Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

Sunburn for 5.25.17 – Remembrance

in Peter/Top Headlines by

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

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

A programming note: Sunburn is taking a holiday Friday, Memorial Day, and next Tuesday. Barring a call for a special session, Sunburn will return Wednesday.

By then, we will be in Paris. Accordingly, I wanted to share with Sunburn readers one story about how some Americans abroad pay tribute to the nation’s fallen soldiers.

In a small town just outside Paris, at the end of every May, a pair of red, white, and blue flags are raised honoring the connection between France and the United States.

Both flags – that of the United States and France – celebrate Memorial Day, a reminder to the citizens of Suresnes (population 50,000) of how America and Americans had stood for its enduring friend and ally, France.

Suresnes is home to the Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial –  7.5 acres of sacred space commemorating World War I and II. In the Cemetery are 1,541 graves of World War I service members, as well as two dozen graves of unknown World War II soldiers, including a pair of brothers and a pair of sisters.

Rows of marble headstones are seen in front of the chapel at Suresnes American Cemetery in France.

As the Cemetery overlooks the City of Lights, fallen soldiers serve as silent sentries over Paris.

Every year, the Suresnes Cemetery – not as well-known as its Normandy counterpart – joins the entire town in observing Memorial Day, a holiday not usually celebrated in France.

Organized by the American Battle Monuments Commission, the Cemetary, and the city of Suresnes welcome both American and French visitors, in a tribute that includes local and regional authorities and veterans.

All are there to give praise to the American military service members who afforded a full measure for liberty.

Prayers are followed by speeches celebrating the distinction of American service members, giving gratitude for their service and the lives paid to the French people.

While not an official holiday – French workers do not get that Monday off – many celebrants will visit Sunday to offer remembrance. Yet the juxtaposition of a Memorial Day ceremony, in a cemetery overlooking Paris, highlights the profound bond of blood between two old friends – France and the United States – joined by war and a desire for peace.

Much has been said in both the United States and France about the U.S. military. And while there may be much to disapprove about government policies, often those critics target the same men and women who serve honorably, those who put lives on the line to allow us all the freedom to criticize our government.

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— MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND IS BROUGHT TO YOU BY THESE LOBBYISTS AND ASSOCIATIONS —

Summertime is here — well, almost.

While Memorial Day commemorates the men and women who died while serving in the country’s armed forces, the holiday also marks the unofficial start to summer. And for many people, that means it’s time to start thinking about summer vacation.

A record number of Floridians are expected to travel this weekend, with more than 2 million expected to take to the road, sky and water for a weekend getaway.

Planning a last-minute getaway? Maybe AAA’s legislative lobbying team of Chris Dudley, Paul Mitchell, and Monte Stevens with Southern Strategy Group; and Jennifer Wilson with Adams and Reese can help you get a TripTik to help plan your trip and make sure your membership is up-to-date before you hit the road this weekend.

With millions of people flying into (and out of) the Sunshine State on a regular basis, Airlines for America, the trade organization representing the principle U.S. airlines, tapped Fred Baggett, Gus Corbella, Hayden Dempsey, Leslie Dughi and Fred Karlinsky with Greenberg Traurig to represent its interests before the Florida Legislature.

Once you get to your destination, you’ll need a place to stay. If you want some tips about where to stay, you might want to check with the Marriott International’s legislative lobby team of Slater Bayliss, Al Cardenas and Stephen Shiver with The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners; and Pete Dunbar, Martha Edenfield, Brittany Finkbeiner, and Cari Roth with Dean Mead.

If you’re looking for a place with a homier feel, a vacation rental might be more your style. Brian Bautista with Impact GR; and William Rubin, Amy Biscgelia, Christopher Finkbeiner, Matthew Sacco, and Heather Turnbull with The Rubin Group might be able help you find the perfect beach rental at Airbnb. Or you can check in with Jennifer Green, Melanie Bostick and Timothy Parson with Liberty Partners of Tallahassee, and Ron Pierce and Natalie King with RSA Consulting for some tips on how to find a good place using HomeAway.

Want to avoid an encounter with law enforcement while you’re out and about, but don’t want to turn down that cocktail? Aaron Brand, Cesar Fernandez, Kasra Moshkani, Brad Nail, and Stephanie Smith with Uber — or one of the members of the transportation technology company’s team of über lobbyists — might be able to walk you through how to call an Uber at the end of a long night.

