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Sunburn — The morning read of what's hot in Florida politics — 8.9.21 – Florida Politics

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Without a doubt, the Seminole Tribe of Florida had one of their best weekends in history. On Friday, the federal government signed off on the new Gaming Compact between the Tribe and the state, officially giving them the OK to start offering roulette, craps, sports gambling, and even build new casinos.

The Compact is sure to be a boon to the Tribe’s bottom line, and the state stands to gain a lot, too, starting with a guaranteed $2.5 billion over the next five years. Odds are plenty more people will have a good weekend once sports gambling kicks off on Oct. 15 — that’s the weekend of the UF-LSU game, FYI.

Without a doubt, it was a solid weekend for the Seminole Tribe.

Though the Tribe had reason to celebrate, the fan base that bears their name ended the weekend in mourning.

Genius Dog 336 x 280 - Animated

On Sunday morning, legendary FSU football coach Bobby Bowden died at the age of 91. The two-time national champion coach racked up more than 350 wins during his career and led the ‘Noles to a dozen ACC titles and 33 consecutive winning seasons. There may never be another coach like him.

Fans (and the many rivals who couldn’t help but love him) can take solace knowing that he passed on with many family members and loved ones by his side. “It was truly peaceful,” Terry Bowden told The Associated Press.

On a happier note, the NFL inducted a whopping 21 players into the Hall of Fame this weekend, plus a couple of coaches and front office staff for good measure — the League held a doubleheader thanks to the pandemic forced a delay to the 2020 class induction.

The 2021 list included Bucs safety John Lynch, and the 2020 class featured former Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson. Of course, Peyton Manning earned a spot, as did Charles Woodson, who famously blocked the legendary QB from winning the Heisman a quarter-century ago.

And now for the bittersweet: The Tokyo Olympics are over.

Due to the pandemic, it was possibly the strangest edition of the Summer Games in modern history. Still, there were plenty of historic moments, from Simone Biles putting the spotlight on mental health to Tom Daley knitting in the stands. There were dozens of record-shattering athletic feats. Oh yeah, Team USA also rebounded from a shaky start to finish with 39 golds and 113 medals overall — the most of any country in both metrics.

If the Olympics aren’t your bag, maybe the SPJ Sunshine State Awards are more your speed.

They might not be as glamorous, nor as glittery, but they’re still pretty dang prestigious. There are loads of awards categories, but if you’re reading Sunburn, you know the Government & Politics award is the true prize. The winner: Jeffrey Schweers, for his elections coverage at the Tallahassee Democrat.

Also, Florida parents had another sweet weekend. Yes, they had to spend a wad of cash on school supplies, but thanks to the back-to-school sales tax holiday, they were able to save a bit on new threads, notebooks, and even big-ticket items such as computers. It’s not too late to get in on the action — the holiday ends on Aug. 10.

Want to avoid a bad weekend? Make sure your hurricane kit is ready to go, pronto.

The National Hurricane Center said Sunday that there are two areas of low pressure in the Atlantic — one has a 60% chance of becoming a cyclone by next weekend; the other has a 40% chance. We’re sure you know the drill, but here’s a refresher: make a plan and ensure you have enough food, water, meds and batteries. True, it’ll be a bad weekend either way if a storm hits, but it’ll be a lot worse if you’re unprepared.

If you’re all prepped, great. That just means you can relax and watch the Perseid meteor shower while the neighbors flock to Home Depot for supplies.

Finally, it seems like Christina Pushaw had a good weekend. The Governor’s Spokesperson spent the past couple of days on vacation — meaning she was able to swap back and forth between her various smurf accounts on Twitter with a nice view of Miami Beach rather than the humdrum vistas of her Tally office. Umm … cool?

 — SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@GovRonDeSantis: Coach Bobby Bowden lived a remarkable life and leaves an incomparable legacy. He created a dominating football program that produced championships and many great players. Coach Bowden also prepared his players to be leaders in their communities, and many have made a great impact across Florida and beyond. Most importantly, he lived his life guided by a strong faith in God, dedication to his family, and service to his community. RIP to a truly great man and legendary Floridian, Coach Bobby Bowden.

@MarcoRubio: Coach Bowden was a great coach … but an even better man. The way he shaped young men & treated others was a powerful testimony of his faith in Jesus Christ, and as I saw first hand if he got into a recruits living room that recruit was going to @FSUFootball Rest in peace Coach

@SenRickScott: Florida & @FloridaState have lost a legend. Ann & I are so sad to learn of Coach Bowden’s passing & are praying for Ann Bowden & their family. A man of deep faith & outstanding leader, his legacy will live on in the hearts & actions of countless students, coaches & young leaders.

@CharlieCrist: Coach Bowden was a remarkable man and legend who embodied the true spirit of a Florida State Nole! My prayers are with the Bowden family today.

@AshleyMoody: Bobby Bowden was a great coach and an even better human being. He touched so many lives and made Floridians proud — he was our own. My heart goes out to his family, former players, and fans across our state.

@JimmyPatronis: As an FSU grad and lifelong Seminole fan, my family and I looked up to Coach Bowden as a giant among men, a visionary leader on and off the football field. RIP coach. While we mourn your passing, we’ll forever celebrate your life and honor your legacy.

@ValDemings: I join my fellow FSU Seminoles in mourning the passing of the legendary Bobby Bowden. I was a student at FSU when coach Bowden joined FSU and took FSU football to national championships. We will be truly grateful for his life and legacy. GO NOLES.

@WiltonSimpson: They say the measure of a man can be found in the lives he’s touched. Bobby Bowden was a force on and off the field and we were all better for having known him. Rest In Peace Coach.

@MichelleforFL: I extend my heartfelt condolences to the Bowden family and my fellow Noles. Coach is synonymous with FSU. He was kind and warm spirit. I froze when I first met him. He asked me if I was going to say hello. We had a good laugh on our elevator ride.

@CoachTaggert: My condolences to the entire Bowden Family and @FSUFootball family! Coach Bowden, your legacy will stand the test of time. Thank you for setting the standard for what a COACH/MAN should be. 🙏🏾🙏🏾 #Faith#Football#Family

Tweet, tweet:

@DannyKannell: 411 wins. 2 national championships. 12 ACC championships. The numbers are insane, but they pale in comparison to the number of lives Bobby Bowden impacted for eternity. He was more preacher than coach. More father figure than mentor. More friend than teacher.

@WarrickDunn: Coach Bowden made a huge impact on not only my life personally but so many others. He was blessed to have his family by his side when He passed away. My condolences to his wife Ann and their family.

Tweet, tweet:

Tweet, tweet:

Please read this thread from Tom Black. Click here.

@KirkHerbstreit: Such fond memories of coach Bowden-Both as a fan watching him & his dominating Noles teams & as a young analyst working w/ him-He was a true testament to people will remember you based on how you make them feel-coach was as sweet & as good of a man as I’ve ever met. RIP Coach 

@MCuban: So people understand COVID math. If 100% of people are Vaxxed, then 100% of cases will be people who are vaxxed. We will have avoided ~95% of cases and 99.99% of deaths. As the % of vaxxed people grows, so will the reports of more vaxxed people getting COVID. Don’t be fooled.

@GeorgeTakei: Dear anti-vaxxers: Your spokespeople keep getting COVID and dying. Radio shock jocks, GOP state representatives, preachers — they are learning the hard way that they were wrong. In their dying breaths, they are begging you to get the vaccine. Time to listen to them one last time.

— DAYS UNTIL —

‘Marvel’s What If …?’ premieres on Disney+ — 2; Florida Behavioral Health Association’s Annual Conference (BHCon) begins — 9; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 15; Boise vs. UCF — 24; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 25; Notre Dame at FSU — 27; NFL regular season begins — 31; Bucs home opener — 31; California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recall election — 36; Broadway’s full-capacity reopening — 36; Alabama at UF — 40; Dolphins home opener — 41; Jaguars home opener — 41; 2022 Legislative Session interim committee meetings begin — 42; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres (rescheduled) — 46; ‘Dune’ premieres — 53; Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary party starts — 53; MLB regular season ends — 55; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 60; Florida Chamber Future of Florida Forum begins — 78; World Series Game 1 — 79; Florida TaxWatch’s Annual Meeting begins — 79; Georgia at UF — 82; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 85; Florida’s 20th Congressional District primary — 85; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 89; ‘Disney Very Merriest After Hours’ will debut — 91; Miami at FSU — 96; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 102; FSU vs. UF — 110; Florida Chamber 2021 Annual Insurance Summit begins — 114; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 123; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 130; NFL season ends — 153; 2022 Legislative Session starts — 155; Florida’s 20th Congressional District election — 155; NFL playoffs begin — 156; Super Bowl LVI — 188; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 228; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 272; ‘Platinum Jubilee’ for Queen Elizabeth II — 297; “Black Panther 2” premieres — 333; San Diego Comic-Con 2022 — 345; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 424; “Captain Marvel 2” premieres — 459.

— TOP STORY —

—”Iconic Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden dies at age 91” via Matt Baker and Joey Knight of the Tampa Bay Times

Bowden, with faith and football, lived what he believed” via Joe Henderson of Florida Politics — You can’t tell the story of Bowden without devoting a generous amount of time to his deep, abiding faith. As Florida State’s football coach, he won two national championships and acclaim as one of the greatest to ever prowl the sideline. Off the field, though, he was even better. It’s impossible to measure the ripples from Bowden’s life completely, but suffice it to say they go on, and on, and on. He taught by example, and he lived what he believed. He’s not here now, no matter what will lie in the casket. We can only imagine the splendor he now enjoys. Bowden is home.

RIP Bobby Bowden, a legendary coach, and person.

 His name shall endure: Bowden took FSU from ‘nowhereland to splendor’” via Gerald Ensley of the Tallahassee Democrat — There may be more to life than football. But Bowden made it king at Florida State, where he created football history as coach of one of the nation’s top programs. Now history has claimed Bowden, who died weeks after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. As it says in the Bible: His name shall endure forever. Bowden took over a team that three years before his arrival went 0-11 and created a dynasty. Bowden coached Florida State from 1976 through 2009 — and took FSU football from “nowhereland to splendor,” as longtime Tallahassee Democrat sports editor Bill McGrotha once termed it. Taking over a program just three years removed from an embarrassing, winless 0-11 season, Bowden fashioned a college football dynasty.

