Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 7.30.23

Donald Trump is indicted yet again, and other candidates are starting to sharpen their attacks on the former President. Is it too late to make a dent?

The mid-year reporting for super PACs showed that Never Back Down, the outfit backing Ron DeSantis’ increasingly flailing bid, with by far the most cash available out of any PAC supporting a major candidate.

The organization held $96.8 million as of June 30. That’s more than triple the $30.8 million the Trump super PAC held. The next highest number was $17.1 million for Nikki Haley’s PAC.

Those numbers don’t factor in campaign accounts, but nevertheless seemed reassuring on their face for Team DeSantis.

Except, if you take a closer peek under the hood, you see that not all is as it seems for Never Back Down.

For one, a huge chunk of that money was brought over from DeSantis’ state-level political committee. DeSantis was the hottest candidate going in 2022 as he mounted a historically successful campaign, and his fundraising during that stretch proved it.

But as the calendar shifted and he sat like a deer in headlights as the attacks from Donald Trump poured in, even as everyone and their mother knew DeSantis would run for President, his polling began to drop. It’s only gotten worse since he formally declared.

A Florida Politics analysis showed how much the PAC’s fundraising has slowed since DeSantis officially joined the contest. That’s cause for concern going forward.

Additionally, The Washington Post showed just how reliant the super PAC is on megadonors. Without smaller or even mid-sized donations coming in, the organization is acutely susceptible to megadonors simply deciding DeSantis is no longer worth the investment.

And that very thing is happening, with the Governor’s biggest donor so far saying he’s pausing donations until DeSantis can prove he’s got enough momentum to start courting contributions elsewhere.

So yes, DeSantis’ super PAC is well-armed. But so far, their big spending hasn’t helped much, and that cash will quickly dry up if donors continue to get skittish. And those rumblings in recent weeks that the super PAC could shift its support altogether will only get louder if DeSantis doesn’t right this sinking ship.

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


Honorable mention: Danny Perez. Perez, likely the state’s next House Speaker, helped lead the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference in Orlando this week.

That conservative group’s 50th annual meeting featured a talk from Gov. DeSantis, with remarks as well from U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, Govs. Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Arkansas and Kim Reynolds of Iowa, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and former presidential candidate Ben Carson.

ALEC has been a major player in Republican circles for years. The nonprofit organization helps push policy proposals and model legislation from a conservative viewpoint.

Perez was a featured player at the Florida-based conference, serving not only as Florida’s top representative for the group, but as ALEC’s National Chair.

The conference gave Perez a chance to show off his home state while increasing his stature as a conservative leader even outside the Sunshine State.

“Thank you to everyone who came from across the country to share their ideas for improving state government,” Perez said. “It was incredibly humbling to have so many leaders from throughout Florida engaged in sharing our state’s innovative approach to building a stronger state for all.”

Almost (but not quite) the biggest winner: Donna Deegan. Deegan is wasting no time making her mark as Jacksonville Mayor, reshaping the city’s Kids Hope Alliance board with a slate of new appointees.

Gone are Rose Conry, Rebekah Davis, Tyra Tutor, Jenny Vipperman and Marvin Wells. That list includes proof of the political consequences of Deegan’s win earlier this year, as Davis is the wife of Daniel Davis, the Republican mayoral candidate who lost to Deegan.

To replace them, Deegan is naming Lawrence E. Dennis, a former Regional Superintendent for Duval County Public Schools; Meredith Chartrand Frisch, a board member for The Chartrand Foundation, Women’s Giving Alliance and KIPP Jacksonville; Connie Hodges, former President and CEO of United Way of Northeast Florida; Cynthia Ball Nixon, the Chief Financial Officer of the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition; and realtor J. Carson Tranquille , a former division chief for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

“One of the top priorities of my administration is to bring back a reimagined and reinvigorated Jacksonville Journey. We need fresh eyes who will move the Kids Hope Alliance towards that vision,” Deegan said.

Those moves reshape five of the board’s seven seats, giving Deegan control of the authority which helps manage investments in the city’s youth programs.

Deegan also replaced one member each on the Jacksonville Planning Commission and the Jacksonville Housing Authority board.

Deegan’s win was big for Democrats in the sense that it provided hope that the party could rebound electorally from a drubbing in 2022. Deegan is also making sure it’s clear that her win is big policywise in Jacksonville as well.

City Council President Ron Salem, a Republican, summed it up with remarks following Deegan’s round of appointments this week.

“Elections have consequences,” Salem said.

The biggest winner: Toll users. This week, the state touted $227 million in savings since launching an effort to cut toll costs throughout the state.

State officials anticipate $480 million in total savings through Dec. 31, when the one-year program expires. In June alone, the program saved Floridians $37.2 million. It gives drivers who use tolls at least 35 in a month a 50% toll credit per transaction.

The toll initiative is one of several efforts state lawmakers have enacted, along with several tax cuts and other goodies, to help Floridians burdened from higher inflation in recent years.

“With rampant inflation caused by years of bad decisions by politicians in Washington, I am proud that we have put Florida in the position to provide year-long savings to families,” Gov. DeSantis said.

Some, however, have criticized the program for favoring drivers who use toll roads, rather than enacting changes that could impact all drivers or all residents.

That’s a valid policy difference, and state lawmakers surely could have gone further with this program and efforts to reduce skyrocketing housing costs in the state.

