Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

Sunburn for 8.22.17 – Adam Putnam up close; Goat blood-drinker running for Senate; Bill Nelson whiffs on monuments; Mike Pence coming to Miami; Rick Scott vs. NDN

in Peter by

Admittedly, we’ve been a tad hard on Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. There’s no denying he’s the frontrunner to be the next Governor of Florida, but we were hoping he’d wear that mantle without veering as far to the right as he has this summer.

Our colleague Joe Henderson, who took in a Putnam campaign event while he worked on his breakfast at a buffet join in east Hillsborough County, reminded us just how capable Putnam is on the campaign trail.

About 150 people, including Attorney General Pam Bondi and HD 58 candidate Yvonne Fry, packed into to hear Putnam serve up some red meat. Whether you agree with Putnam on issues like the Second Amendment or not, give the man his due.

He is as good as anyone I’ve seen in Florida at delivering a talk that makes you feel like you’re on the back porch looking out over a bass-filled lake at sunset. A glass of sweet tea is in your hand and Adam is in your ear – not overpowering it, mind you. Just talking about stuff. He seems to have a way of making everyone in a crowded room feel like he is only speaking with them.

That’s a gift.

Henderson watched the crowd while he spoke without notes for a half hour so, and he says could see heads nodding in agreement. “I didn’t see anyone playing with their phones or looking at their watches as he stood before the crowd in his trademark dress shirt with no tie and rolled up cuffs.”

He knows his audience.

There is plenty of time to dissect Putnam on the issues, although from the early tone of his campaign I think we can guess its essence. He is a Republican. He likes guns.

He hung around a while after the talk, shaking hands, posing for pictures, and doing all the things politicians do. Lots of people waited patiently to get a coveted photo with him. No one seemed to leave unhappy.

“I hope he wins,” Ralph Lupton said. “I like him. I don’t believe he has any hidden ghosts out there in the closet. He has high morals.”

Then Ralph, pragmatic man that he is, paused for a second before adding, “I hope to hell he doesn’t disappoint me.”

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Andrew Gillum touring college campuses” via Scott Powers of Florida PoliticsGillum is starting his tour at his alma mater, Florida A&M University in Tallahassee … From there he intends to visit the University of South Florida in Tampa Wednesday and Stetson University in DeLand and the University of Central Florida Thursday. Next week he’ll continue his tour in Miami and Jacksonville, and later in September in Gainesville, Tampa, Panama City and elsewhere. “Our young people are the brightest lights of our future — they speak into existence things they haven’t yet built, and create community with other people they’ve never encountered,” Gillum stated in a news release issued by his campaign. “They have a powerful role to play in our state, and that’s why I’m thrilled to see them on the campaign trail over the coming weeks.

Old news: “Bill Nelson ready to campaign on GOP failure to fix Obamacare” via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times on 8/21; “Bill Nelson says he’ll campaign on saving Obamacare” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics on 8/8

Goat blood-drinking Charlottesville speaker from Orlando announces run for Senate” via Steven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel – Augustus Invictus, the former Orlando attorney listed as a speaker at the Aug. 12 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville  … is running again for U.S. Senate in Florida, this time as a Republican. In a YouTube video shot outside Sen. Nelson’s office in Orlando, the former Libertarian revealed he’s running for Nelson’s seat on the GOP ticket in 2018. He also blamed “leftists” for the violent events in Charlottesville three days earlier, in which a counterprotester was killed and others injured after a car ran into them … Invictus claimed “the left has been physically attacking patriotic groups, free speech rallies and protests of the destruction of our heritage in the South. [It’s] a campaign of terror from coast to coast.” Invictus, 34, had previously run for a Florida U.S. Senate seat in 2016 as a Libertarian before losing in the party’s primary. Invictus’ runs in 2016, which included his admission he killed a goat and drank its blood in a pagan ritual three years earlier, led to Libertarian state Chairman Adrian Wyllie resigning in protest and the disbanding of the Libertarian Party of Seminole County.

More Florida lawmakers endorse Matt Spritz for House District 89 – Republican state Reps. Bobby Payne and Tom Leek join Byron Donalds, Alex Miller and Bob Rommel, who endorsed Spritz last month. Spritz is seeking the HD 89 seat, covering coastal portions of Palm Beach County spanning from Singer Island to Boca Raton. Payne represents HD 19 and Leek HD 25, both in Northeast Florida. “Matt Spritz embodies all that makes a great public servant,” said Payne. “His background, leadership skills, and conservative convictions will serve the people of District 89 very well, and I look forward to having him as a colleague.” … “I have no doubt that Matt Spritz will be an outstanding member of the Florida House,” said Leek. “His strong work ethic, values, and concern for others make him exactly the kind of person we need more of in Tallahassee.”