—”Rest in peace, Coach … Thank you for everything!” via Corey Clark of Warchant.com

—”Early to bed, early to rise. Morning calls with Coach Bowden and Ann Bowden were special” via Jim Henry of the Tallahassee Democrat

With irresistible charm, Bowden transformed Florida State into an NFL factory” via Chase Goodbread of NFL.com — Bowden parlayed his fatherly, down-to-earth demeanor into close relationships with coaches, recruits, players, administrators and media alike. He was a disarming storyteller with all the charm of a salesman but none of the phoniness. He was also a hard-driving coach, but one who met heart-wrenching losses with immediate perspective and swapped in his favorite pejorative — “Dadgum!” — in place of any cursing. Bowden sought to build the Seminoles’ national profile by scheduling a heavy share of top-ranked opponents, knowing those games would give his program the recruiting advantage of network television exposure. Some of those opponents wouldn’t sign a traditional, two-year, home-and-home contract with FSU, however, so Bowden agreed to play certain road games without a return home game.

Bowden’s ‘Puntrooskie’ play helped define his unmatched legacy” via Bill Vilona of the Pensacola News-Journal — A few seconds into his postgame news conference on Sept. 17, 1988, taking inquiries on how the Seminoles pulled off the now fabled, “Puntrooskie” to win the game, Bowden looked out at the media throng and said, “Hey, y’all want me to just show ya?” He got a football and played the role of fullback Dayne Williams, who had tucked the ball between his legs, following direct center-snap, while punter Tim Corlew perfectly sold the fake by acting like the ball sailed over his head. This bought the one- or two-seconds cornerback LeRoy Butler needed to grab the ball, fool defenders, and run 78 yards with 90 seconds left to the Clemson 1 and set up the game-winning field goal.

—“10 greatest triumphs of Bowden’s coaching career” via Joey Knight of the Tampa Bay Times

—”Here are the 10 most important games in the Bowden era at FSU” via Skip Foster for the Tallahassee Democrat

Bowden funeral arrangements — Friday, Aug. 13: 10 a.m.-1 p.m.: Bowden will lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda; 2 p.m.-7 p.m., he will lie in repose in the Moore Athletic Center at Doak Campbell Stadium — open to the public. Saturday, Aug. 14: 11 a.m.: Funeral service for Bowden at the Tucker Civic Center at FSU — open to the public with doors opening at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 15: 4-6 p.m., he will lie in repose at the Reid Chapel on the campus of Samford University — open to the public. A family-only burial service is to follow in Trussville, Alabama.

—”United in grief, paying respects, Florida politicos remember Bowden” via Florida Politics

‘He’s like a family member.’ FSU fans pay tribute to coach Bowden outside stadium” via Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times — It was only a few hours after the news of Bowden’s death hit the Florida State University community. There was no plan for a public show of support for the beloved coach. But dozens of FSU fans like Kristin Tetsworth came to the statue on Sunday anyway. “He’s changed lives for people. He deserves respect. It’s just what you do,” said Tetsworth, who said she graduated from FSU in 1976 — the year Bowden took over the football program. “He’s like a family member.” At the statue, families gathered for silent communion with Bowden. Fathers brought sons. Wives brought husbands. Solemn individuals took photos of the makeshift memorial. Some wept. Everyone wore Seminole garnet.

—”On social media, fans look back with love, respect to Bobby Bowden” via Jonathan Tully of the Pensacola News Journal

Facebook status of the day:

— CORONA FLORIDA —

Breaking overnight — “Norwegian Cruise Line can require proof of vaccinations, federal judge rules” via Austen Erblat of the Sun-Sentinel — “U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams said in her ruling that Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises can require documentation of vaccines before they leave Florida ports. The cruise line’s next scheduled trip is the Norwegian Gem, set to depart the Port of Miami on Sunday, Aug. 15. The ruling overturned the state’s ban on so-called “vaccine passports.” The state argued that requiring proof of a COVID-19 vaccination is discriminatory and would force people to provide personal medical information. … “The health and safety of our guests, crew and the communities we visit is our number one priority, today, tomorrow and forever,” Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of the company said in a statement Sunday.

A federal judge rules Norwegian Cruise Line can require ‘vaccine passports.’ Image via AP.

Florida adds 134,506 coronavirus cases, 616 deaths in the past week” via Ian Hodgson of the Tampa Bay Times — Florida’s positivity rate rose to 18.5% in the past week, up from 18.1% the week before. Before reopening, states should maintain a positivity rate of 5% or less for at least two weeks, according to the World Health Organization. A 5% or less positivity rate indicates that testing is widespread enough to capture mild, asymptomatic and negative cases.

COVID-19 patients continue to fill Florida hospitals” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Florida’s count of COVID-19 patients in hospitals rose to another record, filling 13,435 beds, the Florida Hospital Association says. That record day, reported Sunday by Florida officials to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and then publicly shared through a tweet by the Florida Hospital Association, now is well above any count seen before this summer of Florida hospital beds filled with COVID-19 patients. The Florida Hospital Association counts confirmed cases, contending the previous worst was on July 23, 2020, when 10,378 COVID-19 patients were reported in Florida hospitals. That number was exceeded last Monday. The Florida census of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has gone up every day since.

As COVID-19 surges in Florida, Ron DeSantis refuses to change course” via Patricia Mazzei of The New York Times — DeSantis snapped this week at a reporter who asked if masks might help keep children safe in a state that now has more COVID-19 hospitalizations, including for pediatric patients, than anywhere else in the nation. He blamed President Joe Biden’s purported failure to control the spread of the virus across the border after the President suggested that Governors like DeSantis should either “help” fight the coronavirus or “get out of the way.” If the latest surge overwhelms hospitals, DeSantis’s perch as a Republican Party front-runner with higher aspirations could be in serious trouble.

As the number of case rise, Ron DeSantis doubles down on his COVID-19 stance.

—“Florida’s second summer of COVID-19 is different: Vaccines, ban on restrictions change landscape” via John Kennedy and Jeffrey Schweers of the USA Today Network

Florida OKs school vouchers in districts requiring masks” via Brendan Farrington and Adriana Gomez Licon of The Associated Press — Florida’s Board of Education decided to provide private school vouchers to parents who say a public school district’s mask-wearing requirements amount to harassment of their children. The move to take private tuition costs from public school funding created yet another flashpoint in the fight between local school boards and DeSantis over coronavirus safety measures in schools. DeSantis has long supported efforts to expand school privatization and says parents should decide how to provide for their children’s health and education. The board then invoked an existing law to clarify eligibility for the Hope Scholarship, which protects children against bullying.

Assignment editors — Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried will host a Zoom conversation with 12-year-old Lila Hartley, who wrote her local school board calling for a mask mandate, as recommended by the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics, 10:30 a.m., livestreamed on Facebook.com/FDACS. RSVP for Zoom link no later than 9:30 a.m. to [email protected]

Nikki Fried blasts ‘Ron’ for fundraising outside the state amid record-high COVID-19 cases” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Fried blasted DeSantis for leaving the state to fundraise elsewhere amid the summer surge of COVID-19 cases. She addressed the Republican Governor as “Ron.” “When we were in the middle of a crisis, the person who was charged with the responsibility to take care of our state is traveling across our country raising money for his PC,” Fried said. “That is unacceptable. With classes set to resume in the coming days and weeks, schools have reemerged as a political battleground amid the pandemic. This time, critics of DeSantis point to the rise of infections among Florida’s youth. According to the Florida Department of Health, 10,785 kids under age 12 tested positive for COVID-19 last week.

DeSantis not surprised Joe Biden couldn’t remember him, jogs his memory” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — “I guess I’m not surprised that Biden doesn’t remember me. I guess the question is, what else has he forgotten?” DeSantis mused. Then DeSantis went for the stump speech, having dispensed with the “Governor who?” diss from Biden. “Biden’s forgotten about the crisis at our southern border; I can tell you that. Biden has forgotten about the inflation that’s biting the budgets of families all throughout our country. Biden has forgotten about the demonstrators fighting for freedom down in Cuba. Biden’s even forgotten about the Constitution itself.”

Sen. Bill Cassidy splits with DeSantis on school mask mandates” via Shayne Greene of POLITICO — Sen. Cassidy said Sunday he disagrees with DeSantis‘ opposition to mask mandates in schools. “I do disagree with Gov. DeSantis. The local officials should have control here,” the Louisiana Republican said. Cassidy, a physician, added that “when it comes to local conditions, if my hospital is full, and my vaccination rate is low, and the infection rate is going crazy, we should allow local officials to make those decisions best for their community.”

CNN’s Jim Acosta on delta variant: ‘Why not call it the DeSantis variant?’” via Rachel Scully of CNN — Acosta called out several GOP politicians who have pushed back on mandatory masking and COVID-19 vaccination, suggesting new coronavirus variants be named after them. During a segment Saturday afternoon, Acosta went after DeSantis and other Republicans, saying the politicians “know better” as the number of COVID-19 cases rises across the country due to the highly transmissible delta variant. “People should not have to die so some politicians can own the libs. They’re not owning anybody,” Acosta said. “We can sell beer koozies that say ‘Don’t Florida my Fauci’ and use the money to pay for all the funerals in the days to come,” he added.

Jim Acosta asks: Is it worth losing lives to own the libs? Image via AP.

DeSantis’ effort to blame COVID-19 spread on migrants is short on evidence” via Louis Jacobson and Miriam Valverde of the Tampa Bay Times — DeSantis doubled down on his COVID-19 claims in a fundraising letter: “Joe Biden has the nerve to tell me to get out of the way on COVID-19 while he lets COVID-19-infected migrants pour over our southern border by the hundreds of thousands. Public health experts said it’s reasonable to be concerned about coronavirus spreading among migrants, especially if they’re living in close quarters. But they said there is no evidence it’s happening on the scale that DeSantis described.

Norwegian cruises challenges Florida passenger vaccine law” via The Associated Press — Norwegian contends the “vaccine passport” ban, signed into law in May by DeSantis, jeopardizes the health and safety of passengers and crew and is an unconstitutional infringement on the First Amendment’s free speech guarantee, among other things. Norwegian attorney Derek Shaffer told U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams during a remote hearing the vaccination requirement for its passengers is especially needed as Florida has recently experienced a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. “It’s scary what is happening in Florida. Florida is a hotspot,” Shaffer said. “All we’re doing is trying to protect our staff and passengers.”

— CORONA LOCAL —

Duval County vaccinations rise as new COVID-19 cases decreased this week” via Clayton Freeman and Teresa Stepzinski of the Florida Times-Union — Northeast Florida residents have continued to accelerate their pace of vaccination against COVID-19, state and federal statistics indicate, as the region showed some signs of progress against the coronavirus pandemic. For several area counties, including Duval County, COVID-19 new cases decreased compared to the previous week for the first time since the late stages of spring. However, statewide numbers showed cause for concern. The Florida Hospital Association reported 13,348 patients with confirmed COVID-19 in hospitals statewide as of 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon. That represents a rise of 4,019 compared to the end of July and amounts to 131% of the state’s peak from prior coronavirus waves.

