Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 12.31.23

We probably should just name the 'biggest loser' section after Christian Ziegler at this point.

The 2024 Legislative Sessions is finally here.

Lawmakers begin meeting Tuesday for the 60-day Session. And heck, you know it’s an important week because Gov. Ron DeSantis will actually be in the state he governs for a brief reprieve from his primary residence of Iowa. He’ll deliver his State of the State address Tuesday.

Committee work will then begin, and the week will formally kick off a major year in the Florida political scene. Some other important dates to watch:

— Jan. 15, the Iowa caucuses: The results will show whether DeSantis has mounted a miracle comeback after what’s essentially been a steady collapse in the polls for the past year, or whether his 2024 dreams are over at the jump.

— March 8, the scheduled end of Session: Will lawmakers wrap up their work in time? Or will things drag on? They likely won’t take too long to tie up any loose ends, because …

— March 19, the Florida Presidential Primary: Voters will head to the polls to select their preferred presidential candidate. DeSantis may already be out of the race by then if he hasn’t drastically overperformed beforehand. There is just no way he suffers through an embarrassing loss to Donald Trump in his home state.

— Aug. 20, Florida Primary Election Day: The bulk of Primary contests will be held in August, selecting candidates for Congress, state legislative races and local contests. While the November election will get most of the buzz, these Primaries can decide many races depending on rules and district makeup.

— Nov. 4, General Election Day: Shoot me.

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


Honorable mention: Disney. The company brought in backup to rebuff a challenge from activist investor Nelson Peltz and his firm Trian Partners.

Peltz is mounting a proxy fight against the entertainment giant, saying “the Disney I know and love has lost its way.” But Disney this week announced support from shareholder ValueAct Capital Management ahead of an upcoming shareholder meeting.

ValueAct secured some concessions in exchange for supporting Disney’s board of directors picks. The move will help the company beat back Peltz’s efforts.

“ValueAct Capital has a track record of collaboration and cooperation with the companies it invests in, and its co-CEO Mason Morfit has been very constructive in the conversations we’ve had over the past year,” Disney CEO Bob Iger said. “We welcome their input as long-term shareholders.”

Almost (but not quite) the biggest winner: Tallahassee travelers. Rejoice! Just days ahead of the 2024 Legislative Session, JetBlue has launched direct flight service between Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Tallahassee International Airport.

The news is welcome for those looking to avoid the 7-hour drive between South Florida and the capital. The first flight landed in Tallahassee Thursday, and comes as part of a JetBlue winter sale lasting through Jan. 10, one day after the 2024 Session begins.

“This new service is the result of strategic investments in our airport and a focus on building strong business relationships to bring value to our community and further establish Tallahassee as a hub for economic activity,” Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey said.

Obviously, the new flight option is a big deal with Session here, but the added option just makes things easier for those looking to visit Tallahassee and the Panhandle, or those up north looking for a getaway to South Florida. The arrangement is long overdue, but welcome nonetheless.

The biggest winner: Abortion amendment backers. Floridians Protecting Freedom, a group pushing to place an amendment on the ballot protecting abortion rights in Florida, hit a major milestone Friday by securing enough verified signatures to appear on the 2024 ballot.

The organization had been making good progress through the summer, and has now reached the 891,523 verified signatures needed weeks ahead of a Feb. 1 deadline.

This doesn’t yet mean voters will get to weigh in on the question, however. The Florida Supreme Court must first sign off on the amendment’s proposed language. Attorney General Ashley Moody is arguing the amendment’s wording is misleading, a legal argument being made by an administration that surely does not want this question — which could drive Democratic turnout — on the ballot.

The proposed language is seeking to reverse a 15-week abortion ban approved in 2022. That measure was followed by a six-week ban passed last year, though that legislation is still on hold pending a challenge to the original 15-week measure.

As we’ve seen across the country, the abortion issue post-Dobbs has been a big winner for Democrats. And while Republicans cleaned up in Florida in 2022, 2024 could be an entirely different story should this amendment be put to voters.

If it does make the ballot, 60% of voters would need to vote in favor of enshrining abortion rights in the state’s constitution in order for it to pass. But whether it hits that 60% mark or not, it will surely motivate Democrats and could be a major wild card in an already important election year.


Dishonorable mention: Proud Boy Christopher Worrell. The East Naples man is facing 10 years behind bars for his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.

