Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 2.19.23

Richard Corcoran officially got his New College gig. But Andrea Mitchell straight up whiffed in describing the Governor's position on teaching about slavery.

There are countless examples to illustrate the ever-changing winds of the political scene.

Remember how Sean Hannity and the rest of Fox News were among the biggest boosters of the Iraq War, even questioning the patriotism of the war’s critics? Yeah, the prime time hosts are totally anti-war now.

And, of course, in times past you could count the seasons the same way you could count which party Charlie Crist belonged to.

This week gave another example, as Gov. Ron DeSantis revealed a new plan to curb illegal immigration in Florida, but seeking to repeal legislation letting undocumented migrants receive in-state rates for university tuition.

That bill was passed by Republicans less than nine years ago, and was sponsored by … oh my, his own Lieutenant Governor.

That’s right, then-Rep. Jeanette Nuñez fronted that bill, which was signed by DeSantis’ predecessor, Rick Scott. Now, Nuñez is serving in an administration seeking to undo that very law.

And it’s not that the whole party has changed. Scott, the former Governor now serving as a U.S. Senator, had this to say upon hearing DeSantis’ push to repeal the law.

“When I think about that bill I think about little two, or five year-old girls. They were brought here, they didn’t come here on their own volition,” Scott said.

“They lived in this country. They went to school. Maybe they were an honor roll student, and maybe they tried to get Bright Futures with the belief that they could go to one of our great universities in the state. So for them we cannot put this thing out of reach for them to live their dream.

“It was a bill I was proud to sign, I believe in it. I believe these individuals ought to have the opportunity to live the dream of this country. It’s a bill I would sign again today.”

But with DeSantis in serious contention to lead the Republican ticket in 2024, it seems the political winds are blowing in his favor on this one. The times, they are a-changin’.

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


Honorable mention: Tom Leek. Leek moved closer to locking up a Senate seat this week, when outgoing Sen. Travis Hutson announced he was endorsing Leek as his preferred successor.

“I am pleased to endorse my friend Tom Leek to continue to represent our communities in the Florida Senate, District 7,” Hutson said. “Tom is a trusted conservative, an accomplished Republican leader and public servant and I look forward to campaigning on his behalf, and becoming his constituent next year.”

So far, Leek is the only candidate to file in the race to succeed Hutson, which isn’t until 2024. And while other names could still emerge before Election Day, Hutson’s backing could help clear out any serious challenger on the Republican side.

And no Democrat or third-party candidate even bothered filing for the contest last cycle, as Hutson secured the seat after winning a Primary battle.

Hutson is facing term limits after winning a two-year term, following the redistricting process, in 2022. And it’s clear Leek was grateful for earning a stamp of approval from the outgoing Senator this past week.

“I am honored to have the endorsement of my friend Travis Hutson. Travis is departing this Senate seat due to term limits, and his constituents know Travis as a steadfast conservative who gives his all for the community and works every day to better their lives,” Leek said.

“He’s fought the good fight, and I am certain will continue to do so in the next chapter of his life. There is much we can learn from the generosity, kindness, and selflessness of Travis Hutson, and I am grateful for his endorsement and pledge to continue commonsense conservative service to the people of the 7th Senate District.”

Almost (but not quite) biggest winner: Christian Ziegler. Ziegler is taking over the Republican Party of Florida after winning a hard-fought contest over Evan Power, who the party chose to serve as Ziegler’s Vice Chair.

Ziegler is being elevated to the role after serving as RPOF Vice Chair under outgoing Chair Joe Gruters. He’ll serve a two-year term, which covers 2024. That cycle could see two prominent Floridians battling on the ballot to become President: Gov. DeSantis and former President Donald Trump.

There’s already been some juggling for credit following Ziegler’s win. Trump’s team tried to position this as a victory for them.

“Chair races across the country are and should be important for people running for President,” a consultant familiar with the Trump team’s thinking told POLITICO. “To that extent, the more Trump candidate won today. That means the Trump campaign is likely pleased with the outcome.”

Other state Republicans expressed similar thoughts to the outlet.

Nevertheless, DeSantis congratulated Ziegler and Power on Twitter, and it’s not clear that Ziegler would outwardly give support to Trump if he were to face off against DeSantis in a Primary.

But the tussling shows the power the RPOF Chair will have the next two years, as well as Florida’s place in the country’s current political battlefield. With the GOP coming off a historic win in 2022, Ziegler will be a significant figure for the party at a significant moment for the state and nation.

