Gov. Ron DeSantis is a hero to many conservatives for his handling of the COVID-19 crisis in Florida.
As we know, he is against mandates (unless it’s his mandate). He opposes lockdowns and mask requirements, sparking robust debate about his wisdom on those issues.
But as DeSantis launched into a full-campaign mode for his reelection drive in 2022, one of his biggest benefactors had some criticism for the Governor.
Ken Griffin, the billionaire hedge-fund operator who has contributed more than $10.75 million to a political committee that supports DeSantis, has some hard medicine for the Governor to swallow.
“I’ve been frustrated with his position on masks because it has overshadowed his messaging on vaccinations,” Griffin told Bloomberg News.
“He’s caught himself up in a political maelstrom of putting the concept of personal freedom first and foremost around masks, and I understand the principle. But Florida’s a really diverse state. He should have let each county make a decision on its own.”
Is this a good time to mention that the state Board of Education imposed financial penalties on eight school districts for imposing masks on students on Thursday?
The penalties are equal to the monthly salaries of School Board members. In addition, the state was authorized to withhold an amount equal to the federal grants of two districts, Broward and Alachua, received to maintain their mask policies.
So much for the idea of having each county make its own decision.
If Griffin’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he was in the news earlier this year. DeSantis touted the benefits of the drug Regeneron. Citadel, Griffin’s Chicago-based hedge fund, has $15.9 million in shares of Regeneron Pharmaceutical Inc. Stories quickly circulated, implying that DeSantis was trying to boost his benefactor’s investment.
The story was probably overblown. Citadel is a $39 billion operation, and its Regeneron investment is comparatively minuscule.
Still, DeSantis’ investment in Griffin is considerable, considering how much money Griffin has donated to the Governor’s political fortunes.
Translation: Maybe he should listen to what Griffin has to say.
“I think that a really great talking point for somebody looking to run for President is to make it clear that you will do whatever it takes to protect our most vulnerable,” Griffin said. “And I think he’s lost that window of opportunity.”
Now, it’s on to our weekly game of winners and losers.
Honorable mention — Lenny Curry: The Florida Times-Union reports that Jacksonville’s Mayor favors moving a Confederate monument from Springfield Park. That’s not always an easy position for a large Southern city leader to take, but it is the correct one.
It will cost about $1.3 million to relocate the large monument dedicated to the “Women of the Southland” and would require City Council support. The move fulfills Curry’s vow in 2020 after workers removed a statue of a Confederate soldier from James Weldon Johnson Park. Curry said then that “others in this city will be removed as well.”
Almost (but not quite) biggest winner — Ashley Moody: Florida’s Attorney General raised $702,995 in September, the first full month since she formally announced her reelection bid.
That’s more money than anyone other than DeSantis raised in Florida.
Moody’s political committee, Friends of Ashley Moody, began September with more than $2 million on hand. She’ll have plenty of money to fend off any Democratic challenger, assuming one emerges. No one has announced intentions to run against her.
At this rate, maybe no one will.
The biggest winner — St. Petersburg: The city scored a major coup when the powerhouse Ark Investment Management announced it is permanently closing its New York office and relocating to St. Pete.
Ark plans to start construction on a new 45,000-square-foot headquarters, the Ark Innovation Center, early next year.
The company estimates it will generate $28 million in economic impact and add about 1,265 jobs to the county by 2026.
CNN reported that Ark strategy chief Jana Haines said the area’s “vibrant and diverse talent base” and innovative public and private partnerships carried the day.
The Tampa Bay Times reported the company characterized its planned center as “a talent incubator.”
It’s designed to support Tampa Bay and tech startups and could serve as a magnet to attract top talent.
“Ark is not a traditional Wall Street asset management firm, and we are looking forward to breaking the mold further by relocating to St Petersburg, a city investing in technology, science, and innovation,” founder Cathie Wood said in a statement.
Dishonorable mention — Jacksonville: No, we don’t mean the winless Jaguars, although they certainly would deserve that.
And, seriously, doesn’t Coach Urban Meyer deserve scorn after the embarrassment he caused himself and the organization last week? Absolutely. But this isn’t about him, either.
Instead, this one is on city leaders, starting with the same Mayor Curry we praised earlier. He gets this dubious designation because of a decision to suspend curbside recycling pickup starting last Monday.
The city told residents to take their recyclables to any of 14 drop-off locations throughout the city, another dubious move. The Dumpsters quickly filled to overflowing with plastics and other materials.
Curry said this is a temporary move so city workers can pick up yard debris and other trash that has gone uncollected for months.
The problem, Curry said, is that there aren’t enough workers to keep up with demand.
“The circumstances that brought us to this place, a place that none of us have seen in our lifetimes, were beyond our control. It is a result of the lasting impacts the coronavirus pandemic has had on our economy,” he said.
Almost (but not quite) biggest loser — Corrine Brown. Jacksonville.com reported the former U.S. Representative needs to work out a plea agreement or face a second trial on fraud and tax charges.
A jury convicted Brown, who served 12 terms in Congress, on conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, and tax charges related to a bogus charity called One Door For Education. The group raised about $800,000 but spent most of the dough on parties, vacations, and other non-education trinkets. The children received next to nothing.
In May, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new trial for Brown in a 7-4 decision. The court ruled that the presiding judge in the original case improperly dismissed a juror.
Brown, her attorney said, needs the $42,000 she turned over to the government to arrange for counsel if she has another trial. Assistant U.S. Attorney Tysen Duva told the judge fraud victims had already received that money.
The biggest loser — Richard Corcoran: While deciding the most punitive measures it could inflict on school districts that defied his order against mask mandates, Florida’s Education Commissioner missed a deadline to receive $2.3B in school aid from the federal government.
Florida is the only state in the country that hasn’t applied for the aid, which many districts say they desperately need.
Hillsborough County has a $60 million operating deficit, and board members discussed asking voters to approve a property tax hike.
Other large districts also face significant budget concerns.
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that Corcoran’s office disputed the idea that the state missed a deadline.
However, federal education officials said Florida’s delay in seeking the money raises “significant concerns” and represents a “failure to meet its responsibilities” that could hurt public schools.
That prompted this cavalier retort from Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’ press secretary. In an email to the Sun-Sentinel, she said most of Florida’s school districts have yet to spend all of the money from the first two rounds of federal aid.
“It is difficult to take seriously the fictitious cries for urgency from these D.C. bureaucrats,” Pushaw wrote.
It raises the question: What’s more important?
Punishing districts for putting the safety of students ahead of a political stunt by the state? Or get the money they need to educate those same students in the middle of a pandemic?
The state flunked that test.