Prosecutors accused Worrell, a member of the Proud Boys, of pepper-spraying officers during that day. After being convicted last May, he was given an ankle monitor while awaiting sentencing. Worrell cut that monitor in August and evaded police for more than a month before being found in late September.

Because of that, prosecutors asked for a sentence of 14 years. But U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth went with a 10-year sentence instead, followed by three years of supervised release.

Some conservatives are creating a grift of turning everyone at the Capitol that day into some unwitting participant shuffled in by deep state actors in a false flag event. These innocent patriots just got caught up in the moment, you see.

That description may fit some. But using pepper spray on members of law enforcement (so much for Back the Blue!) and then trying to evade capture after conviction while also being a member of a violent militia shows that this guy belongs behind bars for a good while.

Republicans love to be tough on crime, after all, so we look forward to hearing their unconditional support for this sentence.

Almost (but not quite) the biggest loser: Joe Ladapo. Florida’s Surgeon General unfortunately has a history of pushing junk science and so obviously cherry-picking data that makes it hard to take seriously any of his objections to a COVID-19 vaccine which deserves legitimate scrutiny.

But Ladapo took things to another level this week.

First, he fired back against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and reiterated claims that mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are not safe for humans. Ladapo’s remarks this week came after the FDA shot down a letter from Ladapo claiming the vaccines could deliver DNA contaminants into our cells.

The FDA responded by shooting down Ladapo’s claims. Ladapo also argued the FDA didn’t follow their own guidelines to test the vaccines for possible DNA contamination. But the FDA response said the guidelines cited by Ladapo were for “DNA vaccines themselves, not for DNA as a contaminant in other vaccines and is not applicable to the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.”

So, look, this ended up in a pretty technical back-and-forth and because of that, is easy to dismiss based on whatever preconceived notions you might have about these vaccines.

Then, Ladapo went on Steve Bannon’s show and called the vaccine the “Antichrist of all products” to reinforce his belief that they do contain this dangerous DNA integration.

“Frankly, I think it probably does have some integration at some levels with the human genome because these vaccines are, honestly, they’re, they’re the Antichrist of all products,” Ladapo told Bannon.

“So I think it probably does. But I’m not saying (in the letter to the FDA) it does. I’m saying that they themselves have said you should test for it, and that hasn’t happened and they’ve provided no proof that it’s happened. And that’s, that’s so wrong. You know, it’s just complete disrespect to the human genome and the importance of protecting it and preserving it. And that is our connection to God.”

Sorry, but if we here started labeling this or that politician as the Antichrist, you’d have a right to dismiss whatever we’re saying from that point forward. It’s clear, at that point, you’re no longer analyzing something objectively.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with believing that humans are created in an image of God. But labeling a vaccine the “Antichrist” just shows Ladapo has an agenda and is throwing anything against the wall to fight back against the vaccine to see what sticks.

Guess we shouldn’t expect much from a guy who appeared at a COVID-19 conspiracy press conference next to a pediatrician who had blamed “demonic seed” inserted into women during their dreams for certain medical conditions.

The biggest loser: Christian Ziegler. We are now a month and a half into this story, and things just keep getting worse for Ziegler.

To briefly recap, Ziegler and his wife, Sarasota County School Board member Bridget Ziegler, are super Christian, anti-LGBTQ culture warriors who, it turns out, had a threesome with another woman. Christian Ziegler then tried to set up another one, was rebuffed when he mentioned to the woman that Bridget actually couldn’t make it, then showed up anyway and had sex with the woman who, notably, was not his wife.

That woman now accused Christian Ziegler of rape. But wait! Christian Ziegler also filmed video of the sexual encounter and argued it countered some of the woman’s claims.

Except, it’s unclear whether the woman ever consented to being filmed during sex. And now, that video has reportedly caused police to expand the investigation into Ziegler to include possible video voyeurism charges. So not so exculpatory after all, it seems.

The Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) is expected to remove Ziegler as Chair during a meeting Monday and possibly elect a replacement. The RPOF also decided to remove mugs from their website this week which displayed Ziegler’s name alongside a quote from him reading, “Stand with parents, not perverts.”

Hey, takes one to know one.

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].


  • Why doesn’t DeSantis suspend Bridget from her two offices?

    January 7, 2024 at 8:56 am

    Those mugs will surely be collector’s items for Florida trivia buffs!

  • tom palmer

    January 7, 2024 at 10:14 am

    Bridget Zeigler did not break any laws as far as we know. There has to be some basis beyond having an embarrassing personal life to remove an elected official from office.

Comments are closed.


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