Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

Sunburn for 8.24.17 – John Morgan’s pot lawsuit puff up; Richard Corcoran’s win-win; The LG shutout; Robert Argusa’s new gig; Still thinking about Greg Evers

in Peter by

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

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

A pair of somber notes to begin the day…

— Gov. Scott has ordered flags at half-staff for two Kissimmee Police officers slain in the line of duty. Last Friday, Officer Matthew Baxter and Sgt. Richard “Sam” Howard of the Kissimmee Police Department were shot when a suspect fired at them during a scuffle while they were on patrol. Both succumbed from their injuries. The alleged shooter was later arrested at a bar. In their honor, Scott ordered flags at half-staff at the Osceola County Courthouse, the Kissimmee Police Department, and Kissimmee City Hall, from sunrise to sunset on Thursday. “May Matthew and Sam’s service and the service of our law enforcement community be a constant reminder of the sacrifice of those who serve to keep us safe,” Scott said.

— The family of former state Sen. Greg Evers, a Baker Republican, released the following statement on his death earlier this week: “We are devastated by the sudden and shocking loss of our beloved Greg. To many, he will be remembered as an advocate, representing Northwest Florida for 15 years and championing causes, such as criminal justice reform and higher pay for state employees. Greg was a tireless force for his constituents and ‘working folks’ across Florida. His personality was larger than life, with a signature wit and a toothy grin. Greg was also well known as a farmer and owner of Akers of Strawberries in Baker, Fla., spending countless hours in the field greeting customers with an infectious smile. Every customer was treated like family; and to Greg, they were. Above all, we will remember Greg as a father, grandfather, son, brother, uncle, cousin and friend. His presence always brightened a room. Words cannot describe the loss we feel, but we have been blessed at the outpouring of support from our friends and neighbors. We would like to thank the Florida Highway Patrol and local law enforcement for their compassion at this difficult time, as well as their constant service to our community – Greg was always their biggest fan.” Details on visitation and funeral arrangements are forthcoming, the statement said.

>>>Be sure to read The News Service of Florida’s Dara Kam‘s concise, poignant tribute to Evers here.

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— D.C. MATTERS —

Mike Pence in Florida: U.S. won’t stand by as Venezuela crumbles” via Adriana Gomez Licon of the Associated Press – Vice President Mike Pence addressed a sympathetic crowd of Venezuelans in South Florida on Wednesday and pledged the U.S. will use its economic and diplomatic power to push for free elections. Pence spoke at a church in the city of Doral, the exile enclave, to a crowd of about 300. They occasionally shouted “freedom, freedom” and cheered every time the vice president spoke of President Donald Trump‘s interest in Venezuela. Earlier in the day, Pence met with 15 Venezuelan exiles in South Florida who said more help is needed to restore democracy in the socialist regime. Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart joined Pence in listening to testimonies of established leaders of the Venezuelan diaspora and recently exiled politicians and judges.

Marco Rubio laments congressional failures, says white supremacists ‘threat’ to GOP” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO FloridaRubio laid out what he sees as congressional failures and where he thinks the Republican Party should go during a campaign-style speech before the Seminole County Republican Party. The Miami Republican says high profile legislative failures, including the failed repeal of Obamacare, are bad for the future of the party, which made some high-profile promises during the 2016 campaign cycle. “We are not a debate society. We are not a think tank,” he said of the GOP … “We have to put that in action. That is where, up to this point, the new Congress has failed.” He also hammered protesters who organized a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville that ended in violence and the death of one woman. He said white supremacist and Nazis that took part in those rallies are not part of the Republican Party. “I believe those people who are spouting that hatred pose potentially a direct existential threat to the conservative movement,” Rubio told the room full of party activists. “There is nothing conservative about those people” … “We don’t want them in our party. We don’t need them in our party, they are not the reason we won elections in 2016,” Rubio added.

“Little Marco” no more: U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio—along with Vice President Mike Pence, Gov. Rick Scott, and Congressman Mario Díaz-Balart—meets with members of the exile community and elected officials about the “continuing deterioration of democracy” in Venezuela.

Assignment editors – U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor will be part of an entrepreneurship roundtable discussion hosted by Tampa Bay WaVe to discuss the impact of federal issues such as tax reform, net neutrality, immigration and more. Event begins 10 a.m. at Tampa Bay WaVe, 500 E. Kennedy Blvd #300 in Tampa.

