Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 9.5.21

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Buh-bye, Confederate statue.

When Will Weatherford’s time as Florida House Speaker ended, he didn’t fade away. He threw himself into building a business, helping his wife raise four children, and helping the Tampa Bay community in high-profile ways that don’t involve an elected office.

“Ever since I came out of office as Speaker, I’ve looked for ways to serve,” he told me in an interview last January when he and Derrick Brooks were co-chairs of the Tampa Bay Super Bowl LV Host Committee.

“And I thought, what better way to give back and help showcase the community of Tampa Bay than the Super Bowl. Little did I know at the time what all that would mean.”

It meant a lot, and you can say the same about Weatherford’s involvement with the University of South Florida. As the trustee board chair, Weatherford will help lead the search for a new USF president.

But, as usual, he didn’t stop there.

He dropped a bombshell announcement last Wednesday at the groundbreaking for the school’s new $22 million indoor football practice facility.

After decades of discussion that led nowhere, USF will have an on-campus football stadium.

“There’s a renowned author named Victor Hugo who once said, ‘There’s nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.’ Our time has come,” Weatherford said.

“These student-athletes … our 50,000 students … the alumni, faculty, and administration, they all deserve a stadium on this campus. I’m here to tell you we’re going to do it.”

Mark those last words he said: “I’m here to tell you we’re going to do it.”

As we saw during his time in Tallahassee, Weatherford doesn’t dawdle. He is organized, well-connected, and has a clear vision of what he will support. He was the perfect choice to lead an evolving, dynamic university’s trustee board because he doesn’t see USF as a group of separate tribes.

Rather, he understands that USF is vital to the economic and social health of the Tampa Bay area. It’s ranked in the top tier of research universities by the Carnegie Foundation. USF joins Florida and Florida State as the only preeminent universities in the state.

What does all that have to do with an on-campus football stadium?

It’s the missing link. Just ask UCF about the value of that. An on-campus stadium helped UCF raise its football stature and earned the school an invitation to join the Big 12 Conference. USF football, meanwhile, has been stuck in the mud, and that can’t continue.

A successful football program can bring alumni back to the campus and give students a greater sense of belonging. Weatherford knows that, and he knows how to find the money to pay for that vision.

And yes, he said he will be sure that USF’s new president, whoever that might be, shares that ideal.

That’s winning, big time.

Now, on to our game of winners and losers.

Winners

Honorable mention — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sure, they won their opening game Thursday night over Dallas, but they scored an even bigger victory before taking the field.

They reported a 100% vaccination rate against COVID-19, not just for the players and coaches but for everyone working at 1 Buc Place.

“We’re 100% vaccinated … all the players, all the coaches, everybody,” head coach Bruce Arians said.

Well done!

Almost (but not quite) biggest winner — Addison Davis: Not long ago, the Superintendent of Hillsborough County Schools was in danger of losing his job. He rebounded nicely, though, and now even his critics — most of them, anyway — praise the improvement he made in a short time.

The Tampa Bay Times reported Davis received high marks on his annual performance review from six of the seven School Board members. The Times noted Davis “worked to improve collaboration with principals, the board, community leaders and longtime Hillsborough educators.”

Not everyone was impressed, though.

Board member Karen Perez said Davis “cares more about his next job than his current job.”

Davis was hired in March 2020, just as the pandemic gained steam. He had to maneuver through that while facing a threatened state takeover of the district because of shoddy finances.

The biggest winner — Duval schools mask mandate: There has been much noise about whether local school boards can order students to wear masks. In Duval County schools, though, that doesn’t appear to be much of an issue.

After the School Board issued an emergency order for mandatory masks on Tuesday, the district reported that only 206 of 104,000 students attending in-person classes received medical opt-outs.

The Florida Times-Union reported that about 12% of students had opted out of wearing a mask before the new policy went into place. That figure is now less than 1%.

Board members said the call from local physicians for a universal mask policy was a factor in adopting the tougher rules.

Already this year, Duval surpassed 2,000 COVID-19 cases in its schools.

Losers

Dishonorable mention — Lauren Book: Senate President Wilton Simpson removed her as the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee chair. That committee could be at the center of a major fight next year over a restrictive abortion law modeled after Texas.

Republican Sen. Ileana Garcia takes over.

Simpson said it was because Book’s duties as the Senate Democratic Leader require too much time.

“In my view, if anyone could take on a dual leadership role, it would be Leader Book. However, reassigning the role to another Senator is in the best interest of the institution,” Simpson wrote in a memo.

However, there is also a reason to be skeptical that Book’s workload was Simpson’s motivation for the move. Like nearly every Democrat, Book is critical of the Texas law. She was a victim of sexual abuse as a child and the Texas law makes no accommodation for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.

Simpson, who was adopted, plans to push legislation next year that could lead to similar restrictions in Florida.

