Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 1.29.23

Richard Corcoran is getting his college President job, but Rick Scott just lost a big committee assignment in the Senate.

I know the calendar changed to 2023 not too long ago, but I hope you’ll forgive me for delving further into 2024 election drama after the week we just had.

Former President Donald Trump had his sights set on Gov. Ron DeSantis like he has never before. And Trump even earned a rebuke from the Governor, though DeSantis refused to call him by his name.

With Trump holding his first official campaign events last weekend, the former President sought to ratchet up the assault on DeSantis, seen by many as his main rival for the 2024 Republican nomination.

News began bubbling up that the Trump camp would hone in on DeSantis’ embrace of the vaccines and push to close the state in the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s going to be a fine needle to thread given that the vaccines were created under the Trump administration, Trump himself advocated for early shutdowns, and Florida was one of the first states to open up in a big way.

Then came more news about DeSantis making behind-the-scenes moves to mount a 2024 bid. Queue the additional tirades from Trump.

Trump dubbed DeSantis a “globalist,” along with the conservative-leaning Club for Growth. He tried linking DeSantis to former Gov. Jeb Bush, who Trump famously vanquished in the 2016 Primary. And Trump got a pair of polls favorable to him, as he and DeSantis seem to ping-pong atop the leaderboard for the GOP nomination.

That finally triggered a response from the Governor, who so far has largely declined to dip into the mud with Trump.

When asked at a news conference if he had any response to Trump, DeSantis responded but declined to name the former President.

“What I would just say is this. I roll out of bed, I have people attacking me from all angles. It’s been happening for many, many years,” DeSantis said.

“If you take a crisis situation like COVID, the good thing is that if you’re an elected executive, you have to make all kinds of decisions. You’ve got to steer that ship. And the good thing is, the people are able to render a judgment on that, whether they re-elect you or not.”

DeSantis then pointed to the scoreboard from this past November.

“I’m happy to say that, you know, in my case, not only did we win re-election, we won with the highest percentage of the vote that any Republican Governor candidate has in the history of the state of Florida,” DeSantis added. “That verdict has been rendered by the people of the state of Florida.”

And that admittedly strong response caused Trump to shift focus, and concentrate on issuing detailed policy proposals and taking the high road … just kidding. He took another shot at the Governor, saying DeSantis had “tears” in his eyes while begging for Trump’s endorsement in 2018.

It’s almost certain that bit about “tears” is a classic Trump invention meant to emasculate his opponents. But the underlying point does have a lot of truth to it. Perhaps “begging” is a bit strong, but Trump’s endorsement did clearly put DeSantis over the top, at least in the Primary, as the then-Congressman shot up in the polls and downed former Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Trump’s full frontal assault on DeSantis has turned off some prior supporters. But with Trump reportedly experiencing fundraising difficulties, he’s clearly trying to make a play to stop the DeSantis machine before it gets started. And in a crowded Primary, knocking DeSantis down just a bit could allow Trump to hold on to his loyal share of followers and seize the nomination once again.

DeSantis may have other ideas, however, and he’s got a historic win in 2022 to point to. This was the first week of sustained back-and-forth we saw between the two. But it likely will not be the last.

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


Honorable mention: Paul Renner. The hits keep on coming for the new House Speaker.

Renner is delivering on a promise to allow Floridians to carry a concealed weapon without receiving a permit from the state. With Renner’s backing, Rep. Chuck Brannan introduced legislation (HB 543) that would see Florida join more than two dozen other states with some form of permitless carry.

“What we’re about here today is a universal right that applies to each and every man and woman regardless of race, gender or background,” Renner said.

A Senate bill has yet to be filed. But with Republicans holding supermajorities in both chambers, it seems this could finally be the year this type of measure passes.

The move has, of course, earned criticism from Democrats. “This is not constitutional carry, this is untrained carry,” said Rep. Christine Hunschofsky, a Democrat who served as Parkland Mayor during the 2018 attack at Stoneman Douglas High School. “There is not a groundswell (among residents) to remove training for those who wish to concealed carry.”

But regardless, Republicans are in complete control following their romp last cycle, so this is their show. And following up on Renner’s push for school choice (HB 1), Renner is showing that he’s delivering on promises conservative lawmakers have made to voters.

Almost (but not quite) biggest winner: DeSantis. The Governor got a win in his culture war offensive, after the College Board revised an African American studies course that Florida had rejected due to its “woke indoctrination masquerading as education,” as Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. put it.

Topics cut from the curriculum — set to take effect for the 2024-25 school year — include sections on Black queer studies, intersectionality and Black feminism.

