Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics – Week of 7.25.21

Nikki Fried had a big week, but Gov. Ron DeSantis and his press secretary did not.

Anyone who participated in sports at any level understands that sometimes you’re feeling it, and sometimes you aren’t.

A duffer can make a hole in one with a lucky shot and then take a 12 on the next hole. Or the greatest quarterback of all time, Tom Brady, can lose track of the downs and cost his team a chance to win a game. An NBA all-star can cost his team a game by missing a free throw.

When something like that happens, coaches stress mental toughness. Put the mistake behind you and move on. Most high-level athletes can do that, but not always. It’s no crime when they can’t.

The vast majority of people grasped that when gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from spotlight Olympic events she was widely favored to win. Her stunning move came less than a month after the top-ranked women’s tennis player in the world, Naomi Osaka, withdrew from Wimbledon.

Both elite athletes said they made their decisions to protect their mental health.

Good for them.

As spectators, we can see if an athlete has a physical injury that keeps them out of the competition. What we can’t see, though, is what happens after the game is over.

Biles acknowledged that the weight of the public’s expectations leading to the Olympics finally got to her. She participates in a beautiful but dangerous sport where one split-second of indecision or miscalculation can destroy years of grueling training.

Add to that the fawning and breathless coverage she received before the Games. People assumed she would rip through these events like it was a Sunday stroll. Biles knew better.

Making it look easy sometimes masks how demanding her sport can be.

As I said, Biles received an overwhelming amount of support from the public, her teammates, and other athletes. They know the deal.

As always, though, trolls wait under the bridge.

Piers Morgan wrote in The Daily Mail, “But rather than dust herself down and battle on for gold, as she did in 2018, she did something which absolutely staggered me. She quit. Well, sorry if it offends all the howling Twitter snowflake virtue-signallers, but I don’t think it’s remotely courageous, heroic, or inspiring to quit.”

That’s the same guy who walked off the set of a TV show in Britain after a co-host criticized him for attacking Meghan Markle.

Then, there’s Charlie Kirk. He calls himself conservative, but Kirk is simply mean.

On his podcast, he called Biles a “selfish sociopath” and said she was a “shame to the country.”

He added, “We are raising a generation of weak people like Simone Biles … she is a shame to the country.”

No, Charlie, if you want to see shame, look in the mirror.

Enough of that.

On to our weekly game of winners and losers.


Honorable mention: Lauran Monbarren. Gov. Ron DeSantis chose Monbarren to fill a spot on the University of South Florida Board of Trustees.

She is the daughter of Senate President Wilton Simpson.

Monbarren is a former Pasco County teacher and administrator at Pasco-Hernando State College. She also was part of Leadership Pasco’s class of 2020 and holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Saint Leo University.

Monbarren needs Senate approval for the position, but that shouldn’t be a problem.

Speaking of USF …

Almost (but not quite) biggest winner: USF. Trustees Chair Will Weatherford announced his choice of Rhea Law to serve as interim President while the university seeks a replacement for retiring President Steve Currell.

It’s a home run move, even though Law said she would not apply for the permanent position. Her experience and skill, coupled with deep roots at the school, will be invaluable in keeping things running smoothly in this transition period.

“Rhea’s deep ties within our community and her stellar leadership abilities will help us continue our momentum while we find the next great leader for our university,” Weatherford said.

Law earned an undergraduate degree in management from USF. She is a founding member of the USF Board of Trustees, where she spent five years as vice-chair and four years as the first — and so far, only — female chair.

She served on the Presidential Search Advisory Committee for USF’s last two presidential searches. Law is the former chief executive officer and chair of the board of Fowler White Boggs law firm and is a founding member of the Board of Directors of the USF Law Alumni Society.

“I care deeply about the University of South Florida and can credit much of my own personal and professional success to the impact USF has had on my life,” she said.

The trustees will meet Aug. 2 to vote on Weatherford’s recommendation. The Board of Governors will consider giving final approval at its meeting on Aug. 31.

The biggest winner: Nikki Fried. The state Agriculture Commissioner (and gubernatorial candidate) had a good week.

Since DeSantis sees, hears, and speaks no information on COVID-19, Fried filled the void. She hosted an independent briefing about the virus, the first such briefing since DeSantis cut off daily updates in June.

