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Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 12.16.21

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Good Thursday morning.

For several years now, Florida high school students and their parents have heard the message: While a college education is a good thing, they can still have a good life without one.

Lawmakers, with justification, advanced the idea that vocational education can provide perhaps a more practical everyday skill than learning the works of Plato. A student can learn things like auto mechanics, plumbing, construction, the culinary arts and so on.

You may never appreciate how much a good plumber is worth until you need one.

Can you have a good life without a college degree? Sure, but critical thinking may suffer.

I mention this because of a News Service of Florida report published in The Capitolist. The story detailed a steady decline in Florida college students over the last 10 years.

The state college system has about 100,000 fewer students today than it did a decade ago. Educators, naturally, wonder why.

Theories include an increase in part-time students, perhaps because of work or other factors. The pandemic is part of this and could be a bigger part in the future, but enrollment was trending downward years before anyone ever heard of COVID-19.

I have a couple of ideas about this.

Although Florida does a good job keeping college costs down compared to other states, it’s still expensive. Maybe potential students don’t want to be saddled with debt just as they’re starting lives in the working world.

I think education burnout is an issue worth exploring, too. Students coming out of high school just spent four years stressing over their SAT scores and all the other things required to gain acceptance to the school of their choice.

The University of South Florida, for instance, reports the average high school GPA for incoming first-year students is 4.18. The average SAT score is 1,297.

Just getting accepted to USF or any other top Florida university isn’t easy. And that — wait for it — can lead critics to grump about the so-called “elites” in those ivy-covered towers.

A consistent conservative drumbeat is that universities are staffed with Communist professors who teach students to hate America. It’s hyperbole, of course, but those repeated dog whistles may have had a hand in plummeting enrollment.

Maybe it’s a combination of all those things — debt, requirements, other options, and perhaps a sense that some graduates will be lucky to make $15 an hour when they’re out in the workforce, even with a college degree.

My late father-in-law, a professor at USF for many years, was a huge proponent of vocational education. I am too. Neither of my parents graduated from high school, but that didn’t stop them. They made a good life for our family through hard work and perseverance.

These days, the more significant threat isn’t from potential students who decide college isn’t for them. A more sinister danger comes for those who lack critical thinking skills when they head out into the world.

That’s why so many Americans believe the oft-repeated lie that sinister forces stole the 2020 election.

That’s how we have QAnon and an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

You shouldn’t need a college degree to know those things are bad.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

Tweet, tweet:

Update from Blinken’s plane: We just landed on our next stop. These are the type of people who start approaching your plane after someone tests positive for corona in the secretary’s entourage (photo by @humeyra_pamuk) pic.twitter.com/afbNi02zwO

— John Hudson (@John_Hudson) December 15, 2021

@Runolgaran: I literally have COVID right now, and they keep using this phrase ‘post pandemic’

@Scott_Maxwell: The gov’s office just announced a news conference for 8:30 a.m. today in Wildwood — just a few miles from The Villages polling precincts. Obviously, to be consistent, he’ll demand a full FDLE investigation into voting irregularities in that community. And harsh penalties. With great surprise & a heavy heart, I learned this alleged election fraud was not, in fact, the focus of the Governor’s ire. Instead, it was “woke”-ness. Gee, it’s almost like the Governor just wants to gaslight his base, hoping they’re too damn dumb to notice. Or just don’t care

@AnaCeballos_: (Ron) DeSantis says the media acts as if critical race theory is not being taught in schools (As notes, State Board of Education already barred it in Florida), and he proceeds to list examples of how CRT has influenced what is taught in Philadelphia, Arizona and Santa Clara County.

@Fineout: Is it a news conference, or is it a campaign event? Play today. Valuable prizes not forthcoming

@ShevrinJones: My fight is and will never be about parents having a vested interest in what their child is being taught, because I believe parents SHOULD know what their child is being taught. But this notion by our “leaders” that children are being taught to hate their color, I call BS!

@BiancaJoanie: Would love if @JeanetteNunezFL gave her hometown paper a 1-on-1 interview.

@ChristinaPushaw: I do not care if Nikki Fried (or anyone else) uses MMJ but building your entire persona around smoking is cringe. She is a grown woman and elected official acting like the “edgy” kids in my high school at age 15 or 16.

@CoachNorvell: Great day for student-athletes across the country getting to live out a childhood dream of signing a college scholarship. Respect decisions and celebrate accomplishments. Grateful to be a part of such a wonderful program representing incredible young men and the #NoleFamily

Tweet, tweet:

A thing I’ve been thinking about, related to this piece:

Succession S3 Premiere: 1.4 million viewers (including streaming)

Yellowstone S4 Premiere: 14.7 Million viewers (no streaming) https://t.co/aw8cygxdwo

— Rob Flaherty (@RFlaherty46) December 13, 2021

Tweet, tweet:

Last night I got the courage to ask @sarah_pariseau to marry me. She said yes! pic.twitter.com/1lBVj1ngJo

— Thomas Joseph (@TomValeoFl) December 15, 2021

— DAYS UNTIL —

’Spider-Man: No Way Home’ premieres — 1; ’The Matrix: Resurrections’ released — 6; ’The Book of Boba Fett’ premieres on Disney+ — 13; Private sector employees must be fully vaccinated or tested weekly — 19; final season of ‘This Is Us’ begins — 19; CES 2022 begins — 20; Ken Welch’s inauguration as St. Petersburg Mayor — 21; NFL season ends — 24; 2022 Legislative Session starts — 26; Florida’s 20th Congressional District Election — 26; Special Elections in Senate District 33, House District 88 & 94 — 26; Florida Chamber’s 2022 Legislative Fly-In and Reception — 26; Florida TaxWatch’s 2022 State of the Taxpayer Day — 27; Joel Coen’s ’The Tragedy of Macbeth’ on Apple TV+ — 29; NFL playoffs begin — 30; ‘Ozark’ final season begins — 36; ‘Billions’ begins — 38; XXIV Olympic Winter Games begins — 50; Super Bowl LVI — 59; ‘The Walking Dead’ final season part two begins — 66; Daytona 500 — 66; Special Election for Jacksonville City Council At-Large Group 3 — 68; CPAC begins — 70; St. Pete Grand Prix — 71; ‘The Batman’ premieres — 77; The Oscars — 103; ’Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 146; ’Top Gun: Maverick’ premieres — 165; ’Platinum Jubilee’ for Queen Elizabeth II — 168; ’Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 205; San Diego Comic-Con 2022 — 216; ‘The Lord of the Rings’ premieres on Amazon Prime — 260; ’Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 295; ‘Black Panther 2’ premieres — 330; ‘The Flash’ premieres — 333; ‘Avatar 2’ premieres — 365; ‘Captain Marvel 2’ premieres — 428; ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ premieres — 589; ‘Dune: Part Two’ premieres — 673; Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games — 953.