College Board CEO David Coleman explained that underrepresented groups and challenging topics would remain in the course.

“No one is excluded from this course: the Black artists and inventors whose achievements have come to light; the Black women and men, including gay Americans, who played pivotal roles in the Civil Rights movements; and people of faith from all backgrounds who contributed to the antislavery and Civil Rights causes. Everyone is seen,” Coleman said.

I’ve written before about how DeSantis is, quite obviously, playing up culture war issues to raise his profile ahead of an eventual presidential run. His outsized focus on these issues may line up with the amount of airplay they get on Fox News and other right-leaning outlets, but they’re not in line with how much they are actually impacting Floridians’ lives.

But it’s also clear that DeSantis has a lane to do so, in part, because more left-leaning pundits and elected officials are, at times, drastically overreacting to DeSantis’ decisions.

“We believe in teaching kids facts and how to think, but we don’t believe they should have an agenda imposed on them when you try to use Black history to shoehorn in queer theory, you are clearly trying to use that for political purposes,” DeSantis has said.

House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell argued the move “sends a clear message that Black Americans’ history does not count in Florida.” Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan argued the move is evidence of DeSantis’ “White nationalist agenda.”

But the Governor is not blocking any teaching of Black history, and is not even pushing to stay away from any subject that’s uncomfortable. Rather, he’s targeting specific areas of this curriculum.

That doesn’t mean the Governor is immune from criticism here. If he’s so concerned with any indoctrination, why does he always seem to target his ire toward left-leaning ideologies, for instance? But that argument is more nuanced and harder to land. Instead, Democrats are insistent on using the most hyperbolic language possible to react to DeSantis at every turn, which likely only encourages more of these actions to, if nothing else, get a rise out of the opposition and keep his name in the headlines.

The biggest winner: Richard Corcoran. Congratulations to the (soon-to-be) new President of New College of Florida.

As DeSantis has further taken control of the New College board of trustees, the board voted this past week to fire President Patricia Okker. Enter Corcoran, the former Education Commissioner and a DeSantis ally.

The move likely locks in the Governor’s goal of transforming the liberal arts college into a “Hillsdale College of the South.” But the rapid upheaval of the university has led to pushback from students and faculty.

“We fully support President Okker as the leader we need to realize the vision we share with trustees, a future of the college’s innovative rigorous program, which is a model of free speech expression and critical inquiry,” said Chris Kottke, a math professor at the college, denouncing the move to fire Okker.

Sam Sharp, a transgender woman and part of New College Students for Academic Freedom, argued the college’s transformation will lead to changes harmful to the student body.

“We reject your attacks on LGBT students,” she argued. “We statistically perform better academically when we are in informing environments that allow us to thrive as our best selves. This is what New College offers to us.”

It will be up to Corcoran to steer the ship forward, but it’s a task he’s pursued before. Corcoran applied to lead Florida State University after the departure of John Thrasher, but ultimately lost out on the job. With the Governor’s reshaping of the New College board, however, Corcoran will likely be offered even more free rein here.


Dishonorable mention: LeAnna Cumber. Cumber, a Jacksonville City Council member and a contender in the 2023 mayoral race, is now facing a probe from the City Council over allegations she did not fully disclose her husband’s role in helping submit a privatization offer for JEA, Jacksonville’s utility company.

According to the Florida Times-Union, LeAnna Cumber’s husband, Husein Cumber, “assisted a private equity firm when it brought together a consortium of companies called JEA Public Power Partners that offered to pay a concession fee for the right to manage JEA while the utility remained city-owned.”

A follow-up report added that an “affiliate of a JEA PPP consortium member performed due diligence on potentially retaining Husein Cumber as a consultant but did not do so as there was a perceived or actual conflict.”

Republican Council member Nick Howland wants the investigation to look into whether Husein Cumber “was advising a potential buyer while the Council member herself (Leanna Cumber) was a seller.”

Cumber, a Republican, has messaged against fellow Republican contender and Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce CEO Daniel Davis, arguing Davis tried to privatize JEA. Her camp has now framed this latest call for an investigation as a political attack aimed at muddying the waters on that message.

Nevertheless, it’s not usually a great look in the eyes of the public when members of your own party are investigating you just ahead of a major election. And if the Council uncovers more to this story that punches a hole in Cumber’s current narrative, it could tip the scales further toward Davis or a Democratic contender.

Almost (but not quite) biggest loser: Sara Baxter. Baxter, a Republican, shocked the local political scene when she scored an upset win in a left-leaning Palm Beach County Commission district. Now, she’s shocking several of her fellow Commissioners with some questionable requests.

