Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 5.23.21

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If you wore a mask, kept socially distant, and got your vaccination, this weekend is your reward.

This weekend is what we call a rebound. It’s one of those rare times when just about everyone is a winner.

You can see it in increased traffic on the road and the lengthy lines at airport security checkpoints. AAA estimates more than 34 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles this weekend. That is 60% more than a year ago when COVID-19 stopped life as we knew it in its tracks.

The rebound will be visible in the smoke rising from backyard grills. We will see it in the faces of friends and family members who show up for Memorial Day cookouts they couldn’t attend in 2020.

People will be at the beaches and theme parks throughout Florida. AAA lists Orlando as No. 1 in the nation for travel bookings and the No. 2 destination (behind Las Vegas) for road trips.

More than 2 million Floridians will travel this weekend, a 62% increase over last year. You’ll hear squeals of delight from grandparents finally reunited with grandkids they haven’t seen in who knows how long.

This is the reward for wearing masks and getting those vaccinations. Experts said this could happen if people could soldier through the worst of times.

For the most part, they did.

Sure, you heard about nitwits like Marjorie Taylor-Greene equating mask requirements to Nazis, but let’s not waste a lot of time thinking about her and Matt Gaetz.

Not now.

Well, Gaetz did provide some holiday humor a few days ago when he said — facetiously, we hope — that he might run for President in 2024.

“I support Donald Trump for President. I’ve directly encouraged him to run, and he gives me every indication he will,” Gaetz texted to the New York Post Wednesday. “If Trump doesn’t run, I’m sure I could defeat whatever remains of Joe Biden by 2024.”

Well, he might have a few other issues that could disrupt any future political plans. We’ll see how that plays out.

For now, get outside.

Enjoy the sun, and each other.

And while you’re at it, thank a veteran for their service.

It’s on now to our weekly game of Winners and Losers.

Winners

Honorable mention — Charlie Crist: Sure, it’s way early to pay too much attention to polls, but the one dropped by St. Pete Polls is an eyebrow-raiser.

It shows Crist with a 33-point lead over Nikki Fried in the race for the Democratic nomination for Governor.

Asked who they would vote for, Crist piled up 55% to Fried’s 22%, but the story within the story is even more telling. Respondents say Crist has a much better chance than Fried of beating Gov. Ron DeSantis. About 30% of voters give Crist better than even odds of winning, while another 38% said he has a 50/50 shot.

Only 14% of Florida Democrats say Fried could beat DeSantis.

Fried is expected to enter the race on June 1 formally.

Almost (but not quite) biggest winner – Universal Orlando workers: The giant theme park became the first attraction in Central Florida to announce new workers will earn a minimum of $15 per hour.

The Orlando Sentinel reports that it is a $2 per hour increase.

The company said it is the largest pay increase in its history, and it affects more than 18,000 employees — including full-time, part-time, and those on entry-level salaried jobs.

The pay hikes will begin June 27.

“This is about taking care of both our current team members and those who will be joining our team,” Universal spokesman Tom Schroder said in a statement. “In addition, we are actively recruiting new team members, and we are working hard to be the best employer in the marketplace when it comes to wages, benefits, and work environment.”

The biggest winner — Ron DeSantis: OK, so his ballyhooed bill to control big tech companies already faces a court challenge it could lose.

Still, it’s good to be the Governor — at least for now.

Friends of Ron DeSantis pulled in more than $5.1 million in May, on top of the $14 million the committee reported in April. If this keeps up, DeSantis will have a massive war chest when the 2022 campaign gets serious.

The Governor’s hand-picked state Supreme Court keeps handing him victories as well.

The latest was Thursday’s ruling that rejected a challenge to the vertical integration framework for medical marijuana.

Why is this a big deal for the Governor?

It is consistent with the Court’s view that state lawmakers should rule on issues like this.

In its ruling, the Court stated, “the Amendment expressly left the Legislature its authority to enact the legislative framework.”

