Did you check out last week to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday? Never fear, Florida Politics is here to help you catch up on what you missed. Like every Thanksgiving, it was a slow news week. But by comparison, there was plenty more subsequence this year than in previous years.
For starters, President Donald Trump took a hit. A big one. Pennsylvania’s highest court threw out an earlier lower court ruling preventing the state from certifying dozens of contests on the Nov. 3 ballot.
The original lawsuit, led by Pennsylvania U.S. Rep Mike Kelly, charged the state’s mail-in voting law was unconstitutional. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court rebuked that, arguing the lawsuit instead “failed to allege that even a single mail-in ballot was fraudulently cast or counted.” The ruling also balked at the lawsuit’s demand to overturn an entire election retroactively.
After the ruling, Trump’s lawyers vowed to appeal the ruling.
Meanwhile, health experts at Johns Hopkins University predict erratic COVID-19 cases over the week or so following Thanksgiving — uncertainty fueled by Americans’ reluctance to obtain testing over the holiday. That could lead to a perceived dip in new cases that would give a false sense of the virus’ ongoing threat.
“I just hope that people don’t misinterpret the numbers and think that there wasn’t a major surge as a result of Thanksgiving, and then end up making Christmas and Hanukkah and other travel plans,” said George Washington University professor and emergency physician Dr. Leana Wen.
And speaking of COVID-19, South Florida Congressman-elect Carlos Giménez has it. According to a statement, the former Miami-Dade County Mayor and his wife, Lourdes, tested positive Thursday for COVID-19 after having mild symptoms. They said they’re self-isolating at home, following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and advice from medical professionals.
Giménez served as Miami-Dade Mayor from 2011 until this month. The Republican won his congressional race in the Nov. 3 General Election, defeating a single-term Democrat. He is set to assume office on Jan. 3.
Here are some other items of note:
— A must-read on Trump’s election quest: The Washington Post takes readers deep into Trumpworld as he defied facts to insist he had won the 2020 election. The piece evaluates the timeline, the actions, and, most importantly, an inner circle who saw the light but kept quiet to quell the desires of an intransigent leader. It highlights threats to democracy and a President who largely abdicated duty to launch an all-out attack on election integrity. If you’re still wondering what went on in Trump’s electorally diminished White House, this is a must-read.
— DeSantis lands pre-Thanksgiving Trump RT: Ron DeSantis, criticized in some circles for a lackluster coronavirus response, lauded the President’s Operation Warp Speed for promising to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine “soon.” His laudatory tweet got Trump’s attention. “As we get more good news regarding therapies and vaccines, Florida is working hard to make sure that we serve our state’s most vulnerable, in terms of both current protections and upcoming vaccinations,” DeSantis wrote.
🛒 — Come in, we’re open: Gov. DeSantis extended a blockade on local government restrictions that would force certain businesses to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The order blocks governments from requiring shutdowns or limiting restaurant capacity to 50% or lower. The extension comes as businesses continue “to suffer economic harm” and says, “Floridians should not be prohibited by local governments from working or operating a business.”
— Missing students: Speaking on CBS News’ 60 Minutes, a Hillsborough County Schools social worker said the district, one of the largest in the nation, is missing about 7,000 students this year. Enrollment in the district is down amid uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and the drop is unprecedented.
— Conversion therapy gets A-OK: A federal appellate court struck down a conversion therapy ban in Palm Beach County that effectively bans similar bans in other Florida cities. Conversion therapy is a controversial practice that seeks to use therapy to rid children of what supporters describe as unwanted sexual orientation or gender identity. Medical organizations and most psychologists oppose the practice.
— Op-ed talk of the town: The South Florida Sun-Sentinel penned a widely read, and even more widely discussed, op-ed last week arguing the Florida Democratic Party needs major reform. The article rehashes already debated failures this election cycle that led to catastrophic losses in the state House and two seats in Congress. It argues FDP has a “rotting structure, and internal evaluations are needed to ensure adequate resources and a machine that can churn winning campaigns, something the party has long struggled to achieve.
🥇 — The Southern Group drafts Braynon: The former Senate Democratic leader is joining the state’s largest lobbying firm to work with clients at the local and state government level. Oscar Braynon is a son of South Florida, having represented Miami-Dade and Broward counties for 13 years in the legislature. He also served on the Miami Gardens City Council.
🤫 — Pedicini’s earned media: He already talked about it on Adam Smith‘s podcast. Then the Tampa Bay Times wrote about how Anthony Pedicini, a top GOP consultant in Florida, steered candidates this cycle away from public forums where they may have to answer spontaneous questions. Democrats will likely balk, but the article shows a savvy political insider who knows how to win elections, even if some don’t appreciate the strategy. Bring on the next class of GOP clients in 5, 4, 3 …
— Cortese launches new fundraising firm: Tony Cortese, along with Cameron Ulrich, is launching Capital Resources after an impressive 2020 fundraising cycle. The GOP duo is a welcomed addition to Republican campaigning, earning a nod from House Speaker Chris Sprowls. “Tony Cortese and Cameron Ulrich helped lead House Majority fundraising efforts to all-time heights. They shattered records because they are a team that knows how to do the work that yields results.
— Bush pooh-poohs Room Rater: After Republican strategist Doug Heye got a whopping 9/10 from the tongue-in-cheek Twitter account that rates live interview Zoom backgrounds on various degrees of aesthetics, Jeb Bush chimed in blasting the account for its biased reviews. Claude Taylor, the man behind the widely followed account, is a former Bill Clinton White House staffer and his reviews are often favorable to Democrats while condescending toward conservatives. The account started as a COVID distraction. Now it’s just another partisan talking point.
So, Andrew Gillum, where did the money go?
At a news conference in May, the former Democratic gubernatorial candidate handed a $100,000 game-show-style check to Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo. On the check was the logo for Forward Florida Action, a nonprofit formed just one month before with the stated mission of “educating the public and increasing voter registration and participation.”
The event’s optics seemed to make good on a highly publicized promise to ramp up Democratic engagement ahead of the 2020 presidential election. “This is simply a down payment,” Gillum said. “We’ve got a lot more coming your way.”
Except the oversized check was not a payment at all.
Campaign finance reports for the FDP shows the party never received any donation from Forward Florida Action. There never was any $100,000 check written by Forward Florida Action to the state Party, which the organization’s leadership confirmed.
“No campaigns or parties received direct grants from Forward Florida Action,” said Ryan Hurst, executive director of the nonprofit. “Mr. Gillum directly raised the $100,000 commitment to the Florida Democratic Party.”
“Forward Florida Action” only appeared on the cardboard check, a prop that the FDP cannot deposit.
This again raises questions that dogged Gillum’s organizations — both a nonprofit and a state committee, both connected to the former gubernatorial candidate and working with similar names.
According to financial reports, a quarter of the organization’s revenue was unspent at the end of the year. That’s not surprising heading into an election year, but the high operation costs raise more questions based on revelations about Gillum’s personal life.
And when all was said and done, Forward Florida Action’s efforts were largely intangible in Florida during the 2020 presidential election, where Joe Biden lost the state and Republicans flipped two House seats.
That Democratic shortcoming caused a significant amount of self-reflection within Florida Democratic circles. And it’s likely to subject Gillum’s political efforts to fresh scrutiny.
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
—@RandPaul: Interesting … Trump margin of “defeat” in 4 states occurred in 4 data dumps between 1:34-6:31 AM. Statistical anomaly? Fraud? Look at the evidence and decide for yourself. (That is, if Big Tech allows u to read this)
—@EWErickson: When you believe Dominion Voter Systems stole the election or more people voted than were registered to vote, both of which are lies, you harm your ability to share the truth of the gospel because one who so easily embraces lies will be treated skeptically.
