Hello and welcome to Thursday.
And here’s the latest installment of Florida being Florida.
More details are emerging in the drama over Florida’s 13th Congressional District involving Republican frontrunner Anna Paulina Luna. Luna made headlines after it was revealed she sought a stalking injunction against a fellow candidate and alleged that potential GOP primary opponents were plotting to murder her.
POLITICO has now obtained a recording where one of Luna’s rivals warned a conservative activist against supporting Luna because he had access to a “Russian and Ukraine hit squad.” Marc Caputo reports that little-known candidate William Braddock said, “I really don’t want to have to end anybody’s life for the good of the people of the United States of America. That will break my heart. But if it needs to be done, it needs to be done. Luna is a f—ing speed bump in the road. She’s a dead squirrel you run over every day when you leave the neighborhood.”
Braddock responded to Caputo by branding the whole incident “a dirty political tactic” but he would not answer whether he mentioned a hit squad and said that he had not heard the recording and suggested it “may even be altered and edited.” There’s a lot to unpack here but this is a big deal because Florida’s 13th is seen as a potential pickup for Republicans now that Rep. Charlie Crist is running for governor. More to come for sure.
— WHERE’S RON? — Nothing official announced for Gov. Ron DeSantis.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: Florida Playbook will not publish on Friday, June 18. We’ll be back on our normal schedule on Monday, June 21. Please continue to follow POLITICO Florida.
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LET’S GO TO THE TAPE — “In secret recording, Florida Republican threatens to send Russian-Ukrainian ‘hit squad’ after rival,” by POLITICO’s Marc Caputo: In the recording, [William] Braddock early in the call brought up the alleged assassins. He also made rambling statements about getting financial help from fellow Freemasons or by somehow importing millions of dollars from Malta and Gibraltar. “I have access to a hit squad, too, Ukrainians and Russians,” he said about three minutes into the call, adding “don’t get caught out in public supporting [Anna Paulina] Luna. … Luna’s gonna go down and I hope it’s by herself.”
NOT HAPPY — “Florida election officials vent over new law pushed by DeSantis,” by POLITICO’s Gary Fineout: Florida’s local election supervisors on Wednesday grilled state election officials over the state’s contentious new voting law, railing about the “absurdity” and confusion that they say will result from the changes pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican-controlled Legislature. The criticism came from both Democratic and Republican election supervisors as they peppered the top lawyer for the Florida Department of State and the director of the Florida Division of Elections on how they will carry out the law that placed limits on vote-by-mail. The state’s 67 election officials — along with dozens of their top employees — are meeting this week in their first statewide conference since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. “Would you agree with me that these questions are the classic example of why legislators should have checked with election experts?” said Alan Hays, the Republican elections supervisor for Lake County and a former state senator.
‘A FARCE’ — “Florida supervisors of election slam Arizona ‘audit’ of 2020 presidential election,” by Bay News 9’s Mitch Perry: “‘What’s happening in Arizona is just a farce and I have to say if the implications of it weren’t so concerning, we would actually find it funny, because we can see that there is no way in the world that they’re going to get anything that resembles a true vote,’ says Polk County Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards, a Democrat. Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett, a Republican, says that he doesn’t support what’s happening in Arizona ‘because I think that they’re auditing for the wrong reason.’ ‘They’re auditing because they were hoping for this big fraud that they hope that they can find, and I don’t think it’s there,’ he said while taking a break during the conference taking place at the Tampa Marriott Water Street Hotel.”
PLAYING DEFENSE — “Florida attorney general defends $3,000 cap for contributions to get constitutional amendments on ballot,” by News Service of Florida Jim Saunders: “Florida officials this week disputed arguments that a new law limiting contributions to ballot-initiative efforts should be blocked because it violates First Amendment rights. Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office, representing members of the Florida Elections Commission, urged a federal judge to reject a request by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and three political committees to issue a preliminary injunction against the law, which the Legislature passed in April.”
— “Former Rep. Kim Berfield jumps into race to replace Latvala,” by News Service of Florida
— “Lakesha Burton, a Democrat, could make history as Jacksonville sheriff. Republican money might help her do it,” by Florida Times-Union’s Nate Monroe.
DIVERTED — “DeSantis to send Florida police to Mexico border,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Gray Rohrer and Steven Lemongello: “Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday he’s sending state and local law enforcement officers to the U.S. border with Mexico, answering a request from the governors of Arizona and Texas for help from other states to prevent illegal immigration and deport those here illegally. DeSantis blamed President Joe Biden for undoing many of the policies of his predecessor, Donald Trump, to enforce immigration laws, saying those moves have led to a surge in illegal drug importation and crime.”
Wait, what about — “When asked if the diversion of Florida law enforcement would hurt police efforts here, DeSantis said helping prevent illegal immigration will reduce crime in the state. On Tuesday, though, DeSantis blamed an increase in violent crime on cuts to police budgets when he was asked about a spike in violent crimes in the state, particularly mass shootings in South Florida, and touted his move to allow local sheriffs to appeal funding cuts to the state. ‘The areas where you’re seeing massive increases in crime, almost invariably they’ve adopted either soft on crime policies or turned their back on law enforcement,’ DeSantis said after a Cabinet meeting. ‘That allows more crime to occur.’”
A NEW DEVELOPMENT — “Biden administration action could hamper Florida’s ban on transgender athletes from woman’s sports,” by POLITICO’s Andrew Atterbury: The U.S. Education Department’s declaration Wednesday that Title IX sex-based discrimination protections extend to transgender students could aid future legal challenges to a law recently passed in Florida banning transgender athletes from playing girls and women’s sports. The federal Title IX decision gives potential lawsuits new grounds for disputing legislation in Florida and other Republican states that have pushed similar policies, according to one legal expert. At least one LGBTQ advocacy group has pledged to sue Florida over its recently signed law, although the controversial law doesn’t appear to be facing any legal challenge as of Wednesday.
