While Democrats celebrate and Republicans grump about the House passage of President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan, let’s see what impact it might have here in Florida. Keep in mind that the Senate still has to have its say on this, and some of the items in the bill now might not make it to the finish line.
According to the 2020 report by the Federal Highway Administration, Florida has 408 bridges classified as structurally deficient, and seven of those bridges are on the interstate highway system.
That may not mean much to you unless, of course, you or a loved one happen to be on one of those bridges when it collapses.
But one of the big stories this year is the skyrocketing cost of housing in Florida.
“The bill includes $24 billion to augment project-based rental assistance for privately owned rental housing,” Housing and Urban Development senior executive Lopa Kolluri said.
“It also includes funds to significantly increase the availability of new permanently affordable rental housing for people who are elderly and persons with disabilities.”
That, too, may not mean much to you — unless you have to work three jobs and take in a roommate to pay the rent.
There’s also this. Millions of Floridians go without health insurance, partly because of the complex rules to qualify for Medicaid.
“The Build Back Better Act will reduce health inequalities by expanding Medicaid in states like Florida where governors have refused to act,” Congresswoman Kathy Castor of Tampa said.
She touted the permanent extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which helps low-income children. That may not excite you because you make enough money to care for your kids, or they are on their own by now.
If you don’t have diabetes, you won’t care that BBB caps insulin costs at $35 a month. But you might agree with this next item.
“In a response to the concerns across the political spectrum, this bill will also finally allow for the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices and stop Big Pharma from ripping off American families and seniors,” Castor said.
There’s also a provision that permanently bans oil drilling off Florida’s coast, and I suspect that will have wide approval in the Sunshine State.
“Florida’s beautiful beaches and our economy are tied to clean water and clean air, and this ban is an incredible victory for our state and environment,” Castor said.
Yes, it’s expensive, and, yes, Floridians have grown increasingly suspicious about giant federal programs. Understandably, many people are wary about what this all means.
We need safe bridges, though.
Health care is a basic right for everyone, not just those who can afford it. If you oppose extending a hand to help low-income kids get medical care, I suggest you reexamine your life.
It was ridiculous that the government couldn’t negotiate for lower prescription drug costs. And did we really want to see a giant oil slick wash up on Clearwater Beach?
Didn’t think so.
Now, on to our weekly game of winners and losers.
Honorable mention, Part 1 — Joe Gruters. The Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida must be dancing in the aisles at the latest development. The GOP passed the Democrats in the total number of registered voters for the first time in, well, forever.
The total now: Republicans 5,118,357; Democrats 5,114,039.
“This is a milestone moment in Florida’s history,” RPOF Executive Director Helen Aguirre Ferré told POLITICO.
Yes, it is.
Democrats held a lead of almost 568,000 in 2010 but that margin has steadily eroded. According to POLITICO, both sides agree that concerted registration efforts by Republicans made the difference. However, Democrats complain that the lead change is a result of the high number of their voters moved to inactive status. That can happen for a variety of reasons, including failure to respond to queries from local election officials.
Inactives remain eligible to vote but don’t count on party totals. What it also means, though, is that Republicans have been more motivated to vote than Democrats, especially in recent years as GOP candidates routinely won statewide elections.
Honorable mention, Part 2 — Strawberry Shortcake: Republican Rep. Lawrence McClure of District 58 in eastern Hillsborough County has a berry, berry good idea.
A tasty one, too.
“Strawberries represent about a billion-dollar economic impact,” McClure said. “But not many people know it.”
Yes, Key Lime pie — another gift from the taste gods — is Florida’s official pie. So what? Just have one for lunch and the other for dinner.
Or have both for dinner.
Almost (but not quite) biggest winner — The Orange County Commission: Developers generally have received green lights to pave over large swaths of Florida for at least the last 40 years. That’s why the decision by commissioners to deny a permit to build 200 homes in Eastwood in eastern Orange County is worth noting.
The Orlando Sentinel reported that a busload of Eastwood residents filled the Commission chambers to plead against the project. Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said he received more than 700 emails from Eastwood residents opposed to the development. They argued the development would adversely affect their property values.
“As a Florida resident who has spent countless hours with the goal of protecting my community, I am keenly aware of the difficult job that you hold,” Eastwood resident Angela Emerson told the commissioners. “It requires fortitude, compassion, and a listening ear to guard over public interests in the face of all the future development projects that are presented to you.”
The vote was unanimous.
The biggest winner — Gov. Ron DeSantis: He got everything he wanted from the Special Legislative Session, including a chance to troll President Joe Biden.