At issue are county rules requiring Commissioners to make certain purchases through approved vendors.

Baxter is arguing those rules are slowing up her ability to purchase items for her new office. She said, for instance, her office’s carpet is giving her migraine headaches, according to an account from the Palm Beach Post. She also wanted to use her own iPad to conduct county business, before being told she must use a county device.

Current Commissioners have pushed back on Baxter’s requests, arguing the current rules are in place to weed out corruption.

“They (these policies) keep us out of trouble,” said Commissioner Maria Marino, who, like Baxter, is a Republican. “I don’t want to see the Inspector General coming down hard on us. We are so beholden to our constituents. They pay for what we have.”

Commissioner Maria Sachs, a Democrat, called Baxter’s demands “unprofessional.”

Turns out, you cannot single-handedly reshape a county’s anti-corruption rules weeks after taking office simply because they are inconvenient for you.

“I did not realize that this discussion of my requests was going to cause such a strain,” Baxter reportedly said.

The biggest loser: Rick Scott. “You come at the king, you best not miss.”

We’re not sure Florida’s junior Senator has ever seen “The Wire,” or heard that famous quote from Omar Little. But while Scott came for the king when he challenged Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, he most definitely missed.

Now, McConnell has told Scott that he’s losing his position on the Senate Commerce Committee.

Oh yeah, and he reportedly told him via a text. The text message breakup is just adding insult to injury here.

Also gone from the Commerce Committee is U.S. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, who supported Scott’s insurgent bid against McConnell. McConnell won that challenge via a 37-10 vote.

Scott already got a “loser” designation for failing that initial challenge, but he deserves another for being on the receiving end of some unsurprising payback.

Scott, for his part, seems to acknowledge what happened here.

“This is what happens when you challenge leadership,” Scott said. “It was McConnell’s decision to remove someone who has actually run businesses and ran the third-largest state from a committee I’ve served on for four years. You’ll have to ask him why.”

Well, Senator, I think you know why. It’s been a string of whiffs for Scott recently, piloting the National Republican Senatorial Committee through a dreadfully disappointing 2022 cycle and bailing on a rumored 2024 presidential bid before it even started. Whatever his next big move may be, he may want to make sure he doesn’t miss.

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].


  • cassandra

    February 5, 2023 at 2:21 pm

    Richard Corcoran dropped out of UF, couldn’t get hired at Florida State University, and has no experience as an educator. He graduated from Pat Robertson’s Regent University. He is not qualified to be president of New College–or any college.

    Google Richard Corcoran and Regent University to see just how destructive this is.

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    February 5, 2023 at 10:23 pm

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  • Gregg Peterson

    February 6, 2023 at 7:28 am

    Rick Scott strikes me as a truly radical indifferent to the needs of Floridians, and immoral to boot. When Congress moves to cap Medicare Drug Costs at 2,000 dollars a year, it saves Medicare 300 billion dollars over 10 years. Rick Scott then states that Democrats stole 300 billion from Medicare. This is a blatant lie.

    I truly think he wants to reign in Social Security and Medicare fully knowing that Republican tax cuts for the wealthy from Bush to Trump have contributed massively to the Federal deficit.

    More lies about the 87 billion in funding to the IRS, designed mostly to go after high income tax cheats.

    Scott is one of the oligarchs who think they get to run the country to serve their needs: massive tax cuts, off shoring with impunity.

    It’s changed our country. Here on the Barrier Island in St Johns, from the Matanzas inlet to Crescent Beach, every square inch of land is being used to build homes that start at 2 million to build. Dozens have been built in the past three years and 20 more are under construction.

    There are many Republican Senators who a straight shooters. John Thune from North Dakota. But Rick Scott always lies.

  • Florida3

    February 8, 2023 at 12:07 pm

    what is even more ridiculous is how inflamed Rick Scott gets over anything…takes it totally personal and pouts like a little child. l live in Florida, for more than 60 years, Rick Scott nor Ron Desantis neither one is for out great state, Scott did everything to ruin it, his “Rescue” plan only serves to allow him another sneaky attempt to steal more Medicare money and to add more Republican insanity to ending social security, its heartbreaking a moron flame thrower like him even has supporters, praying to God, he and his sunsetting ideas get totally VOTED OUT, he should be in prison anyway !!!

  • fred sanford

    February 8, 2023 at 2:45 pm

    For the entire time Rick Scott has been a U.S. Senator, his auto response to e mails at his Senate address have said “Please contact your home state Senator”. I’ve used multiple zip codes, and always received the same response.
    He doesn’t care what his constituents think or want. No one in the media has ever mentioned it to my knowledge.

Comments are closed.


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