare for the AP — will join Capitol correspondent Jim Rosica in state politics and government coverage from Tallahassee. Michael Moline will continue to cover the insurance industry for the organization this session. She’ll also help edit and manage some of EEM’s growing portfolio of email newsletters, including the flagship SUNBURN, the “Last Call” evening news roundup, and “60 Days,” which comes out nightly during Session. Her original reporting will appear on the Florida Politics site, with guest appearances on SaintPetersblog and Orlando Rising, EEM’s newest website dedicated to Central Florida politics, as well as INFLUENCE Magazine, covering the personalities and policy in the legislative process. Ceballos, who speaks English and Spanish and also is a photographer, lately has been covering immigration stories at the U.S.-Mexico border as a freelancer. She was born in California and raised in Mexico.


— @AP: Sen. Collins says it’s ‘very difficult’ to imagine backing GOP health care bill, leaving plan’s fate in deeper doubt.

— @HillaryClinton: President Trump, Sec. Mattis, and DOD should send the Navy, including the USNS Comfort, to Puerto Rico now. These are American citizens.

— @PatriciaMazzei: SJU airport is a mess. Terminal is powerless: dark, hot and absolutely packed with stranded travelers and would-be travelers.

— @DavidJollyFL: It’s truly remarkable how silent elected Republicans have been during today’s Trump tweetstorm on HCare, freedom of speech, and nuclear war.

— @RealDonaldTrump: If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!

— @CordByrd: If the NFL thinks that SJWs will make up their fan base then NFL really does mean “Not for Long.”

— @jgonzalezmdjd: Prediction: @nflcommish meets w/ @POTUS. Kneeling ends & @realDonaldTrump calls out soc. injustice. #MAGA wins. @NFL ratings partly improve

— @GoMeteoric: I’m just grateful that we, as a nation, are finally getting into what matters most; Confederate statues and football players.


President Donald Trump’s comments about owners firing players who kneel during the national anthem sparked a mass increase in such protests around the National Football League Sunday, as about 150 players sat, knelt or raised their fists in defiance during early games.

A week ago, just six players protested.

As he prepared to board Air Force One to return to Washington from New Jersey on Sunday, Trump said the players protesting the anthem were “very disrespectful to our country” and called again on owners to stop what he considers unpatriotic displays in America’s most popular sport.

The president’s comments Friday night and Saturday turned the anthems — usually sung during commercials — into must-watch television shown live by the networks and Yahoo!, which streamed the game in London. In some NFL stadiums, crowds booed or yelled at players to stand. There was also some applause.

Ravens and Jaguars show unity in reaction to Trump’s comments on anthem protests” via David Neal of the Miami Herald — Players from the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars — and an owner who donated to Trump’s inauguration fund — locked arms and many knelt during the national anthem before Sunday’s NFL game in London. The 9:30 a.m.  contest was the first since Trump stated at a political rally he wished NFL owners would respond to players kneeling during the anthem in protest of police brutality and racial inequality with “get that son of a bitch off the field right now.” Trump doubled and tripled down on those statements throughout the weekend on Twitter. While words from athletes and NFL owners, including Dolphins owner Stephen Ross‘ defense of the Dolphins who knelt last season, filled media reports, the main curiosity surrounded Sunday’s actions during the Star-Spangled Banner. According to reporters at the London game, about 25 Baltimore and Jacksonville players took a knee. Many more linked arms.

Jaguars owner Shad Khan: A “privilege” to stand arm-in-arm with players during the national anthem in London — Khan stood between tight end Marcedes Lewis and linebacker Telvin Smith at Wembley Stadium and then released a statement to express his support for players. Coaches and other team personnel from both teams did the same prior to the game against the Ravens. “It was a privilege to stand on the sidelines with the Jacksonville Jaguars today for the playing of the U.S. national anthem at Wembley Stadium,” Khan said. “I met with our team captains before the game to express my support for them, all NFL players and the league following the divisive and contentious remarks made by President Trump, and was honored to be arm in arm with them, their teammates and our coaches during our anthem.”

Bucs’ Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson kneel during national anthem” via Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times — Both knelt during the national anthem in protest before Sunday’s game at the Vikings … The rest of the Bucs team stood on the field with their arms locked during the anthem, while Evans and Jackson went down on one knee several feet behind them, each with their hands on their hearts for the length of the anthem.

Tampa Bay Buccaneer wide receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson kneel during the national anthem before kickoff against the Minnesota Vikings.