Happening tonight – House Speaker Richard Corcoran along with José Oliva, Chris Sprowls and Paul Renner are hosting a fundraising reception for state Rep. Rene Plasencia in his HD 49 re-election bid. Event begins 5 p.m. at The Gazebo at Dixie Crossroads Restaurant, 1475 Garden St. in Titusville.

Jose Javier Rodriguez’s CD 27 campaign sounds more Republican than Democratic” via Florida Politics – This much is clear: state Sen. Javier Rodriguez is running in the primary for Florida’s open 27th Congressional District. What has not been as clear: is it the Democratic or Republican primary? JJR, as he’s universally known, has never once endured the rigors of a Democratic primary. And since launching his latest electoral endeavor, that fact has become painfully obvious. Take for example an email missive sent out by his campaign in which Javier Rodriguez declares that Tallahassee’s Confederate monuments “belonged in a museum.” In his vigor to jump on the bandwagon of calling a special session for their removal, JJR apparently missed the mark regarding the current mood of the Democratic Party. JJR’s tone-deaf email was just another in a succession of actions or comments suggesting the ever-ambitious Javier Rodriguez is out of touch with the Democratic base.

Money, money, money!” via Darryl Paulson of Florida Politics – It has been said that money is the lifeblood of politics. If so, many members of the Florida congressional delegation are very healthy, while others are on life support. Candidates who raise large sums of money do so either to scare off political opponents, to prepare for a serious challenger, or to stockpile funds to run for higher office. The biggest war chests among the Florida congressional delegation are held by incumbent Republicans who are considered safe. Those with the largest campaign accounts include Republican Vern Buchanan in District 16 ($1,982,876), Republican Ron DeSantis in District 6 ($1,674,185), Republican Carlos Curbelo in District 26 ($1,078,588) and Democrat Charlie Crist in District 13 ($1,121,494). Only one challenger taking on an incumbent has raised over $50,000. Louis Sola made a personal loan of $99,000 to his campaign account. What we do know, based on past history, is that two-thirds of the delegation face no serious threat. The other third who are in marginal districts or who have angered their constituents are going to raise as much money as they can to retain their seat. There is one truism in Congress: Every member of Congress thinks they are indispensable.


Should Confederate monuments be removed? Bill Nelson says that’s not his decision” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune – After a speech in Lakewood Ranch to the Manatee Chamber of Commerce: “My attitude is a monument, a statue, ought to signify unity instead of division,” Nelson said … But when asked if Confederate monuments should be removed, Nelson said: “I think leaving it up to the good sense of the communities involved is the best thing to do.” Nelson spoke a few hours before a pair of demonstrations planned at a confederate memorial outside the courthouse in downtown Bradenton. Groups ranging from the Manasota chapter of Black Lives Matter to Indivisible Bradenton Pro-gressive plan to protest against the monument, while members of America First-Team Manatee will gather to support keeping the memorial in place. The Manatee County Commission voted 4-3 last week against a proposal to move the monument for “safekeeping.”

— “Confederate memorial protests heat up in downtown Bradenton” via Zach Whitman of the Bradenton Herald – Protesters and counter-protesters have gathered near the Confederate memorial in front of the Manatee County Courthouse in downtown Bradenton

Confederate statue to be removed from West Palm Beach cemetery” via Lisa Huriash and Ryan Van Velzer of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel – The 1941 memorial — believed by local historians to be the last Confederate statue in Palm Beach County — will be removed from public display, said Mayor Jeri Muoio. “I believe strongly they are symbols of hate and bigotry, and we don’t want that here in our city,” Muoio said. It is owned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a key organizer behind the majority of the Confederate monuments across the country. Muoio said the city’s attorney has been trying to get the group to remove the monument from the cemetery, which is public property. “We have asked them to remove their monument. They have not done that so we are going to remove it for them,” she said. “We will put in storage for them and they can take it and do whatever they wish, but it will not be on public property.”

Second person resigns from Hillsborough Diversity Council after Confederate activist appointed” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times – In a letter to the county, Gary Howell, the director of practicum training & associate professor at Florida School of Professional Psychology, said he was stepping down after three years on the council, most recently as vice chair. Howell called the appointment of David McCallister to the diversity council ” inconsiderate, disrespectful and inappropriate,” especially after the deadly protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, against the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. The council’s chairman, Nestor Ortiz, resigned last week. The terms of both Ortiz and Howell were set to expire at the end of the month. McCallister is the commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ Judah P. Benjamin Camp and a spokesman for Save Southern Heritage. McCallister will represent Northern and Southern Europe on the council.