Did the Governor stay in Tallahassee to sign the four bills lawmakers approved at his request?
He went 250 miles south to Brandon, a sprawling, unincorporated testament to runaway growth, about 10 miles east of downtown Tampa.
That’s the name Republicans use to mock President Biden, and we could get much more specific than that, but won’t. You probably know what it means anyway.
It would have been appropriate anyway, even without the dig. While Biden beat Donald Trump by nearly 50,000 votes in Hillsborough County in 2020, The 19 precincts with Brandon addresses chose the Squire of Mar-a-Lago by about 3,500 votes out of almost 40,000 cast.
Anyway, if the trip to Brandon was a victory lap that was sure to earn lots of headlines locally and nationally, DeSantis earned at least that much.
He had some company, too. Attorney General Ashley Moody, from nearby Plant City, tagged along with House Speaker Chris Sprowls, Senate President Wilton Simpson and Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo.
DeSantis now dominates Florida politics the way Trump does the GOP nationally. What the Governor wants, he gets. With Republicans in control of both legislative chambers and DeSantis becoming a more imposing and ideologically driven figure every day, there’s not much Democrats can do.
Actually, there’s nothing they can do.
“Ultimately, this is about power, right?” Democratic Rep. Fentrice Driskell told POLITICO. “This entire Special Session was a power play on the Governor, so it does not behoove the legislative leadership, who seems to be in lockstep with this Governor, to speak out in a way that would be contrary to him.”
Dishonorable mention — Frank Artiles: Some guys don’t know when to shut up. Artiles is Exhibit A.
The public corruption case against him may have gotten a little stronger, and he would only have himself to blame if it did. He stands accused of funding a ghost candidate in the SD 37 race in 2020 to knock out incumbent Democrat Jose Javier Rodriguez.
Health insurance industry lobbyist Stephanie Smith later gave that information to prosecutors.
Prosecutors charged Artiles with felony campaign fraud. They say Artiles paid Alex Rodriguez, who had no known political history, $44,000 to run as an unaffiliated candidate in hopes of taking votes away from Jose Javier Rodriguez. Note they have the same last name.
Alex Rodríguez, who did no campaigning leading up to that election, later pleaded guilty to accepting illegal campaign donations and lying on campaign documents. He agreed to testify against Artiles.
Garcia won that race by 32 votes.
Almost (but not quite) biggest loser — Christina Pushaw: It wasn’t all rosy for the Governor. And his press secretary, well she stepped in it again.
She took on the Republic of Georgia (why?) for its stringent COVID-19 mitigation measures.
Lawmakers now require citizens to hold a green pass to enter restaurants, theaters, and other public places. Notably, people don’t have to be vaccinated if they’ve recovered from the virus or can show a negative COVID-19 test.
Anyway, Pushaw couldn’t resist, and she tied the Rothschilds to the issue. The Daily Beast wrote it this way: “Pushaw appeared to employ some deeply revolting (and flawed) logic to suggest the system is part of a nefarious Jewish plot.”
She tweeted, “Georgia decided to enact a ‘Green Pass’ system (biomedical security state). Immediately after that, the Rothschilds show up to discuss the attractive investment environment in Georgia (lol). No weird conspiracy theory stuff here!”
Um, that meeting took place last June.
The American Jewish Committee notes, “The Rothschilds are a Jewish banking family who have been accused of secretly controlling the economy, manipulating the weather, and profiting from wars. Rothschild has become a generic term for greedy and manipulative Jewish billionaires.”
Pushaw had to backtrack, calling it “an attempt at sarcasm that could have been misinterpreted.”
The press secretary for the Governor of a state as influential as Florida should know better. She also should know that her boss took the state Cabinet to Israel for a meeting in 2019.
The biggest loser — Florida Democrats: They’re in danger of becoming the Washington Generals to the Republicans’ Harlem Globetrotters.
The just-concluded Special Legislative Session proved again that they could fuss, complain, and use strong language to express their contempt for what their Republican colleagues pass.
They can’t stop it, though.
And now, as explained above, the number of GOP registered voters has surpassed Democrats for the first time anyone can remember in the state.
Just 10 years ago, Florida Democrats had an edge of more than 500,000 registered voters. It didn’t much matter, though. Even with that gap, Republicans piled up win after win in House, Senate, and Governor’s races to take firm control of Tallahassee.
Trump took Florida by more than 370,000 votes in 2020, and DeSantis, sitting on a mountain of cash and lots of momentum, is the runaway favorite for re-election in 2022.
Thanks to redistricting, Republicans could pick up an extra seat in Congress next year.
Some things never change.