Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Florida Politics' Peter Schorsch Writes Mash Note to Lobbyists. (Florida Politics)

Florida Politics Publisher Peter Schorsch regularly reveals his status as a political consultant and aider and abetter of louche lobbyists. His Thanksgiving column expressing gratitude to lobbyists is sui generis. Oink. From Florida Politics: 


Olson and Joy Ryan of Meenan PA.

While shopping is at Publix is indeed a pleasure, don’t even think about making a run for last-minute supplies such as whipped cream for your pumpkin pie. Thanksgiving, along with Christmas and Easter, is one of few days a year Publix shuts down so staffers can share the day with family and friends.

If you’d rather not bother with cooking, there are plenty of restaurants ready to serve you, whether it’s dine-in or carry-out. The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association aims to “protect, educate and promote,” the state’s $82 billion hospitality industry.

Representing FRLA in Tallahassee are Jim DaughtonWarren HusbandDoug BellLeslie DughiAlli Liby-SchoonoverAimee LyonAndy Palmer and Karl Rasmussen of Metz Husband & Daughton.  The association also has an in-house team that includes president Carol Dover as well as Geoff Luebkemann and Samantha Padgett.

If you’re traveling for Thanksgiving, cooking probably isn’t your responsibility — getting there is hard enough. According to AAA, 54.6 million people will travel 50 miles or more from home this Thanksgiving, a 1.5% increase from last year and 98% of the way to pre-pandemic levels.

Much of the increase is from air travel, which AAA expects to increase by 8% over 2021. Many of the 330,000 additional fliers will be boarding either a Delta or American Airlines flight. Delta is represented by Nick IarossiRon LaFaceMaicel GreenAndrew KetchelJared Rosenstein and Chris Schoonover of Capital City Consulting. American Airlines relies on Jeff JohnstonAmanda Stewart and Anita Berry of Johnston & Stewart Government Strategies.

Once the leftovers are put away and the dishes are done — and assuming no house fires — it’s time to plan out your Black Friday stops. According to the National Retail Federation, an estimated 165.3 million people are likely to shop Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday. That’s great news for Florida’s retail stores, which rely on the Florida Retail Federation to make sure their voices are heard in Tallahassee.

FRF has seven lobbyists on tap, including president and CEO R. Scott Shalley; in-house advocates Lorena HolleyGrace Lovett and Gina SiskAngela Bonds and French Brown of Dean Mead; and Team J&B.

Many larger retail chains have their own lobbying teams. Target has in-house lobbyist Molly Cagle working alongside John HarrisJoseph SalzvergRobert Stuart and Jason Unger of GrayRobinson; Walmart has Michael CorcoranJacqueline CorcoranMatt BlairBethany McAlisterWill Rodriguez and Andrea Tovar of Corcoran Partners; and Amazon has Brian Ballard, Carol BracyCourtney Coppola and Abigail Vail of Ballard Partners.

Shopping for presents to put under the tree is certainly a good way to spend the Friday after Thanksgiving, but if you’re looking to make a difference for the less fortunate this holiday season, consider helping out at your local food bank.

Feeding Florida is a statewide network bringing together 14 food bank members across the state to try to reduce hunger. The association has the team at Johnson & Blanton backing it up when it needs a helping hand.

And as you consider other ways to help Floridians in need this holiday season, use the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ “Check-A-Charity” tool to get detailed information about the organizations you want to give to this year.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Florida is turning its back on the New South, embracing its Dixie-fied past (Diane Roberts, Florida Phoenix)

In Governor RONALD DION DeSANTIS's Florida, we are backsliding toward Jim Crow law.  Enough flummery, dupery and nincompoopery from Dull Republicans.  In FDR's words, 

“We must especially beware of that small group of selfish men who would clip the wings of the American Eagle in order to feather their own nests.”



COMMENTARY

Florida is turning its back on the New South, embracing its Dixie-fied past

NOVEMBER 21, 2022 7:00 AM

 A Confederate memorial stands on the lawn in front of the Florida Historic Capitol building on April 27, 2022. Credit: Danielle J. Brown

Florida was once a New South state.

