Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 12.10.23

The Zieglers continue to drag out their scandal-filled saga, while Ron DeSantis can't seem to springboard off yet another strong debate performance.

This week marked the final week of committee meetings of the year in Tallahassee ahead of the 2024 Regular Session.

This week saw several notable pieces of legislation advance, including bills dealing with vacation rentals, drunk driving, bear killing, possible constitutional conventions and dealing with a backlog of rape kits. Plenty more will be on the agenda when Session formally begins.

And that begs the question: just what type of Session will this be? Do lawmakers continue the culture war crusade they’ve amplified over the past few years given Gov. Ron DeSantis’ national aspirations? Or do legislative priorities have a more bipartisan tilt, seen more in DeSantis’ first two years before the battle over COVID-19 pandemic polarized politics here in Florida and launched DeSantis into GOP stardom?

That feels like ancient history given DeSantis’ slow but steady collapse in the GOP Primary. But his ascent led to the Governor holding an iron grip over the Legislature rarely, if ever, seen in Florida politics.

The question of whether that grip holds as DeSantis’ star dims is a question of when, rather than if. Perhaps lawmakers play ball one more Session while DeSantis is still a presidential candidate. But it’s possible the Legislature begins reasserting their authority sooner rather than later, given the Governor’s fading political strength and his inability to run for another term.

Make no mistake, there is a legislative supermajority for Republicans, so there is likely to be major agreement on 95% of the issues between legislators and the Governor. But on those 5% of issues (the battle over the state’s congressional maps, for example, being one of the most glaring in recent years), it would be refreshing to see lawmakers recognize the fact that the Legislature is its own independent body capable of standing up to another branch trying to bully them.

We’re just a few weeks away from finding out whether that new era is now.

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


Honorable mention: Job recruiters. A new study found more Floridians quit their job this year than last, making Florida one of just three states whose quit rates rose from year to year.

Florida’s quit rate increased from 2.7% to 2.9% from September 2022 to September 2023. In raw numbers, 281,000 quit their jobs this year, compared to 261,000 last year. That’s according to the study from ResumeBlaze.

Louisiana and Texas also saw their quit rates rise year to year, but at a smaller rate than Florida’s increase.

That may not be the best news for employers, but job recruiters should at least have a few more options to point people toward. And with so many people moving to Florida, it’s doubtful the rising quit rate will cause significant harm to the state’s economy, given the influx of people likely able to fill those jobs.

Overall, quit rates dropped from 2.6% to 2.3% from September 2022 to September 2023.

“It is promising to notice quit levels falling at interesting rates across the country, with only three states experiencing a higher quit rate than the same time last year,” said Darren Shafae, ResumeBlaze’s founder.

“With Americans becoming more settled in new careers and employers maintaining flexibility with remote working options, it’s interesting to see quit rates returning to pre-pandemic levels as the job market continues to cool across the nation.”

Almost (but not quite) the biggest winner: Ashley Moody. After many Florida politicians griped about Florida State University (FSU) being left out of this year’s College Football Playoff, Moody is stepping up to get answers from the committee that made the decision to snub the Seminoles.

Moody’s Office made a legal demand to the committee, asking for “all documents relating to public statements relating to the deliberations, including media talking points and interview notes,” as well as “communications relating to deliberations to or from the SEC, ACC, NCAA, ESPN, Group of Five conferences, Power Five conferences or any other person relating to the deliberations.”

“We are also seeking information about software or programs used to record or tally votes,” Moody said.

“This process won’t be quick, and unfortunately, we don’t expect it will change this season’s playoffs. But every college football program including the 13 Division I schools in Florida deserves to know if the committee is stacking the deck. I have faith in our antitrust division to get to the bottom of the matter and take appropriate action if warranted.”

Yes, it would be nice if state officials moved with urgency on more pressing issues, like problems with the home insurance market that have lingered for years despite promised fixes from lawmakers.

But while it may seem a bit silly at first glance to push for disclosures about a college sport’s playoff deliberations, the snub had real effects for FSU, a state university. FSU lost out around $2 million in revenue after being kicked out of the Top 4. If the committee made its decision based on things like wanting to promote the Southeastern Conference or other considerations not relevant to on-the-field play, it’s understandable that the state would want to know.

DeSantis also asked for $1 million in his proposed budget to cover any possible legal expenses should a lawsuit be filed down the line. But that’s an open question, and lawmakers may not ultimately enter such a provision into their negotiated budget during next year’s Session. That leaves Moody’s move as the most direct way to understand why FSU got the short end of the stick this year.

The biggest winner: Prospective teachers. DeSantis announced $5 million will go toward helping people access teacher apprenticeships in order to become teachers full time.

The money will help those with associate degrees become teachers to help address the teacher shortage in the state, a problem that’s hitting schools nationwide.

“Florida is proud to offer a hands-on teacher apprenticeship program that prioritizes classroom experience over university-based learning,” DeSantis said in a news release. “As the national leader in education, we will continue to support our teachers and make sure we have high-quality educators at every school in the state.”

Lawmakers approved legislation last Session setting up this new pathway for potential teachers. The measure (HB 1035) also offers bonuses to military veterans or first responders who take part in the apprenticeships.

“Gov. DeSantis continues to prioritize Florida’s education system through innovative initiatives like the Pathways to Career Opportunities Grow Your Own Teacher Grant,” said Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. “This funding will allow more aspiring educators to enter into a teaching career while alleviating teacher shortages.”


Dishonorable mention: Florida Housing Finance Corporation. The affordable housing agency is under fire, facing an Inspector General probe, according to Gary Fineout of POLITICO.

