Hello and welcome to Thursday.
Read about it — Gov. Ron DeSantis dedicated a whole chapter of his new book to his battle against Disney. It was a conflict that flowed from the controversy over the passage last year of the “Parental Rights in Education” law — what’s been dubbed “don’t say gay” bill by its critics — and the entertainment giant’s public opposition to the measure.
Be quiet — DeSantis describes a stealth operation (including private conversations with legislative leaders) to draw up the initial bill in 2022 that targeted the special district that was set up back in the ‘60s to help Disney, a company that has been a major employer in the state. “We need the element of surprise — nobody can see this coming,” he recalls telling then-House Speaker Chris Sprowls.
In control — When the governor signed a second bill in 2023 that created a new board to take over the special district, DeSantis said “there’s a new sheriff in town.”
Talk about surprises — But it was revealed on Wednesday that the new board put in place by the governor has been stripped of much of its authority under an agreement approved in February. The new deal lasts for decades and gives Disney final say over development issues, such as building heights and bars the new board from using the Disney name without the corporation’s approval.
‘We won’t stand for this’ — This arrangement appears to have taken DeSantis allies and the administration quite by surprise, with those appointed by the governor to the new board voting to bring in lawyers to sue Disney. Bridget Ziegler, one of the board members appointed by the governor, complained on Twitter Wednesday night of the “arrogance” of Disney. “Disney has once again overplayed their hand in Florida,” she tweeted. “We won’t stand for this and we won’t back down. If unlawful actions were taken, this development agreement will be nullified.”
About that — News outlets, however, quoted a statement from Disney that defended the binding agreements and said they were appropriate and approved in open meetings.
Campaign material — DeSantis has used his battle with Disney as a recurring talking point in his campaign speeches and during his book tour stops and it usually always elicits a loud response from the crowd.
Zing — But the news about the new agreement gave an opening to the governor’s critics, including those backing former President Donald Trump. “President Trump wrote ‘Art of the Deal’ and brokered Middle East peace. Ron DeSantis got out-negotiated by Mickey Mouse,” said Taylor Budowich, the head of a pro-Trump super PAC, on Twitter.
Consideration — One question about all of this is whether the decision to go fast on the first 2022 bill dissolving the district — without a fully developed plan on what would happen once Disney lost control — gave the company time to come up with its own escape plan. Let the litigation begin.
— WHERE’S RON? — Gov. DeSantis is scheduled to promote his book at Adventure Outdoors, a gun store, in Smyrna, Ga.
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CHOOSE ME — DeSantis’ pitch to New York donors: I’m not a chaos agent, by POLITICO’s Sally Goldenberg: The Florida governor — who is expected to announce his presidential campaign following his state’s legislative session — has been privately reaching out in recent months to a bevy of potential supporters in the Empire State. [Gov. Ron] DeSantis visited the Long Island estate of billionaire cosmetics heir and GOP donor Ronald Lauder several months ago, two people with direct knowledge of the sit down told POLITICO. DeSantis’ message was simple: He is the only Republican who could defeat President Joe Biden in a general election.
The message — In meetings with other wealthy businessmen, DeSantis has been even more explicit, portraying himself as an obvious choice for anyone frustrated by the former president Donald Trump’s legal troubles and antics. … “I’m no drama. I’m no chaos,” one New York businessman said in paraphrasing the pitch the Florida governor made to other well-heeled New Yorkers. “I’m calm, cool and collected. Very focused.”
IT’S A SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL — “DeSantis’ Reedy Creek board says Disney stripped its power,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Skyler Swisher: “The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District’s new Board of Supervisors voted to bring in outside legal firepower to examine the agreement, including a conservative Washington, D.C., law firm that has defended several of DeSantis’ culture war priorities. ‘We’re going to have to deal with it and correct it,’ board member Brian Aungst Jr. said. ‘It’s a subversion of the will of the voters and the Legislature and the governor. It completely circumvents the authority of this board to govern.’”
CONTRAST — “DeSantis burnishes tough-on-crime image to run in ’24 and take on Trump,” by The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Swan: “Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has spent months shoring up a tough-on-crime image as he weighs a run for the White House, calling for stronger penalties against drug traffickers and using $5,000 bonuses to bolster law-enforcement recruitment to his state. Now, Mr. DeSantis and his allies plan to use that image to draw a contrast with the Republican front-runner in the 2024 race, former President Donald J. Trump.”