But given what’s on the table, this program is appearing to be a success, helping drivers who use toll roads frequently stay above water.


Dishonorable mention: AHCA. A Tampa Bay Times report this week delved into documents that are part of a court challenge against the state’s rule blocking Medicaid from covering trans care procedures, showing the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) deviated from normal procedures in making the new rule.

“The state employee who was the lead author of the report testified that the process began with a request from the Governor’s Office. He also testified that he had not seen another instance of the state using this type of report to reevaluate treatments already covered by Medicaid,” the Times report reads.

“After the Medicaid report was completed, at least two Agency for Health Care Administration employees involved with it received raises well above the norm for their peers, state data shows.”

That sure looks like a directed move from the Governor’s Office to push AHCA to make the decision they wanted, irrespective of whether it was the correct call when factoring in advice from health experts.

Indeed, it appears state officials gravitated toward analysts who go against guidance from leading health care groups on this issue.

Now, that in and of itself may not be damning. Sometimes a consensus can be wrong, or a state can choose to make a policy decision for other compelling reasons.

But put together with the interference from the Governor’s team and the subsequent raises for AHCA employees who pushed for the DeSantis-backed plan — combined with the DeSantis administration’s history of pushing through one set of rules, only to strong-arm additional changes after the fact — and it makes it hard to give the state the benefit of the doubt here.

If AHCA really bowed to the Governor’s whims, it makes you question whether to take their position as the state’s leading health policy authority seriously going forward.

Almost (but not quite) the biggest loser: Miami-Dade County. A report released this week showed Florida’s most populous county got a little less populated, showing its first drop in residents in at least the past 50 years.

The county lost nearly 80,000 people between 2020 and 2022, with people either moving to different parts of the state or out of Florida entirely. This obviously isn’t due to a statewide trend, as Florida’s population rose by 3%, while Miami-Dade’s dropped by 1%

The immediate explanation for this from columnists was that the region’s housing costs were primarily to blame. It’s hard to argue with that thesis. A Zillow analysis shows home prices up a whopping 53% since June 2020.

Yes, housing is expensive everywhere. But Miami-Dade was already experiencing a housing crunch before the surge in home prices in the last couple of years. The Miami Herald interviewed multiple people who felt forced to leave, both due to housing costs as well as the generally high cost-of-living in Miami-Dade, noise concerns and limited public transit options.

Those latter items are certainly frustrating. But if people can’t afford to buy a house, they can’t even get their foot in the door to potentially deal with those other issues. People may be leaving for several reasons, housing costs included, but those home prices are likely driving away potential new residents and causing them to look elsewhere.

Miami-Dade County is home to some of the most beautiful natural locations in the country, as well as one of the most internationally recognized cities in the world in Miami. But if people don’t have a place to live, or can’t afford it, the region is going to struggle to keep its middle-class workforce there, leaving an uncertain future for the 305.

The biggest loser: Donald Trump. Well, there it is. Trump has now been indicted for a third time, facing charges regarding his actions after he lost the 2020 election.

Though it’s the third indictment in recent months, this latest action is historic, in that it’s the first time a former President has been indicted for actions he took while in office. The previous two sets of charges, related to campaign activities during 2016 and Trump holding classified documents post-presidency, do not.

Trump has predictably pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Unlike his previous federal case, being heard in South Florida, this one will be heard in Washington, D.C. Trump and his allies have cried foul about whether he could possibly receive a fair trial there.

Strictly speaking, sure, it may be easier to find a favorable jury elsewhere. That can be true of any case anywhere in the country, depending on the facts and the defendant. But do you know the easiest way to ensure you aren’t confronted with a potentially unfavorable jury? Don’t commit legally dubious actions in that jurisdiction!

Former Vice President Mike Pence, who is also running against Trump (and struggling) for the 2024 GOP nomination, appears ready to break out of his shell and take the gloves off. He’s ramped up his rhetoric against the former President this week, saying Trump pushed him “essentially to overturn the election.”

That statement would be devastating on the witness stand, and Pence very well could be called as a witness in this case.

With Pence stepping in here, it’s important to note just how historic it is to have so many high level Trump officials vehemently opposed to him running again. Former Attorney General Bill Barr has also ripped Trump to shreds over this indictment, as well as the documents case. Several of Trump’s other Cabinet members have also badmouthed him, with Trump often returning fire.

Most of these men are not never Trumpers. They served in his administration and many have been lifelong Republicans, advancing Republican causes. They are not the Deep State.

So far, their words have not knocked Trump down in the polls. But man, if this were anyone else — your school hiring a new teacher for your kid, your company bringing in a new supervisor for you — wouldn’t it matter if so many people who worked with him previously said this person is thoroughly unqualified for the job?

Maybe if this messaging is sustained, along with a trial, some of Trump’s backers will begin to second guess their support. Because the current path of playing nice with the former President surely isn’t working for his rivals.

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

  • Numbers don’t add up

    August 6, 2023 at 9:38 am

    If this statement is true (“The county lost nearly 80,000 people between 2020 and 2022, with people either moving to different parts of the state or out of Florida entirely. This obviously isn’t due to a statewide trend, as Florida’s population rose by 3%, while Miami-Dade’s dropped by 1%.”), Miami-Dade would have a population of 8,000,000. It doesn’t. Since the county gained over 15,000 from international migration over the same period, perhaps you meant to say “dropped by 1% before international migration.” Needs clarification for credibility.

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