Hello and good Monday morning.
Waiting — After hinting about it all session it is anticipated that Republican legislative leaders will roll out yet another overhaul of Florida election laws this week.
Anticipation — There could be more changes to the state’s vote-by-mail law, but the real mystery is whether Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and House Speaker Paul Renner will go ahead and sign off on changes to the state’s resign-to-run law ahead of an expected presidential campaign of Gov. Ron DeSantis.
What they say — Both legislative leaders suggested late last year that they were open to amending the law. Passidomo, however, said last week that “we’re still researching whether we really need it.” Renner on Friday said that “we’ll see by the end of session.”
Remember — The law’s application would not come into play with the Republican primaries for early next year. The legal conundrum is whether DeSantis would be required to turn in an irrevocable letter of resignation if he became the GOP nominee — meaning that he would leave the governor’s office even if he lost the presidential race in November 2024.
Reading the fine print — Some lawyers have suggested that the resign-to-run law — which says someone must resign if the terms of the office they were seeking would overlap with the office they current hold — would not apply to DeSantis. (These theories involve everything from the definition of qualifying to office to pointing out that voters don’t really elect the person but electors.)
But — The trouble with these suggestions is that the law was altered back in 2007 (under then House Speaker Marco Rubio) to assist then Gov. Charlie Crist with a possible run for vice president. So clearly the Legislature has previously shown its position on the intent of the law. And the language that had been removed at that time was then largely restored in 2018.
Thinking it through — Yes, there could be a decision to either put off any changes to resign-to-run until the 2024 session (right as the primary season is heating up) or to leave it alone. But that latter scenario means inviting a potential lawsuit that could throw DeSantis off the ballot in Florida. Is that a risk worth taking?
— WHERE’S RON? — Nothing official for Gov. DeSantis.
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LET IT RAIN — “Super PAC backing DeSantis says it has raised $30 million,” by New York Times’ Maggie Haberman: “The super PAC that is likely to serve as the main vehicle supporting Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida in a Republican presidential primary has raised $30 million since March 9, a senior official with the group said on Sunday night. The sums raised for the super PAC, named Never Back Down, show the financial might that would back a DeSantis campaign, should he enter the presidential race, as expected, after the Florida legislative session ends in early May.”
N.Y. STATE OF MIND — “DeSantis rips into Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg’s indictment of Trump: ‘All about politics,’” by N.Y. Post Mary Kay Linge and Valentina Jaramillo: “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis continued to tiptoe toward the Republican presidential primary race with a visit to Nassau County Saturday — his second New York City-area appearance in less than six weeks — while taking a swipe at Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg for his prosecution of Donald Trump. ‘This guy is all about politics,’ DeSantis said of Bragg, who he decried as ‘a menace to society.’ ‘His whole thing is he doesn’t want people to be in jail, he wants to downgrade felonies to misdemeanors,’ DeSantis said. ‘Really, really dangerous stuff.’”
— “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis brings book to Long Island as Trump backers protest,” by WABC’s Kristin Thorne
— Schiff criticizes DeSantis over indictment comments, by POLITICO’s Kelly Garrity
— “3 ways Trump’s indictment could help DeSantis and 3 ways it could hurt him,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Emily L. Mahoney
— “Donald Trump contends that Ron DeSantis is ‘Bush machine’ proxy candidate,” by Florida Politics’ A.G. Gancarski
— “Trump vs. DeSantis: A timeline of Florida’s hottest political feud,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Kirby Wilson
THREADING THE NEEDLE — GOP dances around Trump’s indictment, by POLITICO’s Burgess Everett: Former President Donald Trump’s conservative defenders in Congress were not exactly front and center on Sunday, as rank-and-file Republicans tap-danced around his looming arraignment and gently distanced themselves from Trump’s Ukraine and entitlement policies. Instead several Republicans found themselves harmonizing with Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who appeared on three Sunday shows to say Trump shouldn’t be immune from legal scrutiny but also warn against a politically motivated prosecution as New York District Attorney Alvin Bragg prepares to unveil his Trump indictment on Tuesday.