— TOP STORY —

Wednesday Florida COVID-19 update: Highest single-day case report since October” via Devoun Cetoute and David J. Neal of the Miami Herald — Florida reported 4,127 COVID-19 cases and one new death Tuesday, according to Wednesday’s report to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based on Miami Herald calculations of CDC data. That’s the most cases for a single day report since 4,797 on Oct. 10. Other days that were higher since then combined the reports from multiple days. In all, Florida has recorded at least 3,724,273 confirmed COVID=19 cases and 62,074 deaths. In the past seven days, the state has added 41 fatalities and 2,625 cases per day, on average, according to Herald calculations of CDC data. The seven-day case average is the highest since Oct. 15.

Another mini-spike in new Florida COVID-19 cases. Image via Reuters.


— STATEWIDE —

Gov. Ron DeSantis targets critical race theory with bill that evokes Texas abortion bounties” via Andrew Atterbury of POLITICO — DeSantis on Wednesday escalated his ongoing crusade against “wokeness” and “elites” by pushing a bill that would allow parents to sue school districts if they teach “critical race theory” in classrooms. The Governor — who gained a national following amid his battles over COVID-19 restrictions — also wants the GOP-controlled Legislature to help employees at private corporations subjected to what he called “harassment” by being forced to undergo sensitivity and racial awareness training. DeSantis announced the moves under a new “Stop WOKE Act” at a news conference near The Villages, a bulwark of Republican support in central Florida. The event functioned more as a de facto campaign rally. “Nobody wants this crap,” DeSantis told the crowd.

Ron DeSantis targets ‘woke-ism’ in a new call for legislation. Image via WESH.

FEA blasts ‘Stop Woke Act’ — The state’s largest teacher union decried DeSantis’ latest legislative priority in a Wednesday news release. “Teachers are trained and experienced in educating children and have a duty to prepare their students to be successful contributors to society. Teachers should have the freedom to teach honest, complete facts about historical events like slavery and civil rights without being censored by politicians,” said Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association. “The Governor’s announcement today goes against this fundamental American value. All Florida’s children should receive a fact-based education that doesn’t change depending on their ZIP code.”

Nikki Fried stands by charge that university trustees were required to donate $100K to Gov. DeSantis” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Fried is standing by her accusation Tuesday night that state university trustees were required to donate $100,000 to DeSantis‘ campaign or they would not be reappointed, yet provided little to back that up other than with anecdotal examples of some big donors serving on university boards. Later Tuesday night, Republican Party of Florida Executive Director Helen Aguirre Ferré called Fried’s allegation “a baldfaced lie.” On Wednesday, Fried’s campaign spokesperson, Drew Godinich, responded. “DeSantis’ appointments are stacked with his biggest donors — and the Boards of Trustees are no different,” he said. “She stands by her comments from last night, and I think it’s very clear that there’s a quid pro quo to obtain those appointments,” he later added.

Ashley Moody vows to ‘aggressively push back’ on Head Start vaccine mandate” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Attorney General Moody is the latest Republican Attorney General to express opposition to a new federal rule mandating masks and vaccinations in federal Head Start programs. The Federal Register promulgated rule-making language to be effective at the end of January. Employees and contractors are required to be vaccinated, and students as young as 2 years of age will be required to wear masks in most cases. For Moody, a consistent opponent of vaccine mandates, this represented the latest example of federal overreach. “They just issued a new rule for our Head Start programs, for some of our youngest children. The employees must be vaccinated. Another mandate, on top of the three that we’ve already seen.”

Economists lower Florida KidCare enrollment projections after public health emergency is extended” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — Members of the Social Services Estimating Conference agreed that enrollment in Florida KidCare as of June 30, 2022, would total 1,891,886 down from the 2,194,032 previously projected. Florida Healthy Kids Chief Operating Officer Austin Noll told Florida’s top economists and members of the Social Services Estimating Conference that enrollment in the Florida KidCare program has been lagging what was previously projected and attributed sluggish interest in the program to Joe Biden’s decision to extend the COVID-19 public health emergency through the beginning of 2022. Economists projected earlier this summer that the public health emergency would not extend into the next year and that state officials could begin removing people from Medicaid rolls sometime during the first quarter of 2022.

Your home insurance coverage costs so much because big-money forces are at war” via Ron Hurtibise of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — By now, you don’t need to be told that Florida’s home insurance rates are skyrocketing. Increased frequency and intensity of hurricanes and other storms are one reason. They make us a bigger risk. But Florida hasn’t experienced a major hurricane since 2017′s Irma and 2018’s Michael. The biggest reason insurance rates continue to rise, experts say, is the staggering number of lawsuits filed here over hurricane, roofing and water damage claims. Contractors and insurers are in a perpetual state of war. Attorneys for both sides rake in most of the money paid out for litigated claims and everyday policyholders, whether or not they’ve ever filed a claim, are forced to cough up more money each year to fund those legal battles.

Citizens requests double-digit rate hike — Citizens Property Insurance Corp.’s Board of Governors voted Wednesday to request an 11% across-the-board rate increase, Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida reports. The request, which must be approved by the state Office of Insurance Regulation, is the largest the state-backed insurer may request this year following the passage of a law that will ratchet up the max by a point each year. The request came as Citizens’ policy counts continue growing at a rapid pace. The so-called “insurer of last resort” currently oversees 750,000 policies, and state officials estimate that figure could cross 1 million by the end of next year. Just two years ago, Citizens oversaw 442,203 policies.

“Space Florida’s incredible shrinking Rivian stake” via Mark Harris of TechCrunch— It would have been a legendary payoff for any investor, let alone a public agency: swapping an undrivable car for a multibillion-dollar stake in a hot new EV startup. Until last year, Space Florida believed it owned 3% of Rivian as a result of a canny lease-back agreement made a decade earlier. Following Rivian’s blockbuster IPO in November, that stake would have been worth nearly $3 billion based on Rivian’s current market capitalization — a more than 1,000-fold return on Space Florida’s investment. Instead — and through a mechanism neither the agency nor Rivian can explain — Space Florida has ended up holding just 60,000 shares in the company, worth less than $7 million.

— DATELINE TALLY —

Governor’s proposed budget includes ample court funding” via Jim Ash of Florida Bar News — DeSantis’ budget recommends spending about $10 million for year two of the court system’s “Pandemic Recovery Plan.” The total matches the court system request and includes $7.5 million for temporary general magistrates, program specialists and staff attorneys, $2.1 million for senior judge days, and $459,208 for mediation services. However, the budget proposal does not include a request for $21.7 million to give trial court judges a 10% pay increase. And in a budget proposal that the Supreme Court justices considered a high priority, the Governor recommends $591,965 for a “Supreme Court Fellows Program.” According to the Office of State Courts Administrator, the funding would “enable the court to offer qualified law students a longer-lasting, more extensive intern experience.”

