Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 12.4.22

We just watched Joe Harding's political career crash and burn in the span of one day.

“On day one as Chairman, (U.S. Sen. Rick Scott) is hitting the ground running to take back the Senate majority in 2022.”

That tweet was posted on Jan. 11, 2021 by the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), as Scott took over as Chairman. As of this posting, it remains pinned to the top of the NRSC’s Twitter account.


Tuesday’s Senate runoff election in Georgia sealed this cycle as an embarrassment for Senate Republicans. Just weeks before Election Day, Scott was projecting confidence, predicting Republicans could win as many as 55 seats.

With Republican candidate, former professional football player and current professional gaffe machine Herschel Walker losing Tuesday, Republicans not only did not come near 55 seats, not only failed on Scott’s original promise to retake the majority, but actually lost one seat in what was expected to be a wave year for the GOP.

And let’s be clear what happened here. This year’s elections were somewhat of a proxy battle between former President Donald Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Trump egged on candidates such as Walker to compete in these competitive battleground seats, while McConnell warned about candidate quality in a shot at those Trump-backed competitors.

Scott, as he sought to cook up a leadership challenge against McConnell, sided with Trump. Scott publicly rebuked McConnell over that “candidate quality” remark, much as McConnell had elbowed Scott over Scott’s plan to “rescue America.” Scott continued to heavily stump for those GOP candidates, flaws and all, and even still is arguing Walker will be a Republican leader “for years to come” following Walker’s failure Tuesday.

But there is no spinning this. Scott failed as Chair of the NRSC to lead Republicans to what, historically, should have been an easy win. Without any momentum from those election wins, he subsequently failed in his leadership challenge to McConnell.

Scott was, at times, seen as a sort of electoral magician in Florida, consistently pulling off tight wins cycle after cycle, netting him two terms as Governor and an upset win over former Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in 2018.

But far from “hitting the ground running to take back the Senate majority in 2022,” the only thing Scott hit this cycle was a brick wall regarding his political ambitions. He’s already cooling talk about a previously rumored presidential run in 2024, saying this week he is “focused on the Senate.”

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


Honorable mention: Florida revenue machine. Florida’s most recent revenue report landed about $141 million above projections, continuing a trend of Florida’s revenue collection landing above estimates.

The most recent report, stemming from September’s economic yield, is notable as it includes a portion of the impact of Hurricane Ian.

That monster storm landed on Sept. 28, and much of its devastation reached into October and was not reflected in this report. But analysts say the newest report did register a $67 million dip in September revenue due to the storm. Even with that missing chunk, Florida still ended stronger than expected, collecting $3.23 billion overall.

Experts have cautioned that much of this excess cash is driven by the spike in inflation, so things are sure to cool once the market-wide inflation does. But with Ian causing so much pain and destruction, officials will be grateful the state is still coming out healthier than expected.

Almost (but not quite) biggest winner: Alex Rizo. Rizo, who also serves as a state Representative, is now Chair of the Miami-Dade County Miami-Dade County Republican Party as the GOP strengthens its grip on what was a reliably blue county.

Republicans overperformed in Miami-Dade in 2020, helping hand the state to Donald Trump. Trump lost by just 7 points in the county after losing by 16 in 2016. But in 2022, Republicans built on that by actually winning the county — easily. Gov. Ron DeSantis won by 11 points, while U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio took the county by 10 points.

That’s a massive shift in just 6 years. And with much of the hard work done, Rizo will now take over hoping to continue the GOP’s success there.

One obvious driver is Republican gains among Hispanic voters, and Rizo will look to help the party continue that trend. Rizo is being handed the keys here to a seemingly now well-oiled machine that’s been fully assembled and now supercharged. He just needs to make sure not to crash it.

The biggest winner: Kat Cammack, Carlos Giménez, Michael Waltz. These three lawmakers were the only Republican members of Florida’s congressional delegation to vote in favor of federal protections for same-sex and interracial couples.

The Respect for Marriage Act repeals the Defense of Marriage Act, and states that the federal government will recognize valid same-sex marriage licenses. The measure also requires states to recognize gay marriage licenses issued in other states.

The legislation still allows states to eliminate gay marriage if, and only if, the Supreme Court were to ever overturn its previous ruling in Obergefell, which Justice Clarence Thomas pushed for in his Dobbs dissent. But Democrats took what they could get from a cohort of moderate Republicans during this lame duck session, and moved forward with a more limited bill.

Cammack, Giménez and Waltz stand out for recognizing the bill is simply trying to normalize legal protections for all Americans regardless of sexual orientation.

Everyone is entitled to their own religious views. And requiring private action regarding same-sex marriages — such as in the Colorado bakery case or the current case in front of SCOTUS regarding a graphic designer who is declining to make websites for gay couples due to her beliefs — is certainly legally trickier and may come down the other way.

But benefits and rights conferred by the government should be issued equally, and Cammack, Giménez and Waltz deserve credit for stepping away from the culture war and recognizing the humanity in their fellow Americans by approving this legislation.