Jacksonville COVID-19 cases are starting to drop as vaccinations rise. Image via Bloomberg.

16-year-old dies of COVID-19 at Jacksonville hospital; 3 more children in intensive care” via Beth Reese Cravey of the Florida Times-Union — As COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to rise in the Jacksonville area and across Florida, Wolfson Children’s Hospital reported its first death of the current surge. A 16-year-old who was unvaccinated and had no underlying health issues died of COVID-19 Thursday. “The death of a child is always tragic, and our hearts are with the family as they grieve this loss,” Wolfson spokeswoman Vikki Mioduszewski said. “We are unable to comment further due to patient privacy laws.

—”‘Gut-wrenching’: Children making up more of Jacksonville’s surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations” via Beth Reese Cravey and Katherine Lewin of the Florida Times-Union

Duval Property Appraiser Jerry Holland hospitalized with COVID-19” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Jerry Holland and his wife, Beverly Holland, have been hospitalized with COVID-19 for almost a week. Since Monday, the pair have been at Mayo Clinic Jacksonville, although Jerry Holland expects to be released by Sunday. Beverly Holland, however, will likely remain hospitalized for possibly another week. Neither of the two had been vaccinated against the virus. “I’m improving, but she’s not doing so well,” Holland told the Times-Union. “I may go home today or tomorrow [Saturday or Sunday], but my wife’s probably got four or five more days here.” Neither he nor his wife has needed a ventilator so far.

‘Many of them are not going to survive’: Tallahassee medical community paints dire picture of COVID-19 locally” via Casey Chapter of the Tallahassee Democrat — Dean Watson‘s message was clear on Friday: “I want you to hear me loud and clear: We have 20-year-olds dying from this.” In a morning COVID-19 webinar, local health officials urged people to get vaccinated and spoke about the delta variant and the state of the coronavirus in the community. It’s bad, they said, and it’s getting worse. Watson, chief integration officer at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare, said most of the patients now in the hospital with COVID-19 are in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, and “many of them are not going to survive.”

—”COVID-19 outbreak closes Waterfront shelter, leaving dozens of homeless with few options” via Madison Arnold of the Pensacola News Journal

Hillsborough schools reverse course: Masks required, with opt-out option” via Marlene Sokol of the Tampa Bay Times — In a last-minute change prompted by public pressure, Hillsborough County school superintendent Addison Davis announced Saturday that students will be required to wear face coverings in the public schools unless their parents notify the school that they are opting out. This new arrangement is similar to those adopted by some other Florida districts, and it is supported by guidelines that were issued Friday by the Florida Department of Health. It will be in effect in Hillsborough at least until Sept. 3.

Pinellas long-term care facility where 100+ died from COVID-19 now faces 7 lawsuits” via Florida Politics — Families of seven residents within Freedom Square’s various facilities seek wrongful death compensation from the owners after documented failures to safeguard the facility led to a massive COVID-19 outbreak among staff and residents last spring. An extensive investigation found sweeping missteps that led to one of the state’s worst long-term care facility outbreaks. Employees described a lack of access to appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). That included a shortage of safety gowns and N95 masks. Some employees reported having to reuse masks and make inferior homemade masks. The facility reportedly continued accepting hospital patients to its rehabilitation program without COVID-19 testing until April 9, 2020, weeks after red flags were raised about that practice.

‘You will most likely get infected in the next few months,’ Polk health officials say” via Sara-Megan Walsh of The Lakeland Ledger — Amid an explosion of new COVID-19 cases that’s crowding hospital emergency rooms, exasperated health officials had a stark warning. “To those who are unvaccinated and are unconvinced to get vaccinated, I would be wishing you good luck in this journey,” said Dr. Timothy Regan. Regan, chief medical officer and president of Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center, said the number of COVID-19 patients pouring into the emergency room was “unlike anything he has seen in his entire career.” Health care officials gathered in LRH’s Mulaney auditorium to give insight into the latest COVID-19 surge in Polk.

—“Mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for nursing home workers? One Polk County facility says yes” via Gary White of The Lakeland Ledger

Some parents plan protest after Diocese of Venice mandates masks in schools” via Michael Braun of the Fort Myers News-Press — The Diocese of Venice’s last-minute change from a voluntary to required mask policy prompted some parents to say they would instruct their parochial-school children to refuse to wear a mask. School opens Monday for the diocese’s 15 schools, including three in Lee County and four in Collier. A spokesman for parents, John J. Heck, father of an incoming freshman student at Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers, said several parents planned to be at the high school and other schools Monday morning to protest the new policy. “This got dumped on us Thursday night at 8:30,” Heck said.

—”Sarasota Memorial Hospital postponing elective procedures amid crush of COVID-19 patients” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

—”Southwest Florida COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to rise as state breaks new record” via Frank Gluck of the Fort Myers News-Press

As more Florida kids are hospitalized for COVID-19, Nicklaus Children’s mandates vaccine” via Daniel Chang of the Miami Herald — Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all employees and vendors on Friday as the number of pediatric inpatients hospitalized in Florida with a confirmed case of the disease continued to lead all other states. Hospital employees, including doctors, nurses, students, and others have until Oct. 15 to be fully vaccinated, with those who complete their inoculation by the deadline receiving a $150 reward. Employees who request an exemption for medical reasons or religious beliefs must submit a form by Sept. 3.

PBC students now must wear masks unless parents provide a note, school district decides” via Andrew Marra of The Palm Beach Post — Three days before classes begin, Palm Beach County public schools changed its mask policy today to require all students to wear facial coverings on campus unless a parent provides a signed “opt-out” letter. In a reversal, the school district said it also will require its more than 11,000 teachers and thousands of additional school employees to wear masks, a move that the teachers union quickly denounced. The last-minute changes are the latest turn in what has been an erratic two weeks of debate and brinkmanship across Florida over school mask requirements.

Prominent Florida pastor asks DeSantis to reconsider ‘masks optional’ stance” via Ana Goñi-Lessan of the Tallahassee Democrat — The Rev. R.B. Holmes Jr., the organizer of a statewide effort to encourage more residents of the state’s minority communities to get vaccinated, now is asking the Governor to “reconsider” his stance on keeping masks optional in schools. “As our cherished children will soon return to school in the midst of this pandemic, too many Floridians are unvaccinated,” said Holmes, pastor of Tallahassee’s Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, in a letter to DeSantis dated Friday. “I hope that you would strongly reconsider your decision around wearing face coverings,” Holmes added.

R.B. Holmes urges Ron DeSantis to reverse course on mask requirements. Image via AP.

Medical practices in Florida start requiring COVID-19 vaccines for employees” via Liz Freeman of the Naples Daily News — Large medical practices around Florida are beginning to require their employees to get vaccinated, which could become more widespread as the COVID-19 delta variant continues its grip with new infections and hospitalizations. Fort Myers-based Florida Cancer Specialists and Research Institute, with 100 locations in all 67 counties, announced this week it is requiring its workforce to have their first dose by the end of August and be fully vaccinated by Oct. 1. The cancer group has 250 physicians on its roster and 4,200 employees statewide.

Florida to spend training camp in hotel to combat COVID-19” via Mark Long of The Associated Press — Florida will spend at least part of its training camp in a hotel as coach Dan Mullen searches for ways to avoid another COVID-19 outbreak within the program. The Gators begin three weeks of fall practice Friday, with Mullen understanding much more about the coronavirus than he did a year ago or even a month ago. “We’re going to have some protocols that we put in place,” Mullen said Thursday. Coronavirus hospitalizations are surging again as the more contagious delta variant rages across the country, forcing medical centers to return to crisis mode just weeks after many closed their COVID-19 wards and dropped other emergency measures.

— STATEWIDE —

Answers begin to emerge about secret FBI probe of Saudi government complicity in 9/11” via Dan Christensen of Florida Bulldog — Piece by piece, the puzzle of the heavily censored FBI 2012 Summary Report about Operation Encore, the bureau’s once-hush-hush probe of Saudi government involvement in 9/11, appears to be giving up its secrets. The four-page report was the first confirmation of an active FBI investigation into questions of Saudi government involvement in the attacks since the 9/11 Commission closed down in 2004. The report was so thickly redacted that even the investigation’s code name, Operation Encore, was blanked out. In 2019 and again last year, Attorney General William Barr blocked the release of additional “classified national security information” in the report by personally asserting the state secrets privilege in the case.

Twenty years after 9/11, a clearer picture of Saudi involvement. Image via Reuters.

Happening today — Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez leads an event on the recently passed “Every Child a Swimmer” legislation. Joining her is Sen. Lori Berman and Reps. Dan Daley, Christine Hunschofsky, Jim Mooney and Patricia Williams, 3 p.m., Keiser University, Student Life Center Gymnasium, 2600 North Military Trail, West Palm Beach.

Happening today — Rep. Kelly Skidmore holds a virtual event on workforce development and other employment issues, 6 p.m. Register here.

Proposal calls for Miami-Dade health trust to pay $5M for rendering boy quadriplegic” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Florida lawmakers next year are expected to consider a proposal that would clear a $5 million settlement payment to the family of a young boy who was severely disabled through negligence at a Miami-Dade County public health care facility. Republican Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez filed a bill this week that, if approved next year, would authorize the group that oversees Jackson Health System, the county’s public health care provider, to pay the family of Harry Augustin Shumow.

‘Landmark initiative’ or just talk? Some Florida environmentalists criticize Nikki Fried’s ‘landmark’ water quality measure” via BRUCE Ritchie of POLITICO — Some environmental groups are criticizing a “landmark” agriculture water quality initiative being touted by Agriculture Commissioner Fried, saying the measure falls short on details and actions to prevent algae blooms and dead fish from washing up on the state’s beaches. The environmentalists say the measure is taking too incremental an approach to the state’s water quality crisis, particularly by forcing farms to only reduce their use of fertilizer and water or control animal waste.

Happening today — It’s the last day for Florida’s back-to-school tax “holiday” for clothes, school supplies, personal computers and more.

— 2022 —

Virus surge sends ripples of alarm through Democrats” via Sean Sullivan and Marianna Sotomayor of The Washington Post — The resurgence of the coronavirus has reshaped the early contours of the midterm elections, with some Democrats beginning to distance themselves from the Biden administration and more directly blame Republicans, reflecting their growing alarm on an issue that long played to their political advantage. Democrats had hoped to pivot from Biden’s success on the pandemic to pitch the party’s economic agenda, including sweeping proposals on infrastructure and social programs. But the rise in COVID-19 cases is suddenly complicating that strategy.