Ray Rodrigues lays out timeline for Senate redistricting process to wrap” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Redistricting shouldn’t disrupt lawmakers’ holidays, outside the hand-wringing and uncertainly about their own futures. But Senate Reapportionment Committee Chair Rodrigues wants the process rolling forward come January. He will file two placeholder bills before Jan. 11 that will serve as the legislative home for a new Senate map and a Senate-proposed map of Florida’s now-28 congressional districts. That will give time for lawmakers to respond accordingly ahead of a Jan. 13 meeting of the full committee. Rodrigues, an Estero Republican, said anyone who thinks changes must be made to drafts should act sooner rather than later. “Now is the time for Senators to finalize and submit any maps they wish to offer,” he wrote.

Ray Rodrigues wants to wrap things up. Image via Colin Hackley.

Jeff Brandes, Jason Fischer file proposal to expand homestead exemption” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Sen. Brandes has joined Rep. Fischer in filing legislation that would expand the existing Florida homestead tax exemption. According to a joint news release announcing the proposal, the lawmakers filed the bills (SJR 1266, HJR 923) to reflect increases in the Housing Price Index. The legislation would block homestead exemption decreases and only allow the exemption to stay the same or increase. “Our commitment to economic freedom is one of the reasons Florida has avoided the financial woes of so many other states,” Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, said in a statement. “The people of Florida know how to best use their money, not the government.”

“Senate panel proposes to tackle PFAS contamination” via Laura Cassels of the Florida Phoenix — Florida’s Senate Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources plans to address PFAS, a class of man-made compounds referred to as “forever chemicals” that may pose a public health or ecological risk, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The proposed committee bill would create a 16-member task force by next fall to determine how to identify and clean up contamination with perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, used for decades in a variety of consumer products such as food packaging and cookware. PFAS also have long been used in fire suppressant foams commonly used at firefighting training facilities, airports, chemical plants and military installations.

Sarasota lawmaker’s bill requires Florida’s pro sports teams to play national anthem” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Rep. Tommy Gregory said he’s not aware of any Florida teams that have stopped playing the national anthem, but he wants to ensure it never happens. “I certainly want to make sure that sort of negative activism is avoided, prohibited actually, if they want to do business with the government, and most of them do,” Gregory said. HB 499 states: “A governmental entity may not enter into an agreement with a professional sports team that requires a financial commitment by the state or a governmental entity unless the agreement includes … written verification that the professional sports team will play the United States national anthem at the beginning of each team sporting event held at the team’s home venue or other facility controlled by the team ….”

Tommy Gregory feels playing the national anthem is nonnegotiable. Image via Colin Hackley.

“Demi Busatta Cabrera files four funding requests to fix drinking water, improve trade, help seniors” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Rep. Busatta Cabrerra has filed a quartet of state funding requests for House District 114 to help senior citizens, enhance Miami-Dade County’s trade efficiency and shore up a municipal drinking water system. Busatta Cabrera filed the four appropriation requests totaling $3.1 million Monday. If approved and included in Florida’s forthcoming budget of nearly $100 billion, they would all draw from the Florida General Revenue Fund on or after July 1. One request, HB 9041, would set aside a one-time $1.75 million contribution to the taxpayer-funded Miami-Dade Homeless Trust’s plan to buy, renovate and add to Mia Casa, a 118-bed living facility in North Miami housing 65-and-older seniors and others experiencing homelessness.

New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Oscar Anderson, Edgar Castro, The Southern Group: OUTFRONT Media

Thadeus Culley: Sunrun

— CORONA FLORIDA —

New state report: Delta remains most prevalent COVID-19 variant; No new omicron cases reported” via Issac Morgan of Florida Phoenix — So far, three omicron cases have been confirmed — one in Tampa and another in St. Lucie County; the third case is in Miami-Dade County. The report by the state shows that the delta variant, known as B.1.617.2, remains the most prevalent variant in the state. As of Nov. 29, the delta variant has caused a total of 35,773 delta infections in Florida, plus more than 10,000 of the delta-related “sublineages.” Florida had a total of 48,275 cases related to variants; women had seen more infections than men, with 25,049 and 22,935 cases, respectively. The largest age group is 25-34, with 9,292 cases, followed by those aged 35-44, with 8,329 cases. Seniors ages 65-74 only accounted for 3,108 cases.

Delta remains king of the hill. Image via AP.

Omicron variant suddenly dominant in Orange County wastewater” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Still, there have been no cases — zero — of Orange County residents testing positive for the omicron variant. The county’s regular tests of wastewater for the presence of various COVID-19 variants went from finding no presence of omicron last week, to be first detected Monday, to becoming the most prevalent variant found in the most recent samples taken from each of the county’s three regional wastewater treatment plants. Yet county officials expressed hope and confidence that the county’s population is far better prepared now than it was at the outset of the summer’s deadly surge because 78% of residents aged 12 or older have received at least one dose of vaccine and 68% are fully vaccinated.

Florida’s choice to run vaccine distribution through Publix left behind people of color, the poor” via Justin Garcia of Orlando Weekly — A new study from FAU shows that distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in Florida reached the intended senior population, but failed to ensure equal access for people of color and lower-income communities. The study, published in the Health Affairs Journal, explored the vaccine rollout at Publix. During the rollout, state officials cited the Lakeland-based grocery giant’s large Florida footprint and said the chain was better prepared for the assignment than other retailers. Spatial clustering analysis of Publix vaccination sites per 100,000 people found greater vaccine availability in moderately populated areas where residents were significantly older, richer and whiter. The poor and people of color found themselves in “cold spots,” or areas of lower vaccine availability.

Letting Publix distribute vaccines was not a pleasure for some people. Image via TCPalm.

“Gainesville says Florida law doesn’t allow $250 vaccine incentive payments for workers” via John Henderson of The Gainesville Sun — The city of Gainesville has rescinded its offer to pay a $250 incentive payment to employees who get their COVID-19 vaccinations after the city’s legal staff concluded that state law prevents them from making the payments. However, other counties in Florida have continued to make incentive payments to employees after the state law that Gainesville officials say prevents them from paying employees here was in effect. City Commissioners say they trust the city attorney’s legal advice. But a spokesperson for DeSantis said Tuesday that she doesn’t understand Gainesville’s logic in saying that the state prohibits incentive payments.

“As omicron variant spreads, Miami-Dade hospitals ordered to report bed availability” via Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald — In November, as Miami-Dade County’s COVID-19 pandemic seemed to ease, Mayor Daniella Levine Cava lifted a July emergency order requiring daily bed inventories and COVID patient counts from hospitals across the county. This week, as the omicron variant sweeps across the world, Levine Cava reinstated the order, with the first COVID patient counts due on Friday. COVID is spreading again in Miami-Dade, with 7% of tests administered across the county coming back positive for the virus. That “positivity” rate was 1% just 30 days ago.

“Spokesman files whistleblower lawsuit against Sheriff Gregory Tony over COVID pandemic” via Rafael Olmeda of the South Florida Sun Sentinel — A spokesman for the Broward Sheriff’s Office is suing the agency and his boss, accusing them of retaliating against him for blowing the whistle about the agency’s failure to protect deputies and the public at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Donald Prichard, a 20-year veteran of the county’s largest law enforcement agency, was suspended with pay on Dec. 7 and placed under an Internal Affairs investigation, according to the lawsuit he filed Wednesday afternoon. Prichard is also a member of the bargaining unit for the deputies’ union.