Love the water? It’s probably too late to book a cruise for this holiday weekend, but with three of the top cruise ports in the world located in Florida, you’ll surely be able to find a ship setting sail soon.  The Cruise Lines International Association legislative lobby team of Brian Ballard, Bradley Burleson, Carol Bracy, David Browning, Nelson Diaz, and Matthew Forrest, and Sylvester Lukis with Ballard Partners; and Edgar Castro with Southern Strategy Group might be able to give you some suggestions about the best time to set sail.

Whatever you do this weekend, make sure to remember the real reason for Memorial Day. While the holiday commemorates those who have died in service to the country, it’s still fair to give a shout out to Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion? Bill Helmich with Helmich Consulting represents the Florida departments of the American Legion Auxiliary and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

— CAPITOL INSIGHT —

“The hangover: Rick Scott vetoes ‘whiskey & Wheaties’ bill” via Florida Politics Saying it could hurt job creation, Scott vetoed a contentious bill that would have removed the ‘wall of separation’ between hard liquor and other goods. Scott filed his veto letter of the measure (SB 106) on Wednesday night, his deadline to act on the bill. It would have removed the 82-year-old requirement, enacted in Florida after Prohibition, that hard liquor be sold in a separate store. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in the Sunshine State.

Independent liquor store owners and other opponents flooded the Governor’s Office with thousands of emails and petitions against the bill. Scott was careful to explain his position in his veto letter, balancing his concerns over jobs with the desire of big businesses that sorely wanted him to approve the legislation … “I have heard concerns as to how this bill could affect many small businesses across Florida,” he wrote. “I was a small business owner and many locally owned businesses have told me this bill will impact their families and their ability to create jobs.”

— “We applaud Governor Scott for saving hundreds of Florida small businesses that employ thousands of Floridians, while at the same time keeping safeguards in place for minors,” ABC Fine Wine & Spirits CEO and President Charles Bailes.

— “We have made tremendous progress in the last four years, and there is a clear momentum in Florida for this common-sense approach to liquor sales. While Governor Scott ultimately chose to veto Senate Bill 106, we look forward to working with state leaders in the future to finally put an end to this outdated, Prohibition-era law.” said Michael Williams, a spokesman for the group Floridians for Fair Business Practices, which supported the repeal.

Bill watch – Two more bills were delivered to the governor: HB 457 on “terrorism and terrorist activities,” creating statewide crimes for terrorist acts, and HB 865 for the Department of Transportation. Among other things, it mandates a study of the boundaries of the Department’s seven districts and how much it would cost to create another district for the Fort Myers area. He has until Thursday, June 8 to act on the latest bills. As of midday Wednesday, 72 bills awaited action by the governor.

Assignment editors: Gov. Scott will sign highlight job growth and sign legislation that will benefit Florida families and businesses at 10:30 a.m. at 3Cinteractive Corp., 750 Park of Commerce Blvd. Ste. 400 in Boca Raton.

Adam Putnam calls for special session on medical marijuana” via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times — Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Republican candidate for governor Adam Putnam wants state lawmakers to come back to Tallahassee in a special session to finish the work on medical marijuana that they started but didn’t finish earlier this month. “I think that it’s important for the elected officials to have done their job during the regular session,” he said Tuesday. “Since they didn’t, I think a special session is in order.” … “I think for a constitutional amendment’s implementation, it’s important for the elected officials to do it, not the bureaucrats at the Department of Health,” Putnam said.

Tweet, tweet:

“Amendment 1 lawsuit may rev up after Session” via Florida Politics – A lawsuit over the state’s environmental funding under a new constitutional amendment is expected to resume now that the annual Session is in lawmakers’ rear-view mirror. An array of environmental advocacy groups had filed suit over the Water and Land Legacy Amendment, also known as Amendment 1. The constitutional change, approved by voters in 2014, mandates state spending for land and water conservation … Advocates — including the Florida Wildlife Federation and Sierra Club — sued the state in 2015, saying lawmakers wrongly appropriated money for, among other things, “salaries and ordinary expenses of state agencies” tasked with executing the amendment’s mandate. But the legal action had been put on hold earlier this year by Circuit Judge Charles Dodson. He cited a state law that allows litigation to be suspended during a Legislative Session and up to 15 days after the conclusion of one.

Assignment editors – Miami-Dade public schools to host town halls on Legislature’s K-12 spending plan beginning 6 p.m. at Miami Senior High School, 2450 SW 1st Street in Miami, and at 7:30 p.m. at Miami Beach Senior High School, 2231 Prairie Avenue in Miami Beach.

