Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 2.7.22

Good Monday morning.

Susie Wiles is now co-chair of the global public strategy firm Mercury.

The veteran GOP strategist is best known for masterminding former President Donald Trump’s two electoral wins in the Sunshine State. She also managed now-U.S. Sen. Rick Scott’s first gubernatorial campaign when he a virtual unknown in state politics.

She was also key in helping Ron DeSantis overcome deficits in polling and momentum in his successful 2018 campaign for Governor.

In addition to her campaign work, Wiles has lobbied on behalf of companies ranging from local businesses to multinational corporations at the state and federal levels.

Big get: Susie Wiles takes her considerable talents to Mercury.

“I am excited to join the bipartisan team of experts and established public strategists at Mercury,” Wiles said. “I look forward to working hard to provide successful outcomes on behalf of our world-class roster of clients in both Florida and D.C.”

In her new role, Wiles will serve as co-chair of the firm’s Florida and Washington offices. Wiles will also launch Public Strategy Advisors, a new company focused on electing Republicans nationwide.

“Susie is a veteran campaign strategist with an expert ability to put her finger on the pulse of any issue and effectively use her insight and perception to yield winning results,” said Ashley Walker, a partner at Mercury. “We are thrilled for Susie to join the Mercury family, as she will undoubtedly be an invaluable leader to those working alongside her at the firm and will elevate the work we deliver to our clients.”

Mercury CEO Kieran Mahoney added, “Susie, and her ability to successfully navigate any political landscape, is an extraordinary addition to our team.”

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@AnnieGrayerCNN: Former Chief of Staff to Mike Pence, Marc Short, who was at the Capitol on Jan. 6: “from my front-row seat, I did not see a lot of legitimate political discourse.”

@GovRonDeSantis: Floridians should not have their data used by Big Tech without providing affirmative consent, and I urge the Legislature to protect the data privacy of all Floridians.

@JeanetteNunez: The same @gofundme that supported Antifa, BLM, and CHAZ/CHOP just shut down fundraisers for the Canadian truckers protesting against vaccine mandate. Florida stands with the Freedom Convoy.

@MattRinaldiTX: What @gofundme is doing now, your bank will be doing in 5 years.

@SatinRussell: My nephew insists on wearing his mask, no matter where he is — even when we assure him that the family is safe. He’s four and can hardly remember a time when he didn’t mask around people he doesn’t live with.

@AnnaforFlorida: Not only is book banning just a dangerous practice, but there is so much irony among those who make fun of “cancel culture” as they try to cancel things

Tweet, tweet:

@BSFarrington: I was this close to giving up Twitter, and a Republican legislator called me and said, “You may not know it, but your message of kindness makes a difference.” I decided then I wouldn’t be silenced by hate. I’ll keep speaking about love and kindness, even if it subjects me to hate.

@MDixon55: People who will wait in those quarter-mile long @Starbucks lines that spill out into the street are wild, man.

— DAYS UNTIL —

Super Bowl LVI — 6; Will Smith‘s ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ reboot premieres — 6; Discover Boating Miami International Boat Show begins — 9; season four of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ begins — 9; Spring Training report dates begin — 10; Synapse Florida tech summit begins — 10; ‘The Walking Dead’ final season part two begins — 13; Daytona 500 — 13; Special Election for Jacksonville City Council At-Large Group 3 — 16; Suits For Session — 16; CPAC begins — 17; St. Pete Grand Prix — 18; Joe Biden to give the State of the Union address — 22; ‘The Batman’ premieres — 25; Miami Film Festival begins — 25; the 2022 Players begins — 29; Sarasota County votes to renew the special 1-mill property tax for the school district — 29; the third season of ‘Atlanta’ begins — 44; season two of ‘Bridgerton’ begins — 46; The Oscars — 48; Macbeth with Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga begin performances on Broadway — 50; Grammys rescheduled in Las Vegas — 55; Magic Johnson’s Apple TV+ docuseries ‘They Call Me Magic’ begins — 74; ‘The Godfather’ TV series ‘The Offer’ premieres — 80; federal student loan payments will resume — 83; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 88; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ premieres — 109; ‘Platinum Jubilee’ for Queen Elizabeth II — 115; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 152; San Diego Comic-Con 2022 — 165; Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner novel ‘Heat 2’ publishes — 183; ‘The Lord of the Rings’ premieres on Amazon Prime — 207; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 242; ‘Black Panther 2’ premieres — 277; ‘The Flash’ premieres — 280; ‘Avatar 2′ premieres — 312; ‘Captain Marvel 2′ premieres — 375; ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ premieres — 410; ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ premieres — 536; ‘Dune: Part Two’ premieres — 620; Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games — 900.

—TOP STORY —

Great schism — The Republican National Committee’s decision to censure U.S. Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger and denounce the House investigation into Jan. 6 has spawned an internecine war within the GOP, with trad conservatives blasting the decision and Trumpists sticking to the line that the Capitol attack was merely a protest, not a riot or an insurrection.

United front? — Much of the controversy stems from the statement going out on RNC letterhead. Law-and-order Republicans say it reads a tacit endorsement of the Jan. 6 rioters, which are described as “ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.”

Half and half — Still, some top GOP officials are playing both sides of the issue. Count Sen. Joe Gruters among them. The Republican Party of Florida Chair co-sponsored the resolution and gave it a yay vote in absentia but insists he believes all who broke the law should be held accountable.

Rioters or patriots? Joe Gruters walks a thin line in the debate among Republicans over Jan. 6.

Care to explain? — “I was in Session in Tallahassee so did not vote in person but gave my proxy to Florida (National Committeewoman) Kathleen King. Prior to the meeting, I discussed with both the Florida NCW and (National Committeeman Peter Feaman), and we all signed on as co-sponsors to the resolution.”

Muddy waters — Florida Politics asked him point-blank whether he thought the events of Jan. 6 were “legitimate political discourse.” His answer: “I understand why people were so upset, but there is no justification for breaking the law, especially those who damage property or attack law enforcement officers. Justice should prevail, and people that committed these acts should be held accountable. Many more people came to D.C. to peacefully protest what they thought was an injustice. Those ordinary citizens should not be harassed or targeted in any way. “

Broken record — When asked to clarify why he co-sponsored the resolution, he stuck to the script: “There is no justification for breaking the law, especially those who damage property or attack law enforcement officers. Justice should prevail, and people that committed these acts should be held accountable. Many people came to D.C. to peacefully protest what they thought was an injustice. Those ordinary citizens should not be harassed or targeted in any way.”

— DATELINE TALLY —

>>>Gov. Ron DeSantis will hold a press conference at 10:00 a.m. at the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora. LG Jeanette Nunez and AG Ashley Moody will also be in attendance.

House budgets $105.3 billion in spending plan” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The Florida House unveiled its proposed spending plan for the coming fiscal year on Friday, clocking in at $105.3 billion. While the number is about $4 billion larger than what the state is spending in the current fiscal year, the amount falls shy of the $108.6 billion budget plan the Senate published earlier Friday. Together, both are north of DeSantis‘ $99.7 billion proposal, but DeSantis’ total dollar amount is near the House’s top figure when considering the federal spending that helped balloon the Legislature’s budget beyond past marks. In a statement, House Speaker Chris Sprowls said the House’s budget proposal builds on last year’s plan by investing state dollars in a “strategic, intentional way.”

Senate unveils $108.6 billion budget with pay hikes for state workers” via Gray Rohrer of Florida Politics — Low-paid state workers would see raises and K-12 schools would get a funding boost, as would nearly every portion of the state budget under a spending plan released Friday by the Senate. The $108.6 billion proposal would be a more than $7 billion increase on the current year’s budget, thanks largely to an infusion of federal stimulus dollars given to states to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Senate President Wilton Simpson has pushed to increase the pay for low-paid state workers by raising the minimum wage to $15. A constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2020 will push the minimum wage for all workers to $15 by 2026, but Simpson says the early increase is needed to recruit and retain workers in needed areas.

Ka-Ching: Both Chris Sprowls and Wilton Simpson release blockbuster budget proposals.

Senate, House snub Ron DeSantis’ push to increase cancer research to $100 million” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — There are plenty of differences between the proposed $47 billion-plus health care spending proposals the Senate and House rolled out this week. But the chambers are in lockstep in deciding not to include an additional $37 million to increase cancer research and treatment, as advocated by DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis. The Governor and the First Lady have already noticed the snub, both of whom took to social media after the House released its proposed spending plan late Thursday afternoon. “Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in Florida. I have recommended to the Legislature 0 million for cancer research so we can fight this terrible disease,” DeSantis said in a Twitter post.