Some thong wrong: Florida man’s lingerie mask gets him kicked off United flight” via Michael Braun of the Fort Myers News-Press — A Cape Coral man wearing women’s underwear as a mask was put off a United flight at Fort Lauderdale airport Wednesday — and banned from the airline — because of objections by flight officials. Adam Jenne said he had worn the underwear instead of a cloth or paper mask many times. Wednesday morning, Jenne, wearing the red thong as a mask, became the second time he was asked to remove himself from a flight. “I have an objection,” Jenne said. “It is utter nonsense. There’s no human benefit to what we’re doing. It’s doing so much more harm than good.” The mask issue also drew two Broward County Sheriff’s Office deputies, TSA officials and airport security to the gate.

— 2022 —

“Democratic Gov. candidates accuse DeSantis of suppressing academic freedom, freedom of speech” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — The three leading Democrats running for Governor slammed Gov. DeSantis for what they characterized as embarrassing moves to politicize Florida’s colleges and universities and suppress academic freedom and freedom of speech on campuses. “I was embarrassed. I was angry. I was heartbroken,” said Agriculture Commissioner Fried, after she, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, and Sen. Annette Taddeo spelled out a litany of recent reports alleging the Governor’s Office was muzzling faculty and pushing partisan agendas in boards of trustees. Their comments came at a virtual town hall forum on higher education organized by the United Faculty of Florida union. DeSantis also was invited but declined.

All three major Democratic candidates made similar accusations against Ron DeSantis.

Hmmm …Amanda Makki wins same conservative straw poll opponent Anna Paulina Luna took last year” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Makki, a candidate for Florida’s 13th Congressional District, came out on top in a straw poll conducted at Conservative Grounds, a coffee shop in Largo that caters mainly to Donald Trump supporters. A former health care adviser in the U.S. House and Senate and who served in the Pentagon after 9/11, Makki received 198 votes in the poll, conducted at the coffee shop from Nov. 12-Dec. 12. That was good for 68% among respondents, topping opponent Luna, who garnered just 85 votes in the poll, or 29%. Luna, who defeated Makki in the 2020 race for CD 13, won last year’s Conservative Grounds poll with 46.5% of responses.

Manny Diaz Jr. taps health care sector in $74K November haul for SD 36 defense” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — As of Nov. 30, Diaz held nearly $486,000 between his campaign and political committee, Better Florida Education. So far, no one has filed to run against him next year. The medical sector was particularly generous to Diaz last month and accounted for 40% of his fundraising for the month. His biggest contribution, a $10,000 check, came from a Tennessee-based political committee backing Boston-headquartered oral health company DentaQuest. Prescription company Caremark RX gave Diaz $5,000. Sunovion, a Massachusetts-based drugmaker, gave $3,000. Diaz spent more than $11,000 in November. Most went to campaigning and consulting costs.

“Kelly Skidmore’s Palm Beach County district in flux as she collects $11,500 for re-election” via Anna Geggis of Florida Politics — Democratic Rep. Skidmore raised $11,500 in November to defend her Florida House seat representing District 81, but the latest maps have the resident of unincorporated Palm Beach County moving to differently numbered and configured districts. She said she would either be representing District 92 or District 94, according to the redistricting proposals now on the table. Skidmore, currently unopposed in her current district that includes areas around Lake Okeechobee such as Pahokee, Belle Glade and South Bay, said she’s not sure who falls into either of the two districts she might be calling home. “I don’t know if there is any chance that I would be up against another incumbent,” she said.

Mike Caruso posts record fundraising month, with $17.5K raised in November” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Republican Rep. Caruso added $17,500 in November, giving him his biggest monthly fundraising haul of the 2022 cycle, nearly doubling last month’s previous high. Caruso, a Delray Beach Republican, added almost $9,700 in October. That was his previous high following his 2020 election win. Caruso was an impressive fundraiser during the 2020 election cycle but has yet to fully ramp up his fundraising operation as he seeks a third House term. Caruso holds the House District 89 seat after defeating Democratic candidate Jim Bonfiglio in his last two elections. Lauren Levy has filed to challenge Caruso. But the state’s decennial redistricting process may affect the contest. Caruso holds just over $47,000 as of Nov. 30, while Levy retains just under $6,100.

Christine Hunschofsky raises $11,500 for HD 96 re-election” via Anne Geggis of Florida Politics — Freshman Democratic Rep. Hunschofsky of Parkland raised $11,500 last month for her re-election to what soon may become a House district with another number. The former Parkland Mayor’s November collections were buoyed mainly by donations from the agricultural and health care industries. And the November total was just $200 shy of what she raised in October — a personal best since she opened a campaign account. She will have $43,178 on hand to answer any challenge that emerges to her re-election. But she said she is not ready to discuss whether she might be facing an incumbent in the redistricting shuffle. The redistricting draft maps show her district number changing to 95 and including more of Coral Springs.

Christine Hunschofsky posts a solid month. Image via Colin Hackley.

Tom Fabricio added $34K in November, marking best monthly haul this cycle” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Freshman Rep. Fabricio posted his best fundraising month since first winning a House seat last year, adding more than $34,000 in November. Fabricio, a Miramar Republican, raised nearly $22,000 through his campaign account and another $12,500 via his political committee, True Freedom PC. In November, the Florida Police Benevolent Association Justice PAC donated $5,000 to Fabricio’s committee, the single biggest donation Fabricio received during the month. Fabricio spent nearly $3,400 in November, which came from his campaign account. That leaves Fabricio with almost $111,000 on hand as he seeks a second term in the House.

— CORONA NATION —

U.S. faces a double coronavirus surge as omicron advances” via Laura Ungar and Carla K. Johnson of The Associated Press — The White House on Wednesday insisted there is no need for a lockdown because vaccines are widely available and appear to offer protection against the worst consequences of the virus. But even if omicron proves milder on the whole than delta, it may disarm some of the lifesaving tools available and put immune-compromised and elderly people at particular risk. “Our delta surge is ongoing and, in fact, accelerating. And on top of that, we’re going to add an omicron surge,” said Dr. Jacob Lemieux, who monitors variants for a research collaboration led by Harvard Medical School. “That’s alarming because our hospitals are already filling up. Staff are fatigued,” leaving limited capacity for an “omicron wave superimposed on a delta surge.”

Citing omicron, advocates and Democrats press Joe Biden to push faster on efforts to vaccinate the world” via Dan Diamond of The Washington Post — Advocates are urging the United States to follow through on Biden’s seven-month-old pledge to ensure that countries waive intellectual property protections on coronavirus vaccines and share them with the developing world — a push they say has stalled in diplomatic meetings in Switzerland. “I see very slow progress and reluctance” from the United States, said Hu Yuan Qiong, a Geneva-based legal and policy adviser for Doctors Without Borders, who has been monitoring the talks. “We really anticipate they could do more proactively in the negotiations.” Others are demanding details behind a plan to boost global vaccine manufacturing, complaining that the White House has yet to clarify the proposal’s objectives and strategy since unveiling it last month.