Using data from the Florida Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the White House, Fried reported 16,038 new cases of COVID-19 and 92 additional deaths in Florida since Wednesday.

Why wasn’t the Governor releasing that information?

“The only reason I can even fathom of why we’re not doing them is because they don’t want to recognize our current trajectory of our spike and where the numbers are going,” Fried said.

That’s not all she did.

Fried suspended concealed carry weapons permits for Floridians arrested for involvement in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

“The deeply disturbing events that occurred at our nation’s Capitol on Jan. 6 were sedition, treason, and domestic terrorism — and those individuals involved in the insurrection must be held accountable for attempting to subvert our democratic process,” Fried said.

“Since charges began being filed, we are using our lawful authority to immediately suspend the licenses of 22 individuals involved in the storming of the U.S. Capitol. This is an ongoing effort, and as charges and sentences continue in the wake of this despicable attack, we will further suspend and revoke any additional licenses granted to insurrectionists.”

She has the authority to do that. State law permits suspension of licenses for individuals charged with felonies and other disqualifying offenses.

Finally, she bought 30 seconds of air time on Fox News for a public service announcement urging viewers to get vaccinated.

“You won’t hear this on Fox News from Gov. DeSantis, but you need to,” Fried said in the video. “Sean Hannity and Steve Doocy and your family doctor all agree. Vaccines will save your life, your job, and the economy.”


Dishonorable mention: Matt Gaetz. Florida’s frat boy Congressman has a standing reservation on this side of the ledger.

This week, he earned his seat after participating in a news conference about the U.S. House investigation of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

“Antifa and BLM [Black Lives Matter] set fire to this country for months, and we did not see an interest from federal law enforcement in those claims,” Gaetz said. “But now there are Americans all over this country who are being harassed, who are being targeted by law enforcement, and if there is a basis in that, then we need to make sure that we get it.”

Here’s the basis: The terrorists who stormed the Capitol committed federal crimes, including sedition.

Local law enforcement dealt with rioters who turned into criminals during last summer’s protests have been dealt with at local levels. Terrance Lee Hester Jr., who admitted setting fire to a Champ’s Sports building during the riots in Tampa, received five years in prison. That’s one of nearly 300 cases State Attorney Andrew Warren is prosecuting.

Members of the Fool’s Caucus joined Gaetz at the news conference. That includes Reps. Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar of Arizona, Louie Gohmert of Texas, and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. They all voted against certifying President Joe Biden‘s election victory over Donald Trump.

They demand justice — JUSTICE, we say — for the accused insurrectionists.

“We have received reports about mistreatment in the jails,” Gohmert said, adding, “We have been asking for months for meetings with the attorney general.”

Are those the same kind of “reports” about a rigged election?

Almost (but not quite) biggest loser: DeSantis. The Governor is a smart dude and should understand that the resurgence of COVID-19 in Florida is a threat to his reelection chances. But as the character of Aaron Burr asked Alexander Hamilton in the famed musical, “Why do you assume you’re the smartest in the room? Soon, that attitude may be your doom.”

With that in mind, DeSantis convened an unannounced roundtable last week with sycophants to talk about school kids and masks. One of the participants called masks a form of “child abuse.”

Good lord.

Friday, he said he will issue an executive order to essentially override attempts by local school boards to issue mask mandates. DeSantis believes that decision belongs to parents, even though the CDC now says the delta variant can spread as rapidly as chickenpox.

But wait, there’s more!

At the aforementioned session on masks, DeSantis stood behind a sign that said “Free To Choose.” Of course, the day before that he signed Florida onto an amicus brief that asks the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. I guess it depends on who is choosing, huh?

Also, let’s not forget how the Friends of Ron DeSantis political committee used the Olympics as a fundraising vehicle after several transgender athletes represented their countries.

“As we root for Team USA this summer, we must demand fairness and competitiveness in women’s sports!” the email said.

It’s not as simple as the DeSantis side frames the argument. A dude doesn’t simply go, hey, I think I’ll call myself a female and win a gold medal!

