Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 4.9.23

Paul Renner continues to notch wins under his belt, but Webster Barnaby embarrassed himself and the state this week.

If Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to run for President this cycle, he might have an easier time if members of his home state congressional delegation stop endorsing one of his potential opponents.

This week, U.S. Rep. Cory Mills threw his weight behind former President Donald Trump, who is now a Floridian after fleeing New York (hmm, I wonder why). Mills joins U.S. Reps. Byron Donalds, Matt Gaetz and Anna Paulina Luna in backing former President Trump.

As for DeSantis’ endorsements from the delegation? Zero, zilch, nada.

That prompted an NBC News report detailing DeSantis’ efforts behind the scenes to stop members of Florida’s delegation from backing Trump so early.

Remember, DeSantis was the one who urged a highly aggressive (and possibly legally challenged) congressional map that ended with Republicans holding a 20-8 advantage in the House. Yet so far, there’s been no love for Florida’s Governor as he readies to possibly take on Trump.

Trump is certainly a wounded candidate as well, with numerous legal challenges ahead and some of his biggest online boosters backing away from the former President, arguing he’s lost his fastball.

But DeSantis’ continuous stumbles have some now openly opining that he may pass on a bid entirely. Polls have continued to swing away from the Governor as well, with Trump expanding his lead.

Now, it’s a bit ridiculous to think polls at this stage in the game are locked in. Just a few months ago, DeSantis was more than holding his own in surveys against Trump. Things could easily swing back the Governor’s way in a normal race. But again, Trump has a mountain of potential legal problems looming. Let’s not pretend to be shocked that something could happen to derail Trump’s candidacy.

That’s not a given, though, and DeSantis does need to work on ironing out the rough edges if he’s going to get in. He should start on doing so on his home turf.

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


Honorable mention: Keith Truenow. Rep. Truenow locked up an endorsement from Sen. Dennis Baxley as Truenow seeks to step up to the Senate by succeeding Baxley in Senate District 13.

There are three other Republicans running in the race, so it’s certainly not a done deal. But securing the endorsement of an outgoing Senator certainly helps his position.

“I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of serving the people of Florida with Keith Truenow these last four years, and I could not be prouder to endorse him for the District 13 seat I am about to term out of,” Baxley said in a statement endorsing Truenow.

“Keith is a true conservative and has been on the front lines of Florida’s fight with the blue state woke liberals. Whether it was helping pass permitless carry, removing layers of duplicative government, or backing the Governor — Florida is more free because of Keith Truenow.”

CJ Blancett, a retired investigator, and Bowen Kou, a grocery chain founder, are also running for the GOP nod. But pay special attention to Clermont City Councilman Ebo Entsuah, who worked under now-Gov. DeSantis in Congress. If the Governor gets behind Entsuah publicly, then we’ll have a serious battle on our hands in SD 13.

Almost (but not quite) the biggest winner: Paul Renner. Speaker Renner has been featured here several times recently as Republicans continue to rack up wins in the supermajority Legislature.

This week continued that trend, with Republicans passing a long-desired six-week abortion ban on Thursday. Gov. DeSantis swiftly signed the measure later that night, allowing Renner to take credit for getting the legislation through.

While that bill is getting plenty of attention, deservedly so, Renner also secured another major win late in the week when the House passed legislation expanding Florida KidCare to allow families that earn up to 300% of the federal poverty level to access the program. The current cap is 215%.

The Senate is advancing an identical measure, though it remains to be seen if both chambers will agree to fully funding the expansion. Still, this is one of Renner’s top priorities, and there is at least a strong indication that things are moving in the right direction.

On top of that, the House also gave the final OK to a bill allowing for a death penalty sentence without requiring a unanimous jury.

The issue arose after the Parkland shooter dodged the death penalty, as the jury could not agree on a punishment. The new measure, which will next head to Gov. DeSantis, would allow for the death penalty if eight of 12 jurors agree.

“In the most egregious case in Florida’s recent history where the vast majority of Floridians would agree the death penalty was in order — the Parkland killer — three jurors derailed the full administration of justice and the judge was forced to impose a sentence of life in prison,” Renner said.

“If we’re going to have a death penalty for the most heinous crimes, we should have a threshold that makes sense and a 2-1 majority is reasonable both to defendants and victims’ families.”

These and Renner’s other successes for conservative causes during this Session have started earning him national publicity as he works alongside Gov. DeSantis.

