DeSantis may wind up testifying in court – POLITICO

Hello and welcome to Thursday.

For your radar It seems like an unlikely scenario, but there will be a hearing next week to determine whether Gov. Ron DeSantis can be called to testify in open court about why he chose to suspend Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren.

How we got here DeSantis made the high-profile move this summer to remove Warren from his post by contending it was justified when the prosecutor had promised not to enforce certain laws, including the state’s recently enacted ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Warren is challenging his suspension in federal court and his attorneys initially sought to depose both DeSantis and his chief of staff, James Uthmeier, ahead of trial.

The fine print Ultimately those depositions did not go forward but U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in an Oct. 30 order said that decision did not prevent Warren’s team from requesting the governor to appear at the trial.

New court filing On Tuesday, Florida’s solicitor general and lawyers from Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office, however, filed a motion seeking to block any move to compel DeSantis or Uthmeier to testify. “Combined with the information that Mr. Warren has obtained through nine depositions and multiple third-party subpoenas, he has more than enough evidence to discern the Governor’s motives without hauling Florida’s top executive officials into court,” the motion submitted on behalf of Moody by Solicitor General Henry Whitaker states.

Explanation There are legal doctrines that make it harder to depose top government officials or bring into court. In the motion on behalf of the governor, Whitaker argued that DeSantis is busy with official duties (such as hurricane response). But in his place, they made other top officials involved in Warren’s suspension available, including general counsel Ryan Newman and Larry Keefe, the “public safety czar” and former U.S. attorney who was also deeply involved in the migrant flights from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard.

Behind the curtain The testimony by Newman and Keefe itself was illuminating, revealing, for example, that DeSantis was initially reluctant to remove Warren over his pledge regarding abortion. In his deposition, Newman stated that “I sort of pushed back on his initial reluctance, because I just thought — honestly, I just thought it was appalling to — for the chief prosecutor in a jurisdiction to go out and make that kind of commitment, and thereby invite law breaking, thereby inviting a crime to occur.”

What comes next Warren’s attorneys have until next week to respond, but in their earlier filing seeking a deposition of DeSantis they argued “although he has continued to use Mr. Warren’s suspension as an argument for reelection on the campaign trail… he asserts that he is too busy, too important, to answer for his actions in the one forum where a factfinder can determine the true reasons why he ‘pulled the trigger’ on the suspension.” The attorneys argued last month that “extraordinary circumstances” exist that justify hearing from the governor.

— WHERE’S RON? — Nothing official announced for Gov. DeSantis.

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NOTHING TO SEE HERE — DeSantis on Wednesday deflected another question about a DeSantis vs. Trump collision now that former President Donald Trump has officially jumped into the presidential race for 2024. During a press conference in southwest Florida, DeSantis told everyone to just “chill out.” “Look, I think we just finished this election. OK. People just need to chill out a little bit on some of this stuff. I mean seriously,” DeSantis said before he contended that Republicans need to focus on the Georgia Senate runoff between Sen. Raphael Warnock and GOP candidate Herschel Walker. He went on to say that the GOP had a “substandard” performance in the rest of the country but then added that he had “produced results” in Florida. “We’re not going to look back,” he added.

PICKING UP STEAM — The DeSantis bandwagon gains momentum, by POLITICO’s David Siders and Charlie Mahtesian: The Ron DeSantis bandwagon is already rolling. Next week, in an advertising campaign shared first with Nightly, a pro-DeSantis super PAC will begin airing TV ads in Iowa, the first-in-the-nation caucus state. The ads, which began airing digitally today, follow a week in which the Florida governor’s star has risen — and Trump, following a bruising midterm, has lost his luster with many Republicans.

MAKING HIS CASEDeSantis draws contrast with Trump as party hunts for 2024 alterative, by POLITICO’s Alex Isenstadt: During a closed-door appearance before the Republican Governors Association meeting at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Orlando, the governor gave a detailed explanation on how he scored a lopsided reelection last Tuesday — including examples laden with implicit contrasts to the former president, who went unmentioned. DeSantis argued forcefully against the widely shared Trump-era conventional wisdom that the party couldn’t appeal simultaneously to suburban and rural voters, saying that he “won overwhelmingly” with suburbanites while also racking up massive “Saddam Hussein margins” in the state’s rural areas, according to a recording of the one-hour appearance obtained by POLITICO.

