Time for a Disney do-over? DeSantis lobs solar bomb. Lawsuits target new redistricting map and elections law

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It’s Monday, May 2, and we’re coming off a very partisan week of politics and policy in Florida. Bond rating agencies sent some quivers about Disney; voting advocates doubled down on their lawsuit over redistricting, and solar advocates got a jolt of encouragement.

WHAT WE’RE TALKING ABOUT

Disney do-over? Last week it became clear that Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature are going to need a save-face do-over as it relates to their plan to dissolve the governing structure operated by Walt Disney Co, the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

As Florida legislators were rushing through passage of a bill to punish Disney for its vocal opposition to the “Parental Rights in Education” aka “don’t say gay” bill, they failed to address an obscure provision in state law that says the state could not do what legislators were doing — unless the district’s bond debt was paid off. Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District, however, noticed, as did its lawyers and the bond rating agencies.

The bottom line: the law is in conflict and either the governor and Legislature must change the law, or they will likely lose the law in court. There is no indication that legislators are eager to fix this mess any time soon.

Disney World en Orlando ha sido el objetivo de las represalias del gobernador de Florida, Ron DeSantis, por oponerse públicamente al proyecto de ley “Derechos de los padres en la educación”, también conocido como el proyecto de ley “no digas gay”.
Disney World en Orlando ha sido el objetivo de las represalias del gobernador de Florida, Ron DeSantis, por oponerse públicamente al proyecto de ley “Derechos de los padres en la educación”, también conocido como el proyecto de ley “no digas gay”.

“Stay tuned:” The governor held a town hall with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham last week and, while offering no details, he said he has it all worked out. “There’s going to be additional legislative action. We’ve contemplated that. We know what we’re going to do, and so stay tuned,’’ he said of the Disney dilemma. “….The bonds will be paid by Disney. They will be paying taxes, probably more taxes.”

Other governments “weakened”: But the governor and his staff have offered no timeline or specifics about what he means and, Fitch Ratings warned last week, the Legislature’s retaliation against Disney could lead to costing taxpayers more money when their governments issue revenue bonds. The failure to “resolve the uncertainty” could “weaken our view of the operating environment for Florida governments,’’ Fitch said. In other words, the Legislature’s actions could undermine the state and local governments’ credibility when they need to borrow money.

Fitch Ratings also warned that if the state allows “prolonged uncertainty” to continue, Reedy Creek’s bond rating could be downgraded, reducing its value to investors and increasing its cost of capital, for both debt and equity.

disney
disney

Cashing in: Meanwhile, the DeSantis campaign war chest, which has now reached more than $105 million, has not returned any of the $100,000 given to his political committee from Walt Disney World prior to the feud. But his campaign has used the skirmish to raise funds from small donors. One day last month after Team DeSantis sent out its first fundraising email chastising Disney, it received nearly 950 donations of $100 or less.

Elections police: For the second straight year, the governor signed into law a bill to create a new security office to investigate claims of voter fraud and increase penalties on those who violate state elections laws.

An Associated Press investigation of the 2020 presidential election found of 25.5 million ballots cast in the six states where Trump and his allies disputed his loss to President Joe Biden there were fewer than 475 potential cases of voter fraud.

That, and the fact that most of the law passed last year has been struck down by a federal judge, hasn’t deterred DeSantis from claiming success. “I don’t think there’s any other place in the country where you should have more confidence that your vote counts than in the state of Florida,” the governor said at the bill signing at a sports bar in Spring Hill.

Here’s what you need to know about the 2022 primary governor election before going to the polls.
Here’s what you need to know about the 2022 primary governor election before going to the polls.

Pinellas sues over elections law: By the next day, however, Pinellas County commissioners voted to sue the state over the new elections law for including a provision they say illegally targets Pinellas to accommodate the political ambitions of one state legislator, state Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater.

The law includes a provision that requires county commissioners in single-member districts to run again for their seats following a redistricting process, which Pinellas finalized in December. District 5 Commissioner Karen Seel and District 7 Commissioner Rene Flowers must run again for their seats in November even though they have two years left in their four-year terms. Latvala had planned to run for District 5 in 2024 but the law change allows him to run this year instead.