The Legislature’s work has largely been viewed through a lens of helping DeSantis secure wins ahead of a presumed 2024 presidential run, and Renner has certainly lived up to his side of the bargain.

The biggest winner: Anti-abortion advocates. As for that abortion bill, those in the pro-life movement got their wish, as the GOP-controlled Legislature approved one of the most strict abortion bills in the country.

The change comes just one year after Republicans passed legislation barring abortion after 15 weeks. The new restrictions will kick in as long as the legal wrangling surrounding last year’s bill ends with the courts upholding that law. That’s a likely outcome, given the conservative makeup of the courts.

This year’s version does have some exceptions. It allows abortions up to 15 weeks for victims of rape, incest or human trafficking — maintaining the standard in last year’s measure. If two doctors assess a woman is in danger due to a pregnancy, she will be permitted to have an abortion. Pregnant women who discover a “fetal abnormality” may also have an abortion during the first two trimesters.

Republicans sought to push for further restrictions after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade.

Some Republicans did vote “no” on the bill as it moved through the Legislature: Sens. Alexis Calatayud and Corey Simon, and Reps. Mike Caruso, Karen Gonzalez Pittman, Peggy Gossett-Seidman, Sam Killebrew, Chip LaMarca, Vicki Lopez and Rick Roth. Another Republican House member (more on him later) opted not to vote at all.

Many of those above names are in competitive seats, signaling both the controversial aspect of the bill as well as Republicans’ dominance in the Legislature. The party could easily let lawmakers vote against leadership here, and still pass the bill easily.

Passing this legislation with such a cushion shows how far the state has shifted to the right after it served as a razor thin battleground as recently as 2018.


Dishonorable mention: Joseph Ladapo. Much of Gov. DeSantis’ tenure has been framed as him pushing back against, as he sees it, incorrect mainstream narratives, positioning the Governor as a brave leader battling back against biases held by media members and Democrats in charge. That’s a narrative conservatives have grasped at for decades.

That framing led to DeSantis appointing Ladapo — who has long downplayed the severity of COVID-19 and stood as a vaccine skeptic — to serve as the state’s Surgeon General.

But Ladapo has also served as proof that rather than standing up to misguided bias, DeSantis, like many conservative crusaders before him, have plenty of their own biases leaking into their decision-making.

A Tampa Bay Times report this past week showed Ladapo left out data countering his conclusion in a report last fall that young men should avoid the COVID-19 vaccine.

Ladapo’s report pointed to data that the vaccine could increase the risk of cardiac-related deaths. But it conveniently left out data — from the state government, no less — showing that contracting COVID-19 actually increases those risks even more.

There has been, no doubt, an almost religious reverence for vaccines, Anthony Fauci and the pharmaceutical industry at large among some on the Left. And knocking that down a peg is certainly within bounds.

But ditching data that counters his own tunnel-vision narrative just shows what a farce Ladapo’s efforts here are. He is the other side of the same coin he’s supposedly fighting against, he just has people on the other side of the political spectrum praying at his altar.

Working backward from your own desired outcome isn’t good science or leadership, it’s more political theater.

Almost (but not quite) the biggest loser: Fabián Basabe. Basabe is in varying degrees of hot water this week following a spate of complaints.

The most potentially serious issue involves allegations Basabe slapped an aide, Nicolas Frevola, in January during an event.

According to CBS Miami, Frevola said the lawmaker “had been drinking and was mistaken about something that led him to slap me in the face in front of other people in the room. He then told me to stand in the corner. I was so embarrassed that I did as he asked.”

Basabe’s response was less than reassuring. “What?!” he told the outlet in a shocked manner. “I don’t remember anything like that.”

Note that the phrase “I don’t remember” is not a “no,” which seems like a fairly simple response to give if you did not do something.

House Speaker Renner said an investigation is underway: “We are aware of the alleged altercation, and we are investigating the matter. We will not comment any further until we have all the facts,” read a statement from the Speaker.

The facts of that incident will eventually shake out. But several votes Basabe has — or hasn’t — taken recently are also landing him under the microscope.

Remember that absent Republican during the abortion bill? That was Basabe, who ran on a platform of defending abortion rights, despite campaigning as a Republican.

But rather than vote against the legislation, he just opted against putting his voice on the record regarding one of the most controversial bills this Session.

