Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 1.5.21

Thank you for all of the kind words and well-wishes — about my birthday and the debut of the latest edition of INFLUENCE Magazine.

Driving the RV down Hwy. 27 in South Georgia, listening to podcasts, my phone was overwhelmed with notifications. You all made a long drive quite manageable. Thank you.

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Let’s start the day with some good news about a great person — Erin Gillespie has been named Director of Public Sector Strategies for the State of Florida by technology consulting firm Coastal Cloud.

Gillespie, a consultant in disaster recovery and economic development, will be leading the team to grow Coastal Cloud’s extensive public sector offerings. She has almost two decades of experience in disaster and crisis management, public relations and government affairs.

Congratulations to Erin Gillespie, newly named Director of Public Sector Strategies for the State of Florida by technology consulting firm Coastal Cloud.

“We are thrilled to bring someone of Erin’s caliber to our team,” said Sara Hale, Coastal Cloud’s president. “Her public sector experience, expertise and relationships will further our mission to provide solutions to the challenges state and local governments face every day.”

Previously, Gillespie was the Deputy Chief of Staff for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and spent more than a decade in state government in various leadership roles at three agencies.

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After two years at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Max Flugrath is moving on.

Starting Tuesday, the veteran Democratic operative will go from FDACS press secretary to communications director at Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried‘s political committee, Florida Consumers First.

In his new role, Flugrath will oversee communications and media strategy at Florida Consumers First. As an addition to her political team, Flugrath will also help lead political operations and expand programs for Florida’s only statewide Democratic official.

The new gig is familiar territory for Flugrath.

Max Flugrath is moving on from Nikki Fried’s office.

A double alumnus of Florida State University, Flugrath has been working in comms for Democratic candidates and elected officials since 2016, when he started his career as deputy communications director for the House Democratic Office.

He’s also been on Team Fried since the beginning, serving as communications director during her 2018 campaign and working on her transition team after she became the lone Democrat to win a statewide election in the 2018 cycle.

The job change comes in the early days of what will be a consequential election cycle for Fried, whether she chooses to run for another term as Agriculture Commissioner or, as many speculate, mounts a bid for Governor in 2022.

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Pace Center for Girls has proved resilient amid the COVID-19 pandemic, continuing to provide education, counseling, training and advocacy to girls across Florida and Georgia who are at a higher risk of entering the juvenile justice or child welfare systems.

On Monday, Pace announced the cohort of leaders that will shepherd it through the second year of the pandemic era.

Gordon Bailey, the vice president of public affairs and community engagement at Florida Blue, will chair Pace’s 2021 Board of Trustees. He previously chaired the Board of Directors at the Pace Center for Girls, Jacksonville.

Brittany Perkins Castillo has been elected as the 2021 vice-chair. Perkins Castillo is the CEO of AshBritt, a leading disaster response and logistics services company. The University of Texas law grad also maintains an active pro bono legal practice to serve refugees and domestic violence survivors.

Mark Barnes will serve as treasurer. He is the Independent Review Partner at DiBartolomeo, McBee, Hartley & Barnes, PA. He is also on the board of Pace Center for Girls, Treasure Coast in Port Saint Lucie.

Greg Haile will serve as secretary. Haile is the seventh president of Broward College. He is an alumnus of Arizona State University and the Columbia University School of Law and teaches a self-designed summer school course at Harvard.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@ScottforFlorida: Tomorrow’s election in Georgia will determine the future of our country. @ossoff and @ReverendWarnock are pawns of @SenSchumer and @BernieSanders with radical ideas to make us less prosperous, less safe and less free. Vote @KLoeffler and @Perduesenate!

Tweet, tweet:

@Kat_Cammack: The balance of power is at stake, and it falls on us to ensure we keep the Senate RED! The Senate runoff is tomorrow, and we need to help both @Perduesenate and @KLoeffler. I was recently in Georgia campaigning for a @GOP win. Let’s bring it home tomorrow, Georgia!

Tweet, tweet:

@AngieNixon: Dear Georgians, I hate to put all this pressure on y’all … but I know you all are resilient. Can you please, please, please elect @ReverendWarnock and @ossoff tomorrow. We need them to help push our country in the right direction. And that’s on Mary Had A Little Lamb.

@LPDonovan: Best way to think about GA state of play w/o getting caught up in lean/tilt semantics or overanalyzing EV entrails: Ds have done enough to win, but not enough to put it out of reach. Leader in the clubhouse watching the last pairing. Rs need a strong day but nothing unreasonable.

Tweet, tweet:

@clairecmc: Brad Raffensberger should get credit for standing up to [Donald] Trump’s lies. But let’s remember he is just doing his job, running elections, like we have always done in this country until we elected a lying machine.

— DAYS UNTIL —

NHL season begins — 8; WandaVision premieres on Disney+ — 10; the 2021 Inauguration — 15; Florida Chamber Economic Outlook and Job Solution Summit begins — 23; Super Bowl LV in Tampa — 33; Daytona 500 — 40; “Nomadland” with Frances McDormand — 46; “Coming 2 America” premieres on Amazon Prime — 60; “The Many Saints of Newark” premieres — 66; “No Time to Die” premieres (rescheduled) — 87; Children’s Gasparilla — 95; Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest — 102; “A Quiet Place Part II” rescheduled premiere — 107; “Black Widow” rescheduled premiere — 122; “Top Gun: Maverick” rescheduled premiere — 178; Disney’s “Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings” premieres — 186; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 199; “Jungle Cruise” premieres — 206; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 231; “Dune” premieres — 269; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 301; Disney’s “Eternals” premieres — 304; “Spider-Man Far From Home” sequel premieres — 346; Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” premieres — 339; “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” premieres — 444; “Thor: Love and Thunder” premieres — 486; “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” sequel premieres — 640.

