Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 1.1.23

Byron Donalds saw his stature rise this week during a contentious Speaker vote, while Matt Gaetz failed in blocking Kevin McCarthy's bid.

Everyone take a deep breath, we finally have a House Speaker.

After a week of collectively trying to figure out what the hell is going on, McCarthy finally secured the votes needed — with the help of 19 members of Florida’s delegation — in a late Friday session that ran past midnight.

Much will be written about the chaos looking back, as well where all the concessions McCarthy gave away to secure the role leaves him going forward, but it’s worth spotlighting just how big a role Florida’s delegation played in what just transpired on the House floor this week.

Of course, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz generated plenty of headlines (more on him later). Gaetz was a leading Republican rebel looking to deny McCarthy the Speakership. Early in the week, he pitched U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio as a McCarthy alternative. Later, he threw a Hail Mary and nominated Donald Trump. And of course there was that dramatic Friday night twist. Throughout it all, Gaetz was at the forefront.

Byron Donalds also earned plenty of namechecks, as he was the Representative nominated most as a McCarthy alternative.

Several delegation members also gave nominating speeches. U.S. Reps. Kat Cammack and Brian Mast both had opportunities to nominate McCarthy. Freshman U.S. Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, meanwhile, remained anti-McCarthy early on and was one of several members to put Donalds’ name forward.

And as McCarthy backers repeatedly hammered the GOP insurgents who stalled the Speaker vote throughout the week, U.S. Reps. Scott Franklin, Cory Mills, John Rutherford and Michael Waltz were all vocal in their disdain for the minority of Republicans holding up McCarthy’s bid.

It seemed wherever you turned, pro- or anti-McCarthy, you could find a member of Florida’s delegation in the thick of things. And as the 118th Congress moves forward the next two years, that will likely not change, especially with all of the power McCarthy gave away just to grab the gavel.

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


Honorable mention: Spencer Roach. Ok, maybe being forced to have an emergency appendectomy is everyone’s idea of a “winning” week. But Rep. Roach, a North Fort Myers Republican, is on his way to recovery, and is expressing gratitude that he got help before further complications arose.

“I am SO glad I called when I did,” Roach told Florida Politics.

On Tuesday, emergency responders rushed Roach to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital (TMH) to undergo the procedure after Roach flew in to Tallahassee for Gov. Ron DeSantis’ inauguration and the first committee meetings ahead of this year’s Regular Session.

After a flight delay from South Florida caused Roach to miss a connecting flight, he eventually got placed on another flight from Atlanta, which had to turn around due to weather. It was then he began experiencing symptoms. And by the time he made a second flight attempt to Tallahassee, he needed assistance to get off the plane.

“It was like a hot bowling ball in my stomach trying to get out,” Roach explained.

Roach didn’t make it to the inauguration. And Roach, the Chair of the House Constitutional Rights, Rule of Law & Government Operations Subcommittee, missed work with that committee as well. But thanks to the care at TMH and the willingness to seek help, the Representative will be okay after having his appendix removed.

Almost (but not quite) biggest winner: Dane Eagle. After exiting the DeSantis administration just ahead of a new, more strict lobbying ban, Eagle has landed at government affairs firm Ballard Partners.

Eagle was one of the most sought after assets by lobbying firms. The former Department of Economic Opportunity Secretary says he is looking forward to bringing his talents to Ballard.

“I am honored to become a part of the exceptional team of professionals at Ballard Partners. I look forward to establishing a strong presence in Tallahassee and am particularly excited to help the firm expand into the fast-growing Southwest Florida area,” Eagle said.

“Dane’s experience as a state legislator and as Governor DeSantis’ top economic development official will make him an invaluable member of our firm,” added Brian Ballard, the President and founder of Ballard Partners. “We are delighted to have Dane bring his extensive experience to serve the firm’s clients in Tallahassee and also open our new office in Fort Myers to serve Southwest Florida.”

Eagle, a Cape Coral Republican, served four terms in the House and worked as a commercial real estate broker in the private sector.

The biggest winner: Donalds. He didn’t become Speaker, but Donalds didn’t enter this week with his eye on the gavel. But as the GOP holdouts stretched to land on a consensus alternative, Donalds emerged as a recurring nominee, getting his name into the national conversation in a way it hadn’t been before.

That’s good news for Donalds, who reportedly has his eye on a possible run for Governor or other Cabinet position in 2026.

Donalds netted the most overall protest votes after originally backing McCarthy on the first two ballots. He was also the only Representative to switch his vote from McCarthy to another named candidate, though he eventually moved back to McCarthy later in the week after the now-Speaker beefed up his offer to the opposition crowd.

Donalds’ camp was reportedly surprised by him earning a vote on Day One, despite not even yet being a nominee. But his ability to secure a consensus — albeit a small one — among the rebel faction shows he could have appeal in a potential open Republican Primary in 2026.


Dishonorable mention: Gregory Tony. Broward County Commissioners are beginning the process to drop the Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO) from operating the region’s 911 communication system.