From the early 1960s to 2000 or so, Florida had leaders who looked to the future, determined to leave Jim Crow behind and separate ourselves from the likes of Alabama. We had governors committed to equal justice, open government, and voting rights — however imperfectly achieved.

No more. With the reelection of Ron DeSantis, and ultra-conservative victories in gerrymandered congressional districts across the state, Florida is sliding back into the mire of its Old South past.

Now, before y’all start yelping about how Florida isn’t really Southern, let me just remind you: Florida was third to secede in 1861, after South Carolina and Mississippi. North Florida was plantation country.

 Quarters for enslaved people at Fort George Island, in Northeast Florida. Credit: State Library and Archives of Florida

We can pretend that history doesn’t matter, but our justice system — much of it a relic of when white people were terrified that ex-slaves might wreak revenge on them — and laws like “Stand Your Ground” allow us to kill or incarcerate a disproportionate number of Black people. The way Florida’s ruling Republicans try to ban ideas they don’t like and encourage an absurd sense of white victimhood is more Mississippi than Minnesota.

You don’t have to like grits and sweet tea to behave like a member of the Pork Chop Gang.

As for DeSantis, he’s George Wallace with a Harvard Law degree and a talent for plausible deniability.

This isn’t a surprise. DeSantis didn’t really try very hard to disguise his racism when he ran for governor in 2018. He’d appeared at white nationalist conferences alongside the likes of David Horowitz and Steve Bannon.

DeSantis insisted he didn’t know those guys were racists; I mean, come on: “How the hell am I supposed to know every single statement someone makes?

Perhaps someone could tell him about Google.

Freak flag

Over the past four years, DeSantis has let his racist freak flag fly. He appointed a person who apparently thought it was fun to dress up as a Klansman to the county commission in majority-black Gadsden County.

He rejected the Legislature’s congressional district map, which would have elected four black people to the House of Representatives, redrawing boundaries in a way that made the districts more white and more Republican.

His absurd Election Police did their best to scare voters a few weeks before the midterms, arresting 20 people, 15 of whom are black, for fraud. They all had felony convictions, but the state of Florida — whose responsibility it is to maintain accurate rolls — sent them registration cards and gave them the strong impression it was legal for them to vote.

One of the cases has already been thrown out by an exasperated Miami judge. But the damage was done. Many perfectly legitimate voters said they wouldn’t go near a polling place in 2022.

It’s only going to get worse. In their quest to ensure right-wing wins, Republicans have invented yet another way to suppress the vote. If you’re one of the 150,000 Florida citizens on probation, you have to attest that “you are solely responsible for determining if you are legally able to register to vote and that you must solely determine if you are lawfully qualified to vote.”

This is hard to do, given that the state often has no idea if you’re eligible to vote. You have to hope the county supervisor’s office can help or maybe hire a lawyer. If you vote illicitly, even if the state issued you a voter registration card, you’re busted.

 The Truth and Justice Center of Orange County unveiled a historical marker in downtown Orlando in June 2019 in memory of July Perry, a victim of the 1920 Ocoee Election Day Riots. Credit: Orlando Police Department.

For DeSantis and his party, the fewer people voting the better. A day before the midterms, The Washington Post reported that in South Florida, elderly people or those without cars who used to depend on friends to deliver ballots to the elections supervisor’s office were out of luck. “Ballot harvesting” is now a third-degree felony that can get you up to five years in prison.

Earlier in the year, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, not fooled by nonsense about danger to the “integrity” of our elections, struck down DeSantis’ attempts to stop people of color from voting. He pointed to Florida’s “grotesque history of racial discrimination,” citing the 1920 Ocoee Massacre when at least 30 black people were killed by a white mob furious that “negroes” were trying to exercise the franchise.

Unfortunately for democracy in Florida, the Trump appointee-heavy U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit overturned Judge Walker’s ruling.

‘Stop WOKE’

On Nov. 17, the same judge halted enforcement of the “Stop Woke Act,” an attack on academic freedom in schools and universities that would discourage honest discussion of Ocoee or the Tallahassee Bus Boycott or the astonishing number of lynchings in Florida, more per capita than any other state.