Why DeSantis could soon be in serious political trouble” via Steve Bousquet of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — All of a sudden, DeSantis doesn’t look so invincible. Two Florida polls came out this week. One survey, paid for by a leading ally of DeSantis, looks good for him. The other doesn’t. I realize voters are wary of polling numbers, but polls shape voters’ perceptions about candidates, and the numbers suggest he’s beatable. For dispirited Democrats, that’s progress. Despite his mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis, DeSantis definitely has some things going for him. After winning by the skin of his teeth in 2018, DeSantis continues to pander relentlessly to the same limited core of angry supporters, whose fierce loyalty he seems petrified of losing.

Is Ron DeSantis facing rough political waters? Image via AP.

A little schadenfreude and Gov. DeSantis’ COVID-19 incompetence” via Mac Stipanovich for the Tampa Bay Times — DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw tweeted that Florida is not going to take the path of California’s mask mandates because “ … lockdowns have destroyed small businesses, decimated the middle class & kept kids out of school for going on 2 years.” This is an impermissible dialectical shift, equates masking with lockdowns, and then attacks lockdowns, which, even if her premises are true, produces a false conclusion, as no one is proposing lockdowns in Florida. DeSantis himself recently rolled out a big ol’ red herring combined with an appeal to emotion when he blamed undocumented immigrants crossing the southern border. In case your memory fails you, this is a return to the tried-and-true Trump trope of diseased, brown-skinned invaders.

Mark Zuckerberg’s cash fuels GOP suspicion about Florida” via The Associated Press — When Zuckerberg donated $400 million to help fund election offices as they scrambled to deal with the coronavirus pandemic late last summer, he said he hoped he would never have to do it again. Republican legislatures are granting him that wish. At least eight GOP-controlled states have passed bans on donations to election offices this year as Republicans try to block outside funding of voting operations. The legislation often comes as part of Republican packages that also put new limits on voters casting ballots and imposing new requirements on county or city-based election officials. The response is spurred by anger and suspicion on the right that Zuckerberg’s money benefited Democrats in 2020.

Charlie Crist to visit Florida’s Hispanic communities in campaign outreach tour” via Bianca Padró Ocasio — Rep. Charlie Crist, who announced in May his third bid for Florida Governor, this time as a Democrat, is launching a week-long speaking tour in Hispanic communities throughout the state starting next Monday. It’s part of the former Republican Governor’s outreach efforts with Latinos in several key cities. Crist’s “Oportunidad Para Todos / Opportunity for All” tour is expected to hit parts of Central Florida and South Florida, including Tampa, Kissimmee, Miami, Homestead and parts of Broward County, said Samantha Ramirez, press secretary for Crist’s gubernatorial campaign. The former Governor plans to host roundtables with leaders in the Cuban, Mexican, Venezuelan and Puerto Rican communities.

— CORONA NATION —

U.S. now averaging 100,000 new COVID-19 infections a day” via The Associated Press — The U.S. is now averaging 100,000 new COVID-19 infections a day, returning to a milestone last seen during the winter surge in yet another bleak reminder of how quickly the delta variant has spread through the country. The U.S. was averaging about 11,000 cases a day in late June. Now the number is 107,143. It took the U.S. about nine months to cross the 100,000 average case number in November before peaking at about 250,000 in early January. Cases bottomed out in June but took about six weeks to go back above 100,000, despite a vaccine that has been given to more than 70% of the adult population.

U.S. cases of COVID-19 are reaching new highs. Image via AP.

The delta variant arrived at just the right time to break our spirits” via Anne Helen Petersen of The Washington Post — For a blissful few weeks, confusion and unease were in a notable decline in the United States. The emails I’d signed up to receive from officials here in Montana, informing me of coronavirus cases county by county, went from daily to weekly. Hot Vaxxed Summer didn’t just mean wearing all the clothes we hadn’t had an audience for over the last year. It was a feeling of possibility. The problem is that most of us are incapable of processing the reality of a new pandemic. Not because we don’t understand math or have thrown caution entirely to the wind, but because our capacity to comprehend information with nuance, particularly information about health, is gone.

I treat pediatric COVID-19 patients. What I’m seeing in our hospital scares me.” via Heather Haq of The Washington Post — Throughout the pandemic, I have cared for kids admitted with COVID-19 to the children’s hospital in Houston, where I am a pediatrician. All the while, as both a doctor and mother, I’ve wrestled with a certain dissonance: There is this popular notion that COVID-19 doesn’t affect children, and my public health and epidemiologic training reminds me that on a population level, it’s true. But I contrast this with the reality of being a clinician at the bedside of children critically ill from COVID-19 and COVID-19-related illnesses. What I do know is that at this moment, as the highly contagious delta variant becomes the predominant strain circulating and we enter another COVID-19 surge, I am more worried for children than I have ever been.

NIH director: Vaccines should never be political” via David Cohen of POLITICO — NIH Director Francis Collins lamented that the notion of vaccination remains so politicized amid the nation’s ongoing surge of COVID-19 cases. Collins stopped short of endorsing mandatory vaccination but made it clear he thought public officials should be pushing for unvaccinated Americans to get their shots. “We ought to use every public health tool we can when people are dying,” he told George Stephanopoulos. Holding up a mask, Collins said Americans needed to think about saving lives first and foremost, particularly with schools set to reopen. Collins also spoke directly to vaccine skeptics: “If you’re on the fence, get off the fence. … Roll up your sleeve.”

Anthony Fauci hopeful COVID-19 vaccines will get full approval by FDA within weeks” via Aamer Madhani of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Fauci, said Sunday that he was hopeful the FDA will give full approval to the coronavirus vaccine by month’s end and predicted the potential move will spur a wave of vaccine mandates in the private sector as well as schools and universities. The FDA has only granted emergency-use approval of the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, but the agency is expected to give full approval to Pfizer soon.

Public health collides with politics as latest wave of mask wars take off” via Megan Flynn of The Washington Post — Twenty months into the pandemic, the latest wave of the face-mask culture war is in full swing. Virginia and Maryland Governors Ralph Northam and Larry Hogan reiterated that they were not considering reimposing statewide mask mandates, instead emphasizing the importance of getting vaccinated. “Mask mandates or shutdowns will not be able to eradicate the threat of the virus or this delta variant,” Hogan said, noting the state is at “very low” levels of hospitalizations. Some Republicans have applauded Northam’s decision to avoid a state mandate while alleging the decision was political.

Larry Hogan is pushing vaccines over mask mandates. Image via CNN.

These top U.S. chains are reinstating their mask requirements” via Nathaniel Meyersohn of CNN — Most large chains had removed face-covering requirements for vaccinated shoppers in May, following CDC guidance at the time easing mask-wearing for people vaccinated. Stores have continued to ask unvaccinated shoppers to wear masks. Target will require masks for workers and recommend masks for all customers in areas with a substantial or high risk of transmission. Walmart workers will be required to wear masks inside its facilities. Home Depot is requiring all workers to wear masks in all stores, regardless of vaccination status or the transmission risks of the area. Where mandated by local law or regulation, Starbucks will require customers to wear masks in our stores.

— CORONA ECONOMICS — 

As Democrats seethed, White House struggled to contain eviction fallout” via Michael D. Shear, Glenn Thrush, Charlie Savage and Alan Rappeport of The New York Times — Progressive Democrats are publicly assailing the administration for allowing an eviction ban to expire that past Saturday and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, unable to secure the votes to approve an extension, was demanding Biden find a different solution. The White House developed a strategy that allowed Biden to act, culminating in an announcement on Tuesday of a new, narrower eviction ban in counties where the virus is raging. Biden failed to anticipate how quickly Pelosi and other Democrats would escalate a pressure campaign aimed directly at the White House. It is also part of a broader narrative of a White House that has responded to the rise of the variant in halting and inconsistent ways as it tries to prevent the pandemic from raging out of control.

Democrats are angry at Joe Biden for allowing the evection moratorium to lapse. Image via AP.

Biden administration extends pause on federal student loan payments through January” via Danielle Douglas-Gabriel of The Washington Post — The Education Department said it will extend the suspension of federal student loan payments through Jan. 31, 2022, marking the fourth time the agency has given borrowers breathing room amid the pandemic. The department says it will be the final extension offered to borrowers. The moratorium was set to expire on Sept. 30, but Congressional Democrats had urged the Biden administration to push back the date as the public health crisis has left many Americans struggling to regain their financial footing.

— MORE CORONA —

‘This is really scary’: Kids struggle with long COVID-19” via Pam Belluck of The New York Times — As young people across the country prepare to return to school, many are struggling to recover from lingering post-COVID-19 neurological, physical, or psychiatric symptoms. Often called “long Covid,” the symptoms and their duration vary, as does the severity. Studies estimate long COVID-19 may affect between 10 percent and 30 percent of adults infected with the coronavirus. Estimates from the handful of studies of children so far range widely. Doctors say even youths with mild or asymptomatic initial infections may experience long COVID-19: confounding, sometimes debilitating issues that disrupt their schooling, sleep, extracurricular activities, and other aspects of life.

For seniors especially, COVID-19 can be stealthy” via Paula Span of The New York Times — The population over 65, most vulnerable to the virus’s effects, got an early start on COVID-19 vaccination and has the highest rate in the country, more than 80 percent are fully vaccinated. But with infections increasing once more, and hospitalization rising among older adults, a new study provides a timely warning: COVID-19 can look different in older patients. “People expect fever, cough, shortness of breath,” said Allison Marziliano, lead author of the study. But when the researchers combed through the electronic health records of nearly 5,000 people, all over the age of 65, who were hospitalized for COVID-19, they found that one-third had arrived with other symptoms, unexpected ones.

New data suggest J&J vaccine works against delta and recipients don’t need a booster shot.” via Apoorva Mandavilli of The New York Times — A single dose of the COVID-19 vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson is highly effective in preventing severe illness and death from the Delta and Beta variants of the coronavirus. The study is the first real-world test of the vaccine’s efficacy against delta, a highly contagious variant of the virus surging across the United States and much of the world. South Africa’s Ministry of Health reported these preliminary results at a news conference on Friday. The data have not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal.

The J&J vaccine is effective against the delta variant; no booster needed. Image via AP.

The U.S. hasn’t OK’d boosters for those who got the J&J vaccine. But some are getting one anyway.” via Daniel Arkin of NBC News

Masks, comfortable clothes likely to linger after pandemic, Post-Schar School polling finds” via Amy Goldstein and Emily Guskin of The Washington Post — Two-thirds of Americans say that once the coronavirus pandemic ends, they plan to put on masks when sick and wear comfortable clothes more often than before. When it comes to crowded places, the nationwide survey finds that more than 4 in 10 U.S. adults intend to wear masks in such circumstances after the pandemic. That includes more than half of women, compared with 1 in 3 men.