Pete Antonacci takes cues from Rick Scott, Enterprise Florida board” via the News Service of FloridaAntonacci, a former general counsel Scott who was appointed last month as president and CEO of Enterprise Florida, intends to maintain the goals of the agency’s board, which is chaired by the governor. “My agenda tends to be the board’s agenda and the governor’s agenda, and that is to do what you all do, which is to make your communities in Florida a better place to live, work and raise a family,” Antonacci said. Antonacci’s first day with the public-private Enterprise Florida was Aug. 2, but he noted Monday’s meetings were essentially his first day “on the ground” with the agency. “I don’t come with any particular agenda except a desire to learn,” Antonacci said. “As you know, this is my first day in the economic development world. So you have much to teach me, and I have a great deal to learn.”

Perry Thurston files bill to put Mary McLeod Bethune’s statue in Capitol” via Scott Powers of Florida PoliticsThurston has filed legislation to make historic educator Bethune the replacement for Confederate Army Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith as one of Florida’s two statutes in the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall in Washington D.C. The statute of Smith is definitely its way out, thanks to Senate Bill 310, which was passed by the Florida Legislature and signed by Gov. Scott in 2016, but state officials have been unable to agree on whom will replace Smith. A bill to send Bethune to D.C. cleared the Senate last spring, but failed in the House, while the Douglas bill was blocked by Orlando Republican Rep. Scott Plakon said he would prefer to send Walt Disney, who although impactful on Florida history never lived in the state.

Bill seeks to add police to hate crimes law” via the News Service of Florida – Hate-crime protections would be extended to law-enforcement officers and other first responders under a measure reintroduced by Sen. Rene Garcia … Under the proposal (SB 178), criminal penalties would be increased when “crimes evidencing prejudice” are committed against law-enforcement officers or other emergency workers. As an example, first-degree misdemeanors would be upgraded to third-degree felonies in such cases. Garcia’s proposal also would extend the protection based on a victim’s sex or creed.

Computer coding bill introduced for 2018” via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – Sen. Jeff Brandes filed a bill authorizing high schools to allow computer coding courses to satisfy foreign language requirements. SB 180 would require state colleges and universities to recognize computer coding credits identified as sufficiently rigorous by the education commissioner as foreign language credits. The Department of Education would annually provide the Board of Governors and the Legislature a report detailing the courses that meet academic standards for computer coding and the number of students enrolled in such courses.


Mike Pence to visit Miami’s Venezuelan enclave” via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald – To cap off his recent trip to Latin America, Pence will travel to Miami — the region’s unofficial capital — to keep focusing international attention on Venezuela’s political crisis … according to an invitation, Pence is scheduled to deliver remarks at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Doral, Miami’s Venezuelan enclave. Pence is also likely to stop by U.S. Southern Command, whose headquarters are in Doral, though neither Southcom nor the White House would confirm his plans. The vice president, who has become something of a Trump translator, tried to reassure Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Panama that the White House prefers international pressure against Nicholas Maduro and his newly inaugurated national constituent assembly, which effectively usurped the power of Venezuela’s last remaining independent branch of government.

Morning must-read:Congressional aide probe includes workers in six Florida Democrats’ offices” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – Arrested Democratic congressional staffer Imran Awan or his relatives — all reportedly under federal criminal investigation — also worked for five other Democratic Florida members of Congress besides Debbie Wasserman Schultz …  Stephanie Murphy, Darren Soto, Frederica Wilson and Lois Frankel and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, now a gubernatorial candidate, also employed Awan or one of his family members, wife Hina Alvi, and brothers Jamal Awan and Abid Awan, as part-time, shared, information technology employees in their offices. However, unlike Wasserman Schultz, who kept Imran Awan on her payroll through months of publicly-reported federal investigations into potential theft and misuse of congressional equipment and data, the other five members of Florida’s delegation all cut their ties with the Awan family member employees early.

Rick Scott misspoke about Charlottesville violence, his staff says” via Alexandra Glorioso of the Naples Daily News – Diverging from an earlier position, Scott echoed Donald Trump’s claim that “both sides” bore blame for the recent racially charged violence in Virginia, saying, “there’s no moral authority on both sides.” But hours after the governor made the statement, his press shop started to walk back his comments. A spokeswoman for Scott said that instead of saying “moral authority,” he meant there was no “moral equivalency” between the white supremacists and progressive activists that publicly clashed Aug. 12. When asked last week, Scott took this position: “As you know, it was horrible what happened in Charlottesville. It was evil. There’s no place in our society for KK(K) for neo-Nazis or for white supremacists,” said Scott at Stevens Construction in Fort Myers, while discussing job growth. “There’s no moral authority on both sides. We saw white supremacists accused of killing that young lady. And I have a daughter about the same age as her.” Scott repeated the phrase “both sides” when asked whether he agreed with Marco Rubio, that white supremacists were 100 percent to blame for inciting the violence or with Trump that “both sides” were to blame. “On both sides was — the, what happened to that young lady was horrible,” said Scott.

