Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 8.22.21

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Gov. Ron DeSantis took a major PR hit, but the Alachua School Superintendent scored big.

Like many people who now call Florida home, I wasn’t born here.

However, I’ve lived here for nearly 50 years, which makes me a semi-native. And considering that, I can say with astonishment that I’ve never seen anything to rival what’s happening here now.

Throughout the state, school boards revolted against Gov. Ron DeSantis‘s executive order banning mandatory masking in schools. That was before Friday’s court ruling that DeSantis misapplied the law with his executive order.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor was the latest to defy DeSantis when she ordered the city’s 4,700 workers to get fully vaccinated by Sept. 30. Failure to do so could subject them to weekly COVID-19 tests and a requirement to wear N-95 masks.

Major companies, including Disney, have similar vaccination requirements.

And what do we hear from the Governor?

Threats, bombast, and more threats.

His tone was combative and members of his flock listened. Some board members who voted to defy his orders received death threats in the name of freedom.

DeSantis lost a major court ruling on Friday about the mandate ban — more on that later — but you know the fight will continue.

Yes, he encourages people to take the vaccine — sort of. But his policies would allow unvaccinated and unmasked people, and children, to spread the delta variant of COVID-19.

It’s all in the name of freedom.

But, nothing says freedom like someone connected to a ventilator.

And frankly, in a recent Hillsborough County School Board meeting, many of those arguing against mandatory masks didn’t make much (any) sense. Their horror at — gasp — being required to do something for the public good was almost out of control.

Some equated masks to Nazi Germany; those folks need a refresher course in history. Others said they don’t work, although science says otherwise. With the hysteria on display, you’d think these were iron masks instead of strips of cloth.

Too many people won’t get vaccinated because they trust something they read in a chat room over scientists who studied this stuff for decades. People die and families are torn apart when that happens.

Hospitals are jammed again with COVID-19 patients, and an estimated 90% of those in ICUs are unvaccinated.

And it’s all in the name of freedom.

The freedom to be selfish, dangerous, and stupid, all at the same time.

I’ve never seen anything like this.

It’s on to our weekly game of winners and losers.

Winners

Honorable mention — Ken Welch: The former Pinellas County Commissioner did just as the polls said he would do in Tuesday’s mayoral Primary in St. Petersburg. Welch finished first by 10 percentage points and will be favored against Robert Blackmon in the Nov. 2 General Election to succeed Rick Kriseman.

If elected, Welch would be St. Petersburg’s first Black Mayor.

The race technically is nonpartisan, but Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 2-to-1 in St. Petersburg. Welch is a Democrat, and Blackmon is a Republican.

Almost (but not quite) biggest winner — PAWS!: Who can resist a good dog story? And we just got a great one out of Washington — with bipartisan support even!

It’s called the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act (HR 1448). Multiple Florida House members helped push the bill that allows veterans to connect with canine helpers. President Joe Biden signed the bill into law on Wednesday.

“It’s incredibly heartening that the PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act passed in Congress with such overwhelming bipartisan support and has now been signed into law,” Republican U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz of St. Augustine Beach said.

“This bill brings us one step closer to providing the many veterans who have put their lives on the line for our country and have come home with invisible wounds with the full menu of treatment options that their trauma demands,” Waltz said. “I’ve seen firsthand the incredible healing power of service dogs — and that’s why I’m so pleased to see this bill make it across the finish line to help our veterans heal and save lives.”

Waltz was one of three Florida House members to co-introduce the bill. The others were Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford and Tallahassee Democrat Al Lawson.

“Through the PAWS Act, these trained Service Dogs will help our nation’s heroes with their mental wellness and make transitioning from active duty to civilian life an easier feat,” Lawson said.

Rutherford had a particularly important point.

“With 20 veterans taking their own lives each day, we must do more to help those with PTSD and other service-connected forms of trauma,” he said.

The biggest winner — Carlee Simon: The Superintendent of Alachua County schools knows how to troll after receiving a smug, dismissive, and taunting order from Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran.

