Florida rep’s blackface problem — Trump’s $64m vacay tab — Gaetz v. Parkland dad — Face-licker quits

Good Thursday morning. Well, blackface has come to Florida….or, well, it has been here for a while.

INTO THE BARREL — As Virginia, the new capital of political blackface, dominates the news cycle, one of the Florida-based byproducts has been once again putting focus on the high school blackface photo of state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, a Republican from just outside of Orlando. The 30-year-old said he does not think the high school picture is racist because he took it as part of a joke with a close high school friend who was black. The high school friend, Brandon Evans, backed Sabatini’s description, telling the Orlando Sentinel “I don’t know how it got to be seen as racial.”

THE POLITICS — Despite that explanation, the Florida Democratic Party pounced on the photo, which initially surfaced during the campaign. FDP Chair Terrie Rizzo called on Sabatini to resign, while Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva, a Republican, said blackface is “unacceptable.” He did, though, note that once the “facts were known” and Sabatini’s friend vouched for him, it became clear there was “no racial animus.” Despite that explanation, the story has caught media fire across the country.

—“State Rep. Anthony Sabatini dismisses Florida Democratic chair call for his resignation over high school ‘blackface’ photo,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Steven Lemongello: Read more

—“Florida pol rejects calls to resign over high school blackface photo,” by New York Post’s Joshua Rhett Miller: Read more

—“Florida politician says he won’t resign over blackface photo that surfaced during his campaign,” by Splinter’s Samantha Grasso: Read more

—“Florida state representative rejects calls for his resignation over high school blackace photo,” by Newsweek’s Christina Zhao: Read more

WELCOME TO THE PLAYBOOK FAMILY — Annabelle Dickson, POLITICO Europe’s London-based politics and technology correspondent, starting this Friday, will officially write the Friday edition of the London Playbook. Jack Blanchard will continue to oversee the newsletter and will write the other 4 editions. Subscribe

PERVERSION OF JUSTICE — “Justice Department opens probe into Jeffrey Epstein plea deal,” by Miami Herald’s Julie K. Brown: “The Department of Justice has opened an investigation into Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta’s role in negotiating a controversial plea deal with a wealthy New York investor accused of molesting more than 100 underage girls in Palm Beach. The probe is in response to a request by Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who was critical of the case following a series of stories in the Miami Herald. The Herald articles detailed how Acosta, then the U.S. attorney for Southern Florida, and other DOJ attorneys worked hand-in-hand with defense lawyers to cut a lenient plea deal with multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein in 2008.” Read more

‘POINT OF PRIDE?’ — via press release: “Allied Progress, which worked to raise public awareness about Acosta’s kid-gloves treatment of Jeffrey Epstein’s child sexual exploitation case during his Labor Secretary nomination process, is urging the more than 130,000 activists on its email list to share a new video, `Point of Pride,‘ on social media networks. Activists are also asked to sign a petition demanding the Senate hold Acosta accountable by moving forward H.R. 202, the bipartisan Inspector General Access Act, which cleared the U.S. House on January 15th and would allow a long overdue investigation to go forward. The video and petition are backed by paid ads on Twitter and Facebook.”

KA-CHING — “Eric Trump to hold fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago Thursday,” by Palm Beach Post’s Alexandra Clough: “President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address included a sweet spotlight on Grace Eline, a 10-year old girl who, at an early age, asked for donations to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital instead of presents, only to wind up battling cancer herself at age 9. Now 10, Grace Eline was seated next to First Lady Melania Trump during the speech and beamed with a broad smile when the president spoke about her story. The plug for St. Jude on national television came two days before Trump’s son, Eric, and his his wife Lara are set to co-chair a $750 per ticket dinner dance gala at Mar-a-Lago, the former Eric Trump Foundation benefiting St. Jude.” Read more

BAD LOOK — “Florida congressman Matt Gaetz clashes with Parkland dad at hearing on gun violence,” by Sun Sentinel’s Skyler Swisher: “A Florida congressman clashed Wednesday with a father who lost his son in the Parkland school shooting, inquiring at one point during a Congressional hearing on gun violence why the chair wasn’t enforcing decorum and having him removed. U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Pensacola, drew shouts from Parkland dad Manuel Oliver when he said expanding background checks for gun sales would do nothing to stop murders committed by people who are in the country illegally.” Read more

AIDS EPICENTER — “Trump vowed to ‘defeat AIDS’ in his State of the Union. Florida is ground zero,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Steve Contorno: “President Donald Trump on Tuesday vowed to `eliminate the HIV epidemic in the United States within 10 years‘ during his State of the Union address. ‘Scientific breakthroughs have brought a once-distant dream within reach,’ Trump said. ‘Together, we will defeat AIDS in America.’ It’s a surprising declaration for a president who has proposed cutting tens of millions of dollars from federal HIV and AIDS programs in his previous budget.” Read more

NOT AGAIN — “Second federal shutdown would put hurricane recovery at risk,” by POLITICO Florida’s Matt Dixon: A second federal government shutdown could hamper Florida’s hurricane recovery efforts by depriving the state of rebuilding funds for Hurricane Michael, the state’s emergency management director warned. Department of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz said a second shutdown this month could prevent Congress from passing spending bills crucial to Florida. Read more

CHANGES COMING — “School safety changes proposed as Parkland anniversary nears,” News Service of Florida’s Ana Ceballos: “A week before the Parkland school-shooting anniversary, top Republican leaders in the Florida Senate have proposed plans to overhaul school-safety measures and expand a controversial program that allows school personnel to carry guns, a proposal that has overshadowed Democrats’ efforts to move away from arming school staff.“ Read more