Gov. Rick Scott highlighted job growth at Stevens Construction, a healthcare and commercial construction management firm founded and headquartered in Fort Myers. Photo credit: Governor’s Office.

Assignment editors – Gov. Scott will highlight job growth at a 2:50 p.m. news conference at NuJak Companies, 714 N. Massachusetts Ave. in Lakeland.

Florida school districts learn how much state money they’ll get for construction, maintenance” via Jeff Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times – They said it wouldn’t come close to being enough. Late last week, superintendents learned exactly what their piece of the $50 million Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) allocation would be. For some of the larger districts, it might get them close to paying for a new classroom wing. In the smaller ones, it might not even pay for air conditioning repairs. Now they have to submit a request for authorization to encumber the money. If the work isn’t under contract by the end of January 2020, the money can revert back to state coffers.

Suspect in Kissimmee officers’ killings said: ‘I’m innocent’” via The Associated PressEverett Miller shouted “I didn’t do it. I’m a veteran” when he was arrested in a bar a few hours after the fatal shooting of the Kissimmee Police Department officers Friday night, according to the affidavit. Deputies who arrested him said he appeared to reach for a weapon in his waistband before he was subdued. They found two handguns on him, including a revolver which had six spent casings …  Miller faces a charge of first-degree murder in the killing of Officer Matthew Baxter. Authorities have not said what charges he could face for Sgt. Sam Howard‘s death. Investigators say Miller fired on the two officers after he got into a scuffle with one of them. Miller was being held in jail with no bond.

Judge rules against ex-FAMU coach in contract dispute” via the News Service of Florida – A Leon County circuit judge has sided with Florida A&M University in a breach-of-contract lawsuit filed by former men’s basketball coach Clemon Johnson, who was fired in April 2014 after three years in the job. Judge James Shelfer issued a brief order granting summary judgment to the university. Johnson, a former Florida A&M and NBA basketball player, argued, in part, that he had a four-year guaranteed contract and that the university breached it by firing him a year early for “convenience.” But FAMU argued in court documents that it followed university regulations in deciding not to reappoint Johnson.

250,000 people want makers of shark-dragging video charged” via Jenny Staletovich of the Bradenton Herald – A petition calling for charges against a group of Gulf Coast men who recorded themselves dragging a battered shark behind a speeding boat has collected more than a quarter- million signatures. Organizers plan to present the petition to local State Attorney Ed Brodsky, said spokesman A.J. Walton. The video, posted by local guide Mark the Shark Quartiano this month after the makers messaged it to him on Instagram, shows three men laughing and pointing as the shark flops in the boat’s wake. One man asks if the shark is dead yet. Authorities investigating the video have not confirmed the identities of the men involved, but online commenters quickly tagged one, Michael Wenzel, as part of a group of Gulf Coast anglers who had been previously investigated for disturbing posts that show them shooting at fish and grabbing seabirds. Federal wildlife agents closed the case without filing charges after concluding they could not nail down when the events occurred. The petition calls for the men to get jail time, serve 1,000 hours of community service and have their fishing licenses permanently revoked.

State, feds: can’t send water south of Lake Okeechobee” via Chad Gillis of – Early season rains here flooded massive swaths of land used to store water during the summer. And while the Everglades is a waterworld, there’s too much water south of Lake Okeechobee and north of Everglades National Park. What does that mean for Southwest Florida? There’s no sending water south at this point. If a tropical storm or hurricane were to hit South Florida, as far north as the Orlando area, the only safe way to lower Lake Okeechobee — the liquid heart of the Everglades — would be to send water down the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers. “It’s certainly better than we’ve seen in recent years,” said John Campbell, spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “It’s better than last year. We’re a little above where we were in 2015.” Campbell quickly pointed out that storms like Isaac (2012) and Fay (2008) pushed lake levels up several feet in a matter of weeks or even days. Corps protocols say the surface of the lake should be kept between 12.5 feet and 15.5 feet above sea level to provide flood control for residents and towns south of the lake while also supplying farm irrigation water and drinking water for millions of Floridians.