Senate pitches cash for new state planes” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — The Senate unveiled plans this week to add two new planes to the state’s aviation fleet. The buy would cost taxpayers $26.5 million and fill a void left by former Republican Gov. Scott. Scott in 2011 sold off two state planes as part of a campaign promise to limit abuses by government officials. A multimillionaire, he instead traveled aboard his private jet. While the sale made good on the campaign promise, it left future Governors and cabinet members without wings. Sen. Ben Albritton said the buy is a move to replenish the fleet. He serves as chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment and General Government.

Is DeSantis getting what he wants in Florida’s early budget proposals?” via Kirby Wilson and Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times — DeSantis and top Republican leaders in the House and Senate have put their cards on the table. This week, legislators unveiled the first round of proposed House and Senate budgets. The Governor included nearly $310 million to hospitals that serve the most Medicaid patients. Neither the House nor the Senate included that money in their initial health care budgets this week. One of DeSantis’ recent talking points has been his proposal to cut the gas tax for several months this year. This idea isn’t included in the Senate’s budget.

MeanwhileSeminole Tribe says its gaming rights, Florida’s revenue payments are at risk again” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — The Seminole Tribe of Florida has charged in a court filing that if a judge breathes new life into a North Florida casino initiative, and it gets on the ballot and wins approval, that could infringe on the Tribe’s exclusive rights. If that happens, the Tribe cautioned, then the Seminoles’ hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue sharing payments to Florida, only recently resumed after a three-year dispute, could be disrupted again. Based on those arguments, Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper accepted the Tribe and its political committee, Standing Up For Florida, as interveners in a lawsuit filed earlier this week by Florida Voters In Charge, which is trying to resurrect its North Florida casino campaign.—TALLY 2 —

‘A recipe for disaster’? Florida GOP wants to add new requirements to vote by mail” via Skyler Swisher of the Orlando Sentinel — A GOP-led voting overhaul would add new requirements for casting a mail ballot that one Central Florida election supervisor is warning could be a “recipe for disaster.” Starting in 2024, voters would have to provide the last four digits of their driver’s license or state ID number on their ballot. If they don’t have a state ID, the last four digits of their Social Security number could be submitted. Ballots won’t be counted if those identifying digits aren’t provided or don’t match the numbers on file with the elections office. Election supervisors must contact people whose ballots aren’t correctly completed and allow them to fix problems. The deadline to complete that process, known in political jargon as “curing” a ballot, is two days after Election Day.

A rough patch: Florida is considering adding more speed bumps in the vote-by-mail process.

Nursing homes struggle with staffing; Legislature considers loosening standard of care” via Hannah Critchfield and Kirby Wilson of Florida Politics — A bill to loosen staffing standards at Florida nursing homes was initially drafted with the help of one of the state’s most powerful long-term care lobbying interests. Under the measure, Senate Bill 804, nursing homes that fail to meet state-mandated staff requirements would no longer be barred from admitting new residents. It would also broaden which kinds of employees can be counted in these mandatory staffing minimums intended to keep residents safe.

—“Bill changing Florida nursing home standards was written by the industry, emails show” via Hannah Critchfield and Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times

Senate property insurance package takes aim at Carlos Beruff — A Senate property insurance bill (SB 1728) would change the qualifications to serve on the board of state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp., potentially making current Chair Beruff ineligible for reappointment. Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida reported that the language would require board members to have at least 10 years of experience in the insurance industry. The current requirements require members to have insurance experience, but there is no explicit definition for how much or what kind of experience. The change comes after Beruff proposed selling policies directly to consumers to avoid paying commissions to insurance agents.

House virtual school plan riles choice advocates — The House K-12 budget proposal would block school districts from contracting with Florida Virtual School for online education and prevent virtual charter schools from enrolling out-of-county students. As reported by Andrew Atterbury of POLITICO Florida, opponents of the plan say it is counteractive to school choice. About half of Florida’s 103,000 online K-12 students are currently enrolled in FLVS, and about a fifth are enrolled in FLVS franchises, where district teachers assist students in working through FLVS curricula. About 40 districts operate FLVS franchises and school choice advocates say it is a good option for parents who want their children to have access to clubs and counseling that are not available with a purely online school.

Senate passes bills on addiction, child hearing loss” via Brendan Farrington of The Associated Press — While Democratic and Republican lawmakers have had a contentious debate on issues like abortion and immigration this year, the two sides came together Thursday to pass 20 bills quickly, almost all unanimously. The legislation included approving new state legislative districts, authorizing schools to stock and use medicines to counteract an opioid overdose and requiring insurance companies to provide hearing aid coverage for children. Democrats and Republicans praised a bill that would expand the use of overdose-reversing drugs, including allowing schools to stock naloxone, which could be administered by staff trained to recognize an opioid overdose.

Jason Shoaf backs bill to end concealed weapons licensure” via David Adlerstein of The Apalachicola Times — A bill in the Florida House that would do away with Florida’s concealed weapons permitting process has the strong support of State Rep. Shoaf, and while a companion bill in the Florida Senate has yet to be filed, State Sen. Loranne Ausley does not share his enthusiasm. House Bill 103, a measure filed as it has in years past by Rep. Anthony Sabatini, would remove laws that require a concealed-weapons permit in Florida. Since the end product has yet to be marked up in committee, it is as yet unclear the extent to which the bill would allow the public display of firearms, with no restrictions, and Shoaf has some reservations about unfettered open carry.

Sizzling housing market in Florida hurts many, but help slow to come from Legislature” via John Kennedy of the Tallahassee Democrat — Florida’s white-hot housing market is setting new pricing records almost daily, but thousands of homeowners and renters are being scorched, unable to find anything they can afford. Now, talk of the unfolding crisis is coursing through the Florida Legislature, with calls for lawmakers to do something. “The bottom line is the American dream is slipping away for more and more people every day,” Sen. Gary Farmer said. A lack of apartment supply, less land available for new construction, and pandemic-driven changes like the arrival of remote workers from even costlier states have powered up the price of available homes and rentals.

Nightmare: Gary Farmer says the American dream is slipping away. Will help come from the Legislature?

Florida Chamber political tool identifies swing seats on latest legislative maps” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — The Florida Chamber of Commerce unveiled its exclusive 2022 Florida Partisan Performance Index map during a special webcast to its members Friday. Applying the tools to Florida’s just-approved redrawn legislative maps, Chamber analysts said there are few swing seats but plenty of drama in store this year. The Chamber tool studies precinct-level data on voter performance based on the past five years. That includes how voters in the district cast ballots in the last two presidential elections and the 2018 gubernatorial race. In this case, the new district came out as R+1, closer, actually, and it’s trended more purple over time. Overall, the new maps result in fewer swing districts where both Democrats and Republicans can play. Based on Chamber election analysis, the new House map has 15 true swing districts; the Senate map (S 8058) has just three.

—MORE TALLY —

Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo is unfit to serve” via Lauren Book for the Orlando Sentinel — I can think of no more important time than during a multi-year pandemic for our state to be guided by a physician who not only understands pandemic science but is willing and able to explain his plan for keeping all of us as safe as possible. Sadly, Dr. Ladapo is not that person. When Dr. Ladapo was asked clear questions about his department’s role in addressing the pandemic, he offered non-answers, obfuscations and demonstrations of verbal jiu-jitsu. For starters, he has supported and had publicly promoted “widely debunked theories” of how to deal with this virus. This is unacceptable and disrespectful to the institution of the Florida Senate and to the people of this great state.

Unqualified: Joseph Ladapo just doesn’t have the chops, says Lauren Book.

Rocky Hanna blasts GOP lawmaker as ‘bully’ for retaliatory state budget item after masks fight” via Ana Goñi-Lessan of the Tallahassee Democrat — Leon County Schools Superintendent Hanna is once again at odds with the state’s Republican leaders who, with a new proposed line item in the next state budget, are targeting school districts who defied the Governor’s ban of mask mandates last year. House Republicans introduced legislation this week that would slash salaries from school districts, of which Leon was one, that implemented mandatory mask rules after DeSantis prohibited them in schools. In a K-12 Appropriations Subcommittee meeting, state Rep. Randy Fine proposed a line item in the budget that would take away $200 million from a dozen school districts that defied the Governor’s emergency rule that banned mask mandates and give that money to other districts.