Alachua, remember, was at the forefront of defying DeSantis’ prohibition of mask mandates in schools. Corcoran responded with a demand — which is standard for him. The man’s middle name should be “Demand.”

Anyway, Simon was to report “instances of a student being sent home, reassigned, disciplined, suspended, isolated, stigmatized, warned or harassed because of the student’s failure to comply with the School Board of Alachua County’s unlawful face-covering mandate policy.”

Her retort: “Given that the School Board of Alachua County does not have an unlawful face-covering mandate policy, we do not have anything to report.”

Well played. It’s almost like Simon knew that a court up the road in Tallahassee was about to rule in her favor on this matter.

Losers

Dishonorable mention — Darden Rice: The loser label rarely applies to her. She is smart, fearless and decisive. And in the St. Pete mayoral Primary, she raised (and spent) more money than the other eight candidates.

Given all that, there is no way she should have gotten her backside kicked decisively, but that’s what happened.

Rice finished a distant third behind Welch and Blackmon, and most people blamed it on a disastrous mailer her campaign sent attacking Welch as a Trumpie.

That gambit fell flat, and Rice nosedived almost overnight in the polls and never recovered.

That said, we will also note the positive traits we mentioned at the start of this take. In her concession statement, Rice vowed to stay involved as the city moves into the next phase. Assuming there’s a lesson learned, Rice is too sharp to stay on the sidelines for long.

The almost (but not quite) biggest loser — Florida Democrats: A Quinnipiac poll put the approval rating for President Joe Biden 13 points underwater in the state. That likely will worsen, too, given the debacle in Afghanistan.

DeSantis faces criticism on multiple fronts for handling the COVID-19 surge, but the Q-poll has him leading for reelection by 48%-45%, with 6% undecided..

Although that race hasn’t heated up, Floridians also like Marco Rubio to retain his Senate seat in a theoretical matchup with Val Demings.

But the scariest part of the Q-poll for Democrats shows that 57% of respondents say they like how things are going in the state. Only 41% disagreed with that.

If the pandemic subsides by next year, it will be hard for Democrats to make a case for change.

The biggest loser — DeSantis: Judge John Cooper in the 2nd Judicial Circuit ruled the Governor went too far in his attempt to ban schools from imposing mandatory masks in classrooms.

DeSantis used the new Parent’s Bill of Rights to justify the ban. Cooper ruled the state messed it up.

“The defendants do not have authority under this law to a blanket mandatory ban against a facemask policy that does not provide a parental opt-out,” Cooper said.

DeSantis might want to consider the consequences of continuing a ridiculous fight. I mean, how is his continued railing about mask mandates a good look given Florida’s grim COVID-19 statistics lately?

The six largest school districts in Florida were already defying his edict even before this ruling.

Even Florida’s two Republican U.S. Senate members don’t support his mask position.

As the Miami Herald reported, Rubio has said that mask mandate debates are a “waste of time.”

He’s not wrong.

Rick Scott opined, “I don’t believe the government should be mandating things.”

National media outlets not named Fox routinely hammer him, and Florida’s deteriorating hospital situation gives Democrats ammo to paint him as the culprit.

Even one of his favorite foils, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, warns voters in a recall election that their state could become the next Florida if he loses.

And cruise lines, a vital Florida industry, rebel against his prohibition of vaccine passports.

Yes, as we noted above, he’s atop the polls — for now. It’s a long time until November 2022, though.

The best thing he might have going right now is that he is not Biden, who, as we saw, has troubles of his own.

Oh, and The Villages. DeSantis will always have The Villages.

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

  • JD

    August 29, 2021 at 7:54 am

    Mr. Henderson,

    Thank you for the fairly neutral and factually supported assessment from current events.

    While I am sure you will get lambasted for your opinion mixed in the assessment from whatever side decides to hurl vitriol, count at least one person thankful for your ability and attempts to comment on the positive and negatives each partisans actions.

    #bringbackthefairnessdoctrine

Comments are closed.


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