Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 3.14.21

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Happy sleep-deprived day.

Yes, folks, it’s time for America’s insipid “spring forward” ritual in the name of robbing sunlight in the morning, so we’ll have more of it before dusk.

Officially, daylight saving time has been around in the United States since 1918, although it was hit or miss then. The Uniform Time Act of 1966 changed that, and I can still remember my dad, whose workday began at 6 a.m., complain that it was just so “big shots can play golf.”

Turns out it wasn’t totally uniform.

Alaska, Hawaii, most of Arizona (except for the Navajo Nation), and the U.S. Virgin Islands don’t play by that rule. In 2018, a bill to have Florida follow daylight saving year-round won wide bipartisan support, but, alas, it still needed congressional approval.

As best we can tell, that memo wound up in the leader’s circular file.

This is a crusade of sorts for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who routinely complains when it’s time to move the clocks forward or backward. He’s at it again this time, too.

“Soon, we will have to comply with the senseless twice a year time change. We need to pass my bill to make daylight savings permanent,” he tweeted last Wednesday. “More daylight in the evenings results in fewer car accidents & robberies. And it allows kids to play outside longer.”

The downside is it’s still dark (or barely light) when many of those same kids start their school day. But when we “fall back” later this year, it’s getting dark when a lot of them head home.

Polls routinely show Americans favor keeping daylight saving year-round. I mean, come on – this can’t be that difficult.

The U.S. Senate confirmed a Supreme Court justice in about a month last year, but deciding this issue is too difficult?

In keeping with this column’s theme, we declare that “spring forward, fall back” receives a special Lifetime Loser Award. There’s a message in there somewhere for Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.

End this nonsense before we have to “fall back” again.

OK, on with our regular production of winners and losers.

Winners

Honorable mention: Florida. We’re No. 10!

According to U.S. News & World Report, Florida ranks 10th among the nation’s best states.

That’s a jump of three spots from last year.

It based the survey on responses from 70,000 people about health care, education, economy, infrastructure, opportunity, fiscal stability, crime and corrections, and the natural environment.

Florida ranked at No. 3 in education, No. 8 in the economy, and No. 8 in fiscal stability.

We’ve got work to do in health care (25), opportunity (33), crime (26), and infrastructure (20).

Washington was No. 1 overall, followed by Minnesota, Utah, New Hampshire, and Idaho.

The bottom five were Alabama, West Virginia, New Mexico, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

Almost (but not quite) biggest winner: Chris Sprowls and Wilton Simpson. The House Speaker and Senate President unveiled a plan to collect online sales taxes from out-of-state vendors. That levels the playing field with traditional brick-and-mortar stores.

Good idea.

Even better, they propose using the money to rebuild Florida’s Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund.

Florida Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson was pleased.

“The Florida Chamber of Commerce and job creators across our state applaud the leadership of President Simpson and Speaker Sprowls to protect Florida businesses and accelerate the recovery of Florida’s economy from the pandemic-driven recession,” he said.

Well played.

The biggest winner: Major clemency changes. At Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ recommendation, the Florida Cabinet reversed big parts of the no-mercy clemency process enacted by former Gov. Rick Scott and his Attorney General, Pam Bondi.

The Miami Herald reported on the change. Those with felony convictions who have completed their sentence and paid their court fines will be able to hold office and serve on a jury.

The Cabinet removed the minimum five-year waiting period for those with felony convictions to apply to have their rights restored. It kept the requirement that ex-felons must satisfy all financial obligations associated with their sentence before receiving their rights.

However, the Governor can unilaterally grant full clemency. When he was Governor, Charlie Crist restored voting rights for more than 100,000 people.

“I believe that those who have had their voting rights restored, it makes sense to restore the other civil rights,” DeSantis said.

Sure does.

Losers

Dishonorable mention: Florida. Wait a second, didn’t we say above that our state was honorably mentioned?

We did.

But we also must note this nugget from Bloomberg News.

Remember how in 2020 there was wide speculation about a mass move by Wall Street types to Florida? Turns out that was premature.

While Bloomberg wrote that, “For months now, A-listers and lesser-lights from the world of high finance have been traveling to the Sunshine State while riding out COVID-19.” But added that the idea is “already beginning to fizzle.”

It noted that Dan Sundheim, founder of D1 Capital Partners, is likely to return to his Park Avenue residence and leave Palm Beach behind.

