Democrats pressed to help Lawson, take on DeSantisSeptember 23, 2022
Hello and welcome to Friday.
Target— Rep. Al Lawson, a Black Democrat who has been a mainstay in Florida politics for decades, had his congressional district obliterated by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Impact — The GOP-controlled Legislature — after first resisting the push by the governor to rip up Lawson’s district (and even calling DeSantis' logic a “novel legal theory”) — finally complied and passed a map that split the North Florida district. Lawson’s hometown of Tallahassee wound up in an entirely new Republican-friendly district represented by Rep. Neal Dunn of Panama City.
Staying put— But Lawson decided to challenge Dunn anyway, countering that in the past he has managed to win over moderate-to-conservative rural voters. Lawson’s decision to go ahead with a member-on-member confrontation instead of heading off into retirement could have been viewed as a blessing for other Democrats running in North Florida who may benefit from having the well-known lawmaker on the ballot.
Adrift — Apparently, none of that is good enough for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which so far is staying out of the race. “They are city people,” he told POLITICO’s Matt Dixon. “They don’t always know how it works here.”
Making a case— Dixon reported that the Congressional Black Caucus peppered DCCC Chair Sean Patrick Maloney at a Wednesday night meeting about the lack of support. CBC members also raised questions with the Democratic National Committee earlier in the week. One of the points raised by Black Democrats: The DCCC had money to try to affect GOP primaries, but not to help one of their own.
The message— Supporters of Lawson also point out that Democrats should help Lawson as a way of fighting rising GOP star DeSantis. “It’s about holding DeSantis accountable,” Nancy Texeira, a Lawson adviser who is working for a super PAC backing Lawson. “When DeSantis wiped out his district, it was obviously shocking and really sad for a lot of people, even more so because that district is home to so many African American communities, and many there are direct descendants of slaves.”
— WHERE'S RON? — Nothing official announced for Gov. DeSantis
Have a tip, story, suggestion, birthday, anniversary, new job, or any other nugget for Playbook? Get in touch: [email protected]
ANOTHER ONE— New lawsuit accuses DeSantis of flouting state law by flying migrants, by POLITICO’s Gary Fineout: A legal and political battle over Gov. Ron DeSantis’ contentious operation to fly migrants from Texas to other parts of the country is escalating even further. Jason Pizzo, a Florida Democratic senator from Miami, on Thursday night filed a lawsuit asking a judge to block the Republican governor from spending any more state money on the transports. DeSantis started the transports last week after the state paid an Oregon-based carrier hundreds of thousands of dollars to fly nearly 50 migrants from San Antonio to the wealthy resort island of Martha’s Vineyard.
Legal argument— Pizzo contends in his lawsuit that the $12 million the Republican-led Legislature set aside for the relocation program violates state laws regarding the budget, including a state constitutional requirement that legislators are not supposed to enact substantive polices in the annual spending bill.
Response — Pizzo’s lawsuit was filed against DeSantis, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis as well as the Department of Transportation and DOT Secretary Jared Perdue. Florida’s chief financial officer is an elected position. “Senator Pizzo never misses an opportunity for his 15 minutes of fame and is challenging an action on an appropriation he voted for,” said DeSantis’ communications director Taryn Fenske.
THE WAITING GAME— Immigration groups on high alert as they await DeSantis’ next flight, by POLITICO’s Matt Dixon: Many of those relief groups are now collaborating and preparing for the next plane of migrants, which DeSantis has promised to send. They’ve built upon pre-existing informal networks of immigration, legal and advocacy organizations throughout the U.S. to rapidly deploy services once they get news of the next flight. “There has been the creation of this sort of national infrastructure so there can be help waiting, whether they are coming to the south or going to cities across the country,” Luis Mata, the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition’s policy director, said during an interview.
— “Biden administration prepares for Abbott and DeSantis to send more migrants to Democratic cities,” by CNN’s MJ Lee
— “DeSantis grabs hold of immigration debate but leaves Florida GOP open to attacks,” by Miami Herald’s Bianca Padró Ocasio
TALLAHASSEE SPECIAL — “Florida migrant company gave GOP cash, has ties to DeSantis’ immigration ‘czar,’ and Rep. Matt Gaetz,” by NBC News Marc Caputo: "The air charter company Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration hired for his migrant-moving program has contributed big money to some top allies of the governor and was once legally represented by Rep. Matt Gaetz and his former partner, who is now Florida's 'public safety czar' in charge of immigration policy. DeSantis’ administration has refused to release a copy of the $12 million contract with Vertol Systems Company Inc. for its role in administering the 'unauthorized alien' program — which state Democrats sought to block with a lawsuit Thursday — nor will the governor’s office comment on the nearly $1.6 million the company has received to send migrants to so-called sanctuary cities that welcome immigrants."