— D.C. TO ATL —

Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue try to steer around Republican infighting as Georgia runoff races draw to a close” via Cleve R. Wootson Jr. of The Washington Post — Georgia’s two Republican Senate candidates careened over the weekend toward a rocky end to their high-stakes dual runoff races, trying hard to avoid becoming collateral damage in a series of raging disputes that have embroiled the GOP. Perdue and Loeffler are facing challenges in Tuesday’s election from Democrats Ossoff and Warnock, respectively. Both Loeffler and Perdue aligned themselves with Trump’s call for $2,000 stimulus checks to be sent to Americans, even as the idea was blocked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who likened it to “socialism.”

The Georgia U.S. Senate runoffs are down to the wire. Image via AARP.

What to expect as Georgia counts votes” via Kate Brumback of The Associated Press — This week will find us back in a familiar place — waiting for Georgia to count votes. With control of the U.S. Senate at stake, all eyes are on a runoff election with Republicans Perdue and Loeffler facing Democrats Ossoff and Warnock. Millions of dollars have poured in, Georgians have been bombarded by advertisements and messages urging them to vote, and both sides have sent their heavy hitters to help turn out voters. Just like in November, it’s very possible Americans will go to bed without knowing who won. All indicators point to the likelihood of very tight margins in both races.

Dominion plans to sue Sidney Powell, doesn’t rule out Donald Trump” via Dan Primack of Axios — Dominion Voting Systems plans to sue attorney Powell “imminently” for defamation, and it’s continuing to explore similar suits against Trump and others, company founder and CEO John Poulos said. Dominion, which makes the voting machines used in Georgia and elsewhere, has been the subject of baseless malfeasance accusations during last November’s elections. During his leaked call with Georgia Secretary of State Raffensperger, Trump called the U.S.-based company “corrupt” and had to be corrected by Raffensperger after claiming machines had been recently removed and/or altered by Dominion employees.

Sidney Powell (and maybe Donald Trump) could be facing a defamation suit. Image via AP.

U.S. Attorney for North Georgia abruptly resigns due to ‘unforeseen circumstances’” via Alexis Stevens and J. Scott Trubey of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution — U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak resigned his position Monday, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia. In 2017, Pak was appointed the top federal prosecutor in the Northern District of Georgia by Trump, making history as the first-ever Korean American to hold the position of U.S. Attorney. He previously served six years in the Georgia House of Representatives, representing a portion of Gwinnett County, and is widely seen as a rising star in the state Republican Party. A memo dated Monday in which Pak said “unforeseen circumstances” were the cause of his departure. 

— CORONA FLORIDA —

Florida adds 11,256 COVID cases — and more than 100 deaths push toll past 22,000” via Michelle Marchante and Carli Teproff of The Miami Herald — Florida’s Department of Health on Monday confirmed 11,256 additional cases of COVID-19, bringing the state’s known total to 1,376,692. Also, 103 new resident deaths were announced, bringing the resident death toll to 22,090. Two new nonresident deaths were also announced, bringing the nonresident toll to 325. 

‘There’s just too many people.’ Ron DeSantis pressures hospitals as vaccine demand grows” via Samantha J. Gross and Ana Claudia Chacin of The Miami Herald — At a news conference to announce three additional vaccine sites in Miami, DeSantis on Monday blamed Florida’s hospitals for the bumpy start to vaccinations and the first-come, first-served system that left thousands of seniors camped outside in waits that made national headlines. “The state is not dictating to hospitals how they run their operations,” he said at Jackson Memorial Hospital Monday. “That would be a total disaster. These guys are much more competent to be able to deliver health care services than a state government could ever be. We are empowering the hospitals.” The news conference was part of a two-stop press tour to roll out DeSantis’ plan to boost vaccination numbers.

Ron DeSantis believes hospitals are the best to be in charge of mass vaccinations.

DeSantis warns Florida hospitals to step up COVID-19 vaccinations or see doses cut” via Steven Lemongello and Tiffini Theisen of the Orlando Sentinel — DeSantis warned hospitals Monday that if they don’t step up their coronavirus vaccinations, their doses will start to be cut. At a news conference at the Orlando Health South Seminole Hospital in Longwood on Monday, DeSantis cited the hospital system’s expansion of the vaccine program as an example of what he wants other hospitals to do across the state. “If they’re exceeding their targets … and there are other hospitals that are not moving the vaccine, then we’re going to up their allotment,” DeSantis said. “And we’re going to reduce the allotment of any hospital systems that aren’t getting the shots in the arms.” DeSantis did not elaborate on which hospitals he thinks are lagging.

‘It’s a disgrace’: Seniors rage over rollout of coronavirus vaccine” via Jane Musgrave of The Palm Beach Post — DeSantis insisted that efforts are underway to push the vaccine out to the state’s 4.4 million senior citizens, getting basic information from the county is difficult. On Monday, after dodging the question since last Thursday, the spokesman for the Palm Beach County Health Department said it received 20,000 vaccines on Dec. 23 to vaccinate seniors. All but 8,100 had been used. County officials have said vaccination clinics would be scheduled at retirement communities, and last week specifically said plans were underway for ones at Century Village locations in Boca Raton and West Palm Beach and Kings Point west of Delray Beach.

