Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 6.6.21

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel had a winning week. But homophobic lighting bans? Not so much

It must be Straw Man season again.

Floridians have gotten to know Gov. Ron DeSantis well enough by now to understand how he plays the game.

First move: Focus on something (or someone) certain to set his base’s hair on fire. Do this whether the problem exists or not because, you know, one day it might happen. Even if it doesn’t, we need to scare people senseless over that possibility.

Second move: Blame the whole thing on elites, liberals, and the media. After all, they are out to ruin our lives with their radical socialist mask-wearing lockdown agenda.

Third move: Pass a law or sign an executive order making whatever it is illegal. Sound real sincere and promise to protect decent Floridians from them or that. You’re fighting the “cancel culture” and emphasize that by canceling something.

We saw this play out with Black Lives Matter protests, which resulted in a useless, showy, and possibly illegal anti-riot bill that attacks the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. That document makes DeSantis’ heart go pitter-pat unless it protects something he doesn’t like.

He did it again with the transgender sports law that targets people different from those likely to vote for him.

Speaking of voting, hey, here’s an idea! Florida just ran the safest, smoothest election in its history. So, let’s scare everyone to death about voter fraud that didn’t exist and make it harder for Black and Brown people to vote.


Well, stick with what works, right? So now, the Governor shouts against critical race theory.

The state Board of Education just approved rules to that effect. American history is to be taught “largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.” Teachers better not try “to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view.

Unless, of course, that point of view says America is perfect. No flaws. Never ever did anything wrong. So, I guess they’ll have to leave out the part about the Vietnam war. And forget that inconvenient story about the Tulsa race massacre of 1921.

Or Jim Crow laws.

Never happened!

“Critical Race Theory teaches kids to hate our country and to hate each other. It is state-sanctioned racism and has no place in Florida schools,” DeSantis tweeted before the vote.

No, actually, that’s the job for Fox News. There is no evidence of some vast educational conspiracy theory by educators against America. But since DeSantis, educated at Yale and Harvard, knows the base will approve this attack on them, voila! Another new rule!

I’ll leave you with this thought. I grew up in the 1960s and remember “learning” in Social Studies that Columbus “discovered” America in 1492. Never mind those native Americans already here.

Columbus “discovered” America.

We weren’t encouraged to ask such blasphemous questions about that.

Back to the future, eh?

OK, on to our weekly game of Winners and Losers.


Honorable mention: Will Weatherford. The former Florida Speaker of the House continues to serve the greater Tampa Bay area. Weatherford will now serve as Chair of the University of South Florida Board of Trustees.

Board members chose him unanimously at a recent meeting.

“It’s an honor to be selected by my fellow trustees to serve in the role of board chair,” Weatherford said in a statement.

“I firmly believe that the University of South Florida is such a valuable asset to Tampa Bay that the region will only go as far as USF will take it in the future. In the coming years, we have an exciting opportunity at USF to reach even greater successes in pursuit of becoming a Top 25 public university and positioning for membership in the prestigious Association of American Universities.”

Weatherford recently served as a co-chair of the  Super Bowl LV Host Committee in Tampa.

He has been mum about any possible return to politics but also hasn’t ruled that out. But his role as a community leader seems to keep him pretty busy.

Almost (but not quite) biggest winner: Stephanie Murphy. The incumbent party typically has a difficult time in mid-term elections, particularly in the U.S. House. But Democratic Rep. Murphy couldn’t have hand-picked a better Republican opponent as she tries to keep her seat.

Her opponent likely will be departing (thank goodness) state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, or as Florida Politics publisher Peter Schorsch likes to call him, Rep. Blackface.

Sabatini declared his candidacy for the CD 7 seat that covers Seminole and parts of Orange counties. Two other Republicans also have declared to run.

In 2019, a photo surfaced of Sabatini, who is White, wearing blackface, gold jewelry, sunglasses, and a New York Yankees hat. He said it was a high school prank that was “decontextualized” by critics.

That’s bad enough.

But Sabatini also brought multiple lawsuits throughout the state against mask mandates during the pandemic. Judges rejected each one, prompting a warning from one judge that Sabatini was skating on thin legal ice if he continued the “frivolous lawsuits.”

His Twitter account became a source of mockery after he tweeted recently, “If Socrates was out philosophizing in American society today, he would be canceled real quick.”

One of many respondents noted, “They literally executed him, you idiot.”

Murphy toyed with a run for Marco Rubio’s U.S. Senate seat but chose to run for reelection to the House instead.

The biggest winner: The South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Bravo to reporters Brittany Wallman, Mario Ariza, and Megan O’Matz, who investigated Broward County’s largest law enforcement agencies. They discovered that that 84% of people bitten by K-9 units were Black. And 64% of those bitten faced charges of nonviolent crimes.

The report noted, “Black children are commonly bitten. The Sun-Sentinel found that nearly one in five people bitten were 17 or younger, despite policies that discourage police officers from unleashing K-9s on children. In Hollywood, that statistic was especially striking: almost half the people bitten were juveniles.”

Police told the reporters the only suspects who get bitten are those who don’t obey police orders. They denied race played any role in the disparity.

“We don’t have control of who runs, who doesn’t run,” said Sgt. Jeff Heinrich, leader of the K-9 unit at the Coral Springs Police Department.

However, “Running doesn’t always denote guilt,” Tulane University sociologist Dr. Andrea Boyles told the Sun-Sentinel, “… (running) is about distrust and that is about a longstanding history, that is well known in the Black and brown community, of police misconduct.”

The newspaper uncovered another interesting statistic. There are 60 K-9 cops at the agencies reviewed, and only one is Black.

We hope this isn’t the end of work like this. The paper, along with the Orlando Sentinel, was just purchased by cost-cutting, newspaper-destroying Alden Global Capital.