Before even passing, the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill is already hurting Florida’s children” via Fabiola Santiago of the Miami Herald — Oh, Florida legislators, the harm you do from your ivory tower up there in Tallahassee. Elaine Acosta González, a concerned parent who reached out to me after reading my column about the wrong-headed “Don’t Say Gay” bill moving through the Legislature, says her 15-year-old daughter has been talking about the topic at home. The bill would silence gay children, their teachers and education advocates by banning the discussion of sexuality and gender identification in Florida’s public schools. Indeed, youth should have a prominent voice in the discussion of the bill and so should the science- and data-oriented experts who know the place of sexuality in education. Like parents, these experts also are concerned about the damage lawmakers who introduced the bill already are doing to set back the lives of gay and trans children in Florida.

Why put more limits on public petition campaigns?” via Bill Cotterell of the Tallahassee Democrat — There’s a proposal ready for a vote in the Florida House (HJR 1127) that would limit the subject matter of petition campaigns to procedural matters, the structure of state government and the Constitution itself. A companion measure in the Senate hasn’t moved, at the midway point of the Legislative Session, but maybe Republicans who run both chambers are just waiting for the House version to cross the rotunda.

Keith Truenow defends bill disbanding Lake County Water Authority” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Rep. Truenow responded to a recent article criticizing his bill (HB 1105) to disband the Lake County Water Authority, pitching it as an attempt to eliminate “duplicitous government.” The Feb. 4 article by Kevin Spear, casts the Lake County Water Authority as a “venerable and independent guardian of Central Florida waters” and asserts that Truenow’s bill is motivated by “contentious dealings” he has had with the water authority. Truenow and the Lake County Water Authority often sparred over “pollution flowing from ditches at Truenow’s large, turf-grass growing operation north of Lake Apopka.”

Food fight: Time to scrape Florida’s strawberry shortcake bill down the garbage disposal” via Brian Burgess of The Capitolist — Sen. Danny Burgess wants to have his cake and eat it too. Burgess represents Plant City, the heart of Florida’s strawberry industry. So, he can’t be blamed for sponsoring a bill that would promote fresh, Florida-grown strawberries, but he must bear responsibility for trying to make strawberry shortcake, which is barely a dessert at all, the official state dessert when better options could have been chosen. The Legislature’s desire to acknowledge Florida’s robust strawberry industry is admirable. But choosing strawberry shortcake as the method for doing so is not. Lawmakers could have just as easily nominated Florida-based Publix brand strawberry shortcake ice cream as the official dessert.


— SKED —

Happening today — BioFlorida Day at the Capitol, to demonstrate the strength of the state’s life sciences and advocate for funding and policies necessary to facilitate continued growth; the two-day event starts at 7 a.m., Room 110 of the Senate Office Building. BioFlorida Day reception begins at 5 p.m. Register here.

Happening today — House Minority Leader Evan Jenne will host a media availability, 10 a.m. Zoom link here.

— The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider HB 7047, from Rep. Sam Garrison, to enact changes in the state’s Medicaid managed-care program, including consolidating 11 regions into eight, 11 a.m., Morris Hall of the House Office Building.

— The House Public Integrity and Elections Committee meets to consider constitutional amendment (HJR 663), from Rep. Jayer Williamson, to allow the recall of County Commissioners and county officers, 11 a.m., Room 404 of the House Office Building.

— The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider HB 1233, from Rep. Fine, to allow specific online training for private security officers, 1:30 p.m., Morris Hall of the House Office Building.

— The House Early Learning and Elementary Education Subcommittee meets for an update on the New Worlds Reading Initiative, which lawmakers passed last year, 1:30 p.m., Reed Hall of the House Office Building.

— The House Local Administration and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee meets to consider HJR 1 and HB 1563, from Rep. Josie Tomkow, to increase homestead property-tax exemptions to classroom teachers, law enforcement officers, correctional officers, firefighters, child-welfare services professionals and people in the U.S. armed forces or the Florida National Guard, 1:30 p.m., Room 404 of the House Office Building.

— The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee meets to consider SB 1316, from Chair Ed Hooper, to revamp a law dealing with the resale of tickets, 2:30 p.m., Room 110 of the Senate Office Building.

— The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee meets to consider SB 224, from Sen. Gruters, to allow local governments to restrict smoking on beaches and in public parks, 2:30 p.m., Room 37 of the Senate Office Building.

— The Senate Judiciary Committee meets to consider SB 796, from Sen. Jennifer Bradley, to increase criminal penalties for evidence tampering in capital cases or cases involving deaths, 2:30 p.m., Room 412 of the Knott Building.

— The House Infrastructure and Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider HB 907, from Rep. Bobby Payne, to begin the process of establishing a port along the St. Johns River in Putnam County, 4 p.m., Reed Hall of the House Office Building.

— The House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee meets to consider HB 425, from Rep. Jason Fischer, to extend post-traumatic stress disorder benefits in the workers’ compensation insurance system to correctional officers, 4 p.m., Morris Hall of the House Office Building.

— The House Secondary Education and Career Development Subcommittee meets to consider HB 1115, from Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera, to require high school students to earn a half-credit in financial literacy and money management to graduate, 4 p.m., Room 212 of the Knott Building.

— The House Civil Justice and Property Rights Subcommittee meets to consider HB 1525, from Rep. Grall, to repeal the state’s no-fault auto insurance system and the requirement that motorists carry personal-injury protection, or PIP, coverage, 4 p.m., Room 404 of the House Office Building.

— The Senate Special Order Calendar Group will set a special-order calendar, 15 minutes after the Senate committee meetings, Room 401 of the Senate Office Building.

Assignment editors — U.S. Reps. Darren Soto and Frederica Wilson will participate in a Committee on House Administration discussion about election misinformation campaigns in Spanish-speaking communities. Also on hand will be former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, 9 a.m., Miami Dade College, Wolfson Campus, 300 N.E. Second Ave., Miami.

Assignment editors — NBA legend Magic Johnson and Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Simone Marstiller will join a discussion about HIV and AIDS prevention and care, hosted by Clear Health Alliance, 11:30 a.m., Jacksonville River City Downtown Hotel, 245 Water St., Jacksonville.

— STATEWIDE —

Voting fraud conspiracy group has pipeline to Governor as election changes considered” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Started by the Lakewood Ranch leader of a pro-Trump women’s organization, Defend Florida has mobilized an army of volunteers to collect “affidavits” that raise questions about whether voters cast legal 2020 ballots. The group has collected more than 5,000 affidavits in 34 counties, implying each is a possible instance of voter fraud. The claims appear to be getting serious consideration from GOP officials. Defend Florida co-founder Caroline Wetherington said the group met with DeSantis’ top staff on six occasions while also securing meetings with Secretary of State Laurel Lee and top GOP legislators. However, local elections and law enforcement officials have dismissed Defend Florida’s claims. Despite being rebuffed by local authorities, Defend Florida still is highly active.

Questionable: Defend Florida seems to have a direct pipeline to Ron DeSantis. Image via Zac Anderson/Herald-Tribune.

‘Truck Yeah’ slogan keeps rolling for DeSantis” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — DeSantis continues to calibrate messaging around commercial drivers, closing out the week with a campaign email predicated around a slogan his policy team broke out two weeks ago. The same “Truck Yeah” slogan seen on signs at a January news conference in Bowling Green resurfaced in an email Friday from his re-election campaign to political supporters. In the email, DeSantis’ concerns were somewhat more global than the commercial driver’s license training money doled out to state colleges in January. “People across the world are finally standing up and fighting back,” DeSantis asserted.

‘Possibly illegal behavior’: Ashley Moody blasts GoFundMe after Freedom Convoy flip-flop” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Moody stood with supporters of the Canadian anti-vax “Freedom Convoy” against the GoFundMe service, suggesting that what the fundraising platform contemplated this weekend could have been illegal. Moody told a Fox News audience that she and DeSantis will not tolerate threats, such as that made by GoFundMe, not to distribute funds to causes it doesn’t support, such as the “Freedom Convoy,” a group of Canadian truckers protesting the country’s COVID-19 vaccination requirements. The service threatened to redistribute the donations made to the truckers, freezing them on Friday, before deciding Saturday to reverse course and refund all contributions. Moody was incensed Sunday regardless.

Joel Greenberg wants federal judge to delay his sentencing again” via Jeff Weiner of the Orlando Sentinel — Greenberg plans to ask again to delay his sentencing for sex trafficking and other crimes, despite a federal judge having previously said his current sentencing date was final. Greenberg’s sentencing is currently slated for March 29. In May, he pleaded guilty to six federal crimes and was originally scheduled to face sentencing in August, before twice being granted delays. The latest delay request, which Greenberg’s defense attorney, Fritz Scheller, said is not opposed by the government, will include “confidential information” about Greenberg’s work with federal authorities “as well as the nature and extent of Mr. Greenberg’s cooperation,” the defense attorney’s Friday court filing states.