DeSantis defends snowbirds who receive COVID-19 vaccine in Florida” via Jason Delgado of The Washington Post — DeSantis offered what may be his staunchest defense yet of northerners who travel to Florida and receive a coveted COVID-19 vaccine. Speaking to reporters at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, DeSantis contended that many snowbirds are unlike tourists. He asserted that many sun-seekers own property in Florida, have relationships with local doctors and spend considerable time in the Sunshine State. “We’re a transient state,” DeSantis said. “You’ll have people that will be here and it’s not like they’re just on vacation for two weeks.” The issue of who should get access to the limited vaccine supply first is a global debate not unique to Florida.

Extended jobless benefits become available” via Jim Turner of The News Service of Florida — Extended unemployment benefits included in the latest federal stimulus package are starting to become available for Floridians out of work because of the coronavirus pandemic. Department of Economic Opportunity spokeswoman Paige Landrum said the agency has started to implement benefit extensions while “working diligently to fully implement program updates.” “We recommend that claimants continue to login to their CONNECT account every 48 hours to see if there are any additional steps they need to take on their claim,” Landrum said in an email, referring to the state’s CONNECT online unemployment portal. The package Trump signed on Dec. 27 is slated to provide up to $300 a week in federal benefits.

Federal money is making its way into Florida’s unemployment system.

Senate panels to eye COVID-19, property insurance” via News Service of Florida — As Florida lawmakers hold their first round of committee meetings next week, Senate panels are scheduled to receive presentations about issues such as COVID-19 and the property insurance system. According to an agenda posted on the Senate website, the Senate Health Policy Committee on Jan. 13 will host a discussion by officials from the state Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Health about COVID-19 “mitigation” efforts. A day earlier, Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier and Citizens Property Insurance Corp. President and CEO Barry Gilway are expected to make presentations to the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee about property insurance.

— CORONA LOCAL — 

Hillsborough website crashes on first day of coronavirus vaccine registration” via Anastasia Dawson of the Tampa Bay Times — Within minutes of going live on Monday morning, Hillsborough County’s registration website for seniors hoping to get the COVID-19 vaccine had crashed from the high volume of traffic, officials said, leaving scores of people frustrated and confused as they swamped county phone lines and took to social media looking for help. Hillsborough County spokeswoman Liana Lopez said the county’s vaccination phone line received an estimated 2,000 phone calls per minute by about midday on Monday. By 3 p.m. on Monday, there were still thousands of vaccine appointments available, she said, and the county was working to fix the scheduling glitches as quickly as possible.

Demand for COVID-19 vaccination has crashed health department websites throughout Florida. Image via AP.

Shot. — “Palm Beach officials: Preparation meant town was ready once COVID-19 vaccines became available” via Adriana Delgado of The Palm Beach Post — Responding to questions about how the town was able to secure vaccines so quickly when other municipalities have yet to announce a distribution plan, Deputy Town Manager Jay Boodheshwar explained that there was already an infrastructure and a system in place to distribute the vaccines. “There is scheduling, training of personnel and a lot of prep work that needs to be done to administer vaccines. We have been working on preparing to be a closed distribution pod for at least a couple of months,” he said. “Paramedics have been trained, and software was procured. When we got word vaccines were available, we needed to demonstrate that if they were provided, we would be able to administer them ASAP.”

Chaser — “Palm Beach County takes vaccine requests by email after phone system ‘absolutely died’” via Wells Dusenbury of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — After its phone system “absolutely died,” Palm Beach County says it will accept COVID-19 vaccination requests only through email for the near future. On Monday, Palm Beach County’s Department of Health announced that the appointment phone line is “full and closed” and that it’s transitioning to a new “website-based” appointment system. Since beginning vaccine inoculations, Palm Beach County has been inundated with requests, leading to a breakdown in its scheduling procedure. During a news conference on Dec. 31, Dr. Alina Alonso, Palm Beach County’s Health Department director, said they were forced to make “alternative plans to our telephone system that absolutely died on us.”

Coronavirus vaccines available this week for Pasco seniors” via Bailey LeFever of the Tampa Bay Times — Pasco County seniors can register to receive a coronavirus vaccine at one of five drive-thru sessions this week, according to officials. Residents 65 and older may make an appointment for sessions running Monday through Friday from 2 to 4:30 p.m. at the former Sears location at Gulf View Square Mall in Port Richey, according to the Florida Department of Health in Pasco County. Residents must sign up through the department’s website. Pasco County began vaccinating seniors last week. As of Jan. 2, Pasco County had vaccinated 5,219 people, according to the Florida Department of Health, or less than 1% of its population of 553,947. Clinics will be scheduled at more locations as more doses are procured, according to an email.

Seminole County to receive 12K more doses of Pfizer vaccine” via Martin E. Comas of the Orlando Sentinel — Seminole County health officials delivered a dose of good news, saying they expect to receive an additional 12,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines by Tuesday and will soon begin offering more appointments for people 65 years and older, along with front line health care workers, to receive shots next week. However, they added that 4,659 new positive cases were reported in Seminole during December, a spike of 614 more cases than in July when the last large surge occurred. Officials also said the number of hospitalizations in Seminole rose by 10% over last week to Monday’s total of 120 patients.

Seminole County will be getting a fresh batch of the Pfizer vaccine. Image via AP.