New DEP secretary says there’s no conflict in political side businesses” via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – When Noah Valenstein, the newly appointed head of the Department of Environmental Protection, was applying in April to be the state’s top environmental regulator, he left one thing off the application: Companies he started and his wife runs have been paid nearly $1 million by politicians and lobbying groups, many of whom sought to influence the administration’s policy or advance the governor’s political fortunes. Before he joined the governor’s office, Valenstein was director of legislative affairs for the nonprofit Everglades Foundation from August 2011 until December 2012. But while Valenstein was holding each of these policy jobs, his wife was also operating two political consulting and polling companies that Valenstein started: Campaign Facts, LLC and Voter Opinions, LLC. Each catered exclusively to Republican candidates, advocacy groups and political committees. But the week before Valenstein started with the governor’s office … he named his wife, Jennifer Barnhill Valenstein, the registered agent for both firms and removed himself from the corporate paperwork. The companies continued to operate and, between June 2010 and April 2017, they received $942,117 in payments for political consulting, legal and polling work.

Actual press release: “FWC uncovers major alligator violations in long-term covert investigation” via Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

— FINEOUT EXPLAINS —

In the latest post on his blog “The Fine Print,” Associated Press reporter-extraordinaire Gary Fineout takes a look at some of issues still lingering in the capital city.

One of the issues Fineout tackles in his post — titled “Out of the House and into a Mansion? … and other Tallahassee bubble news” — is the question of the budget and bills we’re still watching. As Fineout points out, Memorial Day weekend is “sort of the end of session.”

“By this time school is about to end around the state, and the governor has usually acted on a new state budget,” writes Fineout. “But as we have seen this isn’t an ordinary year as Gov. Rick Scott and Republicans continue their all out public feud over spending and legislative priorities (or as Corcoran puts it – a fight for the soul of the party.)

Even though the new fiscal year starts July 1, Fineout notes the Legislature hasn’t sent the budget to the governor yet. Since Scott became governor, the longest the Legislature waited to deliver the budget was 2012 when it took 28 days. But as Fineout noted, that was a redistricting year so lawmakers went into session early and “actually delivered it in early April.”

The delay in getting the budget has people wondering whether Scott will veto it. He has “publicly thrown out the possibility he may veto the entire budget to register his displeasure.” And school district officials, as Fineout explains, have called on the governor to “veto the main appropriation that goes to public schools.”

Another layer of complexity, lawmakers could send Scott the budget, but hold back big bills, like a massive education bill that has drawn “fierce criticism and support across the education spectrum.”

“That’s important because that bill includes more than $400 million – including money for the contentious Schools of Hope charter school proposal and money for teacher bonuses,” wrote Fineout.

— JOE GRUTERS MAKES HIS PICK —

Gruters is backing Rep. Paul Renner to be  House Speaker in 2022-24. The Sarasota Republican said while he thinks everyone in the running for the position would do a great job, he felt Renner is the best person at this time. Gruters said he’s decided to make his position known because he didn’t want to give anyone false expectations or lead any candidates on. “Like all my votes in the Legislature, I am committing to the person who I think is the best to lead our class,” he said in a message.

Freshmen House Republicans are scheduled to meet on June 30 to select their class leader and, assuming the GOP maintains its control of the Florida House in the next decade, the likely House Speaker for the 2023 and 2024 legislative sessions.

… Gruters’ backing could be a sign of good things to come for Renner, a Palm Coast Republican first elected to the Florida House in a 2015 special election. Gruters, the longtime chairman of the Republican Party of Sarasota County, was an early supporter of Gov. Scott, a little known Republican candidate for Governor back in 2010. … He was also an early supporter of President Donald Trump.

— NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL —

Jeff Clemens endorses Andrew Gillum for Governor — The Gillum campaign announced Wednesday that Clemens, the Senate Democratic Leader-designate, has endorsed Gillum’s 2018 gubernatorial bid. In a statement, Clemens called Gillum a “bold leader whose vision will transform Florida.” “Andrew will prioritize the people we serve, not the privileged few who have had their way in Tallahassee for decades,” said Clemens. “Strong values like top-flight education for every child, an economy that works for workers as well as small business owners, and healthcare that protects the vulnerable by covering Floridians with pre-existing conditions.” Gillum is one of three Democrats currently vying to replace Gov. Scott in 2018. “It’s an honor to receive Leader Designate Jeff Clemens’ endorsement. He is a true champion for Florida’s working people, and as a former Mayor, he knows the critical importance of building strong communities everywhere in Florida,” said Gillum in a statement. “I look forward to working with him to build an economy that serves all Floridians – not the special interests.”