PALM BEACH V. TALLAHASSEE? — “GOP civil war pits Ron vs. Don with a presidential nomination at stake,” by Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas: “The governor will continue to bash the media and avoid engaging with Trump as long as possible, [Rick] Wilson said. But, he predicted, “the Republican base will know that he’s the candidate of the ‘Never Trump’ types — the wealthy donor class, Mitch McConnell, and the elite conservative media.” [John] Thomas, the head of the Ron to the Rescue PAC, predicted that while DeSantis attempts to stay out of the fray, if he is attacked, the super PAC will respond. “We’re not going to let former President Trump try to distort Gov. DeSantis’ record,’’ he said. “Does Trump have an argument for the nomination? He absolutely does. We just think ours is much better.”

— “Why Donald Trump’s announcement plays right into Ron DeSantis’ hands,” by CNN’s Chris Cillizza

— “Why DeSantis is a major threat to Trump’s reelection,” by FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver

WHO AGAIN? — “Leading Republicans try to ignore Trump campaign launch,” by The Associated Press’ Steve People and Brendan Farrington: “In New Hampshire, which is in line to host GOP’s opening presidential primary election in 2024, Gov. Chris Sununu predicted that few would pay attention to Trump’s announcement in the short term. ‘He won’t clear the field,’ Sununu told Fox News, declining to rule out a 2024 presidential run of his own. Sununu, a Republican, won his reelection by more than 15 points after pushing back against Trump’s election lies. At the same time, New Hampshire Republican Senate candidate Don Bolduc, a Trump loyalist, lost by 9 points. ‘You could make the argument he’s never been weaker politically,’ Sununu said of Trump.”

— “Many Republican lawmakers are wary of new Trump presidential bid,” by Wall Street Journal’s Siobhan Hughes and Lindsay Wise

— “The Republican reaction to Trump: A few endorsements, and a lot of crickets,” by The New York Times’ Maggie Astor

Scenes from inside Trump’s grim and glitzy comeback announcement, by POLITICO’s Michael Kruse

— “How a red wave overtook Florida midterm elections and why experts think that won’t change soon,” by ABC News’ Julia Jacobo

— “South Florida Democrats call for rethinking strategy,” by Florida Politics’ Anne Geggis

— “Janet Cruz plans to run for Tampa City Council,” by Tampa Bay Times’ William March

THAT ENDED QUICKLY — ‘Nothing to negotiate’: McConnell crushes Scott’s right-flank rebellion, by POLITICO’s Burgess Everett: Mitch McConnell handily dispatched Rick Scott in a Wednesday contest for Senate Republican leader, beating back his first challenger and cementing a ninth term running the Senate GOP. The Kentuckian prevailed over Scott (R-Fla.), 37-10, in a battle for Senate minority leader in the next Congress. One Republican voted present on the secret ballot held in the Old Senate Chamber, an ornate room where senators met before the Civil War, which one Republican estimated was about 50 degrees during the proceedings.

OPPOSED — “U.S. Sens. Rubio and Scott voted against advancing federal marriage equality law,” by Florida Phoenix’s Mitch Perry: “Florida’s two Republican U.S. senators — Marco Rubio and Rick Scott — both voted Wednesday against a procedural measure that would federally recognize and protect same-sex marriage and interracial marriage. The measure advanced on a 62-37 vote, and it will go back before the Senate for a final vote as soon as this week.”

Response — “Neither of the Florida senators spoke on the Senate floor Wednesday. But after the vote, Scott issued this statement: ‘I proudly support the gay community in Florida and across the nation and will aggressively fight any attempt to take away the ability for same-sex couples to marry and live their dreams in our great country. Unfortunately, the bill under consideration by the U.S. Senate does not adequately protect the religious liberties of all Americans, as guaranteed by the Constitution.’”