Hernando County seniors begin receiving vaccine” via Bailey LeFever of the Tampa Bay Times — Hernando County residents 65 and older began receiving the coronavirus vaccine Monday morning, according to the Florida Department of Health in Hernando County. The vaccines will be administered by appointment only from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Florida Department of Health in Hernando County office. Appointments were made by phone, but the department is no longer accepting reservations. The department has about 100 appointments scheduled each day. All appointments for this week and next are booked. As of Jan. 2, 1,695 people had been vaccinated in Hernando County, according to the Florida Department of Health, less than 1% of the county’s population of 193,920.

— CORONA NATION —

U.S. health officials say they plan to stick with two-dose coronavirus regimen” via Carolyn Y. Johnson of The Washington Post — The U.S. government’s top infectious-disease doctor, a leading drug regulator and the Health and Human Services secretary are dismissing suggestions that the second shot of authorized coronavirus vaccines could be delayed to make more doses available faster to more people. The debate is playing out as the United States struggles with administering the doses it already has. According to CDC data updated Monday morning, more than 15 million doses of vaccine have been distributed, but only about 4.5 million have been administered. On Monday evening, the Food and Drug Administration said it would be “premature” and “not rooted solidly in the available evidence” to change the way the two authorized vaccines are administered.

The FDA is sticking to the two-dose vaccination plan. Image via AP.

“‘It’s a desperate time’: Crush of COVID-19 patients strains U.S. hospitals” via Melanie Evans, Ian Lovett and Christine Mai-Duc of The Wall Street Journal — Across the nation, the surge of coronavirus cases is crowding large metro hospitals with COVID-19 patients, pushing occupancy against the limits of space and overwhelming nurses and doctors. More than 40% to 60% of ICU patients in some metro areas are critically ill from COVID-19. The crisis is a public health threat that reaches far beyond major cities, say doctors, nurses, public officials and experts in health care policy. The biggest hospitals in major metro areas often have specialists and lifesaving equipment lacking at smaller regional hospitals. They serve as a release valve when smaller facilities are overrun. As large hospitals fill, they close to local ambulances and most patient transfers, creating a far-reaching strain on regional health care networks.

— CORONA ECONOMICS — 

Economists expect tough sledding in winter, then a rebound” via Harriet Torry of The Wall Street Journal — Headed into 2021, the U.S. faces a surge in coronavirus cases, new restrictions on business, cautious holiday shopping and slowing economic growth. Forecasters anticipate that the Labor Department’s December jobs report, due to be released Friday, will show the labor market closed the year on a weak footing. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal expect to see employers added 68,000 new jobs in December, down from 245,000 a month earlier. That would mark the slowest month of the labor market’s recovery since May. As the COVID-19 pandemic drags into another year, however, economists see several reasons for optimism. First, the recently enacted pandemic-relief legislative package will pump $900 billion into the economy in the coming months.

Economists believe the U.S. economy is going to slip before the rebound. Image via AP.

Minority-owned companies waited months for loans, data shows” via Joyce M. Rosenberg and Justin Myers of The Associated Press — Thousands of minority-owned small businesses were at the end of the line in the government’s coronavirus relief program as many struggled to find banks that would accept their applications or were disadvantaged by the terms of the program. Data from the Paycheck Protection Program released Dec. 1 and analyzed by The Associated Press show that many minority owners desperate for a relief loan didn’t receive one until the PPP’s last few weeks, while many more white business owners were able to get loans earlier in the program. The program, which began April 3 and ended Aug. 8 and handed out 5.2 million loans worth $525 billion, helped many businesses stay on their feet.

Months later, more than 1 million Americans are still waiting for unemployment aid” via Alyssa Fowers and Heather Long of The Washington Post — An analysis of unemployment applications reflects 703,000 pending appeals across the country and 529,000 people waiting on a benefits decision in the states that publicly share that information or who responded to a request for comment. People’s claims have been held up for months at times for something as simple as a typo or uploading a scan of a driver’s license instead of a photo. Most delays result from three key factors: extensive fraud prevention checks, antiquated computer systems and applications getting flagged for extra scrutiny. Claims set aside for manual review often take months to resolve.

Florida gas prices in 2020 were lowest in 16 years because of pandemic” via News Service of Florida — Gas prices in Florida during 2020 were the lowest in 16 years as travel and daily commuting dropped because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to AAA. The travel and club also said that as 2021 started, prices at the pump averaged $2.19 a gallon, down from $2.50 a year ago. According to a survey conducted by AAA, the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded was $2.18 in Orlando, down from $2.50 a year ago. Gas prices in Florida have hovered around $2.20 a gallon for the past 20 days, up about 4 cents from a month ago. Nationally, the average gallon cost $2.26, down from $2.59 a gallon a year ago.

— MORE CORONA —

Pharmacist accused of tampering with vaccine was conspiracy theorist, police say” via Shaila Dewan and Kay Nolan of The New York Times — A pharmacist who was arrested on charges that he intentionally sabotaged more than 500 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at a Wisconsin hospital was “an admitted conspiracy theorist” who believed the vaccine could harm people and “change their DNA,” according to the police in Grafton, Wisconsin, where the man was employed. The police said Steven Brandenburg, 46, who worked the night shift at the Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, had twice removed a box of vials of the Moderna vaccine from the refrigerator for periods of 12 hours, rendering them useless. “Brandenburg admitted to doing this intentionally, knowing that it would diminish the effects of the vaccine,” the police said.

A Wisconsin pharmacist was caught attempting to destroy Moderna vaccines thinking they were part of a conspiracy. Image via CNN.