The judge quoted George Orwell, blasting DeSantis’ attempt to deny teachers free speech rights here in the “free” state of Florida. If they hear about systemic racism or white privilege or read “The 1619 Project” or maybe novels by Toni Morrison or poetry by a gay person, well, something terrible will happen.

Their white feelings might get hurt.

Knowledge is scary to our Viktor Orb├ín-wannabe. Confederate states banned Uncle Tom’s Cabin, lest impressionable people decide slavery was wrong. Ron DeSantis tries to conceal public records that you, the citizens of Florida, have a right to see. His administration had to be dragged into court and forced to release information about how his minions conspired to trick legal Venezuelan asylum seekers in San Antonio onto planes to Massachusetts where they were abandoned and forced to depend on the kindness of strangers (which turned out to be considerable).

In 1861, Confederates felt certain God had made them for a special purpose: saving the white race. In 2022, a midterm campaign ad disguised as divine revelation intoned that, “on the eighth day,” God created Ron DeSantis to crusade against wokery and vaccines and reproductive freedom and affirmative action, and, of course, the scourge of Drag Queen Story Hour.

Most of the United States rejected this hatefulness and embrace of ignorance by refusing to elect authoritarians, election deniers, and white nationalists. Not Florida. We’re whistling Dixie and marching backwards into our future.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Diane Roberts
DIANE ROBERTS

Diane Roberts is an 8th-generation Floridian, born and bred in Tallahassee, which probably explains her unhealthy fascination with Florida politics. Educated at Florida State University and Oxford University in England, she has been writing for newspapers since 1983, when she began producing columns on the legislature for the Florida Flambeau. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, and Flamingo. She has been a member of the Editorial Board of the St. Petersburg Times–back when that was the Tampa Bay Times’s name–and a long-time columnist for the paper in both its iterations. She was a commentator on NPR for 22 years and continues to contribute radio essays and opinion pieces to the BBC. Roberts is also the author of four books, most recently Dream State, an historical memoir of her Florida family, and Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America. She lives in Tallahassee, except for the times she runs off to Great Britain, desperate for a different government to satirize.


 



Questions Swirl Around Records DeSantis Administration Released And Withheld On Migrant Flights (TONY PIPITONE, NBC6 SOUTH FLORIDA)

MORE flummery, dupery and nincompoopery on Governor RONALD DION DeSANATIS's cheap cheating theatrics with Venezuelan refugees? 

Looks like bid-rigging and false statements to me.  From NBC 6 South Florida reporter Tony Pipitone:


Questions Swirl Around Records DeSantis Administration Released And Withheld On Migrant Flights

One of three companies the state claims submitted quotes for the work denies it ever did so, while the NBC 6 Investigators have obtained a document the state has withheld from the public that was used to solicit work from the eventual contractor -- a company represented in the past by DeSantis’ “public safety czar”

Florida’s mission to fly migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in September has spawned a criminal investigation, civil lawsuits and criticism that the nearly 50 migrants were used by Gov. Ron DeSantis as pawns in a political stunt.

Now an NBC 6 investigation raises questions about whether state money has been spent properly – questions the state has refused to answer.

For example, one of three companies the state said submitted quotes for the project denied to NBC 6 it ever submitted a quote.

And the NBC 6 Investigators have obtained a document the state has withheld from the public – a “request for quotes” for “an air transportation company to provide chartered flight services” that was sent to the eventual winning contractor just 28 hours before the company’s response was due.

That contractor, Vertol Systems Company of Destin, has close connections to the DeSantis administration official who oversaw the missions for the state, Larry Keefe, a lawyer who represented the company over several years.

VIOLATING BUDGET LANGUAGE?

The 2022-23 state budget allowed the Florida Department of Transportation to spend up to $12 million on contracts to transport “unauthorized aliens from this state” after receiving “at least two quotes.”

But records reveal many of the migrants had documentation showing they had been released on recognizance after presenting themselves to immigration authorities at the US-Mexico border in Texas. Their lawyers say they were in fact authorized to be in the United States.

