Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of December 13, 2020

Here's to the heroes who got us through COVID-19 and to the vaccines that give us hope

We have been known to get occasionally cranky in this space but even we have a heart at Christmas.

With that in mind, let us count our blessings and good tidings, even in this time of COVID-19. This weekly column is about winners and losers, but this lead-in is all about winners.

There are more of those than you might think.

There are vaccines now to combat that gosh-awful virus and real hope that 2021 will be a thousand times better than this year that shall not be named. More on this later in this piece.

We found heroes EVERYWHERE. Front-line medical workers and first responders put others first every day, even though it endangered their own lives. Public school teachers developed new instruction skills demanded by distance learning, all while facing political pressure from Tallahassee.

Florida conduced a smooth, controversy-free election that included 4.8 million mail ballots and 4.3 million early voters. That’s out of about 10.9 million total votes. It didn’t take long for the results to post, and afterward many suggested that Florida should serve as the model of how to run a large election. Well done!

When Florida Gators basketball player Keyontae Johnson collapsed during a game in Tallahassee, quick work by the Florida State on-site medical team may have helped save his life. Johnson spent a few days in critical condition but is doing much better now. That prompted UF Athletic Director Scott Stricklin to note: “We appreciate all the medical personnel who have helped Keyontae. (He) Keyontae terrific care on site by the FSU staff and at Tallahassee Memorial, which has worked in consultation with UF Health. We’re glad his parents can be by his side, and they feel the support of Gator Nation.”

We know how hard COVID-19 hit the entertainment and hospitality industries in Orlando, but the people of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church rose to the occasion. The church, located near many of Orlando’s big attractions, partnered with two other outlets to provide food for artists and entertainers devastated by the industry’s cutbacks. Times are tough, but people are tougher.

A round of applause for U.S. Postal Service workers, who persevered despite denigration from soon-to-be-former President Donald Trump. The mail did get through. Also, a tip of the cap to the FedEx, Amazon, and UPS workers who met the challenges posed by unprecedented online ordering.

Hey, our sports teams provided needed escape. The Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup. The Tampa Bay Rays made it to the World Series, and the Orlando Magic made the NBA playoffs. In football, both the Tampa Bay Bucs and Miami Dolphins are in the mix for the playoffs. And the Jacksonville Jaguars … um, never mind.

I’m sure we’re leaving out many other worthy feel-good stories. The point is, people always step up during a disaster, especially one on the scale we’re going through.

We couldn’t make it without them.

Now, on with the show.


Honorable mention: Ben Montgomery and Axios. At a time when local news coverage in many major markets has been cut to the bone, Axios is choosing to invest there. It announced that Montgomery, a former Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times reporter, is part of a team that will produce a morning Tampa Bay newsletter for your in-box starting in January.

It will feature five “must-read” local stories, and it’s free.

Of course, we can’t mention that without reminding that Florida Politics also produces a comprehensive free morning newsletter called Sunburn, along with other products. Click here and scroll down a bit to sign up.

The almost (but not quite) biggest winner: Vern Buchanan. No one can question his support for Trump, but the U.S. Rep. from Sarasota knew when to run, run, run away FAST from a dumb idea.

While 126 of his GOP colleagues in the U.S. House signed an absurd amicus brief seeking to overturn election results in four states that went for Biden, Buchanan chose to abstain.

Given Trump’s death grip on the GOP, declining to comply with this tawdry exercise is practically an act of rebellion.

Buchanan has remained silent about the matter, so we don’t know why he took this route. Since it’s the season of goodwill, we’ll hope it was because he looked at that silly lawsuit and went, “Nah. That’s stupid.”

The biggest winner: Hope! We all know what 2020 has been like and we will celebrate (safely, of course) its departure in a few days. Be gone, vile year!

More than that, we celebrate the hope that 2021 offers.

As mentioned above, vaccines to protect against COVID-19 are rolling out and soon should be widely available. Government leaders will again listen to medical experts, hopefully reducing the time the virus can mess with our lives.