Britain reenters sweeping lockdown as virus variant rages” via Stephen Castle and Mark Landler of The New York Times — Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed a strict new national lockdown on Monday as Britain’s desperate race to vaccinate its population risked being overtaken by a fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus that was on track to overwhelm the nation’s beleaguered hospitals. After several days of frighteningly high and escalating case numbers, Johnson ordered schools and colleges in England to close their doors and shift to remote learning. The nationwide restrictions, officials warned, will remain in place until at least the middle of February. The decision was a fresh setback for Johnson, coming when the arrival of two vaccines appeared to provide a route out of the crisis after nine fraught months and fierce criticism of his pandemic response.

Mexico approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for emergency use.” via Bryan Pietsch of The New York Times — Mexico approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for emergency use on Monday, the country’s top epidemiologist, Hugo López-Gatell Ramírez announced Monday evening. It is the fourth country to approve the vaccine. Mexico’s foreign secretary, Marcelo Ebrard, had previously said the approval was “imminent.” Mr. Ebrard celebrated the approval on Monday evening as “very good news,” tweeting that it would allow the country to start production “very soon.” The Oxford-AstraZeneca shot is poised to become the world’s dominant form of inoculation. At $3 to $4 a dose, it is a fraction of the cost of some other vaccines. And it can be shipped and stored in normal refrigerators for six months, rather than in the ultracold freezers required by other vaccines.

— PRESIDENTIAL —

In Trump’s final days, lines are drawn for a Republican civil war” via Gerald F. Seib of The Wall Street Journal — Trump is setting up this week as a dramatic test of loyalty to him in the form of his last-ditch effort to overturn the victory of President-elect Joe Biden, and his core supporters will be rallying in Washington to underscore the point. Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas, who aspire to lead the Trump army whenever Trump isn’t there to do so himself, have engineered a scenario in which each of their colleagues will have to go on record either favoring or opposing the President’s effort to reverse the election.

Donald Trump’s exit is tearing Republicans apart. Image via AP.

Did Trump break the law in his call to Georgia’s secretary of state? Some lawyers say yes.” via Teo Armus of The Washington Post — After an extraordinary phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Raffensperger, many observers shared one question: Did Trump break the law? During that hourlong call on Saturday, Trump urged Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to overturn his defeat and threatened him with vague legal consequences, seemingly encouraging his fellow Republican to fix the election results. On social media, much of the conversation among legal observers and Trump critics revolved around a federal statute, 52 U.S. Code 20511, that makes it a crime to “knowingly and willfully” deprive or defraud a state’s residents of a free or fair election or to attempt to do so.

Tom Cotton, a Trump ally, won’t join GOP electoral college challenge, saying it ‘won’t give him a second term’” via Andrea Salcedo of The Washington Post — Sen. Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, has long been a close ally of Trump, running five-figure ads attacking Biden in battleground states and penning an op-ed backing Trump’s idea of deploying the military to quell protests. When Trump lost to Biden in November, Cotton said the President had “every right to pursue legal remedies and recounts.” But on Sunday night, Cotton said he wouldn’t join a dozen other Republican senators in challenging Trump’s loss. The coalition, led by Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, plans to object Wednesday when Congress meets to certify President-elect Biden’s electoral college victory. Cotton said on Sunday that plan oversteps Congress’s largely ceremonial role.

2 Central Florida members of Congress likely to vote against certifying Joe Biden presidency” via Anthony Man and Gray Rohrer of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Two Republican U.S. House members from Central Florida appear to be ready to vote against certifying the election of President-elect Biden on Wednesday. Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Franklin, who was elected to his first term in November, cited the Democrats’ objections to previous elections in explaining his intention to contest the vote. Those efforts by Democrats in some previous objections weren’t taken seriously by anyone and, unlike this year’s challenge, weren’t even supported by the presidential candidates they were purportedly aimed at helping. Other Republican members of Congress from South and Central Florida haven’t disclosed their plans, though U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz appears likely to join Franklin and U.S. Rep. Brian Mast of South Florida.

More Florida members of Congress signal they won’t certify Biden win” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Three of Florida’s Republican Representatives signaled in the past 24 hours that they would vote against certifying Electoral College results. Reps. Kat Cammack and Byron Donalds both appeared on Fox & Friends on Monday and said they would challenge the vote total. Members of the Electoral College met last month and cast votes based on each state’s election for President, with Biden defeating Trump with 306 electoral votes to 232. They will be joining Mast, a Stuart Republican was just sworn in for his third term. He also issued a statement, saying he won’t vote to approve the results because Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused to investigate potential election issues in swing states that went for Biden.

Brian Mast, Byron Donalds and Kat Cammack all vow to vote against certifying the election. 

Federal judge rejects lawsuit filed by two Republican Wisconsin lawmakers seeking to overturn Trump loss” via Associated Press — A federal judge rejected a lawsuit filed by two Republican Wisconsin lawmakers, voting rights groups and others seeking to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in Wisconsin and four other swing states where Biden defeated Trump. U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, in rejecting the lawsuit, said it “rests on a fundamental and obvious misreading of the Constitution.” The judge, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, also said it was filed on behalf of plaintiffs without standing, in the wrong court and with no effort to serve the defendants. 

A remarkable GOP admission: Undermining the electoral college threatens our best path to the White House” via Philip Bump of The Washington Post — While Republicans have controlled the White House for 12 of the past 20 years, only four of those years have resulted from a Republican having gotten more votes than his Democratic opponent. The actual reason so many Republicans think the electoral college is useful: It tips the scales in their favor in presidential elections. The current challenge for Democrats is that the midpoint has shifted. Biden had only about 1 in 5 odds of winning the presidency if he prevailed in the national popular vote by only one or two points. The country has spent four years debating whether such a scenario is fair.

