DeSantis’ unmatched power as Florida’s governor- POLITICO


Hello and welcome to Friday.

Boom — The news that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren spread quickly, far and wide. And it got picked up by the national outlets the Republican governor disdains — as well as much friendlier media personalities such as Fox News’ Tucker Carlson.

Partisan split DeSantis’ decision to suspend Warren because of the twice-elected prosecutor’s vow not to prosecute certain laws — including the state’s newly enacted ban on abortions after 15 weeks — brought cheers from other Republicans such as incoming House Speaker Paul Renner. It also sparked fiery denunciations from Democrats, including Warren himself who said during a late afternoon press conference that “the governor is trying to overthrow democracy in Hillsborough County.”

Power play A few things to consider: This latest move by DeSantis — regardless of whether it stands and whether you agree or disagree with his rationale — represents the culmination of his cementing of power as governor in a way that is unprecedented. Past governors primarily suspended local officials who have been arrested (although there have been instances), particularly it seems with Broward County elections officials, that were based on well-publicized problems.

Track record DeSantis has already used his suspension powers to knock out a school superintendent, the Palm Beach elections supervisor and Broward Sheriff Scott Israel. Israel was the only one to fight his suspension in the halls of the Florida Senate, which has the power to render a final vote whether to reinstate a local official or remove them from office. Israel lost even though the Senate’s own hearing officer said the governor’s office had not justified the suspension.

Get in line It would be hard to imagine a scenario where the GOP-controlled Senate will buck DeSantis on this latest suspension. The Legislature has already bowed to the governor on redistricting and let him move billions of dollars in funding around during the pandemic — two of the biggest jobs legislators are supposed to be responsible for. The fact that DeSantis weighed in on Senate races and pushed aside candidates that had been backed by Senate leaders also demonstrates his sway.

What’s next? Warren himself did not spell out his next move during his press conference, but probably the most logical is a battle in federal court where it can be argued that DeSantis targeted Warren over free speech issues. Either way, this is not something that will likely be resolved quickly but it could certainly get a lot noisier.

— WHERE’S RON? — Nothing official announced for Gov. DeSantis.

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REMOVEDDeSantis suspends state attorney who vowed not to enforce Florida’s new abortion law, by POLITICO’s Matt Dixon: Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday suspended a Tampa-area elected state attorney who recently became the only prosecutor in Florida to sign a pledge that he would not prosecute people under the state’s newly enacted abortion law. The suspension of 13th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Andrew Warren is effective immediately, and comes as he has not only taken outspoken stances on Florida’s newest abortion law but was seen as a rising figure in Florida Democratic circles. DeSantis said his decision was made because Warren was picking and choosing which laws to enforce. 

REACTION — “As DeSantis’ suspension of state attorney cheered by Republicans, critics see authoritarian rule,” by South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Anthony Man: “But Charles Zelden, a professor of history and legal studies who specializes in politics and voting at Nova Southeastern University, said DeSantis was sending a message to every other state attorney and elected official in the state that to differ with his policies was to risk punishment. ‘He’s giving warning to all local officials that you’d better follow through with all the laws that I’m getting through the Legislature, or else,’ Zelden said.”

— “Who is Andrew Warren, the Hillsborough prosecutor ousted by Gov. Ron DeSantis?” by USA Today Network-Florida’s Kathryn Varn

— “DeSantis appointed this Federalist Society judge to replace suspended state attorney,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Romy Ellenbogen

— “Hillsborough law enforcement officials aren’t talking about decision to remove state attorney,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Tony Marrero

FRIED: DOUBLE STANDARD FOR WOMENAgriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried — taking a thinly-veiled dig at groups such as EMILY’s list — said on a Thursday evening Twitter Spaces discussion with supporters of her bid for governor that “it’s hard out here running as a woman.” “I’ve never heard a male being questioned whether or not they are electable,” Fried said. “That is something that gets done only to women, not to men. And the fact that people have to question whether or not I am electable as the only statewide elected Democrat in our state. … How dare anybody to ask the question if I am electable?”

SwipeFried made her comments after being asked about picking up support from Her Bold Move, which backs female candidates who are supporters of abortion rights. Other groups such as EMILY’s List and Ruth’s List Florida have not taken sides in the Democratic primary between Fried and Rep. Charlie Crist. Fried praised Her Bold Move for supporting her campaign and said “it’s a shame that we have other women’s groups not only in the state of Florida, but across the country that play politics.”

AYALA A NO— “Democratic candidates for attorney general at odds over death penalty — including for Parkland shooter,” by South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Anthony Man: “The Democrats seeking their party’s nomination for Florida attorney general are divided over the death penalty — including whether the killer who perpetrated the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre should be executed. Two of the three candidates, Daniel Uhlfelder and Jim Lewis, both said Wednesday the Stoneman Douglas shooter should be executed.”

