Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 11.27.22

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DeSantis 2024 continues to gain traction, while Joel Greenberg will spend more than a decade behind bars.

Florida’s new Parents’ Bill of Rights law garnered plenty of attention and criticism from Democrats when it was approved during the 2022 Session. But with much of that discussion surrounding the law’s effects on LGBTQ issues in school, far fewer people probably expected “potentially canceling a Hanukkah presentation” as one of the law’s effects.

That’s almost what happened for one Pasco County parent, though the situation has since, thankfully, been resolved.

As Jesse Sheckner of Florida Politics laid out, Rachel Long was originally denied an opportunity to visit her children’s class and introduce them to Hanukkah. She’s made that presentation for years — except for two years off due to the COVID-19 pandemic — and says it’s meant as an informative talk on her family’s traditions rather than any sort of religious display.

But then she got this response from her child’s teacher:

“As per discussions with the team and Admin, the new Parent Bill of Rights (sic) obligates us to follow the 5th Grade Standards as written,” the teacher said. “At this time, a Chanukah presentation is not in our standards.”

That prompted Long to ask: “Then, I assume, no Christmas activities will be done?” That led to crickets from the teacher, likely because the school already featured a bevy of Christmas-related swag and activities.

After reaching out to media regarding the incident, the school backed off, and Long is set to give the presentation as intended.

So, was this a clear effect of a poorly written law, or just a misunderstanding among officials? It’s hard to say, as higher-ups have rebuffed discussing exactly what led to the decision.

But regardless, it is a signifier that officials may need additional guidance on this legislation going forward.

Controversy has surrounded this legislation since the beginning — some of it warranted but some of it exaggerated. The law, for instance, does not literally ban using the word “gay” in schools, despite many Democrats framing it as the “Don’t Say Gay” law. And while critics can argue that lawmakers were too restrictive here, the state and schools do need to have some rules regarding what lessons are and are not appropriate for children.

But what shouldn’t happen is for Republicans, in search of a culture war win, to draft legislation that could lead to situations like this — especially in a law that, despite proponents’ stated intentions, does unnecessarily single out LGBTQ issues.

Whether it’s increased training or a statutory fix, lawmakers serious about dealing with school instruction issues should get to the bottom of why this happened and address it.

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

Winners

Honorable mention: Bridget Ziegler. The Sarasota County School Board Chair and Moms for Liberty co-founder can soon claim the scalp of Sarasota County Superintendent Brennan Asplen, as the School Board and Asplen are negotiating a resignation package following last month’s election results.

That election gave conservatives a 4-1 majority on the School Board, a shift from the prior 3-2 majority enjoyed by Democrats. And though Asplen has described himself as a conservative, the move to push out incumbent Superintendents follows a playbook pushed by Moms for Liberty, which has sought more involvement by conservatives in School Board elections.

Asplen has seen the writing on the wall since at least early last week. And while a potential vote to oust Asplen on Tuesday didn’t happen as planned, the two sides are working on an exit which could see Asplen collect $90,000 if he’s fired without cause.

As for the purported causes? School Board member Karen Rose cited a decline in testing performance and a lack of communication between Asplen and the Board. But in this instance, those issues seem like cover for the now-conservative Board to simply select a Superintendent more in line with their policy views. That’s a power that Chair Ziegler and the Board now have thanks to last month’s red wave.

Almost (but not quite) biggest winner: Florida GOP. Do you see that white flag waving in the distance? That’s from the Democratic Party, signaling Florida is no longer a priority swing state in 2024, as evidenced by the Joe Biden administration’s decision to loosen oil sanctions on Venezuela.

The move will allow Chevron to seek oil in Venezuela which could be used to help the U.S. market.

Cue reactions from congressional Republicans blasting Biden for the move.

Last week’s reactions show the potential political toxicity in dealing with the Nicolás Maduro administration in any capacity. The Biden administration says the production will help pay debts the Maduro regime owes Chevron, and that profits won’t financially benefit Venezuela’s state-run oil company. And the U.S. is free to revoke the six-month license at any point.

But with that came an explanation that the sanctions were eased due to Maduro showing “concrete steps” he is open to more open elections. That shows the Biden administration signaling some trust in an otherwise antagonistic regime. And with Florida’s large Venezuelan population, the move will likely give Florida Republicans more ammo to go after Democrats in the 2024 election cycle in a shot at keeping the state red.

The biggest winner: DeSantis 2024. Speaking of 2024, there was more good news this week for Florida’s newly re-election Governor who is totally not running for President in 2024.

The Governor got another encouraging set of polls on his hypothetical 2024 candidacy. For the first time in months, he edged Vice President Kamala Harris in a Harvard/Harris Poll, 42% to 39%. And Georgia polling had DeSantis leading President Joe Biden by 4 points and running ahead of already-announced 2024 contender Donald Trump.

Moreover, billionaire Twitter owner Elon Musk said he would support DeSantis if the Governor were to run for President in 2024. That admiration seems to be mutual, and it can’t hurt to have the owner of one of the nation’s largest social media platforms backing your bid.