—@Nate_Cohn: The evidence for a ‘rigged’ election is so preposterous as of late that it’s difficult to argue that any series of reforms would have avoided this mess
—@Eosnos: We’re seeing the early stages of Trumpistan — an odd little rump state in Florida populated by former Trump aides, hangers-on, and, likely, offspring.
—@PalmerReport: President-elect Joe Biden announced this evening that he twisted his ankle while playing with his dog. How cool is it to have a President who’s honest with us about his health? And how cool is it to have a President who would actually play with a dog?
—@FlChamber: Florida’s job creators lost a champion when Randy Miller lost his battle w/COVID. There was no better friend to the collective cause of supporting Florida’s Main St businesses than Randy, so let’s name the online sales tax collection bill in his honor @ChuckClemons21 @JoeGruters
—@OmariJHardy: Why is it uncontroversial for a civilian to lead the Defense Department but unthinkable for civilians to lead local police departments?
—@steveschale: By my count, [Mike] Glennon is the 21st QB to start for the Jaguars, joining elite players like Jamie Martin, Steve Matthews, the Amazing Jonathan Quinn, and Todd Bouman, who started a game from a tractor
—@TonyRomm: the next time y’all complain about my football tweets, just remember that this is what most normal people actually do on this wretched platform — they don’t run their mouth incessantly about meaningless political feuds
— DAYS UNTIL —
Florida Automated Vehicles Summit — 3; Florida Chamber Foundation’s virtual Transportation, Growth and Infrastructure Solution Summit begins — 8; the Electoral College votes — 14; “Death on the Nile” premieres — 17; NBA 2020-21 opening night — 22; “Wonder Woman 1984” rescheduled premiere — 25; Pixar’s “Soul” premiere (rescheduled for Disney+) — 25; Greyhound racing ends in Florida — 31; Georgia U.S. Senate runoff elections — 36; the 2021 Inauguration — 51; Super Bowl LV in Tampa — 69; Daytona 500 — 76; “A Quiet Place Part II” rescheduled premiere — 80; “Black Widow” rescheduled premiere — 94; “No Time to Die” premieres (rescheduled) — 123; Children’s Gasparilla — 131; Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest — 138; “Top Gun: Maverick” rescheduled premiere — 214; Disney’s “Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings” premieres — 221; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 235; “Jungle Cruise” premieres — 243; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 267; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 337; Disney’s “Eternals” premieres — 340; “Spider-Man Far From Home” sequel premieres — 343; Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” premieres — 375; “Thor: Love and Thunder” premieres — 439; “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” premieres — 492; “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” sequel premieres — 673.
— DATELINE TALLAHASSEE —
“DeSantis ducks questions, stuck in his own political quarantine” via Steve Bousquet of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The election was two-and-a-half weeks ago, and DeSantis’ side won big in Florida. But you’d never know it by watching him. For a 16th straight day Friday, the Republican Governor remained in hiding, refusing to face the Florida news media and the public. He knows the questions are coming about why he gave a $40,000 job to a goofy COVID-19 conspiracy theorist from Ohio, whether he reopened the state too soon, and why he supports a President who tries to undermine his successor and lies about rigged election results. DeSantis is stuck. He can’t defend Trump, but he can’t abandon him, either. So he disappears like his role model, who won’t accept the public’s verdict and leaves the White House only to play golf.
“State won’t talk about the investigation DeSantis ordered 6 months ago into woeful unemployment system” via Caroline Glenn of the Orlando Sentinel — In May, Gov. DeSantis ordered a state investigation into what went wrong with Florida’s $77 million unemployment compensation system. The following month, two top U.S. senators called for a federal probe into Florida’s “uniquely poor” handling of the millions of workers who lost their jobs because of the pandemic. Six months later, the state’s Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel said an investigation is “open and active,” but she would not give any details about it. And it’s unclear if a federal probe has begun. Meanwhile, even as most businesses have reopened after stay-at-home orders were lifted, the need for unemployment payments has not wavered.
“Legislators promised — on video — they would help the unemployed. Now keep your promise” via the Orlando Sentinel editorial board — You’ve probably heard the phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But if something is broken, if it’s denying help to desperate people, it should be fixed as soon as possible. Florida’s unemployment system wasn’t just broken; it was a smoldering ruin of bureaucratic ineptitude. During election season, Central Florida voters looked to hire a bunch of people to fix the problem. When candidates were asked if they were committed to the task, the standard response was unequivocal. “Absolutely.” Republican leaders in the Legislature are sending signals that increasing Florida’s meager unemployment benefits won’t be a priority when the legislative session begins in March.
“Florida’s emergency communications channel hacked, according to state official” via Allison Ross of the Tampa Bay Times — The Florida Division of Emergency Management says someone hacked into a system used to send emergency communications earlier this month and sent an unauthorized message to members of the State Emergency Response Team responsible for coordinating public health and medical response. The Nov. 10 message urged recipients to “speak up before another 17,000 people are dead. You know this is wrong. You don’t have to be a part of this. Be a hero. Speak out before it’s too late.” As of the message’s date, Florida had reported 17,460 coronavirus-related deaths among Florida residents and nonresidents.
“DeSantis’ new ‘Stand Your Ground’ would provoke the danger it professes to prevent” via Caroline Light of the Tampa Bay Times — Let’s begin by parsing the grammatically confounding title of DeSantis’ aggressive legislative idea. He calls it the “Combating Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act.” That’s not what it would do. In reality, it would amplify the danger it professes to prevent. Nor would it combat violence. Instead, it would expand the state’s stand your ground law. Neither would it stem disorder. Rather, it would limit the ability of citizens to demonstrate in the streets.
“‘He doesn’t like him’: DeSantis feuds with Florida GOP chair despite 2020 wins” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida — DeSantis has yet to endorse Party Chair Gruters for reelection, sending a silent message of disapproval that has triggered an intraparty drama. The Republican governor’s refusal to weigh in on the state party’s top job is unusual, especially after Trump took the battleground and Republicans boasted wins up and down the ballot. Gruters has claimed he has the governor’s support, and the across-the-board wins give him political leverage to keep his post when the party votes in January. DeSantis and Gruters have long butted heads over fundraising, party structure, and even Gruters’ salary.
“The complicated legacy of Bradenton’s Bill Galvano, one of Florida’s most powerful lawmakers” via Zac Anderson of The Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Galvano stood at the Florida Senate rostrum recently and handed the President’s gavel to his successor, ending his two-year tenure as one of the most powerful elected officials in Florida. Galvano leaves with the virus still raging across Florida and the state facing a $2.7 billion budget shortfall because of the economic collapse brought on by the pandemic. It is a crisis for another set of leaders to grapple with now. Galvano argues that he did everything he could to leave the state on solid footing, even as critics accuse the Legislature of failing to respond to the pandemic adequately.
“No-party candidate in Florida Senate race hires lawyer, says he doesn’t live in district” via Samantha J. Gross and Ana Ceballos of the Miami Herald — Alex Rodriguez received more than 6,300 votes in the race for Senate District 37 and likely cost incumbent Democrat José Javier Rodríguez, who shared the same surname, his seat. Republican Ileana Garcia won the race by 34 votes after a manual recount. More than 215,000 votes were cast in the election. Rodriguez’s candidacy is in question after he listed a Palmetto Bay house on his sworn candidate oath, though he no longer lives there. Candidates must sign an oath that lists their residency, but the oath doesn’t cite the penalties for lying, and no one actively checks to make sure candidates are qualified to run for a given office.
“Capitol newbies have a lot to learn and not much time” via Steve Bousquet of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The newbies now know that winning an election was the easy part. Now comes the real work of learning the ropes, mastering the issues and figuring out the Legislature’s arcane workings, or what’s called “the process,” and standing out in a crowd of 120 people. The Legislature is high school for grown-ups, with cliques, geeks, popular kids and nerds, and all of the nonsense that implies, with enormous consequences for the nation’s third-largest state. “It’s the student council with live ammunition,” a state business leader memorably and anonymously described it in a Florida Chamber Foundation survey.