Daniella Levine Cava asks for probe after voters say party registrations were changed to GOP” via Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald editorial board — Levine Cava is asking prosecutors to investigate claims of “voter fraud” after elderly residents in Little Havana said their party affiliations were changed without their knowledge. A county spokeswoman wrote in an email late Friday that Levine Cava “sent an official request to the State Attorney to investigate recent reports of voter registration fraud to ensure the integrity of the elections process.” Levine Cava, who made the request in an email to State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle, joined other Florida Democrats in calling for an investigation following complaints from residents of Haley Sofge Towers, a county-managed public housing complex in Little Havana. State Sen. Annette Taddeo and Nikki Fried also called for an investigation.

Swap meet: Daniella Levine Cava is calling to investigate shady party switches. Image via Facebook.

Jacksonville attorney tied to FPL consultants billed JEA for privatization work” via Nate Monroe of The Florida Times-Union — A Jacksonville attorney at Foley & Lardner who advised consultants to Florida Power & Light, while those consultants were devising strategies to conceal the utility’s campaign contributions, was also among the firm’s lawyers who billed JEA ratepayers during the contentious privatization campaign that same year. The Times-Union previously reported that Erika Alba, Foley’s director of public affairs, had been advising employees at Matrix LLC, an Alabama consulting firm that was working with FPL in 2019, at the same time that Alba’s Jacksonville colleagues at Foley were billing hundreds of hours helping JEA executives sell the city agency to a private operator. A review of Foley’s billing records shows that Alba herself billed JEA ratepayers for work related to the privatization process on two occasions.

Florida assessing damage to crops caused by January freeze” via The Associated Press — The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity is assessing the impact recent freezing temperatures had on the state’s agricultural industry. According to a news release, the agency activated a survey on Friday to gather data and evaluate resources that affected businesses may need to recover from the freeze that occurred during the last weekend in January. “The agriculture business in Florida is an integral part of the state’s economy, and we are going to do everything we can to help the farmers who were impacted by freezing temperatures this past weekend,” DeSantis said in a news release.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

DeSantis touts Florida COVID-19 response, criticizes justices without ‘backbone’” via Mark Harper of The Daytona Beach News-Journal — DeSantis spoke to a friendly crowd, touting his “default” pandemic position, freedom, during an appearance at a convention of the conservative legal advocacy group the Federalist Society. In what was dubbed a “fireside chat” without a fire, DeSantis sat with former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, also a Floridian, and presented his record as Florida Governor, all the while punching upward at Biden. DeSantis followed Pence. Both men are considered top-tier possible Republican nominees for President in 2024, especially if Trump decides against running again. The Governor also faces his own re-election campaign later this year.

Tout sheet: Ron DeSantis speaks with Kayleigh McEnany about his record on COVID-19 and spineless judges. Image via AP.

Ladapo fires back at former UCLA supervisor who refused recommendation” via Arek Sarkissian of POLITICO — Ladapo said that criticism from his former UCLA supervisor was a sign that differing scientific opinions have turned into personal attacks. Ladapo said in a phone interview that good science requires respect for all perspectives. “It’s OK to disagree, and I’ve had no problem with disagreement, but what has been really disappointing is how disagreement has become a ticket or a passport to activate personal attacks,” Ladapo said. The unidentified supervisor provided his assessment as part of a routine background check performed by the Senate during a confirmation process.

Florida reports 1,324 deaths, 132,622 cases this week” via Caroline Catherman of the Orlando Sentinel — The Florida Department of Health reported 132,622 new coronavirus cases this week among Florida residents to bring the cumulative total to 5,610,370. With 1,324 more fatalities on record, 66,279 Florida residents have died. This week’s 1,324 deaths reflect an increase from the 1,192 reported last week, but deaths can take several days or weeks to be reported. The majority of the newly reported deaths are people who died before this week. The death count had not reached anywhere near September levels when nearly 2,500 new deaths were reported multiple weeks in a row.

Four ‘stealth omicron’ cases found in Florida” via Chris Persaud of The Palm Beach Post — At least four cases of the so-called “stealth omicron” variant have been discovered in Florida as the state’s death toll increased by 1,000 for the second time in as many weeks. Two people’s test results in Miami-Dade County confirmed the presence of a new mutation of omicron. The lab did not immediately provide more information about the infected people. Helix Laboratories confirmed two cases earlier this week discovered in Florida. Two people, a 69-year-old woman and a 32-year-old man, caught the mutation in January, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported Tuesday.

—“The weekly number of COVID-19 cases in Alachua County is declining, as is the positivity rate” via Gershon Harrell of The Gainesville Sun

COVID cases were down sharply in Tampa Bay schools this week” via Marlene Sokol of the Tampa Bay Times — After reaching alarming levels earlier this month, case numbers of COVID-19 in Tampa Bay area schools are falling sharply. The virus is still widespread and educators are scrambling to get their students ready for the spring Florida Standards Assessment tests. But this past week saw a significant drop in case reports from schools, typically by 30 to 45% from the previous week. By the end of Friday, the four area districts had reported 3,039 cases. That’s also down dramatically from the nearly 7,100 cases reported during one week in mid-January, a pandemic record for the area.

Leon Co. parents order thousands of N-95 masks for schools” via Savannah Kelley of WCTV— Every single Title I elementary school and preschool in Leon County will be getting the free masks. Parents said they wanted to target those schools specifically because KN-95s and N-95s are expensive, about $1.20 per mask, and they said safety should not come with a price tag. 24,610 high-filtration KN-95 masks were ordered for the Leon County community. More than 11,000 are going to local schools. “People who don’t have access and want access deserve access,” said parent Patricia Liedy, the parent who spearheaded this project.

Florida’s fourth COVID-19 surge came fast and strong. Here’s what the omicron wave tells us about what’s ahead.” via Cindy Krischer Goodman of the Orlando Sentinel — By now, scientists expected the omicron surge in Florida to be nearly over. The new forecast projects about four more weeks before the omicron wave diminishes to give Floridians a respite. Most experts see hope in the much larger immune population in the state. Between those who caught the virus during the omicron surge and the increasing number of vaccinated and boosted people, much of Florida should have some protection against future variants. “We won’t know the exact toll of omicron for several weeks,” notes Scott Herr, a computer scientist who tracks COVID-19 in Florida. “My guesstimate would be somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000 deaths, possibly more. The biggest unknown is how long the ‘tail’ will be from the peak until the wave ends.”

USF, Tampa General studies ivermectin, other drugs to treat COVID-19” via Rose Wong of the Tampa Bay Times — Tampa Bay is part of a nationwide study to examine the efficacy of three drugs to treat COVID-19, including ivermectin, the antiparasitic medication that some believe can cure the virus. Instead, it sent people to the emergency room. The University of South Florida and Tampa General Hospital are participating in the National Institutes of Health’s Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Intervention and Vaccines public-private partnership, which brings together organizations and companies to study new COVID-19 treatments and variants. The double-blind study expects to enroll 15,000 participants nationwide.

— 2022 —

Brady Duke says CD 7 voters are ‘hungry’ for his candidacy” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Duke, a former Navy SEAL, close-combat consultant and Christian ministry adviser, believes the voters in Florida’s 7th Congressional District are itching for a Republican like him to represent them. “I see a lot of people that are hungry for fair and honest representation. I have talked to a number of people who are happy to have seen the announcement that (Democratic U.S. Rep.) Stephanie Murphy is not running for re-election,” Duke said. The political newcomer has his platform shaped by his convictions as a battlefield veteran, a conservative Christian seeking to end abortion, a passionate believer in the need for border security, and a staunch defender of capitalism seeking to oppose and rollback tax hikes.

Hunger: CD 7 voters are starving for strong Republican leadership, says Brady Duke.

Matt Gaetz is in a safe GOP seat, but can he keep it?” via Jim Little of the USA Today Network-Florida — Gaetz’s potential legal troubles are shifting what’s possible in Northwest Florida. Gaetz could be facing his biggest re-election battle since he first won the seat. In the last month, pressure from the investigation has intensified as news outlets reported more witnesses agreeing to testify in the case., including an ex-girlfriend of Gaetz. Jacob Shively, a professor at the University of West Florida’s Askew Department of Government, said that Gaetz’s outspoken support of Trump in previous election cycles gave Democratic challengers a boost.

Challenger nearly matches Scott Franklin’s contributions” via Gary White of The Ledger — U.S. Rep. Franklin, a Lakeland Republican, reported campaign contributions of $58,876 in the fourth quarter of 2021, about $7,000 more than a Democratic challenger. Franklin’s top Democratic challenger, Eddie Geller of Brandon, reported $51,800 from October through December. Geller, a former comedian and political activist who entered the race in August, has collected $183,400 in total contributions and carries $96,300 in campaign cash. The Legislature is creating new congressional boundaries, and proposed maps show Polk County being removed from District 15. Geller is likely to remain in the District 15 race.