CAMPAIGN ROUNDUPThe Republican State Leadership Committee is spending $300,000 on television and radio ads to help Senate President Wilton Simpson’s campaign for agriculture commissioner. The ad entitled “Sh-t” starts out by saying “A good farmer isn’t afraid of s–t. Like Wilton Simpson. From his Trilby chicken farm to the statehouse, Wilton’s handled s–t his whole life. Now Wilton’s ready to be Florida’s next commissioner of agriculture.” …

The new ad from Crist’s political committee slams Fried for her past support of Republicans, including donating money to Attorney General Ashley Moody. The ad also notes her connection to Rep. Matt Gaetz and includes Gaetz’s recent comments about abortion rights protesters. During the Twitter Spaces event she held on Thursday night Fried said she regretted giving money to Moody, who she knew from her college days at University of Florida but said she didn’t think her “measly” $2,000 got “her over the top.” She said she had “no relationship” with Gaetz — who she worked with when she was a medical marijuana lobbyist — and called his actions “deplorable.”

Kevin Hayslett, one of the Republicans running in Florida’s 13th Congressional District, released his second television ad on Thursday which slams GOP rival Anna Paulina Luna by including a clip of her saying she was in favor of immigration policies pushed by former President Barack Obama.

… Maxwell Alejandro Frost, one of the Democrats running for Florida’s 10th Congressional District, continues to roll up endorsements. Frost on Friday was endorsed by Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, The Sierra Club, Voter Protection Project, Friends of the Earth Action, Progressive Turnout Project, United for Progress PAC, and Florida Reading Project. “I am proud to endorse Maxwell Frost for Congress, who is a fearless champion for the Green New Deal, reproductive freedom, and gun safety,” Markey said in a statement.

— “Will fight over property insurance roil Florida governor’s race?” by Roll Call’s Justin Papp

— “Study: Restrictive voting laws more prevalent in Republican-controlled states with diverse populations,” by Nashville Tennessean’s Melissa Brown

‘IT IS JUST A CONSTANT REMINDER’ — “Dried blood and roses: Jury gets rare look at Parkland scene,” by The Associated Press’ Terry Spencer: “Roses that had been brought to honor love on that Valentine’s Day in 2018 lay withered, their dried and cracked petals scattered across classroom floors still smeared with the blood of victims gunned down by a former student more than four years earlier. Bullet holes pocked walls and shards of glass from windows shattered by gunfire crunched eerily underfoot at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where shooter Nikolas Cruz murdered 14 students and three staff members.”

Frozen in place — “Nothing had been changed, except for the removal of the victims’ bodies and some personal items. The 12 jurors and 10 alternates who will decide whether Cruz gets the death penalty or life in prison made a rare visit to the massacre scene Thursday, tracing Cruz’s steps through the three-story freshman building, known as ‘Building 12.’”

THE DESANTIS DOCTRINE— “DeSantis a willing warrior as conservatives lean into gender and sexual identity fights,” by McClatchy D.C.’s Alex Roarty: “But whether action or reaction, the governor has made gender and sexual identity key pillars in his platform as he runs for reelection and increasingly becomes the focus of 2024 speculation. And national conservatives — especially evangelical leaders — have noticed. “He doesn’t wait, he recognizes a moment, and he speaks up,” said Penny Nance, CEO and president of the conservative group Concerned Women for America. “There are other governors that are good governors, but they don’t necessarily lead. But I think he has found his voice.”

ROAD TO NOWHERE — DOT pauses planning on Florida Turnpike extension amid opposition, by POLITICO’s Bruce Ritchie: The Florida Department of Transportation on Thursday said it has ‘paused’ planning on the last of three toll road projects created by 2019 legislation pushed by then-Senate President Bill Galvano. Facing opposition from officials in Levy and Citrus counties — along with environmentalists and the historically Black community of Royal in Sumter County — DOT announced it has completed an study of alternative corridors without making a recommendation. DOT ‘will not pursue the project any further until options can be reassessed to address concerns of the Department and the community,’ the department said in a news release.

— “Federal judge sets trial date set for Andrew Gillum, Sharon Lettman-Hicks in corruption case,” by Tallahassee Democrat’s Karl Etters

‘WE MIGHT NOT HAVE A CITRUS INDUSTRY’ — Senate Democrats this week blocked an effort by Sen. Marco Rubio to get a bill aimed at helping Florida’s orange growers through the Senate even though the legislation has bipartisan support from the state’s congressional delegation. The legislation would direct regulators to alter federal requirements for what constitutes pasteurized orange juice, primarily by lowering the amount of the juice that must come from soluble solids such as naturally occurring sugar.

What’s in your glass?Rubio, who tried to get the bill passed by unanimous consent, said the legislation was needed to aid Florida growers who have been hammered in recent years by citrus greening and that they have had to import oranges from other countries to meet the sugar standard. But Washington Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat, objected to moving the bill forward and said she was “very concerned” about “skipping regular order” and doing something that would “overrule” Food and Drug Administration experts.

