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

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Like him or not, conservative radio host Dan Bongino was a big winner last week.

About 2.6 million Floridians have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19, and another nearly 2.1 residents got their first dose.

Very good.

Both numbers should rapidly increase following the decision by Gov. Ron DeSantis to lower the eligibility age to those at least 50 years old.

Early on, there were problems in some places, long waits, and exasperation for many people trying to make appointments. It seems to go much better now, though.

DeSantis reminds people at every opportunity that he did it right. Republicans are happy to spin that narrative, and even attorney John Morgan, who has criticized DeSantis, seems to agree — however cautiously.

Politico reported that Morgan said, “As of this writing, he won.”

That’s the problem. If the last year taught us nothing else, it’s that this virus is one tough opponent. There seems to be a new variant every day, and recent images of kids on Spring Break are unsettling. Most don’t have masks, and as for social distancing, well, you were 19 years old once, right?

It’s good to be DeSantis these days, though — as of this writing, anyway.

He’s enjoying great popularity among Republicans, and if you-know-who doesn’t run for President in 2024, DeSantis will be well-positioned as the heir apparent.

As of this writing, anyway.

The game isn’t over, though. If you watch March Madness, you know there are buzzer-beaters and shocking finishes all the time. The Governor’s fortunes could plummet if the virus develops an attitude and goes on another rampage.

Dr. Anthony Fauci urges caution. He pointed to a surge of cases in Europe and warned Americans not to “spike the ball on the 5-yard line.”

Good idea.

We know DeSantis won’t back off, though. He’s in campaign mode and wants everyone to understand that he did the best damn job against COVID-19 of any Governor in the nation.

That’s probably true.

As of this writing, anyway.

Now, let’s get to our weekly game of winners and losers.

Winners

Honorable mention: Bill Nelson. The former Congressman and three-term Florida U.S. Senator landed a high-profile job when President Joe Biden chose him as NASA’s new administrator.

With space exploration a hot item once again, Nelson brings political savvy to the agency. He’ll need every bit of that as NASA ramps up an ambitious agenda in the coming years.

NASA has an active partnership with the commercial space industry (see Elon Musk). It plans to return astronauts to the Moon. There could be humans on Mars eventually.

NASA also will play a key role in climate research.

Nelson is a long-time ally of Biden and flew in the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1986. He also oversaw NASA’s space programs while in Congress.

Almost (but not quite) biggest winner: Marco Rubio. The non-partisan Center for Effective Lawmaking named Rubio the most effective Republican Senator in the 116th Congress (2019-21).

He was the only Florida lawmaker to crack the top 10 among both senators and representatives.

In making the selection, the Center noted that Rubio put forward 107 bills. Ten of them passed the Senate, and six became law.

“Sponsoring only 17 bills in the 112th Congress, Sen. Rubio was near the bottom of his party in his first term in the Senate,” the Center said.

“By the 114th Congress, he had broken into the top twenty, achieving a top-ten position in the 115th, and then the top Republican position in the most recently completed Congress.”

The biggest winner: Dan Bongino. The race is on to replace the late Rush Limbaugh as the afternoon conservative flame-thrower on radio outlets around the country. Florida Man Bongino is in the mix, and he just got a big break.

On May 24, Bongino will be at the mic from noon until 3 p.m. on Westwood One. His show will air in high-profile markets like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.

It’s not clear if he will have the reach that Limbaugh did when his show aired in more than 600 markets, but this isn’t a bad start.

Bongino, a former Secret Service agent, lost three attempts to win a seat in Congress. Two of the defeats came in Maryland, and in 2016 he lost to Francis Rooney in the GOP primary to represent Florida’s 19th Congressional District.

He has had much better luck in the media biz.

Bongino has a popular podcast on Westwood One and routinely appears on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox. And after Democrats failed to derail Brett Kavanaugh‘s Supreme Court nomination, Bongino famously said, “my life is about owning the libs now.”

While Limbaugh will be difficult to replace, if not impossible, Bongino will be a strong candidate to fill that void. Dana Loesch and Erick Erickson are other names in the mix.

