Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 10.1.23

Matt Gaetz got McCarthy's scalp. Could he be leading the state in a few years with his dad back in the Senate?

After more than a decade of wrangling, could Florida actually entertain the idea of expanding Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act?

No, we’re not giving credence to another Democrat-led bill to expand Medicaid that will go nowhere during the upcoming Legislative Session. Democrats have tried for years to pass such a measure, only to get stonewalled by the GOP-led Legislature each and every year.

Enter Republican state Rep. Joel Rudman. The conservative lawmaker, who is also a doctor, says Florida should take the plunge and expand Medicaid after all.

Republicans have often made a fiscal argument in rejecting expansion. Yes, the federal government is fronting the brunt of the costs, but states still end up on the hook for a piece of the funding.

Rudman, however, flipped that argument on its head, noting that when uninsured people are forced to enter the hospital with an emergency, that’s costly as well.

“It’s not that these people are dying on the street, it’s that they’re costing us more money by showing up in the emergency room because they do not have access to a primary care physician. They do not have access to Nemours (Children’s Hospital). They do not have access to specialty care,” Rudman said.

“And so, when we talk about things like Medicaid expansion, and when we talk about caring for our children, in the long run, it really is cost savings. That’s the argument I need to make with my fellow colleagues.”

Will he be successful in his push? Democrats would certainly support it as a stand-alone bill. But would Republicans be willing to move away from over a decade of opposition?

Rudman points to the state shedding Medicaid users post-pandemic, noting that many people are desperate to access coverage. Whether that argument sways his GOP cohorts or not, it’s surprising to hear a Republican talk so openly about expanding Medicaid in an era where polarization has only increased.

“These are not handouts. We’re not giving insurance to people who don’t deserve it or people who aren’t willing to work,” Rudman said.

“We are talking about the working poor. We’re talking about that single mom who’s holding down two jobs but neither job gives her health insurance. She can’t afford it herself. She needs help. These are not giveaways. These are not handouts. We’re not throwing money down the drain. We are helping our working-class Americans get ahead. And I definitely think it’s a problem worth solving.”

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


Honorable mention: Steven Losner. Losner won a third term as Homestead Mayor this week, securing 60% of the vote in a three-way race.

Losner topped Vice Mayor Julio Guzman, who secured 35% of the vote, and Sonia Castro Natal, who netted just 4%.

“I’m ready to continue the work we’ve started and deliver on our promise to preserve and protect our quality of life,” Losner said following the win. “We brought together a united coalition of residents in our campaign and the results tonight reaffirm that united we will keep Homestead moving forward.”

Homestead’s ties with the Losner family run deep. For example, the city’s main outdoor recreation area is called “Losner Park.”

But Losner will have to give up his post as Mayor following this term. After winning two-year terms in 2019 and 2021, Losner will now serve four years thanks to the city changing its election rules. With that also came a cap on service of eight consecutive years.

Almost (but not quite) the biggest winner: Richard Corcoran. It’s official. Corcoran can drop the first word from his role as Interim President of New College of Florida after trustees gave him the permanent title.

The Gov. Ron DeSantis ally was installed as Interim President to help herald its transition into the “Hillsdale College of the South.” There have been some hiccups, but the Governor and the college’s trustees appear confident Corcoran is the right person to lead going forward.

There were some dissenting votes on the board of trustees, but in the end all of DeSantis’ appointees on the board supported Corcoran, putting him over the top.

It’s not all smooth sailing ahead, however. DeSantis has been riding high the past few years fighting his “war on woke” and attempting to reshape the state’s educational system. But with his presidential run arguably weakening his political capital and his similar messaging failing to take flight among the GOP electorate, it’s unclear how he’ll operate going forward.

Then again, if he’s forced to drop out of the presidential race, that could just as well push DeSantis to lean in harder regarding his state-level goals. But does his “war on woke” era last beyond his final gubernatorial term? Will his successor change course?

Those questions remain unanswered, but could affect Corcoran’s tenure. One clear bright side: Lawmakers appropriated millions of dollars for New College to work with, giving Corcoran plenty of cash to play with as he tries to put the new New College on the map.

The biggest winner: The Gaetz dynasty. This week could not have gone better for former state Sen. Don Gaetz and his son, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz.

The elder Gaetz appears to be on a clear path to return to the Senate. Don Gaetz this week confirmed rumors when he announced he would run in Senate District 1, to replace term-limited state Sen. Doug Broxson. That announcement immediately prompted former state Rep. Frank White, who had been mounting a campaign in SD 1, to drop out and endorse Gaetz.

But the former Senator’s son one-upped him, becoming the first legislator ever to topple a U.S. House Speaker.

We’ve covered Matt Gaetz’s crusade against Kevin McCarthy for weeks. We always noted Gaetz had the upper hand but we also cautioned he might not get everything he wanted.

Turns out, he did.

