Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of August 30, 2020

It's time to give Gov. Ron DeSantis his due.

We’ve all learned to be skeptical about polling.

The numbers said Hillary Clinton would win in 2016 (this just in, she didn’t). Oh, and Andrew Gillum isn’t the Governor even though polls favored him anywhere from three to seven points heading to Election Day.

That disclaimer notwithstanding, I’m eager to see where President Donald Trump lands after the next round of polling. The Atlantic reported he said fallen soldiers were “suckers and losers” – and don’t start with that “fake news” garbage.

Sure, Trump denied saying that. His inner circle of hear-no-evil closed ranks. But then Fox News – Fox News!!!! – confirmed the report (after first calling it fabricated).

Trump demanded his homies at Fox must fire the reporter. Of course, he did.

Deflect. Deny. Diatribe.

But when you look at the totality of Trump, there is every reason to believe the story.

No need to go through all the examples of how President Bone Spurs disrespected the military during his time as its Commander-in-Chief. We all know them, although Republicans have gone “la-la-la-la NOT LISTENING” most of the time.

However, how can Trump not pay a significant price for this? Republicans count on strong support from military families, but that has eroded somewhat. The story about Russia and bounties on American soldiers – remember that?

Trump basically ignored it, and it fell out of the headlines, but now we have this latest story. How much of this is America willing to swallow?

Maybe the polls will give us a read on whether voters have finally had enough. Four more years of this?

Anyway, we’re here to play our weekly game of winners and losers in Florida politics.

Let’s get to it.


Honorable mention: Dane Eagle. The outgoing House Majority Leader received a lovely parting gift with his appointment to lead the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Yes, he lost a tough GOP primary race for a seat in the U.S. House, but this job gives Eagle arguably more direct influence on Floridians. The DEO is a mess, as we all know. It is responsible for the state unemployment system, and let’s just say that it has been a disaster.

It led to the departure of now-former director Ken Lawson. Eagle’s first task is to fix the awful, terrible, horrific CONNECT system that drives Floridians seeking unemployment benefits batty.

Everyone is rooting for him.

Almost (but not quite) biggest winner: Florida’s K-12 ranking. The state’s school system took a large leap, moving to third in the nation in Education Week’s K-12 achievement listing.

Florida was below the national average last year but improved to a B- grade this time. Only Massachusetts and New Jersey were better in this category.

The report wasn’t entirely rosy, though. Florida rated an embarrassing D+ in the ranking of school finance. We have to work on that, but the rest of it indicates the arrow is pointing in the right direction.

That made former Governor Jeb Bush, the founder and Chairman of the Foundation for Florida’s Future, happy.

“Florida’s educators, families, and policymakers can be proud of their hard work and perseverance that keeps our state among the nation’s leaders in education achievement and innovation,” Bush said.

The biggest winner: Ron DeSantis. The Governor endured the slings and arrows of outrageous COVID-19 response but give him his due. He had a good week, maybe his best since the pandemic began. It started with relaxing restrictions on nursing home visits that he imposed in March.

He became visibly emotional in announcing the move, pausing for nearly 20 seconds to compose himself.

“Many of the folks understand that they have loved ones who are in the last stage of their life,” he said. “They’re not demanding a medical miracle. They’re not having unrealistic expectations. They would just like to be able to say goodbye, or to hug somebody.”

Then on Friday, he approved allowing Palm Beach to move to Phase 2 in the recovery process. That means the bulk of the county’s businesses can reopen with restrictions.

To cap off the day, he attended a high school football game between Suwanee and Live Oak, complete with a little pep talk before kickoff.

DeSantis told players: “If you all lived in California, do you know where you’d be tonight? On your couch! NOT in Florida.”

And the COVID-19 infection and death rates are steadily falling.

We’ll hold our breath now that schools reopened, but for now, we’ll be happy with something resembling normalcy.


Dishonorable mention: Anthony Sabatini. What part of “no” doesn’t he understand?