“Unhappy holidays: FDACS withholds school lunch funds from vulnerable children” via Florida Politics — Currently, FDACS and The Henry & Rilla White Foundation, a not-for-profit, are tied up in court over the agency’s reluctance to administer federal funds provided through the National School Lunch Program to at-risk youth in the Department of Juvenile Justice’s residential commitment programs operated by private providers under contract with the state. The Henry & Rilla White Foundation has utilized the National School Lunch Program and acted as the School Food Authority for DJJ for over a decade in Florida, beginning under then-Commissioner Adam Putnam and continuing through the first two years of Fried’s term. But now, FDACS alleges that the foundation is illegally using the program because “for-profit” providers cannot participate in the NSLP.
“Florida university tuition could increase for the first time since 2013, as state budget shortfall looms” via Annie Martin of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Florida universities could raise undergraduate tuition for the first time in nearly a decade as state leaders look for ways to make up a projected $2.7 billion budget shortfall. State lawmakers and members of the board that oversee Florida’s university system are floating the idea of raising tuition when many classes are taught online-only and students and their parents may be struggling financially. Florida’s public institutions boast one of the lowest undergraduate tuition rates in the nation, higher only than Wyoming.
“NRA tax filing raise fresh questions about payments to powerhouse lobbyist Marion Hammer” via Mario Ariza of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — New NRA tax documents obtained by The Washington Post raise fresh questions about pay received by Hammer, the architect of Florida’s “stand your ground” laws and a feared Tallahassee lobbyist. The documents show that the NRA classified hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to its executives in 2018 as “excess benefits,” which the Internal Revenue Service calls money that individuals take from nonprofits to enrich themselves. While Hammer’s pay, which rose from $150,000 in 2017 to $220,000 in 2018 while she was on the organization’s board, was not classified as “excess benefits,” it was classified as a “business transaction involving interested persons.”
— CORONA FLORIDA —
“Florida soon will hit 1 million coronavirus cases. How did we get here?” via Jack Evans and Kathryn Varn of the Tampa Bay Times — Florida made it more than a month without a coronavirus diagnosis after the first one in the U.S. Now, one million coronavirus cases. Florida is on track to hit that mark within days, the most staggering milestone in the virus’s deadly spread across the state. On Friday, the total stood at 979,020, at a time when the toll hovers around 8,000 cases a day. November did bring a glimmer of hope. Three pharmaceutical companies announced successful COVID-19 vaccine trials, and the treatments could begin rolling out in a matter of weeks.
“Third wave of COVID-19 pandemic hits Florida, but there is some hope” via Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon of Florida Today — The third wave is here. Florida now has uncontrolled, sustained community spread of the coronavirus and is fast approaching one million lab-confirmed cases and 20,000 dead. This is the grim picture painted by the White House Coronavirus Task Force in its most recent weekly report that calls for “aggressive action” to contain the latest spike in the pandemic. “Florida is in the midst of a viral resurgence and, with aggressive action now, can contain this surge. The number of counties in the red zone has doubled in the last week and also concerning is the rise in the number of long long-term care facilities (LTCF) with positive staff,” reads the Nov. 15 White House report.
“DeSantis talks of treatments, not case counts, as infections statewide top 8,000 again” via Jane Musgrave of The Palm Beach Post — Ignoring Florida’s soaring coronavirus case counts, DeSantis on Wednesday focused instead on new COVID-19 treatments and the looming approval of vaccines that will initially be available to only a small fraction of the population. While dozens of other governors in recent days have rolled back bar and restaurant reopenings and warned people to limit Thanksgiving gatherings to curb the spread of the virus, DeSantis made no mention of Florida’s ever-increasing COVID-19 cases during his three-minute video message. Instead, he broadly outlined his plans to give whatever initial allotment of a vaccine Florida receives to residents of the state’s roughly 4,000 long-term care facilities.
“COVID-19 infections surge in Florida nursing homes. Hialeah home leads state with 69 deaths” via Shirsho Dasgupta and Christina Saint Louis of the Miami Herald — Coronavirus cases are surging again in elder-care facilities nearly three months after the administration of DeSantis issued an emergency order easing restrictions on visitations to nursing homes and assisted living facilities. As of Nov. 23, 1,499 residents tested positive for the virus, a 35% increase from the 1,108 residents who were COVID-positive two weeks earlier, on Nov. 9. More than 2,000 staffers at these facilities also have the virus at present. In assisted living facilities alone, the number of COVID-positive residents has jumped 70% from 156 to 264 in the two weeks between Nov. 9 and Nov. 23.
“Jimmy Patronis stresses COVID-19 vaccination, distribution to first responders” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Chief Financial Officer Patronis stressed to Florida fire chiefs on Friday the vital role they will play in distributing the COVID-19 vaccination to other first responders across the state. Speaking on a phone call with chiefs from across the state, Patronis described vaccinations for first responders as “vital to Florida’s recovery” and emergency readiness. The phone call was the latest in a stream of contact Patronis has maintained with the Florida Fire Chiefs Association and the Florida Professional Firefighters organization. “With recent news that COVID vaccine trials have been increasingly successful and as state emergency managers work to solidify a vaccine distribution plan, we must work together to ensure that our firefighters are fully prepared and equipped to distribute a safe and viable COVID-19 vaccine to fire stations statewide as soon as it’s available,” Patronis said on the call.
“Business groups demand that Florida craft virus lawsuit protections” via John Kennedy of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Business groups have been clamoring for months for Florida lawmakers to enact measures aimed at protecting stores, cruise ships, health care providers and nursing homes slapped by hundreds of lawsuits stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. Florida’s new Republican leaders say they are willing to approve some safeguards for businesses. But how far they’ll go is uncertain. Meanwhile, some question whether there really is a looming courtroom crisis. “It’s a solution in search of a problem,” said Paul Jess, executive director of the Florida Justice Association, representing trial lawyers in Florida.
— CORONA LOCAL —
“Lenny Curry extends mask mandate” via Christopher Hong of The Florida Times-Union — As people travel and gather during Thanksgiving while COVID-19 spike in Northeast Florida, Curry on Wednesday extended Duval County’s mask mandate for another 30 days. Curry has issued emergency executive proclamations since the end of June requiring people to wear masks in public indoor spaces when it’s not possible to social distance. The mandate carries no penalties for violations, although businesses can cite it when requiring patrons to wear masks. The executive proclamations last 30 days, requiring Curry to decide to extend them each month. His last was set to expire on Thursday, although Curry extended it a day earlier since city offices will be closed on Thanksgiving.
“As COVID-19 continues to ravage Black Miamians, families are changing plans” via C. Isaiah Smalls II of the Miami Herald — In Miami-Dade County, where the coronavirus death rate for African Americans is about double that of their white counterparts, majority Black areas like Liberty City, Little Haiti and Overtown have been disproportionately affected. That’s one of the reasons Rep. Frederica Wilson, whose District 24 encompasses those neighborhoods, created a cemetery in Liberty City’s Simonoff Floral Park, with hundreds of symbolic tombstones for those lost to the virus. On Tuesday, it was expanded to 1,500. “We’re losing our citizens, and we need to make sure that they remember that we’re in the midst of a pandemic,” Wilson said. COVID-19 “is trending in the same ZIP codes” ravaged by the HIV/AIDS epidemic at its height, she said.
“‘It’s frightening. It’s insane’: Fort Lauderdale bars packed with mask-less partygoers” via Cindy Krischer Goodman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Closed for most of 2020 because of the pandemic, The Wharf Fort Lauderdale reopened Friday night with crowds of mask-less young partygoers dancing, drinking and hanging out with no social distancing. Pandemic? Videos and photos on social media from opening night show hundreds of young people jammed together drinking cocktails under a covered bar area. Almost all are without face masks. A similar scene occurred Saturday night. “It’s frightening. It’s insane,” said Dale Holness, Broward County Commissioner and former County Mayor. “I expect people to be more conscious of the effect this disease is having on our lives.”