Trump could be planning Turnberry trip as Scots airport told to expect a high-flyer the day before Biden’s inauguration” via Peter Swindon of The Sunday Post — Prestwick airport has been told to expect the arrival of a U.S. military Boeing 757 aircraft, that is occasionally used by Trump, on January 19, the day before his Democratic rival takes charge at the White House. Speculation surrounding Trump’s plans has been fueled by U.S. Army aircraft activity based at Prestwick airport for a week and said to be carrying out 3D reconnaissance of the President’s Turnberry resort. Media has reported that Trump will break with tradition and snub the inauguration of Biden on January 20, instead announcing a reelection bid on Air Force One.

— TRANSITION —

Biden inauguration to feature virtual parade” via Tarini Parti of The Wall Street Journal — President-elect Biden’s inauguration will include a virtual parade as part of a series of events on Jan. 20 that have been scaled-down because of the coronavirus pandemic, the inaugural committee said Sunday. After being sworn in on the west side of the Capitol, Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and their spouses will participate in Pass in Review, a military tradition that reflects the peaceful transfer of power and will include every branch of the military, according to the committee. 

Joe Biden’s inauguration will be a low-key, virtual affair. Image via AP.

Biden plans minimalist trip from Capitol to White House on Inauguration Day” via Michael Crowley of The New York Times — Biden’s inaugural committee released new details about his trip to the White House after his swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol that further underscore the downsized and largely virtual nature of his Inauguration Day plans. The committee also said Biden would receive an official escort, with representatives from every military branch, for one city block before arriving at the White House. The statement left many details unclear, including the nature of the rest of Biden’s trip of about 1.5 miles to the White House from the Capitol.

Pressure on Biden to pick an Asian American or Pacific Islander Cabinet secretary complicates unions’ push for Boston Mayor as Labor chief” via Jasmine Ulloa of The Boston Globe — Congressional Democrats are ramping up pressure on Biden to nominate an Asian American or Pacific Islander Cabinet secretary, intensifying the contest for Labor secretary that national union leaders had hoped would go to Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh. Walsh, a former union president and longtime Biden ally, has reportedly been in contention with California’s labor secretary, Julie Su, for the Department of Labor post. On Monday, a Walsh spokesman declined to comment on reports that the Mayor and Su were the two finalists. Su’s office declined to comment. Biden’s incoming administration includes three top Asian American or Pacific Islander Cabinet members. But none would be represented among the 15 secretaries that serve as heads of executive branch departments.

Business leaders urge Congress to certify Biden win” via Josh Dawsey of The Washington Post — Almost 200 of the country’s top business leaders urged Congress to certify the electoral results for President-elect Biden in a letter Monday, arguing that “attempts to thwart or delay this process run counter to the essential tenets of our democracy.” The letter marked the business community’s most significant push yet to ensure Trump’s efforts to overturn the November election are unsuccessful. Signers included a wide array of Fortune 500 executives, from the leaders of banks, airlines, investment firms, pharmaceutical companies, professional sports leagues, real estate conglomerates, top law firms, and media companies. “The presidential election has been decided, and it is time for the country to move forward,” the letter reviewed by The Washington Post said.

$900 billion won’t carry Biden very far” via Patricia Cohen of The New York Times — With his presidential inauguration just weeks away, Biden is confronting an economic crisis that is utterly unparalleled and yet eerily familiar. Millions of Americans are out of work, small businesses are struggling to survive, hunger is rampant, and people across the country fear getting kicked out of their homes. The moment was similarly perilous exactly 12 years ago, when Biden was the Vice President-elect and preparing to take office. The $900 billion pandemic relief plan that moderate lawmakers powered through Congress last month provides the incoming administration with some breathing room. But as Biden has made clear, it is simply a “down payment” — a brief bridge to get through a dark winter and not nearly enough to restore the economy’s health.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Kat Cammack staffs up as she starts first term in Congress” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Cammack returned to Capitol Hill this week as a member of Congress after working as a staffer for predecessor Rep. Ted Yoho. That means the Gainesville Republican will now oversee a team of her own, including quite a few veterans from the office. The freshman announced hires in her Congressional and district offices, as well as announcing a political team she will keep in place. Larry Calhoun, Yoho’s chief of staff, will stay on in the role under Cammack. The University of Florida graduate has worked for more than a dozen years on Capitol Hill.

Former staffer Kat Cammack is now setting up her own team.

EPA finalizes rule to limit science behind public health safeguards” via Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis of The Washington Post — The EPA has finalized a rule to limit what research it can use to craft public health protections, a move opponents argue is aimed at crippling the agency’s ability to regulate the nation’s air and water more aggressively. The “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science” rule, which the administration began pursuing early in Trump’s term, would require researchers to disclose the raw data involved in their public health studies before the agency could rely upon their conclusions. Many of the nation’s leading researchers and academic organizations argue that the criteria will actually restrict the EPA from using some of the most consequential research on human subjects because it often includes confidential medical records and other proprietary data that cannot be released.

— STATEWIDE —

Mike La Rosa sworn in as PSC Commissioner — Former Rep. La Rosa officially joined the Florida Public Service Commission on Monday. “I am pleased to join the Florida Public Service Commission,” La Rosa said. “Being able to continue serving the people of Florida is an honor, and as a Commissioner, I’m ready to tackle utility-related issues to ensure customers receive safe and reliable service.” La Rosa served in the House from 2012 until November when he was forced to vacate his former seat due to term limits. Last week, DeSantis appointed La Rosa to a four-year term on the PSC. He joins Chairman Gary Clark and Commissioners Art Graham, Julie Brown, and Andrew Giles Fay on the five-member panel responsible for regulating utilities.