GOP Senate leaders quickly line up behind Erin Grall’s SD 29 campaign” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Rep. Grall’s early clear path into the proposed Senate District 29 election just got help from Republican Senate leaders to ensure that path stays unimpeded. Senate President Simpson, President-designate Kathleen Passidomo and Sen. Ben Albritton have endorsed Grall in that race. The move comes one day after Grall, a three-term lawmaker from Vero Beach, announced she was filing to run in the new SD 29 this year. Grall is the first to file to run in the proposed SD 29, carved in current redistricting efforts out of several other Senate districts, including Albritton’s. Grall, a managing partner of the Grall Law Group, chairs the House Judiciary Committee and has been a particularly powerful force on religious conservatism issues.

Toe the line: Erin Grall is lining up the high-profile endorsements for her Senate run.

Kevin Steele enters race for newly redrawn HD 53” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Steele entered the race for the new House District 53 on Thursday. The new HD 53 will cover portions of Hernando and Pasco counties and is separate from the current HD 53, which covers part of Brevard County and is represented by Rep. Randy Fine. Fine now resides in the new House District 33. In a news release, the Republican candidate said he was on board with “the Governor’s vision for Florida.” “I’ve always believed in the power of commitment and a strong work ethic in accomplishing your goals and objectives. Whether it’s family, business, or campaigns, there’s no replacement for good, honest, hard work and I intend to apply that same attitude to win this race,” he said.

— CORONA NATION —

Joe Biden marks 900,000 COVID-19 deaths and urges: ‘Get vaccinated, get your kids vaccinated’” via Annabelle Timsit of The Washington Post — Biden on Friday urged all Americans to get vaccinated, as he marked another “tragic milestone” in the coronavirus pandemic. “900,000 American lives have been lost to COVID-19,” he said in a late-night statement issued Friday. The death toll would have been higher without coronavirus vaccines, Biden said, estimating they had “saved more than 1 million American lives,” as he urged unvaccinated Americans to “get vaccinated, get your kids vaccinated, and get your booster shot if you are eligible.” Less than two months ago, the White House marked 800,000 COVID-19 deaths in the United States.

Just get the shot: Joe Biden marks another tragic milestone for the U.S. Image via AP.

— CORONA ECONOMICS —

Biden administration tells Congress that key coronavirus funds are dwindling” via Tony Romm and Jeff Stein — Nearly all of the money in a key federal program to boost coronavirus testing, therapeutics, and vaccines appears to have been committed or already shelled out, raising the potential that the Biden administration may have to ask Congress to approve additional aid. The dwindling funds reflect an uptick in spending as the White House in recent months has labored aggressively to battle back the rise of the omicron variant. While top officials say they are confident in their ability to weather the latest surge, they have started exploring whether more money might be needed to protect the public against future variants.

Breaking the bank: Federal funding for COVID-19 testing and the like is almost gone.

Despite omicron surge, businesses desperate to find and keep workers” via Abha Bhattarai of The Washington Post — Omicron was supposed to wreak havoc on the labor market. But it didn’t. The jump in January hiring has underscored the economy’s growing capacity to weather renewed waves of surging coronavirus cases, suggesting a tight job market is forcing companies to retain workers now that hiring new ones has become costlier and more difficult. Unlike previous waves of the virus, when businesses were quick to pause operations and lay off workers, many are now going to greater lengths to hang on to their employees. Overall, U.S. employers added 467,000 jobs in January, with much of those gains concentrated in hotels, restaurants, retailers and other services.

— MORE CORONA —

The world is likely sicker than it has been in 100 years” via David Luhnow, Joanna Sugden and Rajesh Roy of The Wall Street Journal — The world is living through a unique moment: In the past five or six weeks, the omicron coronavirus variant has likely gotten more people sick than any similar period since the 1918-1919 flu pandemic, according to a global health expert. While omicron infections have peaked in many places, February is likely to see similar caseloads as the variant continues to spread before it flames out, causing worker shortages from hospitals to factories and spurring debate about COVID-19 restrictions, mainly since omicron appears to be causing less serious illness.

Unwell: America hasn’t been this sick since the Spanish Influenza outbreak of 1918.

Omicron infections may not protect well against future spread” via Caitlin Owens of Axios — The extent to which omicron’s rapid spread leaves the world better off in its fight against COVID-19 depends on a few big questions, including how long infection-induced immunity actually lasts. Vaccinations and infections at high enough levels can form an immunity wall against the future spread of the virus. But if omicron infections ultimately don’t contribute much to this wall, that leaves much of the world still vulnerable. When the coronavirus first emerged, no one had any immune protection. In the two years since, that’s changed drastically, as hundreds of millions of people worldwide have become infected and billions have been vaccinated.

New study finds school COVID transmission is rare” via The 74 Million — With masks, transmission of COVID-19 in K-12 schools is low, according to a new study published in Pediatrics. It concluded this “with universal masking, in-person education was associated with low rates of secondary transmission, even with less stringent distancing and bus practices. Given the rates of sports-associated secondary transmission, additional mitigation may be warranted.” For every 20 community-acquired infections, there was 1 within-school transmission event. Relaxed distancing practices (less than 3 feet, 3 feet) and increased children per bus seat were not associated with increased relative risk of secondary transmission.

Blood supplies run low as omicron limits donations” via Renée Onque of The Wall Street Journal — Blood is in short supply in the U.S., with donation drives stalled amid COVID-19 and demand rising as people resume medical care they put off earlier in the pandemic. The number of people donating blood each month was 10% lower at the end of last year than before the pandemic began in February 2020. Blood drives at schools and colleges have decreased by 62% during the same time. Public-health experts say that shortages could leave hospitals unprepared for emergencies such as car accidents or natural disasters that can require a lot of blood for transfusions and urgent surgeries.

After weathering the omicron crush, CVS and Walgreens removed their limits on buying at-home tests.” via Esha Ray of The New York Times — For the past few months, those Americans who had been lucky enough to find at-home coronavirus tests in stores had been kept from buying more than a few at a time so that stores could keep up with the surging demand. But that is changing at nearly all CVS and Walgreens locations nationwide as of this week. A CVS spokesman, Matthew Blanchette, confirmed on Saturday that the pharmacy chain had increased its inventory of over-the-counter rapid test kits and removed all limits “on those products at CVS Pharmacy locations nationwide and on CVS.com.” A Walgreens representative also said on Saturday that because of “improved in-stock conditions,” the company had removed its purchase limit of at-home tests at almost all its locations.

— PRESIDENTIAL —

Biden inches back toward Michelle Obama’s school nutrition standards” via Helena Bottemiller Evich of POLITICO — The Biden administration today is issuing a new rule asking schools to soon start meeting nutrition standards that were strengthened at the urging of Obama, but were suspended during the pandemic as schools struggled to procure more nutritious options. The stricter nutrition standards, which cut sodium, require more whole grains and mandate more fruits and vegetables, were also partially relaxed during the Trump administration. One of former Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s first moves was to “Make School Meals Great Again” by loosening rules for whole grains, sodium and flavored milk.

Lunchables: Joe Biden is slowly bringing back Michelle Obama’s nutrition standards. Image via AP.

Democrats’ big dilemma: Avoid Biden or embrace him?” via Sean Sullivan and Marianna Sotomayor of The Washington Post — As Democrats gear up for a difficult midterm campaign, one of the biggest variables is Biden’s popularity, which has fallen sharply amid his struggles to contain the pandemic, rising prices and foreign policy crises. Clear majorities now disapprove of the job Biden is doing, triggering uncomfortable conversations in the party about how much to incorporate him into their campaigns and prompting a range of early responses from Democrats in hard races. Midterm elections are influenced strongly by how voters feel about the sitting President, and many Democrats are trying to inoculate themselves by forging their own brands and even criticizing some of Biden’s actions.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Marco Rubio condemns ‘evil, genocidal’ Chinese government as Olympics kicks off Opening Ceremony” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — On the day of the 2022 Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing, Sen. Rubio again called out the systemic oppression of ethnic and religious minorities by the Chinese government, specifically of the Uyghur people. The Winter Olympic Games, Rubio said, will be remembered for the atrocities committed by the Chinese Communist Party rather than for the accomplishments of the participating athletes. Last month, Rubio and Sen. James Lankford introduced a resolution calling the International Olympic Committee to relocate the Winter Olympic Games from Beijing.

