Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of November 15, 2020

Miami women and NBA fans in Tampa had a good week. But the holiday spirit? Not so much.

In his first major presentation as Florida House Speaker, Chris Sprowls delivered a thoughtful and inclusive speech.

Until he didn’t.

Yes, he addressed the divisive issue of defunding the police in a forthright, measured manner.

“There is no profession, occupation, or endeavor where we can’t improve,” he said. “For any members who want to have an honest, thoughtful, fact-based conversation about how we can improve policing in Florida, my door and my mind are open.”

“I do not dismiss, nor do I minimize, the complicated issues and historical entanglements surrounding police and race in the United States.”

So far, so good.

Ah, but rats. He couldn’t resist jabbing a familiar Republican punching bag — the media.

The very word patriotism does seem to cause some in the media and all of woke Twitter to swarm like locusts,” he said.

“In their funhouse mirror universe, they see even the most innocuous expression of patriotism as something dark and sinister. They equate patriotism with White nationalism. But patriotism is a rejection of White nationalism and any doctrine that seeks to divide America.”

Mr. Speaker, please … a word.

Yes, I saw where you slipped in the disclaimer “some in the media” but, come on. We both know your target audience will only hear “all in the media.”

I’ve been one of those media varlets for about a half-century. I know of no one — trust me, it’s a large group — who equates patriotism with White nationalism.

None. Zero. Zip.

To say otherwise is a cheap shot unworthy of you.

We just came through a season where every time I opened my mailbox 10 campaign fliers were stuffed inside. Most of them had large, scary type with words like “DANGEROUS RADICAL” or “SOCIALIST” along with a photo of the candidate we were NEVER SUPPOSED TO VOTE FOR!

From the Speaker to the mailers, this approach is a dog whistle that non-Republicans hate America.

It’s gone on for years.

It’s also true that Democrats and liberals stood idly by and let it happen without a response. I don’t know why they allowed that to happen but they did, and that issue has polarized the nation ever since.

It’s garbage, too.

Different political views don’t make someone unpatriotic. Now, more than ever, we need to come together.

However, in my “funhouse mirror universe,” as you put it, Mr. Speaker, I see distorted images put forth by leaders that can do nothing but harden the battle lines.

Please don’t do that again. We need you to be better than that.

Oh, and happy Thanksgiving. Stay safe. Wear a mask.

On with our weekly game of Winners and Losers.


Honorable mention: Tampa sports fans — Tampa’s Amalie Arena will be the temporary home for the NBA’s Toronto Raptors. The team announced it would open the season in Tampa because it could not get an exemption to COVID-19 travel restrictions in Canada.

Amalie Arena also is home to the Tampa Bay Lightning, reigning Stanley Cup champions.

The NCAA held multiple tournaments. The Atlantic Coast Conference and Southeastern Conference staged tournaments there.

The news led Lightning star Steven Stamkos to have a little fun on Twitter.

The Raptors’ slogan is “We The North.”

Stamkos, a native of Markham, Ontario, tweeted, “WE THE SOUTH.”

Almost (but not quite) biggest winner: Remote learning — Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said Florida students could attend classes online during the 2021 spring semester.

Florida authorized the option earlier this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The state also pressured schools to offer in-person learning for students who wanted to do that. The two-headed system forced teachers to master separate instruction skills after many students decided they would learn from home.

Due in part to the complicated system, Hillsborough County Schools canceled exams for the first semester. Superintendent Addison Davis referred to “several challenges to ensure testing security within the limited testing window for semester one exams.”

The biggest winner: Miami Thrice — It was a groundbreaking week for women in South Florida, times three.

Madeline Pumariega was unanimously named the first female president at Miami-Dade College, the nation’s largest community college.

The college has seven campuses, two centers, and 165,000 students from around the world. Pumariega, the daughter of a Cuban immigrant, is a Hialeah native and graduated from the school.

Daniella Levine Cava was sworn in as the first female mayor of Miami-Dade County. She immediately pledged an aggressive approach to combat COVID-19, which has ravaged the region.

As a first big step, she will appoint a chief medical officer for the county.

I think we have a short window to try and tamp it down,” she said. “I’m going to come out swinging this week.”

Finally, it was the first week on the job for new Miami Marlins General Manager Kim Ng. She is the first woman to assume that role in Major League Baseball history. Actually, she is the first female to hold that position for any major professional sports team in North America.

She won’t be the last.


Dishonorable mention: 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — On Friday, a three-judge federal panel struck down prohibitions in Palm Beach County and Boca Raton against conversion therapy.

That’s quackery designed to convert people from gay to straight.

By a 2-1 decision, the majority ruled that the measures violated free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment.

“This decision allows speech that many find concerning — even dangerous,” Judge Britt Grant wrote.

“But consider the alternative. If the speech restrictions in these ordinances can stand, then so can their inverse. Local communities could prevent therapists from validating a client’s same-sex attractions if the city council deemed that message harmful.”

OK, but what about the methods used in the, um, conversion?

The Southern Poverty Law Center calls it “junk science” and “worse than snake oil.”

“This practice — which can include violent role-play, re-enactment of past abuses, and exercises involving nudity and intimate touching — has been discredited by virtually all major American medical, psychiatric, psychological and professional counseling organizations,” the SPLC said.

Almost (but not quite) biggest loser: Loews Corp — We know how hard COVID-19 hit Orlando, particularly its theme parks and resorts. Loews laid off about 2,000 workers at its Universal Orlando properties during August and September.

As the Orlando Sentinel reported, though, the company scraped together $195 million to buy back 5.4 million shares of its own stock at around the same time.

CEO Jim Tisch said the move took advantage of a “market discount” on the stock.

“That being said, our decision to buy back stock has not come at the expense of any of our subsidiaries,” Tisch said. “For example, we have provided capital to Loews Hotels to help it ride out the effects of COVID on the hospitality industry.”

Still, it’s not a good look, at least not to Jeremy Haicken. He’s the president of the union that represents Disney hospitality workers, although not Loews properties.

“We have Loews workers sitting in their cars overnight to get food from our food banks,” he told the Sentinel. “What are they going to do for those folks? Clearly, the company has the money.”

The biggest loser: That holiday spirit — Yeah, we know what’s going on. Stay home. Wear a mask. Wash your hands.

Most of the time, it’s tolerable because we don’t want to die from COVID-19. It’s our civic duty to protect not only ourselves but those whom we might infect.

Now, though, medical experts and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle beg people to pass on the traditional big Thanksgiving dinner.

By the way, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is a noticeable exception to that trend, but we digress.

Trips to grandma’s house for turkey, and all the trimmings are out.

Sure, that’s the smart play. However, Zoom calls and virtual dinners just don’t cut it.

Christmas isn’t looking any better, and the death toll keeps climbing.

Help may be on the way with the encouraging news of two new vaccines, but it won’t come in time for this holiday season.


Look on the bright side, though. When (please, Lord, please) a sense of normalcy returns in 2021, the holidays we miss this year will be twice as meaningful.

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.


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