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Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of March 30

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried isn’t holding back about the job Gov. Ron DeSantis is doing

It’s time again for our weekly game of Winners and Losers.

Let’s declare health care workers everywhere as Lifetime Winners for the amazing work they’re doing.

While we’re at it, give COVID-19, better known as the coronavirus, a permanent seat in the Loser Hall of Shame.

The rest of it, well, fluctuates from week to week.

Let’s get to it!

Winners

Honorable Mention: Jane Castor. Tampa’s Mayor is receiving high marks for her handling of the coronavirus crisis. She was profiled on such media outlets as CNN and Slate, which hailed her in a story headlined A Mayor’s Lonely Fight Against the Coronavirus in a State Run by Republicans.

“… one local leader is leading the charge to protect her constituents: Tampa Mayor Jane Castor. She proposed a shelter-in-place order for her city when county officials weren’t even considering it, and she eventually managed to get it passed,” Slate declared.

“Now she’s taking further steps to make sure Floridians get the testing and treatment they need, even as the federal government fails to provide adequate supplies.”

Runner-up: Jared Moskowitz. Florida’s Division of Emergency Management Director is taking no prisoners in his battle to secure N95 protective masks from the giant 3M company. While states like Florida and New York struggle to find enough masks to protect health care workers, 3M has been selling to foreign countries.

“I’m using every media outlet possible to try to get that personal protective equipment — ventilators, masks, gloves, gowns, goggles, face shields,” Moskowitz told Rep. Shervin Jones on a Facebook Live chat.

“A lot of these large corporations that are going to ask for bailouts at some point in time are really letting the American people down.”

There can only be one overall winner, though.

The Winner: Nikki Fried. The Florida Agriculture Commissioner is using her position as the most prominent Democrat in the state to get out a message. It’s not one Gov. Ron DeSantis or Republican lawmakers want to hear.

She blasted DeSantis for his delay in issuing a statewide lockdown order. She also was critical of his exemption in that order that allows church congregations to meet in person.

“Florida needs leadership now more than ever, but Governor DeSantis is failing to lead. His safer-at-home order is filled with glaring loopholes as the details emerge,” she said in a statement issued by her department.

She also was critical of DeSantis’ for “deflecting responsibility for his unemployment system fiasco, leaving millions of Floridians without the economic help they need indefinitely.”

Republicans are not pleased.

“Nikki Fried should be ashamed. She is pulling the weakest trick in the book at the worst moment by attacking Gov. DeSantis in the midst of a crisis just to score some cheap political points,” Republican Party of Florida Chair Joe Gruters said.

Just guessing, but Fried probably is not ashamed.

This brings us to the part of our program that we could call the “lowlights.”

Losers

Dishonorable mention: We have a split decision between U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Sen. Rick Scott.

Rubio earned a place on the medal stand for his incendiary remark about the media, where he said some  “can’t contain their delight” that the U.S. surged past China in the number of coronavirus cases.

After resounding criticism, Rubio narrowed the scope and identified those with whom he had a beef. But in today’s polarized atmosphere, mentioning “media” without being specific was a dog whistle. It gave license to those who believe all reporters are evil.

Scott receives dishonor for his role in creating Florida’s nightmarish unemployment system. You may have heard about this.  As Governor in 2011, Scott revamped how Florida process unemployment benefits. That system is imploding under the virus outbreak.

“It’s a sh– sandwich, and it was designed that way by Scott,” one DeSantis advisor told Politico.

“It wasn’t about saving money. It was about making it harder for people to get benefits or keep benefits so that the unemployment numbers were low to give the governor something to brag about.”

The Almost (But Not Quite) Biggest Loser: These are grim days at the Tampa Bay Times. Today could be the final time the newspaper can call itself a daily.

In an email to subscribers last week, CEO Paul Tash outlined plans to deliver printed papers on only Wednesdays and Sundays. All other news will be available on the Times website, which requires a subscription for unlimited access.

“In the last two weeks, retailers have canceled more than $1-million in advertising they had already scheduled. Until ad revenues recover, we must sharply reduce the costs of producing and delivering an edition in print,” Tash wrote.

The Times is also implementing eight-week furloughs for some staff members.

Tash stressed he hoped the cutbacks in print would be temporary.

Yeah, that’s more devastating news for the newspaper industry. Bad timing, too. For readers hungry for information. But, there is an even bigger loser this time around.

THE Loser: Gov. Ron DeSantis had a tough week, and there is no way around that.

After a sparkling first 15 months in office, DeSantis is taking jabs from all directions. Nikki Fried, as we noted above, isn’t even pretending to play nice anymore.

Critics complained DeSantis was too slow to shut down the state. Unemployment is soaring, and the economy is tanking. The number of virus cases is climbing.

And there is this: Until last week, DeSantis mostly deferred action about shutdowns to local authorities. The implication was that mayors knew what was best for their cities, but then he undercut them. He signed an executive order exempting churches from the stay-at-home order the rest of the state must follow.

So, what’s it gonna be? Mayors should make the call in the best interests of their cities? Or, the Governor uses a heavy hand to curry favor with the evangelical base?

It wasn’t all bad news for the Governor, though, because he and his wife, Casey, welcomed their third child into the world. Mamie DeSantis, 7 pounds, 4 ounces, is doing well.

Congrats to the family.

Written By

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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