Joe Biden is under pressure to help the world get vaccinated.

Navy starts kicking out sailors for refusing COVID-19 vaccine as Republicans rage over mandate” via Paul McLeary and Quint Forgey of POLITICO — But the Navy won’t slap dishonorable discharges on anyone for their decision to ignore a direct order. Overall, 5,731 active-duty sailors remain unvaccinated, and at this point, Navy officials believe most of those will likely continue to refuse the order, weeks after the Nov. 28 deadline for full vaccination. “If a sailor gets their shot, we will honor that and make every effort to retain them,” Rear Adm. James Waters, the Navy’s director of military personnel plans and policy, told reporters. “On the other hand, those who continue to refuse the vaccine will be required to leave the Navy.”

— CORONA ECONOMICS —

U.S. retail sales slow with holiday shoppers facing inflation, shortages” via Gabriel T. Rubin of The Wall Street Journal — Retail sales rose modestly at the start of the holiday season, as shoppers faced rising inflation and supply shortages, and some snapped up gifts earlier. Sales at U.S. retail stores, online sellers, and restaurants rose by a seasonally-adjusted 0.3% in November from the previous month, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. That was smaller than last month’s increase in consumer prices, and a slowdown from October’s robust 1.8% sales increase. Broadly consumer demand is strong, and well above last year’s levels. Retail sales rose 18.2% in November from a year earlier, showing low unemployment, rising wages and savings from stimulus payments are giving Americans the capacity to spend more this year. According to the Labor Department, that gain well outpaced the 6.8% increase in consumer prices in November from a year earlier.

Christmas shopping is not up to speed, retailers say. Image via AP.

After Ron Johnson’s Listerine push, no product is certain it won’t be billed as COVID-19 treatment” via Alexandra Petri of The Washington Post — After U.S. Sen. Johnson doubled down on his claim that a “gargle” of Listerine warded off the coronavirus, manufacturers everywhere wondered what product would be suggested as the next COVID-19 safeguard and debated whether to prepare statements of their own. Several gums debated putting out a statement. “I mean, we’re clearly just a gum,” one gum manufacturer remarked. Soup producers worriedly agreed. “Like Listerine, we are a liquid you put in your mouth,” they noted. Manufacturers of bleach, horse supplements, and UV lights rolled their eyes at the new wave of concern from people whose products seemed in no way related to COVID-19. “I can’t believe anyone would still be blindsided, given the things that have been suggested so far,” they observed.

— MORE CORONA —

More Americans left religion during the pandemic” via Ian Lovett of The Wall Street Journal — A new survey from the Pew Research Center found the percentage of Americans who identify as Christians now stands at 63%, down from 65% in 2019 and from 78% in 2007. Meanwhile, 29% of Americans now identify as having no religion, up from 26% in 2019 and 16% in 2007, when Pew began tracking religious identity. Many places of worship closed during the pandemic — some voluntarily, others as a result of state and local social-distancing rules — and in-person church attendance is roughly 30% to 50% lower than it was before the pandemic, estimates Barna Group, a research firm that studies faith in the U.S. Millions of Americans moved to worship online, and questions linger about how many will come back in person.

Religion takes a pandemic plunge. Image via The Wall Street Journal.

With coronavirus variants, the world is learning the Greek alphabet, one grim letter at a time” via Chico Harlan of The Washington Post — The 15th letter of the Greek alphabet had been a fairly innocuous entity for 2,500 years. But in just two weeks, it became notorious. Omicron moved beyond classical philosophy texts, beyond the realm of the 13 million or so people who speak Greek as natives, and exploded into use in urgent scientific reports, breaking news headlines and social media feeds worldwide. The Greek alphabet is a millennia-spanning marvel that didn’t necessarily need this boost in visibility. But the world is now getting a lesson in Greek.

— PRESIDENTIAL —

‘Going very poorly’: Biden can’t nail Joe Manchin down on Dems’ bill” via Burgess Everett, Alex Thompson and Jonathan Lemire of POLITICO — Tensions are boiling over as discussions about finishing Democrats’ $1.7 trillion domestic spending bill drag on between Biden and Sen. Manchin. The legislation looks increasingly likely to stall over the impending holiday break, prompting Biden himself to bemoan the slow pace. And Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, grew frustrated when questioned about whether he opposes a provision in the bill to extend the expanded child tax credit, denying that he wants to end the $300 monthly check many families receive for children.

The tension between Joe Biden and Joe Manchin is palpable. Image via AP.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Marco Rubio introduces bill targeting online fentanyl sales” via Kate Santich of the Orlando Sentinel — Amid a soaring rise in overdose deaths, Sen. Rubio introduced a bipartisan bill aimed at blocking online sales of illicit drugs, including highly lethal fentanyl. Called the “Domain Reform for Unlawful Drug Sellers Act,” the bill would freeze and block websites found to illegally facilitate online drug sales in the United States. Rubio, a Republican, is co-sponsoring the bill with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat. “Florida ranks second in the nation for overdose deaths, and far too many families across the country find themselves torn apart by drug addiction,” Rubio said.

Tweet, tweet:

Senator Rubio spoke on the Senate Floor to ask for passage of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. pic.twitter.com/MYNbUtGPd0

— Senator Rubio Press (@SenRubioPress) December 15, 2021

Assignment editors — U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor joins Port Tampa CEO Paul Anderson for a news conference to underscore the significance of the bipartisan infrastructure law investment for Port Tampa Bay and related businesses, 10 a.m., Port Tampa Bay Cruise Terminal 2, 651 Channelside Drive, Tampa. RSVP to Rikki Miller at [email protected]

National health care advocacy group targets Miami Congress members” via Anne Geggis of Florida Politics — A national health advocacy organization is targeting Republican U.S. Reps. Carlos Giménez and María Elvira Salazar for driving up the cost of health care with their Nov. 19 votes against the Build Back Better Act. Protect Our Care, which bills itself as an organization working against “Republican sabotage” of health care access, produced 30-second digital ads to be aired on Facebook. These politicians, the viewer learns, voted against lower drug prices and against lower premiums, which is spelled out in all caps on the screen. Then, the solution: phone numbers for Gimenez and Salazar’s office are offered, depending on where the viewer resides, along with what to say, also spelled out in all caps: “Stop putting industry profits ahead of our prices.”

To watch the ad, click on the image below:

— CRISIS —

The lawyer behind the Trump coup memo unmasks the absurdity of the cover-up” via Greg Sargent of The Washington Post — In their frantic efforts to disrupt the work of the House select committee examining Jan. 6, Trump’s co-conspirators have advanced a singular argument: The committee lacks any “legitimate legislative purpose.” This is ridiculous on its face. Members of the committee have repeatedly said their work may inform efforts to reform the congressional process of counting presidential electors. There are other obvious potential legislative purposes as well. But this argument has grown even more absurd now that it’s being advanced by John Eastman, who wrote that now-notorious memo advising former Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to count Biden’s electors from numerous states to tip the election to Trump.