Miami Dolphins players show support for Colin Kaepernick in pregame warmup — A handful of Miami Dolphins players are wearing black T-shirts supporting free agent quarterback Kaepernick during pregame warmups. The shirts have “#IMWITHKAP” written in bold white lettering on the front. Kaepernick was the first athlete to refuse to stand during the national anthem as a protest. This season, no team has signed him, and some supporters believe NFL owners are avoiding him because of the controversy. Among the players sporting the shirts before their game against the New York Jets are wide receiver Kenny Stills, running back Jay Ajayi and offensive linemen Laremy Tunsil and Ja’Wuan James. Stills, also a team captain, posted a photo on Twitter of himself wearing the shirt, along with the post: “In case you didn’t know!”

Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi warms up in a #imwithkap shirt before an NFL football game against the New York Jets on Sunday. Photo credit: Bill Kostroun.

— “16 Patriots take a knee during the national anthem” via The Boston Globe

What President Trump doesn’t get about the NFL” via Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post — How the NFL responds to Trump‘s spit-foaming is hardly a test case for whether the republic will stand. Nevertheless, the league is a maker of manners in this country, so it means something that Commissioner Roger Goodell and others are getting it right, striking the perfect calm but resistant tone in response to Trump’s gutter-mouthing, a tone that says, “We’re not your personal WrestleMania, and don’t use us for your sham body slams.” The NFL, faced with whether to play to the basest instincts of the audience, declined. It adhered to civility. … The vast majority of the men on the field are not spoiled millionaires abusing their freedoms, as Trump charges. Rather, they have worked as hard as any farmers for their short-lived incomes and are dedicated to using their privilege to make things better for the people they play in front of. Brandon Marshall‘s Project Borderline foundation combats mental illness. Doug Baldwin is raising money for a family community center in Renton, Washington and Colin Kaepernick has given away $1 million to various organizations.

Colin Kaepernick vs. Tim Tebow: A tale of two Christianities on its knees” via Michael Frost of The Washington Post — This is the tale of two Christian sports personalities, one of whom is the darling of the American church while the other is reviled. And their differences reveal much about the brand of Christianity preferred by many in the church today. Tebow was home-schooled by his Christian parents, and spent his summers in the Philippines, helping with his father’s orphanage and missionary work. During his college football career, the Heisman Trophy winner frequently wore references to Bible verses on his eye black … Kaepernick was born to a 19-year-old, single, white woman. His black father had left the picture before Colin was born. His mother was destitute and gave him up for adoption. He was raised by the Kaepernicks, a white couple from Milwaukee. His body is festooned with religious tattoos, including depictions of scrolls, a cross, praying hands, angels defeating demons, terms like “To God be the Glory,” “Heaven Sent,” “God will guide me,” Psalm 18:39 and Psalm 27:3. It seems to me that Tim Tebow and Colin Kaepernick represent the two very different forms that American Christianity has come to. And not just in the United States. In many parts of the world, it feels as if the church is separating into two versions, one that values personal piety, gentleness, respect for cultural mores, and an emphasis on moral issues like abortion and homosexuality, and another that values social justice, community development, racial reconciliation and political activism. One version is kneeling in private prayer. The other is kneeling in public protest. Sadly, with the suspicion and animosity shown toward each side of the divide by the other, I can’t see a coming together anytime soon. In the meantime, Christianity remains on its knees in the West.

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’If anyone can hear us … help.’ Puerto Rico’s mayors describe ‘horror in the streets’” via The Washington Post — In the northern Puerto Rican town of Vega Baja, the floodwaters reached more than 10 feet. Stranded residents screamed “save me, save me,” using the lights in their cellphones to help rescue teams find them in the darkness, the town’s mayor said. In Loiza, a north coastal town that already had been ravaged by Hurricane Irma, 90 percent of homes — 3,000 — were destroyed by Hurricane Maria just days later. In communities across the island, bridges collapsed and highways were severely damaged, isolating many residents. In Rio Grande, officials had yet to access a number of families stuck in their homes, three days after the powerful storm made landfall. When speaking about his town’s destruction, Ramon Hernandez Torres, mayor of the southern city of Juana Díaz, took a long pause, his voice catching and his eyes filling with tears. “It’s a total disaster,” he said.