Mike La Rosa starts his gig on the PSC.

Judge to weigh case on unemployment problems” via News Service of Florida — A Leon County circuit judge has scheduled a hearing next month to decide whether to toss out a class-action lawsuit that seeks damages because of problems with the state’s unemployment-compensation system during the COVID-19 pandemic. Judge John Cooper has scheduled a hearing on Feb. 16 on motions by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and Deloitte Consulting, LLP, to dismiss the case. Plaintiffs’ attorneys filed a revised lawsuit in November after Cooper dismissed an earlier version in September. The revised version makes a series of allegations and contends, in part, that the department and Deloitte were negligent and breached a fiduciary duty to the plaintiffs, who lost their jobs during the pandemic and faced problems getting unemployment benefits.

Law on same-sex marriages targeted” via The News Service of Florida — Six years after same-sex marriages began in Florida, a House Democrat filed a bill that would delete a ban on such marriages from state law. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in 2014 ruled that Florida’s same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional, and same-sex marriages began in the state in January 2015. While the law is not enforceable, the Legislature has not eliminated it. Rep. Michele Rayner, a St. Petersburg Democrat, filed a bill (HB 6017) that would repeal the section of state law.

’Move over’ violations drop in 2020” via The News Service of Florida — The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles reported 159 crashes and issued more than 12,000 citations involving the law, which requires motorists to shift lanes as soon as it is safe to do so when law enforcement, emergency or service vehicles are stopped along roads. Motorists who cannot change lanes must slow to a speed that is 20 mph less than the posted limit. The preliminary 2020 totals were down from 182 crashes in 2019 and 231 in 2018, while citations exceeded 20,000 in 2019 and 17,000 in 2018. The drop in 2020 came as AAA reported the coronavirus pandemic reduced fuel demands as traveling and daily commuting declined.

— LOCAL NOTES —

Broward schools internet fails on first day back” via Lois K. Solomon of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Broward students lost an essential day of learning on Monday, their first day back from winter break, as the school district’s online systems crashed early in the morning. It wasn’t the first time Broward schools’ electronic learning systems collapsed as children returned from vacation. But Monday’s Internet outage was exceptionally frustrating to many parents and teachers, who have been watching children lose crucial skills during the pandemic and were eager to get them back on track after. Parents of about 76,000 South Florida children will soon receive letters saying their kids are failing at distance learning and they need to come back to campus. Many of these students opened their computers on Monday morning to find the system down.

City Council investigative report links Mayor Lenny Curry to failed JEA sale” via Christopher Hong of The Florida Times-Union — A Jacksonville City Council special committee published its long-awaited investigative report into the failed sale of JEA in 2019, finding Curry and JEA officials spent years exploring a sale of the city-owned utility with a “purposeful lack of transparency” and JEA’s now-fired CEO Aaron Zahn used “intentional misrepresentations and omissions” about JEA’s financial health to justify the sale. Zahn also tried to leverage the sale of JEA into millions of dollars in payouts for himself and other executives through an “ill-conceived” bonus plan he created, an act of “greed” that ultimately derailed the sale, according to the report.

A new report says Lenny Curry helped muddy the water of the failed JEA sale.

Pasco school district, employee union officials eye quick contract deal” via Jeffrey S. Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — After months of waiting, Pasco County school district workers soon could see pay raises. Leaders of the district’s administration and employee union expressed optimism on Monday that they might conclude contract negotiations within a week, now that they have more specific financial information in hand. With the revenue streams more certain, they can determine the size of any wage hikes the district can afford. As it stood, the district did not have enough to reach the state’s $47,500 target for minimum teacher pay or to give the remaining employees more than 1.45% bumps. Both sides aimed to do better, if at all possible.

Slate of new apartments and houses coming to the county as demand surges due to pandemic moves” via Alexandra Clough of The Palm Beach Post — The nearly yearlong coronavirus pandemic decimated the county’s tourism and hospitality industries, but it hasn’t hurt the county’s dominant real estate industry. In fact, the pandemic has fueled strong demand for the new homes and apartments slated for completion during the next two years and beyond, as investors and builders snap up any piece of land they can find to build more housing. The market for new homes and apartments in Palm Beach County was already robust before the pandemic. But the pandemic created even more interest in the Palm Beach County homes, especially from wealthy residents fleeing crowded, urban cities outside the county and state.

Boeing’s troubled 737 Max will fly into Tampa International Airport this month” via Jay Cridlin of the Tampa Bay Times — Boeing’s troubled 737 Max airplane will return to Tampa International Airport this month for the first time in nearly two years. The plane, which was grounded from March 2019 to late December due to safety concerns following deadly crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia, will return with two American Airlines flights between Tampa and Miami on Jan. 19, according to Cirium, a global aviation data company. Those flights will continue two or three times per day going forward. An American Airlines spokeswoman said the company was “taking a phased approach to return the Boeing 737 Max to service,” gradually increasing to up to 38 daily departures nationwide through mid-February, then up to 91 per day through March.