Raquel Regalado casts herself as Ros-Lehtinen’s political heir” via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald — As she mulled a run for Congress, Regalado was nagged by a question she said was posed to her again and again that might not usually be asked of male candidate. “The first question that I was asked was, ‘How are you going to be a mother and a congresswoman?'” Regalado said Tuesday at a women-centered Miami Young Republicans event where she kicked off her candidacy. “I think it’s sad that we’re in a place where people still ask those questions.” With that, Regalado, a former Miami-Dade County School Board member, portrayed herself as the political heir to Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the retiring GOP congresswoman Regalado is hoping to replace. Regalado didn’t explicitly draw the line between her nascent candidacy and Ros-Lehtinen’s trailblazing political career. But it was clear that, as the most prominent Republican woman who’s filed for the Democratic-leaning 27th district, Regalado plans to campaign as a politician cast in Ros-Lehtinen’s centrist mold.

Does Alex Diaz de la Portilla know he’s filed for the wrong race?” via Ann Howard of The Capitolist – On May 3, 2017, he filed to run in the Senate District 40 race, as part of the 2018 general election. But if he wants to run in the Senate District 40 special election, he’s in the wrong race. The Division of Elections says they’ve not received a request from Diaz de la Portilla to amend the paperwork. The division updates that information immediately. Multiple messages to Diaz de la Portilla and his campaign were not returned.

Unconventional Green Party candidate Shawn Mathis Gilliam files for HD 58 race” via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – As a member of an alternative, third party, Gilliam‘s worldview and ideology are not easily explained; it could make it hard to break through with voters in House District 58. A recent convert to the Green Party, he does not agree with their stance in support of medical marijuana, saying its effects are too negative for the body. While raised as a Christian, Gilliam converted to Islam “about three Ramadans ago.” He says in some respects he’s quite conservative. He’s pro-life and anti-same-sex marriage. “I would like to present a bill making the Islamic Nikah (marriage contract) a legally binding contract for marriage and any other religious marriage contract that is legally binding between the husband and wife if it pertains to religious affiliation,” he said in a follow-up email. He’s also anti-fluoride in the water, and in an email statement, said that he favors polygamy. ‘Islam recognizes Poligomy [sic], and I would like to get that legal in our state as well,” he writes.

Assignment editors: Sally Boynton Brown, the newly appointed president of the Florida Democratic Party, will speak at the Orange County Democratic Executive Committee’s annual “Grassroots Awards Celebration” at 6 p.m. at Celebration Gardens, 1871 Minnesota Ave. in Winter Park.

Image matters more than truth (but don’t say that!)” via Bill Cotterell of the Tallahassee Democrat – The new chief of the Florida Democratic Party has had to apologize for telling the truth. She shockingly failed to use sufficient euphemism when telling a euphemistically titled group of party activists that emotions, rather than issues, get voters to the polls. Sally Boynton Brown, addressing the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Broward County, knew she was treading into a sensitive area. Then she said, “I believe that we’re in a place where it is very hard to get voters excited about ‘issues,’ the type of voters who are not voting.” She did not say that poor people — whose lack of turnout last fall probably cost Hillary Clinton the presidency — are too dumb to understand issues, or that they vote on emotion alone. But that’s how some Democrats heard it. But what she said was right. A couple of things, before we get to whether issues matter to voters. First, Brown bears the new title “president” of the Florida Democratic Party, which sounds like something out of a Gilbert and Sullivan farce. Second, the fact that Democrats have a “progressive caucus” is a big reason that they keep losing elections. The Republicans don’t have a conservative caucus. They are a conservative caucus.

Miami Beach mayor’s race heats up with email attacks” via Joey Flechas of the Miami Herald – The two most prominent candidates hurled accusations and insults at each other in a series of emails … questioning each other’s ethics and records of public service. Dan Gelber, the former state legislator and federal prosecutor who is running for his first municipal government position, traded jabs with Michael Grieco, a criminal defense attorney and current commissioner. With the election still about six months away, it’s already getting ugly. An email blasted out Friday by Gelber’s campaign touted the results of a poll that found he was ahead of Grieco after the voter is provided biographical information on both candidates. Then the poll taker told the voter being questioned that Grieco may be tied to a political action committee that has raised money from city vendors and lobbyists — a controversial and, in some cases, illegal fundraising tactic under the Beach’s unusually strict campaign finance laws … Grieco fired back in his own email blast with the subject line “Dishonest Dan.” He rips the poll, accuses Gelber of lying and denies involvement with any PAC.