Who is that ‘Blacks for Trump’ guy standing behind the president at his Phoenix rally? A Florida man, of course” via Katie Mettler of The Washington Post – He holds signs that scream “BLACKS FOR TRUMP” and wears a T-shirt proclaiming with equal conviction that “TRUMP & Republicans Are Not Racist.” Almost always, he plugs his wild website, Gods2.com, across his chest. The presence of Michael the Black Man — variously known as Michael Symonette, Maurice Woodside and Mikael Israel — has inspired not only trending Twitter hashtags but a great deal of curiosity and Google searches. Internet sleuths find the man’s bizarre URL, an easily-accessible gateway to his strange and checkered past. The radical fringe activist from Miami once belonged to a violent black supremacist religious cult and he runs a handful of amateur, unintelligible conspiracy websites … Most curiously, in the 1990s, he was charged, then acquitted, with conspiracy to commit two murders. But Michael the Black Man loves President Donald Trump. And President Trump’s campaign apparently loves him right back. Wearing a black dinner coat over a white “BLACKS FOR TRUMP” T-shirt, Michael the Black Man posed with the local GOP’s chairman, apparently took a photo of first lady Melania Trump and recorded a selfie video that showed his arm slung over the shoulder of Florida Gov. Scott. “I saw you on TV with Trump,” Scott can be heard telling Michael the Black Man. “You did a good job.”

— STATEWIDE —

“Smoke this: John Morgan adds plaintiffs to marijuana lawsuit” via Florida Politics – Medical marijuana advocate John Morgan has added three more plaintiffs to his lawsuit against the state, filed after lawmakers refused to allow marijuana to be smoked, according to court filings accessed Wednesday. Diana Dodson of Levy County, a cancer patient; Catherine Jordan of Manatee County, who has Lou Gehrig’s disease; and Roberto Pickering of Leon County, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder; all qualify to use medicinal cannabis under a constitutional amendment passed last year. Their names were added to the action this week. Also, Circuit Judge Karen Gievers allowed Morgan an extra 30 days to file an amended complaint in the case, first lodged in July by People United for Medical Marijuana, the political committee behind the amendment. The suit seeks a declaratory judgment that the smoking ban runs counter to the amendment’s language … “The people of Florida knew exactly what they were voting on,” Morgan told reporters after he filed the suit in Tallahassee in July. “(T)he vast majority, if not 100 percent, knew that smoke was included.”

“More trouble with ‘pre-reveal’ appeal” via Florida Politics – The 1st District Court of Appeal, in a docketing statement Tuesday, called out the company appealing a judge’s order that its entertainment devices known as “pre-reveal” games are in fact illegal slot machines. The court said Gator Coin II—the Jacksonville company that distributes the games—had “failed to timely file a completed electronic docketing statement as required by the Court.” Failure to do so in 10 days “may result in the imposition of sanctions, including dismissal of the appeal without further opportunity to be heard.” That was after the court chastised the company because its previous filings weren’t in order. The attorney for the company, Bryan E. DeMaggio, had not responded to the latest advisory as of midday Wednesday, online court records show.

— CAPITOL INSIGHT — 

Rick Scott says Capitol monument is issue for lawmakers” via Jim Turner of the News Service of FloridaScott says proposals to remove a Confederate soldier monument from the Capitol grounds should be handled through the Legislature, where the controversial issue could be discussed early next year. Scott held to his stance that government agencies across the state that have Confederate markers on their property should make the final decisions about possible removal. And in the case of the monument outside the Old Capitol, Florida lawmakers will start holding a series of pre-session committee meetings Sept. 12. “We’ve got a regular session that starts in January, so that’s just a few months away,” Scott told reporters after an Enterprise Florida board meeting in Fort Lauderdale. As of early Wednesday, no bills had been proposed to address the Confederate soldier memorial that has stood outside the Old Capitol since 1882.