Losers

Dishonorable mention: Wilton Simpson. It’s been a good run lately for the Florida Senate President, but no one wins them all.

Democrats want blood after the arrest of former Senator Frank Artiles. He faces charges that he illegally funded a third-party candidate to help Republicans win SD 37 in November.

What’s this have to do with Simpson?

It complicates his life.

Democrats scream that Republican Sen. Ileana Garcia, who won that election, should resign. They want a Special Election.

They want prosecutors to dive into how much the GOP’s fundraising arm was involved with Artiles’ actions. That’s Simpson’s territory.

Follow the money.

Florida Democratic Party head Manny Diaz wouldn’t say if he had evidence that GOP leadership was involved. It’s under investigation, you know. But he also slipped in this jab, saying it’s “very odd” to believe Artiles acted alone.

“It would just seem to me to be very odd that this would continue to occur statewide for as long as it has without … the tacit approval of the leadership,” Diaz told reporters on a Friday Zoom call regarding the recent arrests.

Simpson also figured prominently in a Miami Herald story about the effort by South Florida billionaire real estate mogul Jeffrey Soffer to get a permit to establish a casino at the Fontainebleau Resort in Miami Beach, which his family has owned since 2005.

The Herald reported that Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls were Soffer’s guests on his 311-foot yacht “Madsummer” for two nights last September. The newspaper described it as “intimate fundraising dinners and a sunset cruise.”

Soffer wants legislation that would allow him to transfer the gaming license he has for his Big Easy Casino in Hallandale Beach to the Fountainebleau. The move has strong local opposition and the Seminole Tribe of Florida also opposes it.

Florida law doesn’t currently allow such transfers.

Soffer is a major GOP donor. The Herald said that since 2019, companies connected to Soffer gave $300,000 to Simpson’s Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign. He gave another $407,500 to the Florida Republican Party.

This evokes the image of backroom deals — whether they actually happened or not.

“Gaming negotiations are extremely complicated,’’ Simpson spokesperson Katie Betta told the Herald. “And while President Simpson believes the efforts are worthy, it is also important to be realistic about where we are.

“The President has been involved in these negotiations for years, and if they get to a place where he believes an agreement would benefit the state of Florida and have the support of his colleagues in the Legislature as well as the Governor, he would be happy to discuss further details.”

Almost (but not quite) biggest loser: Matt Gaetz and Greg Steube. Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives approved awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to Capitol Police for its response to the Jan. 6 insurrection.

That’s the top congressional honor.

It passed 433-12 and heads to the Senate for final approval.

But, wait … what? Twelve lawmakers voted AGAINST this?

Who would do such a thing?

Oh yeah … Gaetz and Steube.

Their objection: Language in the proposal that referenced “a mob of insurrectionists.”

Um, that’s what they were.

Politico reported Gaetz objected to “these editorial comments about the Jan. 6 sequence of events.”

Editorial? A mob of crazed loons, motivated by the false belief their Dear Leader lost the election, attacked the Capitol. Five people died.

That’s pretty much the sequence, you know.

The biggest loser: Artiles. The former Republican state Senator is in a world of trouble following his arrest. He is charged with third-degree felony election law violations last November.

It’s related to a scheme to help GOP candidate Ileana Garcia win the SD 37 race against incumbent Jose Javier Rodriguez. Artiles stands accused of paying Alex Rodriguez $50,000 to enter that race as an independent candidate.

Um, Rodriguez lived two counties away from the district.

The idea was to siphon votes from the incumbent, and it appeared to work.

Gonzalez won by 32 votes out of more than 200,000 cast. Alex Rodriguez did no campaigning but received more than 6,000 votes. The implication, of course, is having two people named Rodriguez on the ballot confused voters.

Artiles was released on a $5,000 bond.

Alex Rodriguez is said to be cooperating with prosecutors.

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

  • Ian

    March 21, 2021 at 10:42 am

    Somehow missing from the list is an honorable mention for biggest loser… Joe Biden, who lost an epic battle with the stairs leading up to Air Force 1 last week and had to take a standing 8-count after stumbling three times and getting knocked down, before finally making it to the plane. The MSM failed to give this any coverage at all, for some reason.

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