— STATEWIDE —

President’s budget proposal would end Amtrak services in Florida” via WCTV – The proposal cuts funding for Amtrak’s long-distance routes, which includes all three routes in Florida. It would also hinder ongoing efforts to restore service in Florida’s Panhandle and along the Gulf Coast. The president’s budget would eliminate all three routes in Florida, including: The Auto Train, which runs daily from Lorton, Virginia to Sanford; The Silver Meteor, which runs daily from Miami to Orlando to New York; The Silver Star, which runs daily from Miami to Tampa to Orlando to New York.

Zika hit Florida months before infections found, study says” via Mike Stobbe of The Associated Press – Zika began spreading in Florida mosquitoes about three months before infections showed up in the Miami area last summer, and the virus likely was carried in by travelers from the Caribbean, new research suggests. Mosquitoes there started picking up the virus from infected travelers as early as March last year, according to scientists who examined genetic information from samples from about 30 people with Zika as well as from mosquitoes. It wasn’t until July that Florida health officials said they had detected a local infection – the first in the U.S. mainland. Mosquitoes spread Zika by biting someone who’s infected, then biting another person. The bugs may have been causing infections in Miami as early as March, too, said researcher Kristian Andersen of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. But there were likely few cases before July, and it’s not clear any of them sought treatment, he said. Most people infected with Zika don’t get sick. It can cause a mild illness, with fever, rash and joint pain. But infection during pregnancy can lead to severe brain-related birth defects in babies.

Pam Bondi says charities she helps aren’t required to register with state” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – Bondi’s office this week responded to a lawsuit claiming she forces businesses to pony up millions of dollars to unregistered charities as part of settlements in consumer protection cases. Deputy Solicitor General Jonathan L. Williams, writing on Bondi’s behalf, said in part that some of the organizations criticized by Orlando entrepreneur John D. Smith aren’t “require(d) … to register (with the state) before receiving contributions from governmental entities.” Rather, they need to register as charities if they plan to “solicit,” or ask for, charitable contributions, Williams added. Circuit Judge Charles Dodson of Tallahassee ordered Bondi to show why he shouldn’t find for Smith, giving Bondi 40 days to respond. Williams’ response came on the 40th day.

Florida reaps $1.6 million from settlement with Johnson & Johnson” via Florida Politics – Florida was among 43 states that sued the company and its Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. subsidiary, alleging that they misled consumers into believing that they’d manufactured the medications in FDA-compliant facilities. In a consent decree … J&J agreed to pay $33 million to the states and to improve internal and marketing controls. The company pleaded guilty in 2015 to selling liquid medicines contaminated with metal, and agreed to pay $25 million to the federal government. According to the complaint, J&J’s McNeil-PPC Inc. subsidiary marketed over-the-counter drugs as complying with federal Good Manufacturing Practices between 2009 and 2011 when not all of its plants met those standards. That noncompliance was the equivalent of selling adulterated medicines, the document says. That document cites recalls in 2009 and 2010 of drugs including Tylenol, Infants and Children Tylenol, Benadryl, Rolaids, Motrin and Zyrtec.

“Craig Waters: Florida’s courts lead in use of social media” via Florida Politics – Long seen as the quietest branch of state government, Florida’s state courts have emerged in the last year as a national leader in social media use. In fact, we are leading the nation with 20 out of 26 court divisions using Twitter to reach the public right now. That’s an astounding number … The goal is simple. It’s not enough that courts do justice. They also must make sure people see justice being done.

Thanks to beer, over 160,000 have jobs in Florida” via Joe Ruble of WDBO – A new study shows America’s beer industry contributes more than $21.6 billion to Florida’s economy. It also supports 160,706 jobs in the state, according to the National Beer Wholesalers Association and the Beer Institute, a trade association for brewers. “America’s beer distributors are proud to provide nearly 135,000 jobs with solid wages and great benefits to employees at more than 3,000 facilities, located in every state and congressional district across the country. Independent beer distributors generate significant economic contributions in their communities through local business-to-business commerce, investments in local infrastructure and capital assets and tax revenue,’ said NBWA President & CEO Craig Purser. Brewers and beer importers directly employ 64,745 Americans.