— “Confederate monuments bedevil state leaders” via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel

Richard Corcoran calls for end of public campaign financing, poking rivals” via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel – “This is a gross waste of taxpayer money and is nothing more than welfare for politicians. All it does is protect the insider political class,” said Corcoran, who is considering a run for governor but hasn’t officially declared his candidacy. “You really have to be clueless or just plain selfish to accept money from our state coffers that could go to our schoolchildren, first responders, or be put back in the pockets of our taxpayers. This proposal is simply about doing the right thing.” Corcoran wrote a letter to the Constitutional Revision Commission, a panel which convenes every 20 years to draft proposed ballot measures to put before voters to rewrite the state constitution, calling for the repeal of public campaign financing. If the commission approves, voters could remove the law in 2018. Candidates for governor can qualify for public financing once they raise $150,000. For Cabinet candidates, it’s $100,000. Candidates can receive matching state funds for every individual donation they receive after Sept. 1, up to $250.

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“Case closed: Judge agrees to drop Matthew Damsky suit” via Florida Politics – A federal judge on Wednesday agreed with a request by an ex-aide to former state Sen. Maria Sachs to end his sexual harassment case against the Florida Senate. Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle granted Matthew Damsky’s motion to dismiss, including a provision that each side pay for its own attorneys’ fees and costs. The Senate, which spent nearly $10,000 to defend the case, was named as the defendant because it was Damsky’s official employer. Damsky claimed that Sachs “exposed (him) to unwelcome sexual conduct” by frequently undressing in front of him. Sachs has called the lawsuit “bogus,” saying it was his attempt to short circuit a criminal investigation. She said Damsky admitted to charging nearly $50,000 in plane tickets on her credit card without her knowledge, among other things.

Lawmaker ties insurance changes with lower rates” via Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida – The chairwoman of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee said customers of Citizens Property Insurance should receive rate reductions as the state-backed insurer takes steps to curb claims for water-damage repairs. Sen. Anitere Flores said during a hearing on proposed Citizens rate increases that South Florida policyholders are frustrated and have “lost trust” in the insurer … the company manages to find a new “parade of horribles” to blame for rate increases — currently the issue is a practice known as assignment of benefits — before any relief can be provided to homeowners. “People just feel that they can’t get ahead,” said Flores, who opposes Citizens’ proposed rate increases now before the state Office of Insurance Regulation. Citizens has proposed hiking premiums on homeowners an average of 6.7 percent statewide, pointing to fraud and abuse in water-damage claims primarily in Southeast Florida. The issue with water-damage claims is linked to assignment of benefits.

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— NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL —

Does Adam Putnam still support Confederates in Veterans’ Hall of Fame?” via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – Two years ago, Putnam was the lone vote in the four-member Cabinet to support adding three members of the Confederacy into the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame, but he’s not saying now if he would vote that way again. Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and CFO Jeff Atwater all opposed placing former governor Edward Perry; Florida’s first adjutant general, David Lang; and Samuel Pasco, a Harvard-educated prisoner of war and U.S. senator for whom Pasco County is named; to be included in the state’s Hall of Fame. Speaking to reporters in Temple Terrace after holding a campaign event for governor, Putnam said that Americans should be more focused on calling out the hate and evil that manifested itself in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month, and less concerned about “sanitizing history.” … “It’s also important that we apply the lessons of history today and the future,” he said, adding, “if you don’t know your history, you’re going to repeat the mistakes of the past. I think it’s important that people know the horrors of the Holocaust; I think it’s important that people know the horrors of what happened on 9/11. It’s important that we learn what happens to the world, when evil is allowed to prevail.”

Assignment editors – Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum will meet with college Democrats as part of his “Back-To-School Tour.” At 3 p.m., the Tallahassee Mayor will be at Stetson University’s Rinker auditorium, 345 N. Woodland Blvd. in Deland. Then, at 6:30 p.m., Gillum will be at the University of Central Florida Student Union, EC Live Oak-B, 12715 Pegasus Dr. in Orlando.

When will the shutout streak end for Florida lieutenant governors?” via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post – Since Florida re-established the office of lieutenant governor in 1969, the job has been a political dead end. Eight men and two women have held the job before current Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera. None has gone on to win another elected office. And the streak probably won’t be broken soon. Lopez-Cantera will not run next year to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen or for any other office in 2018. Florida had a lieutenant governor from 1865 to 1889, when a constitution change abolished the office. Nearly a century later, a 1968 constitution change re-established the office.