“Miami to distribute $8.5M in business grants and grocery gift cards for COVID-19 relief” via Joey Flechas of the Miami Herald — Miami’s city government will distribute $8.55 million in two COVID-19 relief programs meant to help support small businesses and help families buy groceries. Under federal rules, the money must be spent by Dec. 31. Commissioners unanimously approved spending $3.55 million on about 14,000 grocery store gift cards worth $250 each. People living within Miami city limits who provide a state-issued ID and sign an affidavit that they have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic will be eligible for the gift cards. Assistance will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis.
“Lakeland has more than $363K in unspent COVID relief funds as federal deadline approaches” via Sara-Megan Walsh of The Lakeland Ledger — Lakeland has more than $363,000 left in its coronavirus relief program, but city employees say they have “no concerns” about using it before the looming Dec. 30 federal deadline. Nearly 20% of roughly $1.5 million in financial assistance set aside for the Lakeland CARE program for renters and homeowners negatively impacted by COVID-19 remains unspent since its May 4 launch. Even so, Lakeland officials accepted an additional $100,000 in federal Coronavirus Relief Funds last week. As of Monday, the city had approved and issued checks to 254 of the 1,046 applications it has received, according to the program website. That’s a little less than 25%.
“Nassau County opens 2nd round of COVID-19 relief grants Thursday” via Francine Frazier of News 4 Jax — The Nassau County Commission has approved another round of CARES Act relief funds for rental and mortgage payments for residents who have been financially affected by the pandemic. Any activities — reduced hours or income, termination or layoff from employment — occurring between March 1, 2020, and Dec. 30, 2020, due to COVID-19 are eligible. Residents can submit applications from Nov. 19-30. For your application to be considered, it must be received by the Nassau CARES office no later than 5 p.m. on Nov. 30. Incomplete applications or applications with missing documentation may be deemed ineligible. Applications may not be reviewed if documents are missing, falsified or illegible.
— CORONA NATION —
“Anthony Fauci: U.S. may see ‘surge upon surge’ of virus in weeks ahead” via Tamara Lush of The Associated Press — The nation’s top infectious disease expert said that the U.S. might see “surge upon a surge” of the coronavirus in the weeks after Thanksgiving, and he does not expect current recommendations around social distancing to be relaxed before Christmas. Meanwhile, in a major reversal, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio said the nation’s largest school system would reopen to in-person learning and increase the number of days a week many children attend class. The announcement came just 11 days after the Democratic Mayor said schools would shut down because of rising COVID-19 cases. “We feel confident that we can keep schools safe,” he said.
“In nine states, at least 1 in 1,000 people have died of coronavirus-linked causes” via Marisa Iati and Hannah Knowles of The Washington Post — As daily COVID-19 deaths climb to levels not seen since early in the pandemic, nine states have hit one more grim marker: more than 1 in every 1,000 people dead of coronavirus-related causes. The list reflects the far-reaching toll of the crisis, spanning early hot spots, Southern states hit hard in the summer and rural parts of the country with increasingly strained hospitals. And it is growing. On Friday, South Dakota became the latest state to see at least one COVID-19 death for every 1,000 residents, joining New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Louisiana, Rhode Island, Mississippi and North Dakota.
“As COVID-19 surges, Americans remain divided on the threat. What will it take to bring them together?” via Alia E. Dastagir of USA Today — When the first U.S. case of COVID-19 was reported in January, most people would not have predicted this by Thanksgiving: 11 million Americans infected, more than 250,000 dead, and a fall surge of record-breaking daily cases as the virus runs rampant. Yet even as COVID-19 cases pile up at a staggering rate, in a politically divided nation, Republicans and Democrats remain in stark disagreement over the threat of the virus and the steps necessary to mitigate its spread. A survey found that as cases rose, Republicans’ positions remained fixed.
“A shot. A wait. Another shot: Two-dose coronavirus vaccine regimens will make it harder to inoculate America” via Frances Stead Sellers of The Washington Post — As the nation gears up to vaccinate tens of millions of Americans against the novel coronavirus, public health officials like her are facing novel dilemmas, driven by the urgency of the pandemic, the fact that only a small minority may have immunity from prior exposure and by the vaccine available at each site, with the different intervals between shots depending on the manufacturer. They will need to keep track of people who have received one dose to send a reminder about the need to return a few weeks later. They worry that the first vaccine may make people feel just sick enough that they won’t want to go through the ordeal again.
“Health experts dispute conservatives’ claim that new study finds masks are ineffective” via Meryl Kornfield of The Washington Post — Public health experts are raising alarms about a study that some conservatives claim reveals that masks are ineffective at preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus. Even the lead researcher argues that such an assertion is misconstruing science, while other public health experts assert that the study has serious design flaws. Mask-wearing has remained a hot-button political issue even as more states, including those with Republican governors who long resisted such measures, adopt mask mandates as case numbers rise across the United States. Numerous studies have found that masks, and perhaps even the mandates, reduce the risk of transmission.
“New face masks relieve pressure on N95 supplies” via Austen Hufford of The Wall Street Journal — Manufacturers are introducing face masks for general use that they say offer more protection than cloth coverings without taxing supplies of the N95 masks used in hospitals. These mask makers said many of the new models coming to market are more protective than cloth masks but don’t reach the level of protection provided by N95s, which stops at least 95% of very small particles with a sophisticated filter a snug fit to the face. The new masks are designed to fill what makers call a hole in the medical-gear market as COVID-19 cases surge, something for nonmedical people worried about exposure in their day-to-day lives.
“The logic of pandemic restrictions is falling apart” via Amanda Mull of The Atlantic — The internal logic of New York’s coronavirus protocols have deteriorated further. As more and more New Yorkers have become sick, officials have urged people to skip Thanksgiving because of the danger of eating indoors with people you don’t live with. However, rather than closing indoor dining, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has ordered all restaurants and bars simply to close by 10 p.m. This curfew also applies to gyms, which are not exactly hotbeds of late-night activity, even in normal times. Meanwhile, case counts have risen enough to trigger New York City public schools’ closure, but businesses still have full discretion to require employees to come into work. Even in cities and states with some success controlling the pandemic, a discrepancy between rules and reality has become its own kind of problem.
“Donald Trump gave WHO a list of demands. Hours later, he walked away.” via Matt Apuzzo, Noah Weiland and Selam Gebrekidan of The New York Times — In late May, the American ambassador in Geneva, Andrew Bremberg, went on a rescue mission to the World Health Organization headquarters. Bremberg hand-delivered a list of seven demands that American officials saw as the beginning of discreet discussions. Hours later, Trump took the lectern outside the White House and blew it all up, announcing that the United States would leave the W.H.O. The announcement blindsided his own diplomats and Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, alike. The W.H.O. leader has refused to make concessions or counteroffers, according to American and Western officials.
“Coalition seizes on pandemic to boost ‘Obamacare’ sign-ups” via Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar of The Associated Press — As COVID-19 spreads uncontrolled in many places, a coalition of states, health care groups and activists is striving to drum up “Obamacare” sign-ups among a growing number of Americans uninsured in perilous times. The campaign kicking off Thursday is called Get Covered 2021 and contrasts with a lack of outreach to the uninsured by the Trump administration, which is still trying to overturn the Affordable Care Act, even in the coronavirus pandemic. “There’s renewed energy around getting people covered this year, given how COVID-19 is impacting so many people’s lives,” said Joshua Peck, a former Barack Obama administration official helping lead the effort.