Evil Empire: As The Games begin, so does the bashing of China’s dismal record on human rights.

“‘Genocide games’: NBC refuses to run ad critical of China by NBA’s Enes Kanter Freedom, Florida congressman” via Jon Levine of the New York Post — NBC is refusing to broadcast an ad critical of China during the 2022 Winter Olympic games in Beijing. The 30-second spot, purchased by Florida GOP Rep.Mike Waltz, blasted the event as the “Genocide Games,” referenced China’s long history of human-rights abuses, and called out major US companies for participating. Waltz, the first Green Beret to serve in Congress, has long been a tough China critic. He billed the $40,000 ad to his campaign. The spot also featured Boston Celtics center Kanter Freedom, a Swiss-born Turk who became a US citizen in November.

Charlie Crist announces support for COMPETES Act to fight inflation, help Florida marine life” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — U.S. Rep. Crist has announced his support of the America COMPETES Act, legislation aimed at boosting industry domestically. The bill, Crist said, hopes to fight inflation by promoting domestic innovation and manufacturing. The bill also hopes to maintain American global competitiveness, create good-paying jobs, improve supply chains, beat China and combat the climate crisis. In announcing his support for the plan, Crist also outlined provisions within the legislation that address issues impacting Florida. The state would receive another $3 billion to boost domestic solar energy manufacturing to help combat the climate crisis without relying on foreign-made materials. The act also works to support the state’s marine life, including the record number of manatee deaths in Florida over the last year.

Citing Brian Flores case, Debbie Wasserman Schultz says Congress must investigate ‘egregious lack of representation and opportunity for Black leaders in the NFL’” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Wasserman Schultz, citing the case of the fired Miami Dolphins coach, said Thursday that Congress must investigate. “Money and power is what rules the NFL, and unless somebody steps in and holds them accountable, nothing will change. They will continue business as usual,” the Broward/Miami-Dade County Democrat said during the hearing. Flores, in a lawsuit, alleged pervasive racist hiring practices for NFL coaches and general managers.

Assignment editors — U.S. Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar will hold a press call ahead of the introduction of her Dignity Act, a top-to-bottom immigration reform bill, 10 a.m., dial-in information provided upon RSVP to [email protected]

What Brian Ballard is reading —U.S. fills board that’ll dish out $250M for Israel-Palestine peace-building projects” via Jacob Magid of The Times of Israel — The U.S. Agency for International Development announced the appointment of an advisory board for recommending how to distribute $250 million in U.S. funding for Israeli-Palestinian dialogue programs and Palestinian business development. The filling of the board allows the Biden administration to move forward in supporting people-to-people projects on the ground after the funds were allocated through the Nita M. Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace Act (MEPPA) passed by Congress in 2020. The board currently includes 12 members appointed by leadership from both houses of Congress. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed former Congressman Robert Wexler, a former candidate to serve as Biden’s ambassador to Israel and currently head of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace.

— CRISIS —

Mike Pence says ‘Donald Trump is wrong’ to say then-Vice President had the right to overturn 2020 election” via Steve Contorno and Eric Bradner of CNN Politics — Pence called out his former boss by name on Friday, saying that “President Trump is wrong” in claiming that Pence had the right to overturn the 2020 election on Jan. 6, 2021. Speaking at the Federalist Society Florida Chapters conference near Orlando, Pence delivered his strongest response yet to Trump’s ongoing efforts to relitigate the 2020 Presidential Election, calling it “un-American” to suggest one person could have decided the outcome. Pence warned against conservatives who insist that the Vice President can alter an election and said it could be a problematic position for Republicans in the next presidential contest.

Called out: On the issue of overturning the election, Mike Pence throws Donald Trump under the bus.

Newly obtained records show Trump and Jim Jordan spoke at length on morning of Jan. 6” via Ryan Nobles, Annie Grayer and Zachary Cohen of CNN — The House select committee investigating the Capitol insurrection is now in possession of White House records that provide new details about a phone call Trump made to Rep. Jordan on Jan. 6, 2021, as the investigation drills down on the former President’s communications that day and questions have long swirled around calls between him and lawmakers. Two sources reviewed call records that Trump spoke on the phone at the White House residence with Jordan for 10 minutes on the morning of Jan. 6.

In censure of Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, RNC calls events of Jan. 6 ‘legitimate political discourse’” via Gabby Orr of CNN — In a resolution formally censuring GOP Reps. Cheney and Kinzinger, the Republican National Committee on Friday described the events surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, which have been at the center of a House probe, as “legitimate political discourse.” A copy of the resolution obtained by CNN claimed that the two lawmakers were “participating in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse” from their perches on the House select committee.

A Jan. 6 suspect died. Now the FBI has to prep for conspiracies.” via Ryan J. Reilly of NBC News — A man featured on the FBI’s website, wanted for assaulting police at the Capitol during the Jan. 6 attack, died months ago. In the year since the Jan. 6 investigation began, the FBI has posted images of more than 500 individuals on its U.S. Capitol Violence webpage. More than 350 of those included on the page still haven’t been arrested, including dozens who have been successfully identified by online sleuths. Removing his image from the website now could spark additional conspiracy theories that could only be resolved through public identification, which would set off a fresh round of pain for a family still recovering from its loss. His removal from the list without being charged has prompted rampant conspiracy theories that he was acting as a plant to stoke the crowd.

— EPILOGUE TRUMP —

This was the week when Trump revealed all” via Dan Balz of The Washington Post — Trump has told some big lies over the years. One of the biggest, it now is clear, came on Jan. 7, 2021, the day after his supporters assaulted the U.S. Capitol. On Jan. 6, as law enforcement officers fought valiantly against an armed mob of rioters attacking the Capitol, Trump remained in the White House, silent in the face of repeated efforts by advisers, family members and allies who pleaded with him to try to call a halt to the violence. The next day, in a videotaped address, he said, finally, that he was “outraged” by the “heinous attack” on the Capitol. He didn’t mean it, as he made clear last weekend.

Whopper: Donald Trump has told many lies, but one stands out.

The extreme ideas floating around Trump on how to overturn the election” via Amber Phillips of The Washington Post — As Trump tried to hang on to power after his election loss, he surrounded himself with advisers, lawyers, and seemingly random people who were willing to give him ideas. We keep learning just how drastic some of those ideas were. The President appeared to take some more seriously than others, but it seems clear that Trump and/or his top aides at least entertained the thought of seizing voting machines. A memo was circulated among Trump allies suggesting that the NSA could be used to try to prove a baseless claim about fraud. And that’s just what’s been revealed in reporting and from the congressional Jan. 6 investigation.

Trump and allies try to redefine racism by casting White men as victims” via Cleve R. Wootson Jr. of The Washington Post — Holding court at a political rally in Texas last week, Trump implied that he, a wealthy White man who was elected to an office almost exclusively held by White men, was also a victim of racism. Trump’s claim referenced what he said were three “radical vicious, racist prosecutors,” one in Georgia, one in New York, one in Washington, all of them Black, who are investigating his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection and examining his business organization’s finances. But his comments made him the latest in a line of conservatives claiming, loudly and frequently, that White men are also victims of racism.

How Trump’s political style smothered the last substance left in the GOP” via Carlos Lozada of The Washington Post — Jeremy Peters’s “Insurgency” is not the first attempt to take a long view of how the party of Lincoln became the party of Trump. “Insurgency” is persuasive in suggesting that the long-term transformation of the Republican Party is one in which a style of politics has overpowered and then suffocated any remnant of its substance. The Trump era in American politics can feel uniquely disruptive, but Peters highlights earlier episodes that, put together, leave Trump looking like an inevitable outcome rather than an unlikely outlier.

Javanka in exile” via Bob Norman of the Washingtonian — Ivanka Trump’s world has certainly gotten smaller. She’s out of politics at the moment, out of her former executive job at the Trump Organization, out of the womenswear brand that bore her name, out of high society in New York, and cast out of Washington, too. Ivanka never did find her footing in the White House or D.C. society; Jan. 6 was the final rupture. Now the Kushners have sought refuge in Surfside, a town that previously managed to stay off most people’s radar. Which was just fine with plenty of residents. Javanka aren’t only the town’s most well-known inhabitants — they’re also among its most invisible. Still, Surfside hasn’t completely sheltered them from the bitter political storm they helped create.

Invisible: The Kushners are laying low. Very low.