—“Puerto Rico to Orlando flights trickling in after Hurricane Maria” via Bianca Padró Ocasio of the Orlando Sentinel

Unofficial death toll from Hurricane Irma now stands at 75 across the state” via Charles Rabin of the Miami Herald — Florida’s official death toll from Hurricane Irma stood at 50 through Friday night — but those numbers do not appear to include 14 storm-related deaths in the Florida Keys or the 11 seniors who perished in a Hollywood nursing home. When combined, that would raise the total number of deaths caused by the storm to 75. The statewide statistics were released Friday by the Florida Department of Emergency Management in Tallahassee. Those numbers include only those already approved by each county’s medical examiner and then submitted to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Head of House panel seeks tax relief for hurricane victims” via The Associated Press — The bill proposed by Rep. Kevin Brady, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, would ease requirements for deducting individual property losses and allow people to draw on their retirement funds without penalty. The legislation also seeks to encourage people around the U.S. to donate to hurricane relief efforts by temporarily suspending limits on deductions for charitable contributions … It “helps hurricane victims keep more of their paycheck, deduct more of the cost of their expensive property damage, and have more affordable and immediate access to money they have saved for their retirement,” he said in a statement. “These tax relief measures will help more people be able to bear the tremendous expense of recovering from these destructive hurricanes.” Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan of Florida, a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee and co-chair of the state’s congressional delegation, called Brady’s legislation “a positive first step on the road to recovery.”

Those piles of storm debris aren’t going away. And companies are getting fired for it.” via Douglas Hanks and Lance Dixon of the Miami Herald — AshBritt Environmental, a top storm-recovery firm out of Deerfield Beach, is represented by Ron Book, a top lobbyist in Tallahassee whose client list includes the city of North Miami Beach itself. But when AshBritt wasn’t removing debris piles quickly enough for North Miami Beach, City Manager Ana Garcia fired the company and offered up the contract to competitors in an emergency bidding session … “She would rather let AshBritt go than adjust AshBritt’s rate,” Book said of Garcia. “They’ll get cleaned up slower because of what they did. She’ll have to explain that to her city.” The break between North Miami Beach and Ashbritt represents one skirmish in a far larger battle involving the most prevalent legacy of Irma in South Florida: tens of thousands of debris piles clogging sidewalks, shielding driveways and generally steaming residents eager to see the decaying natural litter removed. While local governments have rules against mixing storm debris with household trash, the piles of branches and leaves are attracting garbage, too.

Toll suspension cost $3 million a day” via Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida — More than $45 million in revenue is believed to have been lost when the state suspended highway toll collections to help speed evacuations and relief efforts for Hurricane Irma, Florida’s Turnpike system estimates. However, the estimated $3 million-a-day impact is not expected to hinder operations of the system or ongoing work programs, “as impacts such as toll suspensions due to a hurricane are taken into consideration during the annual budgeting process,” turnpike spokesman Chad Huff said … Funding 404 full-time positions, the turnpike system is budgeted at $1.57 billion for the current fiscal year, which began July 1. Tolls were lifted by Gov. Scott on Sept. 5 in advance of Hurricane Irma’s trek across Florida. Toll collections resumed at 12:01 a.m. Thursday across the state, though they remained suspended on the Homestead Extension of Florida’s Turnpike south of State Road 874 in southern Miami-Dade County, as Monroe County recovery efforts continue. The state has not estimated how many people took to the road in advance of the storm.

How Hurricane Irma blew away the beach in Miami Beach” via Joey Flechas of the Miami Herald — Irma smacked Miami Beach’s shoreline with enough wind and rain to reshape some of the water’s edge, including washing away chunks of sand from a recently completed $11.5 million beach-widening project. In many places, the sand blew off the beach and into the dunes separating oceanfront condos and hotels from the beach. In some places, the sand noticeably thinned out during the storm, leaving a narrower beach. At 46th and 54th streets, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed an $11.5 million renourishment project earlier this year to widen the beach. Irma claimed chunks of that new sand, though it is still unclear precisely how much and whether the city will request an emergency renourishment. Margarita Wells, the Beach’s environmental director … said beefing up the shore through renourishment is necessary to prevent erosion further inland, where it can affect condos and hotels. The widening of the beach is intended to provide more protection from storm surge and wind in the event of tropical weather.

This composite photo, courtesy the City of Miami Beach, shows a before and after Hurricane Irma around 53rd Street. The erosion comes just after the Army Corps of Engineers finished widening the beach earlier this year.


After Irma, many ask: how safe are shelters?” via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times — Florida’s patchwork of shelters failed repeatedly during a storm that could have been much worse. Many of those who rode out the storm in shelters were directed there by Scott and local officials. Some shelters just weren’t adequate to serve their sole purpose of providing a safe haven. Witnesses spoke of several people fainting in long lines, miscommunication and shortages of generators, cots, sufficient food and properly trained managers. To be sure, people across Florida have stories of extraordinary kindness, commitment and sacrifice from volunteers and professionals who helped open and staff a record 600-plus shelters to handle the evacuation orders affecting more than 5.6 million Floridians. Some disorder and confusion is to be expected when a massive, erratic storm looms, and no one expects comfort at an evacuation center. A shelter is a lifeboat, the saying goes, not a cruise ship. That said, the widespread reports of snarls, disorganization, or inexperienced shelter managers winging it with little guidance is jarring for a state so susceptible to hurricanes. “Nobody was prepared for that. Not at any level,” said Dianna Van Horn, a Red Cross spokeswoman based in North Florida. Nobody expects the peninsula’s vulnerability to catastrophic storms to lessen as the coastal population continues growing, however. But the many anecdotes of shelter shortcomings suggest that Florida has lost ground in instilling the “culture of preparedness” that former Gov. Jeb Bush stressed after eight hurricanes struck Florida in a 14-month stretch in 2004 and 2005.

