Welcome to our weekly game of Winners and Losers in Florida politics. Before we get to that, though, let’s give a tip of the cap – from a safe distance away, of course – to the volunteers throughout the state who found a productive way to shelter in place.
With a desperate need for medical masks, people with sewing skills are producing thousands of the coverings. Hospitals, dentists, nursing homes, and doctor’s offices continually send requests that these volunteers fill.
That said, let’s get to it.
Honorable mention: Florida oranges. The venerable symbol of Florida citrus has been in serious decline for years but has made a comeback. The Florida Phoenix reported that orange juice sales jumped 40 percent during a recent four-week period. No doubt, that was due to people seeking extra Vitamin C for reasons that don’t have to be explained.
For the week that ended on March 14, consumers bought 10.7 million gallons of fresh and concentrated OJ, compared with 7.7 million that week last year.
First runners-up: Senators Jeff Brandes and Jason Pizzo. Here’s some cool bipartisan unity. Pizzo (Democrat) and Brandes (Republican) are donating the salary they receive as state lawmakers to local relief organizations.
“While our constituents suffer, legislators are still getting paid. Until @FLDEO has cleared the backlog of unemployment applications, @JeffreyBrandes and I will be donating our state salaries to local relief organizations, and hope many of our colleagues will join this pledge,” Pizzo tweeted.
He later added a tweet to clarify: “We realize several are not able to do this, which is why I wrote: “and hope many…..” (not all) – there are 70 millionaires in the legislature.”
But there can only be one No 1.
The biggest winner: Small businesses that did get PPP loans. The $350 billion federal Paycheck Protection Program is tapped out for now, but some Florida businesses did benefit. The Miami Herald reported that the state received 52,021 loans worth about $12.7 billion of the initial earmark, according to the Small Business Administration.
It’s not enough, of course, but every bit helps at this point.
We now move to the lowlights of the week.
Dishonorable mention: Nut case COVID conspiracy theorists. At a time when the need for accurate information is critical, some folks just can’t help themselves. They see the invasive virus as some DEEP STATE PLOT by, you know, THEM!
The theory goes that COVID-19 is nothing more than the flu but EVERYONE is using it to shut down the country and discredit Donald Trump. An online movement encouraged like-minded individuals to film serene scenes outside hospitals, then post them on social media to “prove” reports of apocalyptic conditions are fake news.
The Associated Press reported other conspiracies claim the virus is linked to 5G networks. Another said Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates intends to use a COVID-19 vaccine to track and control the world’s population.
And there’s the ever-popular “China created it in a lab to destroy the world” theory. Of course, China conspiracists say the U.S. military created the virus.
Heaven help us.
Almost (but not quite) biggest loser: Transparency. Nursing homes and elder care facilities throughout Florida have been hit hard by COVID-19. The state, however, had refused to disclose which facilities were affected until, under pressure, Gov. Ron DeSantis finally relented.
The question is simple: Why did it take so long?
Various news agencies have done their own investigations, but it was hit or miss on which facilities are involved. The Palm Beach Post reported 1,394 confirmed cases among residents and staff at nursing homes and assisted living centers, compared to 578 last Thursday.
Democrats noted a recent request to DeSantis from the Florida Health Care Association, asking for sovereign immunity to protect it from lawsuits.
“The nursing homes already have an obligation to provide care for their patients, whether it is during difficult times or normal times,” state Sen. Gary Farmer said. “They should not need liability protection if they are doing their job. The notion of giving immunity to nursing homes is not only outrageous, it is unconstitutional.”
OK, that’s bad. But there can only be one at the bottom.
The Loser of the Week: Ken Lawson. The head of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity was “side-lined” because the state’s unemployment system continues to be, oh, what’s the word … a fiasco.
“We’ve got to do all we can do, better,” DeSantis said, and amen to that.
Although Lawson still has a job, Department of Management Services head Jon Satter takes over response to unemployment. DeSantis acknowledged that will Lawson essentially powerless within the agency.
“If there’s business opportunities with the recruiting [or] hurricane relief … Ken can handle that, but in terms of unemployment John is in charge there, and we want action,” DeSantis said.
He is not alone.