“Supermarkets are most common place to catch COVID-19, new data reveals” via Terri-Ann Williams of The U.S. Sun — Supermarkets have remained open during both national lockdowns, and new data collated by Public Health England (PHE) from the NHS Test and Trace App has revealed that shops are the most frequent COVID-19 exposure setting. PHE analyzed data from people who contracted the virus between November 9 and November 15. They looked at the contacts of those who had caught the virus and retraced the steps of 128,808 people who tested positive. Supermarkets were the most common location of people who reported to have tested positive for the virus. Of those who tested positive, it was found that 18.3% had visited a supermarket.
“U.S. military reports record number of coronavirus cases” via Barbara Starr of CNN Politics — The U.S. military reported a record-high number of coronavirus cases on Tuesday with 1,314 new cases, according to Defense Department statistics. According to the Pentagon, there are currently about 25,000 active COVID-19 cases in the ranks, and another 44,390 service members have recovered from the virus. The number of military cases has grown over the last few weeks as case counts have increased in the general population. A US defense official told CNN that the US military has a positivity rate of 6.8%. That compares to about 10% among civilians taking coronavirus tests.
“NYC to reopen schools, even as virus spread intensifies” via David B. Caruso and Karen Matthews of The Associated Press — New York City will reopen its school system to in-person learning, and increase the number of days a week many children attend class, even as the coronavirus pandemic intensifies in the city, Mayor de Blasio said Sunday. The announcement marks a major policy reversal for the nation’s largest school system, less than two weeks after de Blasio announced that schools were shutting down because of a rising number of COVID-19 cases in the city. Some elementary schools and pre-kindergarten programs will resume classes on Dec. 7, a week from Monday, the Mayor said. Others will take longer to reopen their doors.
— CORONA ECONOMICS —
“Hundreds of Florida renters evicted during pandemic despite CDC order” via Emily L. Mahoney and Christopher O’Donnell of the Tampa Bay Times — The nationwide moratorium ordered by the Centers for Disease Control was supposed to protect renters who have lost work from the pandemic. After it was announced, DeSantis allowed Florida’s eviction moratorium to lapse at the end of September, saying it would avoid confusion over which order was in force. But court records show that the federal order has failed to protect Florida’s renters from losing their housing. More than 430 writs of possession were ordered in Pinellas County in October.
“Florida unemployment aid hits another pandemic low — but U.S. increase may spell trouble” via Rob Wile of the Miami Herald — New applications for unemployment aid in Florida hit a pandemic low for the second straight week, the U.S. Department of Labor reported. But the ongoing rate of new claims nationally suggests continued economic distress that could trickle down into the Sunshine State. For the week ending Nov. 14, initial unemployment claims in Florida fell from 31,403 to 21,538. So-called continuing claims, or applications from individuals filing for unemployment for at least two consecutive weeks, also fell, from 205,800 to 165,388. Some of the decline in continuing claims was likely due to the expiration of an individual’s 12 weeks of state benefits.
“Florida retailers expect decrease in 2020 holiday sales” via Danielle Prieur of WMFE — Due to economic struggles caused by the coronavirus pandemic, retailers in Florida are expecting a 5% decrease in holiday sales this year. The average consumer is expected to spend $998 on gifts in 2020, about 50 dollars less than last year. The holiday shopping season is the biggest time of the year for stores, with shops making 20 to 40% of their annual sales during the month before Christmas. Given fears from COVID-19, Florida Retail Federation President Scott Shalley expects more people to shop online this year. He is encouraging those consumers to spend their money with stores with a physical presence in Florida.
“The pandemic means fewer presents for many families. Here’s what to tell your kid.” via Michelle Singletary of The Washington Post — What if the pandemic recession has affected your family finances to the point that the usual treasure trove of presents and lavish holiday meal aren’t possible? What do you tell your children about the scaled-down Christmas or Hanukkah you need to have this year? When breaking bad news to a child, you want to meet the child by asking what their understanding of the topic is. A very young child may not understand the implications of something like losing a job in the way a teenager would. If you first find out exactly what they know about the topic, you’ll likely be more equipped to share the news in a developmentally appropriate way and can fill in the gaps if they’re confused.
— MORE CORONA —
“This winter, fight COVID-19 with humidity” via Joseph G. Allen, Akiko Iwasaki and Linsey C. Marr of The Washington Post — Relative humidity is the term for how much water vapor is actually in the air compared to how much it can hold. Think of it like a sponge: At 100%, the sponge is totally soaked; at 50%, it holds half as much water. Warmer air can hold more water vapor; it’s like a bigger sponge. As fall turns to winter and we start heating the air, our indoor environments become drier, often hitting 20% relative humidity, well below the ideal 40 to 60%. There is less mucous in dry air, and cilia don’t beat as fast or in the right direction. This means fewer virus particles are captured or cleared out of the respiratory tract.
“Food industry braces for new coronavirus wave” via Ryan McCrimmon of POLITICO — Turkey farmers raised smaller birds for reduced Thanksgiving gatherings. Restaurants are begging Congress for a lifeline as state and local officials clamp down on indoor dining. And major grocers including Kroger, H-E-B and Publix are bringing back per-customer limits on high-demand items like toilet paper and household cleaners. Across the food and grocery industry, the holidays are starting to resemble the panic of the pandemic spring, when the supply chain was stressed and businesses were teetering. This time around, grocers say the limits are proactive measures rather than a sign of looming shortages. Still, photos of empty store shelves have again started cropping up online.
“NFL orders shutdown of team facilities Monday and Tuesday to slow spread of COVID-19” via Mike Brehm of USA Today — The NFL has ordered team facilities to be closed to in-person activities early next week in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19 among players and staffers. A memo from commissioner Roger Goodell, tweeted Friday night by the NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, says in-person meetings are prohibited on Monday and Tuesday and must be held virtually. The NFL said it was taking the step because of the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the country and because it came to the league’s attention that a “number of players and staffers celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday with out-of-town guests.” Teams playing on Monday and Tuesday are exempt from the order.
“Virus-killing robot zaps airport viruses as pandemic travel picks up” via Dalvin Brown of The Washington Post — The coronavirus pandemic has ushered in an era of distinctive travel experiences for those going against expert guidance to stay at home ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. Some airports, such as Los Angeles International, have installed thermal imaging cameras to scan for fever symptoms, while airlines such as United have installed touchless kiosks, enabling passengers to keep their hands clean while checking in. As air travel gains some steam and coronavirus-related shutdowns return in pockets of the country, one of the latest iterations of virus-fighting tech at the airport is a germ-zapping robot at San Antonio International Airport in Texas.
“Delta announces quarantine-free flights to Rome, raising hopes for more travel corridors” via Rick Noack of The Washington Post — Delta Air Lines has announced that, pending approval, it will be launching quarantine-free flights from Atlanta to Rome for travelers who have tested negative for the coronavirus and are eligible to enter the European Union despite travel restrictions. Similar flights could soon also connect Rome with New York, the Italian capital’s airport network announced, citing its cooperation with Delta and Alitalia, Italy’s flag carrier. It would be the first such quarantine-free travel corridor between the United States and Europe, and industry advocates hope that it could become a role model for how air travel can resume safely after a year that has forced many airlines into bankruptcy or mass layoffs.
“Federal appeals court panel rejects Donald Trump request to block certification of Pennsylvania’s election results” via Jon Swaine, Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Robert Barnes of The Washington Post — A federal appeals court rejected Trump’s request for an emergency injunction to overturn the certification of Pennsylvania’s election results, delivering another defeat to the President’s attempts to reverse the outcome in a state that has already formalized President-elect Biden’s victory there. Last weekend, Trump’s campaign had filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit after a U.S. District Court dismissed its federal lawsuit against Pennsylvania election authorities and rejected the campaign’s request to be allowed to revise the suit to include more allegations.
“Completed Wisconsin recount confirms Joe Biden’s win over Trump” via The Associated Press — Wisconsin finished a recount of its presidential results on Sunday, confirming Democrat Biden’s victory over Trump in the key battleground state. Trump vowed to challenge the outcome in court even before the recount concluded. Dane County was the second and last county to finish its recount, reporting a 45-vote gain for Trump. Milwaukee County, the state’s other big and overwhelmingly liberal county targeted in a recount that Trump paid $3 million for, reported its results Friday, a 132-vote gain for Biden. Taken together, the two counties barely budged Biden’s winning margin of about 20,600 votes, giving the winner a net gain of 87 votes.