The move comes after Commissioners confronted Sheriff Tony in November over reports BSO was suffering from a shortage of 911 dispatchers. Commissioner Steven Geller said the panel only learned about the shortage from media reports, rather than from the Sheriff’s Office.

“The sheriff never told us that — obviously that caused an immediate uproar,” Geller said, according to WPLG Local 10 News.

After that episode, Tony declined to sign a three-year extension with the county. As a result, Commissioners decided to move on and assign an independent agency to monitor those calls. Commissioners have now scheduled a meeting for Tuesday, where they are expected to weigh options on how to proceed.

It’s the latest snafu Tony has dealt with as Sheriff. In June, a state panel found probable cause Tony should have his law enforcement accreditation revoked after Tony failed to disclose the fact that he shot and killed someone when he was 14. A Florida Department of Law Enforcement report found Tony lied about the incident, as well as other past transgressions.

It remains to be seen how the fallout from the 911 delays will affect Tony’s prospects to remain on as Sheriff. Gov. DeSantis has the authority to suspend a Sheriff and name a replacement — indeed, that’s how Tony secured the job in the first place. But he just won re-election to the position in 2020, giving him two more years in his term.

Almost (but not quite) biggest loser: Joe Ladapo. Surgeon General Ladapo, who also doubles as a professor of medicine at the University of Florida (UF), is getting jabbed by his UF colleagues over Ladapo’s recommendation that young men should stay away from mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.

Ladapo cited research last fall to recommend that healthy men under 40 stay away from the shot, citing an “abnormally high risk of cardiac-related death,” according to the data.

But a UF task force is taking Ladapo to task for using faulty research in coming to those conclusions, according to The Washington Post.

The report comes from a UF College of Medicine Faculty Council task force, and argued that Ladapo advancing the information by using poorly done research may have violated the university’s research integrity policy.

Among the critiques: researchers did not prove that deaths referenced in the report were caused by cardiac events; the cited research had no named authors nor their credentials; and it failed to consider the potential benefits of the vaccine when compared to the risks. Those flaws are all, needless to say, frowned upon in the research community.

But because the guidance was issued as part of Ladapo’s role as Surgeon General — and not as part of his direct work for UF — the university declined to sanction Ladapo.

“As this work was done by the Dr. Joseph Ladapo in his role as the state of Florida Surgeon General and not in his role as a UF faculty member, the UF Office of Research Integrity, Security and Compliance has no standing to consider the allegations or concerns regarding research integrity set forth in the Faculty Council task force report,” said David Norton, the university’s vice president for research, in a statement to the Post.

The biggest loser: Gaetz. He came for the king, and he missed.

After leading the charge against McCarthy, Gaetz finally caved late Friday and voted “present” alongside a handful of remaining rebels. While that wasn’t an affirmative vote for McCarthy, those “present” votes lowered the threshold McCarthy needed to become Speaker, as a winner must only secure a majority of votes cast for an individual. With Gaetz and company backing down, McCarthy was able to win on the 15th ballot.

And Gaetz can surely talk about all of the concessions he and his cohorts secured from McCarthy, which are substantial.

But while several McCarthy opponents were primarily interested in reform, Gaetz’s own comments throughout this process showed his top concern was keeping McCarthy out of the position.

“He’s a desperate guy whose vote share is dropping with every subsequent vote, and I’m ready to vote all night, all week, all month, and never for that person,” Gaetz said Wednesday, just two days before throwing in the towel.

“If you want to drain the swamp, you cannot put the biggest alligator in charge of the exercise,” Gaetz also said, referring to McCarthy. “I’m a Florida man and I know of what I speak.”

And even as Gaetz tried to celebrate the reforms agreed to by McCarthy, most of his argument in opposing the now-Speaker has been that McCarthy can’t be trusted.

“In the case of Kevin McCarthy and the Republican conference, this is no no fault divorce. There are things Kevin McCarthy did to erode the trust of the members he needs to vote for him if he wants to be speaker,” Gaetz argued.

With McCarthy now in the role — albeit a weakened one — Gaetz will attempt to claim victory. And perhaps a new rule allowing just a single member to call for a vote on removing McCarthy as Speaker will allow Gaetz or another detractor to make another run at putting someone else in that position.

But the fact is, Gaetz stampeded into the House this week with one goal in mind, and he failed. That’s not to mention forcing GOP Rep. Wesley Hunt of Texas to return to Washington after his wife gave birth prematurely to their new son, or delaying the procedure so many times that most families had returned home and missed their loved ones’ swearing in.

All that for nothing, except for some camera time. And if that’s what all of this was about in the first place, will the base listen next time Gaetz tries to make a “principled” stand against the “establishment”? Should they?

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].

One comment

  • Hope

    January 8, 2023 at 9:01 am

    Biggest winner: Trump and America! Trump’s intervention and phone calls in the final moments changed votes to ” Present” securing the win for McCarthy. Ding, dong the wicked witch is gone!

    No losers this week.

Comments are closed.


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