And that’s not to mention reporting from Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics showing DeSantis raised $1.8 million in early November — none of which was permitted to go toward his re-election campaign. Though the election was on Nov. 8, only cash collected by Nov. 3 could be spent on the 2022 cycle.

If only there were some other contest that cash could be spent on.

Losers

Dishonorable mention: Darren Soto. With the stunning crash of the FTX trading platform, some have turned their eye toward U.S. Rep. Soto and eight House colleagues who sent a March letter to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, pushing back against an SEC inquiry into how FTX and other platforms were managing customers’ cash.

Soto has been a cryptocurrency booster while in Congress, and framed that SEC probe as an unfair attack on the burgeoning industry. Fast forward a few months, and the FTX crash has led to at least $1 billion in missing customer funds.

Soto, however, has pushed back on the framing that he sought to stymie legitimate inquiries by the SEC.

“The letter was not specific to FTX, didn’t reference FTX, nor did our office have any contact with FTX regarding the letter,” Soto tweeted. “The letter did not stop or slow down any investigations into FTX. Rep Soto also has not received any contributions for FTX.”

Nevertheless, the last few months have not been a good look for the industry or some of its allies in Congress, such as Soto.

Almost (but not quite) biggest loser: Boat rental companies. Last Regular Session, lawmakers sought to increase protections for those renting boats and jet skis with a new Boating Safety Act. But some stakeholders say that measure could doom the industry entirely if left untouched.

According to Axios, some insurance companies and lobbyists are warning over terms that require boathouses to have insurance for the boathouse as well as the renter. That could send operating costs skyrocketing.

“Some insurers estimate that compliance would raise rates from around $1,500 per boat annually to more than $8,000 per boat, Peggy Mathews, lobbyist for American Watercraft Association, told the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission yesterday,” read the Axios report.

In addition, many insurers refuse to insure renters. That could block boat rental companies from operating entirely, unless a glitch bill is filed to fix the issue.

The legislation was filed in response to several high-profile boating accidents in recent years. While that cause is noble, lawmakers may want to double check to make sure they didn’t just inadvertently gut a treasured Florida industry.

The biggest loser: Joel Greenberg. After a crime spree that put Greenberg in the conversation of the most corrupt Florida officials of all-time, the former Seminole County Tax Collector will spend the next 11 years behind bars.

Greenberg faced charges for a wide range of outrageous crimes for anyone — much less a public official — including stealing identities, spending public funds on sex and trafficking an underage girl.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell expressed outrage over Greenberg’s appalling behavior, but nevertheless accepted the high end of prosecutors’ suggested sentencing range — between 9.25 and 11 years — due to Greenberg’s later cooperation with other criminal probes.

Greenberg was arrested in June 2020 and charged with 33 federal crimes, 27 of which were dropped for his cooperation. He pleaded guilty to the remaining six felonies in May 2021, which eventually led to Thursday’s sentencing.

“I feel remorse for what I have done,” Greenberg said while reading a statement during the sentencing hearing. “I let you down and betrayed your trust.”

That’s an understatement.

Ryan Nicol

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to [email protected]


5 comments

  • The Real Tom Legend

    December 4, 2022 at 8:17 am

    Winners: Florida Politics
    Losers: Fake Tom

  • Paul Passarelli

    December 4, 2022 at 11:34 am

    Yeah, on the issue of the Chanukah demonstration, we can be quite sure that some administrator or teacher decided to try to bring his/her [sic] hissy-fit to the forefront by trying to equate the presentation of a holiday celebration with the grooming of sexual deviancy. Anyone with a brain should be thankful Rachel Long stuck to her guns and didn’t back down.

    Also, they should be calling for sanctions against the teacher and or administrator that opposed the presentation and took illegitimate steps aka ‘under the color of authority’ to try to block it in the first place.

    We can’t take back the schools and restore educational excellence if we allow the inmates to run the asylum.

    according to the story:

    After reaching out to media regarding the incident, the school backed off, and Long is set to give the presentation as intended.

    Sp, was this a clear effect of a poorly written law, or just a misunderstanding among officials? It’s hard to say, as higher-ups have rebuffed discussing exactly what led to the decision.

    But regardless, it is a signifier that officials may need additional guidance on this legislation going forward.

    It wasn’t a misunderstanding. Because if it was then the teacher and/or administrator that ‘misunderstood’ have demonstrated incompetence to be educators! Perhaps they should resign if they are so easily confused.

    • Bernie Sanders

      December 4, 2022 at 12:55 pm

      Just eliminate all religious displays outside of Church, Mosque, Temple, Synagogue etc and everything will be better. Freedom of religion shouldn’t mean people can irritate others with the stupidity of it all. Even the Bible says prayer shouldn’t be done in public or put on display. American Christians are grifters.

      • Paul Passarelli

        December 5, 2022 at 8:13 pm

        Where is my reply?

    • Lynn

      December 5, 2022 at 1:09 pm

      I agree with you wholeheartedly

Comments are closed.


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