Among other things, a trans athlete must declare their gender identity is female and keep it that way for a minimum of four years. Their testosterone level must be 10 nanomoles per liter for at least 12 months before their first competition. That is considered sufficient to minimize any advantage in women’s competition, as anything over 10 is considered male.

They also are tested, and tested, and tested.

What a week.

And then there is his press secretary, Christina Pushaw.

She still has a job. To see why that’s a thing, keep reading.

The biggest loser: Pushaw. In May, DeSantis hired the conservative journalist to be his press secretary at $120,000 a year.

One of the primary jobs of anyone in her position is to explain why her boss’s agenda is important to the public. Pushaw, however, seems more interested in starting fires with anyone with whom she disagrees — and she disagrees with a lot of people.

The relationship between media varlets and the top dog’s spokesperson will always be testy; that’s how it is supposed to work. But Pushaw went way, way over the line last week after NBC reported that Stephen Harmon, 34, died from COVID-19.

Harmon notably tweeted often in mocking tones against vaccinations.

“I got 99 problems but a vax ain’t one,” he said in one tweet.

In another tweet, Harmon wrote: “Biden’s door to door vaccine ‘surveyors’ really should be called JaCovid Witnesses. #keepmovingdork.”

Pushaw didn’t like the coverage of his passing.

“How is this news, NBC? Your ‘journalists’ are disgusting. People die every day for various reasons, and it’s not news when a non-famous person dies,” she tweeted.  “You published this to make an example out of someone whom you feel superior to. The media is the enemy of the people. RIP Stephen.”

Enemy of the people? Did she go THERE?

Harmon’s death is a tragedy, and it’s also news. It was completely avoidable, and people on the fence about the vaccine need to know that. How is that not clear to the Governor’s press secretary?

“Why do you think the media is the enemy of the people? I don’t, well, except for the ones who mock people who died of COVID,” she later tweeted. “They are ghoulish and such inhumane, unethical ‘journalism’ should not be defended by public officials.”

That’s not what she originally said. It was a blanket statement about the media. The press secretary said she believes the media is the enemy.


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.


  • Ron Ogden

    August 1, 2021 at 9:31 am

    “The press secretary said she believes the media is the enemy.”

    Yes, Joe, the media has become the enemy because the media puts its own interest ahead of its traditional duty of informing people form a position of objectivity. A professor of journalism at Stanford, Ted Glasser, put it this way: “Journalists need to be overt and candid advocates for social justice, and it’s hard to do that under the constraints of objectivity.” So, in comes the “social justice” and out goes the objectivity. Question is: who determines what is socially just? Obvious and only answer: each person for himself. So if journalists as a class adopt a particular view of social justice that other Americans do not accept, and if they, like you, become “overt and candid advocates” for it, then they and you become opponents. If “social justice” begins to require an unbridled exercise in government power, as we have seen just this week, then opponents become enemies. And when Americans who are members of the nation’s longest standing political party, the Republicans, come to be seen as “enemies of the state” as they were this week (and last year), and journalists unquestioningly repeat that calumny, then the circle is complete and the case Ms. Pushaw made is proven.

  • Joe Henderson

    August 1, 2021 at 2:02 pm

    Hi Ron
    Believe it not, I appreciate your comments on the W&L piece. I believe you articulated some of the great misconceptions about the media.
    There is an assumption by many people that the “media” is a giant Orwellian organism that indoctrinates its members into Group Think to crush the “Real Americans.”
    If that’s true, how did the largest media company in the U.S. — Fox News — come to be?
    If colleges are programming students to hate America, explain how Ron DeSantis managed to earn degrees from Yale and Harvard?
    I have no idea who Stanford’s Ted Glasser is, and I’d have to know more about him than the single quote you offered. What I can tell you is that I don’t believe you understand the difference in what I do vs. the dedicated and well-sourced (and damned hard-working) reporters at Florida Politics.
    I am a columnist, which means I am EXPECTED to have a strong opinion on the subjects I choose to write about. That’s different from the fact-based reporters at this website and other major outlets throughout the state.
    They grind every day through layers of obfuscation and spin by members of both major political parties, including Christina Pushaw, to report the news. The news isn’t always what the spin-masters want it to be.
    I comment on that news when I deem it interesting and appropriate.
    But, and this is important, I was a reporter for about 30 years before becoming a full-time columnist. I dug for news, both in sports and government, and always followed the mantra of a former Tampa Tribune publisher who warned all his reporters, “Don’t let the taxpayers get.(fill-in-the-blank).
    As a columnist, I live by the motto that if I can’t take the feedback from folks like you, then I shouldn’t have written what I did.
    By the way, I didn’t notice your feedback last week when I declared Gov. DeSantis was the winner of the week. But that’s another matter.
    I won’t go into all the great work by the press that has benefitted all Americans, but it is substantial. Just one example: Jeffrey Epstein likely would be free to continue his pedophile lifestyle if the Miami Herald didn’t get after the story and stay on it.
    Enemy of the people? Use your head, Ron. The people who say things like that are ones who have no clue about the role of the press in a free society, or they have something to hide.