BEHIND THE CURTAIN — “DeSantis initially ‘not particularly enthusiastic’ about ousting Andrew Warren, deposition says,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Sue Carlton: “But according to court records, the governor was initially concerned and “not particularly enthusiastic” about removing Andrew Warren from office before any actual crime had been committed for Warren to consider prosecuting. The governor ‘expressed concern that suspension based on a pledge (not to prosecute) perhaps could be viewed as not a neglect of duty under the law,’ DeSantis’ general counsel Ryan Newman recently testified in a video deposition. ‘A pledge before a crime was actually committed, he was concerned about.’”

— “911 dispatchers overlooked, miss out on $1,000 bonuses from DeSantis,” by Fresh Take Florida’s Katie Delk

— “Lobbying compensation: Ballard Partners clings to No. 1 with The Southern Group close behind,” by Florida Politics’ Drew Wilson

‘THE SITUATION IS THE SAME’ — “Broward’s 911 system still needs critical fixes, panel warns – nearly 5 years after Parkland shooting,” by South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Lisa J. Huriash: “Nearly five years after the Parkland school massacre, the county’s 911 emergency system still faces some of the same problems that could cause delays in the police response, a state school safety panel warned Wednesday. That’s unacceptable, says Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the chairman of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, the panel created to investigate the school shooting. ‘When you call 911, the same thing that happened Feb. 14, 2018, is going to happen,’ he said Wednesday.”

WHAT’S IN YOUR WALLET?— “Floridians could pay billions to power companies to stormproof the grid,” by WFLA’s Sam Sachs and Mahsa Saeidi: “The Florida Public Service Commission approved four plans submitted by power companies allowing roughly $22 billion for efforts to “harden” the state power grid over the next 10 years. On Thursday, commissioners will vote on just how much Florida power bills will go up. Those billions will be paid solely by Floridians. Even with some reductions by the commission, the amount bills will go up wasn’t substantively changed.”

BY THE NUMBERS — New report: Nearly 5K Baker-acted in Florida schools last year, by POLITICO’s Andrew Atterbury: Some 4,844 students across Florida were removed from their schools for involuntary student mental health examinations under the state’s Baker Act in 2021-22, according to a new report released Wednesday. The report is the most extensive look yet at how frequently the practice is used on campuses. Presented to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, the data was compiled for the first time under a 2021 law that brought substantial changes to how local schools must handle Baker Acts for students.

What’s next — Florida’s Department of Education is working to analyze the results, which the commission acknowledged contained some anomalies. “It’s probably going to take a couple years of data and then looking at it to provide any context,” Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who chairs the commission, said Wednesday. “But it’s a good starting place, and I’m glad the Legislature put this in place.”

GENTLE GIANTS — “Lettuce again on the Florida menu to slow manatee starvation,” by The Associated Press’ Curt Anderson: “Lettuce will be on the menu again this year for Florida manatees as part of an effort to slow the starvation deaths of the beloved marine mammals, wildlife officials said Wednesday. Plans are already in place to resume an experimental feeding program at a warm-water power plant near Cape Canaveral. Last year, about 202,000 pounds of lettuce was fed to manatees that gather there by the thousands when the weather turns colder. The greater goal is to reduce pollution from agriculture, urban and sewage sources that has triggered a die-off in the seagrass beds manatees depend on for food. One water management district found that there has been a 75% drop in seagrass in the critical Indian River Lagoon since 2009.”

— “Pressure from ex-Miami Beach mayor a factor in sea-rise project’s problems, report says,” by Miami Herald’s Aaron Leibowitz and Alex Harris

 — “Dan Markel murder: Katherine Magbanua turns state witness as Charlie Adelson nears trial,” by Tallahassee Democrat’s Karl Etters: “Details about what [Katherine] Magbanua could divulge about her involvement with [Dan] Markel’s former brother-in-law Charlie Adelson and the suspected murder-for-hire plot that killed the acclaimed law professor are unknown. Also unknown is what bearing testimony against Adelson could have on Magbanua’s life sentence. But it could be a watershed moment for the prosecution in a case that has captivated Tallahassee for years. Magbanua was convicted of being the go-between in the murder-for-hire plot that investigators say was orchestrated and financed by Markel’s former in-laws.”

BIRTHDAYS: former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi … Orange County Property Appraiser Amy MercadoMax Flugrath, Democratic Party of Georgia … Arielle Mueller, press secretary for Sen. Mitt Romney and a Marco Rubio alum.

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