“Largo Capitol rioter apologizes in letter to judge, asks for mercy” via Dan Sullivan of the Tampa Bay Times — A Largo man who admitted he threw a wood plank and sprayed and hurled a fire extinguisher at police officers during the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol now realizes the wrongfulness of his actions, according to a letter he wrote to a federal judge. Robert Scott Palmer, who faces sentencing Friday, asked for mercy from U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, apologizing in a lengthy handwritten note for his role in the attack that sought to subvert the results of the 2020 election. The note, which accompanied a sentencing memo filed by Palmer’s defense lawyer, states that he now understands that he and others were lied to and manipulated by those in power.

Capitol rioter Robert Scott Palmer writes a note saying, “my bad.” Image via U.S. District Court.

South Florida man charged in Jan. 6 attack on U.S. Capitol” via The Associated Press — A South Florida man has been arrested on charges related to storming the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection and attacking a police officer, officials said. Mason Joel Courson, 26, of Tamarac, was arrested Tuesday in South Florida and charged with eight federal offenses that include assaulting, resisting or impeding certain officers and inflicting bodily injury, civil disorder, and entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds with a deadly or dangerous weapon, according to court records. He made his initial court appearance Wednesday in Florida, but the case is being prosecuted in Washington federal court. Attorney Jason Kreiss, representing Courson, said he couldn’t comment on the case because he hasn’t yet seen the government’s evidence.

Congress votes to let Capitol Police chief directly call on National Guard, law enforcement after Jan. 6 riot” via Bryan Pietsch of The Washington Post — Congress on Tuesday passed legislation granting the Capitol Police chief power to “unilaterally” request emergency backup from the National Guard and federal law enforcement agencies, after lawmakers said the lack of authority had caused “unnecessary delays” during the Jan. 6 insurrection. The bill passed the U.S. Senate and House by unanimous consent and will head to Biden’s desk to be signed into law. The legislation allows the Capitol Police chief to request help from the D.C. National Guard or federal law enforcement without getting prior approval from the Capitol Police Board, a four-member panel that oversees the Capitol Police force. Its members include the Senate and House sergeants-at-arms, the architect of the Capitol and the police chief.

No, Trump did not order 10,000 troops to secure the Capitol on Jan. 6” via Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post — It’s always dismaying when false claims that were previously debunked turn up as accepted facts months later. Yet, Fox News hosts and their guests increasingly appear to live in a world untethered by the truth. As we have documented before, Trump never requested 10,000 National Guard troops to secure the Capitol that day. Just one month after the attack, Meadows appeared on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures” and made this claim. But a Vanity Fair reporter was embedded with acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller and said that figure was a guesstimate, delivered as an offhand remark, based on Trump’s inflated belief in his ability to draw a crowd. That’s not the same thing as a “request.”

— EPILOGUE TRUMP —

Trump appeals judge’s ruling that tax records can be released by Treasury Department to Congress” via Spencer S. Hsu of The Washington Post — A federal judge on Tuesday rejected Trump’s long-running effort to block the Treasury Department from turning over his tax records to the House Ways and Means Committee, but Trump’s lawyers immediately asked an appeals court to overturn the decision. U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden said even if Trump’s attorneys were correct that House Democrats wanted his records only to expose them for political gain, they were “wrong on the law.” The decision is the latest by federal judges in Washington in a separation-of-powers dispute between Trump and Congress to go against the former President. A U.S. appeals court on Dec. 9 rejected Trump’s bid to keep his White House documents secret from a congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack.

Donald Trump gets yet another legal smackdown. Image via AP.

Trump fraud inquiry’s focus: Did he mislead his own accountants?” via William K. Rashbaum, Ben Protess and Jonah E. Bromwich of The New York Times — Documents compiled by Trump’s longtime accountants and known as annual statements of financial condition could help answer a question at the heart of the long-running criminal investigation into the former President: Did he inflate the value of his assets to defraud his lenders? Prosecutors in the office of Manhattan District Attorney have questioned one of Trump’s accountants before a grand jury as part of their examination. Prosecutors also interviewed his longtime banker. If the prosecutors seek an indictment, the case’s outcome could hinge on whether they can use the documents to prove that a defining feature of Trump’s public persona — his penchant for hyperbole — was so extreme and intentional when dealing with his lenders that it crossed the line into fraud.

— LOCAL NOTES —

Gas tax politics will continue in Jacksonville even after tax repeal effort fails” via David Bauerlein of The Florida Times-Union — Jacksonville City Council shot down an attempt Tuesday to repeal the 6-cent per gallon gas tax increase that will start Jan. 1, but whether it’s in Jacksonville or Tallahassee, the politics of the gas tax will carry over to 2022 and possibly play a role in the 2023 city elections as well. At the state level, DeSantis highlighted the gas tax when he announced last month during a stop in Jacksonville, he wants the state Legislature to suspend collecting the state’s portion for six months. DeSantis, a Republican, made that pitch after Crist and Fried, both Democratic candidates for Governor, said the state should suspend collecting the gas tax because of high gas prices.

Baptist Health Jacksonville supports patients through technology innovations” via Florida Politics — Before the collaboration with Salesforce partner Coastal Cloud, Baptist Health patients and care teams were experiencing the pain points from manual processes for things such as insurance verification and scheduling. Challenges were magnified during COVID-19, when Baptist Health had to pause elective procedures for several weeks, resulting in backlogs and significant lost revenue. By leveraging Salesforce Health Cloud, Baptist Health developed seamless connections from outreach and engagement all the way through scheduling, completing procedures and follow-up care. “Coastal Cloud is not just a team of Salesforce Experts; they are true partners who understand our challenges and are working side-by-side with us to create the future of customer experiences in health care,” said Melanie Husk, senior vice president and chief consumer officer at Baptist Health Jacksonville.

“FDLE loses secret court fight to force Escambia County judge candidate to register as sex offender” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News Journal — Over the last two decades, attorney Paul Hamlin has earned a reputation as a well-respected defense lawyer in Pensacola. But for the last two years, as he has sought to become an Escambia County judge, he has also been the subject of a closed-door court battle with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement over whether he should have to register as a sex offender. Beyond Hamlin’s status, at stake in the case is the power FDLE has to intervene to require someone to register as a sex offender. On Thursday, the 1st District Court of Appeal ruled against FDLE and upheld that Hamlin is not required to register as a sex offender.

In addition to campaigning for the Escambia County judiciary, Paul Hamlin has waged another low-key battle.