“How do Miami’s Republican leaders view Trump’s efforts to overturn the election?” via David Smiley, Douglas Hanks, Ana Ceballos and Alex Daugherty of the Miami Herald — Two weeks after Biden was declared the President-elect, Trump and his allies continue trying to overturn the results of the Nov. 3 election, putting Republican leaders in an awkward spot. Trump and high-profile backers have contacted local and state officials in key states to potentially halt or delay the certification of results. Lawsuits linger. And on Thursday, having failed to sway courts of law, Trump’s legal team stepped up its attempts to undercut Biden’s win through the court of public opinion by making an unfounded claim that a rigged election and global vote-tampering conspiracy stole the election from Trump.
“‘Invisible campaign’ and the specter of socialism: Why Cuban Americans fell hard for Donald Trump” via Nora Gámez Torres of the Tampa Bay Times — While Trump won more Cuban American votes in 2016 than Hillary Clinton in Miami-Dade County, his margin was somewhere between 54 and 57%, below Mitt Romney’s 60% share in 2012. Separate analyses of tallies in more than 30 Cuban-majority precincts in Hialeah, Westchester and the suburbs of southwest Miami-Dade by Republican and Democratic strategists suggest that four years later, Trump made double-digit gains, getting as much as 69% of the Cuban-American vote.
“On prediction markets, Trump supporters are still betting on him … with their own money” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — Trump’s ardent, and apparently fiscally bereft, supporters are deluding themselves on the prediction market, PredictIt. PredictIt is a trading market where users can essentially buy stock in election outcomes. The concept is similar to the stock market in that the idea is to buy low and sell high. But at this point in the process, users are still buying shares in presidential outcomes that have already been determined. In case it’s not already clear how ridiculous this is, imagine knowing the score of a football game in which the winning team prevailed by five touchdowns but betting on the losing team because maybe they can still kick a field goal.
“DeSantis and Pam Bondi disappear as Trump’s election challenges grow desperate and chaotic” via Steve Contorno and Allison Ross of the Tampa Bay Times — Trump, his progressively desperate legal challenges floundering from a lack of proof, welcomed two high-ranking Michigan Republicans to the White House as he zeroed in on a new strategy to subvert the election. The latest maneuver would have Republican legislatures in critical states overrule their voters’ will and certify a different slate of electors than the ones chosen by the popular vote. If the move sounds familiar to Floridians and Fox News viewers, it’s because DeSantis was one of the first and most prominent elected officials to suggest it.
“For Trump, being a Florida resident is easy. But will New York let go?” via Christine Stapleton of The Lakeland Ledger — If Trump wants to avoid New York’s steep income taxes by claiming Palm Beach is his new home after leaving the White House, he’ll need to do more than filing some court papers and change his voter registration, tax experts say. In fact, Trump’s biggest challenge will not be proving Florida is his primary residence, but rather convincing New York tax officials that the Empire State, where Trump has lived all but four years of his life, built a billion-dollar real estate empire and starred in a reality television show, is not his home.
“Trump privately plots his next act — including a potential 2024 run” via Philip Rucker, Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey of The Washington Post — Trump would have the world falsely believe that he won the election and is preparing for a second term. However, in private huddles and phone conversations, Trump has been discussing an entirely different next act: another presidential run in 2024. In a nod to the reality that he is destined to leave office in January, the President is seriously contemplating life beyond the White House, telling advisers that he wants to remain an omnipresent force in politics and the media — perhaps by running for the White House again. Trump has told confidants he could announce a 2024 campaign before the end of this year.
— TRANSITION —
“Biden spent much of the general election in his basement. Now, he and his aides ponder a very public inauguration.” via Matt Viser of The Washington Post — Biden spent months of his presidential campaign safely ensconced in his basement, communicating to the country via a television camera. His convention speech was delivered to a near-empty room in Delaware. After being declared the 46th President, his remarks were given before a distanced parking lot full of honking cars. And now, as candidate Biden transitions to President Biden, he is planning an inauguration ceremony that, like his campaign, will look like no other in recent American history. Several inaugural traditions will likely be scrapped.
“Biden hires all-female senior communications team, names Neera Tanden director of OMB” via Annie Linskey and Jeff Stein of The Washington Post — Jennifer Psaki, a veteran Democratic spokeswoman, will be Biden‘s White House press secretary, one of seven women who will fill the upper ranks of his administration’s communications staff. It is the first time that all of the top aides tasked with speaking on behalf of an administration and shaping its message will be female. Biden’s press team will be led by Kate Bedingfield, a longtime Biden aide who served as his campaign communications director and will hold the same title in his White House. Biden will also break several barriers on key economic policy positions.
“Biden wants to re-thaw relations with Cuba. He’ll have to navigate Florida politics.” via Anthony Faiola and Karen DeYoung of The Washington Post — On few countries is U.S. foreign policy driven more by domestic politics than Cuba and, to a lesser degree, Venezuela. Exiles and Americans of Cuban and Venezuelan descent who harbor deep antipathy for the governments on those leftist police states helped Trump win this key swing state this month. Trump’s net gains in South Florida’s Cuban community alone, experts say, accounted for as much as a third of the 372,000 votes that cost Biden the state.
“Twitter says it will give @POTUS account to Biden on Inauguration Day” via Donie O’Sullivan of CNN Business — Twitter said Friday it will hand control of the @POTUS account to the new Biden administration on Inauguration Day. The @POTUS account is the President of the United States’ official account and is separate from the @realDonaldTrump account that Trump uses to tweet. This will also apply to about a dozen White House accounts, including the @FLOTUS and @PressSec accounts, Nick Pacilio, a Twitter spokesperson told CNN Business. “Twitter is actively preparing to support the transition of White House institutional Twitter accounts on January 20, 2021. As we did for the presidential transition in 2017, this process is being done in close consultation with the National Archives and Records Administration,” Pacilio said in a statement.
“The Founders didn’t prepare for a President who refuses to step down, historians say” via Gillian Brockell of The Washington Post — Trump continued Friday to deny the results of the election, pressuring state officials in Michigan and Georgia to overturn the will of voters, and increasing fears that he might refuse to cede power to President-elect Biden. But those looking to the nation’s Founders, or the Constitution they framed, for answers to such a crisis will come up empty-handed. According to three historians and a constitutional law professor, there is nothing in the Constitution about what to do if a President refuses to step down when his term expires.
— D.C. MATTERS —
“Republican Senate signals it will confirm Biden Cabinet” via Burgess Everett of POLITICO — Senate Republicans are signaling they will confirm most of President-elect Biden’s Cabinet picks in January, a rare bright spot for a White House that may clash with a GOP majority for years to come. Many Republicans won’t even publicly concede that Biden will be the next President while Trump fights to overturn the election results. But a critical mass of GOP Senators said in interviews that Biden has the right to his Cabinet, indicating he may staff his administration largely to his liking.
“Trump’s plan to import drugs into U.S. and Florida faces legal challenge” via Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times — An influential pharmaceutical lobbying group is suing to end the Trump administration’s plan to allow prescription drugs to be imported from Canada into the United States. That could have major implications for Florida, where DeSantis and Trump have highlighted state and federal efforts to lower the cost of the prescriptions. DeSantis announced last week that Florida’s importation plan had been submitted to the federal government. “For far too long, Floridians have been paying exorbitant prices for prescription drugs,” DeSantis said in a release. “Today, we take another step toward lowering those prices.”
