Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 1.28.24

Paul Renner got momentum for his social media bill from this week's congressional hearing, while Disney's suit against the Governor turned into a pumpkin.

President Joe Biden stepped foot in Florida this week to raise some cash for his re-election bid, and donors did not disappoint.

Biden collected $6.2 million at a fundraiser in Miami. He also raised money in Jupiter, though it’s not clear how much he raked in at that stop.

That Miami number alone is significant though, and pulling in that amount of cash isn’t just a boon to the President. Down-ballot Florida Democrats have to be pleased as well, because if the President can generate significant enthusiasm here, maybe his team really will treat Florida like it’s in play in November.

Of course, spending from national Democrats will inevitably trickle down to other races. If Democrats are motivated to show up for Biden, they are likely checking off other names with a “D” next to it on their ballots.

And Democrats have a good story to tell, most recently with the win in House District 35 and going back to the Jacksonville mayoral win.

It can sometimes be a challenge to convince the national party that success in local contests leads to larger wins. But you know what does talk? Money. And Biden brought in plenty of it this week.

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


Honorable mention: Constitutional conventions. Florida lawmakers signed on to a push for two constitutional conventions that could approve some significant restrictions for the federal government.

One measure (HCR 703) asks for a convention to require Congress to pass a balanced budget. Another (HCR 693) would push for congressional term limits.

The Senate approved both items this week, while the House had already moved on the measures on the first day of the 2024 Legislative Session.

Both restrictions already apply in Florida. But the state’s lawmakers are now looking to take the push national.

There is still a long road ahead for these changes to ever take place. The Constitution allows states to call for such a convention, but requires a two-thirds majority of states to do so. That would mean 34 states need to ask for these conventions.

Florida is the 26th to ask for a convention on a balanced budget. But it’s just the 16th pushing for congressional term limits. And even if these conventions come together, and if language can be agreed to at those conventions, the Constitution requires three-fourths of states to approve an amendment, meaning 38 states must sign off.

Those looking for these changes, however, can point to Florida as having done its part.

Almost (but not quite) the biggest winner: Rick Scott. Florida’s junior U.S. Senator had a strong week, both in the political and policy arenas.

Perhaps most pressing, as he seeks a second term in the Senate this year, Scott secured endorsements from 80 of the state’s lawmakers, including Republican leadership.

That’s often a foregone conclusion for an incumbent running. It’s notable this year, though, given that Scott has already courted a Primary challenge and there have been (admittedly unsubstantiated) rumors that Gov. Ron DeSantis could throw his hat into the GOP Primary ring following his failed presidential bid.

DeSantis and Scott have had a long-reported icy relationship, and such a move would be a way for DeSantis to attempt to strike at Scott.

But with Scott coming into Tallahassee and snatching up these endorsements, it makes it hard to see how the Governor could gain any serious momentum to make such a move, especially with a potential endorsement from former President Donald Trump almost certainly going toward Scott.

So it was a savvy move by the Senator to shore up support among Republicans. But Scott also showed this week he can play to constituencies other than the base, when he came out against a proposal in the Florida Legislature that would roll back some gun restrictions approved in 2018 following the Parkland shooting.

Scott signed the 2018 law, which raised the minimum age to purchase long rifles from 18 to 21. Florida Republicans now want to return to the minimum of 18 years, but Scott said he stands by the 2018 bill.

“I still talk to a lot of the Parkland families,” Scott said. “We had that shooting, we had Pulse and we had the (Fort Lauderdale) airport shooting. Your heart goes out to these families. We passed historic legislation that I’m proud that we passed. … I support what we passed.”

It’s always commendable when politicians stand up against a vocal fringe in the party. Credit to Scott for doing so here.

The biggest winner: Paul Renner. The House Speaker has been making the case for a sweeping new measure (HB 1) that would outright ban minors under age 16 from having social media accounts, with the House signing off on that legislation late last month.

But this week, he saw the case for that legislation being made on a national scale, and by none other than Mark Zuckerberg himself.

No, Zuckerberg didn’t actually come out in favor of the bill. But in congressional testimony featuring several social media heads, Zuckerberg made a dramatic scene when he was pushed by U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley to apologize to parents whose children have been harmed or killed due to social media use.