Hawaii, masked and vaccinated, still falls prey to delta strain” via Nic Querolo and Jonathan Levin of MSN — Hawaii has one of the country’s most comprehensive mask mandates and a highly effective vaccine campaign. Despite that, COVID-19 cases on the islands are climbing with a ferocity that’s outstripping every other U.S. state. On Thursday, Hawaii recorded 655 new cases, a record since the beginning of the pandemic. Test-positivity rates surged to the highest in a year at 6.9%. The situation testifies to the delta variant’s strength and ability to penetrate walls of protection, restrictions and mandates. Those vaccinated have been mostly spared severe infection and illness. For those who haven’t, the risk is significant and growing.

— PRESIDENTIAL —

Tweet, tweet:

‘Always working’: Biden eyes 1st summer getaway as President” via Darlene Superville and Aamer Madhani of The Associated Press — After more than six months of work combating the coronavirus, negotiating a bipartisan infrastructure bill, and repairing the U.S. image abroad, Biden should be heading out on vacation and a traditional August break from Washington. But with legislative work on the infrastructure bill keeping the Senate in session for a second straight weekend, and likely through next week, Biden hasn’t gone far, just home to Wilmington, Delaware, as he has done most weekends since taking office. “Every President is always working no matter where they are,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, explaining that Presidents can’t ever really tune out.

— EPILOGUE: TRUMP — 

Inside the extraordinary effort to save Donald Trump from COVID-19” via Damian Paletta and Yasmeen Abutaleb of The Washington Post — Trump’s brush with severe illness and the prospect of death caught the White House so unprepared that they had not even briefed Vice President Mike Pence’s team on a plan to swear him in if Trump became incapacitated. Trump’s medical advisers hoped his bout with the coronavirus, which was far more serious than acknowledged at the time, would inspire him to take the virus seriously. Perhaps now, they thought, he would encourage Americans to wear masks and put his health and medical officials front and center in the response. Instead, Trump emerged from the experience triumphant and ever more defiant.

Donald Trump’s brush with COVID-19 was much more serious than first thought. Image via AP.

For GOP, infrastructure bill is a chance to inch away from Trump” via Luke Broadwater and Emily Cochrane of The New York Times — Trump tried mightily to kill the $1 trillion infrastructure bill, hurling the kind of insult-laden statements and threats of primary challenges that for years sent a chill down Republican spines. But the reaction inside the Senate, where many members of his party once cowered from Trump’s angry tweets and calculated their votes to avoid his wrath, was mostly yawns. Now, the legislation appears on a glide path to pass the Senate with a small but significant share of GOP support, possibly even including Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and minority leader who rarely crossed the former President when he ran the chamber.

How Trump stiff-armed Congress — and gaslighted the courts — to build his wall” via David Rogers of POLITICO — Pentagon records paint the clearest picture yet of how far the Trump administration went to get around Congress and speed the diversion of military construction funds to build its border wall in 2019. The diversion, totaling $3.6 billion, disrupted scores of improvements for military operations and the quality of life for troops and their families. The newly released documents provide the first-ever look at the inner workings of how that money was moved around, and it’s not a pretty sight for congressional committees, which were left in the dark and denied basic answers about the accounting maneuvers.

Trump’s repeating donation tactics led to millions in refunds into 2021” via Shane Goldmacher of The New York Times — The aggressive fundraising tactics that Trump deployed late in last year’s presidential campaign have continued to spur an avalanche of refunds into 2021, with Trump, the Republican Party and their shared accounts returning $12.8 million to donors in the first six months of the year. Trailing in the polls and facing a cash crunch last September, Trump’s political operation began opting online donors into automatic recurring contributions by pre-checking a box on its digital donation forms to make a withdrawal every week.

— CRISIS —

The deplorable treatment of Michael Fanone and the heroes of Jan. 6” via Jonathan Capehart of The Washington Post — The anguished face of D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer Fanone is haunting as he is swarmed by a mob of terrorists hellbent on overturning a free and fair election at the behest of a president who refused to accept defeat. Fanone was tased so many times that he suffered a heart attack. He said that the few Republican members of Congress who would meet with him used their support of law enforcement during BLM protests last year as a shield against his criticism that they were refusing to stand by police after the savage attacks they suffered on Jan. 6.

The treatment of Michael Fanone was ‘deplorable.’ Image via AP.

New Jersey gym owner, Seattle man are first to plead guilty to assaulting police in Capitol attack” via Spencer S. Hsu of The Washington Post — A New Jersey gym owner and a Washington state man became the first people to plead guilty to assaulting police in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, facing what they acknowledged in plea deals could be roughly three to five years in prison under sentencing guidelines. The agreements by Scott K. Fairlamb and Devlyn D. Thompson set potential benchmarks for what at least 165 defendants charged with assaulting or impeding officers could expect if they cooperate. Prosecutors agreed to drop the other counts, which included rioting, trespassing and violent disorder.

More Cubans try dangerous trip to U.S. across Florida Straits” via Andrea Rodríguez of The Associated Press — Zuleydis Elledias has gotten up each morning for the past two months hoping for a phone call, a message — any news on the fate of her husband and nephew, who disappeared at sea after the boat they were in capsized as they tried to reach Florida. Another half dozen families in the small town of Orlando Nodarse, 35 miles west of Havana and near the port of Mariel, are living with the same uncertainty. Cuba is seeing a surge in unauthorized migration to the United States, fueled by an economic crisis exacerbated by the pandemic, increased U.S. sanctions and cutbacks in aid from its also-crisis-wracked Venezuelan ally.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Rick Scott slams national debt, says he is ‘fed up’ by reckless government spending” via Cameron Cawthorne of Fox Business — Sen. Scott said he was “fed up” by the federal government not living within its means while discussing the price tag of the $1 trillion infrastructure bill. Scott said he definitely supports infrastructure and fixing roads, bridges, airports, etc., but he added that it should be done in a fiscally responsible manner. Scott continued by saying Congress has to be “honest” to the American people. Scott has been a staunch critic of the infrastructure package and said this past week in a joint statement with other Republican senators that they “still don’t have a score on this legislation from the Congressional Budget Office.” The Senate, with 18 Republican votes, advanced the bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill on Saturday with a 67-27 vote.

First in #FlaPol — Kathy Castor urges immediate action on climate change after ‘alarming’ UN report — In response to a newly released report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Castor, chair of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, is calling for the immediate development of clean energy and the “rapid phaseout of carbon and methane pollution.” She cites worsening impacts of the climate crisis as proof for advancing Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda and Climate Crisis Action Plan. “Right now, over 100 major wildfires are burning across 15 states. Red tide is plaguing Florida’s coasts, hurricane season is getting longer, and deadly heatwaves are scorching communities,” Castor says. “Although the situation is dire, today’s report serves as a call to action.” Read the report here.

Vern Buchanan believes vaccine helped him fight off COVID-19, but he’s not pushing shots” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — U.S. Rep. Buchanan credits the COVID-19 vaccine with making his recent infection less severe. “I think for me it made a huge difference,” said Buchanan, who tested positive for COVID-19 late last month and experienced mild flu-like symptoms, including fatigue and congestion in his head and chest. Yet when it comes to encouraging others to get vaccinated, the Longboat Key Republican is reluctant to urge the shots.

Vern Buchanan wants Americans to take COVID-19 seriously but stops short of vaccine mandates.

— LOCAL NOTES —

Surfside tower was flawed from day one. Designs violated the code, likely worsened collapse” via Sarah Blaskey, Aaron Liebowitz, and Ben Conarck of the Miami Herald — Champlain Towers South was poorly designed, even for the 1970s when the plans were originally drawn and codes were less rigorous. Most of the column designs were too narrow to safely accommodate the amount of reinforcing steel called for in the plans, especially at the critical areas where the columns connected to the slab, engineers’ calculations based on the building code requirements at the time show. As a result, experts said the Champlain Towers contractor would have been forced to choose between squeezing in bars without the minimum clearance specified in the code or leaving out some of the planned reinforcement from the connection.

The Champlain Towers South in Surfside was flawed from the start.

J.T. Burnette public corruption trial restarts Monday after COVID-19 delay. What to know.” via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat — U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle announced the restart date after a closed telephonic hearing with government and defense lawyers. The move allayed concerns about a possible mistrial caused by a jury that has seen its ranks depleted by the coronavirus. “The trial is on track to resume on Monday,” Hinkle said in a statement following the hearing. “Under current guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and based on the information reported to date by the 12 jurors, all jurors will be able to resume their jury service in full at that time.” Hinkle added that the schedule would shift “only if new information or circumstances require a change.”

Glades Mayors argue new Lake O regulation plan is ‘completely unacceptable’” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Three Glades-area Mayors have signed a letter blasting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ proposed plan to regulate Lake Okeechobee’s water levels and discharges. Pahokee Mayor Keith Babb, South Bay Mayor Joe Kyles and Belle Glade Mayor Steve Wilson signed the letter. The Army Corps under Col. Andrew Kelly recently announced a new regulation plan, dubbed “Plan CC,” in which the Mayors complain would see more water sent south and west and less water sent east, including to nearby Glades communities. The letter also directly calls out U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, with whom the Mayors have battled before.

Chad Choate III appointed to Manatee County School Board by DeSantis” via Ryan McKinnon of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — DeSantis announced that Sarasota financial planner Choate would take over the open District 4 seat. Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes had been elected to the seat in 2018, but he vacated the board to take the top job with the county earlier this year. In a statement accompanying the Governor’s announcement, Choate said he looked “forward to standing with Gov. DeSantis by opposing a mask mandate in Manatee County Schools, keeping critical race theory out of our classrooms and prioritizing civics education.”

Ron DeSantis appoints Chad Choate III, who is in lockstep with the Governor’s ideology.

Anonymous accusation roils Temple Terrace Council” via William March of the Tampa Bay Times — An anonymous accusation against City Manager Charles Stephenson of falsifying city documents roiled a Temple Terrace City Council meeting this week and sparked an investigation under Mayor Andy Ross. The accusation came in documents including city records presented unexpectedly during the meeting by Councilmember Meredith Abel, who said she received them from an anonymous source. The material claimed that earlier this year, Stephenson falsified records to conceal the award of a contract for work on a racquetball court at the city’s Family Recreation Complex to an unlicensed contractor. In a video of the meeting, Stephenson appeared angry and defiant at the accusation, but on the advice of Ross, didn’t respond publicly.