The biggest winner: Richard Corcoran. It’s a done deal. The Florida Board of Governors this week approved Corcoran as Interim President at the New College of Florida — mammoth contract and all.

He’ll pull in a $699,000 salary, plus $84,000 per year for housing and a $12,000 annual car allowance.

The move cements Gov. DeSantis’ takeover of New College, which involved filling the board of trustees with allies as well.

“This is a great opportunity for the college,” said Trustee Matt Spalding, one of those DeSantis appointees, regarding Corcoran’s approval. “I think to have a Richard Corcoran willing to do this is great for the school.”

So, will Corcoran be able to deliver the Governor’s dream of turning the traditionally liberal college into a more conservative “Hillsdale College of the South”? Well, Spalding himself is a Hillsdale dean, and the state has floated funding to help with the New College transition.

For now, Corcoran has pushed through controversy surrounding the reform process, including questions about his own salary. The former House Speaker and Education Commissioner is set to fulfill a goal of leading a university, one shot down previously after Corcoran applied to lead Florida State University.


Dishonorable mention: Lauren Book. Book had to walk back with a tucked tail after outcry over a provision she proposed banning drivers from letting a dog stick its head outside a car window.

The provision — part of a much larger animal safety bill filled with less controversial regulations — had many wanting to swat the bill with a bundled up newspaper, despite its aim at keeping those animals safe.

First, the Senate Democratic Leader put out a statement responding to some of the criticism, noting she was willing to be flexible on that rule while keeping the spirit of the full bill intact.

“Our family has three dogs — two of which are 150 pounds each and love sticking their heads out the window — so I welcome and appreciate all public comment on this issue, which is only one piece of a complete proposed overhaul of the state’s animal welfare system as brought to me by veterinarians and advocates,” Book said.

“We can easily amend this piece out of the bill while protecting the intent of the animal welfare community and vets who proposed the policy because of unintended injuries they’ve treated — and we will. In the meantime, let’s all invest in a good pair of “doggles” to keep our furry friends safe.”

Eventually, Book confirmed that provision would be dropped from the animal safety bill.

“The public has spoken,” said Claire VanSusteren, a Book spokeswoman. “She’s heard from folks who feel really strongly about this. This is not something that Floridians want.”

To be fair to Book, other provisions of the measure, such as a ban on declawing cats, creating an animal abuse registry and other provisions aimed at keeping our furry friends safe are widely agreed upon by animal advocates and owners alike. It’s still possible those could move forward in the upcoming Legislative Session, beginning next month.

But the Senate Democratic Leader definitely felt the displeasure from many doggo owners, who want their good boys to be able to lap up the breeze during a drive. At least she was willing to adjust to criticism quickly. The next step was Floridians loudly shaking a jar of coins.

Almost (but not quite) biggest loser: DeSantis. DeSantis had some wins this week, with Corcoran being installed as Interim President of New College and a lawsuit against the Governor over last year’s migrant flight stunt being dismissed.

But the Governor also made several comments this week deserving of a double take.

During one appearance, DeSantis dug in his heels on his push to adjust defamation law in the U.S. — or at least in Florida. DeSantis said he hadn’t reviewed a recently filed House bill to lower the standard for defamation. But he did take time at a Jacksonville stop to talk defamation law and renew his battle with the media, arguing that the high bar for defamation has let media members get away with falsehoods.

“The good news about it is, I think because of the lack of guardrails on some of this stuff, in terms of being able to do private suits, the standard has gotten lower and lower. The preparation has gotten worse. Fact-checking has gotten worse. All that stuff,” DeSantis said.

“But what it’s done is it’s created a situation where the vast majority of the people know that this is an agenda that’s trying to be imposed on them. They know these are narratives, and so they don’t typically believe it anymore. And I think that a lot of those outlets only have themselves to blame.”

Now, you can keep reading for an example of what we think DeSantis is talking about. Certainly, if an outlet repeatedly detonates its credibility, readers and viewers should adjust.

But “the vast majority of the people know that this is an agenda that’s trying to be imposed on them”? That’s the type of talk that unfairly smears all (non-right-wing) media just because some knucklehead spouted off and said something dumb.

Other nations handle defamation law differently than the U.S., so our current standard is not the end-all, be-all. But DeSantis isn’t exactly an unbiased arbiter here. While he rightly identified that “the media ecosystem was way, way different than it is now,” referencing the time New York Times v. Sullivan was decided, that same ecosystem exists on the Right as well.

