Hello and welcome to Tuesday.
Digging in — The legal back and forth over whether Gov. Ron DeSantis will have to testify in response to the federal lawsuit filed by suspended Hillsborough County prosecutor Andrew Warren continues.
Response— Warren’s team fired back on Monday at the arguments made by Attorney General Ashley Moody and her team about whether the governor can be compelled to explain why he acted against Warren in August. Last week, Solicitor General Henry Whitaker asked a federal judge to block Warren from calling either DeSantis or James Uthmeier, the governor’s chief of staff, to the witness stand. Whitaker argued Warren’s team had enough information and evidence elsewhere to leave the governor alone.
How we got here — DeSantis suspended Warren for a handful of reasons, including a pledge the elected state attorney made to not enforce certain laws, such as the state’s recently enacted ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy without rape or incest exemptions. Warren has sued in federal court, contending that his First Amendment rights were violated. (New filings suggest DeSantis’ attorneys were unprepared for this legal argument and instead assumed the legal battle would play out in state court or before the Florida Senate.) Normally there are legal doctrines that make it harder to depose top government officials or bring into court. But the door was left open for court testimony amid a tug of war over whether the governor can be deposed.
We don’t need the governor, but— Now there was some gamesmanship included in the more than 20-page response filed by Warren’s team. His lawyers suggested it was premature to rule on the governor’s testimony and stated that they could prove their case against DeSantis without him taking the stand. So does that mean they are just bluffing? But then they also scoffed at the notion of blocking the governor’s testimony, pointing to DeSantis talking about Warren repeatedly during the last few months ahead of his reelection.
From the court filing— “Never before has the governor of Florida suspended an elected official for his protected speech, held a media event at which he gloated about it, appeared on Fox News to continue to gloat about it, campaigned around the country for like-minded candidates while gloating about it, and then run away from court when asked to testify about it. Hopefully no similar case ever rises again. But if such a further case is necessary, the Governor should testify there, just like he should, if circumstances warrant, here.”
Additionally — The court filing also included excerpts of depositions from the governor’s top aides who said they did not know when DeSantis made up his mind to suspend Warren nor could they fully explain his reasoning outside of his executive order.
Coming up soon — The trial is scheduled to start next week and the hearing over whether to block DeSantis’ testimony will happen on Wednesday. The case, regardless of how it goes, has already provided insights into the process used by the governor’s office to handle high-profile cases.
— WHERE’S RON? — Gov. DeSantis will be in Tallahassee and is scheduled to attend the organizational session of the Florida Legislature.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: Florida Playbook will off for Thanksgiving this Thursday and Friday but back to our normal schedule on Monday, Nov. 28.
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STICKING TO THE SCRIPT— “New leaders of Legislature march in lockstep with DeSantis,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Jeffrey Schweers: “New Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and House Speaker Paul Renner, both staunch conservatives loyal to Gov. Ron DeSantis, will take over the reins of the Florida Legislature on Tuesday as the political world speculates whether DeSantis will run for president in 2024. With a Republican super-majority in both chambers won in the general election, Floridians should expect an aggressive conservative agenda that could advance the culture wars DeSantis has waged with further expansion of ‘anti-woke’ legislation and more restrictive abortion laws.”
THE WAY IT IS— Dems return to Tallahassee powerless after midterm losses, by POLITICO’s Matt Dixon: Gov. Ron DeSantis won reelection by nearly 20-points, and has super-majorities in both the Florida House and Senate, with only increasingly powerless Democrats trying to stand in the way. “If this moment feels heavy right now, I want you to look around,” said Rep. Fentrice Driskell, a Tampa Democrat who will serve as House minority leader over the next two years. “I want you to look to your left and look to your right, and know that we are all we’ve got, and that’s OK, because the only way to move forward is to move together.”
The new normal — In the other side of the Capitol, Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book (D-Plantation) struck a similar tone. In her chamber, there is likely a wave of Republican legislation coming that her caucus will oppose and Book must temper expectations and set the need for a new strategy as their numbers drop. “We have suffered great losses. Loses which will force a fundamental shift in the way we operate on this very battlefield,” Book said of 2022 midterm losses shortly after her caucus unanimously picked her as their new leader.
