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Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of August 23, 2020

Who is up? Who is down?

I wanted to hide under the covers after the first night of the Republican National Convention.

Matt Gaetz warned WE WILL ALL DIE HORRIBLY if Joe Biden is elected.

Close to it, anyway.

“It’s a horror film, really. They’ll disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home and invite MS-13 to live next door. And the police aren’t coming when you call,” Gaetz said.

Who can save us? Why, Donald Trump, of course.

Yeah, but who will save us from Trump and his True Believers?

Imagine four more years without concern for re-election?

And there’s this.

Riots, brutality, disease, and fear already exists in America on Trump’s watch.

Four more years of this? Yikes!!

But the Party of Scare-You-To-Death has a theme and is sticking to the script.

Vice President Mike Pence said, “The hard truth is you won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.”

Try selling that tripe to the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, or Jacob Blake. How safe were those people in Trump’s America? Convince the peaceful protestors in Washington who were tear-gassed so Trump could have a faux religion photo op that was massively offensive to many Christians.

These words are the prelude to the weekly game we play here of Winners and Losers in state politics, so we’ll keep to that theme. The sole goal of this deliberate racial division is to keep one political party in power.

When that happens, guess what?

We all lose.

OK, on with the show.

Winners

Honorable mention: Joe Gruters. The chair of the Republican Party of Florida took a star turn. He got to second Trump’s re-nomination on the opening night of the Republican National Convention.

Gruters called it the “opportunity of a lifetime” in a tweet. He took full advantage of the moment, delivering several strong lines.

He declared Trump is “the economic heavyweight champion of the world.”

Gruters also insisted Americans want “jobs, not mobs … sanity, not leftist insanity … America-first policies, not America last policies … American pride, not American shame … American hope and not American decline.”

And, he added, Trump is not “defunding the police, he’s defending the police.”

Almost (but not quite) biggest winner: Richard Corcoran. If the state’s Education Commissioner enjoyed a glass of fine wine and lit a celebratory cigar Friday, no one will be surprised.

That’s because Florida’s First District Court of Appeal reinstated the order from Corcoran and Gov. Ron DeSantis that state schools must offer in-person classes along with online options. The Florida Education Association had sued to block that in the name of safety.

The ruling came just days after Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson ruled Corcoran’s original order is unconstitutional. It required schools to reopen to receive funding, and that triggered Dodson’s response.

Dodson wrote that the order “essentially ignored the requirement of school safety” and “arbitrarily prioritized reopening schools statewide in August over safety and the advice of health experts.”

Friday ruling is not necessarily the end of the saga as the higher court will have a full hearing on the issue. For now, though, Corcoran has his swagger back.

Oh, who are we kidding?

Corcoran is never without his swagger.

The biggest winner: Professional athletes: Conservative Fox News blabber Laura Ingraham once told LeBron James to stop talking about politics and “shut up and dribble.” But as the outrage began to boil over after Kenosha, Wisconsin police shot Blake seven times in the back, James made more sense than Ingraham makes in a year.

I know people get tired of hearing me say it, but we are scared as Black people in America,” James told reporters after a game in the National Basketball Association playoffs at Lake Buena Vista. “Black men … Black women … Black kids … we are terrified.

That led to a short stoppage in all the major professional sports in America. Maybe people like Ingraham will smirk dismissively, but the athletes can be important agents of change.

James later tweeted, in all caps: “WE DEMAND CHANGE. SICK OF IT!”

Athletes everywhere, Black and White, raised their voices to echo the demand for change.

Los Angeles Clippers (and former Orlando Magic) coach Doc Rivers added, “We keep loving this country, and this country doesn’t love us back.”

Keep talking, people.

Never shut up because you have important things to say.

The athletes rose to meet the moment.

Losers

Dishonorable mention: FSU’s Alpha Tau Omega fraternity. The school’s administration already banned the fraternity for violations, and it just got worse.

Eleven students were arrested in connection with a large party thrown by the frat. Police said minors received alcohol and few people had facial coverings.

That led to this warning from FSU President John Thrasher.

“Over the past few days, I have learned of several reports of students holding house parties, participating in large gatherings, not wearing face coverings and not social distancing,” he wrote in a letter to students.

“I am deeply concerned with this sheer defiance to comply with the university’s guidelines and expectations set forth and communicated to you before the fall semester.”

He added, “Let me be perfectly clear: We will not tolerate any behavior that puts the health and safety of the campus or the Tallahassee community at risk. Consequences may include disciplinary probation, administrative action, or suspension.”

Almost (but not quite) biggest loser: Local school boards. You know that bit we had about Corcoran celebrating a legal victory? If someone wins, that means someone else has to lose.

In this case, it’s local school boards.

An unelected Education Commissioner could ultimately have more authority than locally elected school boards.

It’s not supposed to work that way. Board members are accountable to voters, but who really is in charge now? If this plays out the way Corcoran wants, the heavy hand of Tallahassee could dictate policies of local schools through executive orders.

Be afraid, local boards.

Be very afraid.

The biggest loser: Brian Mast. In Facebook posts, the South Florida Congressman joked about rape and sex with 15-year-old girls.

As you let that sink in, try not to throw up in your mouth.

No one is laughing now, and especially not Brian Mast.

Yes, it was several years ago, but so what? There is no statute of limitations on such vulgarity, and Mast learned that the hard way.

Those posts resurfaced as part of Mast’s increasingly challenging re-election campaign against Democrat Pam Keith.

As the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported, a Feb. 23, 2009, photo by Rocco LeDonni, who is now Mast’s campaign manager, is at the center of this controversy.

The photo was taken during LeDonni’s vacation to South Africa.

Mast commented, “im so proud of you… i hope you hook up with at least fifteen 15 year olds over there…. its legel there right.”

Two years later, LeDonni asked in a May 20, 2011, post: “Anyone have any good pick up lines for this weekend considering according to the crazy christian radio guy the world may end on sunday?”

“How about don’t turn this rape into a murder,” Mast responded.

How about using your brain next time?

Mast, of course, apologized and admitted making “disgusting and inappropriate jokes…”

He is embarrassed, but that’s not near enough to douse this fire.

Maybe, at last, he has some self-awareness, but he’s still Florida’s political loser this week.

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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