SCHOOLS V. HOSPITALS — “The Sunshine Economy: The State Budget,” by WLRN’s Tom Hudson: “Familiar battlelines are being drawn over the biggest pieces Florida’s state budget — healthcare and education. Republicans plan on going after healthcare regulations they contend drive up the cost of care. Democrats say, after three failed attempts, Medicaid expansion returns as their priority." Read more

FOR WHOM THE TOLLS TOLL — “Lawmakers want tough stance on SunPass toll problems,” by News Service of Florida: “State lawmakers called Tuesday for transportation officials to maintain a hard financial line against a contractor blamed for a troubled project last summer to upgrade the SunPass system, as final toll invoices from a backlog go out to motorists this week.” Read more

CC. BROWARD COUNTY — “School board term limits proposal advances in Florida House,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Jeffrey S. Solochek: “Citing the importance of eliminating the ‘incumbency advantage’ and the need to generate fresh ideas, members of the Florida House PreK-12 Quality subcommittee unanimously backed a resolution (HJR 229) Wednesday to ask voters to approve term limits for school board members. Even with their support, several committee members signaled a desire to see some changes to the proposal for two four-year terms.” Read more

HISTORY UNEARTHED — “Hurricane Michael exposes WWII gun turret in St. Andrews State Park,” by News Herald’s Patti Blake: “A small piece of history was recently exposed by heavy wind and surge from Hurricane Michael and recent storms at St. Andrews State Park. A WWII gun turret is now visible on the Gulf side of the beach at the state park. According to Park Services Specialist David Morris, the turret is one of two built in 1943 to defend commercial vessels against attacking U-boats.” Read more

DEBRIS DOLLARS — “After Hurricane Michael’s blow, lawmaker pursues money for storm-ravaged Bay County,” by News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner: Read more

HANG ‘EM — “Roofing scammers stole nearly $500,000 from Volusia-Flagler residents after hurricanes, officials say,” by News-Journal’s Frank Fernandez: Read more

SHOCKED — “Maduro regime blocks international bridge to prevent aid from getting into Venezuela,” by Miami Herald’s Jim Wyss: “Venezuela’s determination to stop humanitarian aid from entering the country was on full display Wednesday, after the military dumped shipping containers and a tanker truck on a bridge that was supposed to be a thoroughfare for food and medicine pouring into the country.” Read more

THE OTHER HALF — “Report: Half of Marion households struggle to make ends meet,” by Star Banner’s Joe Callahan: “Half of Marion County’s households do not earn enough money to pay for basic necessities such as food, housing and child care, according to a study released today by the United Way of Florida. Even though Marion County’s unemployment rate is dropping and wages are rising, local United Way officials say many area residents are still struggling to make ends meet.” Read more

CC. MCCLATCHY’S CEO — “Booming economy? For South Florida residents, barely getting by is increasingly the norm,” by Miami Herald’s Rob Wile: “Miami-Dade’s unemployment rate sits at about 3.6 percent—the lowest in a decade. An all-time high of more than 1.2 million county residents have jobs. But for hundreds of thousands of Miami-Dade families, survival in the past decade has remained a struggle, according to the United Way’s latest ALICE report, a bi-annual study examining household finances by state and county.” Read more

ACCESSORY TO SUICIDE — “High court upholds manslaughter conviction of Michelle Carter, woman who sent texts urging boyfriend’s suicide,” by AP’s Alanna Durkin Richer: “A young woman who as a teenager encouraged her boyfriend through dozens of text messages to kill himself is responsible for his suicide, Massachusetts’ highest court ruled Wednesday in upholding her involuntary manslaughter conviction.” Read more

S.S. SLIME HUNTER — “FAU’s Self-Driving Sailboat Will Monitor Algal Blooms In Lake Okeechobee,” by WLRN’s Andrew Quintana: “With clear skies and breezy winds, Florida Atlantic University (FAU) revealed its newest invention Tuesday at Pahokee Marina, in the southern half of Lake Okeechobee: a solar powered sailboat that will monitor and test for harmful algal blooms. The Nav2 is the first autonomous vessel to be used for in-land algae monitoring.” Read more

— “Crestview chooses first city manager,” by Daily News’ Wendy Victora: Read more

— “Developers make their pitch for new JEA headquarters,” by Times-Union’s Christopher Hong: Read more

— “To avoid potential conflict, Duval School Board member stepping down from education nonprofit," by Times-Union’s Teresa Stepzinski: Read more

— “Commissioner seeks to rescind $10 million in funding for proposed aquarium at Port Canaveral,” by Florida Today’s Dave Berman: Read more

TRULY SORRY — “How Tampa’s James Cordier went from high roller to YouTube apology after losing $150 million,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Susan Taylor Martin: “The collapse of Cordier’s OptionSellers.com was perhaps not as surprising as it appeared. The company nearly ‘blew up‘ once before, as former employee Michael Gross put it, because of its connection to a brokerage whose CEO landed in prison for embezzling more than $200 million from clients’ accounts.” Read more

FACE LICKER — “Madeira Beach commissioner accused of face-licking, groping city manager resigns,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Sheila Mullane Estrada: “City Commissioner Nancy Oakley resigned Tuesday, days after being fined by the state ethics commission for sexually harassing a former city manager by licking his face and groping him.” Read more

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