2 Sumter County Commissioners arrested, accused of lying under oath” via Sarah Wilson of WFTV — Sumter Commissioners Oren Miller, 71, and Gary Search, 71, were arrested Wednesday. According to Marion County arrest affidavits, both are accused of lying while making statements under oath to the state attorney as part of a criminal investigation related to possible Sunshine Law violations. The state attorney’s office said two citizen complaints in March and another complaint from an attorney in June led them to investigate allegations that the two Commissioners were communicating outside of official Commission proceedings. Phone records showed Miller and Search used their personal cellphones to communicate more than 40 times between November 2020 and June 2021. Miller told investigators the two hadn’t spoken on their cellphones since January 2021, and Search said they hadn’t spoken on the telephone at all.

Alberto Carvalho: Next school superintendent should stand up to political influence” via Sommer Brugal of the Miami Herald — The next superintendent of Miami-Dade schools should be someone who can stand up to political influences and protect the well-being of students, teachers and staff and continue improving the district’s academic progress. Moreover, they should understand the community. That’s according to departing Superintendent Carvalho, who on Wednesday offered to reporters what he believed to be necessary qualities and qualifications for his successor. Carvalho, 57, who has been superintendent for nearly 14 years, announced Thursday he was leaving to head the Los Angeles school district, the nation’s second-largest school district. On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Unified School District School Board unanimously approved a four-year contract with Carvalho with an annual salary of $440,000. He makes about $350,000 with Miami-Dade, the nation’s fourth-largest district.

Cleaning up trash and holding the gavel: Miami’s newest Commissioner gets to work” via Joey Flechas of the Miami Herald — Miami Commissioner Christine King’s Instagram notifications have been popping off with a bunch of trash. In office for about a month now, she has been regularly tagged in photos of heaps of trash strewn about District 5 — plastic bottles and bins, paint cans, splintered wood, tree trimmings, and even a door. A social media account called @miamiesbasura (Miami is trash) has been posting pictures of littered corners and sidewalks, and King has been making calls to get city crews out to pick up the mess.

Grand jury: After Surfside collapse, require frequent inspections, stricter association rules” via David Ovalle of the Miami Herald — In the wake of the deadly Surfside condo collapse, Miami-Dade County should institute more frequent building recertification inspections, and condo associations should be required to annually certify routine maintenance and building repairs, a grand jury recommended on Wednesday. Those were among the many recommendations issued Wednesday by a grand jury tasked with exploring condo safety following the June collapse of Champlain Towers South that killed 98 people in one of the nation’s deadliest building failures. The report does not address the cause of the fatal collapse.

Tri-Rail, Brightline go back and forth over Miami station struggles” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Tri-Rail and Brightline are now in a public finger-pointing match after reports emerged that Tri-Rail has not formatted its trains to fit at a new Miami station built by Brightline. Tri-Rail has argued Brightline’s construction decisions were the source of the problem and that the entire station may need to be redone. Brightline had previously refused to comment publicly. But on Wednesday, Brightline revealed a letter sent to Tri-Rail leadership arguing a simpler fix to the train cars would ameliorate the problem and questioning Tri-Rail’s actions. The project has already faced delays since a 2015 agreement launched the initiative.

Brightline’s Miami Central station is not one size fits all.

Candidates for Orlando airport chief executive officer include Florida’s transportation secretary” via Kevin Spear of the Orlando Sentinel — The Greater Orlando Aviation Authority disclosed names of six finalists for the job of managing Orlando International Airport, a staff of more than 800 and an annual budget of nearly $600 million. One of the candidates for the position of GOAA’s chief executive officer is Florida’s top transportation official, Kevin Thibault, secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation. Also in the mix is Don Fisher, Osceola County manager. The other four candidates are top executives at airports across the country; Lance Lyttle, chief executive officer of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport; Mario Rodriguez, executive director of the Indianapolis Airport Authority; Mark Thorpe chief executive officer at Ontario [California] International Airport Authority; and Jacqueline Yaft, executive director of Austin Bergstrom International Airport in Texas.

— TOP OPINION —

In race for Congress, no transparency means no endorsement” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel Editorial Board — She got less than 24% of all votes cast in parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties, which means three out of four voters chose another candidate in a depressingly low-turnout election that delivered far less than a mandate. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, 41, will likely do much better in the general election on Jan. 11 because she’s the only Democrat on the ballot in an overwhelmingly Democratic district. Obviously, she’s a heavy favorite. Unfortunately, we cannot endorse her because she will not comply with a routine federal financial disclosure law. Her refusal to provide a basic summary of her financial assets needlessly damages her credibility. It also appears illegal — but that’s for the U.S. Department of Justice to decide.

— OPINIONS —

School boards are targets of Florida’s new McCarthyism” via Randy Schultz of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — During last week’s meeting between Palm Beach County’s legislative delegation and school board members, Rep. Rick Roth said, “This is a little bit exciting, what I’m fixing to say.” Actually, it was more than a little bit intimidating. Is there “material or teacher training,” Roth asked Superintendent Mike Burke, on critical race theory? He asked the same question about “gender fluidity.” To the first question, Burke responded, “We teach history — all of it.” To the second, “We teach tolerance.” “I am very glad to hear that,” Roth said. Then Roth called Burke a liar.

Trump’s clout with Republican voters seems to be slipping away” via Jonah Goldberg for the Tampa Bay Times — Trump’s clout with GOP voters, while still significant, seems less formidable all the time. Sean Parnell, his hand-picked candidate in Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate primary, dropped out of the race. Prominent Trump toady Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, who opposed certification of Biden’s victory, is falling behind his Republican primary opponent Katie Britt despite Trump’s endorsement of Brooks. Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama recently raised eyebrows by attending a Britt fundraiser. Sen. Lisa Murkowski may have a tough re-election fight ahead of her, but Murkowski, not her Trump-backed opponent, will have the support of the national Republican Party. Trump still polls well among Republicans, but about half don’t want to see him run again.

— JINGLE, JINGLE —

FHP, FDOT prep for busy holiday travel season” via Beth Rousseau of WFLA — Tampa is among the Top 10 travel destinations this holiday season, according to AAA. As families finalize their travel plans, traffic leaders prepare for their busiest season. AAA expects 5.4 million people in Florida to travel to their holiday destinations by car — up 1.2 million from last year. FHP is dealing with the increase by deploying more resources. “If they see those officers, people tend to drive a little bit better, slow down, buckle up, drive a little bit better,” describes Sgt. Steve Gaskins. “It’s a reminder that I need to drive like I’m supposed to.” FDOT is suspending all major detours and lane closures from Dec. 23 through January 3 to make travel easier.

How to embrace a Florida Christmas” via Gabrielle Calise of the Tampa Bay Times — Forget about fall foliage and traditional autumn to help you transition to the holidays. Hop on a Jet Ski instead of a sled. When you miss the snow, assemble armies of inflatable yard decorations and hang light displays that would make Clark Griswold jealous. Realize festive boat and golf cart parades are the norm. Accessorize with both a Santa hat and flip-flops. Sweat in line at a theme park. Crank the air conditioning, so it’s cold enough to use your fireplace at least once. Pose for holiday photos on the beach (bonus points if you make a snowman out of sand). Grill outside, soak in a hot tub, or play tennis in the sunshine to flex on your family freezing up north. Realize you don’t have a chimney, and that Santa will have to find a creative entry strategy.