And they didn’t embark on their journey “from this state,” as the budget language stated, but rather boarded two leased jets in Texas, where they were recruited by people working with Vertol.

It has been paid $1.56 million by the state in advance to conduct three migrant relocations, according to state records, but only the Martha’s Vineyard operation went forward. The two others – to Delaware and Illinois --- have not occurred.

It’s unclear from the records released so far whether two companies responded to either of the two “requests for quote” – or RFQs – created by FDOT: the one they have not released publicly that was sent to Vertol on August 1 with an August 2 deadline; and an earlier one with a July 20 deadline for quotes to be submitted.

One company directly responded to the earlier RFQ – seeking “a transportation management company” to “implement and manage” the relocation program – and the state did release that RFQ to the public. It was responded to at some point by Gun Girls Inc., of Palm Beach Gardens, but records released so far do not include a response to that RFQ by Vertol.

Emails show FDOT’s general counsel first discussed the operation and how charter flights are priced with Vertol CEO James Montgomerie on July 26, nearly a week after the first deadline for quotes had passed.

NO THIRD COMPANY BID

When FDOT and the governor’s office released records on October 7, titled “FDOT RELOCATION PROGRAM,” it listed three companies as having provided quotes: Vertol, Gun Girls and Wheels Up, a New York company that caters to business and luxury class travelers seeking private air travel.

But a representative of Wheels Up, which the state claimed submitted an “air quote” in response to a request for quotes, tells NBC 6 Investigators it never submitted a response.

The records reveal it did send the state a brochure describing its services. But that is it.

And, NBC 6 has learned, Wheels Up was not sent a request for quotes until Aug. 5, three days after the deadline had passed for it to respond – and it did not respond, according to a source with knowledge of the state’s interactions with the company.

While it is unclear, based on the patchwork of incomplete records the state has released so far, whether it got two quotes for either of the RFQs it sent out, it is clear three companies did not submit quotes, as the state claimed.

FDOT would not answer detailed questions on the timing and nature of the quotes it did receive, saying only there were “multiple” quotes; the governor’s office has not responded to several questions about the quotes and the relocation program.

“A PREORDAINED AWARD”?

FDOT and Vertol are being sued by the Florida Center for Government Accountability (FCGA), a nonprofit that promotes government accountability and transparency. The lawsuit claims both are unlawfully withholding public records involving the Sept. 14 flights from Texas, through Crestview near Vertol’s offices, and eventually to Massachusetts.

One document it is seeking is the RFQ with the August 2 deadline, which was referenced as an attachment to an email sent by FDOT to Vertol on August 1. But the document itself – obtained by NBC 6 Investigators -- had not been released by either Vertol or the state.

Given a description of the document by NBC 6, Michael Barfield, the FCGA director of public access, said it should have been released under his and others’ public records requests.

“That is the document they were responding to,” Barfield said, referring to Vertol’s August 2 response to FDOT's August 1 RFQ. “I noted that (during testimony in a court hearing on the lawsuit last week) because I don’t have that document, even to this date.”

It’s not clear from what has been released that anyone other than Vertol responded to it. Nor has any contract between Vertol and the state been released, so it is unknown to the public whether it is more consistent with the first or second RFQ.

Unlike the first RFQ, the second one does not contain language stating the program is to “relocate out of the State of Florida …. unauthorized aliens.”

Asked if, based on what has been released, it appears FDOT got more than one quote in response to that RFQ, Barfield said, “No, it doesn’t sound like it to me. And I knew something was odd here but I did not know exactly what it was.”

Knowing what he knows now, he said, “It sounds like there was no bidding process. It sounds like there was a preordained award on this contract for services to Larry Keefe’s former client, Vertol.”

THE VERTOL CONNECTION

Keefe, a Trump-appointed former U.S. Attorney for Northern Florida, joined the DeSantis administration as “public safety czar” last year. In the 2010s, he represented Vertol in several cases, both as defense and plaintiff’s counsel.

