Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of October 6, 2020

Give Disney credit for pulling off something that seemed impossible a couple of months ago

Writing coaches usually eschew the use of cliches, and generally, that is good advice. There is, however, one over-used phrase that was, is, and ever will be relevant to whatever time in which we live.

“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”

That aphorism seems especially relevant today, as the Sept. 24 episode of the Washington Post’s Presidential Podcast makes clear.

It focuses on the response, or lack thereof, by President Woodrow Wilson to the 1918 pandemic known as the Spanish Flu.

It infected an estimated 500 million and killed between 20 million and 50 million people worldwide. In the United States, an estimated 675,000 Americans died.

Wilson knew early on that the virus was wiping out thousands of people, but he ignored it and focused on the World War I effort instead. His administration established the Committee on Public Information, but that essentially was a propaganda machine.

Americans were fed a steady diet of optimistic, everything-is-good stories. The bad stuff – you know, hundreds of thousands of dead people – was ignored. When Wilson went to France to join armistice talks to formally end the war, he contracted the virus and became violently ill.

The CPI kept a lid on that, and media at the time – large newspapers – were pressured not to report things that made America look bad.

Translation to modern times: fake news.

With more than 210,000 Americans dead from COVID-19, the parallel between then and now is obvious.

We have a President so focused on his re-election, he is eager to promote large rallies at the risk of spreading the virus to thousands of people. He ignores the best medical advice of the day, all the while promising that COVID-19 one day will just go poof!

Yeah, it seems like we’re in a re-run of a sad play that should have served as a warning to our times. The main difference now is that much of the media accepts its adversarial role and picks apart lies told by the administration.

That’s not enough, though.

Leaders must make tough choices and put service over self.

We’re still waiting.

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


We need a moment first to say, How About Those Tampa Bay Rays!!!! First, they dispatched the godless heathen Yankees in the deciding game of the American League Division Series. Then they played Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York” anthem in their clubhouse.

That’s the song the Yankees play at their stadium after every win.

So, take THAT!

On with the show.

Honorable mention: Florida A&M University. The school lifted a midnight curfew on students that it started in late August as a response to a spike in COVID-19 infections.

Dean of Students Bomani Spell said “the positivity rate has declined to a manageably low level” as students and staff adhered to safety protocols.

Emergency procedures remain in place, including masks and social distancing. The trend is headed in the right direction, though.

Almost (but not quite) biggest winner: Richard Corcoran. Whether you agree with the Education Commissioner’s strong-armed tactics to force brick-and-mortar schools to open during a pandemic, he didn’t violate the state constitution.

That is the conclusion of the 1st District Court of Appeal. The three-judge panel overturned Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson‘s ruling, which sided with teachers’ unions challenging Corcoran’s order.

They had argued the mandate violated a constitutional requirement of “safe” and “secure” public education.

Nope, the judges said. It did not because the various school districts made the final decision about whether to open classrooms. That prompted an in-your-face reaction from Patricia Levesque, the CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

In recognizing the importanceof in-person learning, the Court is protecting the parental decisions of more than a million students across the state, especially those that are vulnerable and would fall further behind without the hands-on support of their teachers,” she said.

“The teachers union’s agenda—driven by self-interest—would harm every student who needs in-person instruction – whether they are in the early grades, students with special needs or those whose parents must work outside the home.”

The biggest winner: The Disney Bubble. These have been tough times for the happiest place on earth, with massive layoffs and a crushed bottom line. But give the folks at Disney credit for pulling off something that seemed impossible a couple of months ago.

Since reopening on a limited basis in July, the Mouse has had no reported cases of COVID-19 cases from guests or employees.

Credit goes to strict safety measures Disney put in place to keep visitors and workers safe. That includes the bubble where NBA players have stayed for the last two months while conducting the playoffs there.

Zero positive cases.

Contrast that to the National Football League, which postponed several games following multiple positive tests. College football teams, especially Florida Atlantic University, endured similar problems.

Major League Baseball had serious infection problems early in its return to play. Taking no chances as the World Series draws closer, MLB copied the bubble concept to keep players safe.

We also have to acknowledge that the National Hockey League pulled off a similar success story to the NBA by also keeping players isolated.

It works.

It’s winning.


Dishonorable mention: Skanska. Pensacola residents and officials are fed up with what they say is a lack of cooperation from the company contracted to work on the vital Pensacola Bay Bridge.

Hurricane Sally brought havoc to the Pensacola area, and inspections revealed the bridge suffered major damage. The bridge is a key link between Pensacola Beach, Gulf Breeze and the greater Pensacola area.  According to the Pensacola News Journal, the damage forced commuters to take a 33-mile detour across the Garcon Point Bridge or a 62-mile detour using Florida State Road 8.

Making things worse, 22 Skanska construction barges broke off during the storm. Some caused damage to the bridge, while others landed in residents’ yards.

When local officials met later to discuss what to do, no representative from Skanska was there.

“Those are answers that we need Skanska’s participation in, and today, Skanska has been a very frustrating partner to get those answers,” State Rep. Alex Andrade said.

Almost (but not quite) biggest loser: Patti Englander Henning. The Broward Circuit Judge ruled that some victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre must turn over their mental health records to the local school board.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that attorneys for the Board want the records so they can defend against lawsuits claiming mental anguish and post-traumatic stress.

That prompted this reply from Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter, Jaime, was one of 17 killed on that horrific day.

“We are broken. We are suffering,” he said. “The district does not need receipts on that. My daughter is in a cemetery.”

Both sides are working toward confidentiality agreements to keep the records from becoming public, but c’mon. Does the School Board really plan to question how deep the pain from that day still runs for all involved?


The biggest loser: Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee. What is it with Tallahassee and technology? We all know about the disastrous, horrible, terrible state unemployment computer system.

Now we can layer Florida’s voter registration system onto that pile of scrap metal. It crashed with a mighty thud as the deadline to register approached last Monday.

That’s where Lee comes in.

Her office oversees the state division of elections, and whatever preparations made for the registration onslaught obviously fell far short.

“During the last few hours, the website was accessed by an unprecedented 1.1 million requests per hour,” she said in a release. “We will work with our state and federal law enforcement partners to ensure this was not a deliberate act against the voting process.”

She extended the deadline after the meltdown.

Horse, barn door. You know the rest.

Some might argue that people should have registered well before the deadline. It is, however, often human nature to wait until the last minute. The state should have anticipated that and planned accordingly.

After all, it’s not like Florida has a spotless record when it comes to elections. And if past is prologue, hold your breath about what might happen on Nov. 3.

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

  • Sonja Fitch

    October 11, 2020 at 3:22 pm

    We in Florida are used to stuff! But it is obvious the computer systems for the state are Fing failures! This damn well better not lead up to Fing election counting ballots! Floridians are not going to be forgiving or patient 💗! Vote Democrat up and down ballot!

Comments are closed.


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