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Winner and Loser of the week in Florida politics — Week of June 21, 2020

It was a good week for school teachers.

Sure, Florida’s COVID-19 cases spiked to levels once thought unimaginable, and somehow the use of facemasks to flatten the spread became a First Amendment issue.

Yeah, we don’t understand that either.

However, we begin our weekly game of winners and losers with a well-deserved shoutout to the state Division of Emergency Management.

These folks have a basically impossible job, but they received a pick-me-up from Director Jared Moskowitz.

He tweeted, “I want my @FLSERT employees to know that they are doing a great job. I know morale is down, but you are the best team in the country. You have my full support and admiration.”

It’s good to know the boss has your back.

The news is not so good for Heather Fitzenhagen.

The Fort Myers Republican’s campaign tactics in the SD-27 race were blasted by top members of her own party, including Senate President-designate Wilton Simpson. She faces Estero Republican Ray Rodrigues in the primary. The GOP establishment, including Simpson, endorsed Rodrigues.

They’ve come out strong against Fitzenhagen with ads that compare her to Nancy Pelosi and claims that she is the darling of Planned Parenthood. What they really seem to fear is Fitzenhagen’s friendly relationship with some Democrats, including Sen. Gary Farmer.

That could be a huge factor if Democrats can pull even in the Senate.

But let’s get on with the show, shall we?


Honorable mention: U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch. One man’s collapse can be another man’s opportunity, and Deutch, a South Florida Democrat who represents CD-22, may just have received a big one.

With U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel’s crushing defeat in New York’s Democratic primary, Deutch could be in line to become the next chairman of the powerful Foreign Affairs Committee, one of the most important committees in Congress.

Engle, the current committee chair, was well behind in New York’s Democratic primary in his bid for a 17th term. That could open the door for Deutch, but it’s no lock despite his extensive experience in foreign affairs, particularly in the Middle East, North Africa, and international terrorism.

Deutch lacks the seniority of several other Democrats, both on the committee and in the overall caucus. But if he goes for it and is successful, he will take over the chairmanship in January.

The almost (but not quite) biggest winner: Nikki Fried. The Agriculture Commissioner has gone back and forth with Republicans, particularly Gov. Ron DeSantis, on several issues. She hasn’t won them all.

But she is on the right of the issue of masks to fight COVID-19. For some reason, many Republicans see mandatory masks as an attack on personal freedom. Vice President Mike Pence even ridiculously tried to wrap the issue in the U.S. Constitution.

“Well, the freedom of speech, the right to peaceably assemble, is enshrined in the Constitution of the United States …” he said at a press briefing.


Peaceably assemble and say what you want.

Just wear a damn mask.

Fried, the lone Democrat in the Cabinet, wants DeSantis to make masks mandatory throughout the state.

“While this pandemic threatens to spiral out of control, our leadership is rushing headlong into further re-opening the state,” she wrote.

Nailed it.

The biggest winner: Florida school teachers. Despite grappling with a significant shortfall in the state budget, DeSantis found a way to salvage the significant pay increases he promised.

The $500 million package will boost the minimum starting pay for teachers to $47,500, which is one of the highest rates in the country. Florida had ranked 46th nationally in teacher pay.

There were some grumbles from veteran teachers, who won’t benefit as much from the new scale. But after decades of Republicans treating teachers like chew toys in their zeal to remake education in the state, the raises come as a much needed and positive move.


Dishonorable mention: Florida’s housing market. There are warning signs that need to be heeded about the state’s housing market.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported on a study that said Florida had the fifth-highest rate in the country among homeowners who missed mortgage payments in May.

The report also said 10.5% of Florida mortgage borrowers were behind in payments, in foreclosure, or in payment forbearance. That’s a program where the lender agrees to suspend or reduce payments so the borrower can get back on better financial footing.

Foreclosures on federally backed mortgages are suspended until Aug. 31, but no one can predict what will happen after that. With Florida’s tourism industry decimated, the fear is that a large wave of foreclosures could soon follow.

The almost (but not quite) biggest loser: DeSantis. What a minute, what? Didn’t we just praise the Governor for keeping his promise about teacher pay?

Yes, we did.

But we also can’t overlook that he blew past multiple red flags in his zest to reopen Florida for business in response to COVID-19. He even took a victory of sorts when the first few days seemed to go well.

The state is paying the price now for DeSantis’ impatience.

The state to order bars closed again in response to the terrifying spike in virus cases and deaths that made Florida one of the nation’s hottest spots in this pandemic. He’s blaming younger people for not following guidelines when the bars reopened.

“I think that we’ve started to see some erosion on social distancing from probably some of the younger population,” DeSantis said.

C’mon. He couldn’t see that coming?

Seriously, remember the beach images from spring break that made Florida a laughingstock nation-wide. Like they say, those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.

The biggest loser: Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg.

Oops, we mean “Former” tax collector.

Greenberg resigned after he was indicted on federal charges of stalking a political opponent.

Greenberg is – er, was – a well-connected Republican. He received $1,000 donation to his re-election campaign from U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz and former Florida House Speaker-designate Chris Dorworth.

And the law office of Lake County Republican Rep. Anthony Sabatini, a kindred conservative spirit with Greenberg, received $7,500 for legal research on tax collector office matters.

Among the allegations in the indictment are these doozies:

  • Greenberg caused letters to be sent to a school where the person worked. The anonymous letters were said to be from a “very concerned student” of the school where the opponent worked. It claimed that the opponent engaged in sexual misconduct with a student. The indictment said Greenberg knew that was false.
  • Greenberg took that whopper to the next level by setting up a Facebook account said to be from a “very concerned teacher” at the school. That, ahem, “teacher” was oh so worried about the aforementioned misconduct.
  • The indictment further alleges that Greenberg fashioned a Twitter account in the opponent’s name and proceeded to sent out tweets in favor of white supremacy.

If convicted, he could face 10 years in prison.

OK, let’s review.

Class, what have we learned through this?

There are rules regarding what’s permissible and what isn’t in campaigns.

Just because Donald Trump ignores them doesn’t mean everyone can. Let that be a warning to politicians on both sides of the aisle as Election 2020 draws nigh.

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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