Hollywood homeowner Mark Lavallee added a solar system to his house in 2018.
Hollywood homeowner Mark Lavallee added a solar system to his house in 2018.

Solar bomb: Florida’s environmental community assumed the governor would follow the lead of the Florida Legislature and sign into law Florida Power & Light’s priority legislation. The bill dismantles incentives for homeowners to install rooftop solar in Florida. But when the governor vetoed it, solar advocates were finger-in-a-socket shocked. DeSantis cited “steep increases in the prices of gas and groceries” as the reason to reject unfettered increases in costs and fees to phase-out the solar net metering program. Perhaps the public response had something to do with it as well.

According to the governor’s Citizen’s Services Office, DeSantis received 16,809 emails, letters and phone calls opposing the net metering bill. The number in support: 13.

Insurance session set: The governor has set the dates for Florida legislators to return back into a special session to address Florida’s failing property insurance market, an issue that was left unresolved during the regular legislative session earlier this year. The session is set for May 23-27 and will focus on property insurance, reinsurance and changes to the Florida building code “to improve the affordability of property insurance,” and other related issues.

How lucky was Las Vegas? DeSantis traveled to a Las Vegas honky-tonk last week to lend is growing celebrity to a campaign event for Nevada U.S. Senate hopeful Adam Laxalt, with whom he roomed while in Navy officer training nearly two decades ago, Gannett Florida reported.

As DeSantis has been doing with consistent regularity, he used his 15-minute speech in Nevada to make his pitch that Florida “has done more than any other state to stand up to Joe Biden and his administration.”

President Joe Biden during a meeting with officials at the St. Regis Hotel on Thursday, July 1, 2021, after the collapse of the Champlain Towers South Condominium in Surfside. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (L) and Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava (R) are seated with the president.
President Joe Biden during a meeting with officials at the St. Regis Hotel on Thursday, July 1, 2021, after the collapse of the Champlain Towers South Condominium in Surfside. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (L) and Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava (R) are seated with the president.

Daily Biden bashing: Two days later, he used a ceremonial check presentation in rural Levy County, to focus on the latest target of conservative media: The Biden administration’s effort to combat disinformation with the creation of The Department of Homeland Security’s planned Disinformation Governing Board.

“They want to stifle dissent,” DeSantis said in a 10-minute speech. He called the Biden White House a “regime” and without specifically identifying his target, he warned how “they” want to censor people.

Democrats in retreat: Liberal grassroots groups in Florida are reducing staff and scaling back voter-outreach efforts because of a growing reluctance from out-of-state donors to spend money on the state, top progressive strategists told the Herald.

“There is a debate happening,” said Greg Speed, president of the national progressive organizing group America Votes. “And some think, due to Florida’s size and recent disappointments, we should shift resources and focus elsewhere.” But they warn the financial pull back not only threatens the party’s chances in this year’s slate of midterm races but also Florida’s place as a top-tier battleground in the 2024 presidential election.

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022, in Orlando, Fla.
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022, in Orlando, Fla.

Scott’s tax target: Democrats may not have much going for them in Florida these days, but they do have the Rick Scott tax plan. The White House last week doubled down on the proposal by Florida’s junior senator and the National Republican Senatorial Committee chair. A White House analysis found that Scott’s tax proposal would increase taxes on 49.7% of small business owners nationally and 81.6% of small business owners earning less than $50,000.

Scott has repeatedly denied his plan will increase taxes, but its plain language states that “All Americans should pay some income tax to have skin in the game, even if a small amount. Currently over half of Americans pay no income tax.”

As legislators prepare to return to the Florida Capitol for a special session on redistricting, Gov. Ron DeSantis submitted a map on Wednesday, April 13, that would create 20 Republican districts in Florida, four more than currently, and eight Democratic districts. The plan also reduces the number of districts held by Black representatives from four to two.
As legislators prepare to return to the Florida Capitol for a special session on redistricting, Gov. Ron DeSantis submitted a map on Wednesday, April 13, that would create 20 Republican districts in Florida, four more than currently, and eight Democratic districts. The plan also reduces the number of districts held by Black representatives from four to two.

That didn’t take long: The ink was barely dry on the congressional redistricting map when voting-rights groups and other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit last week seeking a temporary injunction to block the congressional redistricting plan pushed by the governor. The motion for temporary injunction contends that an overhaul of North Florida’s Congressional District 5 violates the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Florida Constitution.