Smith named Rick Scott his Loser of the Week in Florida politics — “His early performance as an on-the-ball disaster management governor took some hits amid scrutiny of his record. It’s tougher to position yourself as the model of storm readiness after you’ve eased off on Florida’s tough building standards, seen Florida’s deficit of special needs emergency shelter spots double under your watch and cut oversight of nursing homes in the years leading up to 10 patients dying during Irma.”

What FPL’s CEO says about Irma outages” via Rosemary O’Hara of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — My (O’Hara’s) relationship with FPL had grown a little tense since I penned an editorial two days after the storm, saying the company should better communicate with its customers. We want more timely and accurate updates about when the lights will come back on, I wrote. We want a power-outage tracking website that works. And we want to know why mostly tropical storm-force winds wiped out power to 90 percent of our homes and businesses, especially after we helped finance a $3 billion hardening of the system and an upgrade to smart-grid technology. My criticism amplified last Sunday, as a panelist on WPLG’s This Week in South Florida, after host Michael Putney said FPL representatives had declined multiple invitations to appear on the show. “In the absence of communication, people think the worst,” I said. “There should be an independent, outside review.” It had now been nine days since the storm left South Florida, and eight days since it left the last of the 35 counties served by FPL. The company had restored power to 99.9 percent of its East Coast customers. And [FPL CEO EricSilagy, wearing a hard hat and yellow reflective vest over casual clothes, looked less like a corporate executive who pores over P&L statements and more like a coach who’d just won a championship game. As an aside, though it might prefer a trumpet, FPL would like you to know that never before has a restoration this big been done this fast — ever. But they don’t want to be seen as crowing. You have to hand it to them. Given the impact, its restoration was remarkable. But it didn’t feel that way when you’re dealing with a darkened house, which in my case lasted four days, though it felt like four weeks.

Widespread sewage leaks after Irma showed Florida’s dependence on electric pumps” via Ryan Mills, Greg Stanley and Brett Murphy of the Naples Daily News — After Hurricane Irma cut the electricity to Southwest Florida, raw sewage flowed onto streets and into homes, and some residents contracted waterborne diseases, all because public utilities were not prepared to manage the massive, dayslong power outage. “I’m not sure any utility is equipped for the kind of storm we just went through,” said John Jenkins, the executive director of Bonita Springs Utilities. More than 500 overflows across the state have dumped at least 84 million gallons of wastewater into roads, homes, parks and waterways since Florida lost power Sept. 10, with too few generators to power thousands of underground wastewater pumps in sewage systems across the state entirely dependent upon electricity.

Gov. Rick Scott visited utility linemen in Collier County to thank them for their work restoring power to Florida homes and businesses.

Despite driver frustration, Florida to keep new hurricane evacuation plan” via Wayne Roustan of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Some of the record 6 million Florida residents and tourists who got stuck on roadways for hours said the state needs to keep the one-way lanes plan, ensure more gas is available and provide more evacuation routes. But Jeff Frost, with the \Department of Transportation, said the highway shoulder plan was a success and drivers can expect to see it used again. “We’re not considering a return to [one-way lanes],” he said. “We’re going to continue to work on improvements to allow shoulder-use on other corridors.” The Florida Turnpike retains the option to make all lanes one-way north of Boynton Beach, but did not do so because the governor has to give the order.

Former Louisiana school officials affected by Katrina offer advice to Florida schools” via Annika Hammerschlag of the Naples Daily News — Beverly Lawrasonwas the assistant superintendent of a school district on the outskirts of New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit. Her district — St. Bernard Parish Public Schools — experienced “100 percent devastation” … “Every home, every church, every building — everything was destroyed,” she said. But Lawrason was determined to get the schools up and running. The school district installed portable classrooms. They took a flooded high school, gutted and deep-cleaned it, and set up classrooms on the second floor. Two and a half months after Katrina ripped through St. Bernard Parish, its schools reopened. Reopening was important, not just to re-establish a school community for the children, but for the parents who needed time away from their children to rebuild their homes. The schools offered supervision of children from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and daycare for infants. They extended their academic day by 30 minutes and obtained permission to waive academic requirements. Her first piece of advice is for school administrators to choose a staff member to handle FEMA-related paperwork. Secondly, she suggested educators prioritize emotional care.