Michael Flynn is still at war” via Robert Draper of The New York Times — Two days after Thanksgiving, Flynn spoke with the Worldview Weekend Broadcast Network. Claiming that the 2020 election involved “probably the greatest fraud that our country has ever experienced in our history,” … China was “not going to allow 2020 to happen, and so now what we have is this theft with mail-in ballots.” He insisted that a legitimate counting of the ballots would have resulted in a Trump landslide. Flynn was beginning to envision a military role. “It’s not unprecedented,” Flynn insisted to Newsmax host Greg Kelly on Dec. 17. “I mean, these people out there talking about martial law, like it’s something that we’ve never done,” he said, adding, “I’m not calling for that.” Flynn was, in fact, calling for sending the military to the contested states.

—LOCAL NOTES —

Two men in Miami stole 192 ventilators, worth $3 million, the authorities say.” via Eduardo Medina of The New York Times — Two men in Miami have each been sentenced to 41 months in prison for stealing medical ventilators bound for a COVID-19 care facility in El Salvador as part of a U.S. aid program. The crime occurred in August 2020, according to a news release issued after the sentencing of the second of the two men. The men, Yoelvis Denis Hernandez and Luis Urra Montero, stole a tractor-trailer from a parking lot in South Florida that was loaded with 192 ventilators, worth about $3 million, that were bound for Miami International Airport for shipping to El Salvador by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

How low can you go? Yoelvis Denis Hernandez and Luis Urra Montero are accused of stealing $3M in ventilators meant for COVID-19 patients.

Nicaraguan doctor’s quest for political asylum remains in limbo years after escape to Central Florida” via Lisa Maria Garza of the Orlando Sentinel — More than three years after he fled Nicaragua seeking political asylum, Dr. Luis Rodolfo Ibarra is still waiting for a hearing in Orlando immigration court. Ibarra, 35, said he wants a judge to know that he put his oath as a doctor above government orders in 2018 when he treated wounded civilian protesters who sought to dismantle President Daniel Ortega’s regime. A hearing for Ibarra’s asylum case was set for July in Orlando, then abruptly canceled because of COVID-19 concerns, his lawyer Rusten Hurd said. Online court records show there are no future hearings scheduled for Ibarra’s case, which has been consolidated with his wife and daughter’s requests for asylum.

Rising antisemitism in South Florida and beyond fuels concern and determination in Jewish community” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Drivers on Interstate 4 in Orlando last Sunday were confronted with a Nazi flag displayed on an overpass, along with a banner proclaiming “Vax the Jews” and listing the same website as the previous weekend’s flyers. The incidents are part of what Jewish community leaders and others said is a disturbing trend: an increase in the number of antisemitic incidents, some violent, others aimed at instilling fear. “Both locally and nationally, we have seen steady increases in antisemitism and all forms of bigotry over the past few years,” said Lonny Wilk, interim regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in Florida.

State of the city: West Palm mayor talks about boom times, crime, expensive housing and water problem” via Wayne Washington of The Palm Beach Post — Basking in West Palm Beach’s economic boom times, Mayor Keith James declared that “the state of our city today is strong, our economy is sound, and our state of mind is sturdy.” The mayor touted the new office buildings sprouting up in the city, talked up partnerships with the University of Florida and Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, noted what he described as a drop in crime, and announced that he’s increasing his goal for the construction of affordable housing units. While James said he’s proud of the city’s accomplishments over the past year, he is pushing his administration to do more. Housing, he said, is still too expensive for many. The city has been “chipping away” at homelessness but wants to do more on that front.

Will Sheriff Gregory Tony face any penalty after investigation into his lies? What we know and don’t know” via Lisa Huriash of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — DeSantis says he’ll decide whether to take any action against Tony after a state investigation concluded Broward County’s top cop lied on numerous forms about his murder arrest and other key parts of his past. Many outcomes could take place in the coming days: The Governor soon could act to suspend Tony from office. He could wait for a state ethics panel to recommend whether any discipline or penalty is warranted — and delegate that task to the ethics panel. Or he could decide to do nothing at all. Tony’s case can be a complicated matter to decide, said attorney Burnadette Norris-Weeks. The decision to remove an elected official from office can be subjective, Norris-Weeks said. “Legal standards, quite frankly, can be a little blurry sometimes.”

In deep: Gregory Tony faces several possibilities; many are not good. Image via AP.

‘A bad look’: Walton residents call for crackdown on teenage spring breakers” via Jim Thompson of the Northwest Florida Daily News — With about a month to go before the first Spring Break crowds arrive along the beaches of Walton County, residents and other stakeholders are pressing county law enforcement, beach safety and code enforcement personnel to take a tough stand against teenage visitors. Clearly frustrated by what high school spring breakers bring to the county, residents called for the county to institute a spring break curfew and be more visible and proactive in addressing lawbreaking, particularly underage drinking. Last year, Walton County Commissioner Tony Anderson, whose district includes most of the county’s 26 miles of public and private beaches, asked for consideration of a Spring Break curfew

— TOP OPINION —

Stan Lockhart: Before any ban, Florida should first look at Utah’s successful ranked choice voting” via Florida Politics — Ranked choice voting (RCV) has a long history in Utah for state and county Republican Party elections going back to 2002. Starting in 2019, Utah cities have had the option to use RCV for their nonpartisan elections. RCV is a faster, cheaper, and better way to run our local elections in Utah. Traditionally, Utah’s local elections include a Preliminary Election in August to narrow down the field, and then a General Election in November between the top candidates. With RCV, cities can replace two elections with one — shortening the campaign season and reducing the cost to taxpayers. Instead of going to the polls twice (which data shows greatly reduces turnout), voters only have to go once!

— OPINIONS —

RNC should take a lesson from Pence” via National Review editorial board — There is no conceivable political benefit to the Republican Party or its members, other than Trump, in looking to defend or minimize Jan. 6 rather than simply move on. The American people are never itching to hear a defense of rioters. But the voters have also shown little interest in the Democrats’ obsession over the event. Republicans who did nothing to encourage the mob, and there are many such Republicans, need not wear a hair shirt over Jan. 6, but when they choose to talk about it, they should tell the unsparing truth. We commend the example of Pence.

Pence gives bombshell speech that Trump was ‘wrong.’ But now comes the hard part” via the Miami Herald editorial board — Pence finally, finally, finally said what needed to be said. “President Trump is wrong. I had no right to overturn the election.” Well, hallelujah. It’s a year late, and it’s not under oath. But he said it, and to a Florida gathering of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group. If Pence truly wants to remedy any of the damage to this country, he should now encourage other Republicans to drop the masks of falsity so many have willingly worn for a year, too fearful of Trump to stop mouthing his Big Lie. For Pence, it might turn out that his speech was the easy part. But today, in this one moment, hearing a top Republican say the plain and simple truth gives us a flicker of relief, a momentary cessation of pain, like a national headache that suddenly stops hurting.

Will Florida’s ‘election police’ be afraid of ‘ghosts?’ Lawmakers, dump this idea” via the Miami Herald editorial board — The Frank Artiles “ghost” candidate scandal has called into question the results of one Miami Senate race and maybe two others, one in Miami and another in Seminole County, all won by Republicans. It’s turning into one of the worst abuses of our election system in recent times. That has us thinking: Maybe we were too hasty when we said DeSantis’ proposed election security office was a waste of time and tax money. Surely this kind of potential misconduct would be its reason for existing. Nope. Sen. Travis Hutson, sponsor of the Senate bill that would create an election security office, said this week that the special investigative unit that DeSantis has called for would only deal with “election fraud — not candidacy fraud,” according to the Orlando Sentinel.

If Democrats don’t ask questions, nobody will” via Steve Bousquet of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee discussed a controversial and hasty 45-page rewrite of a bill that includes a scaled-back version of DeSantis’ new elections police force (Senate Bill 524). That’s Tallahassee-speak for stopping debate and calling for a vote so the minority Democrats can’t run out the clock by asking questions. None of the five Republicans asked probing questions. Senators need to keep asking questions about those elections cops, and the potential for partisan witch hunts, and every other proposed change to voting laws. But they learned Friday they will have one less chance to do so. Fewer hearings mean fewer questions, and SB 524 was rerouted by the Senate President’s office to one fewer committee.

Legislation poses a real risk to our state’s children” via Dr. Deborah Day for the Tallahassee Democrat — There is an existential threat to children in legislation currently being considered by the Florida House. If passed, House Bill 1395 would codify a presumption of 50/50 timesharing between divorced parents. While this may sound fair and reasonable on its face, it is not; it poses a real risk to our state’s children and, I believe, it must be stopped. As a regularly appointed social investigator in family law cases, I work almost exclusively with families going through a divorce and are in conflict over the timesharing of their children. So, it is with this extensive firsthand experience that I speak out against this presumption of the 50/50 timesharing provision in HB 1395.

