Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of June 14

It was a complicated week in Florida politics, but Dreamers scored big and Matt Gaetz surprised everyone. But Gator bait? It depends on your point of view.

Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but that was an incredible week we just went through.

Experts say Florida may well become the next center of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. Cases are spiking so rapidly here that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in what really was a masterful troll, said he might have to order visitors to his state from Florida into a 14-day quarantine.

Remember when Gov. Ron DeSantis blamed much of Florida’s outbreak on visitors from the Big Apple?

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor ordered all those in her city to wear masks when indoors at a place other than their homes. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman ordered that employees had to wear masks at all businesses in his city.

Deep breath.

OK, let’s get on with our weekly game of Winners and Losers in Florida politics.

Our format is going to be a little different, as you shall see. We had to think twice about some we initially believed were losers. Ditto for some we believed were winners. And there is one we simply couldn’t decide.

Anyway, here we go.


Honorable mention: Florida college athletes. Well, some of them anyway. DeSantis signed a bill that will allow college athletes to be paid for their name, image, and likeness.

It takes effect on July 1, 2021, and establishes Florida as a leader in this movement.

A cornerstone of the NCAA for decades held that as amateur athletes, the only bodies that could profit from, ahem, student-athletes are the institution where they play and, of course, the NCAA.

Most athletes won’t be affected by this change but put it this way: Imagine how much in demand Deion Sanders or Emmitt Smith would have been back in the day.

The almost (but not quite) biggest winner: Matt Gaetz. We were all set to place the mercurial Florida Congressman in the Loser category after his dust-up with fellow Rep. Cedric Richmond, a Louisiana Democrat.

During a discussion in the House Judiciary Committee over a Democrat-backed police reform bill, Richmond and Gaetz began squabbling. Republicans proposed amendments, including one related to Antifa.

“You all are white men who have never lived in my shoes, and you do not know what it is like to be an African American male,” said Richmond, who is Black.

Gaetz pounced.

“I appreciate your passion,” he said. “Are you suggesting none of us have non-white children?”

Richmond shot back: “It is about Black males, Black people in the streets that are getting killed, and if one of them happens to be your kid, I am concerned about them, too. And clearly I am more concerned about him than you are.”

Things quickly deteriorated.

“You are claiming you have more concern for your family than I do? Who in the hell do you think you are? That is outrageous,” Gaetz shouted.

“Was that a nerve?” Richmond responded.

“You’re damn right that was a nerve,” Gaetz said.

It was a justified nerve.

It turns out that Gaetz, who has never married, has cared for a Cuban immigrant named Nestor Galban for the last six years. That was not widely known.

“He’s part of my family story,” Gaetz told People magazine, adding that Galban was his son “in every conceivable way, and I can’t imagine loving him any more if he was my own flesh and blood.”

OK, maybe Gaetz should have had more decorum in the meeting, but the subsequent disclosure makes him a winner by any stretch.

The biggest winner: Dreamers. At least this one was easy. For the first time in at least a couple of years, an estimated 32,000 so-called Dreamers in Florida can relax a bit.

The U.S. Supreme Court surprisingly ruled that the administration of President Donald Trump erred in attempting to justify ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

The program protects undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children from deportation. It also allows them to work in the U.S.

The 5-4 ruling left the door open for Trump to correct some procedural errors and try again. That’s unlikely to happen with the election less than six months away, though. Trump might be all about law and order, but it’s not a good idea to remind people that you can be heartless as well.

And if Trump loses, Dreamers may be home free. Joe Biden certainly will keep DACA alive.


Dishonorable mention: Sports in general. Just when it seemed like the games we love to watch were about to resume, BOOM!

COVID-19 had other ideas.

First came the word that the Tampa Bay Lightning closed their training facility when “several players” tested positive. In rapid-fire order, the Philadelphia Phillies closed their Clearwater site, and at least one assistant coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tested positive.

Two football players at the University of South Florida tested positive, along with three players from UCF and at least one from Florida State.

It could be worse though. At Clemson, 23 players tested positive, and 13 players had the same result at the University of Texas.

For what it’s worth, USF will open its football season at Texas on Sept. 5.


The biggest loser: Trump’s waiver requirement. Those wanting to attend one of the President’s rallies must agree not to sue the campaign if they are exposed to COVID-19.

That’s especially pertinent in Jacksonville, which will host Trump’s acceptance speech on August 27 at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.  There are no plans to enforce social distancing.

COVID-19 cases are exploding all over Florida, including Jacksonville, but the man’s gotta have his big balloon drop. So, while attendees can’t sue if they get sick, what about the rights of those who they infect?

It’s bad enough that Trump routinely dismissed the pandemic as overblown. It’s worse that he continues to ignore the most basic safety recommendations for controlling the virus. But then to require that people sign these waivers before they can shower him with adulation, well … is this virus dangerous or not?

The “we have no idea” where this should go category

Gator bait. It’s a tradition for students at the University of Florida at sporting events to taunt visitors with the chant “Gator bait, Gator bait.”

Seems harmless enough. It’s called home-field advantage.

But as we have come to learn, “harmless” is in the ear of the beholder.

UF President Kent Fuchs ordered that the university and Gator Band will discontinue its use.

In announcing the move, Fuchs said, “While I know of no evidence of racism associated with our ‘Gator Bait’ cheer at UF sporting events, there is horrific racist imagery associated with the phrase.”

There was a predictable backlash by alumni and fans, bemoaning an over-reach of political correctness. But the term gator bait dates to the days of slavery, with reports that Black babies were used by white trappers as bait to lure alligators out of hiding.

Did Fuchs show leadership?

Or, did he a controversy where none existed?

Besides, won’t students chant it anyway?


Joe Henderson

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.

One comment

  • Tom

    June 21, 2020 at 6:34 pm

    Regarding the question, “is this virus dangerous or not?” I have an acquaintance who says that COVID-19 related deaths here in Florida and across the nation “…are just numbers, just numbers.”
    So apparently it’s just a simple matter of subtraction, having little or nothing to do with human life.
    But you must sign the waiver. Math is tricky.

Comments are closed.


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