DeSantis seems to get most of what he wants from the Legislature, even when it’s controversial, and seems to skate on thin legal ice.

Losers

Dishonorable mention — The Tampa Bay Rays: Sure, the Rays are playing great baseball on the field, but things aren’t so smooth outside the ballpark.

A group of minority investors in the Rays filed a lawsuit against principal owner Stuart Sternberg alleging he secretly negotiated to sell a stake in the team to Montreal investors. The lawsuit also says Sternberg “engaged in a relentless scheme to squeeze out the limited partners.”

The partners further allege that “Sternberg has been misappropriating money” and secretly transferred “the entire baseball club and franchise to a separate entity called Rays Baseball Club.”

Sternberg is said to be its sole member. The lawsuit seeks to have him removed as the Rays’ principal owner.

He has denied all the allegations.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said he would cease negotiations with Sternberg over potential stadium deals, pending the lawsuit’s outcome.

“As long as he’s in that role, I can’t negotiate with him because part of the complaint calls for him to be removed,” Kriseman said on JP Peterson’s radio show. “And so if I negotiate with him to get a deal done, in five months or six months, or however long later, he’s removed, then I’ve got no deal.”

The Rays’ lease at Tropicana Field expires after the 2027 season. The lease includes a clause that prohibits the team from negotiating with other cities, although they received permission to talk with Tampa about moving.

By the way, the Tampa Bay Times reported that a plan to build a stadium in Tampa’s Ybor City isn’t dead after all.

I never thought it was.

Anyway, Sternberg admitted speaking with Canadian investor Stephen Bronfman in 2017 about a plan to have the Rays play half of their season in Montreal. The lawsuit alleges those talks began in 2014.

Almost (but not quite) biggest loser — Frank Artiles: The former state Senator from South Florida is in enough hot water already. He faces several felony charges related to recruiting a sham candidate to confuse voters and swing a District 37 Miami-Dade Senate election.

Now, as his corruption trial draws closer, his defense team asked a judge not to publicly release a “voluminous” amount of potential evidence related to the case. That includes cellphone records, photographs, and emails.

So much for transparency and the public’s right to know.

Their argument: it would interfere with Artiles’ right to a fair trial, as well as expose private conversations with his wife and children.

Besides, one of his lawyers told the Miami Herald, “eventually this stuff will get released.”

Artiles pleaded not guilty.

The biggest loser — Small-time medical marijuana hopefuls: That Supreme Court ruling we referenced above as a win for the Legislature was also a blow to the little guys.

The Court’s 6-1 decision means the state doesn’t have to change licensing rules for the estimated $1 billion medical marijuana industry. That was considered critical for smaller companies to get a piece of the action.

The state decided in 2017 that only vertically integrated companies could receive a license. Vertical integration means the company owns or controls its suppliers, distributors, and retail locations.

That can be tough for smaller companies to accomplish. That prompted a lawsuit from Tampa-based Florigrown that said the rule stifled competition.

Florida’s current plan calls for domination by a small number of huge multi-state operators. Three operators control about two-thirds of the state’s 22 licenses.

It doesn’t sound like that will change.

“This is a terrible decision for small businesses and minorities. It props up a cartel system. We as Republicans have now created a monopoly for gaming and a cartel system for marijuana,” Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes said.

“Republicans should be for free and open markets. This will harm patients.”

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

  • zhombre

    May 30, 2021 at 9:47 am

    “If you wore a mask, kept socially distant, and got your vaccination, this weekend is your reward.” Baloney. We are a free people and are not ‘rewarded’ for making choice. Memorial Day honors our fallen soldiers, is independent of current events and has nothing to do with vaccination. I stopped reading your tripe right after the first sentence. Forty-five years in newspapers and you apparently have learned nothing. You should retire.

  • Josey

    June 2, 2021 at 7:13 pm

    Re: “I stopped reading your tripe right after the first sentence.”

    You’re obviously a liar since you refer to passages written by the author well into his piece and well beyond the first sentence.

Comments are closed.


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