— “Florida Dems face a “battlefield” in upcoming legislative session,” by Florida Phoenix’s Danielle J. Brown
— “House Dems formalize Fentrice Driskell as Leader amid turbulent times for party,” by Florida Politics’ Renzo Downey
A LEGAL MATTER — Suspended prosecutor fights back against effort to shield DeSantis, by POLITICO’s Gary Fineout: Both sides in the last few days have filed numerous exhibits ahead of the upcoming trial that offer some additional insights, including items that were not included in the final executive order issued by the governor. At one point, the governor’s office had written up a version that said Warren had “ceded” his authority to an organization that was funded by liberal billionaire donor George Soros. … Another version of the executive order pointed out that Warren had been critical of election law changes pushed by DeSantis and the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature.
DEPARTURE ZONE— DeSantis announces top health care regulator’s retirement, by POLITICO’s Arek Sarkissian: Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday announced that Simone Marstiller is retiring as secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration at the end of the year. DeSantis announced Marstiller’s retirement on Twitter, noting her involvement in the state’s battle against Covid-19 vaccine mandates for staffers at medical facilities that participate in Medicaid and Medicare. … Marstiller wrote in her resignation letter, which was dated Nov. 9, that she was ready to end her more than 20-year career in state government. Her resignation will be effective Dec. 30.
HMM— “2 Florida Supreme Court justices face disqualification from cases after serving as references for appeals court candidates,” by News Service of Florida’s Jim Saunders: “An attorney helping challenge the eligibility of candidates to become judges on revamped state appeals courts objected Monday to two Florida Supreme Court justices taking part in deciding the cases. Justices John Couriel and Charles Canady served as references for candidates seeking seats on the new 6th District Court of Appeal, including Couriel providing a reference for state Rep. Mike Beltran, a Lithia Republican seeking appointment to a judicial post, according to documents posted on the Supreme Court website.”
— “Kevin Guthrie to stay on as Division of Emergency Management director,” by Florida Politics’ Jacob Ogles
MOVING UP — “DeSantis closes gap with Trump in new poll,” by The Hill’s Max Greenwood: “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is closing the once-yawning polling gap with former President Trump as he inches closer to a 2024 White House bid. A new Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll survey shared exclusively with The Hill on Monday put DeSantis’s growing strength into stark relief: Since last month, the Florida governor’s standing in a hypothetical 2024 Republican primary improved by 11 points, bringing him up to 28 percent. Trump’s support, meanwhile, plummeted 9 points to 46 percent.”
TAKING A LOOK— “DeSantis loves to talk Everglades, not climate,” by E&E News Robin Bravender: “Ron DeSantis denounces ‘woke’ green investments, says he’s ‘not a global warming person’ and has abysmal ratings from national environmentalists. So it might come as a surprise to those outside the Sunshine State that the GOP governor — who’s widely expected to run for president in 2024 — has been working to brand himself as an environmental hero. DeSantis identifies himself as a ‘Teddy Roosevelt’ conservationist. He made issues like Everglades restoration, water quality and adapting to rising seas central to his first term as Florida’s governor. His efforts won him accolades from some environmentalists, and Florida political observers see his energy and environmental policies as part of what helped him coast to victory in his reelection bid earlier this month.”
‘A LOT MORE VULNERABLE PEOPLE’ — “A vast majority of Hurricane Ian deaths were elderly Floridians. What happened?” by USA Today Network-Florida’s Kathryn Varn: “The vast majority of those who perished — nearly two-thirds — were people 65 years of age and older, according to a USA Today Network – Florida analysis of state fatality data so far. Drowning was a factor in about a third of those deaths while the remainder stemmed largely from injuries, preexisting medical conditions and overexertion.”
— “Florida kicks off inspection, grant program to harden homes against hurricanes,” by Florida Politics’ Gray Rohrer
MOVING AHEAD — “From Europe, Trump special counsel takes over Mar-a-Lago, Jan. 6 probes,” by Washington Post’s Devlin Barrett and Perry Stein: “Newly appointed special counsel Jack Smith continues to work remotely from Europe as he assembles a team, finds office space, and takes over two high-stakes investigations into former president Donald Trump — complex cases that officials insist will not be delayed by Smith’s appointment, even as they also said they do not know when he will return to the United States. Smith, a war crimes prosecutor at the International Criminal Court at The Hague, injured his leg in a recent bicycle accident and is recovering from surgery.”