Gaetz started by filing the motion to vacate, exercising a power McCarthy had to allow in order to even become Speaker. That would have been enough to humiliate McCarthy, even if he wasn’t removed. But Gaetz had the votes, as McCarthy was ousted. To top it all off, while McCarthy was expected to fight by simply running again, he quickly announced he would not run, ensuring a new name for Speaker.

We wrote last week how dodging a shutdown was perhaps in Gaetz’s best interests. He failed (so far) in getting the budget reforms he wanted. But he appeased the hardcore conservative wing by fighting for them even up against a shutdown window. And by avoiding the shutdown, Gaetz too avoided blame for any negative repercussions from it.

He’s still angered a lot of Washington Republicans, as they made clear these past few weeks. But he could see an ally in a Jim Jordan takeover. He also has McCarthy’s scalp, which will only help him further appeal to the GOP base he would need to win over in a potential crowded GOP Primary for Governor in 2026.

Having his dad as an ally in the Senate can’t hurt either.


Dishonorable mention: Child abusers. Coming into effect this week was a new state law permitting judges to sentence child rapists to death

The law is part of the Governor’s tough-on-crime governing approach, but it’s sure to face legal challenges. The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that executing a person convicted of rape is unconstitutional, as has the Florida Supreme Court.

DeSantis, meanwhile, has said the law is a direct attempt at “challenging some of the current jurisprudence.” He argued courts in the past made the wrong decision by limiting the death penalty to murder cases.

“If you have somebody who is preying on these kids and they’re raping kids that will impact those kids for the rest of their lives, those kids will never be able to live normal lives ever again. And you have some of these people that will do this to a dozen kids, 20 kids, 25 kids. Are you trying to tell me that just letting them sit in prison is adequate punishment?” DeSantis said.

So we can surely expect a lawsuit challenging these penalties at some point down the line. But as of now, the new law stands, accomplishing the Governor’s goal of putting child abusers on notice that the state will pursue every legal punishment option post-conviction.

Almost (but not quite) the biggest loser: AHCA. The Agency for Health Care Administration is under fire for reportedly flouting a court order by barring transgender Medicaid recipients from receiving treatment.

According to Romy Ellenbogen of the Tampa Bay Times, plaintiffs filed a motion accusing AHCA of being in “complete defiance” of a prior ruling against the state’s ban on using Medicaid funds to pay for gender dysphoria treatment.

The state is appealing that lower court ruling. The problem is, the appellate court has not put that lower court ruling on hold, meaning it stands as the appellate process unfolds.

Nevertheless, plaintiffs say the agency is continuing to deny treatments since the June ruling. The state has previously said they are in compliance with the court order, but this newest motion directly contradicts that.

Republican lawmakers began this crusade by framing it as an attempt to protect children. Then they bulldozed right over that and tried blocking trans care for adults.

But as passionately as one might feel about this debate, the issue here is not about that. It’s about whether a court ruling means anything. The Governor and legislative Republicans may see these changes as an important policy goal they are trying to achieve. They should not, however, be flouting a court order to do so.

The biggest loser: Mike Chitwood. The Volusia County Sheriff is again warring with journalists, banning reporters from The Daytona Beach News-Journal from an important news conference this week regarding fentanyl.

When John Dunbar of the News-Journal complained about the apparent oversight, Sheriff spokesperson Andrew Gant responded that there was “no oversight.”

“The Sheriff is no longer inviting the NJ to his news conference or commenting for stories,” Gant said. “This one’s available online for anyone to see, though.”

The latest spat seems to stem from a previous Dunbar column where he called out the Sheriff for putting News-Journal reporter Frank Fernandez on blast on social media. Chitwood has fumed about Fernandez multiple times. On one occasion, a simple question Fernandez asked in an email had set him off.

It’s baffling that a Sheriff would react to a reporter’s question by flaming them on social media. But now Chitwood’s doubled down by freezing out the outlet entirely.

Chitwood has been the target of some truly terrible threats from antisemitic zealots and others online. No one should be subject to that danger, and Chitwood deserves credit for standing up to them.

But he’s in the wrong here. Of course, it’s frustrating when an outlet covers you skeptically or even negatively. And if an outlet simply criticizes every action you take regardless of the circumstances, it’s completely understandable that you’d want to avoid them.

The News-Journal, however, does great work covering the region and does it fairly. The Sheriff should step back, let cooler heads prevail and reevaluate his ban. His county will be better for it.

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].



    October 8, 2023 at 10:11 am

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  • The guy has too much sway in Volusia

    October 8, 2023 at 10:23 am

    Chitwood is quite the politician and will be re-elected regardless. The county’s wellbeing seems irrelevant. But you’re being too kind. Freezing out a local paper is simply boorish, particularly for the evidently underlying reason that he didn’t like how a reporter covered a trial the sheriff didn’t like the outcome of. He trashed the justice system too. Thank goodness he’s not king, but he sure is acting like it. Sad.

  • Biscuit

    October 8, 2023 at 2:35 pm

    A chance for any and all stupid humans in Florida in 2026: are you feeling lucky? are there enough of you to do it? can you…put Matt Gaetz in the Governor’s Mansion?

Comments are closed.


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