Gary Fineout's must-read briefing on what's hot, crazy or shady about politics in the Sunshine State
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By DAVID KIHARA
01/20/2022 06:58 AM EST
Good Thursday morning.
First, the good news: The Omicron variant that has swept though Florida, leaving schools understaffed and hospitals desperate for resources, appears to be plateauing. Florida Hospital Association president and CEO Mary Mayhew told POLITICO’s Arek Sarkissian this week that hospitalizations, which are still in record high numbers, are even decreasing in places.
“We are very, very encouraged by what we’re seeing right now,” Mayhew said. “Things have either leveled off, and in some areas you’ve even seen things go down.”
Now, the bad news: Across the board, Covid-related hospitalizations are still hovering around record-breaking numbers and have inched up recently. In Florida, there were 11,839 people in hospitals with Covid on Wednesday, an increase from the 10,893 people counted just the day before. Arek also reports that the number of ICU beds occupied by Covid patients has also gone up from roughly 1,500 beds on Monday to 1,615 as of Wednesday.
Fatigue or indifference? There was a greater sense of alarm when the Delta variant surged in Florida over the summer and early fall. DeSantis came under increasing criticism in early August when hospitalizations topped 10,000 in early August — which at the time was the highest number of hospitalizations up to that point in the pandemic.
Yet DeSantis has weathered the criticism and, arguable has become even more popular in the state and across the nation among conservatives for his resistance to Covid-related mandates. So it’s ironic that his handling of the virus has caused such a rift with former President Donald Trump. We’ve all heard by now that Trump delivered a thinly-veiled blow to DeSantis over the GOP governor’s non-answers over his booster status, and that DeSantis fired back last week over the Trump administration’s Covid response. And now we’re waiting to see who will take the next shot.
I’m David Kihara, an editor at POLITICO, who is filling in for Gary Fineout while he recovers from Covid.
— WHERE’S RON? — Nothing official announced for Gov. DeSantis.
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DEFENSIVE MOVE — “DeSantis administration defends proposed congressional map as lawsuit threats pile up,” By POLITICO’s Matt Dixon: Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office is defending a proposed congressional map drawn by its top attorney, saying it improves upon legislative draft maps even as lawsuit threats continue. The map represented a departure from the normal redistricting process, which has historically included the Legislature drawing the proposed congressional maps and the governor retaining veto authority after lawmakers approve the final versions. DeSantis, however, on Sunday night filed a plan that could give Republicans an advantage over a state Senate-drawn map currently awaiting a floor vote. “Under the existing congressional map, there is only one protected district with a majority of Black votes,” said DeSantis’ communication director Taryn Fenske. “Our map keeps a majority Black district. Both Senate and House maps, by contrast, contain no majority Black districts.”
ABORTION FIGHT — “Florida’s proposed 15-week abortion ban clears first committee,” by POLITICO’s Arek Sarkissian: “Lawmakers advanced a Florida House bill that seeks to all but ban abortions in Florida after 15 weeks of gestation on Wednesday with a 12-6 vote, despite concerns from Democrats that the measure was already in violation of state and federal law. The bill sponsor, state Rep. Erin Grall (R-Vero Beach) said during Wednesday’s Professions & Public Health Subcommittee that FL HB5 (22R) will rely heavily on an upcoming decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on a nearly identical Mississippi law that also restricts abortions more than 15 weeks into a pregnancy.”
GRIM REVELATION — “Florida has a unique potion for executing prisoners. It wants to keep the details secret,” by Miami Herald’s Bern Conarck and Ana Ceballos: “Florida’s prison officials are asking legislators to enact more layers of secrecy around the state’s method of executing Death Row inmates, floating a bill that would make confidential any records that ‘could reasonably lead to the identification of any person or entity participating in an execution.’ The measures would allow the Florida Department of Corrections to obscure the supply chain behind the unique cocktail of drugs used in its lethal injections. The department says doing so would prevent social activists from pressuring drug manufacturers into blacklisting the state from purchasing their products, but death penalty opponents say that it’s the manufacturers themselves that have sought to prevent their drugs from being used to kill people.”