— TOP OPINION —

Tommy Tuberville could make Marco Rubio’s life very difficult” via Mac Stipanovich for the Tampa Bay Times — Tuberville may force Rubio to choose between proving how utterly craven he is on the one hand and risking the wrath of Trump’s fanatical supporters in his 2022 reelection bid on the other hand. Given the fact that challenging electors is unwarranted and futile, having to vote on such challenges puts some Republican Senators seeking reelection in 2022 between a rock and a hard place to no purpose. Rubio is already vulnerable on his right flank in a primary, perhaps fatally so if Ivanka Trump moves to Florida and runs against him as it is rumored she might. And he may also draw a credible general election challenger in a state not yet reliably red.

— OPINIONS —

Trump’s phone call is what coup fever looks like” via Timothy L. O’Brien of Bloomberg Opinion — Like the little boy haunted by ghosts in the horror movie “The Sixth Sense,” Trump sees dead people everywhere. He thinks at least 5,000 of them voted in Georgia during the presidential election and were part of a broader conspiracy that deprived him of a victory in the state. In an unhinged, extraordinary phone call Saturday with Georgia Secretary of State Raffensperger, a Republican, and Ryan Germany, Raffensperger’s general counsel, Trump tried to strong-arm them into conceding that Biden hadn’t really secured 11,779 more votes than he did. 

The election rejectionists” via The Wall Street Journal editorial board — As Americans like to tell the world, a hallmark of democracy is the willingness to accept defeat and the peaceful transfer of power. The tragedy of the last two presidential elections has been the refusal of partisans to accept defeat, and public trust in American self-government is eroding as a result. Democrats in 2016 abused the FBI to push the Russia collusion myth and refused to accept Trump’s legitimacy. Hillary Clinton still doesn’t. Now some Republicans are returning the disfavor by challenging the ritual counting of the Electoral College votes by the new Congress this week. Neither one justifies the other, and these columns have called out Democrats for their anti-democratic panic attack.

America or Trump? President’s phone call poses Congress just that choice” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel Editorial Board — Raffensperger made a heroic effort Saturday to speak truth to a deranged politician’s demand that he help throw the election for him. As he found out, it’s impossible to reason with a madman. That politician — that madman — is the nation’s incumbent President. For an hour and two minutes on the telephone, Trump harangued Raffensperger, pressuring him to help “find 11,780 votes” that would erase the 16 presidential electors Biden won in Georgia. He regurgitated a slew of false claims and exaggerations, most of which had been fed to him by others. For the Republican members in Congress, the choice is clear: America or Trump? It is no longer possible to be for both.

— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —

Florida’s new vaccine policy can be summed up in five words — use it or lose it.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— DeSantis made that announcement during a visit to Orlando Health, where he said vaccination sites would be working seven days a week during the New Year to inoculate as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time.

— More than 260,000 Floridians have already received their first shot, and seniors still have priority, but some hospitals have stopped taking appointments for vaccinations because the supply isn’t keeping up with demand.

— Meanwhile, vaccines haven’t put a dent in the daily casualty reports … they’re getting worse. The Department of Health reported 105 added fatalities Monday and more than 11,000 new cases of COVID-19.

— Sunrise in-depth discusses a federal court challenge to one of the Governor’s favorite new laws … a bill punishing local governments that don’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities. The law being challenged is Senate Bill 168 … commonly known as the “Sanctuary Cities Law.”

— And finally, the story of a Florida Man nicknamed the “Masturbating Bandit.”

To listen, click on the image below:

— ALOE —

Epiphany on Wednesday open to parishioners only. Officials urge public to watch online.” via Tracey McManus of the Tampa Bay Times — Law enforcement officials and leaders of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral have a message for those planning to celebrate Tarpon Springs’ Epiphany event on Wednesday amid the coronavirus pandemic: Stay home and watch it online. The cathedral’s annual celebration, normally the largest in the Western Hemisphere that commemorates the baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River, will not be open to the general public. The four-hour Mass will be capped at 50% capacity. That’s enough for 250 people. The blessing of the waters of the Spring Bayou and subsequent dive for the cross, which last year drew 25,000 spectators, will be limited to the 50 teenage divers, their families, church officials and parishioners with tickets.

Loyal customer leaves $2,021 tip for juice bar staff in Florida” via The Associated Press — A regular customer at a North Miami Beach juice bar and restaurant left a $2,021 when she paid her tab on Friday morning, adding a note that said: “Happy New Year!!! Always love coming here.” “That is the biggest tip we’ve ever gotten by far,” Kelly Amar, whose parents have owned and operated Miami Squeeze for about 35 years, told the Miami Herald. “This blows out anything we’ve ever gotten.” The customer came in around 10 a.m. Friday and order her usual breakfast, along with some to-go orders of avocado toast with eggs and smoothies. The total came to $71.84. It took the staff a few moments to realize the added tip wasn’t $20.21. It was $2,021.

Orlando Pride stars Marta, Toni Pressley get engaged” via Julia Poe of the Orlando Sentinel — Orlando Pride stars Marta and Toni Pressley announced their engagement Monday morning after several years of dating. Marta is considered one of the greatest women’s players of all time, winning six FIFA Player of the Year Awards on her way to scoring a record 17 World Cup goals. She was the first player — men’s or women’s — to score at five different FIFA World Cups. Pressley is a longtime rock of the Pride backline, one of only four players remaining from Orlando’s inaugural season. Although neither player came out formally before their engagement, they have been increasingly open about their relationship since Pressley’s battle with breast cancer during the 2019 season.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Best wishes to Bruce Cotton, Christie Pontis Mason of Century Link, and former state Rep. Doc Renuart.

___

Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.