Insurers fail, schools stress, DeSantis jets and FPL’s secrets emerge

·12 min read

We’re back! It’s Monday, Aug. 15, and there’s one week to go until the Aug. 23 primary in Florida.

There’s been a cyclone of news this summer since we last arrived in your inbox, but we’ll boil it down to some of the latest items we don’t think you should miss.

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

This photo was taken in front of a Miami Gardens home 22 years ago. Property insurance costs a lot more now, and it’s causing big problems. Miami Herald file photo
This photo was taken in front of a Miami Gardens home 22 years ago. Property insurance costs a lot more now, and it’s causing big problems. Miami Herald file photo

Insurance implosion: Let’s talk about your pocketbook. Homeowners insurance in Florida costs more than ever, companies are going out of business and the state-run option of last resort is bloated with policies. But that’s not the scary part.

What has become increasingly clear is the precarious structural state Florida’s homeowner’s insurance market is in as relies on a single company to certify the majority of the state’s insurers. The DeSantis administration is now going after the ratings agency that has threatened to downgrade a dozen insurers. Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis called the company, Demotech, “a rogue agency” and came up with what’s been called “an elegant” solution: ignore the warnings and let the troubled insurers operate through hurricane season. What could go wrong?

Pembroke Pines, Florida, August 8, 2022- Dr. Denise Soufrine decorates her classroom as she prepares for the upcoming school year at Pembroke Pines Elementary 6700 SW 9th St, Pembroke Pines, FL 33023 Jose A. Iglesias/jiglesias@elnuevoherald.com
Pembroke Pines, Florida, August 8, 2022- Dr. Denise Soufrine decorates her classroom as she prepares for the upcoming school year at Pembroke Pines Elementary 6700 SW 9th St, Pembroke Pines, FL 33023 Jose A. Iglesias/jiglesias@elnuevoherald.com

Classroom candor: Kids all over Florida are returning to the classroom and things are different this year. The thinning ranks of educators are facing an unprecedented series of challenges as a spate of new laws crack down on university research, discourse on race and gender identity and create an environment in which professors feel their political beliefs are being scrutinized at the risk of losing tenure.

Teachers in elementary and secondary classrooms told us they fear being silenced when speaking about gender identity, race or racism, as Florida lawmakers have also given parents the power to silence them by threatening lawsuits.

Kelli Pond, 3rd grade teacher at Ballard Elementary School, says she is optimistic about the upcoming school year as she prepares for the first day of school. Tiffany Tompkins/ttompkins@bradenton.com
Kelli Pond, 3rd grade teacher at Ballard Elementary School, says she is optimistic about the upcoming school year as she prepares for the first day of school. Tiffany Tompkins/ttompkins@bradenton.com

It’s having a chilling effect: Two of eight university professors who spoke to the Herald declined to be identified out of their concern for retribution. Others told us that many teachers, especially young educators, are more afraid to take risks and are discouraged from teaching creatively.

Their stark warning: teachers will attempt to comply with state orders and leave out topics they should be teaching, defy the state orders and risk their jobs, or leave either the state or the profession.

One Pensacola special education school teacher quit his job last week after he said a district employee removed pictures of Black leaders from his classroom bulletin board without his permission.

Teacher anxiety: Another told us the past four years have been the most taxing of her career, even more than when she took on three jobs to pay her bills. She said that’s because she deals with anxiety over school shootings, remote learning, understaffing and, now, laws passed by Florida’s governor and legislature that restrict what teachers can teach.

And a Broward special education teacher said she is struggling so much to get by on her $48,000 a year salary that she is “regretting my life decisions.” Others complained of unruly students, burned out colleagues, and an environment that makes it difficult for anyone to thrive.

A view of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022, in Palm Beach, Fla. The FBI conducted a search of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate on Monday. MATIAS J. OCNER/mocner@miamiherald.com
A view of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022, in Palm Beach, Fla. The FBI conducted a search of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate on Monday. MATIAS J. OCNER/mocner@miamiherald.com

Where’s Ron? Gov. Ron DeSantis kept a relatively low profile last week as FBI agents searched the Florida home of former President Donald Trump. He joined the chorus of critics who immediately lambasted the move as political, saying it made the country into a “banana Republic.”

By the close of the week, however, that criticism had muted as the search warrant revealed that Trump is under investigation for potentially violating a provision of the Espionage Act dealing with “national defense information,” among other possible crimes.