From care center to purgatory to ‘hellhole’: how 11 frail elders died after Irma” via Glenn Garvin of the Miami Herald — What happened at The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills from the moment Irma struck Broward County as a tropical storm at 8 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 10, until the nursing home finished clearing away its dead almost exactly 72 hours later makes for a harrowing tale of miscalculation and miscommunication, of plans that looked much better on paper than amid the exacting standards of real life. And it’s a tale that did not end with the stifling, sweaty deaths of the victims because human rage is immortal …  Some families, however, regarded the care at Hollywood Hills as substandard at any price. As Hurricane Irma stalked South Florida, though, even Hollywood Hills’ staunchest supporters were nervous about its ability to stand up to what some public officials had warned would be a “nuclear hurricane” … Gail Nova, a former Miami X-ray technician, died seven minutes after arriving at the emergency room; her temperature at death was a stunning 109.9 degrees. Estella Hendricks, of whom little is known except that she once lived in the U.S. Virgin Islands, was not far behind at 108.5 degrees. To those figures, perhaps one more stark number should be added. Within a few minutes after the end of Hollywood Hills’ evacuation, an FPL crew arrived to fix the transformer. It took 15 minutes.

—“At Florida nursing home, many calls for help, but none that made a difference” via Ellen Gabler, Sheri Fink and Vivian Yee of The New York Times

Nursing home voicemail to governor deleted” via Jim DeFede of CBS Miami — There were four voicemails left during the 36 hours before the first patient died, and they would have been a critical piece of evidence in the ongoing investigation into the patient deaths. Natasha Anderson, a vice president with The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, says she called the governor’s cellphone to say the nursing home needed “immediate assistance” in restoring the power to their air conditioning system. Scott said at no time did anyone from the nursing home suggest there was a crisis or that patients were in danger. In response to CBS4’s request for copies of the voicemails, a spokeswoman with the governor’s office, wrote in an email: “The voicemails were not retained because the information from each voicemail was collected by the Governor’s staff and given to the proper agency for handling.”

Elderly deaths: Call for generators in Florida nursing homes” via Gary Fineout of The Associated Press — Days after Irma ravaged the state, Scott used his emergency powers to put in place new rules that require nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have generators capable of providing backup power for four days. The Republican governor, who normally brags about eliminating regulations on businesses, gave nursing homes 60 days to comply. Nursing home officials say they can’t. They say it’s not just the multimillion-dollar price-tag that will come with acquiring large generators for hundreds, maybe thousands, of homes. During a daylong summit by the industry Friday, engineers and contractors and others who operate nursing homes said it will be practically impossible to purchase, install and get permits to put generators and supplies of fuel in place by the November deadline. “Compliance with the rule is impossible and time is running out,” said Steve Bahmer, president and CEO of LeadingAge Florida, an association that represents both nursing homes and assisted living facilities. So far, the Scott administration isn’t backing down. Justin Senior, the state’s top health care regulator, said the state will “aggressively” enforce the mandate, which calls for fines for those homes that fail to comply.

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On the run with Bill Nelson, no signs of slowing down” via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times — Nelson, who turns 75 on Sept. 29, has been around politics a very long time. For years he has been a unique species in Florida — the only statewide elected Democrat — and now he’s campaigning for a fourth, six-year Senate term. He would be 82, two years shy of the current oldest senator, Dianne Feinstein of California, who is considering running again next year.

At what point does a politician hang around too long? Does age matter in an era when voters in November elected the oldest president in history? Does it matter in Florida, the state with the highest population of senior citizens? Nelson’s expected opponent is Gov. Scott. At 64, Scott doesn’t have a generational argument but he entered elective politics in 2010, contrasting with Nelson’s career, which began in 1972. Nelson can counter that he’s built up experience. He’s the top Democrat on the Commerce Committee and second on Armed Services. “If I can’t be at peak performance, I shouldn’t be doing it,” Nelson said from a park bench in Fernandina Beach the day before the run. “I feel like I’m still at peak performance. I don’t have any plans that I’m going to stay there forever. I’m not going to be a Robert Byrd.” So he keeps jogging, doing pushups and crunches, eating “nuts and twigs” and swigging low-calorie lemon-lime Gatorade. “Exercise is just part of my life,” he said.

