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Michael Van Sickler, Tampa Bay Times

Michael Van Sickler

Michael has been with the Tampa Bay Times since 2003. A Cleveland, Ohio, native, he graduated from Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa., and got his master's degree at the University of Florida. He has worked at the Ledger and the Palm Beach Post. For the Times, he has covered everything from mortgage fraud, growth and development in Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg City Hall and state government in Tallahassee. After a stint as assistant metro editor for the paper, he is now the government and politics editor.

Phone: (727) 580-9650.


Twitter: @MikeVanSickler

  1. Philip Levine calls for statewide referendum on minimum wage after loss in court


    From the Miami Herald's Joey Flechas:

    Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine's proposal to raise the city's mandatory minimum wage above the statewide minimum was met with unanimous approval from the City Commission, but it failed its first legal test Tuesday when a Miami-Dade circuit judge invalidated the ordinance.

    Passed in June 2016, the ordinance mandates Beach employers to pay a minimum wage of $10.31 starting Jan. 1, 2018, and a dollar more each year until 2021. The current state-mandated minimum is $8.10. The initiative, praised by labor groups and decried by business associations, also became a political talking point for Levine, who is now considering a run for governor and is frequently included in the conversation of potential Democratic nominees....

    Philip Levine
  2. Trump taps Christie, not Pam Bondi, to head opioid panel


    As it's becoming abundantly clear, Pam Bondi still doesn't have a job in the Donald Trump administration, although she will still play a role. 

    Considering her early support for Trump, Bondi was considered a lock for a top post in his administration. She will be moderating a "Women's Empowerment" panel with first lady Melania Trump today, so that's fueled further speculation that a post is imminent....

    Chris Christie to head Trump opioid abuse commission
  3. After DUI charge, Pigman steps down from committee chair


    Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced Tuesday that Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park, was stepping down as chair of the House's Health Quality Subcommittee.

    It comes less than a week after Pigman, an emergency medicine physician, was charged with driving under the influence. A state trooper stopped Pigman's Jeep early Friday on Florida's Turnpike in St. Lucie County and a Breathalyzer test showed that his blood alcohol level was .15, nearly twice the legal limit....

    Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park
  4. Buckhorn to House: Leave Brightline alone


    Yes, there's no rail in Tampa, except for that streetcar system that runs to Ybor City.

    But Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has a dream that perhaps one day his city will be the stop of a major passenger rail line.

    Which is why he is asking a House transportation committee to vote against HB 269, which would make the Florida Department of Transportation the regulatory power over high speed rail. Currently federal law preempts state and local rules....

    Bob Buckhorn
  5. As Zika looms, Rick Scott touts his friend in White House


    From the Miami Herald's Daniel Chang: 

    South Florida's battle plan for Zika, expected to rebound with the rainy season, includes more boots on the ground to inspect and fumigate for mosquitoes, more lab resources to speed up test turnaround times and the promise of a more collegial collaboration between the federal and state governments.

    “As you know, I have a good relationship with the White House,” said Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who visited the health department in Miami on Monday for a roundtable with local leaders on Zika preparedness....

    Florida Gov. Rick Scott visited Miami on Monday for a meeting with local officials to discuss preparedness plans for Zika, which has been nearly dormant in Miami-Dade but is expected to rebound with the return of the rainy season. County officials plan to hire additional mosquito control workers and to advertise public service announcements advising residents to drain standing water and eliminate mosquito breeding sites. Florida also will be adding resources to the fight against Zika, including additional resources for laboratory testing and research.
  6. How Walmart's decision to leave Midtown played into a Darryl Rouson vote


    The Florida Senate's vote on the so-called "whiskey to Wheaties" bill was a tight one, narrowly passing 21-17.

    One of those no votes, Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, proves that all politics really are local.

    On Jan. 20, Rouson called a late-afternoon hearing at his downtown St. Pete office to try to change the minds of Walmart officials who chose to close its Midtown store. That store has been a linchpin in efforts to redevelop the low-income, predominately black community. A troubled lease agreement convinced Walmart officials to leave its location at the Tangerine Plaza in January....

    Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg
  7. Rick Scott calls out Richard Corcoran, Pinellas state lawmakers


    From Times staff photographer Scott Keeler:

    The Gov. Rick Scott Road Show continues.

    On Wednesday, Scott's tour defending his key agencies, Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, landed him at Allen Sports Center in Seminole, where 75 business officials greeted him....

    Rick Scott, with Visit Florida CEO Ken Lawson, during a Wednesday appearance at Allen Sports Center in Seminole.
  8. Trump's budget could cut program that helped pay for Tampa's Riverwalk


    Although Donald Trump vowed he would spend more on infrastructure, many of the grant programs that do that are in line to get cut in his budget.