Lights and palm trees frame the outdoor dining patio, overlooking the Parrot Pool, at Mar-a-Lago. Trump International Realty
Lights and palm trees frame the outdoor dining patio, overlooking the Parrot Pool, at Mar-a-Lago. Trump International Realty

Where did they look? While the layout of Trump’s home is a mystery to most, building plans and interviews by the Miami Herald have helped sketch out the likely locations where the FBI searched. Agents searched “a bedroom, a storage area and an office,” according to Trump attorney Lindsey Halligan.

Cindy Yang raised the $50,000 needed to have her photograph taken with President Trump. Facebook
Cindy Yang raised the $50,000 needed to have her photograph taken with President Trump. Facebook

History of security breaches: Long before Monday’s raid of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, reportedly to recover classified documents related to nuclear weapons, the Palm Beach club had presented a host of security concerns and been breached numerous times. The club was the site of numerous trespassing incidents while Trump was in office.

Judge becomes target of harassment: Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart approved the FBI search warrant seeking classified information at the Palm Beach mansion. Then, he became the target of threats and smears. Fox News aired a photo-shopped a picture of him. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio suggested “they found some Obama donor judge” to use the classified-information search as a “ruse” to dig up documents on Trump’s role in the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio addresses hundreds of Sarasota and Manatee County residents at a GOP candidate rally at Robarts Arena on Saturday, July 16, 2022, to hear from top Republican leaders. Tiffany Tompkins/ttompkins@bradenton.com
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio addresses hundreds of Sarasota and Manatee County residents at a GOP candidate rally at Robarts Arena on Saturday, July 16, 2022, to hear from top Republican leaders. Tiffany Tompkins/ttompkins@bradenton.com

Kept in the dark: Speaking to the Republican Jewish Coalition on Friday, Rubio said the FBI’s raid of Mar-a-Lago is “playing with fire.” He said that even though he is vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he was kept in the dark. “Never once have we ever been informed or told that there is some deeply concerning counterintelligence concern about documents that were retained,’’ he said.

WHAT WE’RE TALKING ABOUT

Ron on the road: By Sunday, Florida’s governor was making headlines again. This time speaking to an afternoon rally in New Mexico for Mark Ronchetti, the GOP nominee for governor there, and in the evening attending a rally in downtown Phoenix to support candidates Kari Lake, who is running for governor, and Blake Masters. who is running for U.S. Senate.

They are the latest in a string of out-of-state events and fundraisers for DeSantis that has included campaign events with Ohio Republican Senate candidate JD Vance, Pennsylvania GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano and a fundraiser last Tuesday in Nantucket.

Andrew Warren, state attorney of the 13th Judicial Circuit, speaks to the Florida Chapters of Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action, June 3, 2022 in Tampa. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022 suspended the elected state prosecutor in Tampa for pledging not to enforce the state’s new 15-week abortion ban and for supporting gender transition treatments for minors. Luis Santana/AP
Andrew Warren, state attorney of the 13th Judicial Circuit, speaks to the Florida Chapters of Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action, June 3, 2022 in Tampa. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022 suspended the elected state prosecutor in Tampa for pledging not to enforce the state’s new 15-week abortion ban and for supporting gender transition treatments for minors. Luis Santana/AP

Escalating executive authority: We learned something more about DeSantis this month. It’s not what you do, it’s what you say that earns his wrath. His removal of Hillsborough County state attorney Andrew Warren for saying he wasn’t going to prosecute a what he considered an unconstitutional ban on abortion in Florida. It was also the latest example of DeSantis’ escalating the use of his executive power.

Drag queen Kat Wilderness performs for guests during a Drag Brunch at R House Wynwood in Miami, Florida, on Saturday, April 9, 2022. Daniel A. Varela/dvarela@miamiherald.com
Drag queen Kat Wilderness performs for guests during a Drag Brunch at R House Wynwood in Miami, Florida, on Saturday, April 9, 2022. Daniel A. Varela/dvarela@miamiherald.com

How did the drag show dragnet begin? The “public outrage” over a Miami drag show can be traced back to a well-known Canadian conservative influencer, who in early July received a Twitter message from a tipster who wanted her to “draw attention” to it. Lauren Chen posted a video and the state of Florida included it as evidence in its complaint.

Where will the investigation go? Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation says the drag show at R House in Wynwood violated several criminal laws governing “lewdness.” So if that’s the case, will anyone face criminal charges? No complaints have been sent to them for prosecution and, legal sources say, criminal charges would be a tough sell.