The no-sh*t headline of the weekend: “If he runs for governor, John Morgan would push pot legalization” via the Palm Beach Post

Four local mayors endorse Republican David Smith for HD 28 — “David has a reputation for honesty and integrity,” said Oviedo Mayor, Dominic Persampiere. Winter Springs Mayor, Charles Lacey: “David’s leadership experience from a career in the U.S. Marine Corps is needed up in Tallahassee. His conservative values reflect those of our community. “David has my full support,” said Sanford Mayor, Jeff Triplett. “He has the leadership skills, business experience, strong moral values and the fiscally conservative principles we need in Tallahassee to represent the people of Seminole County.” “David is well-known for his honesty, leadership and work ethic,” said Longwood Mayor, Joe Durso. “I’m confident he will represent the people of Seminole County extremely well in the Florida House of Representatives.” After 30 years of service in the United States Marine Corps that included several deployments overseas, Smith retired and now works as a business consultant in Central Florida’s Simulation & Training industry.

House candidate Lawrence McClure has not voted in a nonpresidential primary election, records show” via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics — Presumably, McClure will vote for himself in next month’s Republican primary election in House District 58. If so, it would be the first primary election in which the 30-year-old Dover native has voted. An inspection of McClure’s voting record shows that since 2005 when he was first eligible to vote in Florida, he has never participated in a primary election. In 2006, the first election year in which he could cast a ballot, McClure declined to do so, neither in the August primary nor the November election for Florida governor and U.S. Senate. McClure didn’t cast a ballot in the 2008 presidential preference primary in which John McCain won the Sunshine State, effectively clinching the Republican nomination with his victory over Mitt Romney. Nor did he vote in the presidential primary in January 2012. McClure also didn’t vote in primary elections in 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014 or 2016.

Second Democrat enters race for Sarasota state House seat” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Sarasota Democrat Ruta Jouniari filed paperwork this week to run for the District 72 state House seat being vacated by former GOP state Rep. Alex Miller, who resigned earlier this month. Jouniari’s entrance in the race sets up a Democratic primary in the special election to fill the District 72 seat, which covers most of northern Sarasota County. Jouniari will face off in the primary against Margaret Good, a Sarasota attorney who filed to run for the seat last week. A business professional who spent many years in the health care industry, Jouniari started her own staffing agency more than a decade ago. She recruits former U.S. military members to help service military vehicles and other equipment in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which purchases large amounts of military equipment from the United States.

Tom Knight backs James Buchanan in HD 72 special election” via Florida Politics — Sarasota County Sheriff Knight is backing Buchanan in the special election for House District 72, which was vacated by Alex Miller on Sept. 1. “I know James will give law enforcement the support we need to keep our community safe. He stands with us, so I will stand with him,” Knight said in a news release Knight joins other area Republicans, including future Senate President Bill Galvano and state Rep. Jim Boyd, in endorsing Buchanan, who is the son of U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan. “Tom Knight is beloved by our community and is one of the most respected Sheriffs in our state. I am proud to have him on our team,” Buchanan said.

Daniel Perez piles up cash ahead of special election” via the News Service of Florida — With backing from major players in the state Capitol, Republican Perez raised $134,353 in little more than a month as he prepares for a special election in Miami-Dade County’s House District 116, according to a newly filed finance report. The haul between Aug. 19 and Thursday brought the overall total raised by Perez to $320,988. Contributions during the latest period came from companies and groups such as AT&T Florida; the Florida Chamber of Commerce; the Florida Bankers Association; the Florida Retail Federation; the HCA health care chain; NextEra Energy; Publix Supermarkets; the Florida Medical Association; and the insurer Florida Blue.

Omar Khan to shepherd Rick Kriseman campaign during final weeks” via Florida Politics — Kahn is joining the Kriseman campaign as a senior adviser. “I have known Mayor Kriseman for years and have always valued his work and dedication to the people of St. Petersburg,” Khan tells “I am very excited to join an already strong team to help re-elect such an outstanding public servant.” An alum of the Barack Obama administration … Khan worked as National Associate Political Director for Obama’s 2012 re-election effort and held various leadership roles in the 2008 Obama Presidential Campaign throughout several states. Locally, Khan managed Charlie Crist‘s 2014 gubernatorial bid; he first rose to prominence by helping former state Rep. Charlie Justice win a highly competitive 2006 state senate race in Pinellas County. Khan recently teamed up with Democratic businessman Chris King in support of his bid for Florida governor. “I love him. He loves Florida,” Crist told The Washington Post in 2014.