“Rick Scott presses U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar for vaccine information” via CBS 4 Miami — Sen. Scott sent a letter this week to Secretary Azar pressing him for more detailed information about the distribution of yet-to-be-approved COVID-19 vaccines and about a $6 billion funding request. Scott, who announced he had tested positive for COVID-19, said it’s not clear how federal, state, and local governments will coordinate efforts to distribute vaccines. Scott asked Azar nine questions in the letter, such as whether the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will provide final guidance for states to follow. In the letter, Scott said that the CDC has only made executive summaries, and not the full state plans, available on its website.
“Matt Gaetz: Trump should pardon himself to stop ‘radical left’” via The Associated Press — Gaetz said Trump should pardon himself and others in his administration before leaving office to prevent the “radical left” from prosecuting them. The Panhandle Republican and close Trump ally said Tuesday on Fox News’ “The Ingraham Angle” that the President should protect his staff from what he thinks would be unjust prosecutions. Some Democrats have called on the incoming Biden administration to investigate Trump and other administration members for possible crimes such as conspiring with the Russians during the 2016 campaign, illegal campaign contributions and obstruction of justice.
“Betsy DeVos calls on Congress to postpone federal standardized exams until 2022” via Perry Stein of The Washington Post — The national standardized test regarded as a crucial barometer of student achievement could be postponed until 2022 due to the coronavirus, the Education Department announced Wednesday. Federal officials said that too many students are participating in virtual learning or attending schools that prohibit outside visitors, making it impossible to administer the exam effectively. Education Secretary DeVos called on the National Center for Education Statistics to stop any further spending preparing for the January exam. In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, she also wrote that removing the mandate to take the test should be an act of Congress and called on legislators to postpone it.
“Debbie Wasserman Schultz making bid for one of the most powerful leadership jobs in Congress” via Anthony Man of the Orlando Sentinel — U.S. Rep. Wasserman Schultz is nearing the end of an audacious, yearlong campaign to leapfrog colleagues with more seniority and land one of the most powerful jobs in Congress: chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee. “A top committee chairmanship like appropriations would be a major coup for her and frankly a major coup for South Florida,” said Kathryn DePalo-Gould, a Florida International University political scientist. Even if she falls short, it will represent a comeback from the political turmoil of four years ago, when she resigned as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee after stolen internal emails showed party staffers weren’t neutral in the 2016 presidential primary. A dismal showing would be politically embarrassing.
Spotted — Brian Ballard in an article for RadioFreeEurope, which suggests that Ballard Partners, the most successful of the Trump-linked lobbyist firms, will survive the end of Trump’s presidency. According to the article: “Ballard has hired lobbyists with strong ties to the Democratic Party, making the firm resemble the traditional bipartisan firms that dominate Washington regardless of which party is in power, industry observers say.”
— STATEWIDE —
“Florida expected to add 303,000 people a year” via The News Service of Florida — Florida is forecast to have 23.1 million people in April 2025, a new report shows. By a panel known as the Demographic Estimating Conference, the report said the population from April 1, 2020, to April 1, 2025, is expected to increase by 303,264 residents a year — or 831 people per day. “These increases are analogous to adding a city slightly larger than Orlando every year,” an executive summary of the report said. The analysts projected that Florida would have 21.89 million residents in April 2021, with the number steadily climbing to 23.1 million in April 2025.
“‘We’re calling about your car’s extended warranty’: Nikki Fried levies $345K fine against South Florida auto warranty company” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Tired of getting those pesky calls asking about your car’s extended warranty? Fried feels you. The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which Fried heads as the only statewide elected Democrat, issued a $345,000 fine against a West Palm Beach-based company for conducting unsolicited telephone sales calls to consumers on the “Florida Do Not Call” list. The company, Turnkey Auto Group, sells extended car warranties. Fried’s office also named Fidelity Mutual Life in the fine, which includes 171 alleged violations.
“For Citizens to shed policies, the market needs to be more stable” via Malena Carollo of the Tampa Bay Times — State-run Citizens Property Insurance Co. has grown rapidly since January, expanding to its largest pool of policies in recent years. To get those numbers down and keep them down, several private market issues must be stabilized first, a Florida State University study obtained by the Tampa Bay Times said. It then needs to raise premiums on many of its policies to reflect the risk of property damage more accurately. “I think this study is going to help steer the debate on property insurance issues,” Michael Carlson, CEO of the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida. “Certainly, it will help educate new lawmakers in Tallahassee.”
— LOCAL NOTES —
“Mother of teen shooting victim shot during son’s funeral in Cocoa” via Tyler Vazquez of Florida Today — Burial services for Sincere Pierce at Riverview Memorial Gardens ended Saturday afternoon abruptly when an unknown gunman fired a single shot and hit the deceased’s mother. The gunfire came as guests paid their last respects to the 18-year-old, one of two teens killed Nov. 13 by a Brevard County deputy in Cocoa. Funeral services for the other teen killed, 16-year-old Angelo Crooms, were held Nov. 21. As the pastor finished his prayers, and Pierce’s friends and loved ones were placing flowers on his casket, a loud popping sound could be heard. The sound of a single gunshot was followed by stunned silence before Quasheda Pierce could be heard yelling that she’d been hit.
“Pasco’s sheriff uses grades and abuse histories to label schoolchildren potential criminals. The kids and their parents don’t know.” via Neil Bedi and Kathleen McGrory of the Tampa Bay Times — The Pasco Sheriff’s Office keeps a secret list of kids it thinks could “fall into a life of crime” based on factors like whether they’ve been abused or gotten a D or an F in school, according to the agency’s internal intelligence manual. The Sheriff’s Office assembles the list by combining the rosters for most middle and high schools in the county with records so sensitive, they’re protected by state and federal law. School district data shows which children are struggling academically, miss too many classes, or are sent to the office for discipline. Records from the state Department of Children and Families flag kids who have witnessed household violence or experienced it themselves.
“It’s not who you are; it’s who you know: How Joe Abruzzo took an elected post without a fight” via Joe Capozzi of The Palm Beach Post — When Sharon Bock announced her retirement after 16 years as Palm Beach County clerk and comptroller, she shared the spotlight with her chosen successor, Shannon Chessman, the clerk’s chief operating officer. Delivering the knockout blow was Abruzzo, who surprised just about everyone with a late entry into the race. Abruzzo filed just 20 hours before the June 12 qualifying deadline, armed with a roster of prominent endorsements. The next morning, Chessman, a certified public accountant with nearly 16 years of experience on Bock’s executive leadership team, dropped out.
“Pahokee residents launch recall petition to remove three City Commissioners from office” via Joe Capozzi of The Palm Beach Post — Residents critical of Pahokee City Manager Chandler Williamson’s performance have launched a recall petition aimed at removing three City Commissioners from office. The Pahokee Recall Committee has targeted Mayor Keith Babb, Vice Mayor Clara Murvin and commissioner Benny Everett, accusing them of malfeasance because they have refused to fire Williamson despite three critical Palm Beach County Inspector General audits. The committee collected 378 signatures on each petition, far more than the 304 as required by law in the first step of the recall process, said chairperson Annie Coore.
“Travel numbers down compared to last year as South Florida tourism industry braces for holiday season” via Sanela Sabovic of WPLG — Despite the surge in coronavirus cases in nearly all 50 states, many families are still planning to host a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. The number of people traveling to South Florida is much lower than what it was last year. Even so, tourism industry officials are optimistic. Carol Tracz is the director of sales and marketing at the famed Riverside Hotel on Las Olas Blvd. She said the occupancy numbers for Thanksgiving aren’t where they should be. “Most of our hotels in Broward County and beyond in the tri-counties are seeing a dip in the occupancy,” said Tracz. “Occupancy is 40-60% less this year than last year for the Thanksgiving holiday.”