David Tepper, another rich guy, moved back to New Jersey last year from Miami and will stay there for now. In case they need a getaway home though, Bloomberg reported he and his wife just bought a $73 million Palm Beach mansion.

“The main problem with moving to Florida is that you have to live in Florida,” said Jason Mudrick at Mudrick Capital Management.

Mudrick is a long-time resident of Manhattan.

“New York has the smartest, most driven people, the best culture, the best restaurants, and the best theaters,” he said. “Anyone moving to Florida to save a little money loses out on all of that.”

The almost (but not quite) biggest loser: DeSantis.  Even as the Governor repeatedly congratulates himself for just about everything, bad headlines keep popping up.

This one in the Orlando Sentinel is about how DeSantis again wants to consolidate power in, well, himself.

The 159-page HB 1537 would, the Sentinel reported, “eliminate Cabinet oversight over a slew of agency and state personnel rules and transfer many of those powers to himself or agencies he controls…”

Not surprisingly, the bill appears to target DeSantis’ chief antagonist, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. DeSantis would have the final say on many environmental issues now under Fried’s supervision.

“For the second year running, the governor is attempting a harmful power grab,” Fried told the Sentinel in an emailed statement. “This bill creates an unnecessary imbalance of power, silences the voice of any non-majority party Cabinet member, and blocks the consensus that Florida’s Constitution requires and makes possible fairness and transparency in doing the people’s business.”

Why would DeSantis do this, beyond naked ambition? For that, we go to the 70th chapter of the Federalist Papers, written in 1788, and author Alexander Hamilton. He endorses a “unitary executive” concept to provide “decision, activity, secrecy, and dispatch.”

Yep, that kind of sums up the Governor – especially the secrecy part. The whole checks and balance thing, what a crock, right?

Also, that story about the vaccines earmarked for two wealthy GOP-solid Manatee County neighborhoods won’t go away.

Florida Democrats in Congress want new Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate, which could make for more bad headlines as the 2022 election season approaches.

They sent a letter to Garland that noted, “Text messages between a DeSantis-allied County Commissioner and a large DeSantis donor before the Lakewood Ranch pop-up was established seem to indicate that politics and campaign donor influence are trumping the public health needs of our state.”

DeSantis concluded the week by essentially threatening President Joe Biden for something Biden never said.

In a nationwide address Thursday, Biden said the country “may have to reinstate restrictions” unless the country makes more progress against COVID-19.

The next day, DeSantis said, “lockdowns ain’t happening” in Florida.

Biden never used the word “lockdown.”

One more thing.

In January, DeSantis railed against Biden’s plan to use the Federal Emergency Management Agency to supplement state efforts on the vaccine rollout.

The Governor called them “FEMA camps” and said they weren’t necessary for Florida.

They’re here anyway and, guess what?

The FEMA sites appear to be running smoothly, and that means more people get vaccinated.

Almost (but not quite) biggest loser: Rick Scott. Don’t invite Scott and DeSantis to the same party. Shortly after the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package won final approval, Scott wrote an open letter to mayors and governors across the country.

His message:  “… commit to reject and return any federal funding in excess of their federally-reimbursable COVID-19 related expenses.”

“Democrats rushed this spending through Congress without a single Republican vote…” Scott noted.

Sort of like when Republicans rushed Amy Coney Barrett through from nomination to confirmation as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

But we digress.

While Scott raged at what he called “President Biden’s massive, wasteful and non-targeted $1.9 trillion,” DeSantis complained that Florida didn’t get enough money in the deal.

He said the relief bill penalizes Florida because its unemployment rate is lower than states like California and New York.

“Instead of using the share of the population, they are using the number of unemployed in a state, which means states like Florida that have lower unemployment are getting penalized,” DeSantis said.

“States like New York and California, who have higher unemployment are benefiting, they’re getting a windfall.”

Scott believes no one should get a windfall, including his home state.

“By rejecting and returning any unneeded funds, as well as funds unrelated to COVID-19, you would be taking responsible action to avoid wasting scarce tax dollars,” he wrote.

We’ll let you know if any city or state actually does that.

Meanwhile, Scott has a meeting planned with Donald Trump at the Southern Out-of-Power House, otherwise known as Mar-a-Lago.

The topic is the 2022 Senate elections, and groveling is mandatory.

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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