This is a photo of Christina Pushaw from her Twitter account, which she uses to advocate for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Twitter
This is a photo of Christina Pushaw from her Twitter account, which she uses to advocate for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Twitter

Pushaw joins campaign: The chief spokesperson for DeSantis, Christina Pushaw, made it official Friday and announced that the work she does will no longer be paid by taxpayers. She is shifting from the governor’s executive office to his political campaign, where she will be the “rapid response director.”

Pushaw earned a reputation as the chief amplifier of DeSantis’ political narrative. Her tweets were routinely boosted by conservative media sources and bloggers. When she joined the governor’s office she had less than 5,000 followers and had made only 559 tweets. She now has more than 188,000 followers and more than 48,000 tweets.

Florida Power & Light secretly financed a spoiler candidate in a 2018 race for a Gainesville-area state Senate, according to internal documents from its political consulting firm. The utility’s cash allowed the Republican incumbent to beat off a strong challenge from a Democratic opponent. Miami Herald
Florida Power & Light secretly financed a spoiler candidate in a 2018 race for a Gainesville-area state Senate, according to internal documents from its political consulting firm. The utility’s cash allowed the Republican incumbent to beat off a strong challenge from a Democratic opponent. Miami Herald

FPL stock downgraded: After months of headlines documenting how Florida Power & Light has secretly sought to manipulate elections and bend news coverage in its favor, one investment firm has downgraded its assessment of the electric utility’s parent company, NextEra Energy.

Seaport Global downgraded its stock recommendation for NextEra to ‘”neutral” from “buy,” citing “growing media scrutiny of FPL’s lobbying practices against distributed solar and retail choice.” The announcement came following reporting by the Herald documenting how FPL had secretly bankrolled and controlled the content of the website the Capitolist, using it to defend the utility, advocate for legislative favors and attack FPL’s critics.

FPL emerges as funder of 2018 spoiler: The Herald also reported that FPL and its political consulting firm, Matrix, secretly financed a spoiler candidate in a 2018 race for a Gainesville-area state Senate seat, splitting the liberal vote and siphoning off enough votes from the Democratic challenger to swing the race to the GOP incumbent.

“This is pretty much the nightmare scenario,” said Saurav Ghosh, director of federal campaign finance reform at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center in Washington, D.C. “You have a powerful corporate player in Florida politics using its financial resources to defeat a candidate without any disclosure to the public. … This is election rigging.”

Under the proposal, the 1989 storm would have been factored into plans for expanding the capacity of power plants and making other changes to handle “peak” electricity demand during the winter. But the proposal drew opposition from the state Office of Public Counsel. Miami
Under the proposal, the 1989 storm would have been factored into plans for expanding the capacity of power plants and making other changes to handle “peak” electricity demand during the winter. But the proposal drew opposition from the state Office of Public Counsel. Miami

And its not over: Journalist Jason Garcia writes that the hidden money games have continued with big donors like FPL and the state’s largest sugar companies, U.S. Sugar and Florida Crystals. He suggests they are backing Nikki Fried over Charlie Crist in the Democratic primary for governor. More than $1 out of every $3 that Democrat Nikki Fried has raised into her political committee comes from donors whose identities have been deliberately hidden from voters, but Garcia also found some clues as to the sources. The same 13 dark money committees that worked closely with FPL’s political operatives in 2020 have given more than $300,000 to Fried this year.

Critics warn Biden on Haitian policy: A worrying rise in the number of Haitian refugees arriving by boat off the Florida coast is raising questions about a long-standing immigration practice that determines why some fleeing migrants are processed into the United States and others are quickly returned to Haiti despite making it into U.S. territorial waters. Advocates accuse the Biden administration of practicing ‘wet foot, dry foot’ in regard to Haitian migrants arriving by sea, and they say it is dangerous.

Austin Tice, a freelance journalist for McClatchy and other news outlets, has vanished in Syria. Tice was last heard from in mid-August. (Courtesy of Tice family/MCT) Handout/MCT
Austin Tice, a freelance journalist for McClatchy and other news outlets, has vanished in Syria. Tice was last heard from in mid-August. (Courtesy of Tice family/MCT) Handout/MCT

Missing journalist: Sunday marked 10 years since war correspondent Austin Tice’s disappearance in Syria. Tice, a freelance correspondent who reported for McClatchy, The Washington Post and other media outlets, disappeared on Aug. 14, 2012. On Sunday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Biden administration will continue to engage directly with the Syrian government to locate and return him.

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