Dishonorable mention: Rebekah Jones. The biggest thorn to DeSantis this side of Nikki Fried had her Twitter account suspended for what the company called “platform manipulation and spam.”

Jones, who recently won whistleblower status for her claims the state manipulated COVID-19 data, told the Washington Post the Twitter suspension was routine and “automated.”

Basically, she shared a Miami Herald story too many times about the raid on her home in December by FDLE agents. It’s a rather common violation that essentially is a warning shot across the bow to pay closer attention to Twitter’s rules.

And she should have.

The mistake opened the door to unrestrained glee by many DeSantis supporters.

The Governor’s press office told Politico’s Matt Dixon, “This decision was long overdue. Rebekah Jones was the Typhoid Mary of COVID-19 disinformation and has harmed many hardworking DOH employees with her defamatory conspiracy theories.”

That’s the same Governor who recently signed a bill to punish Twitter and big tech companies for alleged censorship.

Anyway, Jones is on to another possible venture, hinting she might run against Matt Gaetz in CD 1. Her current residence is in Maryland, so we’ll see how that works out.

That would be one weird race to cover.

As you may have heard, though, Gaetz also has some issues that might take precedence over running for reelection.

He won that district with nearly 65% of the vote in 2020 and 67% in 2018.

The almost (but not quite) biggest loser: Congressional Black Caucus. BuzzFeed News broke the story that Naples Republican Rep. Byron Donalds wants to join the caucus, which Democrats dominate, but hasn’t been invited.

They have allowed Republicans before, but Donalds gets the cold shoulder because of his outspoken support for Trump. He voted against certifying Joe Biden’s victory, which, yeah, was a dumb move.

He also told Politico in February that he would like to shake things up in that caucus.

“Obviously, the dominant voice in the CBC tends to be Democrat or liberal voices, and I want to bring change to that,” he said.

It’s easy to rationalize that as just another example of toxic Washington politics. Democrats may also see this as a political stunt by Donalds, or even view him as a spy in their midst. But Democrats also may miss an opportunity for much-needed dialogue with the opposition party.

Donalds is on an upward trajectory politically and it might behoove Democrats to speak to someone outside their own echo chamber.

The same thing goes for Donalds, by the way.

The biggest loser: Homophobic lighting edicts. In case someone forgot to notify DeSantis and those who report to him, June is Pride Month. That’s when we celebrate the freedom of people to be who they are.

You would think the Governor, who mocked mask requirements during a pandemic as an invasion of personal freedom, would be down with anything that shouts FREEDOM!

Guess not.

DeSantis began Pride month with a bang by signing a bill to ban transgender athletes from competing in any school athletic activity other than the ones for their birth gender.

Then, when Jacksonville tried to light up Acosta Bridge with rainbow lighting for Pride, the Florida Department of Transportation said nope.

The Florida Times-Union reported that the DOT ruled the lights didn’t comply with the bridge’s permit and ordered the Jacksonville Transportation Authority to remove them.

The lights came back on following an outcry, and the DOT told the Washington Post local officials made the original decision.

However, similar requests in Sarasota and for the Sunshine Skyway Bridge also received rejections.

Earlier, DeSantis vetoed funding for mental health services for survivors of the Pulse nightclub massacre, along with other support systems for Orlando’s LGBTQ community.

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.


  • Tom

    June 13, 2021 at 7:57 am

    Hey Joe Morning.
    What about the incompetent Fried campaign to date. Hard to miss. The geniuses are having a miserable time with this one. What a poor announcement and hiccups on personal financial ethics and food distribution issue in south Florida. Has to be the worst imitated campaign start in history. Certainty worth a few sentences if not a paragraph.

    • Tom Palmer

      June 13, 2021 at 9:07 am

      Good point

    • Joe Henderson

      June 13, 2021 at 9:48 am

      Hey Tom, I gave Nikki Fried her turn on dunk in a column on June 7

  • Tom

    June 13, 2021 at 11:12 am

    Yes thanks. Fair enough.
    LOL, she’s had a few more tumbles.
    This supposed campaign/candidate not ready for prime time!

  • Ron Ogden

    June 13, 2021 at 3:06 pm

    Joe, you’ve reduced your column to mere grumbling.

    As far as Tulane’s Dr. Boyles: when a law enforcement officer tells a person not to flee and the person flees, that is prima facie guilt. The person is guilty of violating a police order. Juveniles? That is just poor reporting. 17 years old and 7 years old are both “juveniles” but there is a h–l of a difference and conflating them under the general noun “children” (“unleashing K9s on children”) as the Sun Sentinel apparently did merely illustrates why the paper has so lost the trust of its readers that it has to be bailed out by Alden (the “newspaper-destroying” organization who was actually under no obligation to bail out that paper and, I suspect, will regret it sooner rather than later.)

    • Tom Palmer

      June 13, 2021 at 3:34 pm

      The point of the article is that the policy, is there one, seems overaggressive toward petty criminals.

      • Ron Ogden

        June 13, 2021 at 5:16 pm

        Rudy Giuliani proved in New York City that taking aggressive action against petty criminals helped derail their travel toward the status of being gross criminals. The “broken windows” approach to law enforcement worked.

  • John Schreiner

    June 15, 2021 at 6:03 pm

    Joe, I like your hard-hitting style cutting through the political nonsense.

  • Tom

    June 23, 2021 at 4:30 pm

    The most recent poll is devastating for the Dems and especially Fried. She is insignificant and it’s not that much better for
    Crist. He won’t be able to get beyond the 44%.
    Fried had turned off Dems. She has had a terrible first month. Really not ready for prime time. DeSantis is having a great run. He’s right on track for a big win. Unemployment will
    Drop by September even further, Florida is thriving thanks to him.

Comments are closed.


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