BAD BET — “Florida elections offices seeing suspected fraudulent petitions in gambling effort,” by Lawrence Mower and Mary Ellen Klas: “Across the state, elections supervisors say they have been sent thousands of fraudulent petition forms supporting a constitutional amendment to expand casino gaming in the state. Although the forms are supposed to reflect real Floridians voicing support for a change to the state’s constitution, many include the names of dead people or the forged signatures of real voters. The petition drive is financed by Las Vegas Sands, whose late owner, Sheldon Adelson, was a megadonor to Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state Republican party.”
ACAVEDO SAGA — “Fired police chief sues city of Miami, commissioners, claims he was target of ‘vendettas,’” by Miami Herald’s Jay Weaver, Nicholas Nehamas and Joey Flechas: “If Miami commissioners hoped they had heard the last from former police chief Art Acevedo when they fired him in October, they were wrong. On Wednesday, Acevedo filed a lawsuit in federal court against the city of Miami, city manager Art Noriega and commissioners Joe Carollo, Alex Díaz de la Portilla and Manolo Reyes. In the court filing, Acevedo claims that the city, manager and three commissioners violated his First Amendment rights and retaliated against him for blowing the whistle on what he describes as a toxic stew of corruption and wrongdoing at City Hall.”
SCHOOL CHOICE — “Here are the three finalists vying to become Miami-Dade’s next school superintendent,” by Miami Herald’s Sommer Brugal: “Miami-Dade County School District’s next superintendent will be either Jose Dotres, Rafaela Espinal or Jacob Oliva. After a more than five-hour meeting, where members debated contentiously how to best move forward and whether additional interviews were necessary, the School Board Tuesday agreed it would hold another special meeting to interview the three finalists for the superintendent’s post in a public setting. Following the interviews, the board will appoint the district’s next leader.”
MOVING ON — “DOT secretary Kevin Thibault picked to run Orlando airport,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Kevin Spear: “Gov. Ron DeSantis’ five appointees to Orlando’s aviation authority voted Wednesday to hire the governor’s transportation secretary, Kevin Thibault, to run Orlando International Airport. Thibault has never run an airport but has years of transportation collaboration with Florida airports during his career in private and public positions. His formal hiring as chief executive officer to replace veteran Phil Brown hinges on the outcome of salary negotiations, though preliminary talks have occurred already.”
LOCKED UP — “Cubans who joined July protests now face stiff sentences,” by the Washington Post’s Mary Beth Sheridan and Gabriela Martinez: “Maykel Rodríguez had gone out to buy food when he came upon the crowd. His neighbors in the Cuban city of Holguin were yelling that they wanted change. They were part of an extraordinary surge of protests across the communist-ruled island last July, as citizens unleashed pent-up frustrations about the lack of food, electricity and freedom. Rodríguez, a 34-year-old father of three, joined in. Six months later, his family says, Rodríguez is facing up to 28 years in prison. He is among scores of people facing stiff sentences in trials this month for their roles in the demonstrations of July 11 and 12, according to relatives and human rights groups.”
COUP FALLOUT — “A second suspect in Haiti president’s assassination extradited to the U.S.,” by Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Charles and Jay Weaver: “A key suspect in the murder investigation of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was arrested Wednesday by federal agents in Miami after being extradited to the United States. Rodolphe Jaar, a Haitian businessman who had been convicted of U.S. cocaine-trafficking charges a decade ago, was detained by Dominican authorities earlier this month after crossing into the country following months of hiding in neighboring Haiti. The arrest of Jaar, known as “Dodof,” in the Dominican Republic came six months to the day after a hit squad allegedly made up of Colombian commandos, Haitian police officers and others piled into vehicles from Jaar’s home in Petionville and drove to the president’s nearby residence to carry out his assassination.”
— “A kidnapped Cuban doctor is being held by a gang in Haiti even though ransom was paid,” by Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Chares and Nora Gamez Torres
MAGA MEGAPHONE — “Roger Stone slams DeSantis for ‘disloyalty’ to Trump,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Steven Lemongello: “Notorious provocateur Roger Stone warned Gov. Ron DeSantis to step aside for former President Donald Trump in 2024, slamming DeSantis’s “disloyalty” to Trump and implying the former president could pull his support. Stone, a longtime Trump ally and Republican fixer, also again threatened his own potential run for governor against DeSantis this year. His warning came after reports that a rift was growing between Trump and DeSantis over COVID-19 vaccines and their shared aspirations for the 2024 Republican nomination.”