COMING ATTRACTIONS — “As Trump arraignment looms, New York City braces for a day of tumult,” by New York Times’ Jesse McKinley and Chelsia Rose Marcius: “Even for a city accustomed to celebrity appearances, the two-day visit during which Donald J. Trump is expected be arraigned in Manhattan is likely to be a striking spectacle: There will be protests and celebrations, an all-hands-on-deck police presence and a crush of media attention on the moment in which the first American president is charged with a crime. Mr. Trump is expected to arrive in New York on Monday from his estate in Florida and head to his erstwhile home in Trump Tower, where he began his pursuit of the presidency in 2015 by descending a golden escalator.”
AS THE PAGES TURN — “Justice Dept. said to have more evidence of possible Trump obstruction at Mar-A-Lago,” by Washington Post’s Devlin Barrett, Josh Dawsey and Perry Stein: “Justice Department and FBI investigators have amassed fresh evidence pointing to possible obstruction by former president Donald Trump in the investigation into top-secret documents found at his Mar-a-Lago home, according to people familiar with the matter. The additional evidence comes as investigators have used emails and text messages from a former Trump aide to help understand key moments last year, said the people, who like others interviewed for this article spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing criminal investigation.”
— Asa Hutchinson announces presidential bid, says Trump should withdraw from race, by POLITICO’s Kelly Garrity
— Trump’s lawyer expects to make motion to dismiss charges, by POLITICO’s Kelly Garrity
— “Trump claims judge overseeing New York case ‘hates’ him. His lawyer says it isn’t true,” by Washington Post’s Azi Paybarah
— “Ladapo calls Trump’s comments concerning DeSantis’ COVID record ‘all blubber,” by The Floridian’s Jackson Bakich
BEHIND THE CURTAIN — “Investigation shows 42% of Florida lawmakers have personal ties to real estate. Here’s why that may be a problem,” by The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Clayton Park: “An investigation by the USA TODAY Network-Florida of the occupations and sources of income of current state lawmakers found more than 40 percent − at least 66 out of 159 − have direct ties to the real estate industry. … Connections include a land-use lawyer sponsoring growth management legislation; a homebuilder co-sponsoring legislation on building regulation; a big developer sponsoring legislation that would take away local control of setting limits on development; and a high-paid executive at a giant development firm co-sponsoring a bill to cap the fees his employer pays for economic impact.”
NEXT STOP SENATE — Florida House passes parental rights bill restricting pronouns in schools, by POLITICO’s Andrew Atterbury: “House Republicans in Florida passed a wide-ranging education bill Friday targeting how teachers and students can use their pronouns in schools, building on the state’s parental rights law that critics call “Don’t Say Gay.” The proposal tightens restrictions on school lessons about sexual identity and gender orientation, which lawmakers say should happen at home. It also would require libraries pull books from shelves within five days if someone objects to the content in a change opponents contend amounts to censorship.”
— “On bus trip to Tallahassee, Black Floridians fight uphill battle at Capitol,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Desiree Stennett
— “Reedy Creek ‘fix’ might have to wait, legislative leaders say,” by Florida Politics’ Gray Rohrer
THE ANSWER IS NO — A judge appointed by former President Donald Trump has refused to throw out a record Federal Elections Commission penalty against former Rep. David Rivera.
U.S. District Aileen Cannon, whose handling of a case involving documents found at Mar-a-Lago brought her national attention last year, rejected a motion first filed by Rivera’s attorney in April 2022. The motion sought to amend or alter a $456,000 penalty imposed on Rivera as a result of a civil lawsuit brought by the FEC against the Miami Republican. The lawsuit contended that Rivera secretly carried out a scheme during a 2012 congressional primary to fund the campaign of Democratic candidate Justin Lamar Sternad in an effort to weaken the campaign of opponent Joe Garcia.