ALREADY COUNTED OUT? — “GOP donors open to other Trump challengers as DeSantis tries to find footing,” by Washington Post’s Maeve Reston and Michael Scherer: “There is also lingering concern about how [Gov. Ron] DeSantis’s insular style will wear on early state voters who expect to welcome candidates into their living rooms for an extended job interview. Scott Reed, a Republican strategist who managed Bob Dole’s 1996 campaign for president, predicted that the race would be a ‘Trump-DeSantis slug fest through the fall, then, if exhaustion sets in, there will probably be an opening for one or two candidates to get the bright lights on them before Iowa.’”
— Fox poll shows Trump’s lead over DeSantis growing, by POLITICO’s Kelly Garrity
— “Ron DeSantis is targeting the free speech protections that might save Fox News,” by CNN’s Steve Contorno
— “Vivek Ramaswamy blasts ‘plastic politician’ Ron DeSantis for ‘shadow’ presidential campaign,” by Florida Politics’ A.G. Gancarski
— “Rep. Chip Roy says ‘talent seeks talent’ as Cruz alums side with DeSantis,” by NBC News’ Scott Wong
FIVE REPUBLICANS VOTE NO — Florida Senate passes tighter union restrictions, by POLITICO’s Andrew Atterbury: Republicans contend the bill is meant to improve unions and make membership stronger but Democrats — and even five Republicans — voted in opposition, joining union leaders in arguing that it would limit the rights of workers and ultimately scale back their participation. Several pieces of the proposal, which passed 23-17, were requested by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis ahead of Florida’s Legislative session to ensure that teachers unions “are not exerting excessive influence” in education.
‘A SUPER BILL’ — “DeSantis signs $711M affordable housing bill. Advocates say it doesn’t go far enough,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Trevor Fraser and Jeffrey Schweers: “Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law Wednesday a bill that pumps $711 million into affordable housing, a move that developers cheered but others said didn’t go far enough to help typical Floridians struggling to pay rent. Dubbed the Live Local Act, SB 102 from Senate President Kathleen Passidomo redirects some tax revenue toward affordable housing over the next 10 years and creates incentives for developers of affordable projects. It essentially doubles the money Florida spent on affordable housing last year.”
CRISIS, WHAT CRISIS? — “Here’s why Florida’s home insurance hotline is only open 3 hours a day,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Lawrence Mower: “Florida’s insurance consumer helpline is often the first resort for homeowners looking for help battling their insurance company. If they can reach it, that is. It’s only open three hours a day.”
Response — Democratic lawmakers said limiting the hotline to just three hours doesn’t even allow working Floridians to call during their lunch breaks. “We can’t have a part-time insurance consumer hotline when we have a full-time property insurance crisis in Florida,” Rep. Hillary Cassel, D-Dania Beach, said in a statement. … Cassel also questioned the priorities of [Chief Financial Officer Jimmy] Patronis, a restaurateur who has collected nearly $2 million in political contributions from insurance companies, executives and agents.”
WHAT’S IN YOUR WALLET? — “Plan to ‘cripple’ environmental-and-social-related investing could cost taxpayers,” by Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas: “Florida taxpayers could pay more for municipal bonds and see lower returns on government pension funds under a bill getting approval by lawmakers that attempts to penalize U.S. companies that consider social and environmental issues when making investment decisions. The proposal, HB 3, passed the full House and a companion measure, SB 302, got its first hearing Wednesday in the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, which approved it 8-3 along party lines.”
— “‘An immense distraction’: Bill targeting social media in public schools heads to Senate floor,” by Florida Politics’ Jesse Scheckner
— “Legislators back a bill to let utilities convert methane gas, pass cost to consumers,” by Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas
— “Judge stepping down from Florida Supreme Court becoming Citizens general counsel,” by News Service of Florida
— “Florida surgeon general saves man at Capitol,” by Spectrum News’ Jason Delgado
CHECK IN LATER — Manhattan Trump grand jury set to break for a month, by POLITICO’s Erica Orden: The Manhattan grand jury examining Donald Trump’s alleged role in a hush money payment to a porn star isn’t expected to hear evidence in the case for the next month largely due to a previously scheduled hiatus, according to a person familiar with the proceedings. The break would push any indictment of the former president to late April at the earliest, although it is possible that the grand jury’s schedule could change.