ANOTHER ONE— “Prosecutors drop charges against DeSantis’ voter fraud suspect,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Lawrence Mower: “Statewide prosecutors have dropped charges against one of the 20 people accused by Gov. Ron DeSantis of voting illegally in 2020. In a court filing Monday, prosecutors wrote that they were dropping charges against Tampa resident Tony Patterson, 44, because of “information received” from the Hillsborough County elections supervisor and because he was already being sentenced to prison in a separate case. The decision means state officials avoid potentially having a second voter fraud case thrown out by a judge in as many months.”
MORE DETAILS— “Iger’s sudden return to Disney shocks a discontented kingdom,” by The New York Times’ Brooks Barnes, Benjamin Mullin and James B. Stewart: “Perturbed about [Robert] Iger’s trash talk, which made its way back to Disney headquarters, the headstrong [Bob] Chapek responded by icing Mr. Iger out — rather than turning to him for advice. Mr. Iger, for instance, never got a call for help when Disney was criticized internally and externally this spring over its approach to legislation in Florida meant to prohibit classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity through the third grade.”
AND MORE— “Bob Chapek’s tenure marked by political missteps inside and outside of Disney,” by CNN’s Ramishah Maruf: “[Bob] Chapek’s downfall arose, at least in part, out of his bungled response to Florida’s controversial Parental Rights in Education bill, dubbed the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill by critics. His decisions had far-reaching effects on both Disney’s reputation and on the company’s ‘favored nation’ status in the state. Early this year, Disney faced mounting criticism for not taking a public stance on the bill. ”
— “Walt Disney CFO, others brought concerns to board over Bob Chapek,” by Wall Street Journal’s Robbie Whelan, Emily Glazer, Joe Flint and Jessica Toonkel
— “9 changes Disney fans want returning CEO Bob Iger to make at parks,” by Washington Post’s Hannah Sampson
GENTLE GIANTS— Groups ask feds to reverse 2017 reclassification of manatees following recent deaths, by POLITICO’s Bruce Ritchie: Environmental groups on Monday asked federal wildlife officials to reinstate the “endangered” classification for manatees following their starvation deaths in 2021 and continued dieoffs since then. The Center for Biological Diversity, Save the Manatee Club and Miami Waterkeeper are among the groups on Monday who petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reverse its 2017 decision to reduce the protective classification for manatees from endangered to threatened.
WHAT’S GOING ON?— “Newly elected Broward School Board member may not get sworn in Tuesday,” by South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Scott Travis: “Four newly elected Broward School Board members are scheduled to swear under oath Tuesday they are “duly qualified to hold office.” But one may not be able to guarantee that. Rod Velez, who was elected Nov. 8 to a south county School Board seat, has been dogged by questions about his eligibility due to a felony conviction. His voting rights were restored in 2020, but that didn’t automatically guarantee other rights, including holding public office and serving on a jury, according to rules prepared by the Board of Clemency in March 2021.”
WHAT’S IN YOUR WALLET?— “Homebuyers who fled to Florida to escape high taxes are now shocked at their massive tax bills,” by Insider’s Kelsey Neubauer: “Rising property taxes have been causing a stir across the Sunshine State — especially for those who flocked to Florida over the past couple of years to escape exorbitant taxes in other states. Unlike [Eugene] Bednarski, most will have little recourse but to fight their local municipalities over the bigger bills. The unexpected costs have prompted regret in some people over moving in the first place — and some even have plans to sell their newly acquired homes and leave the state.”
— “Florida COVID-19 cases steady ahead of Thanksgiving, but RSV and flu add to concern,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Caroline Catherman
— “Former Santa Rosa sheriff’s lieutenant sentenced to federal prison for lying to FBI,” by Pensacola News-Journal
— “Public defender’s office wants Parkland judge off all its criminal cases,” by South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Rafael Olmeda: “The judge who handled the Parkland mass shooting case is so biased in favor of the prosecution that she cannot be trusted to oversee cases handled by the Broward Public Defender’s Office, according to dozens of motions filed in court last week. Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer drew criticism in the final days of the Parkland trial for hugging members of the prosecution team after proceedings had ended and for dismissing the concerns of defense lawyers who felt they were being berated for doing their jobs.”
BIRTHDAYS:Bettina Inclán, chief communications officer for IBX … Lauren Reamy of Sen. Marco Rubio’s office. Birthdayweek: state Rep. Lindsay Cross (Was Monday)