“A Florida Keys coral reef just got $5M worth of help” via Gwen Filosa of the Miami Herald — A $5 million grant will help restore Eastern Dry Rocks, one of seven iconic reefs in the federally protected waters that surround the Florida Keys. The project includes planting more than 60,000 corals and employing professional dive shops and community groups to help prepare the reef by removing debris. “It’s to start restoration on a scale that really hasn’t been done before,” said Chip Weiskotten, of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration awarded the $5 million through the National Coastal Resilience Fund, a public-private partnership, to the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.
“FSU President John Thrasher announces administration changes, including retirements, new hires” via Casey Chapter of the Tallahassee Democrat — With just a few months left in his tenure at Florida State University, President Thrasher announced several staff changes at the highest ranks of the 169-year-old school. The changes came in a report to the university’s Board of Trustees Friday and shared in a news release. The moves come as Thrasher, president since November 2014, himself heads toward retirement. He and FSU Board of Trustees chairman Ed Burr agreed in September to start the search, which could take up to six months, considering the pandemic. Thrasher has said he will remain at the helm until a new president is chosen.
— TOP OPINION —
“Gov. DeSantis needs to work with a President Biden” via the Tampa Bay Times editorial board — Gov. DeSantis never missed an opportunity to parlay his relationship with Trump. Whether it was securing hurricane relief assistance or supplies to fight the coronavirus pandemic, the Republican governor used his party’s kinship to the Oval Office to Florida’s advantage. But now, DeSantis is threatening the interests of 22 million Floridians by clinging to the Trump train and snubbing President-elect Biden. DeSantis has joined the chorus of Trump devotees and conspiracy theorists in egging on the President to continue challenging his defeat for reelection on Nov. 3.
— OPINIONS —
“If the losing party won’t accept defeat, democracy is dead” via Edward B. Foley of The Washington Post — If the losing party can’t accept defeat, the whole enterprise of electoral democracy is finished. Two-party competition means each party taking turns depending on what the voters want in any given election. Trump himself will never acknowledge this. But the Republican Party institutionally must. If the United States is to adhere to its foundational premise that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, then Senate Republicans as a party in government need to recognize Biden’s inauguration not merely as a fait accompli they cannot undo but instead the actual choice that the voters genuinely made in this election.
“Michigan’s failed coup should live in infamy” via Noah Feldman of Bloomberg — This week’s Michigan election theft scare lasted just about three hours — unless you were checking your screen in real-time, it may have passed you by. Yet, brief as the episode was, when historians look back on this strange interregnum in which Trump has not acknowledged Biden’s victory, they could do worse than to dig deep into the sorry affair. It carries important lessons about how delicate our system of electoral transitions is and the social forces that preserve the system despite its sometimes precarious-seeming character. The historians will have to start with the weird institution at the heart of the events: the Wayne County Board of Canvassers.
“Bring our troops home — the right way” via Marco Rubio for National Review — The threats facing our nation and our allies from those who wish to do us harm are real. If we prematurely pull our U.S. forces out from Afghanistan — or if we conduct the process too quickly — we risk putting our service members in harm’s way, and the actual Afghan government will collapse in short order. They are already struggling to hold on as it is, given the Taliban’s threat and challenge. Another serious concern is that if U.S. forces are pulled out without proper planning, American weapons and other equipment will make it into the hands of the Taliban or another enemy of our nation, putting everyone At even more risk.
“Put your masks on, Florida lawmakers” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — Way to go, Kelly Skidmore. Masked up and touring the state Capitol with her colleagues this week, the newly-elected Democratic lawmaker from Boca Raton called out a colleague, Republican Rep. Scott Plakon of Longwood, for not wearing a face mask as he entered an elevator. “Put your mask on, Plakon,” she said. Plakon paid her no mind. The fleeting moment, observed by the Sun-Sentinel, captured what was so wrong with this week’s organizational meeting of the Florida Legislature, where two new presiding officers were sworn in, and lawmakers took a solemn oath to “support, protect and defend” the state of Florida. But about a dozen Republican House members refused to wear face masks.
“The danger of legal immunity for those who expose others to COVID-19” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — The Florida Legislature is not quite as indifferent to the coronavirus pandemic as it might appear. Some members are actually talking about immunity. Unfortunately, it’s altogether the wrong kind. The immunity they have in mind is protection for nursing homes and other businesses against being sued over COVID-19 illnesses and deaths. It’s unusual litigation in a significant respect. According to the complaint, an associate wanted to wear a face mask, but Publix prohibited him and other employees from doing so, even if they brought their own, lest it frightens customers.
“Lawrence Keefe: To earn trust, police must follow use of force standards” via Florida Politics — Following the death of George Floyd and the related widespread further erosion of trust between some communities and law enforcement, a sharp focus has been placed on the need to establish national standards on police “use of force” policies. We are in a crucial time of increasingly dangerous crime. It is a good thing that we are engaged in a complex national conversation about the relationship of law enforcement to the communities they are sworn to protect and serve. The implementation of these standards will provide for more accountability, transparency and community engagement. Nationally respected civil rights attorney Ben Crump provided an insightful perspective: “If you want our trust, then you must be transparent, and you must be accountable.”
— ALOE —
“Forget sad Thanksgiving: early Christmas fever takes over” via Leanne Italie of The Associated Press — As some holiday tree sellers fear they’ll sell out by Thanksgiving and parcel shipping companies worry about November gridlock, a growing number of people on a quest for joy have bucked tradition and gone full-on Christmas weeks earlier than they normally would. Brandon Stephens, president of the professional holiday decorating company Christmas Decor, said early business is up 15% to 20% compared to the same period last year. Orders came in as early as April — for April, he said. The company’s franchises serviced more than 43,000 homes and businesses last year around the country and expect a jump to about 52,000 this year. Most of the early activity is residential.
“‘Memory maker’: Real Christmas trees are bright spot amid coronavirus, farmers report higher demand” via Gillian Flaccus of The Associated Press — The real Christmas tree industry, which has been battling increased interest in artificial trees, is glad to see that more Americans appear to be flocking to fresh-cut evergreens this season, seeking a bright spot amid the virus’s worsening toll. It’s early in the season, but both wholesale tree farmers and small cut-your-own lots report strong demand, with many opening well before Thanksgiving. Businesses say they are seeing more people and earlier than ever. For example, at some pick-your-own-tree farms, customers sneaked in well before Thanksgiving to tag the perfect tree to cut down once the business opened.
“In Santa’s mailbag, a peek into children’s pandemic worries” via John Leicester of The Associated Press — The emotional toll wrought by the pandemic is jumping off pages in the deluge of “Dear Santa” letters now pouring into a post office in southwest France that sorts and responds to his mail from around the world. Arriving by the tens of thousands, the letters, notes, and cards reveal windows into the tender minds of their young authors, and adult Santa fans also ask for respite and happiness at the tail end of a year of sickness and tumult. Like this letter from young Zoe, who limited her requests to a music player and amusement park tickets because “this year has been very different from others because of COVID-19.” “That’s why I am not asking you for many thing(s) to avoid infection,” Zoe wrote, signing off with “Merci!” and a heart.
“Twitter verification will return early next year” via Makena Kelly of The Verge — Twitter announced that it would relaunch its verification process early next year along with brand-new guidelines for users seeking out that small, blue badge. Twitter’s announcement confirms earlier reporting in June from app researcher Jane Manchun Wong suggesting that the company was creating a new verification system. In Twitter’s Tuesday blog post, the company confirmed that this new system would roll out in “early 2021.” Twitter is also asking for feedback on a draft proposal for verification. If no changes to this proposal are made, the accounts that would be eligible for verification would include accounts of well-known organizations and groups, as well as what Twitter refers to as “other influential individuals.”
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Celebrating today is our friend, Mark Kaplan, VP for government and community relations at the University of Florida, who was recently included in INFLUENCE Magazine’s list of the 100 Most Influential People in Florida politics. Also celebrating today are Eddie Borrego, Phil Compton, and former Rep. Keith Fitzgerald. Belated best wishes to Freddy Balsera.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.