Diaz dominates fundraising” via the News Service of Florida — Republican Jose Felix Diaz will head into a special election Tuesday in Miami-Dade County’s Senate District 40 with a major financial edge over Democratic opponent Annette Taddeo. Diaz raised $425,785 for his campaign account from Aug. 19 through Thursday, bringing the overall total to $1,477,515, according to a new report on the state Division of Elections website. Taddeo collected $143,827 during the period for her campaign account, bringing the overall total to $334,279. The special election, which has been closely watched by both parties, was called after former Sen. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, resigned in April.

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Marijuana law challenged over black farmer license” via Jim Saunders and Dara Kam of the News Service of Florida — A lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of part of a new state law that requires a coveted medical-marijuana license to go to a black farmer. Columbus Smith, a black farmer from Panama City, filed the lawsuit, alleging that the law is so narrowly drawn that only a handful of black farmers could qualify for the license. The lawsuit contends that the measure is what is known as an unconstitutional “special law.” While the law called for an overall increase of 10 licenses by Oct. 3, it also specified that one license go to a black farmer who had been part of settled lawsuits about discrimination by the federal government against black farmers. The law also said that the black farmer who receives a license would have to be a member of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association-Florida Chapter. The lawsuit said Smith meets the qualification of being part of the litigation about discrimination against black farmers. But it said he has not been allowed to join the black farmers association, effectively preventing him from receiving a license. “There is no rational basis for limiting the opportunity for black farmers to obtain a medical marijuana license to only the few members of that class of black farmers who are also member of a specific private association,” said the lawsuit, filed in Leon County circuit court.

Property insurance bill proposed in Florida Senate moves to committee” via Glenn Minnis of — Dorothy Hukill thinks the potential turmoil property owners could face in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma demonstrates the urgent need for the assignment of benefits legislation she is pushing. “I think this bill is now more important than ever,” Hukill told the Florida Record. “As people start filing claims stemming from this hurricane, it will be important that they have certain protections. It’s especially critical in South Florida given the consistent rise in insurance policy premiums. Over the last couple of years, even more lawsuits have been brought there based on assignment of benefits disputes.” Senate Bill 62 would create a new section of law dealing with assignment of benefits. Among its provisions, the law would prohibit certain awards of attorney fees to certain persons or entities in suits deriving from property insurance policies. The law would also stipulate that an assignee meet appointed requirements before filing suit under a policy. The bill has now moved to committee and Hukill insists that she will be there to push it every step of the way.

Assignment editors — Sen. Tom Lee will speak to the Florida Lifecare Residents Association during its Region 7 membership meeting beginning 11:30 a.m. at Freedom Plaza, 1010 American Eagle Blvd. in Sun City Center.

Constitution Revision Commission committee meets — The Rules and Administration Committee of the Florida CRC will meet at 2 p.m., 401 Senate Office Building in the Capitol.


In Hialeah, money meant to feed poor kids pays for Las Vegas trip for city officials” via Francisco Alvarado of — Two years ago, Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez signed off on spending $7,621 from a $10,000 corporate grant for feeding poor children. Instead, the money went to pay for airline tickets and posh hotel accommodations for himself, his chief of staff, a police detective and four other city employees to attend a parks and recreation conference in Las Vegas. News of Mayor Hernandez’s curious city spending surfaced in documents filed in a recently closed joint public corruption investigation by Miami-Dade’s State Attorney’s Office and Commission on Ethics and Public Trust. Another strange finding: Hernandez never traveled to Las Vegas to attend the annual conference of the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) from Sept. 13-17, 2015, and his whereabouts for seven days remain a mystery. Hernandez was the investigation’s focus, but he won’t face criminal charges.

FSU trustees reward John Thrasher with $200,000 bonus, raise” via Byron Dobson of the Tallahassee Democrat — In addition, trustees voted to seek a one-year extension of Thrasher’s five-year contract signed in 2014. If approved by the Board of Governors and if Thrasher completes the six-year term, he’ll receive a $400,000 longevity bonus. The 7 percent raise, coupled with a 1.45 percent raise approved for all university faculty, will boost Thrasher’s annual compensation from the current $519,213 to approximately $563,000. “I’m appreciative of the board’s actions,” Thrasher said following the trustees meeting, which was postponed a week because the university was closed due Hurricane Irma.

Happening today — Florida’s Public Service Commission will start hearings on a Florida Power & Light proposal to shut down a Jacksonville coal-fired power plant St. Johns River Power Park owned jointly by FPL and the Jacksonville municipal utility JEA. FPL asked the PSC in May for approval to pay $90.4 million to the municipal utility, saying it will ultimately save customers an estimated $183 million by eliminating future costs. The meeting begins 1:30 p.m. at the Betty Easley Conference Center, 4075 Esplanade Way in Tallahassee.


