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Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of April 20

At last check, yes, the Florida unemployment system is still a mess. But at least Corrine Brown is out of prison.

Another week has passed, and what a week that was.

We had football! Sort of.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers officially won the NFL off-season when they traded for future Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski. The Miami Dolphins got their man in quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Even the downtrodden Jacksonville Jaguars could celebrate after drafting cornerback C.J. Henderson from the University of Florida.

The opening night of the NFL draft attracted a record 15.6 million TV viewers, a 37 percent increase over last year.

We also learned of potential new cures for COVID-19 that … oh wait. President Trump was being sarcastic (yeah, sure) when he suggested injecting a disinfectant into a person’s body might cure them.

“And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning. Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs,” Dr. Trump said.

That seems a good reason to segue to our weekly game of winners and losers in Florida politics.

Let’s get to it.

Winners

Honorable mention: Publix. After reports of shortages at food banks, the giant supermarket chain stepped up. It bought 150,000 pounds of produce and 43,000 gallons of milk from local farms in the seven southern states where it operates.

Feeding America will handle the distribution of the food.

The COVID-19 crisis has caused economic hardship and forced many people who had never done so before to turn to food banks.

For instance, the Tampa Bay Times reported that Feeding Tampa Bay had 400 percent more requests for food. Seventy percent of those had never sought such aid before.

First runner-up: Mario Diaz-Balart. The venerable South Florida representative to Florida’s 25th Congressional District secured a 10th term without the nuisance of an election.

His would-be opponent, Democrat Yadira Escobar, failed to qualify. No surprise there. She was roundly criticized by her party leaders for defending Fidel Castro.

Fidel Castro did not fall before his enemies; history has quite absolved him,” Escobar said in remarks reported last December by the Miami Herald. “The truth is that Fidel Castro will be portrayed in history books in a very positive light.”

Uh …. no.

Diaz-Balart probably would have won anyway, but once that report came out the case was closed.

But there can only be one at the top. And this week, that person is:

The biggest winner: Corrine Brown. The former Congresswoman turned convicted felon was released two years early from Coleman Correctional Institution in Sumter County.

She had been serving a five-year sentence for fraud and tax issues related to a bogus charity.

Her attorney had requested the early release citing Brown’s age, 73, and multiple health concerns.

A Federal Bureau of Prisons website listed Brown as located at a Residential Reentry Management field office. That’s basically a halfway house.

It beats where she had been staying.

But now, we move to the other side of the week’s stories.

Losers

Dishonorable mention: Fabiola Santiago. The Miami Herald columnist joins the Hall of Shame for a disturbing tweet, since deleted. But the internet lives forever, and so will her words.

On the subject of re-opening Florida’s beaches, Santiago tweeted: “Packed beaches should work nicely to thin the ranks of Trump/DeSantis/Gimenez supporters in #Florida who value money over health.”

The reaction was swift and fierce.

“I will give you the most vile example of media hatred from just hours ago. Fabiola Santiago, a columnist with the Miami Herald, tweeted that essentially it would work out nicely if crowded Florida beaches resulted in the death of Trump and DeSantis supporters because that could result in more political power for the Democrats,” Florida U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz said.

Class, what have we learned?

Think before you tweet!

Almost (but not quite) biggest loser: Donna Shalala. The CD 27 representative ran afoul of federal disclosure laws, the Miami Herald reported.

She didn’t publicly disclose the sale of stocks she owned, as is required by the STOCK act. The 2012 law is designed to stop members of Congress and their employees from profiting off potential insider information.

Shalala is the lone House Democrat on the committee that will oversee the payout from the $500 billion coronavirus fund. She was setting up a blind trust, but it wasn’t complete when some of the stocks were sold.

In that instance, the law requires public disclosure. Some of the companies could be in line for relief aid, creating a potential conflict of interest.

“She had a misunderstanding about the periodic transaction report process and her need to report the sale of these stocks while preparing a blind trust,” Shalala spokesperson Carlos Condarco told the Herald.

These situations have come under increasing scrutiny lately. Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina sold $1.7 million worth of stocks on Feb. 13, just before the market crash. Burr is the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for possible insider trading.

But there can only be one on the bottom. And here it is.

The Loser of the Week: Florida’s unemployment system. Stop us if you’ve heard this one before, but it’s still a mess. Worse, it’s a national embarrassment that the country’s third-largest state subjects its citizens to this monstrosity when so many have desperate needs for help.

Only a small percentage of the total claims have been processed and the state is falling further behind every day.

The computer system, designed on Rick Scott’s watch as Governor, was designed to fail. That’s how Gov. Ron DeSantis describes it, and there is ample evidence that he is correct. It is failing, and failing, and failing.

It was shut down Friday for repairs and is scheduled to be operational again on Monday, April 27. An exasperated DeSantis has relaxed some of the onerous requirements Scott imposed on unemployment seekers in 2011. That’s a good move.  It’s still a mess, though.

The New York Times reported a story under the headline “Florida is a terrible state to be an unemployed person.

Translation: Loser!

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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