Florida Backroom Briefing: Game on for Hurricane Relief

By JIM TURNER AND DARA KAM NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

 UF football legend Steve Spurrier

UF football legend Steve Spurrier

As hurricane-weary Northwest Floridians grow more impatient with the financial dickering of state and federal officials, a former lawmaker from the region helped call a disaster-relief audible Thursday.

University of Florida football legend Steve Spurrier, longtime Florida State University assistant football coach Mickey Andrews and Coastal Carolina University basketball coach Cliff Ellis stumped in the Capitol for disaster relief with Robert Trammell, a lobbyist and a former Panhandle lawmaker.

For Spurrier, who won the Heisman Trophy for his exploits as UF quarterback and later coached the Gators to a national championship, Hurricane Michael recovery is personal as his daughter Amy is a teacher in Lynn Haven in Bay County.

“We need to take care of our people,” said Spurrier, pointing to hundreds of teaching positions lost throughout the region.

“I think we all agree this is something we need to do together,” he continued. “We can fight it out. We can argue about late hits and all that stuff another day, but right now let’s help those people in the Panhandle.”

The hurricane devastation also is personal for Ellis, a Marianna native and Florida State graduate whose coaching career has included stops at the University of South Alabama, Clemson and Auburn. He said he was stunned by what he saw during a recent post-season trip to the Panhandle.

“Folks, there are people living in tents,” Ellis said. “There are people that are actually living in their cars. There are jobs being lost. It’s going to dry up if we don’t do something about it.”

The appearances by the coaches came a day after a group of more than 150 Northwest Florida women, called Michael’s Angels, rallied for hurricane support at the Capitol.

Six months after the Category 4 storm made landfall in Mexico Beach, the region’s leaders and residents have expressed increasing frustration about stalled disaster relief in Washington and are calling on state lawmakers to provide more money for recovery.

The state House and Senate budget plans would direct about $225 million for additional disaster aid next fiscal year. Included in the House’s $89.9 billion package is $123.6 million for affordable housing in hurricane areas. The Senate’s $90.3 billion budget proposal includes $100 million for housing.

VISITED TAMPA

With the state’s tourism-marketing arm on the House chopping block, Gov. Ron DeSantis went to Tampa International Airport this week and talked about the “vital role” tourism plays in the state.

The visit came as the House and Senate prepare for budget negotiations that will include the fate of Visit Florida. If the agency isn’t reauthorized this year, it will go out of business Oct. 1.

During the appearance, DeSantis promoted a Visit Florida claim that tax revenue generated by travel and tourism equates to a $1,549 savings for every Florida household. The figure is based, in part, on estimates that out-of-state tourism generates $11.6 billion in state and local taxes.

“That means without the revenues generated from tourism, Florida families would have had to pony up more, a lot more, in addition to the taxes they already pay, to keep state funding levels the same,” DeSantis said.

The House wants to let Visit Florida expire and cut funding for another one of its longtime targets, the business-recruitment agency Enterprise Florida.

While DeSantis is backing the agencies, his approach is different from the battles that played out when former Gov. Rick Scott fended off House attempts to eliminate Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida in 2017.

Scott traveled the state imploring local business and tourism officials, as well as members of Enterprise Florida, to let their voices be heard in Tallahassee.

Of course, Scott was battling then-House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who was publicly calling Scott-backed business incentive programs “corporate welfare” and “de facto socialism.” Corcoran also said exposing Visit Florida contracts with a British football club, rapper Pitbull and an auto racing team were part of overall efforts to shine a light on “cockroaches.”

DeSantis is facing a more sphinxlike opponent in House Speaker Jose Oliva, who doesn’t have the same combative style as Corcoran.

FROM CONVICTED FELON TO TIME’S 100

There’s no question Desmond Meade has come a long way, but his star is continuing to rise.

Meade was one of the main forces behind the November constitutional amendment, known as Amendment 4, that restores voting rights for felons who have fulfilled their sentences.

Meade, a convicted felon, became the poster child for the effort. He also has become a familiar face in the halls of the Capitol as he and other “returning citizens” push back against Republican legislative leaders’ attempts to impose what supporters of Amendment 4 consider restrictions on who is eligible for voting-rights restoration.

Meade, who often fights back tears as he testifies in committees, has garnered national attention for his work, in January getting featured in People magazine. And this week, he landed on Time magazine’s list of 2019’s most influential people, with a rising political star, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, writing the blurb on Meade.

Here’s what she had to say: “Desmond Meade decided to break this pattern for 1.4 million Floridians. Homeless and suicidal, with a felony record, Desmond fought to graduate with a law degree. When he learned he could not vote for his own wife, a candidate for the state legislature, he became president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and led the charge to adopt a constitutional amendment to re-enfranchise Floridians with felonies. Amendment 4 needed 60% of the vote to pass; in November 2018, it received 65%. It was the largest expansion of voting rights in a half-century, and Desmond made it happen.”

Meade went on Twitter to share his thanks for the recognition.

“This is an unexpected honor that I believe speaks to the power of committing to being of service to others, and the power of love to transform conditions and people,” he tweeted Wednesday.

TWEEK OF THE WEEK: “86 bills. 2,992 pages. 24 hours. Who could possibly process all this?” — Sen. Tom Lee (@TomLeeFL) on Wednesday, a day before a marathon Appropriations Committee meeting.

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News Talk Florida Staff