Sabal Trail pipeline leaks put Central Florida Residents on edge” via Kate Payne of Health News Florida – A little over a month after the Sabal Trail Pipeline went online, Central Florida residents are reporting foul-smelling leaks. Despite the sulfur-like scent, the structure is not emitting natural gas. But neighbors and naturalists are still concerned about the impacts. Beginning July 16, residents of Marion County in Central Florida began reporting what they believed were gas leaks. Residents called 911, saying the foul-smelling odor was coming from the direction of the Sabal Trail Pipeline. Members of the Marion County hazardous materials squad and a Sabal Trail technician responded to the site. They determined there was no natural gas leak. The smell was instead coming from the pipeline’s odorant tanks. Natural gas has no smell, so utilities add the sulfur-smelling substance to alert residents of potential issues. The Sabal Trail technician located the leak and capped it. Reports of more leaks came on Aug. 5. In a response for comment, Sabal Trail representative Andrea Grover said there is no danger to the public.


Gil Ziffer: Protect home rule and let cities work” via Florida Politics – Sometimes Florida’s cities find themselves at odds with the state Legislature over the principle of home rule. That cherished concept, supported by an overwhelming majority of Florida’s citizens, reflects the view that the closer government is to the people, the more effective, fair and responsive it will be. Over this past year, we have seen a very different approach taking hold in the Legislature. Lawmakers repeatedly considered the role of local authority, trying to shift many hometown responsibilities to the state. Florida’s outstanding quality of life is reflected in our public parks, our beaches, our museums and other cultural institutions, and our neighborhoods, and it is local government that create and maintain that within our communities. As president of the Florida League of Cities for the next year, I say let Florida’s cities work. Let cities work to develop innovative responses to problems affecting our communities. Let them work to deliver the services their residents depend on, to create an environment for economic development and prosperity, to serve and protect every resident and valued visitor. Let them work to preserve the unique qualities that make each of our communities special.


Spotted at Ascent Lounge in the Time Warner Center in New York City for a fundraiser for the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee: Brady Benford, Donovan Brown, Nicole Graganella, Richard Reeves, Greg Smith, Katie Webb, Cameron Yarborough.

— ALOE —

AP Top 25 poll: Alabama is preseason No. 1, Ohio State tops Florida State” via Chip Patterson of The Associated Press – With just five days to go until the first game of the 2017 college football season, we officially have our final set of preseason rankings and now know that the most anticipated game of the offseason will feature No. 1 Alabama against No. 3 Florida State Saturday, Sept. 2, in Atlanta. While Alabama has been the overwhelming No. 1 in the AP poll, the Coaches Poll and the CBS Sports 130, the Tide’s title hopes rest on becoming the first team since USC in 2004 to win the national championship after starting the year No. 1 in the preseason polls.

Gas prices dip slightly across Florida via Kevin Derby” of the Sunshine State News – AAA released a study showing gas prices in Florida averaged $2.25 per gallon Sunday, down two cents from the week before. That’s below the national average of $2.34 per gallon Sunday, down from $2.35 a week ago. Mark Jenkins, a spokesman for AAA and the Auto Club Group, insisted that motorists should not get accustomed to the lower prices. As usual, the West Palm Beach-Boca Raton market had the most expensive gas in the state with an average of $2.35 per gallon. But, with college students returning to school, university towns had some of the most expensive gas in Florida with the Tallahassee and Gainesville markets both seeing an average of $2.30 per gallon. The least expensive gas in Florida can be found in Tampa and Orlando where prices averaged $2.17 per gallon. After that, the least expensive gas can be found in the Fort Myers-Cape Coral market where the average is $2.21 per gallon.

Facebook status of the day via David Johnson:

Judge denies witness chance to view eclipse” via Tamara Lush of The Associated Press – A federal judge ruled a trial couldn’t be postponed just because one of the key witnesses – a federal agent – had travel plans to see the solar eclipse. In a droll, three-page ruling, Judge Steven Merryday denied the motion filed by an assistant U.S. attorney. Recalling popular dialogue from the TV classic Star Trek, the judge wrote that the prosecutor “boldy moves (where no AUSA has moved before)” … “The solar eclipse is no longer mysterious, supernatural, foreboding or ominous,” wrote Merryday. “An eclipse is just another astral event, precisely predictable since the day the Babylonians discovered the governing formula.” Prosecutors wanted the trial postponed because an Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent had booked a trip to see the eclipse on a day when defendant Joseph Bishop was to stand trial for unlawfully transporting firearms.

Happy birthday to Sen. Dennis Baxley, Clearwater City Commissioner Doreen Caudell and Mark Hinson.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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