Commissioner Ken Russell speaks during a special meeting at Miami City Hall in Coconut Grove, Florida on Thursday, April 28, 2022. The meeting was held to discuss the Miami Freedom Park proposal.
Commissioner Ken Russell speaks during a special meeting at Miami City Hall in Coconut Grove, Florida on Thursday, April 28, 2022. The meeting was held to discuss the Miami Freedom Park proposal.

Russell switches to Salazar race: Miami City Commissioner Ken Russell announced on Tik Tok last week that he would drop out of the race for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate against U.S. Rep. Val Demings. He announced he would switch to the congressional race against Republican Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar.

Garcia challenged in the Beaches: Miami Sen. Ileana García got a taste of what it’s going to be like to be running a newly-drawn district as a result of redistricting. García, who founded the Latinas for Trump coalition and worked as a spokesperson for the Trump administration’s Department of Homeland Security, answered questions from liberal voters in South Beach, where her Democratic opponent, Rep. Michael Grieco, is based. The audience did not hold back. Attendees chastised her for her support of the Parental Rights in Education law, which critics call the “don’t say gay” law, and her refusal to carve out an exemption for rape, incest or human trafficking in the 15-week abortion ban, among other things.

Holzhauer seeks Deutch seat: In Palm Beach County, Democrat Hava Holzhauer, formerly of the Anti-Defamation League, has launched a campaign to replace retiring Congressman Ted Deutch. She joins a Democratic field that already includes Broward County Commissioner Jared Moskowitz, Fort Lauderdale Vice Mayor Ben Sorensen and Navy veteran Curtis Calabrese. The primary election will take place Aug. 23.

In this May 4, 2021, file photo Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, gestures during a campaign rally as he announces his run for Florida governor in St. Petersburg, Fla.
In this May 4, 2021, file photo Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, gestures during a campaign rally as he announces his run for Florida governor in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Crist uses proxy rule to avoid absences: U.S. House’s COVID-19 rules have helped Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist avoid time in Washington as he runs for governor. The House began to allow proxy voting for the first time in its history as a way to limit the number of members present in the chamber and to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread. Crist voted by proxy 107 times between January and April 7 when the House took its last votes before a two-week break, according to data from the House clerk.

Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at William A. Kirlew Junior Academy, a Seventh-day Adventist K-8 school in Miami Gardens, in 2019.
Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at William A. Kirlew Junior Academy, a Seventh-day Adventist K-8 school in Miami Gardens, in 2019.

Diaz gets confirmed as education commissioner: Manny Diaz Jr., a Republican state senator from Hialeah, was confirmed as education commissioner by the State Board of Education last week. He spent his legislative career focused on expanding school choice, providing greater parental control and opposed to what Republicans call the indoctrination of children in the classroom. He said he expects the governor to have a hand in shaping his department’s agenda.

DeSantis gets advantage on MD school board: When the longtime Miami-Dade County School Board Chair Perla Tabares Hantman announced she would not seek reelection this fall, she paved the way for the governor to increase his influence on the school board. The only person running for her District 4 seat, so far, is Roberto Alonso, a 42-year-old Hialeah businessman whom DeSantis appointed to the Miami-Dade College District Board of Trustees in 2020.

Florida Supreme Court Justice Al Lawson announced his retirement effective Aug. 31, 2022.
Florida Supreme Court Justice Al Lawson announced his retirement effective Aug. 31, 2022.

Lawson to leave high court: Florida Supreme Court Justice Alan Lawson announced last week he will retire Aug. 31, a move that will allow DeSantis to continue placing his imprint on the state’s highest court. Lawson was appointed as a justice in 2016 by former Gov. Rick Scott. He was in line to become the court’s chief justice when his colleagues leapfrogged over him and appointed the more junior member, and DeSantis appointee, Carlos Muñiz for the two-year role as chief justice.

rivkees
rivkees

First surgeon general disagrees with second: Scott Rivkees, DeSantis’ first Florida surgeon general, who has since left the state to take a job at Brown University, does not seem to agree with his former employer and its recent guidance relating to the potential dangers of giving healthy children COVID-19 vaccines and another advising against social transitioning or gender-affirming surgery for transgender children.