Floor speechRubio told his colleagues that the current standard imposed by the FDA as “arbitrary” and had no health or safety rationale and he said that action needed to be taken as soon as possible: “We would love for this to go through a normal process. The problem is by the time the FDA makes a decision on it, there may not be any growers left,” he said. “And let me explain why that is a problem. These citrus growers sit on valuable land. Every developer in the state is trying to get their hands on that land. They’d love to develop it into a mall [or] into an industrial park. We’re facing those problems everywhere.”

‘TARGETED’ — “Fake Marco Rubio letter part of pro-China campaign, report says,” by Bloomberg’s William Turton: “In one instance, a Twitter account linked to the campaign posted a fabricated letter purporting to come from the office of US Senator Marco Rubio, the Republican from Florida. It was addressed to Adrian Zenz, a prominent critic of the Chinese government’s systematic imprisonment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. The letter falsely claimed that Zenz received financial support from Rubio and right-wing political operative Steve Bannon. The Chinese Embassy in the US didn’t respond to a request for comment. ‘I am not surprised that I was targeted by China once again,’ Rubio said, in a statement provided to Bloomberg News. ‘It is important to expose these networks. Even sloppy efforts can cause confusion, and you can be certain the Chinese Communist Party will continue to slander its opponents in increasingly sophisticated ways.’”

A LITTLE BETTER— “Forecasters trim hurricane season outlook a bit, still busy,” by The Associated Press Seth Borenstein: “This hurricane season may be a tad quieter than initially projected, but it is still likely to be busier than normal, government forecasters and others say. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Thursday trimmed their hurricane season outlook from a 65% chance for above normal activity to 60% and increased the odds of a normal season from 25% to 30% because of uneven sea surface temperature, including a patch of cooler water off Portugal. Parts of the Atlantic are warmer than normal, but the variability had forecasters ‘backing off on the higher end’ of their predictions, said lead hurricane outlook forecaster Matthew Rosencrans.”

SPEAKING OUT— “Jacksonville activist Ben Frazier to protest Florida’s ‘anti-riot’ before United Nations in Geneva,” by Florida Times-Union’s Dan Scanlan: “A vocal civil rights activist for better police and COVID-19 policies for Black citizens and against Confederate monuments in Jacksonville is headed to Geneva to address the United Nations Committee to Eliminate Racial Discrimination. Ben Frazier Jr., founder of the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, said he will specifically speak out against Gov. Ron DeSantis’ controversial “anti-riot” law Tuesday at the invitation of the international body. The former television news anchor has been a frequent and vocal critic at government meetings as well as rallies on racial equality and was even arrested when he tried to attend one of the governor’s news conferences in a state building.”

CHARGED — “Former Puerto Rico governor arrested on corruption charges,” by The New York Times’ Frances Robles: “A former governor of Puerto Rico, Wanda Vázquez, was arrested by the F.B.I. on Thursday and accused of accepting bribes from a campaign donor while in office and naming a regulatory official of his choosing in exchange for financing her campaign. Ms. Vázquez, 62, was arrested at her home after a grand jury indicted her. The donor, Julio M. Herrera Velutini — a Venezuelan banker who has been mired in regulatory problems in Puerto Rico — was also charged. Mr. Herrera, 50, owns Bancrédito, an international bank that faced scrutiny from Puerto Rico regulators over suspicious banking transactions.”

— “Florida death could be 20th in US caused by Takata air bags,” by The Associated Press’ Tom Krisher

— “City of Orlando car blocked driveway of abortion clinic; driver ‘harassed’ volunteers, complaint alleges,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Ryan Gillespie

— “Billionaire Ken Griffin’s Citadel inks huge lease at hot Brickell office tower in Miami,” by Andres Viglucci

— “Miami developer buys infamous Florida home tied to money, glitz and overdose deaths,” by Palm Beach Post’s Kimberly Miller: “A decorous West Palm Beach estate known as both tropical oasis and drug-laden flophouse sold for a weighty $16 million this month to a prolific Miami developer nicknamed the condo king. The Related Group of Miami bought the Mediterranean-style waterfront home at 4906 N. Flagler Drive from Wolfgang Von Falkenburg, who is infamous for a deathbed wedding to an oil heiress, and having two fatal drug overdoses at his home dubbed The Flagler House. Von Falkenburg, 80, said he sold the estate he owned since 2013 because he got a nice offer and had ‘too many friends living there.’

BIRTHDAYS: State Sen. Ed Hooper … State Rep. Tyler Sirosis … Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón (R-Puerto Rico) … (Saturday) … State Rep. Tom LeekArlene DiBenigno … Sergio Bustos, Florida enterprise/politics editor for USA Today Network-Florida … (Sunday) … Orlando Mayor Buddy DyerKirsten Borman Dougherty of KB Strategic Group





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