Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 1.9.22

There was a history-making victory in a South Florida congressional race, but Matt Gaetz may be preoccupied with other matters.

Late last year, Gov. Ron DeSantis grabbed headlines when he ordered Secretary of State Laurel Lee to investigate whether Facebook had a program that gave incumbents an advantage over challengers.

He reacted to a Wall Street Journal report that said high profile users could post content that violates Facebook rules. DeSantis demanded to know if that violated Florida law and thus sent Lee into the breach.

That made for a snappy sound bite, which can often have more impact than actual policy in politics. We saw evidence of that again when POLITICO reported that more than three months after DeSantis got his headline, the “investigation” is … well, there is no investigation.

One big reason for that is that Lee’s office has no investigators. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement usually handles those matters, but there is no indication it has joined the battle.

Mark Ard, a spokesman for Lee, said in an email to POLITICO that “this matter remains open and under review.”

Giving that statement the benefit of the doubt, any investigation likely would take years to complete and cost a lot of money. It’s also not clear what, if any, Florida laws Facebook may have violated.

DeSantis, who graduated with honors from Harvard Law School, undoubtedly knew that when he dispatched Lee on this dubious journey. However, that didn’t matter.

He got to huff and puff righteous indignation against one of the GOP’s favorite targets — big tech. That’s why it doesn’t matter if a serious investigation ever happens. The Governor already won that battle.

Now, it’s on to our weekly game of winners and losers.


Honorable mention: Cameron Briody. OK, so he’s not a politician. This is still a good story.

Briody is a bartender at a Key West establishment called Irish Kevin’s. He was the key player in helping solve the mystery of who vandalized the iconic Southernmost Point monument on New Year’s Eve.

Webcam caught the dirty deed when two men dragged a Christmas tree to the monument and set it on fire. After police circulated the footage on social media, Briody recognized one of the faces.

He had served the guy the night before, but that person never left a tip. That’s the kind of thing a server remembers. With help from the bar’s general manager, they tracked down a credit card receipt.

The Miami Herald reported the receipt, and a corresponding surveillance video showed the two suspects together.

The police took it from there, leading to the arrests of David B. Perkins Jr. of Leesburg and Skylar Rae Jacobson of Henrietta, Texas.

The moral of the story: Tip your bartender.

Oh, and don’t try to burn up iconic landmarks.

Almost (but not quite) biggest winner: Nikki Fried. You know those 1 million testing kits that had supposedly expired in a warehouse while Floridians throughout the state waited for hours in line to get tested?

Never mind.

The feds gave Florida a three-month extension to use the kits, and Fried — the state’s Agriculture Commissioner — deserves all of the credit. She broke the story about how the kits were still in a warehouse and due to expire at the end of December.

The kits would still be MIA and waste away if she hadn’t done that.

“I urge the DeSantis Administration to distribute these tests immediately to counties, nursing homes, and our schools,” Fried said in a statement.

“I again call for the Governor to stand up state-sponsored testing sites and partner with the federal government to provide critical resources to address Floridians’ needs during this public health crisis.”

DeSantis struggled to explain what happened after the revelation. Eventually, he blamed President Joe Biden because, well, because.

The biggest winner: Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick. She became the first Haitian American elected to Congress by Florida when she easily won a Special Election to succeed the late Alcee Hastings.

She received 79% of the vote in heavily Democratic CD 20.

“The support was so overwhelming. No one thought that a little girl like me who was growing up in this district, who was raising a daughter by myself at the time, would ever be here. So, this means so much for us to be here,” the Miami Herald reported Cherfilus-McCormick said at her victory party.

She got there after defeating Dale Holness by five votes in the Nov. 2 Special Democratic Primary.


Dishonorable mention: Cyber Ninjas. The Sarasota-based company, hired by Arizona Republicans to audit President Joe Biden‘s victory in Maricopa County, is out of business.

The announcement came a day after elections officials in Maricopa County announced that 76 of the 77 claims made in the company’s report in that county’s 2020 election were false or misleading.

Bill Gates, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors chairman, said: “It’s been debunked, and it was written by people who are not experts in the field … We’re done. This is the end of the 2020 election.”

Even with the false claims, Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan said a hand recount found 99 additional votes for Biden and 261 fewer votes for Trump.

The recount cost Arizona Republicans $6 million.

Almost (but not quite) biggest loser: Florida citrus. The long decline in one of the state’s signature industries unfortunately continues.

A report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts the 2021-22 citrus growing season will miss predictions by about 11%, which weren’t rosy to begin with.

The decline has been going on for years, caused by multiple factors.

Citrus greening, a bacterial disease that kills both fruit and trees, has profoundly impacted groves, particularly in South Florida. And last December, it was detected for the first time in North Florida.

Hurricane Irma in 2017 caused massive damage to the industry, and many growers decided to sell their land to developers.

The biggest loser: Matt Gaetz. Multiple news outlets reported that the Congressman’s former girlfriend testified before a grand jury in Orlando investigating potential sex trafficking.

Uh oh.

The unnamed woman is said to have dated Gaetz for about two years. She met him through Gaetz’s former buddy, Joel Greenberg. That’s the same guy who pleaded guilty last year to charges that included sex trafficking a minor and is now cooperating with authorities in hopes of getting a reduced sentence.

Greenberg admitted to paying for sex with a 17-year-old girl and introduced her to Gaetz. The Daily Beast reported that Greenberg, while seeking a pardon from then-President Donald Trump, said in a confession letter that both he and Gaetz had sex with the minor.

“On more than one occasion, this individual was involved in sexual activities with several of the other girls, the congressman from Florida’s 1st Congressional District and myself,” Greenberg wrote in reference to the 17-year-old.

Gaetz has denied any wrongdoing.

The FBI seized the ex-girlfriend’s phone in 2020. Greenberg faces sentencing in March, which indicates that the investigation could be in the final stages.

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

  • Charles

    January 16, 2022 at 5:25 pm

    Henderson loves to attack DeSantis saying He got to huff and puff righteous indignation.
    In reality, it is Henderson who consistently spews huff and puff righteous indignation in his biased yellow journalism. Overdue for this liberal curmudgeon and political hack to put down the pen and slither into oblivion.

Comments are closed.


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