Bob Lotane: Randy Fine’s ‘Dirty Dozen,’ GOP discomfort and hypocrisy” via Florida Politics — Fine hammered the 12 school districts that defied DeSantis’ ban on mask mandates — pushing budget language to strip $200M from the “Dirty Dozen” and redistribute it to districts that complied. Leon Schools Superintendent Hanna called Fine “a childish, immature bully.” Political observers might be tempted to add another adjective: Hypocrite. Fine introduced legislation to require the teaching and other remembrances of the 1920 Ocoee Election Day Riots and the Holocaust. It passed in March 2020, and DeSantis happily signed it. Fast-forward one year, and there was Fine accusing Brevard Schools of using critical race theory (CRT). What changed? How did these two go from passing and signing legislation assailing racism and antisemitism to become cheerleaders for a movement aimed at sanitizing America’s shameful racial history?

One bill’s answer to corruption: More secrecy” via the Orlando Sentinel editorial board — There is one bill that’s more dangerous than any pro-secrecy legislation we’ve seen in a long time. If it passes, HB 1547/SB 1848 could tunnel new and secretive channels in Florida’s already corrupt campaign finance system by hiding the names of big-money donors. Well, if these bills pass, lawmakers will have done something: They will have made the situation much, much worse, by wrapping a cloak of secrecy around the names and other identifying information of those big-money donors.

Holier-than-thou book banners in Florida ought to start with the Bible” via Frank Cerabino of The Palm Beach Post — We may have to ban the Bible from Florida’s public schools. Book banning is starting to take off in Florida, and as long as it is, we shouldn’t leave the Bible out of the discussion. A national group called The County Citizens Defending Freedom has formed in Polk County to remove books from public school libraries deemed harmful to children under the age of 18. OK, so if we need to scrub the public library shelves from books that promote the “socialist mentality” and/or contain “narrative accounts of sexual excitement or sexual conduct,” it’s time to round up all the Bibles and lock them away from the children. For starters, Jesus was basically Bernie Sanders in open-toed sandals. If you’re into more graphic sexual passages, the Old Testament has a lot to offer.

—TODAY’S SUNRISE —

How did Florida’s Governor become involved in a trucker vaccine protest in Canada? By targeting GoFundMe’s decision to suspend a fundraiser for the “Freedom Convoy” and return the money to contributors.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— Attorney General Moody says GoFundMe’s treatment of the “Freedom Convoy” may be illegal and is probably discriminatory.

— House and Senate budgets are in and head to full appropriations committees.

— Bills moving through the House and Senate could make a difference in decreasing veteran suicides. Rep. Ben Diamond explains.

To listen, click on the image below:

— OLYMPICS —

Why Americans are turned off by the Olympics” via David Nather and Margaret Talev of Axios — Americans’ concerns about the Chinese government’s human rights abuses, surveillance and international competitiveness, and fears of another COVID-19 outbreak are driving down enthusiasm about this year’s Winter Olympics. Seven in 10 survey respondents disapprove of allowing China to host these Olympics, but half plan to tune in anyhow. Just 7% say they’re more enthusiastic about this year’s games than the 2018 games in South Korea, while 47% say they’re less enthusiastic. Fewer than half of Americans say the Olympics should go ahead while the omicron variant is spreading, while the rest say The Games should be postponed (34%) or canceled (16%).

Meh: Americans are just not in the Olympic spirit this time. Image via AP.

Hilary Knight: Four-time Olympian, full-time disrupter” via Roman Stubbs of The Washington Post — Knight was an elite athlete in her prime in 2012 when her mother told her she needed to get a job. Ostensibly, Knight was a professional hockey player, but that didn’t pay a livable wage, so she also taught skating lessons. While training with Team USA as it readies to defend its gold medal win over Canada four years ago in Pyeongchang, Knight has continued her work with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, which was formed to promote a viable professional league in North America. The organization has offered around 200 of the world’s top players an alternative to the Premier Hockey Federation, the continent’s only professional women’s league, which Knight and her teammates have said is not sustainable.

U.S. forward Abby Roque is a first-time Olympian and a pioneer for Indigenous people” via Barry Svrluga of The Washington Post — The players skated around Tuesday afternoon at Wukesong Sports Center without their helmets and, briefly, mercifully without their masks, stopping and smiling for the camera that would capture the official team portrait of the 2022 U.S. Olympic women’s hockey team, not to mention their own camera phones that were tucked under pads on their hips or their shoulders. After the large group photo came the subsets: first-time Olympians in one shot, the goalies in another; University of Minnesota players followed by those from the University of Wisconsin, rivals in everyday life, teammates here.

Mikaela Shiffrin’s Olympic prep has included covid, isolation, tears — and relief” via Barry Svrluga of The Washington Post — The Olympics were only five weeks away, and the most prominent Team USA athlete was sequestered in a hotel room in Austria, reduced to doing pullups on her bed frame and lunges with a single 15-kilogram plate. This is not how a two-time gold medalist is supposed to prepare for winning more gold medals. But COVID-19 doesn’t care if the Olympics are afoot, so here was Shiffrin, coughing and with a sore throat, in isolation when she should have been ski racing. With the Opening Ceremonies of the Beijing Winter Games on Friday, Shiffrin is over COVID-19, out of isolation and back on the mountain. She has even won again on the World Cup circuit in circumstances that brought about an unprecedented outpouring of emotion, which we’ll get to.

— ALOE —

A man in a ‘Star Wars’ costume gives free masks to travelers. Meet ‘The Maskalorian.’” via Hannah Sampson of The Washington Post — Even in these strange times, the sight is unusual enough to turn heads: a helmeted figure in a jumpsuit and cape with a tiny green creature strapped to his chest. Both appear to come from a galaxy far, far away. Both wear disposable masks over their mouths. Masks, it turns out, are the entire point of their mission. Inspired by the hit Star Wars show “The Mandalorian” on Disney+, the character is the brainchild of Matt Adams, a 43-year-old filmmaker and improv performer. And that little green guy wearing a GoPro on his chest might look a lot like Grogu, aka the Child, aka Baby Yoda. But his name is Masku. Together, they have given away roughly 1,000 masks.

To watch The Maskolarian in action, click on the image below:

SeaWorld ramps up care for threatened Florida manatees” via Curt Anderson of The Associated Press — The SeaWorld theme park in Orlando is opening new pools to care for Florida manatees that are dying from starvation due to poor water quality in their normal habitat. The lovable, round-tailed marine mammals had their worst die-off last year, more than 1,100 of them, and there are federal and state efforts ongoing to save the threatened creatures. One of these efforts is to have a place like SeaWorld, with the marine assets it has, provide rehabilitation to those that can be rescued. SeaWorld announced Friday that it had added five 40-foot (12-meter) pools to accommodate up to 20 manatees within two weeks. The theme park is one of five facilities in the U.S. taking care of sick and injured manatees. It had 28 manatees in its care as of Friday.

It’s official: UFC 273 is coming April 9 to Jacksonville’s VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena” via Clayton Freeman of The Florida Times-Union — It’s official: For the third time, UFC is packing a punch on the First Coast. Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry confirmed the global mixed martial arts series is officially returning to VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on April 9 for UFC 273. UFC formally announced the fights during Saturday night’s Fight Night broadcast between Jack Hermansson and Sean Strickland. The featured bout on the card pits Australia’s Alexander Volkanovski against Chan Sung Jung, known in UFC as the Korean Zombie, for Volkanovski’s featherweight title belt. Also scheduled to fight for the bantamweight title are Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan, designated as the co-main event.

What Michelle Schorsch is readingThe long, slow death of the hotel minibar” via Hannah Sampson of The Washington Post — The Atlantic piece reported that a German company invented the minibar in the early 1960s. The first one to become famous was at the Madison Hotel in D.C. Hilton claims to have “popularized” the in-room concept in 1974 in Hong Kong. The heyday that followed for minibars is largely over. Large hotel chains have been scaling down their use for several years. The Wall Street Journal reported in 2011 that Hyatt Hotels & Resorts was removing stocked minibars from some convention hotels, and Hilton and Omni were making similar moves. Popular new brands emphasize a communal atmosphere, with wine hour in the lobby or a market near the front desk.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Celebrating today are two North Florida politicos: state Rep. Brad Drake and Dr. Rachel Pienta. Happy birthday to our friend Josh Burgin. Belated happy birthday wishes to INFLUENCE 100’er Fred Karlinsky, former Rep. Clay Ingram, top fundraiser Christina Diamond, and Rep. Clay Yarborough.

___

Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Daniel Dean, Renzo Downey, Jacob Ogles, and Drew Wilson.


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