— MOVEMENTS —

Hospice care providers honor former AHCA Secretary Liz Dudek – Florida hospice operators have bestowed their Outstanding Public Service Award upon Dudek, the former head of the state Agency for Health Care Administration. The Florida Hospice and Palliative Care Association cited her “decades of dedicated public serve and her commitment of assuring the highest quality of hospice care for Florida residents.” Dudek started at the state agency in 1992, ending with a six-year stint as secretary, before leaving to handle health care affairs for Greenberg Traurig. “In each regulatory role Liz held, she matched stride with Florida’s hospice providers and played a key role in contributing to what has long been the state with the most comprehensive hospice services offered in the nation,” Association president and CEO Paul Ledford said.

FHPCA’s President and CEO Paul Ledford, Greenberg Traurig’s Director of Healthcare Affairs Liz Dudek, Hope HealthCare Services President and CEO Samira K. Beckwith, Cornerstone Hospice and Palliative Care Hospice President and CEO Chuck Lee.

New and renewed lobby registrations:

Ivette Arango, Brett Bacot, Marnie George, Michael Harrell, Paul Hawkes, Jim Magill, Kimberly McGlynn, Timothy Stanfield, Mac Stipanovich, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Experian Information Solutions, Inc.

Barney Bishop, Barney Bishop Consulting: 100 Black Men of Tallahassee; Tech Care X-ray, LLC

Jorge Chamizo, Floridian Partners: Archer-De Moya JV

Jason Unger, GrayRobinson: City of Lakeland; Twin Creeks Development Associates, LLC, a Florida limited liability company

— ALOE — 

Florida’s Memorial Day travelers expected to top 2 million” via Dewayne Bevil of the Orlando Sentinel — Just more than 2 million Floridians are expected to travel during … Memorial Day weekend. So far in 2017, travel bookings with AAA in Florida are up 17 percent, compared to the same period last year, said Vicky Evans, assistant vice president of travel sales development for AAA — The Auto Club Group.

— “What to read before your Florida trip” via Concepcion De Leon of The New York Times

More people to travel this Memorial Day, says AAA” via Nancy Trejos of USA Today — More people will get away this Memorial Day weekend than have in the past 12 years, with 39.3 million U.S. travelers expected to take to the road, skies, rails and water, according to a forecast released Wednesday from auto club AAA. That represents an increase of 1 million more travelers — 2.7% — this year than last Memorial Day weekend. It represents the third consecutive year that U.S. travelers have been on the move for 50 miles or more over this holiday weekend. … Most of the travelers — 88.1% or 34.6 million — will drive to their destinations. That is an increase of 2.4% over last year despite higher gas prices. Most U.S. drivers will pay the highest Memorial Day gas prices since 2015. The national average price for a gallon of gas on Wednesday is $2.34, 11 cents more than last year.

Spotted: Photographer Phil Sears photos in a travel feature for The New York Times about Florida.

“Orlando top destination in the world for Memorial Day” via Terry Roen of Orlando Rising — The City Beautiful will receive the lion’s portion of the 39.3 million Americans who will travel 50 miles or more away from home during the holiday weekend. Orlando was the number one U.S. city in the top five, followed by Rome, London, Dublin and Vancouver. Seattle, Las Vegas and New York City ranked 6, 7 and 8, while Honolulu took the number 10 spot behind Paris. … The travel forecast is great news for Central Florida, where both Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World are launching new attractions during the Memorial Day Weekend. Universal’s new water park, Volcano Bay, opens May 25 followed by Animal Kingdom’s Pandora – The World of Avatar on May 27.

Happy birthday this  weekend to Reps Julio Gonzalez and Mel Ponder, Richard DeNapoli, Arron Gober, Mike Fischer, Marion Johnson, Alex Setzer, Clark Smith, Craig Waters, and our friend – a great Floridian – Christian Ziegler.

In the official trailer for Game of Thrones Season 7, the end is coming” via David Canfield of Slate – We finally have our first full look at Game of Thrones’ seventh season. The official trailer feels especially doom-and-gloomy (yes, even for this show), as the HBO epic approaches its long-awaited climax. Season 7 will consist of an abbreviated seven episodes, before the eighth and final installment premieres next year. It’s all about preparation for the final battle to come: Cersei (Lena Headey) gathering her army for the coming challengers, Littlefinger (Aiden Gillen) hitching his wagon to Sansa (Sophie Turner) as his “last hope,” and Melisandre (Carice Van Houten) surprisingly returning to action after having been banished. Then there’s Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), ready to assume the throne she has sought since the series’ beginning: “I was born to rule the Seven Kingdoms,” she asserts. “And I will.” As the trailer fades to black, we hear an ominous official declaration: “The Great War is here.”

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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