OK, so the state Rep. doesn’t like mask mandates. He laughably claims they are unconstitutional.

Too bad, so sad.

That’s what judges all over the state had told Sabatini when he filed lawsuits to overturn local face-covering requirements. That includes Volusia County Circuit Judge Randell H. Rowe III, who tossed Sabatini’s attempt to block a DeLand ordinance requiring masks inside businesses and other indoor spots.

“Because extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, state and local governments all over America are enacting emergency laws designed to protect their citizens from the spread of this deadly virus — just like they did 100 years ago,” he wrote.

“The ordinance is authorized not only by statute but by well-settled case law precedent dating back over a hundred years.”

For those keeping score at home, that’s the sixth loss in as many tries for Sabatini. In tossing his lawsuit aimed at Gadsden County, Judge David Frank of the 2nd warned of consequences if Sabatini keeps this up.

The Court urges Mr. Sabatini to reflect on the possibility that, at some point, he could be sanctioned for filing frivolous lawsuits,” Frank wrote.

Got it?

Almost (but not quite) biggest loser: Orlando’s hotel and entertainment industry. In case anyone needs reminding that despite steps toward normalcy, a lot of pain remains, here it is.

Furloughed workers at Disney World lined up in cars that stretched for two miles to receive free groceries from a food bank.

“Every week it gets worse,” Nick Canturano, a furloughed server at a Hollywood Studios buffet restaurant, told the Orlando Sentinel.

He volunteers every week at the outdoor food bank.

“As they’re rolling up, they try to unload a little bit,” he said. “You just say,’ I know, I know.’ You don’t know what to say. And you got to keep the line moving.”

Universal Orlando Resorts cut more than 1,200 jobs from its hotels, and that’s on the heels of a July report that Universal business dropped 94 percent.

Also, 58 events scheduled for the Orange County convention center were canceled since the pandemic began.

Several hotels have been closed, and some may not reopen.

The biggest loser: Quest Diagnostics. DeSantis brought the hammer to the laboratory after it was late in reporting nearly 75,000 COVID-19 tests. That led to skewed statistics of infection rates and caused considerable uncertainty to officials about how to proceed with containment measures.

The last straw came Tuesday when there were 7,569 new positive COVID-19 cases. But officials said 3,870 were results that were older than two weeks, and some even came from April.

The Governor ordered the Florida Department of Health to cut ties with Quest.

“To drop this much unusable and stale data is irresponsible,” he said. “I believe that Quest has abdicated their ability to perform a testing function in Florida that the people can be confident in. As such, I am directing all executive agencies to sever their COVID-19 testing relationships with Quest effective immediately.”

Quest blamed the problem on a “technical issue.”

We apologize for this matter and regret the challenge it poses for public health authorities in Florida. The issue has since been resolved,” the company said in a statement. “Importantly, the issue did not affect or delay reporting of test results to providers and patients.”

Translation in colloquial terms: The barn door is fixed, but the horse is out yonder somewhere.

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

  • RH

    September 7, 2020 at 11:41 am

    Mr. Henderson, I see your derogatory comments about Rep. Sabatini.

    Evidently you think him wrong to challenge local court rulings. Your “45-year career” bio appears to be an attempt to give more than ordinary weight to nothing more than a hit opinion piece.

    Here is my question: were you similarly dismissive when black people kept approaching the Florida courts with their discrimination grievances and were turned away time and again? Did you consider them “losers” because they did not give up? Did you want biased judges to threaten them as “frivolous.”

    Why don’t we let Rep. Sabatini petition as long as he wants to make his case> You could then write a report instead of your personal opinions.

    BTW, have you and yours considered where mandates can lead? There are endless imagined scenarios to make you think. I will give but one for illustration. Would you support a mayoral or commissioner mandate that young people must wear their pants at belly-button level instead of the current craze to wear them very low on their hips?

    I hope you see my point. When leaders lead, that is good. When leaders mandate “for thee but not for me” such as Mrs. Pelosi seems fond of, that is bad.

Comments are closed.


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