Dishonorable mention: Mary O’Connor, Jane Castor. Normally, a run-in with the law and subsequent resignation would land you the “biggest loser” spot on this list. But boy, you need to buckle up this week.

Let’s start with now-former Tampa Police Chief O’Connor. O’Connor and her husband were pulled over by Pinellas County Sheriff’s Deputy Larry Jacoby while driving a golf cart without a proper tag. During the exchange, O’Connor asked if Jacoby’s body cam was on, and was told it was.

She then made the severe mistake of continuing to speak, identifying herself as the Tampa Police Chief and asking to be relieved of any citation.

“I’m hoping you’ll just let us go tonight,” she said.

He did. And now, Castor has let her go as the city’s Police Chief, despite O’Connor’s later attempt to offer to pay any citation. Castor accepted O’Connor’s resignation Monday.

So why does Castor share a spot here? Well, she was heavily criticized from the get-go for appointing O’Connor to the position. That’s because in 1995, O’Connor was charged with battery on a Hillsborough Sheriff’s deputy during a DUI arrest. Critics argued she never deserved a shot at the Police Chief role, but Castor stuck by her decision.

Fast forward less than 8 months, and she’s already out. Castor, who formerly served in the role herself, should make sure to take her time and be confident the next person she selects for the job has the qualifications — and ethics — to lead the department.

Almost (but not quite) biggest loser: David Rivera. Rivera has been under the gun ever since reports emerged that Rivera’s consulting firm agreed to a $50 million contract with a Venezuelan-controlled oil company, and Rivera reportedly did not register as a foreign agent.

Now, the disgraced ex-Congressman has been indicted and arrested. An eight-count indictment alleges that Rivera sought to lobby the Trump administration on behalf of Venezuela, attempting to set up a meeting between allies of Trump and Nicolás Maduro.

Rivera also met with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio — a longtime friend — regarding Rivera’s efforts to calm tensions between Venezuela and the U.S. Though Rubio confirmed that meeting, the Senator said he was not aware of Rivera’s contract and did not agree to pushing for any normalization of relations between the two nations.

The indictment will greatly hurt Rivera’s chances to botch another political comeback.

So Rivera could face prison time. That’s certainly more serious than O’Connor, who only faced a traffic citation. O’Connor did have to resign her position, though, which was not the case for Rivera. But Rivera has it a bit worse, considering the charges.

Now facing criminal charges and being forced to resign in a single week, that would be something.

The biggest loser: Joe Harding. Try a single day. On Wednesday, news broke that Harding was being indicted over allegations of wire fraud, money laundering and making false statements. Those claims were connected to Harding fraudulently obtaining COVID-19-related small business loans from the Small Business Administration by using names of dormant businesses.

Later Wednesday, Harding vowed to fight the charges. “I pleaded not guilty to federal charges that state I improperly obtained and used an EIDL loan issued by the Small Business Administration. I want the public and my constituents to know that I fully repaid the loan and cooperated with investigators as requested,” Harding said.

Following the announcement, House Speaker Paul Renner removed Harding from all committee assignments.

By Thursday, Harding announced he was resigning from the House.

“To my many colleagues that have reached out to me, including many I have deep policy disagreements with, thank you. It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve alongside you for the past two years,” Harding said.

“There will be a time when I can tell my story in detail, and I will,” he added. “For now, let me reassure my constituents and the taxpayers that I repaid every penny of the loan I obtained, and I have done my best to cooperate fully with all authorities.”

Harding, who has since deleted his Twitter account, called to “release the dogs” in response to a report that Planned Parenthood affiliates improperly obtained COVID-19 stimulus funds.

Accusing a political enemy of doing something that you too are allegedly doing is really rich, almost as rich as a state Representative illegally jacking loans from the federal government.

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].


  • Joe Corsin

    December 11, 2022 at 8:14 am

    Loser Fake Tom legendary Rubio canvasser.

    • Tom

      December 11, 2022 at 5:06 pm

      Clueless Joey corsin, u are destroyed.
      Just like Rubio’s 57% destroyed Dum Dum Dumings, easily. LMAO.

  • Leonard

    December 11, 2022 at 8:29 am

    Rubio is not going to be able to brush this off so easily. Rivera isn’t “a long time friend” of Rubio’s—–Rivera is Rubio’s BEST friend..maybe is only friend. They have been attached at the hip since the early 80s. They bought a house together and were roommates in Tallahassee. Thanks to Rivera’s “heavy handed” tactics Rubio was able to become Speaker of the House in Florida. Rivera has been profiting off of his close relationship with Rubio for years. The only thing that may save Rubio is that Rivera is the kind of guy that will take the fall with the expectation of being taken care of when he gets out of prison.

    • Ocean Joe

      December 11, 2022 at 9:32 am

      Rubio will be fine because Florida voters really dont care. But the next time he savages Biden over communicating with the Venezuelan government, he should be reminded it appears he was facilitating Rivera’s (the dirtiest guy in American politics) access to the president (Trump?) to communicate on that same government’s behalf.

      To expect a consistent position from Rubio would be foolish.

Comments are closed.


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