St. Pete mayoral candidate Robert Blackmon: Social media posts ‘do not reflect who I am” via Jake Sheridan and Colleen Wright of the Tampa Bay Times — Mayoral candidate and City Council member Blackmon said circulating screenshots of Facebook posts he appeared to make with vulgar and disparaging remarks about women, Asians and tenants “do not reflect who I am today, what I stand for or how I will conduct myself as St. Petersburg’s next mayor.” The posts include several references to women as a “bitch” and three generations of women, including a 3-year-old, as “sluts.” They also included comments about Asian people and made light of removing tenants from a building.

— TOP OPINION —

DeSantis, once a rising star, is becoming a white dwarf” via Nate Monroe of The Florida Times-Union — Perhaps it was arrogance that drove Florida’s own degrading star, DeSantis, to believe tying his political fortunes to COVID-19 was a good idea. An educated man, DeSantis knew Florida’s pandemic arc,  roughly middle of the pack in deaths nationally,  was due mostly to decisions made by local officials of both parties that mimicked the measures taken by more liberal states: Mask mandates, closures, curfews. These were the very things DeSantis had begun railing against with increasing self-assurance in after-hours appearances on Fox News. The Delta variant has shattered the aura of competence DeSantis had hoped would last to the 2024 Republican presidential primary, and it has laid bare his incredibly dark Darwinian worldview about pandemic management.

— OPINIONS —

What to do with our COVID-19 rage” via Sarah Smarsh of The New York Times — Abetted by that slow rollout, COVID-19 has resurged. Following a short, beautiful moment of relaxed precautions, while cases were down at the start of summer, we again don masks, change plans, and worry about how to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. Vaccination rates are rising as the hesitant become less so, but the coronavirus will likely be with us indefinitely. How does one process this brutal reality? Many vaccinated Americans are tired, disgusted and eager to assign blame. Our national conversation has reached the point where many Americans are done with any and all excuses offered by the unvaccinated.

On conservation and the environment, Florida Democrats and Republicans see common ground” via Stephen Neely of the Tampa Bay Times — DeSantis signed the bipartisan Florida Wildlife Corridor Act, committing $400 million to the preservation of lands that house some of the state’s wildest and most biodiverse ecosystems. The law marked a major step forward in protecting Florida’s endangered species and preserving their natural habitats. While voters overwhelmingly support the bill, many see it as just one of many steps needed to protect Florida’s environment and preserve the state’s natural treasures. A recent survey showed an overwhelming majority of respondents (87%) approved of the bill’s passage, while a plurality said that they approve of the job that DeSantis is doing when it comes to conservation and the environment.

That unmasked man: DeSantis’ war on public health is disastrous” via The Daily News editorial board — Florida public schools didn’t ask for a culture war. All they’re trying to do is bring kids back while protecting them and their families from a contagious new strain of a deadly virus. As they try to navigate a tortuous terrain, DeSantis is fighting to take away one of the best and cheapest tools they have to reassure parents and minimize COVID-19 spread. Deepest shame on him. DeSantis, a likely 2024 GOP presidential contender, may think his ban on school-district mask mandates is a stroke of political genius. In truth, it’s the gravest form of public health malpractice.

Playing politics with pandemic diminishes health agencies” via The Palm Beach Post editorial board — DeSantis’ hard-line COVID-19 stance leaves state health department analysts, nurses, physicians and scientists in a professional pickle. They were trained to follow accepted health and scientific practices and address public health challenges but are confronted by a state government that does everything it can to combat the virus. Unfortunately, it’s the governor and not the health official he appointed to lead the department, Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees, who calls the shots. That became all too obvious last year, after the surgeon general was escorted out of a coronavirus briefing when his remarks apparently strayed too far off-script from the governor’s message. Florida and its health department deserve better.

COVID-19 is apolitical. Get the vaccine.” via Rep. Geraldine Thompson for the Orlando Sentinel — Society has benefited from vaccines that have treated diseases such as smallpox, polio, mumps, rubella and diphtheria. Today, infections from those diseases are almost unheard of. Presently, we may choose to take vaccines to prevent influenza, pneumonia and HPV. I have taken two doses of a vaccine to prevent COVID-19. COVID-19 is apolitical. It infects Republicans, Democrats and people who have no party affiliation. Unfortunately, getting the vaccine has been politicized and is seen by some as party loyalty. Yes, our hospitals are open for business. So too are our ICUs, morgues, crematories and cemeteries. Please get vaccinated to prevent a trip to either one.

Surfside collapse may be rooted in the past. But accountability starts now” via the Miami Herald — In an investigation into the Champlain Towers South condominium collapse, engineers said original design and construction flaws alone were unlikely to have initiated the collapse. But the deficiencies, they agreed, “could have been the difference between a single floor caving in and the kind of progressive collapse that killed 98 people on June 24.” Standard building codes of the 1970s should have been sufficient to prevent the progressive collapse of the building. No matter where investigators finally pinpoint the causes of this horrific accident, we are not letting current officials, institutions and practices off the hook.

— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —

Florida’s COVID-19 crisis shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, it’s getting worse.

Also on today’s Sunrise:

— More people are hospitalized than ever … but the Governor is trying to dismiss those numbers by saying it’s all part of the cycle.

— Florida’s kids are heading back to school, and DeSantis is sticking to his guns … saying local school districts cannot require students to wear a mask.

— The state Board of Education weighed in, but not in a good way. They adopted an emergency rule saying students shamed for refusing to wear a mask in school are eligible for a scholarship to a private school.

— The rule was approved unanimously by the Governor’s supporters who serve on the board.

— And finally, two Florida Men: One of them had to call a professional trapper to get rid of a toilet iguana; the other died of COVID-19 after downplaying the epidemic.

To listen, click on the image below:

— ALOE —

Mixed bag: Erratic pandemic Olympics wind to a nuanced end” via The Associated Press — The Tokyo Olympics, christened with “2020” but held in mid-2021 after being interrupted for a year by the coronavirus, glided to their conclusion in a COVID-19-emptied stadium Sunday night as an often surreal mixed bag for Japan and the world. A rollicking closing ceremony with the theme “Worlds We Share,” an optimistic but ironic notion at this human moment, featured everything from stunt bikes to intricate light shows as it tried to convey a “celebratory and liberating atmosphere” for athletes after a tense two weeks. It was set to pivot to a live feed from Paris, host of the 2024 Summer Games. And with that, the strangest Olympic Games on record began closing their books for good.

Closing the book on a truly strange Olympics. Image via AP.

‘You restored the soul of America’: Biden virtually meets with Olympic athletes” via Chris Williams of Fox 13 — Biden and first lady Jill Biden spoke with U.S. Olympic athletes in a livestreamed virtual reception Saturday. “You restored the soul of America in so many ways; you really, really did,” he told Team USA. “That’s not hyperbole. That’s a fact.” The President also extended an invitation for the athletes to visit him at the White House in the fall. He also praised the members beyond their skills. “It wasn’t just, for a lot of you, it wasn’t just your athletic ability,” he said. ” It was your moral courage, the courage you showed.”

‘I feel at peace’: Allyson Felix exits stage with record 11th medal” via Eddie Pells of The Associated Press — Felix knows the way to the Olympic medal stands better than any runner alive. She made her record-setting 11th trip there Saturday after starring as the headliner on a 4×400 relay win that featured a who’s who of American running. With the gold medal dangling from her neck and “The Star-Spangled Banner” playing in the near-empty stadium, “I took a moment just to close my eyes and take it in one last time,” Felix said. After the final race of the final Games of the 35-year-old sprinter’s career, Felix leaves the stage, having won the most medals of any track athlete in U.S. history.

Allyson Felix makes history with her 11th Olympic medal.

Sunisa Lee is about to try a new thing for an all-around champ: College gymnastics” via Emily Giambalvo of The Washington Post — Lee dreamed of becoming an Olympian, but competing alongside someone widely considered the best gymnast ever, she had not necessarily thought of winning the all-around gold medal. Usually, Lee’s competitions felt more like a race for second place, so she expected the Tokyo Games to present an opportunity to win the silver. The first item on her post-Olympics agenda remains the same: college gymnastics. She committed to Auburn long ago and hasn’t wavered from that plan. Lee will become the first Olympic all-around champion to compete in the NCAA, and she will arrive on campus Wednesday, eight days after her final performance in Tokyo.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Celebrating today are Rep. Keith Truenow and my fellow gentle giant, the FHCA’s Emmett Reed, who I’m sure today is still mourning the loss of Coach Bowden. I hope he finds a way to still celebrate. Also celebrating today are former House candidate Rebekah Bydlak, Jaime Figueras, and former lawmaker and Hillsborough Co. Commissioner Sandy Murman. Belated best wishes to a man who puts a sparkle in all of our eyes, our friend Slater Bayliss, as well as the incomparable Yolanda Cash Jackson. 

___

Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter SchorschPhil AmmannRenzo Downey and Drew Wilson.


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How Trump’s legacy became ‘pure poison’ for independents

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CNN

The highly touted red wave in last month’s midterm election failed to develop largely because it hit a wall of resistance among independent voters, especially across the key battleground states. And that presents difficult questions for Republicans looking forward to 2024.

The GOP’s disappointing showing among independents this year marked the third consecutive election in which the party has underperformed with those critical swing voters. Although Donald Trump ran competitively among independents in his first presidential race in 2016, since he took office, the GOP has consistently faced broad opposition among them, especially those who are women or hold four-year college degrees.

The GOP’s 2022 struggles with independents were especially striking because they came even as most of those voters expressed negative views of both President Joe Biden’s job performance and the state of the economy – sentiments that typically cause most swing voters to break for the party out of the White House. To many analysts in both parties, the reluctance of so many independents to support Republican candidates despite such discontent underscores how powerfully the Trump-era GOP has alienated these voters.

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“There’s a huge lesson here, which is if you talk like Trump or remind voters of Trump, particularly at a personality level, it’s pure poison to independent voters,” John Thomas, a GOP consultant, said flatly. “It might have been effective in 2016 because voters were looking for something new and a change, but it hasn’t been useful since then.”

For Republicans, the results underscore the electoral risks of the party’s continuing refusal to repudiate Trump, even as he has openly associated with two antisemites who praised Adolf Hitler, praised the January 6, 2021, US Capitol rioters and publicly called for the “termination” of the US Constitution to restore himself to power.