Ashley Moody promises no other political aspirations than becoming AG” via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – She spoke during a nine-minute appearance before the Tampa Bay Young Republicans. “A judge can only do and say certain things, and rightfully so, we want our judges to stay within the confines of the power that we have given them, and so judges are limited by deciding serious issues, but only on a case by case basis,” Moody said at the meeting in the courtyard of Ybor City’s First Chance Last Chance Bar. Moody then told the Young Republicans that she has no greater political aspirations than the job she is now campaigning for: “This is not something that I want to do, to baby-sit a Cabinet post, in order to take the next step.”

Will Florida have a $3 million senator? The fundraising arms race is on for SD 40 cash” via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – Republican Rep. Jose Felix Diaz raised more than $382,000 from July 21 through Aug. 18 and Democrat Annette Taddeo raised more than $152,000, according to reports filed with the Florida Division of Elections. Diaz’s campaign raised $242,000 in contributions while his political committee, Rebuild Florida, attracted large checks from utilities and insurers to bring him another $140,000 for the period. His campaign and committee have about $345,000 in total cash on hand as he heads into the Sept. 26 special election. Taddeo’s campaign raised $106,552 for the period that followed the July 25 primary. She benefited primarily from a boost of $30,000 from Florida Democratic Party and another $31,897 from the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. She raised another $58,400 for her political committee, Fight Back Florida, bringing her cash on hand total for the campaign and committee to about $101,000. Sen. Bill Galvano who is leading Senate Republicans’ campaign to retain the seat, expects to spend “at least $3 million” toward the effort. “It’s a very expensive market,” he said.

Dorothy Hukill draws Democratic challenger” via the News Service of Florida – Democrat Melissa Martin opened a campaign account to run against Hukill next year in Senate District 14, which includes parts of Brevard and Volusia counties … Hukill had raised $53,000 for her re-election bid as of July 31, finance reports show. Also this week, Pensacola Democrat Vikki Garrett opened a campaign account to try to succeed term-limited Republican Rep. Clay Ingram next year in Escambia County’s House District 1. Cantonment Republican Rebecca Bydlak also opened an account Aug. 1 for the race.

Democrat Paulette Armstead to try again for HD 92” via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – Citing a history as a police officer and professor of criminal justice, Armstead is running on a platform based on criminal justice reform. She previously worked as an environmental attorney as well, according to her campaign site. Armstead previously challenged incumbent Rep. Patricia Hawkins-Williams in 2016.

— OPINION — 

Amy Mercado: The never-ending battle against higher premiums” via Florida Politics – If there is any doubt about the dire need for affordable health care coverage, 45 of 50 states have fewer uninsured people than Florida. We simply can’t afford any premium increases. That’s why it’s also important to once again delay the looming Health Insurance Tax. This Health Insurance Tax, also known as the “HIT tax,” was previously delayed by Congress for the current year. The delay received bipartisan support, with 400 members of Congress voting in favor of the delay … The Health Insurance Tax is estimated to increase premiums on certain policies by about 3 percent in January 2018. Seniors enrolled in Medicare Advantage and small-business owners, their employees and their families will also have to pay more out of pocket. As a working mom, businesswoman and former health care worker, I know that every penny counts. When you can’t afford coverage, you can’t afford to get sick. When I go back to Tallahassee for committee weeks and the 2018 Legislative Session, I promise to continue fighting for better access to the health care coverage Floridians deserve. Floridians can’t afford any premium increases. We need more affordable coverage, not less.

— MOVEMENTS —

EPA taps business lobbyist to lead Southeast region” via Jason Dearen of The Associated Press – Former Alabama Department of Environmental Management director Trey Glenn will oversee EPA’s work in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. Alabama state records show that Glenn is currently working as a registered lobbyist for the Business Council of Alabama, which promotes business interests in the state, and as an environmental policy consultant. Before that, Glenn worked for nearly five years as director of Alabama’s environment department, where his tenure ended abruptly. The Alabama Ethics Commission in 2007 voted unanimously that Glenn violated ethics rules in taking gifts from Alabama Power Co., which his agency regulated. He was also investigated for a personal family trip to Disney World that was paid for by a public relations firm that represented a client doing business with his agency. Glenn was eventually cleared of criminal wrongdoing in the case, but resigned in 2009 after the ethics investigations.