And in the lead-up to Vertol receiving its $615,000 check in advance a week before the Sept. 14 flights, he and Vertol’s CEO Montgomerie exchanged dozens of texts released by the state involving Vertol’s on-going negotiations with FDOT. Some were sent as both men and Vertol’s lead recruiter, Perla Huerta, were scouting San Antonio for locations to solicit migrants to take the flights to Massachusetts.

On Monday August 22, Vertol obtained a $153,500 quote from a charter jet company to lease two planes for the flights from Texas to Massachusetts, according to records Vertol released in response to the FCGA’s public records lawsuit. That same day Keefe texted Montgomerie: “Told my group we should receive your proposal Wednesday. Will that timeframe work for you?” Montgomerie replied: “Yes sir,” according to text logs released by the state and Vertol.

They make eight phones calls to each other over the next three days and on Friday August 26, after Keefe called Montgomery three times, Keefe texted Montgomerie at 4:16 p.m.: “Do you think it will be today or Monday what we discussed? … My colleagues asked me to inquire so they can remain at the office if today.”

Montgomerie replied, “Monday,” apparently relieving state employees from staying late on a Friday night.

The records show the two talk and text more that weekend and on the afternoon of Monday August 29, Keefe asked Montgomerie: “When may I call re suggested revisions.”

The banter between Keefe and his former client about FDOT’s contract negotiations with Vertol increases as a crucial date nears: Sept. 2, when FDOT and Vertol exchange three proposals, and several emails. At one point, Keefe asked Montgomerie to “keep me apprised of what occurs … so I can stay ahead of things.”

Keefe and Montgomerie sent or received 18 texts and made seven calls to each other that day as the deal was being negotiated – the most communication they had with each other on any one day during the month for which Keefe’s texts and phone records were released.

Barfield, of FCGA, said the communications suggest "Mr. Keefe running interference for Vertol in any difficulties they encountered with FDOT."

NBC 6 Investigators asked the state if Keefe’s level of involvement with his former client in this process presented the appearance of or an actual conflict of interest. Or if anything that took place could be evidence of a violation of state procurement policies or laws. We received no response.

Montgomerie and Keefe have also not answered emails and phone messages requesting comment.

After a long day of negotiation on Sept. 2, the main points appeared to have been settled and the deal appears sealed on Sept. 6 for $615,000.

FAIR PRICE?

Having received a quote of $153,000 to lease the planes, Vertol could have spent $462,000 on hotel rooms, transportation, food, salaries, legal services, other expenses and overhead before it risked losing money on the $615,000 deal.

And while the records released so far show only Vertol responding directly and in detail to the August 1 RFQ -- the one the state has withheld from the public but was obtained by NBC 6 Investigators – the Gun Girls’ response to the first RFQ has enough detail to estimate how much Gun Girls may have charged to transport 50 migrants on the same route Vertol used to send them from Texas through Florida to Martha’s Vineyard: $446,500.

FDOT wound up paying Vertol 38% more than that, $615,000 up front.

The state also released a document from Gun Girls dated Aug. 1 that says it could transport five people from Florida to Massachusetts for $26,000 – which would be $260,000 for 50 people. It’s not clear whether that document is a response to the first or second RFQ. Because it only quotes a trip from Florida, it cannot be compared directly to what Vertol was paid to begin the migrants' journey in Texas.

Gun Girls declined to comment, except to say they had nothing to do with the flights.

DELAWARE ON THEIR MINDS

Less than a week before Keefe and Montgomerie landed in Crestview on the morning of Sept. 14 on one of the planes with migrants on their way to Martha's Vineyard, the two men had a Delaware mission on their minds. On Sept. 9, Montgomerie texted Keefe Vertol "could certainly do Delaware."

On Sept. 15, Keefe, who lives near Montgomerie and the Vertol offices in Okaloosa County, was early for a meeting with Montgomerie, the texts indicate. 

"May I enter your building now even though I'm early?" Keefe texted Montgomerie at 10:22 that Thursday morning.

Less than six hours later, Montgomerie sent FDOT an email proposing two more migrant relocations, to Delaware and Illinois, at a cost of $950,000.

By the following Monday, Sept. 19, state records indicate, the state issued a $950,000 advance payment to Vertol for those missions -- neither of which have occurred.