Hello and welcome to Wednesday.
Checklist— Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is revving up his quest to remake Florida’s higher education system as he marches ever closer to a likely presidential bid.
Out — The push by the governor — which began in small steps last year — accelerated this week. Freshly appointed trustees to New College aligned with DeSantis held a bumpy meeting on Tuesday where they fired the school’s president and said they were hiring Richard Corcoran, a former House speaker and education commissioner, as interim president.
How?— The entire scene was apparently orchestrated ahead of time, raising questions about how this comports with Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine law. Reports of Corcoran’s hiring started popping up even before the trustee meeting even happened.
Final words— New College’s ousted president — Patricia Okker — called what was happening a “hostile takeover” and pushed back against allegations that students were being indoctrinated at the small liberal arts college in Sarasota. Before she made those comments, she said that “I have been informed that the plan includes my termination as president.”
Agenda— The scene in Sarasota came just a few hours after DeSantis announced a new slate of recommendations that he wants legislators to consider for the coming session, including a ban on the spending of money on diversity, equity and inclusion programs, giving university presidents a greater say over individual faculty hires, and instituting a core curriculum. (The latter already exists but in a breakout, the administration said the courses must be based on providing a “strong educational foundation not indoctrination.”)
Context — Put it together and this marks probably the most significant round of changes to Florida’s higher education system since it underwent a tumultuous period while then-Gov. Jeb Bush was office that included a dismantling of its governance system as well as the end of affirmative action in college admissions.
We’re No. 1? — All of this is being pursued even though for years now many Republican elected officials have touted Florida’s high marks for its college and university systems. But none of this should be a huge surprise since academia has been viewed as a place where “liberal elites” are in control. The governor’s office even used that phrase in the press release announcing the higher education changes. DeSantis, a graduate of Harvard and Yale, has made targeting elites — whether in media, academia, big business or the medical field — a key part of his brand.
Context — Now, again, political interference in Florida’s colleges and universities is not a new phenomenon and it has occurred under both Democratic and Republican governors but DeSantis has kicked it up a notch.
Road ahead— The governor predicted that New College — which is going to get a boost in extra funding amid all of this — would soon become attractive to students and professors looking for something different amid the current academic environment. The experiment has started.
— WHERE’S RON? — Nothing official for Gov. DeSantis.
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SCENE IN SARASOTA— “New College board fires presidents, installs former GOP House Speaker, DeSantis ally,” by Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s Zac Anderson: “Fighting back tears, an emotional [Patricia] Okker said she couldn’t go along with ‘this new mandate where this is a hostile takeover and a dramatic change in the mission.’ Members of the audience — some in tears themselves — urged her to fight for her job. Okker apologized for disappointing them. ‘I believe a president needs to stand behind her words when she asks donors to contribute,’ she said. ‘It is the only way that I can be effective. You cannot ask me to go forward and argue that we are indoctrinating students here. I do not believe it.’”
— “Conservative trustees oust president at Florida’s New College amid leadership overhaul,” by POLITICO’s Andrew Atterbury
— “Change comes swiftly to New College as DeSantis appointees replace president,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Ian Hodgson, Divya Kumar and Lane DeGregory
THE AGENDA— DeSantis targets ‘ideological’ programs in proposed university changes, by POLITICO’s Andrew Atterbury: Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed a slate of changes to Florida’s university system on Tuesday that could shake up diversity, equity and inclusion programs as well as faculty tenure at campuses across the state. The Republican governor is asking the Legislature in the upcoming session to eliminate all state funding toward those programs, which he deems “ideological,” and pass a measure that would give university officials the power to launch a tenure review at any time. These proposals could prove to be banner higher education legislation in 2023 as Florida Republicans seize on colleges in their push to eliminate “woke” lessons in schools.
RESPONSE— DeSantis snaps back at Trump: I got reelected, by POLITICO’s Gary Fineout: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday hit back at former President Donald Trump’s criticism of his Covid-19 handling, pointing out that he scored a record reelection victory that showed voters supported his hands-off response to the pandemic. “I roll out of bed, I have people attacking me from all angles, it’s been happening for many, many years,” DeSantis said during a press conference in Bradenton where he was asked about Trump’s recent digs at him.
