Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of February 14, 2021

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Marco Rubio got some good news from Ivanka Trump, but the outlook was a little different in Lakewood Ranch.

We watched the horror that gripped Texas last week as its electric grid collapsed. And it is only natural to wonder if it can happen here.

Probably not, but it’s best to be sure. That’s why officials should not assume Florida’s largely temperate winter climate keeps most of the state immune from the extreme conditions Texas experienced.

This might be a good time for the Public Service Commission to run a “what if” scenario for the state’s power grid. In 2018, the PSC reported on steps it took following the disastrous 2004-2005 hurricane season and concluded, “Florida’s aggressive storm hardening programs are working. The length of outages was reduced markedly from the 2004-2005 storm season.”

That’s good.

However, what if the kind of ice and prolonged cold struck here like Houston, Austin, and Dallas just endured in Texas?

Don’t say it can’t happen. Houston is on essentially a straight line to the Tampa Bay area and Orlando. Austin follows a similar path through Central Florida over toward Daytona.

It’s rare, of course, but long-time residents of Tampa remember the 1989 Christmas ice storm and the freeze that lingered for a few days. Tampa Electric Co. instituted rolling power blackouts just like Houston did. I remember them well.

It didn’t last as long as the Houston nightmare has, but it was bad enough. No one wants to go through that again.

News4Jax meteorologist Mark Collins in Jacksonville wrote that it is “highly unlikely” we would because our electric grid system is better and the state is more immune against sustained freezes.

“Yes, we get freezes, but the Gulf and Atlantic quickly moderate the intensity to just a couple of days before our strong Florida sunshine breaks the cycle,” he said.

Florida is part of a cooperative with other states to share power if needed. Good thing, because we always need it here. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that Florida uses eight times as much energy as it produces. That number is likely to increase, given our growth projections.

Yes, our power grid seems to be in decent shape. And, true, hurricanes are far more likely to impact that than a cold snap.

Then again, a week ago Houston and most of Texas probably thought the same thing.

Enough of that. On to our weekly game of Winners and Losers.

Winners

Honorable mention: Nikki Fried.  She hasn’t “officially” declared she is running for Governor (wink, wink), but Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner certainly seems to be popping up everywhere these days.

She was on CNN, where she tore into Gov. Ron DeSantis following news that residents in two affluent ZIP codes in Manatee jumped to the head of the line there to receive 3,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

“This is how he operates. And he just doesn’t care,” she said. “He’s going to keep rolling forward until somebody stops him and that may be 2022.”

Fried also released a video that blasted DeSantis and his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. By Friday it had more than 441,000 views on Twitter. Fried also scored a mention from Emily’s List, which said “she’s using her position to fight for Florida — and hold Gov. Ron DeSantis accountable.”

And hold him. And hold him.

Almost (but not quite) biggest winner: Ashley Moody. Florida’s Attorney General asked President Joe Biden to reinstate a law enforcement program that targets undocumented immigrants with a history of sexual offenses.

Moody is one of 18 attorneys general who spoke up after Biden suspended Operation Talon last month. They consider it a key weapon in the fight against sex trafficking.

She made a strong, reasonable argument.

“The reversal of a federal enforcement operation created to prevent the molestation, rape and sex trafficking of women, men, and children is extremely concerning to me,” Moody wrote.

“As Attorney General, not a day goes by where I am not focused on how to end sex trafficking, especially the rape and torture of children — which, as a mother, disgusts me. It should also disgust President Biden …”

Moody said Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested more than 19,700 undocumented immigrants with sexual criminal offenses.

The biggest winner: Marco Rubio. His path to reelection in 2022 just got easier.

Former First Daughter Ivanka Trump squelched speculation she would challenge Rubio in the Republican primary. That doesn’t mean Rubio won’t face a primary challenge, but it won’t come from Trump.

She’s the second major figure – Matt Gaetz was the first – to say they won’t go for Rubio’s seat.

“Marco did speak with Ivanka a few weeks ago,” Rubio spokesman Nick Iacovella told the New York Times. “Ivanka offered her support for Marco’s re-election. They had a great talk.”

Without a serious primary challenge, Rubio would be free to load up for what likely will be a bruising battle with the Democrat primary winner. Speculation there has focused on Orlando U.S. Rep. Val Demmings, who was on Biden’s shortlist of vice-presidential candidates.