The Governor’s Office wouldn’t comment on the investigation’s details. But the POLITICO report states the inquiry at least in part relates to allegations by former Executive Director Mike DiNapoli as he resigned in October. Those allegations include potential “corruption” and “unethical” behavior and possible conflicts of interest for Board members.

You’ll recall, however, that DiNapoli was essentially forced out of his role after allegations of abuse. The DeSantis administration first signaled a desire to fight to keep DiNapoli in his role. But when more details about that abuse were revealed, he opted to resign.

Now, DeSantis’ IG is targeting the agency. Without more details it makes it difficult to decipher how serious these allegations are versus whether this is some sort of political blowback for the Board forcing out DiNapoli.

But what this certainly means is more of a headache for the agency tasked with putting into place affordable housing legislation fronted by Senate President Kathleen Passidomo last Session. Instead of focusing on this issue, top of mind for so many Floridians, the agency is dealing with more scandal.

Almost (but not quite) the biggest loser: DeSantis. We gave DeSantis credit last week for putting in an impressive debate performance in Alabama, but with this caveat: “Whether it will do anything to change the trajectory of the race is an open question, however.”

Well, two separate polls in Iowa — where DeSantis has thrown down all of his chips in an effort to outperform expectations and grab hold of momentum in the Republican nominating contest — show DeSantis continuing to sputter.

On Monday, the gold standard poll from NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom put Donald Trump just above 50% and 32 points ahead of DeSantis, who was at 19%. A survey later in the week from Civiqs had the race at 54%-17% for Trump over DeSantis.

And in DeSantis’ home state of Florida, a Victory Insights poll this week had Trump crushing the Governor 59%-19%.

DeSantis’ hopes of shocking the field in New Hampshire the week after the Iowa caucuses also took a hit this week. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu finally broke his silence and endorsed Nikki Haley as his preferred candidate to take on Trump.

DeSantis also faced some negative headlines outside the horse race. A report from The Associated Press raised questions about the level of coordination between DeSantis’ official campaign and Never Back Down, a super PAC with which the campaign should not be coordinating. At home, DeSantis is also fighting the release of travel records in a move that can be seen as a blight on Florida’s historically strong sunshine laws.

UPDATE: Just hours before this post went live, Jeff Roe, chief strategist of Never Back Down, resigned following a damning report on the infighting within that organization. Not the news a candidate wants to hear late on a Saturday night just 30 days before Iowa!

Yes, DeSantis got to shine this week on a CNN town hall. Yes, he’s getting more and more praise for finally getting tough on Trump, who has been trouncing him in the polls for months.

But there continue to be blaring signals that it’s too little, too late for DeSantis, no matter what happens in those Trump-less debates that DeSantis’ team plays up so much.

The biggest loser: Christian and Bridget Ziegler. When you’ve lost Matt Gaetz

This is the third week in a row this formerly respected Republican power couple is sitting in this spot. And boy, do they deserve it.

To recap, again: a woman who had a previous sexual encounter with the couple is accusing Christian Ziegler of rape during a later encounter. The criminal allegations are still being investigated, and there may or may not be enough evidence to support a criminal charge.

What we do know is: the anti-LGBTQ crusaders engaged in a threesome of their own, then Christian Ziegler then had sex outside his marriage and he recorded it.

What’s new this week? For Bridget Ziegler, it’s a request from every other member of the Sarasota County School Board, on which she also sits, that Ziegler step down (though to be clear, Bridget Ziegler has not been accused of any crime).

For Christian Ziegler, there are more calls for him to resign as Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) Chair, including from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan. Buchanan, by the way, gave Ziegler his start in Republican politics, meaning Buchanan’s words should carry even more weight.

Then late Friday, Gaetz joined in and called for Ziegler to step down. That’s notable both because Gaetz previously went on the record saying people should “wait for the facts” before pushing Ziegler out, and also because of Gaetz’s own history with dealing with criminal allegations of his own. Now, he’s firmly in the “Ziegler must go” camp.

Oh yeah, and there was a reported ask from Ziegler that he be paid a fat sum — $2 million, per one GOP source — to voluntarily resign as party Chair.

Ziegler has denied that story, but with how much his credibility has sunk in recent weeks, it’s hard to take that denial seriously.

This was always going to be a terrible look for the Zieglers given how they had portrayed themselves publicly. There was no out here where the two emerged completely unscathed in the public eye.

But what they did have some control over is the severity of the blowback. They had the chance to voluntarily step away from their public roles and rehabilitate their image. Instead, the two have continued to drag this out, keeping the scandal in the spotlight and pissing off other GOP power brokers in the meantime.

Sunday will be a major day in the saga, as RPOF members are meeting to decide on Ziegler’s fate. Does the day end with Ziegler removed or on his way out? Or will he continue to fight, keeping this story in the headlines when Republicans should be focused on building on their historic 2022 win and ousting President Joe Biden?

Thus far, the Zieglers have seemed intent on holding onto power as long as they can. But if they’re alienating most other GOP leaders in the state, who exactly are they planning to represent?

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].


  • They both gotta go

    December 17, 2023 at 9:03 am

    Both Zieglers are a gift to the Ds, who FWIW are not in a position to capitalize much on it. The longer the governor leaves her in place on the Central Florida Tourism Board and the Sarasota County School Board, the worse he looks. Wonder what she has on him?🧐

    • Impeach Biden

      December 17, 2023 at 10:13 am

      I bet she has nothing on him but go ahead with your conspiracy theory. Now let’s talk about Ben Cardin’s senate staffer and the porn video in the Senate house.

Comments are closed.


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