In the election, fully 66% of independent voters said they had an unfavorable view of the former president while just 30% viewed him favorably, according to the results of the exit poll conducted by Edison Research for a consortium of media organizations including CNN. Among female independents, Trump’s ratings were even worse: just 23% favorable and 72% unfavorable, according to previously unpublished exit poll results provided by the CNN polling unit. Trump’s unfavorable rating hit a comparable 69% among independents with at least a four-year college degree. “I have a hard time seeing the Republican Party escaping the grasp of Trump with or without him on the ballot anytime soon,” says Tom Bonier, chief executive officer of TargetSmart, a Democratic data and voter targeting firm.

The results among independents also contained plenty of warnings for Democrats. The exit poll found that Biden’s image among them was only slightly more favorable than Trump’s (with 37% viewing the president favorably and 60% unfavorably) and that nearly three-fourths of independent voters (including virtually identical numbers of men and women) said they did not want him to run again in 2024. In a post-election survey conducted by Way to Win, a liberal group that works primarily with candidates and organizations focused on voters of color, roughly four-fifths of independents across the battleground states said they couldn’t identify anything the Biden administration has done that has directly improved their lives.

Most importantly, the exit poll showed Democrats winning independents in the national vote for the House of Representatives only by a narrow 49% to 47% margin. That was a significantly smaller advantage than the double-digit lead among independents Democrats enjoyed in both the 2020 presidential race and the 2018 contest for the House.

“These results weren’t necessarily an endorsement of Democrats,” says Democratic pollster Matt Hogan. “But they disliked Republicans and viewed them as even more extreme.”

Still, the magnitude of the Democratic advantage among independents was probably less revealing than the fact that the party carried them at all, especially in a period of such economic unease. The party controlling the White House has not won independents in the national vote for the House in any midterm election since at least 1982, according to exit polls.

While Republicans held the presidency, Democrats won independent voters by double-digits in House elections in the midterms of 2018, 2006 and 1986, according to exit polls. While Democrats held the presidency, Republicans won independents by double-digits in House elections in the midterms of 2014, 2010 and 1994. In each of the past two midterms, the party out of the White House (Democrats in 2018 and Republicans in 2014) won independents by a resounding 12 percentage points, the exit polls found. The GOP’s severe underperformance of that standard allowed Democrats to finish unexpectedly well last month even though Republican voters, extending the usual midterm pattern for the party out of the White House, participated in larger numbers than Democrats.

In the key statewide races this year, the Democratic advantage among independents was often much more pronounced than their slim lead in the national House vote.

Democratic candidates, the exit polls found, won independents by double-digit margins in the Senate races in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, narrowly ran ahead with them in North Carolina and essentially split them evenly in Nevada, Ohio and Wisconsin. (The latest CNN poll conducted by SSRS for Tuesday’s Georgia Senate run-off again shows Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock holding a commanding lead among independents over Republican Herschel Walker.)

Winning Democratic candidates also posted gaping double-digit advantages among independents in the Michigan and Pennsylvania governor races and solid leads of 6-7 percentage points in Arizona and Wisconsin. Republican Govs. Ron DeSantis in Florida and Mike DeWine in Ohio, two increasingly solid red states, were the only statewide GOP candidates to win independents by a comfortable margin, according to the exit polls.

Jenifer Fernandez Ancona, vice president and chief strategy officer for Way to Win, says concerns about the Trump era GOP’s commitment to basic rights, including abortion rights, and to democracy itself offset the usual tendency among independents to check the party holding the White House. “I think that the combination of the threats to democracy, the threats to freedom was a powerful antidote to that usual pattern,” she said.

Hogan was part of a bipartisan team (along with Tony Fabrizio, Trump’s lead pollster in 2020) that polled during the election for the AARP, the giant senior’s lobby. In a post-election survey of the 63 most competitive House districts, that pollster team also found that Democrats narrowly carried independent voters.

Like Ancona, Hogan says the key to that result was that as many independents in these districts said abortion rights and threats to democracy were the most important issues in their vote as cited inflation and the economy – a result that surprised him. Though many independents were negative on Biden’s job performance and pessimistic about the economy, he notes, they remained unwilling to entrust power to a Republican Party reshaped in Trump’s image.

Another measure of that hesitation came in the national exit poll. Overall the survey found that a virtually identical share of voters nationwide, just over half, said they viewed the GOP and the Democratic Party each as “too extreme.” But independents were much more likely to stamp that label on the GOP. While the share of independents who considered Democrats extreme exceeded the share who did not by a narrow four percentage points, the gap for Republicans was 18 points. Nearly two-thirds of independents with college degrees, and exactly three-fifths of female independents, said they viewed the GOP as too extreme, considerably more than in either group that identified Democrats in that way, according to detailed results from the CNN polling unit.

Paul Bentz, an Arizona-based Republican pollster and the 2010 campaign manager for former GOP Gov. Jan Brewer, believes that label severely hurt the GOP in that critical swing state. Bentz says the GOP’s 2022 slate of Trump-aligned candidates – led by gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake and Senate choice Blake Masters – systematically alienated not only independents but also a critical slice of moderate Republicans through their rigid opposition to legal abortion and embrace of Trump’s discredited claims of fraud in the 2020 election. “They did not appear to have any interest in targeting, identifying and communicating with independent voters,” Bentz says.

In Arizona and elsewhere, the GOP especially struggled among college-educated and female independents. The exit poll found that Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, while beating Masters, drew 55% of female independents and 61% of independents (of both genders) with college degrees; Democratic governor-elect Katie Hobbs, in her win over Kari Lake, won almost exactly as many of each group.

They were hardly alone in dominating among both college-educated and female independents. In the national exit poll, Democrats carried exactly 54% of each group. In Michigan, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer won 59% of the independents with degrees and 56% of women independents. Wisconsin’s Democratic Gov. Tony Evers virtually matched those numbers. In the Pennsylvania Senate race, Democrat John Fetterman carried over three-fifths of both groups in his comfortable victory; Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan roughly equaled his performance while winning reelection by an even wider margin in New Hampshire. Democratic Senators Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada and Warnock in Georgia both carried 53-55% of each group. Josh Shapiro, the Democratic-governor elect in Pennsylvania, set the pace by carrying over two-thirds of both female and college-educated independents in his landslide against far-right GOP nominee Doug Mastriano.

Results provided by Edison Research showed that Democrats also dominated among women and college-educated independents in the 2018 House races and 2020 presidential contest, races also heavily shaped by attitudes toward Trump.

In both parties, many analysts see little chance for the GOP to reverse these trends if they nominate Trump for the presidency again in 2024. The bigger question may be whether another nominee would allow the GOP to climb out of the hole that Trump has opened beneath the party with independents.

Bentz, the Arizona-based GOP pollster, thinks the answer is yes. Bentz says the key to the state’s recent tilt away from decades of Republican dominance is the recoiling from the Trump definition of the party among well-educated, higher-income swing voters in the Phoenix suburbs. But he notes that outgoing GOP Gov. Doug Ducey, with more of a business-oriented and problem-solving image, twice ran well with those voters; that precedent, Bentz says, suggests that if Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis can fit that mold, he could recapture many of them in 2024.

“Trump would very much struggle in this state again,” Bentz says. “DeSantis, especially depending on who he chooses as his running mate, I think he could be competitive here.”

Less clear is whether DeSantis can present himself in that way. While he’s less personally bombastic and does not carry the association with election denial and violence that has stained the former president, the Florida governor has embraced a wide array of right-wing culture war causes, from limiting how teachers talk about race, gender and sexual orientation to targeting undocumented immigrants and restricting access to abortion.

With that resume, Fernandez Ancona says DeSantis is vulnerable to the same stamp of extremism and intolerance that has hurt Trump with independents-if Democrats do the work to define him. “I don’t think you can separate Trump from Trumpism,” she says. “And DeSantis is absolutely an acolyte of Trumpism … that’s a story we would have to tell.”

Thomas, the GOP consultant, is the founder and chief strategist of Ron to the Rescue PAC, a Super PAC promoting a 2024 presidential bid for DeSantis (who has not yet announced whether he’ll run). Like Bentz, Thomas believes DeSantis could improve on the GOP’s Trump-era performance among independents. For all DeSantis’ fervor as a culture warrior, Thomas argues, the Florida governor has also shown he can execute the nuts-and-bolts aspects of governing “that matter to independents.”

But Thomas doesn’t discount the risk Democrats could define DeSantis exactly in the manner Fernandez Ancona suggests – especially if the Florida Governor leans too far into what Thomas calls culture war “stunts” like his recent move to fly undocumented immigrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard. Thomas says he’s confident that if DeSantis runs, he can manage “the tightrope” of appealing to both independent general election voters repelled by Trump and base primary voters attracted to his belligerence toward liberals. But Thomas agrees if DeSantis’ “argument for voters is the stunts, I think that becomes too Trump-like at the end of the day.”

Republicans performed better among independents last month in states that already lean in their direction. Gov. Greg Abbott in Texas ran virtually even among those voters, and DeSantis carried them – as did Ohio GOP Gov. Mike DeWine and, even more decisively. J.D. Vance, the GOP’s Ohio senator-elect, also ran about even with them, the exit polls found.

But despite all the unhappiness with Biden and the economy, Republicans continued to struggle with independents in almost all gubernatorial and Senate races across the five states that decided the last presidential race by switching from Trump in 2016 to Biden in 2020 – Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona and Georgia. (The only exceptions were the governor’s race in Georgia and Senate contest in Wisconsin where Republican incumbents Brian Kemp and Ron Johnson each ran about even among independents.)

That pattern suggests Republicans are unlikely to regain an Electoral College majority and recapture the White House in 2024 unless they can pry away more independents from the coalition that has now staunchly rejected Trump’s vision for America over three consecutive elections. And Democrats, watching the GOP again almost completely avoid direct criticism of Trump amid his latest provocations, see few signs Republicans are willing to do what that would likely require.

“I don’t think these fundamentals are going to drastically change,” says Fernandez Ancona. “The pieces are in place right now for us to be able to continue to grow this anti-MAGA majority.”

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The Year Ahead: Politics in 2023

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Trudeau, Poilievre, and the fight for democracy take centre stage

The Smith-Notley fracas escalates in Alberta as Trudeau wages multiple battles federally. Meanwhile, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to reverberate around the world, while cost-of-living woes dominate on the home front.

1. The highest-stakes election will be in Alberta

Maybe by the time Albertans head to the polls in May, Premier Danielle Smith will be done dousing her political tire fires. She spent her first days in office walking back controversies, including an assertion that unvaccinated people are “the most discriminated-against group that I’ve ever witnessed in my lifetime.” She can probably count on the votes of those unvaccinated Albertans, but her broad appeal remains uncertain. The NDP is competitive in Alberta—in one recent poll, respondents favoured NDP Leader Rachel Notley by a 14-point margin. Elected to government in 2015, Notley lost to Jason Kenney in 2019, toughed it out in opposition, and might yet complete a phoenix-like comeback. 