TRUMP’S COURT — “Supreme Court rejects Trump’s bid to shield records from Jan. 6 committee,” by POLITICO’s Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney: The Supreme Court has rejected former President Donald Trump’s bid to use executive privilege to block a House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection from accessing a trove of records created by Trump’s White House. The ruling on Wednesday opens up a trove of documents to congressional investigators who have sought them to determine Trump’s actions and mindset in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 6 attack, as well as what he did as his supporters were rioting at the Capitol.
GREENBACKS — “Biden administration plans to spend more than $1 billion on Everglades restoration,” by the Miami Herald’s Bryan Lowry and Alex Harris: “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to spend $1.1 billion on restoring and preserving South Florida’s Everglades during the current fiscal year, the White House announced Wednesday. The money comes through the infrastructure law President Joe Biden signed into law in November and represents the single largest investment in the Everglades in history, according to the White House. Florida’s congressional delegation split along party lines last year on the more than $1 trillion infrastructure package with only the state’s Democrats voting in favor of it.”
A YEAR IN — “Biden’s first year: A tale of two presidencies,” by POLITICO’s Jonathan Lemire: The president ends his first year undeniably weaker than he began it, with his poll numbers having plummeted and his party in danger of being swept out of power on Capitol Hill. His team insists they aren’t thrown by their turn of fortune and that history will be on their side … Only weeks after Biden used July 4 to declare America’s independence from the Covid virus, the lethal and highly transmissible Delta variant deluged the nation, preying largely on the unvaccinated to send death totals and hospitalizations soaring. Then the world watched in horror as the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan was filled with images of tumult and violence.
HEADING SOUTH — “Biden names ambassadors to Brazil,” by POLITICO’s Samuel Benson: President Joe Biden announced plans on Wednesday to nominate four new ambassadors, moving to fill vacancies at U.S. embassies in Brazil, the United Kingdom, Chad and Denmark. Biden’s pick for ambassador to Brazil is Elizabeth Bagley, a longtime diplomat and attorney. Bagley served as ambassador to Portugal during the administration of former President Bill Clinton, during which she was given the Grand Cross of Prince Henry the Navigator, Portugal’s highest civilian honor.
The daily rundown — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there were 43,179 Covid-19 infections reported on Tuesday. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that 11,839 hospital beds were being used in the state for Covid-19 patients.
PUSHED OUT? — “Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings: ‘It is my fervent hope that Dr. Pino returns to work … soon,'” by Orlando Sentinel’s Stephen Hudak: “Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, isolated at home because of a COVID-19 infection, offered his support Wednesday for Dr. Raul Pino, who was placed on administrative leave from his post as the state’s chief health officer in the county. ‘Dr. Raul Pino has been our trusted partner and friend throughout the pandemic,’ the mayor said in a statement emailed from his communications team. ‘His sound medical advice has helped guide me and countless other Orange County leaders to make the best decisions possible in dealing with COVID-19.’ Pino, 58, who has led the Health Department in Orange County since May 2019, is facing a state investigation related to a staff-wide email he sent Jan. 4. The email revealed that fewer than 14% of the 568 employees in the county Health Department had been fully vaccinated with a complete series and booster shot.”
BEAR WITH ME — “Florida woman attacked by bear while walking dog says she’s ‘lucky to be alive,’” by NBC News’ Elisha Fieldstadt: “A Florida woman was attacked by a bear while walking her dog last week, officials said. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said its officers and the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office got a call from a woman who said she had been attacked by a black bear at about 9 p.m. Thursday in DeBary, about 26 miles north of Orlando. When officers arrived, the woman was treated on the scene for non-life-threatening injuries, according to a statement from the commission. Officers found a female bear who had yearlings in a tree.”
— “Florida, Pinellas Park, St. Petersburg are most humid in U.S, study says,” By Tampa Bay Times’ Josh Fiallo
BIRTHDAYS: Rick Oppenheim, CEO and senior counselor at RB Oppenheim Associates … J.D. Hicks with J.D. Hicks & Associates … former state Rep. Al Jacquet.
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