Kim Rivers, Adam Corey no longer serve leadership roles on the Tallahassee Downtown Improvement Authority” via TaMaryn Waters of the Tallahassee Democrat – Two business owners named in an FBI investigation no longer hold leadership roles on the Tallahassee Downtown Improvement Authority. Kim Rivers, a principal of InkBridge and CEO of Trulieve, a marijuana dispensary franchise based in Tallahassee, served as the immediate past chairwoman of the authority’s board of directors. Lobbyist and restaurateur Adam Corey, owner of the city-backed Edison restaurant in Cascades Park, served as vice chairman. New leadership is in place following the board’s Aug. 14 meeting when Chris Dudley, lobbyist and partner of Southern Strategy Group, was elected chairman. Claudia Davant, another notable lobbyist and owner of Adam St. Associates in downtown Tallahassee, was elected vice chairwoman.

Robert Agrusa named Apopka Chamber chief” via Scott Powers of Orlando Rising – A Florida native and leading advocate for years for the Central Florida business community, Agrusa comes to the Apopka chamber from BusinessForce, the political arm of the Orlando Economic Partnership, where he had served as executive director for the past two years. He takes the Apopka chamber helm Sept. 25. “I am very excited and humbled by this opportunity” Agrusa stated in a news release. “Apopka is a wonderful place for business, and I look forward to sharing my skills and vision with the Board of Directors and membership to meet the expanding business needs of this rapidly growing community.”

— ALOE —

Netflix loves to pick hits for each subscriber – but how?” via Frazier Moore of The Associated Press – Much of the attention showered on this streaming-video giant in recent years has dwelled on its insatiable appetite for original content and for creators to produce it. But this service’s multibillion-dollar annual outlay for new programming necessitates another challenge: helping each program get discovered by the subscribers most likely to enjoy it. Four out of five of the shows watched on Netflix were found by its subscribers thanks to recommendations offered them, Netflix says. Those suggested new favorites are much more customized for each subscriber than might be evident from a glance at the Netflix home page. Most every row of program suggestions (even generic-seeming categories like “Comedies” and “Dramas”) is tailored for each subscriber… And how the rows are arranged vertically on the home page is a function of the subscriber’s demonstrated genre preferences … a legion of Netflix “taggers” screens every program, tagging different elements that compose it. This data is crunched and continuously refined by the company’s secret-sauce algorithm. And then viewer habits gathered by Netflix from its 100 million accounts worldwide add more grist to the mill.

Self-driving cars may get boost from $90 million test track being built near Orlando” via Mary Shanklin of the Orlando Sentinel – Florida’s best hope to develop self-driving vehicles might lie with an iconic-looking campus and a $90 million test track being built 40 miles southwest of Orlando. The futuristic concept of driverless cars is fast emerging at Florida Polytechnic University … With budding plans for ways to use the vehicles in several Florida cities, the state is just getting its foot into the competitive niche even as Detroit and other markets roll out prototypes and shuttles. Officials hope the university’s partnership with MIT and the 400-acre SunTrax test track being built nearby will set their efforts apart. “The biggest advantage we have is our SunTrax,” said Florida Polytechnic Junior Saivamsi Hanamanthu. “That will give us a large advantage compared to other universities.”

What you need to know about Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8” via Ina Fried of Axios – Despite the fiasco with the Note 7 and subsequent recalls, Samsung has bounced back with the well regarded Galaxy S8. Barring any new issues, Samsung seems to have emerged relatively unscathed. The big question is how the Note 8 will stack up against the next iPhone. Here are some other things to know: It’s initially running the Nougat version of Android, not the just-released Oreo. It will be available for pre-order, but won’t hit stores until Sept. 15. Samsung is giving early buyers (those who purchase before Sept. 24) a free Gear 360 camera or an essentials kit with a 128GB SD card and wireless charging equipment. The company took additional safety measures, including its own procedures and added testing with Underwriters Laboratory (UL).

Happy birthday to state Sen. Rob Bradley, state Rep. Dave Kerner, Dan Bruno, Fred Grimm, Troy Kinsey, Andrea Reilly of Smith Bryan and Myers.

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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