Dave Aronberg: Fix Obamacare so unethical sober homes don’t exploit opioid crisis” via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post — Aronberg says in a Time magazine op-ed that unscrupulous drug treatment providers have manipulated Obamacare “to foster a cycle of relapse, rather than recovery” and cash in on the opioid crisis. Aronberg … says Congress can address the problem by incentivizing treatment programs that demonstrate successful outcomes. Drug relapses must be covered by insurers as an essential health benefit and cannot be excluded as a pre-existing condition under the Affordable Care Act and other federal laws, Aronberg writes. The requirement that children be allowed to stay on their parents’ insurance policies until age 26 also makes young addicts a target for unethical operators, Aronberg says. Obamacare already reduces Medicare payments to hospitals with high readmission rates; Aronberg suggests a similar model for drug rehab programs.

Is this the year Felix Garcia goes free?” via Florida Politics — A deaf man from Tampa who claims innocence for his role in a 1981 murder will be back up for parole TuesdayGarcia, who turns 56 next month, is serving a life sentence in the death of Joseph Tramontana Jr. His case will again go before the Florida Commission on Offender Review, which will consider whether to release him on parole. Florida abolished parole in the 1980s, but inmates whose crimes were committed before Oct. 1, 1983, are still eligible. Garcia has long claimed that his brother and sister framed him and they have since admitted to doing so, even while he remains behind bars. That’s despite a seven-hour alibi that places him 6 miles away from the crime scene with his girlfriend, their 6-month-old daughter, his girlfriend’s mother, and— — t least briefly— — ith a Domino’s Pizza delivery man. But Garcia, sitting in a Tampa courtroom in 1983, says he could not understand the proceedings, in part because he was not provided a sign-language interpreter. Still behind him are Pat Bliss, a retired paralegal who has been working to secure Felix’s freedom for years; Reggie Garcia (no relation), a clemency expert who’s been representing Garcia for free; and Sachs Media Group, providing media relations pro bono. Garcia last was up for parole in November 2014, when the commission turned him down but agreed to reconsider his case in another three years. That time is now. And the time for justice for Felix Garcia, inmate #482246, is long overdue.


Spotted at the Able Trust 2017 Ability Awards Ceremony & Disability Employment Awareness Month Launch at the Rosen Shingle Creek on Friday in Orlando was Sen. Jack Latvala, Rep. Sam Killebrew and Florida Department of Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, among other notables. At the celebration, The Able Trust recognized individuals, nonprofit agencies, employers and other organizations that have made outstanding contributions toward providing employment opportunities for Floridians with disabilities.

“Sprint hires Ballard Partners amid deal talks” via Florida Politics — Sprint Corp. has hired Brian Ballard’s lobbying firm, adding to Sprint’s stable of federal lobbyists as it nears a deal to merge with wireless rival T-Mobile US Inc, according to disclosures filed with the U.S. Congress this week. T-Mobile is close to agreeing to tentative terms on a deal with Sprint that would merge the third and fourth largest U.S. wireless carriers, people familiar with the matter said on Friday. The deal would face multiple regulatory hurdles, needing signoffs from antitrust regulators and the Federal Communications Commission. Ballard will lobby on “general government policies and regulations,” according to the disclosure, which did not include financial details.

New lobbying registrations:

Matt Bryan, David Daniel, Thomas Griffin, Jeff Hartley, Lisa Hurley, Jim Naff, Andrea Reilly, Smith Bryan & Myers: National Council of State Boards of Nursing

Robert Diffenderfer: Flying Cow Ranch HC, LLC

Nicole Fogarty: City of Fort Pierce

Gertrude Novicki: Florida Impact

— ALOE —

Florida State unranked in the AP poll” via Wayne McGhee of the Tallahassee Democrat – — For the first time since Nov. 26, 2011, Florida State is not ranked in the AP Poll. The Seminoles had been ranked for 89 straight weeks, which was the second longest streak in college football behind Alabama. The Crimson Tide have been ranked for 152 straight weeks. Three Florida schools are ranked with Miami at No. 14, South Florida at No. 18, and Florida at No. 21.

Memorial held for loved, record-setting, 69-year-old manatee” via The Associated Press — The South Florida Museum [held] a memorial for Snooty, the oldest manatee in captivity who died recently during an aquarium accident. The memorial [was] Sunday at the museum in Bradenton. The event was originally scheduled for Sept. 10 but was postponed due to Hurricane Irma … The museum was open for free as the staff and the community celebrates the 69-year-old Snooty, who was beloved in the Gulf Coast city.

Happy birthday to our wonderful friend, Christina Johnson. Also celebrating today are Travis MitchellTara Reid, and one of Pinellas’ best, Nancy Riley.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, 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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