It doesn’t matter whether you voted red or blue, we all benefit from the work of researchers and vaccine manufacturers. Help is on the way, provided enough people tune out wacko anti-vax internet sites and actually take the vaccine.


Dishonorable mention: The House Republicans (and one Attorney General) who didn’t abstain. Yeah, we mentioned this last week, but the foolish actions of these leaders deserve a repeat sharing.

Don’t forget how nine Florida Congressmen initially joined a lawsuit designed to overturn election results in four battleground states that went for Biden. They were later joined by two other state GOP members.

This Hall of Shame includes: Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Mario Diaz-Balart, Neal Dunn, Matt Gaetz, John Rutherford, Ross Spano, Michael Waltz, Dan Webster and Ted Yoho.  Later, Reps. Bill Posey and Greg Steube signed on to the brief as well.

There was someone else … oh, who was it?

Oh yeah. Attorney General Ashley Moody.

The almost (but not quite) biggest loser: The Sweden model (and the Florida Republicans who thought it was great). Leaders like former House Speaker Jose Oliva, state Rep. (and noted lawsuit loser) Anthony Sabatini, and someone else …. oh, who was it?

Oh yeah, Gov. Ron DeSantis.

These were just a few of the prominent GOP members who said we ought to handle the virus like the Swedes. They kept schools open and had relatively few social restrictions. That all changed when infection rates skyrocketed while neighboring countries with tougher restraints had far-lower COVID-19 cases.

That led to this stinging rebuke by CNN media reporter Oliver Darcy.

“Remember when right-wing media kept insisting that the US needed to implement Sweden’s lax coronavirus model? Calls to move forward with such a strategy were everywhere, including all over Fox News. Fast forward to now: Sweden’s king said in a holiday address that his country has ‘failed’ in containing the virus, having suffered ‘a large number of deaths.’

“I’m skeptical that this bit of news will break through with the audience that was led to believe — by bad-faith actors — that the country had been successful in its efforts…”

In another brutally honest segment, CNN’s Brianna Keilar called out Fox News for having pushed the model then and for now pushing families to spend Christmas together.

The biggest loser: Marco Rubio. How was this a bad week for Florida’s senior U.S. Senator?

Let us count the ways.

He strayed out of his lane and got into a social media fight with U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Bad idea.

It started with Rubio’s response to Jen O’Malley Dillon, soon-to-be deputy of chief of staff for Biden. In an interview, she referred to Republicans in unflattering terms.

“Biden talks about unity and healing, but you want to know what they really think? Read how the person he wants as the next WH deputy chief of staff called Republicans in Congress a bunch of f***ers,” Rubio tweeted.

AOC wasted no time in responding, noting his silence when Florida’s Yoho used equally unflattering terms to describe her.

“@marcorubio you stood by in total silence when your GOP colleague called a Congresswoman a ‘f— b—’ on the Capitol steps in front of press,” she tweeted. “You weren’t big enough to speak then, & you don’t get to sob now. BTW that is the right word for those who fleece & scam working families.”

Rubio’s response: “BTW, the right word for those who fleece & scam working families is actually ‘socialist.'”

The right word for that response is “lame.”

But the week wasn’t over yet.

Dirty trickster and pardoned felon Roger Stone took Rubio to task for not vocally supporting efforts to overturn the election.

He noted on Parler: “A growing number of Florida Republicans are urging me to challenge Marco Rubio in the Republican primary.”

Stone added that he’d rather wait two years and challenge Rick Scott.

The fact it’s even being discussed, though, shows the consequences of failing to grovel before Trump.

Even if Stone stays on the sideline, there’s always Ivanka Trump. Rick Wilson, one of the founders of the Lincoln Project, said he believes she will challenge Rubio.

Stay tuned.

Programming note: We’re going to take next week off from Winners and Losers to enjoy the Christmas break. We’ll be back at it on January 3, 2021 (it felt good to write that year) with an installment of our top W’s and L’s of 2020.

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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