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Winners and Losers of the Week in Florida politics — Week of July 5, 2020

It was a good week for Volusia Sheriff Mike Chitwood. It was even good for Roger Stone. Not so much for Florida Democrats, though.

Welcome to the Florida Politics weekly game of winners and losers. Once we identify the newsmakers of the past seven days, it’s usually relatively easy to decide which side of the ledger they belong.

But not always.

One of the biggest stories last week was the executive order by Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran that all public and charter schools must offer in-person instruction in the new school year.

Well, that one could go either way.

COVID-19 cases are rampaging through Florida. Crowded schools are the perfect breeding ground to turn a horrible situation into a catastrophe. Teachers and administrators could be especially vulnerable.

So, that makes Corcoran’s decision a clear loser.

Or does it?

He gave local health officials the power to override the order and keep schools closed. And there’s no question that most students will benefit from in-person instruction.

So, that’s a win?

Maybe.

We’ll get back to you on that one.

Meanwhile, on with the show!

Winners

Honorable mention(ish): Roger Stone. Huh?

Sure, Stone (Florida man) is a slimeball and convicted felon. He represents the worst in politics and deserves all the scorn we can heap upon him. But if you’re going to be a master at rat****ing, it pays to have a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Enter Donald Trump.

The President commuted Stone’s 40-month prison sentence on Friday, three days before he was supposed to report to prison, but now doesn’t have to.

It’s a win — ish.

For him, anyway.

For the rule of law, not so much.

Almost (but not quite) biggest winner: Nikki Fried. Florida’s feisty Agriculture Commissioner may be the lone Democratic voice in the state Cabinet, but, by gum, she will be heard.

Fried was in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ grill again last week over his seeming contradiction about COVID-19.

DeSantis has declined to hold Cabinet meetings lately and Fried said the Governor told her that was because of health concerns.

But then, DeSantis held a news conference at a Miami COVID-only nursing home last Tuesday.

Fried quickly pounced.

“He can pack reporters into a facility for COVID-19-positive patients for a news conference, but he cites ‘health concerns’ while refusing to hold public meetings where citizens can regain their rights,” The Miami Herald reported Fried said.

The biggest winner: Mike Chitwood. The Volusia County Sheriff made headlines for calling out the Florida Department of Health.

At issue is the decision by DOH to withhold information about locations monitored for COVID-19. Chitwood told WPEC (CBS12) that is “unconscionable and cowardly.” First responders need to know if they’re headed to a hot zone.

When the pandemic hit Florida with full force, the department — maybe we should rename it DUH — provided that information to localities. It was greatly appreciated.

“If we get these addresses, we can flag them in our system so when first responders get dispatched, for 123 Main Street for a domestic disturbance. If it’s related to COVID-19 the dispatch will advise ‘CODE 19’ and they can put their protective equipment on,” Chitwood said.

But that flow of information stopped. DOH said compiling the addresses was too time-consuming. Officials told Chitwood to treat each call as a potential COVID-19 situation.

Chitwood said his department doesn’t have the resources to do that.

Losers

Dishonorable mention: Evan Power and Anthony Sabatini. Power, the chairman of the Leon County Republican Executive Committee, challenged a Leon County requirement for face masks in businesses. Attorney and state House member Sabatinirepresented him.

They lost.

Circuit Judge John Cooper unmasked their argument, so to speak.

I find that this ordinance does not violate any constitutional rights,” Cooper said.

So, that’s that. Quit complaining! Wear the damn mask!

Almost (but not quite) biggest loser: Helen Ferre. She is the latest example of the damage a tweet can cause.

Ferre is the Communications Director for DeSantis. While making the point that COVID-19 infections slowed, Ferre noted “deaths also decreased to 93.”

Oh, dear.

The Twitterverse scalded her for that, including one responder who noted: 93 people who had names, lives and people who love them, you absolute ghoul.

Another noted that deaths don’t decrease. They may increase at a slower rate. But they don’t decrease.

Can state leaders PLEASE stop looking for any crumb that this pandemic is losing steam?

First, it ain’t losing steam in Florida. Second, most people don’t believe you anyway. That’s especially for family and friends of 93 Floridians no longer with us.

The biggest loser: The Florida Democratic Party. The Party of Two Left Feet stepped on itself again last week.

As Scott Powers of Florida Politics first reported, The Party’s building fund was among more than 40,000 Florida businesses that received money from the Payroll Protection Program.

This, after Democratic Chair Terri Rizzo said in May, “Donald Trump has done almost nothing to help our small businesses. His PPP program has been a disaster, funneling hundreds of dollars to large corporations.”

That’s a bad look.

Nancy Watkins is a CPA with Robert Watkins & Company, which does a lot of work for Republican committees.

She told Florida Politics, “Political organizations are excluded from eligibility for PPP loans …”

She added, “That’s the only reason I can imagine they tried to use the Building Fund as the applicant.”

The embarrassed Dems said they will return the loan of at least $780,000.

And the beat goes on.

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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