PUSHING AHEAD — “DeSantis takes on the education establishment, and builds his brand,” by The New York Times’ Stephanie Saul, Patricia Mazzei and Trip Gabriel: “But [Gov. Ron DeSantis’s] crusade has perhaps played out most dramatically in classrooms and on university campuses. He has banned instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade, limited what schools and employers can teach about racism and other aspects of history and rejected math textbooks en masse for what the state called ‘indoctrination.’ Most recently, he banned the College Board’s Advanced Placement courses in African American studies for high school students.”
‘WE WON’T KNOW THE FULL STORY’ — “‘It was shocking’: Miami AP African American Studies students react to DeSantis rejecting course,” by Miami Herald’s Sommer Brugal: “So when [Jaden Walter] was informed halfway through the academic year that his sixth period class would be canceled, he was shocked and upset. Not just because his education was disrupted but because he was losing access to information he wanted to have — and he wasn’t alone. About two dozen students had also enrolled in the pilot course at the A-rated school ahead of the 2022-23 school year, despite the inability to earn college credit or enhance their GPA by taking such a rigorous course.”
— “Ron DeSantis joins GOP chorus targeting DirecTV for dropping Newsmax,” by Deadline’s Ted Johnson
GETTING READY TO RUMBLE— Trump big money machine prepares for battle with DeSantis, other rivals, by POLITICO’s Alex Isenstadt: The operatives running former President Donald Trump’s cash-flush super PAC met quietly in December to sketch out their lines of attack against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other potential GOP rivals — the latest indication that the slow-burning 2024 primary is beginning to intensify. During the meeting, which was held in an Alexandria, Va. office and led by Trump lieutenants Taylor Budowich and Tony Fabrizio, the group pored over confidential polling, went over legal and communications strategies and laid out a six-month plan for the race. That plan included an opposition research initiative targeting DeSantis and other possible candidates.
FOLLOW THE MONEY— “Trump revamps his fundraising operation after struggling to raise money for 2024,” by NBC News’ Jonathan Allen and Marc Caputo: “Eric Wilson, a Republican digital fundraising consultant who isn’t affiliated with the campaign, said that in addition to announcing at a bad time for fundraising generally, Trump started asking for money amid a round of finger-pointing over the GOP’s disappointing midterms, in which some fingers were pointed at the omnipresent former president. ‘If you want a big fundraising pop when you announce your campaign, you don’t do it right after an election where all your donors are burned out from being bombarded by fundraising asks and you don’t have a great track record to show for it,’ Wilson said.”
— Trump committee burns through cash in early months, new filings show, by POLITICO’s Jessica Piper and Meridith McGraw
THE ROAD TAKEN — “Trump’s well-worn legal playbook starts to look frayed,” by The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman: The expanding legal threats facing former President Donald J. Trump are testing as never before his decades-old playbook for fending off prosecutors, regulators and other accusers and foes, with his trademark mix of defiance, counterattacks, bluffs and delays encountering a series of setbacks. In other legal maneuvering and in seeking to shape public opinion about cases involving him, Mr. Trump has experienced regular reversals in court in recent months even as he begins his campaign for another term in the White House.
— “For GOP base, battles over coronavirus vaccines, closure are still fiery,” by Washington Post’s Yasmeen Abutaleb, Rachel Roubein and Isaac Arnsdorf
— “N.Y. attorney general seeks sanctions against Trump and his legal team,” by Washington Post’s Shayna Jacobs
YOU GET A SPECIAL SESSION AND YOU GET A— Florida legislators expected to tackle Disney in special session next week, by POLITICO’s Gary Fineout: The Republican-controlled Florida Legislature is expected to hold a special session next week, where it will deal directly with Disney World’s Reedy Creek Improvement District. Bryan Griffin, a spokesperson for Gov. Ron DeSantis, confirmed in a statement Tuesday that “the governor’s office anticipates a special session next week on Reedy Creek, and other items,” a signal that the governor’s office could be increasing pressure to get something done ahead of the regular session that is scheduled to start in early March.