— “Rebuking the state, school board pledges support for transgender athletes,” by Sun Sentinel’s Scott Travis
— “Gov. DeSantis signs off on protections for domestic violence centers,” by Florida Politics’ Renzo Downey
MOUNT TALLAHASSEE — “Gov. DeSantis pardons all coronavirus restriction and mask mandate violators,” by News Service of Florida’s Christine Sexton: “With Gov. Ron DeSantis insisting lockdown restrictions and mask mandates meant to stop the spread of COVID-19 did more harm than good, the state clemency board on Wednesday pardoned all Floridians who were arrested or fined for violating local-government requirements about wearing masks or social distancing. ‘This action is necessary so that we can recover, have a good transition to normal operations, and also just a recognition that a lot of this stuff was way, way overboard,’ DeSantis said.”
Fried votes no — “Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat running to unseat the Republican governor in 2022, was the only member of the Board of Executive Clemency to oppose the move. The board also is made up of Attorney General Ashley Moody and state Chief Financial Official Officer Jimmy Patronis, both Republicans. ‘Our local governments stepped up to protect the people of our state. They did what was best for the interests of their communities,’ Fried said.”
NOT IN SYNC — “Poll shows vast majority of Floridians disagree on DeSantis policy, think it’s OK to require COVID-19 vaccinations for cruise passengers,” by Sun Sentinel’s Anthony Man: “More than three-quarters of Floridians in a poll released Wednesday disagree with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ policy banning cruise lines from requiring passengers to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination. The survey, conducted by the University of South Florida School of Public Affairs, found just 24% said cruise lines should not be allowed to require guests to show proof of vaccination — which is Gov. Ron DeSantis’ position.”
A GOOD SIGN — “Florida schools get first glimpse of student pandemic gains, losses,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Jeffrey Solochek: “Predictions of large pandemic learning losses did not materialize in the first round of Florida’s spring testing results released this week. Across the Tampa Bay area, third-graders showed only small changes from 2019 — the last time the state tested — on how they performed in reading at the high and low ends of the scale. These scores are released first because the state usually uses them to help determine which children should remain in third grade. The state waived that requirement this spring because of the unusual school year, which included many children taking classes from home and teachers attempting to split their time between in-person and online students.”
— “‘Mom needs to work. I’m going to work.’ The pandemic’s toll on the education of Florida’s migrant students,” as told to USA Today Network-Florida’s Janine Zeitlin.
‘INSANITY’ — Sen. Rick Scott, who is leading the Republican effort to win back the Senate, took to the Senate floor on Wednesday to rail against the Democrats’ comprehensive election bill that most observers contend will never garner enough votes to pass. Scott’s biggest talking point was that the legislation would pave the way for public funding of campaigns: “The Democrats wants to use your tax dollars to subsidize their political campaigns.” He called the legislation “insanity” and “ridiculous.”
Context — For what it’s worth: Florida has public funding of campaigns for state office for governor and the three Cabinet spots. Florida taxpayers spent more than $9.85 million on campaigns in 2018, including $3.22 million that went to the campaign of Gov. Ron DeSantis. Scott, who is a multimillionaire, did not accept any public money during his 2010 and 2014 runs for governor.
— “Marco Rubio says Vladimir Putin tested ‘tightly scripted’ Joe Biden,” by Florida Politics A.G. Gancarski
PROBE SOUGHT — “Rep. Murphy wants Little Wekiva disaster investigated by feds,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Kevin Spear: “U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Winter Park, on Wednesday called for a federal probe into the mounting disaster along the Little Wekiva River in Seminole County thought by area residents to be caused by the massive reconstruction of Interstate 4. ‘Many local advocates believe that construction on a major, federally-supported highway project less than 100 yards from the Little Wekiva River could be the main source of severe sedimentation discharge into the river,’ Murphy stated in a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.”
GONE — “Florida Power & Light Co. topples the last of its coal plants,” by POLITICO’s Bruce Ritchie: Florida Power & Light Co. on Wednesday morning detonated and toppled what had been its last remaining coal-fired power plant in the fleet before it was retired last December. FPL President and CEO Eric Silagy said at a ceremony prior to the implosion of the 495-foot stack and coal chute at the Indiantown site in Martin County that the event reflects the company’s commitment to solar and other forms of clean energy.
— “USF launches website to serve as a national hub for erased Black cemeteries,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Paul Guzzo
— “Nestle Waters sells bottling operations while judge rules on lawsuit venue,” by The Gainesville Sun’s Cindy Swirko
— “Coyotes spread in Florida and ‘they’re going to eat just about anything,’” by WPLG’s Andrew Perez: “Coyotes are just about everywhere in Florida, and these animals are on the move, adapting to the ever-changing landscapes. We’ve gotten reports out of Southwest Miami-Dade, Hollywood, Dania Beach and Sunrise recently. Officials say the coyotes are even chasing the feral cat population as far south as Key Largo, showing just how adaptable they are. ‘How did the coyotes get there?’ said Angeline Barker, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. ‘They either used the bridges and roadways or they swam, and it turns out, coyotes are fairly strong swimmers.’”
BIRTHDAYS: Brett Doster, president of Front Line Strategies and veteran Republican political consultant… Vickie Chachere, director of strategic communications, University of South Florida Research & Innovation.
Gary Fineout @fineout View all our political and policy newsletters