That’s a punk move for the first-term lawmaker in and of itself. But it follows Basabe actively voting for several other controversial culture war bills, such as a permitless carry measure and another bill further limiting discussion of LBGTQ issues in schools.

“I am pro choice, pro gay marriage and pro responsible gun legislation,” Basabe wrote on Facebook while campaigning for the seat. Constituents may have thought they elected that type of lawmaker when handing him a narrow upset win in November. But if they begin seeing that Basabe is not what he promised, they may choose to actually select such a representative in 2024.

The biggest loser: Webster Barnaby. Barnaby utterly disgraced himself and the Legislature when he, at a committee hearing, appeared to equate trans speakers who opposed LGBTQ-related legislation to “mutants,” “imps” and “demons.”

The bill at issue would require individuals to use the bathroom according to their sex at birth, rather than the gender with which they identify. Several pro-trans speakers spoke out against the Republican push on this bill, prompting Barnaby to begin lashing out.

“I’m looking at society today and it’s like I’m watching an ‘X-Men’ movie,” Barnaby said. “When you watch the ‘X-Men’ movies or Marvel comics, it’s like we have mutants living among us on planet Earth. And, you know, some people don’t like that but that’s a fact. We have people that live among us today on planet Earth that are happy to display themselves as if they were mutants from another planet.

He then began bellowing that “this is the planet Earth where God created men, male, and women, female. I’m a proud Christian, conservative Republican. I’m not on the fence.”

Barnaby continued on by discussing the “darkness” and “evil” in the world, referencing “the dysphoria, the dysfunction.”

“I’m not afraid to address the dysphoria or the dysfunction,” Barnaby said.

“The Lord rebuke you, Satan, and all of your demons and all of your imps who come parade before us. That’s right, I called you demons and imps who come and parade before us and pretend that you are part of this world. So, I’m saying that my righteous indignation is stirred. I am sick and tired of this.”

There is room for debate on this issue. Both sides surely agree that there is no solution here that makes everyone happy. Conservatives don’t like the idea of someone born male entering a bathroom for women, regardless of how much they’ve transitioned. On the other hand, at least one trans man who spoke during this week’s hearing, sporting a full beard, made the point that many women would be uncomfortable with him in their restroom.

So there is no perfect answer here. The best we can hope for from our leaders is that whatever rule they land on, it’s a well-thought-out decision based on good intentions. And simply falling on one side of the debate or the other does not make you hateful.

Barnaby, on the other hand? He showed himself to be the hateful caricature many liberals believe conservatives to be when they push LGBTQ-related bills. Barnaby’s comments prompted some criticism from his fellow Republican lawmakers, both in that hearing and during later floor sessions.

But the reality is that his remarks have already reverberated across the country, giving light to an evil and hateful part of this debate. Barnaby himself tried to apologize for referring to the trans community as “demons,” but that came off more as leadership-pushed damage control than an honest explanation of his beliefs.

No, Barnaby showed everyone exactly who he is. And if people like that are making decisions about this issue, or any other, God help us.

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].


  • Abortion ban = Jeffrey Dahmer babies

    April 16, 2023 at 7:01 am

    Winner: Disordered meth and crack babies with Ted Bundy genes.
    Loser: Florida

  • Earl Pitts Russian

    April 16, 2023 at 7:28 am

    I, Earl Pitts Russian, will be here all week to shill for Orange Putin and the other hogs. Together, we will shovel money to the rich until there is not a penny to be had. Also, whacko laws that cripple the state and send half the population to prison. Thank you.

  • ScienceBLVR

    April 16, 2023 at 3:19 pm

    Sorry, Ryan, but I believe you are grossly off the mark about the biggest losers this week, but hey, you were born anatomically a make, correct? No.. sadly.. biggest losers this week are women, who would like to direct their own healthcare. In particular, women of childbearing age who can’t hop on a plane, train, or whatever and go to a state that allows them to control their own lives. Women and children living in poverty just got the Florida biggest loser designation! Vote Blue, for your liberty and life.

  • Jane McElrath

    April 16, 2023 at 5:56 pm

    Rep. Basabe, you are a disgrace. You capitulated on the six week ban and just tried to spin the fact that you smacked your young employee in the face when you were drunk on Jim Defede’s show.

    I’d say you’re a joke but at least jokes bring a laugh. You just make us all queasy.

Comments are closed.


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