RESPONSE — “Border shelters warn migrants about human trafficking after DeSantis flights to Martha’s Vineyard,” by USA Today’s Rick Jervis: “Across the Texas border this week, shelter directors and migrants denounced last week’s controversial chartered plane trips of around 50 mostly Venezuelan migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard and vowed to prevent any more from reoccurring. Some shelters added language to their orientation advising asylum seekers not to take free plane rides from strangers. Others made sure migrants leaving their shelters secured travel arrangements before setting off.”
— “House Homeland Security chair calls on DOJ, DHS to probe DeSantis,” by Axios’ Shawna Chen
— “Jared Kushner: ‘Very troubling’ to see migrants used as ‘pawns,’ by Tampa Bay Times’ Emily L. Mahoney
FIGHT OR FLEE?— Black lawmakers push DCCC to fund Lawson’s north Florida race, by POLITICO’s Matt Dixon: Rep. Al Lawson feels abandoned by national Democrats, and the Congressional Black Caucus is twisting arms on his behalf. Over the past two days, prominent members of the caucus have pressured Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee leadership to get behind Lawson, a three-term Black Democrat whose North Florida district was functionally wiped out by Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis in this year’s redistricting process.
JOE WHO?— “Democratic divide in Florida: DeSantis challenger to rally with Biden, but Senate candidate won’t, by NBC News Marc Caputo and Natasha Korecki: “President Joe Biden is coming to Florida next week to campaign with Charlie Crist as he tries to unseat Gov. Ron DeSantis in a battleground state that has increasingly become a Republican stronghold. But Democratic Senate candidate Val Demings won’t be there Tuesday to meet the president in her hometown, Orlando. The divergent whereabouts of the two candidates says as much about their respective campaigns as it does about Democrats' approach-or-avoid conflict with the president, whose approval ratings remain underwater as he nevertheless regains his popularity and starts hitting the campaign trail in the final weeks leading up to the Nov. 8 midterm election.”
Roll back the tape— During a springtime visit to Tallahassee, Demings told POLITICO that she “never really thought about the president’s approval ratings” and that she couldn’t control them. And she added this: “If the president were to say ‘I want to come and help you get your message out in Florida,' I would say Mr. President 'come and help me get my message out in Florida.'"
DRAWING THE LINE— “‘I would rather be right and lose an election.’ Rubio stands firm on abortion ban as Democrats attack,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Skyler Swisher: “U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio says he’d rather lose his job in Washington than compromise his strong anti-abortion views, signing onto a politically risky 15-week nationwide ban just weeks before the midterm elections. His Democratic opponent U.S. Rep. Val Demings and her allies are putting that to the test in the sprint to Election Day on Nov. 8.”
SEED MONEY— “Florida firm bankrolls drive to legalize recreational marijuana,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Jeffrey Schweers: “Florida-based Trulieve, one of the nation’s largest medical marijuana companies, has kickstarted a campaign to legalize recreational marijuana for adults in the Sunshine State.The company has contributed $10 million to date to the Smart & Safe Florida campaign to get a constitutional amendment on the 2024 ballot, and so far is its sole contributor. The organization already has spent $6.5 million to start collecting the nearly 900,000 signatures needed to bring the citizen initiative to a vote.”
Green pastures — “Florida has ‘22 million residents and 130 million tourists a year, so it’s a huge market opportunity. And we’re very, very bullish on the prospect of this initiative,’ Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers said during her keynote address on Sept. 14 at the Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference in Chicago.
THE LIST— Influence Magazine is out with its annual list of the 150 most influential people in Florida politics. The list does not include elected officials but focuses on lobbyists, consultants, staffers, industry leaders and prominent people such as first lady Casey DeSantis.
— “Charlie Crist blasts Ron DeSantis for abortion restrictions in new Spanish-language ad,” by Florida Politics’ Jesse Scheckner
— “Consultant wants trial in ‘ghost’ candidate moved to different county,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Jeff Weiner
TO COURT— FAMU students sue Florida’s university system, claim discrimination, by POLITICO’s Andrew Atterbury: A group of Florida A&M University students on Thursday sued the state’s university system in federal court alleging that the HBCU has been getting shortchanged its fair share of funding for years. The Board of Governors over Florida’s universities, the class action lawsuit claims, has “intentionally discriminated” against FAMU by creating a “racially segregated” higher education system favoring traditionally white schools over HBCUs.
— “Gov. DeSantis wants further crackdown on China, ‘malign’ foreign influences,” by Florida Politics’ Gray Rohrer
ADD IT UP — “Trump’s legal woes mount without protection of presidency,” by The Associated Press’ Eric Tucker: “Stark repudiation by federal judges he appointed. Far-reaching fraud allegations by New York’s attorney general. It’s been a week of widening legal troubles for Donald Trump, laying bare the challenges piling up as the former president operates without the protections afforded by the White House. The bravado that served him well in the political arena is less handy in a legal realm dominated by verifiable evidence, where judges this week have looked askance at his claims and where a fraud investigation that took root when Trump was still president burst into public view in an allegation-filled 222-page state lawsuit.”