TAKING SIDES — “House Republicans lining up to defend Trump, helping in GOP primary,” by Washington Post’s Paul Kane: “Still more than 10 months until the first caucuses of the GOP presidential nominating contest, the House Republican conference appears more and more as if it has taken sides with the former president — even though the 2024 race is considered an open primary with a couple of already declared candidates and several more getting ready to enter the race.”
— “Most Americans think criminal charges should disqualify Trump from running again, poll shows, by POLITICO’s Zachary Schermele
‘SHE FELT COMPELLED’ — “Anna Paulina Luna asks for lesser sentence for convicted Tampa Bay Jan. 6 protester,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Kirby Wilson: “U.S. Rep. Anna Paulina Luna on Friday wrote a letter asking a judge to take “leniency” when considering the sentence of Jeremy Michael Brown, a Tampa Bay man who appeared at the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol with the extremist Oath Keepers group. In September, federal agents searched Brown’s Hillsborough County property as part of an inquiry into the Jan. 6 events. Agents found two illegal guns, a pair of hand grenades and a classified military document, among other things. (Brown is a former U.S. Army Special Forces master sergeant.)”
ON THE TEAM — “Matt Gaetz’s legislative aide is a convicted war criminal,” by The Intercept’s Ken Klippenstein: “Derrick Miller, a former U.S. Army National Guard sergeant who spent eight years in prison for murdering an Afghan civilian in 2010, now serves as a legislative assistant covering military policy for Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz. … ‘We proudly stand with our Military Legislative Assistant Derrick Miller,’ Joel Valdez, a spokesperson for Gaetz, told The Intercept. ‘He was wrongfully convicted and served our country with honor.’”
— “Castor urges DeSantis to act before Medicaid provision ends Saturday,” by WMFE’s Joe Mario Pedersen
— “‘Dead kids can’t read’: Jared Moskowitz blasts Marjorie Taylor Greene for comments on Nashville shooting,” by Florida Politics’ Jesse Scheckner
THE NEW NORMAL — University tenure review rule gets final nod in Florida, by POLITICO’s Andrew Atterbury: Florida university leaders granted final approval Wednesday to a statewide faculty tenure review process sought by conservative policymakers including Gov. Ron DeSantis. Under the proposed policy, tenured faculty members would be subject to “comprehensive” reviews every five years, assessments that could ultimately lead to termination but are also supposed to help them score more incentives for their performance. The Board of Governors says the change is meant to build uniformity among schools with differing tenure review regulations, but faculty leaders oppose the rule, arguing it is too restrictive and could drive candidates away from Florida.
GENTLE GIANTS — “Florida sees fewer manatee starvation deaths as feeding ends,” by The Associated Press’ Curt Anderson: The effort to feed thousands of pounds of lettuce to starving manatees in Florida officially ended for the winter season Wednesday, as deaths of the marine mammals appear to be slowing despite the long-term threat of pollution to their main food source, seagrass. State and federal wildlife officials said during an online news conference that just under 400,000 pounds of lettuce was provided to hundreds of manatees at a warmwater power plant site along the east coast where they typically gather for the winter.
— “Federal judge weighs whether Miami needs to redraw voting maps before November election,” by Miami Herald’s Joey Flechas
— “2 DeSantis election fraud cases end with guilty pleas in Hillsborough,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Dan Sullivan
— “Carole Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue to send most animals to Arkansas,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Jack Evans: “Big Cat Rescue, the Hillsborough County sanctuary that became internationally famous as part of Netflix’s “Tiger King” documentary series, will send most of the animals in its care to an Arkansas refuge, its proprietors announced Monday. A few will live out their days at Big Cat Rescue, which will eventually be sold. Howard Baskin, who runs Big Cat Rescue with his wife, Carole Baskin, presented the move as a step toward victory in the fight against big-cat abuse.”
BIRTHDAYS: Former Rep. Patrick Murphy … state Rep. Fabián Basabe
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