2. Trudeau will have a year from hell

Justin Trudeau’s fight card for 2023 is already full. Premiers are banging the table for more health money. Quebec Premier François Legault is chafing over his province’s share of federal immigration targets (which he says are so high as to cause social unrest), while Bill 21, his legislation banning public-sector workers from wearing religious symbols, may end up at the Supreme Court. Alberta, meanwhile, wants to pass a Sovereignty Act that would allow it to ignore federal laws. In February, we can expect a potentially damaging verdict on Trudeau’s use of the Emergencies Act to quell the Freedom Convoy’s occupation in Ottawa. And we may see more premiers thumb their noses at his father’s legacy, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, by invoking its notwithstanding clause—the back-door provision, recently used by both Legault and Ford, that overrides the rights the Charter is intended to guarantee.

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3. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will be felt on Canadian soil

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Canada has imposed sanctions on Russian oligarchs, given Ukraine $3.85 billion in cash, trained Ukrainian soldiers for battle and gifted all the matériel we had to spare. As fall turned to winter, Russia’s flailing boots-on-the-ground invasion gave way to sustained bombing of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure—a cruel strategy in a frigid country. What Ukrainians need now are heated homes. That means more people seeking refugee status and, with energy in short supply across Europe, more looking to leapfrog across the Atlantic. Canada needs to get ready; we’re still struggling to process the roughly 200,000 Ukrainians who’ve already applied. Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland has promised to fast-track energy projects to help Europe. Allies will expect progress by 2024. 

4. The fight for democracy will eclipse trade disputes with the U.S.

In a speech in Washington last February, trade minister Mary Ng described the Canada-U.S. relationship as having “a million moving parts.” Those include the perpetual popped springs of cross-border trade, American dairy and Canadian softwood lumber. Meanwhile, supply chains continue to sputter and American protectionism is hampering Canadian business. But in another Washington speech in October, Chrystia Freeland warned of bigger problems ahead: autocracies are on the rise and will challenge democracies for global dominance. As dark as her vision is, it spells good news for Canada-
U.S. relations–the need to co-operate will outweigh petty squabbles. 

5. We’ll welcome a record number of newcomers

Canada is admitting more immigrants than at any time in its history: the previous record of 400,000 was set in 1913, equalled in 2021 and crushed this year. And the plan is to keep setting new records, ultimately hitting 500,000 in 2025. The economy depends on it: more Canadians are now leaving the workforce than entering it, creating a persistent labour shortage, with nearly as many job openings as there are unemployed workers. The challenge is to match immigrants’ skills to jobs, especially in sectors such as education, health care and construction.

6. Everyone wants an electric car—but good luck charging it 

Electric and hybrid cars now account for more than seven per cent of new vehicle registrations in Canada, a rate that doubled in two years. That means we need more charging capacity, and fast. There are now 22,000 EV charging stations in Canada, about 420,000 short of what we’ll require by 2035. Ottawa is funding 50,000 more chargers over the next three years through the Canada Investment Bank, which the Liberals launched in 2017. A lingering question is whether Canadians are ready to change their travel routines. Even the fastest charge takes 30 minutes, compared to a quick two-minute fill at the pump. If Canadians keep buying EVs at a record pace, of course, that question will answer itself. 

7. Big tech will throw a fit about CanCon rules

Ottawa’s ambitious effort to regulate big tech (companies like Alphabet, Apple, Meta, Microsoft and so forth) will get its first real test in 2023. The combination of the Online Streaming Act (Bill C-11) and the Online News Act (Bill C-18, still under consideration in the House of Commons) will make internet firms subject to Canadian content regulations, force them to contribute to the country’s content subsidy programs and have them share revenues with media organizations whose news they post on their sites (and whose ad revenues they’ve poached). Big Tech is chafing at the prospect, but for the federal government, it’s about forcing these companies–which happen to be among the world’s most valuable–to invest some of their Canadian profits back in Canada. Ottawa is also threatening to implement a three per cent Digital Services Tax on these companies’ Canadian revenues starting January 1, 2024. Washington has warned Canada not to collect the tax, even as the U.S. stymies a collaborative, global approach to the issue. All in all, 2023 has the makings of a ticking Big Tech time bomb. 

8. The country will go deeper into debt for dental care

As part of their deal to avoid another federal election, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals promised Jagmeet Singh’s NDP a national dental care program in 2023. A recent poll showed that 72 per cent of Canadians support it. Dentists have expressed only minor quibbles. The provinces, though often touchy about new federal programs, have kept mum. Money, of course, could yet scuttle it. The Parliamentary Budget Officer reckons the five-year price tag could be nearly double the $5.3-billion estimate. The PBO is also forecasting deficits for the next five years, which means the government would have to borrow that money at ever-rising interest rates. Other priorities beckon—a brewing recession, aid to Ukraine—and Pierre Poilievre’s Conservatives oppose the plan, saying it will goose inflation.

9. We’ll finally get cheaper daycare

Last year, the Liberal government made good on its promise to sign agreements with the provinces to reduce daycare fees. But the details will vary from province to province. In most cases, provinces will phase in reductions, reaching $10 a day by 2026. And though the plan will create new subsidized spaces, there still won’t be enough for all of the country’s 2.1 million kids under age six. Nevertheless, parents are already dreaming about what to do with the thousands of dollars they’ll save. Of course, maybe it’ll just go to their mortgage renewals: the Bank of Canada predicts that in a few years, a typical mortgage payment will be 30 per cent higher thanks to rising interest rates. 

10. Poilievre will hammer Trudeau with more populist rhetoric

Last October, it was revealed that CPC Leader Pierre Poilievre’s YouTube channel was using a hidden hashtag favoured by misogynist groups. To his critics, it was just another step in his continuing descent among the deplorables of populism—part of his plan, surely, to pull his party’s right flank away from Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party. But he’s also trying to broaden the spectrum of acceptable opinion. He was an early opponent of mask mandates, has embraced populist calls to defund the CBC and has pledged to make federal funding to universities contingent on their commitment to free speech. He’ll pick his next populist move the same way he did with his convoy support: he’ll be opportunistic, then lean in hard. In the meantime, he’ll buttress his traditional fiscal-conservative bona fides by endlessly harping on the cost of living and pushing his promise to simplify Canada’s income tax system.

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Pandemic Politics Hold Up Gazillion-Dollar Defense Bill

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A soldier obeys orders to get a jab.
Photo: Jon Cherry/Getty Images

One of the very few bipartisan traditions still standing in Congress is the annual passage of a defense authorization bill setting policy for the Pentagon and national security strategy generally. Despite all sorts of partisan tensions and efforts to take the bill hostage, this has happened for 61 straight years. Making that 62 straight years has been a priority for the lame-duck session of Congress currently under way. The House passed its version of the measure — authorizing $839 billion in defense spending for the fiscal year that began on October 1 — in July, with robust majorities from both party caucuses. It was mostly noteworthy for adding to President Biden’s spending requests and knocking down a few of the administration’s specific defense-policy proposals, notably stopping the Defense Department from scrapping certain aircraft, ships, and missile programs.

For mostly scheduling reasons, the Senate has taken longer to negotiate its version of the bill and has decided to work out a final deal with the House and the administration that can be whipped quickly through the lame-duck session in both chambers and presented to the president for his signature. But at the last minute, a dispute that has little to do with defense policy threatens to throw sand into the gears of the process: a battle over revocation of the COVID-vaccine mandate for members of the armed forces that was imposed in August 2021.

It’s entirely unsurprising that Republicans, whose base is heavily larded with anti-vaxxers and who have sought to make any sort of COVID-related requirements a big civil-liberties issue, would want to scrap the military mandate. (Twenty-one Republican governors also recently sent Biden a letter calling for this policy change.) And it seems that Democrats (including within the White House) are grudgingly willing to give them this trophy. Indeed, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy is already crowing about it, according to the Washington Post:

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House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) claimed Sunday that he had worked out the arrangement directly with President Biden. Although White House officials later disputed that characterization, McCarthy described the compromise as his party’s “first victory” since the GOP won control of the House in the midterm elections.

House Armed Services Committee chairman Adam Smith isn’t conceding it’s a done deal, but it sounds like the handwriting is on the wall, Politico reports:

“We haven’t resolved it, but it is very fair to say that it’s in discussion,” Smith told POLITICO on the sidelines of the Reagan National Defense Forum. He noted that the mandate may not be logical anymore.

“I was a very strong supporter of the vaccine mandate when we did it, a very strong supporter of the Covid restrictions put in place by DoD and others,” he added. “But at this point in time, does it make sense to have that policy from August 2021? That is a discussion that I am open to and that we’re having.”

The bigger problem is that Republicans are mulling a demand that military members who refused to obey the vaccine mandate and were accordingly discharged be reinstated and even compensated. Smith says that’s a nonstarter:

While negotiators are willing to entertain the possibility of undoing the policy, Smith said GOP calls to reinstate or grant back pay to troops who refused the shot amounted to a red line. He called the push “a horrible idea.”

“The one thing that I was adamant about — so were others — is there’s going to be no reinstatement or back pay for the people who refused to obey the order to get the vaccine,” Smith said. “Orders are not optional in the military.”

It’s increasingly clear that the big question is whether Republicans will choose to deep-six the defense bill for the first time in 62 years in order to score a culture-war point about the alleged unreasonableness of a soon-to-be-past vaccine mandate. If they do, it will underscore how important resistance to COVID-prevention efforts is to the GOP’s messaging.

The dispute will also be an indicator as to whether McCarthy has even the most minimal interest in bipartisan governing once he obtains the Speaker’s gavel in January (assuming he isn’t pushed aside by his caucus’s extremists first). Back in November, he was already making noises about forcing a renegotiation of the defense bill so that it would not pass until the next Congress convenes, as Defense News reported:

“I’ve watched what the Democrats have done on many of these things, especially the NDAA — the woke-ism that they want to bring in there,” McCarthy told reporters on Tuesday after House Republican leadership elections, where the majority of his caucus nominated him to serve as speaker in the next Congress. “I actually believe the NDAA should hold up until the 1st of this year — and let’s get it right.”

That McCarthy is apparently willing to put national security policy on hold so that he can pursue the idiotic MAGA crusade against a “woke military” tells us a lot about the kind of conduct we can expect from him going forward. If he does hold the defense bill hostage, we’ll know that he may formally hold the Speaker’s gavel, but Marjorie Taylor Greene owns it.

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