So it’s Florida; that doesn’t mean you can’t get in the holiday spirit.

Florida cities faceplant in “Most Festive” rankings — If Ebenezer Scrooge skipped his redemption arc and retired to Florida, he would have felt right at home in either Cape Coral or Port St. Lucie. According to a new Lawn Starter ranking of the “Most Festive Cities,” they are among the most Christmas-averse towns in the United States. The ranking considered the number of holiday-themed local festivals and attractions, decoration shops, Christmas tree sellers, bakeries, candy stores, and holiday-specific shops and markets. The ranking also considered snowfall, which hamstrung the chances of a Florida city cracking the top-10. Still, composite scores for Cape Coral and Port St. Lucie failed to break five points … out of 100. At 6.4 points, Jacksonville’s score was nearly as miserable, so chances are Scrooge would be a die-hard Jags fan. Check out the full rankings.

What we kept, what we ditched, what we cooked: How COVID-19 changed the holidays” via Jura Koncius of The Washington Post — Last year’s stark Dec., before coronavirus vaccines were widely available, disrupted many holiday rituals. Many had lost loved ones to COVID-19. In-person celebrations were canceled and hastily moved to Zoom. Cookie parties were mothballed, and Grandma couldn’t come to make the pizzelles. Sacred prime-rib feasts were dumped in favor of having takeout tacos outdoors under a patio heater — if you could find one. Even church services went virtual. There was sadness as Americans had to let go of many of their cherished annual customs. But wait. Are they all so cherished?

Hallmark’s Christmas movie battle with upstart channel means double the holiday sap” via Lillian Rizzo of The Wall Street Journal — Overall, 96% of the lead actors in the 12 Christmas movies airing on GAC this year were previously featured on Hallmark. Such cross-pollination is rare in the Christmas-movie industry, where the biggest players — Hallmark and Lifetime — have built their own stables of talent over the years. GAC is bringing in one of the most familiar faces: Lori Loughlin, who was fired by Hallmark in the wake of the 2019 college-admissions scandal. The man who led the Hallmark Channel when it fired Loughlin was also the one who hired her at GAC: Bill Abbott, who helped turn Hallmark into a Christmas entertainment behemoth. His decade-plus tenure helped him attract talent from Hallmark — not just actors, but also producers, directors and management.

Santa Claus’ real estate is booming” via Joanne Kaufman of The New York Times — Partly because of the pandemic, partly because of the small-town appeal, partly because of the bang for the buck (comparatively low taxes, lots of services), and partly because of — well, let’s call it ho-ho-ho-cation, ho-ho-ho-cation, ho-ho-ho-cation — Santa Claus, Indiana, and the similarly Santa-centric Frankenmuth, Michigan, are enjoying a vogue. About 50 houses have been built in Santa Claus’ Christmas Lake Village in the last two years. “Typically, we average two or three annually,” said Chris Ambs, the subdivision’s property manager. And while it’s also typical to have 20 or 30 houses for sale in the Village at any given time, thanks to the high demand, there were only five available in mid-November, said the town’s treasurer, Kelly Greulich.

Santa Claus, Indiana, is having a moment.

Man goes to extreme lengths to keep cats away from Christmas tree” via Anders Anglesey of Newsweek — Cats sometimes have a way of bringing out our inner Grinch with their antics, which is why one man took an unusual step to keep them from getting up to mischief around the family Christmas tree. Luckily, the extreme measure would cause no harm, although it would employ the nemesis to cats and dogs alike: the household Hoover. TikTok user Jenna Taylor, who goes by @floof_life on the platform, shared a 24-second video with her 14,500 followers that showed how her husband would keep their Christmas tree safe from the felines. The clip showed the two cats sneaking around the Christmas tree before a motion sensor was triggered by their movement and set off a nearby Hoover, which scared the two felines away.

— ALOE —

Happy 100th, bloody mary: Paris marks cocktail’s birthday” via Alex Turnbull of The Associated Press — Harry’s Bar in Paris is celebrating the 100th birthday of the bloody mary, the vodka-tomato juice cocktail believed to have been invented at the iconic watering hole in 1921. The centenary events this week bring a welcome respite from winter gloom and worries about the omicron variant of the coronavirus. The bar is carefully checking COVID-19 health passes as foreign visitors gather to sample the drink closely associated with Harry’s Bar, whose patrons over the past century have included writers Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. According to the history of Harry’s, bartender Fernand Petiot invented the cocktail, and the recipe was first published in a book called “Harry’s ABC of Cocktails” in 1921. The bar serves an estimated 12,000 bloody marys a year.

Harry’s Bar celebrates its most famous creation.

A5 Wagyu raises the steaks for Orlando beef lovers” via Amy Drew Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel — I cannot imagine eating 24 ounces of A5 Wagyu in one sitting, as a handful of Morimoto Asia’s highest rolling guests do, but as the thin slice of fat-laden lusciousness, the very essence of beef, all but disintegrates on my tongue, I can certainly imagine wanting to. It tastes like a high roller’s life: rich. Close your eyes. Tune out the noise. Focus your senses. That buttery flavor, like all things umami at once, is a sensual experience you can ride like a wave that stretches into forever. Good thing, too — because the stuff costs $34 an ounce.

’Sheriff on the Shelf’: Grady Judd dolls all but sold out, here’s where they’re still available” via Dylan Abad of WFLA — The Polk County Sheriff’s Office “Sheriff on the Shelf” are selling like … moon pies, so much so that the new dolls are expected to sell out by the end of the day Wednesday, Dec. 15. For those customers still scrambling to get their hands on a doll, there are still a few locations with some stock. Deputies said the Northeast (Davenport), Southeast (Lake Wales) and Central (Inwood) Districts still have a very limited supply and customers are urged to call before driving to make a purchase. The Sheriff’s Office said they are blessed by the outpouring of support from those who purchased the doll but could not have imagined the amount of demand the dolls received.

Yep. It’s real.

This Seminoles fan is hot about losing the nation’s top recruit. Watch him burn his Deion Sanders jersey.” via the Tallahassee Democrat — The Florida State fanbase is not happy with former Seminole great Sanders. Daniel Grant is actually furious. Hot as fire, more precisely. The FSU graduate and Golden Chief posted a video on social media Wednesday that showed his framed, autographed and authenticated Sanders FSU jersey burning. Travis Hunter — the No. 1 recruit in the country in the 2022 class, per the 247Sports Composite — de-committed from FSU and committed to Jackson State on the first day of the early signing period Wednesday. Sanders coaches Jackson State. “He was my favorite of all time,” Grant told the Democrat Wednesday. “Now he is despised by the entire FSU fanbase. We should un-retire his jersey.”

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Best wishes to former Rep. Holly Raschein, Alex Dominguez, Caleb Hawkes, and journalist John F. Sugg.

___

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


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