The motion questioned if the penalty exceeded the excessive fines provision of the Eighth Amendment and the legal filing cited a recent appeals decision in another case. In her ruling Cannon questioned the timing of the motion – which came after the initial judgement against Rivera. “His failure to raise any argument at all regarding the civil penalty provides sufficient basis for denying him the opportunity to bring an Eighth Amendment challenge for the first time now,” Cannon wrote. She added that the “court is not persuaded by these arguments.”
Cannon, who took over the case after the death of U.S. District Judge Marcia G. Cooke, said nothing in the record shows “any manifest injustice or clear error in imposition of the $456,000 civil penalty. Judge Cooke exercised her discretion to determine an appropriate civil remedy.”
The legal dispute is not yet over since Rivera has already appealed the initial judgment. Rivera was arrested in December on charges related to work on behalf of Venezuela’s authoritarian regime including conspiring against the U.S., failing to register as foreign agents and engaging in illegal financial transactions including money laundering. He has called the charges “completely false.”
— “2024 watch: Republican Mayor Francis Suarez of Miami headed to New Hampshire after stop in Iowa,” by Fox News’ Paul Steinhauser
— “Fourth South Florida voter fraud case dismissed by Broward judge,” by South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Angie DiMichele
‘GROUND ZERO FOR CONSERVATIVE LIFE’ — “How Florida became America’s GOP hot spot,” by Arian Campo-Flores, Alex Leary and Anthony DeBarros: “Once the biggest battleground state in the U.S., Florida has morphed in recent years into the nerve center and idea laboratory for the Republican Party, home to growing legions of conservative activists, thought leaders and donors. It has become a model under Gov. Ron DeSantis of a new right that embraces muscular use of state power to pursue a conservative agenda and reshape institutions. Other states are emulating its policies by advancing parental bills of rights and bans on instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity.”
TO COURT — “Disability lawsuits surge in Florida. Are they removing barriers or ‘legal extortion,’” by Miami Herald’s Jay Weaver: “They gutted a shoe-box space in a Calle Ocho strip center, installing a counter with stools, a row of white tables, dark-wood cabinets, a Spanish-style floor and a stamped ceiling with hanging lamps. The city of Miami approved all the work. Yet three years after opening Sanguich de Miami in 2018, the couple and their landlord were sued for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by Emilio Pinero, an amputee who lost both legs from the knees down, according to his lawsuit.”
‘IT’S NOBODY’S BUSINESS’ — “Email detailed plans to obscure Scientologists’ role in Clearwater project,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Tracey McManus: “As [developer Rodney] Riley seeks the required approvals from the city, he has described the project to Clearwater officials as one with no involvement from Scientology beyond the parishioner-related entities selling him the land. But an email obtained by the Tampa Bay Times lays out in detail that wealthy Scientologists recruited Riley to be the public face of the project instead of the church members.”
— “Congresswoman Cherfilus-McCormick’s trip to Ghana brings emotional reckoning with slavery’s past,” by South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Anthony Man
— “Jacksonville native makes film on author Judy Blume’s ‘radical honesty,’” by Florida Times-Union’s Matt Soergel
— “Florida COVID-19 caseloads doubles in late March over early in the month,” by Palm Beach Post’s Chris Persaud
— “This St. Petersburg church is too political, complaint to IRS says,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Colleen Wright
— “Far-right influencer convicted in voter suppression case,” by Associated Press: “A self-styled far-right propagandist from Florida was convicted Friday of charges alleging that he conspired to deprive individuals of their right to vote in the 2016 presidential election. Douglass Mackey, 33, of West Palm Beach, Florida, was convicted in Brooklyn federal court before Judge Ann M. Donnelly after a one-week trial. … Prosecutors told jurors during the trial that Mackey urged supporters of then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to “vote” via text message or social media, knowing that those endorsements were not legally valid votes.”
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