LINING UP— “South Florida’s Jason Pizzo says he has votes to be next Senate Democratic leader,” by South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Anthony Man: “[Sen. Jason] Pizzo said he has signed commitment cards from 10 of the 12 Democrats serving in the Senate. In a brief interview after a Broward Legislative Delegation meeting in Fort Lauderdale, said it makes sense for the party to elect a leader now. He said it would make for smoother political messaging and fundraising as Democrats look to increase their numbers in the Senate — the most important task for a future leader.”
— Florida Republicans file bill easing death penalty requirements, by POLITICO’s Matt Dixon
— “State lawmakers order audit of Winter Springs over water treatment, sewage spills, public records,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Martin E. Comas
SCOTT CUTS A CHECK — POLITICO’s Morning Score reports that year-end federal campaign filings due on Tuesday showed that Florida Sen. Rick Scott raised $3.4 million, an amount that included a $3 million loan the day before Election Day. Scott — who has repeatedly said for months that he was running for reelection — starts the year with more than $4 million on hand.
NEARLY $11K STOLEN FROM DUNN — Panhandle Republican Rep. Neal Dunn’s campaign had thousands of dollars stolen from it, according to federal campaign filings posted earlier this week. Federal records show that Friends of Neal Dunn reported that a $10,855 fraudulent check had been posted to the campaign account in mid-November, triggering and investigation.
In a statement Dunn stated: “Campaigns are often prime targets for fraud. Unfortunately, a criminal or criminals recently targeted our campaign, Friends of Neal Dunn by intercepting a payment to one of our vendors. As soon as the check was intercepted, my team went into action to trace the origin of the fraud. We determined that the crime happened externally and the fraudulent dispersement is under investigation by the Committee’s bank to recover funds.”
— “Harmeet Dhillon endorses Christian Ziegler for Florida GOP chair,” by Florida Politics’ Jacob Ogles
— “Endorsements for Annette Taddeo’s bid to lead Florida Democrats continue pouring in,” by Florida Politics’ Jesse Scheckner
‘SOLUTIONS OUR COMMUNITY NEEDS’ — “Florida immigration groups support parole process for Cuba, Haiti after Mayorkas visit,” by Miami Herald’s Syra Ortiz Blanes and El Nuevo Herald’s Sonia Osorio: “Florida immigration advocacy groups voiced strong support Tuesday for a new parole process for Cubans, Haitians, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans, while criticizing Florida and other states challenging the Biden administration over the program. ‘I have seen firsthand how this program has brought families together and provided opportunities for a better life for our people,’ said Maria Antonieta Díaz, president of the Venezuelan American Alliance, during a virtual press conference in English, Spanish and Creole.”
— “FPL CEO’s exit agreement includes claw back if ‘legal wrongdoing’ is found, investment analysts say,” by Florida Times-Union’s Nate Monroe
— “4 key suspects in Haiti presidential slaying in US custody,” by The Associated Press’ Dánica Coto
— “Two Florida doctors guilty in $31 million scheme to bill Medicare for unneeded equipment,” by Miami Herald’s Jay Weaver
— “Florida expands campaign to help reduce accidental baby deaths,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Lauren Peace
— “Jacksonville City Council president gets request to investigate mayoral candidate Cumber,” by Florida Times-Union’s David Bauerlein
— “Billionaire Citadel CEO makes $25M donation to Miami hospital. What’s it for?” by Miami Herald’s Michelle Marchante: “Billionaire and Citadel CEO Ken Griffin, who recently purchased the historic Adrienne Arsht estate for a record $106.9 million, has donated $25 million to Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, one of the largest single donations in the hospital’s 72-year history. The money will help fund a five-story surgical tower, now under construction and set to open in 2024. The tower, which will be named the Kenneth C. Griffin Surgical Tower, will house pre-and post-surgical care suites, and will utilize the latest tech to boost patient care, including robotics, augmented and virtual reality.”
BIRTHDAYS: State Rep. Chuck Brannan … Former state Sen. Oscar Braynon … Matt Moon, managing director at Narrative Strategies