Rivkees publicly disputed both of those stances recently, writing in a March column in Time titled “Setting the Record Straight about COVID-19 Vaccines for Children,” that healthy children should get vaccinated. He also signed a letter with some 300 other medical professionals arguing the DOH statement on transgender children “misrepresents the weight of the evidence, does not allow for personalized patient and family-centered care, and would, if followed, lead to higher rates of youth depression and suicidality.”

Architect’s rendering of Miami Freedom Park, the proposed stadium for Inter Miami CF soccer team.
Architect’s rendering of Miami Freedom Park, the proposed stadium for Inter Miami CF soccer team.

Beckham gets approval for stadium: After years of political fights and delays, David Beckham’s Inter Miami is coming to the 305. Miami commissioners on Thursday voted 4-1 to approve the team’s 99-year lease of city-owned land to develop the Miami Freedom Park project, bringing the Major League Soccer team one step closer to playing games in the Magic City.

On Wednesday, April 27, 2022, Thomas James, who has spent 30 years in prison for murder, speaks to the media, surrounded by supporters, his attorney and family members, after his murder conviction was vacated by Judge Miguel M. de la O. James spoke at a short press conference at the State Attorney’s Office.
On Wednesday, April 27, 2022, Thomas James, who has spent 30 years in prison for murder, speaks to the media, surrounded by supporters, his attorney and family members, after his murder conviction was vacated by Judge Miguel M. de la O. James spoke at a short press conference at the State Attorney’s Office.

Free, 30 years later: Thomas Raynard James, 55, has been in Florida prison since he was convicted in 1991 for the robbery and shooting death of Francis McKinnon in 1990. Last week, he was set free. After more than three decades in prison, James sat in a packed Miami courtroom, shackled and wearing a red inmate jumpsuit, when he heard the words he himself had been repeating for years.

“We have determined that Thomas Raynard James is actually innocent,” a prosecutor told the judge, concluding that James was the victim of mistaken identity and decades of error.

What’s next? a reporter asked James. “The world,” he said.

From left to right, Dade Correctional Institution officers Kirk Walton, Christopher Rolon and Ronald Connor, were denied bond in court on Friday. They are accused of fatally beating an inmate in February 2022.
From left to right, Dade Correctional Institution officers Kirk Walton, Christopher Rolon and Ronald Connor, were denied bond in court on Friday. They are accused of fatally beating an inmate in February 2022.

Prison officers charged with murder: Four officers from the state-run Dade Correctional Institution have been charged with murder for beating an inmate so badly that he died after suffering a punctured lung and internal bleeding, authorities said Thursday.

Three of the officers were booked into a Miami-Dade jail on Thursday afternoon, two months after 60-year-old inmate Ronald Gene Ingram was discovered dead inside a prison transport van, an incident first reported by the Miami Herald.

Three get clemency: President Joe Biden granted clemency to three Floridians serving sentences for federal drug convictions, including Mackie Shivers, who lost his eye in prison.

Expanding gun rights: In an effort to deflect from the pressure to add a provision to allow gun owners in Florida to carry their weapons in public without a permit, DeSantis last week vowed that he will pass the measure supporters called “constitutional carry” into law if he’s re-elected governor.

Comedian Trevor Noah did not pull punches during the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday, April 30, 2022.
Comedian Trevor Noah did not pull punches during the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday, April 30, 2022.

‘One step ahead:’ Florida’s governor received the Trevor Noah treatment as the comedian directed jokes at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner at DeSantis, deriding him for “blaming” former President Donald Trump for the lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic and for “distancing” himself from the vaccines ahead of the next presidential election.

Noah also jokingly praised DeSantis for being smarter than Trump after the Florida Department of Education recently rejected dozens of math textbooks due to its content including references to critical race theory and other “prohibited topics.”

“Trump said he won the election but everyone was just able to look at the numbers and see that he was wrong,” he said. “That’s why Ron DeSantis is one step ahead — first you ban the math textbooks, then nobody knows how to count the votes.”

Thank you: Miami Herald Capitol Bureau Chief Mary Ellen Klas curates the Politics and Policy in the Sunshine State newsletter. We appreciate our readers and if you have any ideas or suggestions, please drop me a note at meklas@miamiherald.com.

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