    According to The Hill, Trump is putting together a $1 trillion package to upgrade the nation's transportation network. But if the budget follows a blueprint published by the Heritage Foundation, which has sway in Trump's administration, that would mean the end for the $510 million TIGER program....

    TIGER funds helped pay for the 2.6 mile Tampa Riverwalk
  9. NDN: Aaron Bean steered $1 million to friend's business


    Blockbuster from Arek Sarkissian at the Naples Daily News:

    A state senator helped a friend's business obtain $1 million hidden in the state budget after the two discussed how the lawmaker would promote the business, budget documents and emails show.

    Sen. Aaron Bean helped secure a $1 million special appropriation in this year's budget for an early mental health screening program run by Catherine Drew, the wife of Nassau County Tax Collector John Drew. Bean and John Drew have been friends for more than a decade and have supported each other politically....

    Sen. Aaron Bean
  10. Florida Lottery's record revenues no jackpot for students


    Very interesting story from the Miami Herald's Kyra Gurney.

    Gabriela Fowler has a 4.7 GPA, takes college-level calculus and statistics courses, and is the president of her school’s business leadership club. But for the 17-year-old Hialeah High senior, a college scholarship funded by the record-setting revenues of the Florida Lottery somehow remains out of reach.

    Like many low-income and minority students in Miami-Dade County, Fowler has been shut out by tougher eligibility requirements for Bright Futures college scholarships. A few years ago, her SAT and ACT scores would have been high enough to earn money that, along with federal financial aid, would have covered most of her college costs. Instead, Fowler is now scrambling to find a way to pay for college....

    Hialeah High School senior Claudia Cruz, 17, during a discussion in March about the difficulties minority and low-income students face in paying for college.
  11. Ayala: Rick Scott overstepped authority in death penalty case


    From the Associated Press

    A state attorney says Florida’s governor overstepped his authority when he pulled her off a case after she said she would not pursue the death penalty in any cases. 

    State Attorney Aramis Ayala made the assertion Monday in a legal motion that asks a judge to allow her to present that argument in court. The motion claims that allowing the governor to interfere could undermine Florida’s judicial system. ...

    Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala
  12. UPDATE: Facebook comments by Seminole County official spark outrage


    (The Orlando Sentinel reports that McCullars placed on administrative leave. Grant Maloy, Clerk of Courts and Comptroller, said that McCullars' comments "don't reflect my beliefs or the beliefs of the comptroller's office." An investigation is pending, with a decision expected this week. Maloy said her personally called Ayala to express his regrets.)...

    Stan McCullars, the assistant finance director at the Seminole County Clerk of the Circuit Court, apologized for posting a comment on Facebook that Aramis Ayala, state attorney for Orange and Osceola counties, be hung from a tree. Ayala is the first African-American state attorney.
  13. Another link between Trump and that Russian oligarch


    Some interesting dot connecting from the Palm Beach Post's John Pacenti:

    The coincidences are piling up.

    Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev last week disavowed any contact with President Donald Trump.

    But speculation again was stoked when his state-of-the-art yacht Anna sat anchored in the British Virgin Islands on Friday night and another equally resplendent luxury liner, the Sea Owl, sidled up, according to a website that tracks the movement of yachts....

    Two yachts believed to be the Anna, owned by Dmitry Rybolovlev, and the Sea Owl, owned by President Donald Trump’s financier Robert Mercer, are seen in a cove near the British Virgin Islands on Friday, March 10. (
  14. Gwen Graham tells Miami Beach voters she'll "soon" announce whether she's running for governor


    From the Miami Herald's Joey Flechas

    Speaking to a group of about 40 locals in private meet-and-greet Wednesday morning in Miami Beach, former Tallahassee Congresswoman Gwen Graham said she plans announcing a decision on a gubernatorial run "soon." The candidate, anticipated to enter the 2018 race for governor, spoke like a candidate while addressing residents eager to help her become Florida's next governor....

    Gwen Graham
  15. Florida scientists worried about Trump's proposed budget cuts


    Interesting story from the Miami Herald's Jenny Staletovich:

    A growing chorus of scientists is raising the alarm over reports of Trump administration budgets cuts that would affect climate change research and hurricane forecasting.

    On Monday, 32 Florida scientists sent a letter to the president voicing worry over reports that the Department of Commerce, which overseas the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has proposed cutting 17 percent from its budget, with the nation’s network of satellites taking the biggest hit. The satellites include a system of polar orbiters that provide critical data from the top and bottom of the planet and help scientists understand two of the biggest threats facing the peninsula....

    Yaneisy Duenas (left) and Ferando Sanudo walk through a flooded parking lot at the Haulover Marine Center during a king tide in November. Florida scientists on Monday sent President Donal Trump warning that cuts to NOAA’s polar satellite network could hurt research on climate change.