Demmings said she is open to that idea.

Losers

Dishonorable mention: Dennis Baxley. The Republican Senator from Ocala tried to dress up his SB 90 as a way to re-energize voters by, you know, suppressing them. It fooled no one, but fellow Senate Republicans seem to be playing along with the gag, basically calling it a wonderful idea.

Wonderful, huh?

Florida just completed its smoothest election in maybe forever, with a record 4.8 million people voting by mail. Instead of celebrating that, Baxley’s bill would change the rules. Anyone with standing requests for mail-in ballots would have to reapply for them in 2022.

Baxley insisted this is no big deal.

“Why not try this? It may invigorate participation,” the Times/Herald Tallahassee reported he said.

Why not try this? Because it’s stupid, that’s why.

It creates a lot of unnecessary work for election supervisors throughout the state, who hate the idea.

Even if that didn’t matter, what’s the purpose? It ain’t about energizing voters, that’s for sure.

Dig deeper. Last year, 2.1 million Democrats voted by mail compared to 1.5 million Republicans. So hey, make it harder for Democrats to vote!

Almost (but not quite) biggest loser: Barney Bishop.  The lobbyist stepped way, way, way over the line at a House committee meeting. He was pushing for the passage of HB 233, the so-called classroom diversity bill.

The bill would “prohibit the State Board of Education and Board of Governors from shielding students, staff, and faculty from certain speech.”

It also would require the Board to ensure colleges have intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity. Conservatives fumed for years that colleges censor their viewpoints and speakers.

Earlier in the meeting, a Democrat asked what would happen, for instance, if the Ku Klux Klan wanted to hold a rally at Florida A&M University. FAMU is a historically Black university. Its alums include Rep. Ramon Alexander.

“It doesn’t matter whether you like the speech,” Bishop told members.

He went on to say it doesn’t matter if the speakers are Klan members, communists, or Nazis.

Then he added, “everyone in this country has the right to freedom of speech and freedom of thought. If you don’t like it, walk away.”

Alexander quickly struck back.

“I’m going to put in on the record: if the KKK comes on FAMU’s campus, all hell is going to break loose,” he said.

He called Bishop’s remarks “shameful.”

“To suggest that I should walk away from an organization that dehumanized, murdered, and lynched people who looked like me, just because of the color of their skin, is extremely offensive,” Alexander said.

Bishop lamented Alexander’s “narrow-mindedness.”

“I will defend to the last breath of my body for Representative Alexander to say just what he said. He is entitled to that opinion. I will fight with anybody that tries to keep Rep. Alexander from saying that,” Bishop told Florida Politics.

“But the difference is, I’m not scared of words. I’m not scared of thought and I’m not scared for myself. I’m scared for our country because people like Rep. Alexander represent a threat to free thought and free speech.”

There’s nothing wrong with robust debate. But Barney, dude, get a grip.

Walk away? Are you kidding?

The biggest loser: Vanessa Baugh. This one isn’t even close. The Chair of the Manatee County Commission was outed by great reporting from Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

He reported on an email Baugh sent to the county’s Public Safety Director that created “a priority list of people to get the COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Lakewood Ranch, a list that included Baugh and prominent developer Rex Jensen, inviting more concerns of favoritism in vaccine distribution.”

This was after scalding criticism over the fact that the 3,000-dose shipment of the vaccine was targeted for two affluent and largely Republican ZIP codes in Manatee County. Other less-connected areas were pushed to the back of the line.

Other commissioners let their chair know that the move was, shall we say, un-freaking-acceptable.

“What happened over the last few days undermines everything I’ve been telling my residents,” Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge said. “Favoritism was shown and that erodes people’s trust in their government.”

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.


2 comments

  • chaco52

    February 21, 2021 at 10:27 am

    Joe- Great argument on your part to squelch free speech so your feelings aren’t hurt. Bishop was, is and always will be correct. 45 years as a journalist has clearly taught you nothing about debate, the 1st Amendment and the role of journalists. You’d be a great addition at the NYT with their childish “woke” culture. As they say, get out of the kitchen if you cannot take the intellectual heat.

    Reply

  • Derek Logue

    February 28, 2021 at 7:45 am

    Barney Bishop claims everyone has the right to free speech yet threatened me with arrest and a gun for exopressing my right to criticize him. It appears that Bishop’s tolerance only extends to white supremacist groups.

    Reply

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