    • zhombre

      August 1, 2021 at 5:08 pm

      “If colleges are programming students to hate America, explain how Ron DeSantis managed to earn degrees from Yale and Harvard?” Because DeSantis, like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley who also attended those institutions, are strong-mind, independent thinkers. DeSantis in an interview specifically spoke about rejecting the leftist mindset he encountered in academia.

      • Tom Palmer

        August 1, 2021 at 5:11 pm

        The idea that anyone is programming anyone to hate America is a right-wing urban myth.

        • zhombre

          August 1, 2021 at 6:19 pm

          I am glad you are so comfortable and secure in retirement after 45 years in journalism, and so certain in your beliefs.

    • Tom Palmer

      August 1, 2021 at 5:09 pm

      Well said. I spent 45 years in journalism. I uncovered a lot of stuff the powers that be would not like to be exposed to the public. If your position, Ron, is to cover everything up to support your political idols, you’re short-sighted.

      • Ron Ogden

        August 2, 2021 at 7:43 am

        If your position, Ron, is to cover everything up to support your political idols, you’re short-sighted.
        And I would say the same to you, Tom.

    • Ron Ogden

      August 1, 2021 at 5:11 pm

      Fox News came to be because Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes recognized that the AP-CNN-MSNBC-Post-Times axis was leaving out two-thirds of America’s news consumers because they did not and do not trust them. Fox mostly tries to earn these viewers confidence and mostly succeeds. When you have that many disappointed buyers out there, a business plan that focuses on meeting their needs is a formula for moneymaking of a high order. Remember when the Trib was the alternative to the Times? People who disliked the Times’ habit of casting everything in terms of social conflict and blaming it all on Republicans and conservatives turned to the Trib for the truth. Same with Fox.

      As to DeSantis, his term as Governor has made clear that he possesses a questioning attitude, a contrarian bent and a moral strength that has made him “America’s Governor” and could well make him president. There are some men whom not even Harvard and Yale can reduce to complacency, and he is one of them.

      I note your reply skipped my central point: as the man from Stanford said, today’s journalists should be “overt and candid advocates for social justice” rather than reporters of the unbiased take-me-where-the-facts-lead truth. I will merely ask you: as a commentator, are you an “overt and candid advocate for social justice” or do you possess the humility it takes to admit “gee, I don’t always know what is right, let alone what is socially just”? If you think you do, than kindly show it. As it is now, you persistently sound more like a refugee from Eugene Patterson’s codswallop shop than from Red Pittman’s newspaper.

  • Andrew Finn

    August 1, 2021 at 5:03 pm

    Ahhhhh – the Olympics —– BIG YAWN. We have way more important things to worry about here in Florida. We get to deal with Emperor DeSantis and his daily moronic edicts concerning the virus. His next one will be to forbid people to die from the virus, thus making everything okay.

  • Ocean Joe

    August 1, 2021 at 8:20 pm

    Yep, she finally had a good week. And filled a vacuum. And showed some leadership.
    To those who say she is out of line to challenge the governor, she is the only check, and a weak one at that, on statewide one-party rule.

  • Tom

    August 2, 2021 at 4:00 pm

    Good week seaweed joe, really?
    Nikki Fraud, she says she is against lockdowns.
    She announced today on CNN that she’s against mask mandates. Gov. DeSantis wins again.
    He controls the highway. LMAO, Fraud dropped you guys like a rock. Read it and weep.

Comments are closed.


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