And as conservatives have slowly cooked up a distrust of mainstream media over the years, DeSantis’ warning sounds less like a lifeboat to those concerned about defamation and more like a warning shot to media members.

(Not to mention the fact that it is going to take some legal needle-threading expertise to do anything at the state level to actually significantly affect what is currently a federal standard).

In addition, DeSantis also seemed to put out an olive branch to the isolationist wing of his party by downplaying the threat of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“I think it’s important to point out the fear of Russia going into NATO countries and all that and steamrolling, you know, that has not even come close to happening. I think they’ve shown themselves to be a third-rate military power. I think they’ve suffered tremendous, tremendous losses,” he said. “I don’t think they’re on the same level as a China.”

That’s despite the fact that Finland and other nations continue to warn of Vladimir Putin’s threat should Ukraine fall. DeSantis seems to be reflexively placing himself in the “oppose Joe Biden at all costs” camp, even if that means downplaying the actions of a man Republicans used to consider a threat.

As for China, even members of his own party have made the case that standing up to Russia here can cause China to think twice about messing with Taiwan.

But perhaps it’s what DeSantis hasn’t said that could be the most costly. He’s still refusing to directly engage with former President Trump, even as Trump keeps slinging mud his way.

DeSantis can throw all the red meat he wants to his base, even if it degrades protections of the media or questions America’s standing to support democracies against invasion. But if he doesn’t get up the nerve to start taking on Trump, he’s going to cede the floor to Trump to frame DeSantis however he wants.

Is the plan to let that happen for months until DeSantis formally declares? There are a few Republicans from the 2016 contest DeSantis can ask about how that will work out.

The biggest loser: Andrea Mitchell. While DeSantis didn’t do himself many favors this week, he got a major in-kind contribution from MSNBC when Mitchell, a veteran new host, misled viewers about the Governor’s policy when it comes to teaching slavery in schools.

Democrats have harshly criticized the Governor for his push to more tightly control school curricula, including raising issue with an AP African American History course — which was later changed to address the Governor’s concerns — and a desire to remove what the Governor’s team has called “woke indoctrination” from the state’s schools.

We’ve criticized the state’s regulations at times in this area as too broad, such as with the Parental Rights in Education bill, leading to confusion at the local level as to what is and isn’t allowed. But we’ve also noted that many Democrats’ complaints about these proposed changes are so overblown as to drown out any legitimate issues with the state’s guidance.

Enter MSNBC’s Mitchell, who landed squarely in the latter camp during an interview with Vice President Kamala Harris. Teeing up Harris to criticize the Governor, Mitchell posed this question:

“Let me ask you, what does Gov. Ron DeSantis not know about Black history and the Black experience when he says that slavery and the aftermath of slavery should not be taught to Florida schoolchildren?”


Nowhere has DeSantis ever said that “slavery should not be taught to Florida schoolchildren.” Many don’t like how much control the Governor is gathering over the state’s schools. But he’s not telling teachers not to teach slavery. That’s straight up fake news.

Mitchell’s question earned swift pushback from the Governor’s team.

“Shameful. This question … exemplifies everything wrong with corporate media,” said DeSantis Press Secretary Bryan Griffin.

“(The Governor) never said this, and FL has extensive black history requirements,” he correctly noted.

Well, the blowback reached Mitchell eventually. She attempted to apologize for getting it completely wrong, but used a “some people say” framing to, essentially, argue she was kind of still right.

“In my interview last Friday with Vice President Harris, I was imprecise in summarizing Governor DeSantis’ position about teaching slavery in schools,” Mitchell said.

“Governor DeSantis is not opposed to teaching the fact of slavery in schools, but he has opposed the teaching of an African American studies curriculum as well as the use of some authors and source materials that historians and teachers say makes it all but impossible for students to understand the broader historic and political context behind slavery and its aftermath in the years since.”

That only led to more condemnation from Team DeSantis.

The more liberals cry wolf over the Governor, the more they burn their own credibility and empower him among conservatives, and allow the Governor to push heavy-handed changes, like trying to rewrite defamation law. Mitchell was the epitome of the problem this week.

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

  • MJane Mx

    February 26, 2023 at 10:35 am

    Lauren Book is a perennial loser. She’s the Cleveland Browns of the FloriDUH Senate.

Comments are closed.


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