BUT…— Trump’s legal troubles are mounting. And his support is consolidating, by POLITICO’s David Siders and Meredith McGraw: But to Republicans, after [Donald] Trump’s presidency and its aftermath, the bombshell was simply more of the same. Just as they rallied around Trump when the FBI searched his estate at Mar-a-Lago, they saw little reason to conclude the New York lawsuit would do anything politically but help Trump with his base. “I don’t see this working in terms of impacting the perceptions of the president,” said Dave Carney, a national Republican strategist based in New Hampshire. “He is under attack by the left, they’re using all the tools of government, they’re politicizing the legal system – this is just the cherry on top.”
A NEW SUPER PAC— Trump to unleash millions in the midterms in possible prelude to 2024, by POLITICO’s Alex Isenstadt: MAGA, Inc. will be overseen by [Taylor] Budowich, who’s been serving as the former president’s communications director and was previously a senior adviser on his 2020 reelection campaign. Chris LaCivita, a veteran Republican operative who in 2020 ran the biggest-spending pro-Trump super PAC, will be the vehicle’s chief strategist. Tony Fabrizio, a longtime Trump pollster who worked on his 2016 and 2020 campaigns, will oversee polling. Running the finance team will be veteran GOP fundraiser Meredith O’Rourke, who has worked for Trump.
Makeover— MAGA, Inc. will effectively merge with the existing pro-Trump super PAC, MAGA Again!, which is run by former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. MAGA, Again! has had a relatively low profile throughout the midterms and has struggled to make an impact in races, though a person familiar with the group said it recently held a fundraiser at Trump’s Bedminster, N.J. golf club that raised $1 million.
— Special master calls for help in Trump Mar-a-Lago documents fight, by POLITICO’s Josh Gerstein
FALLOUT — “Charges dropped against three Hollywood nursing home workers in deaths after Hurricane Irma,” by South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Rafael Olmeda: “Broward prosecutors dropped manslaughter charges against three Hollywood nursing home employees following the deaths of 12 patients in sweltering conditions in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in 2017. All three have now agreed to testify against the last remaining defendant in the case, the chief administrator of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, whose lawyer is now accusing the prosecution of ethical misconduct and bad faith for pursuing a case they ‘know they cannot win.’ ‘I’ve never seen a more malicious, misguided prosecution in my life,’ said James Cobb, one of the lawyers representing defendant Jorge Carballo.”
‘LASER FOCUSED ON WHAT’S HAPPENING’ — Biden administration to cover Puerto Rico’s Fiona recovery costs for next month, by POLITICO’s Gloria Gonzalez: President Joe Biden announced Thursday that the federal government will pay 100 percent of the costs of Puerto Rico’s recovery from Hurricane Fiona for the next month. The move would expand the federal role just a day after Biden issued a major disaster declaration on Wednesday for Puerto Rico, unlocking additional federal assistance as island residents navigate the aftermath of Fiona. That declaration had made federal funds available to Puerto Rico on a cost-sharing basis for debris removal, emergency protective measures and other services.
RESPONSE— “‘Parental rights’ movement leaves out these Florida parents. Here’s what they’re doing about it,” by USA Today Network-Florida’s Kathryn Varn: “But around the state, progressive parents are organizing to give families another option, taking on initiatives like protesting book bans, raising money for school board candidates, and ensuring students are learning history that’s inclusive of LGBTQ and non-white Americans. ‘The very existence of our group,’ said Stephana Ferrell, who helped start a group that tracks banned books across the state, ‘goes to show there are plenty of parents who do not feel represented by this ‘parents’ rights’ movement.’”
— “Meet Don Falls: The Manatee County teacher suing Gov. Ron DeSantis,” by Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s Steven Walker
— “Appeals court won’t release deposition from Dave Aronberg’s ex-wife in Glenn Straub case,” by Palm Beach Post’s Jane Musgrave
— “With more FPL rate increases on the horizon, customers are seeking answers and relief,” by Northwest Florida Daily News’ Tom McLaughlin
— “Tate High homecoming queen scandal: Ex-assistant principal takes deal for no jail time,” by Pensacola News-Journal’s Colin Warren-Hicks: “A former assistant principal at Bellview Elementary School accused of using her special access to a student data system to rig Tate High School's homecoming queen election has been sentenced to probation. Laura Rose Carroll and her teenage daughter, both of Pensacola, were both arrested in May 2021. Court records pertaining to Carroll's daughter have not been made available to the public as she was a minor at the time of her arrest.”
BIRTHDAYS: Rep. Al Lawson … Hillsborough County Property Appraiser and former state Rep. Bob Henriquez …
(Sunday) Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart … state Rep. Michele Rayner … Christina Johnson, president of ON 3 Public Relations … POLITICO’s Bob King … Lesley Clark with E&E News