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Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of May 10

Marco Rubio had a good week. Florida Cancer Specialists and Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell did not.

Before we start our weekly game of bright and not-so-bright political lights in the state, we pause to homage, again, to first responders.

With wildfires destroying homes and threatening lives in Southwest Florida, first responders again answered the call to duty.

More than 100 local firefighters from Collier County were joined by 150 additional firefighters from around the state. Those people are a special breed, and we thank them.

Oh, and the unemployment system still sucks, despite the happy face Gov. Ron DeSantis tried to put on this pig of a computer that can’t keep up with demand. He said 99.9 percent of properly prepared applications have been processed for payment, basically saying to unemployed still waiting for their money that they must have goofed while filling out the application.

Sheesh.

Anyway, on with the show.

Winners

Honorable mention: Bipartisanship. We track everything in this country, so it’s not surprising that there is a ranking of which U.S. Representatives and Senators are the most bipartisan. The Lugar Center and Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy measures which lawmakers are most and least willing to work the other party for the common good.

In the House, Palm Harbor Republican Gus Bilirakis was a solid No. 32 on the list and took a deserved bow.

“I consider myself a workhorse, not a show horse — always seeking to work in a bipartisan manner to find areas of common ground on matters that will make a positive difference in the lives of the people I serve, regardless of political affiliation,” Bilirakis said in a news release.

Other Floridians in the Top 50 of the House: Republican John Rutherford and Democrat Darren Soto.

In the U.S. Senate, Marco Rubio ranked 9th while Rick Scott was 81st (out of 100).

“All too often partisan squabbles dominate headlines, but the real work of legislating, governing, and leading requires building a bipartisan consensus for ideas,” Rubio said.

The almost (but not quite) biggest winner: Gyms and vacation rentals. Feeling frustrated by all the closings in Florida? Starting Monday, you can work out that angst at your local gym – with restrictions, of course.

Gov. Ron DeSantis gave the green light for gyms to reopen at 50 percent capacity, the same level that restaurants and other businesses will follow.

He also sent a healing vibe to those with vacation rental properties. They’ve been closed indefinitely since March, but DeSantis gave them a path to reopen.

“What we’re doing is telling counties, if you want short-term rentals, you request it to be authorized through the state and provide your safety plan,” he said.

“If you tell me you’re going to rent them out to people from New York City, I’m probably not going to approve that, OK? If you’re saying that, you know, you’re going to rent it out to people in other parts of Florida or something that would be manageable, or if there’s ways in there that clearly you have an eye to safety, then I’m fine.”

It’s a start.

But there can only be one at the top. And that honor goes to …

The biggest winner: Rubio. One man’s misfortune is another’s opportunity. That’s one way to look at how Rubio suddenly found his profile elevated when fellow Republican Richard Burr of North Carolina became embroiled in a controversy over personal stock sales.

Burr stepped down, at least temporarily, as head of the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee. Speculation immediately focused on Rubio as his successor while Burr’s situation plays out.

Because of seniority, Republican Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho is first in line to become chairman and Rubio in second. But many believe Risch to stick with his chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee, which opens the door for Rubio.

The U.S. Justice Department seized Burr’s cell phone to see if he took advantage of insider knowledge about the looming pandemic. It was reported that after receiving closed-door briefings about the bad moon rising over the stock market, Burr sold up to $1.7 million worth of shares just before the market tanked.

While that plays out, Rubio’s profile is elevated dramatically.

“The leader (Sen. Mitch McConnell) can choose who he wants … I’ll do whatever they ask me to do,” Rubio said as reported by Politico. “My understanding is Sen. Burr will remain on the committee so whoever gets it is going to be a backup quarterback coming into the game for a few plays while the guy goes through a concussion protocol.”

Losers

Dishonorable mention: Donald Trump’s aura of invincibility in Florida. You can bet on almost anything, so who needs polls when there is Oddschecker. That’s a site that, well, checks the odds on all sorts of things – including elections.

It measured that in early March, Trump had a 69 percent chance of winning Florida. That has shrunk to 52 percent, while presidential challenger Joe Biden has pulled nearly even. That change presumably is related to the pandemic.

The site declares: The Sunshine State is the closest state to call.

The almost (but not quite) biggest loser: Blake Snell. He is a tremendous pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays, the Cy Young Award winner in 2018. But he makes the loser list because Snell showed a shocking level of tone-deafness when he said while answering questions on his Twitch channel: “Y’all gotta understand, man, for me to go — for me to take a pay cut is not happening, because the risk is through the roof. It’s a shorter season, less pay.

“No, I gotta get my money. I’m not playing unless I get mine, OK? And that’s just the way it is for me. Like, I’m sorry you guys think differently, but the risk is way the hell higher and the amount of money I’m making is way lower. Why would I think about doing that?”

Team owners have proposed playing an 82-game season, about half the normal, and splitting revenues 50-50 with players.

In text messages with the Tampa Bay Times, Snell tried to clarify his remarks. He said he knew it would make him look greedy. But, he said, “that’s not the case at all.”

“I mean, honestly, it’s just scary to risk my life to get COVID-19 as well as not knowing and spreading it to others,” he said via text. “I just want everyone to be healthy and get back to our normal lives, ’cause I know I miss mine!”

But if it’s “scary to risk my life” by returning to baseball, why put a price tag on your health?

I’m asking for a friend.

Snell had support from other Major League Baseball players, including superstar Bryce Harper.

“He ain’t lying, he’s speaking the truth bro,” Harper said told per NBC Sports Philadelphia. “I ain’t mad at him. Somebody’s gotta say it, at least he manned up and said it. Good for him. I love Snell, the guy’s a beast. One of the best lefties in the game.”

According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, Snell is scheduled to make $7 million this season. In 2019 he signed a five-year contract worth $50 million.

By the way, Florida just surpassed California as the state with the most jobless claims.

But there can only be one biggest loser, and this week that choice was easy.

The biggest loser: Florida Cancer Specialists. The Fort Myers-based company agreed to pay a $100 million fine – the largest allowed – for what the U.S. Department of Justice called “a criminal antitrust conspiracy” to increase profits by limiting treatment options for patients.

In addition to the $100 million, FCS agreed to pay the state of Florida $20 million as part of its investigation.

In a news release, the Justice Department noted, “Beginning as early as 1999 and continuing until at least 2016, FCS entered into an illegal agreement that allocated chemotherapy treatments to FCS and radiation treatments to a competing oncology group.  This conspiracy allowed FCS to operate with minimal competition in Southwest Florida and limited valuable integrated care options and choices for cancer patients.”

And why would it do that?

Good old-fashioned greed.

“For almost two decades, FCS and its co-conspirators agreed to cheat by limiting treatment options available to cancer patients in order to line their pockets,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the DOJ’s Antitrust Division.

The investigation will continue.

We may have to retire the “biggest loser” designation after this.

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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