“Any attempt to emulate the Texas abortion ban is an all-out assault on women’s rights,” Book said. “The introduction of such a bill would send a clear message to me, and to other survivors of sexual assault, that we do not matter — that our state leaders care more about our rapists than about us.”

After her removal as chair of the committee, Book took the high road. She said she was “honored” to have been the chair of the committee. She said it was a chance to “lead the Florida Senate in shaping smart, out-of-the-box policy to protect the health, safety, and well-being of children and vulnerable adults.”

Almost (but not quite) biggest loser — Whoever gives DeSantis legal advice: Judges rejected two of the Governor’s signature moves last week.

First, Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper said DeSantis exceeded his authority with his order that outlawed blanket mask mandates in Florida schools. Technically, Cooper lifted the automatic stay of his original decision on the matter.

However, the stay was put back in place Friday, giving the Governor at least some hope for victory still.

A day later, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ruled that DeSantis’ ballyhooed anti-riot law was vague and unconstitutional, temporarily blocking its implementation.

DeSantis said the decision came as no surprise under Walker.

“That’s a foreordained conclusion in front of that court,” DeSantis said. “We will win that on appeal. I guarantee you we will win (that) on appeal.”

Presumably, that means the Governor believes he will find more agreeable judges in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta and the 1st District Court of Appeal. Republicans appointed those judges.

Even if he wins, though, DeSantis still loses. He is swimming upstream on these issues in the court of public opinion. Sure, 98% of those living in The Villages will love it, but what about the rest of the state?

A recent poll showed 60% of Floridians favor mandatory masks in schools. And the racial overtones of the anti-riot bill can have far-reaching consequences for the Governor in an election year.

DeSantis obviously believes he will prevail, but it’s worth wondering if his legal advisers tell him what he wants to hear instead of what he needs to hear?

The biggest loser — Edmund Kirby Smith: It took a while, but workers finally removed the 2,762-pound statue of Confederate General Smith that represented Florida in the U.S. Capitol.

A statue of educator and civil rights icon Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune will replace Smith’s monument.

This issue goes back about five years when Florida lawmakers decided to remove the monument. Democrat Perry Thurston sponsored the bill. In 2018, then-Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill authorizing the change, and in 2019 Gov. Ron DeSantis formally asked Capitol officials to remove Smith’s likeness.

“Dr. McLeod Bethune’s statue will represent the best of who we are as Floridians to visitors from around the world in our nation’s Capitol,” DeSantis said. “Her legacy endures and will continue to inspire future generations.”

So, what do you do with a 2,762-pound statue of a Confederate general?

Initially, it appeared headed to Lake County, but commissioners voted 4-1 against the idea. The Orlando Sentinel reported it will now go to the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee.

Well, it represents a part of Florida’s history.

Just not a good part.

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.


6 comments

  • Charles

    September 12, 2021 at 9:04 am

    All i can say is thankfully DeSantis doesn’t heed or follow advice from Joe Henderson, Florida’s reining Jackassery King.
    Do the Tampa area a service and just fade into obscurity. Somewhere there must be a 55+ housing for a washed up bitter old curmudgeon.

    Reply

    • Ocean Joe

      September 12, 2021 at 10:00 am

      Good morning Chuck. I am sure you know exactly where that 55+ housing is…your beloved Villages. Maybe you will let Mr. Henderson join your shuffleboard team.

      Reply

  • Tom Palmer

    September 12, 2021 at 9:54 am

    How things have changed at USF. It was originally founded as an academic institution and was deliberately designed by President Allen to avoid it becoming the jock palace it has become.

    Reply

  • Tom

    September 12, 2021 at 11:39 am

    Joe, I replied to your “nonsense” 9-10 article.

    Amazingly here as soon as someone signals some level of defense for the best Gov in America, the anti forces show up in double time. Usual suspects.

    None of you under any scenario have conveyed what the fraud or crispy would do. Nor have they besides lockdowns. Steve Contarno outlined a few weeks back the empty message of action from both candidates. Novel reporting these days. Go figure.

    Meanwhile the whiz kid Governor has placed over 25 monoclonal centers across the state. Healing bout 100,000 Floridians. Leaders act and provide solutions!
    Great effort Gov!

    Reply

    • Sister Eileen Lephtabit, St. Larry's Elementary

      September 12, 2021 at 1:33 pm

      Tom, the purpose of the written word is to communicate, not to baffle or mystify. English is a precise language and should be used precisely. “None of you under any scenario have conveyed what the fraud or crispy would do,” is unintelligible.
      In short, you tend to sound rather foolish.

      Reply

  • Tom

    September 12, 2021 at 6:19 pm

    Sister Mary Elephant.
    No one cares what you think or critique.

    Life 101, when you can’t defend against the issue, attack the messenger.

    Since you are politically ignorant, allow me to clarify. Nikki (Fraud) Fried and Charlie (crispy) Crist. Don’t read it next time.

    Reply

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