Many such parents were in the audience for that testimony, prompting Zuckerberg to turn and address them directly.

“I’m sorry for everything you have all been through,” Zuckerberg said. “No one should go through the things that your families have suffered.”

And that, right there, is exactly Renner’s point.

Look, Renner’s bill still faces hurdles. The fate of the Senate companion is still up in the air. And if that does move, there are constitutional questions about restricting the activity of minors this way. There would inevitably be a legal challenge against the bill, and it’s unclear how it would shake out. There may or may not be better ways of addressing the problem.

But Renner’s concerns here are well-founded. Kids now have been raised on technology, with tablets placed in their hands at a young age and phone apps designed to capture their attention and not let go. We adults see the hatred and vitriol on the internet, driven in large part by the distance and the anonymity these platforms provide. Can you imagine how that same cruelty lands with kids?

Yes, there are plenty of child social media success stories. The same could probably be said if we opened up a child lottery, where kids could throw money away for the chance to win big.

But we don’t let them do that, because far more often than not, it is a losing proposition. Can’t the same be said of social media?


Dishonorable mention: Never Back Down. We covered the bulk of DeSantis’ downfall in last week’s column, but we’re adding one postscript here because Never Back Down submitted its last major fundraising report this week.

And boy, was it something.

The organization pulled in $145 million in total last year to support DeSantis’ bid, which ended after just one state of voting where he failed to win a single county.

The price tag for Never Back Down? More than $130 million, as the organization had just $14.5 million as of the end of the new year, the period covered by the latest report.

The organization was seeded with significant holdover funds from DeSantis’ 2022 re-election bid for Governor. And that did the bulk of the work, as Never Back Down raised only $14 million in the second half of 2023, showing just how significantly DeSantis’ fundraising prowess dropped off as his polls did the same.

All in all, between Never Back Down, DeSantis’ campaign account and Fight Right, another super PAC supporting the Governor, his team spent more than $154 million to win precisely nothing.

It gets asked a lot in situations like this, but honestly, what would have been the substantive difference if the organization instead just lit that $150 million-plus on fire?

Almost (but not quite) the biggest loser: María Elvira Salazar. Salazar stepped in it during an interview with CBS4 Miami’s Jim DeFede, when the interviewer challenged her for taking credit for funding projects that she actually voted against.

This is a time-honored tradition among Republicans. They love talking tough in Washington against excessive spending only to, once the bill is passed, take credit when those projects in the district start going live.

Being concerned about spending is perfectly acceptable. Washington spending is significant, out of control even, depending on who you ask. But praising those projects later only makes you look like a hypocrite, and Salazar landed right in that spot during the DeFede interview.

Faced with one such example, Salazar played ignorant.

“You’ll have to give me more details. But I do know that every time I have an opportunity to bring money to my constituents, I do so.”

But that’s not true, as DeFede pointed out while pressing the Congresswoman.

“You voted against the CHIPS and Science Act, right?” DeFede asked.

“Listen, I, right now, I need to, I need to ask my staff,” Salazar responded.

The back-and-forth continued like that.

Unsurprisingly, Salazar’s Democratic opponent went after her following the interview. “What we see here in Miami-Dade County is that a lot of the advancements that are happening happened despite her and not because of her,” Lucia Báez-Geller said.

But even a House GOP colleague of Salazar’s, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, slammed Salazar in even more searing terms.

“So many lawmakers in both parties are husks of humans who merely hand their vote card to the leadership. Then, stuff like this happens,” Gaetz responded while reposting a clip of the encounter.

“Husk of a human” is not the phrase you want on your campaign bumper stickers.

The biggest loser: Disney. Disney lands here after a significant blow in court.

U.S. District Court Judge Allen Winsor, a Trump appointee, dismissed the entertainment giant’s case against Gov. Ron DeSantis claiming that the Governor punished Disney’s governing district in violation of the First Amendment.

Disney, of course, spoke out against the Parental Rights in Education bill after being criticized by some for its silence. The company didn’t do much else to undermine the bill, but DeSantis responded anyway by abolishing the governing district and creating a new one to oversee Disney’s theme parks installed with his own political allies.

Despite DeSantis going on the record stating the move was retaliation for Disney’s so-called “woke” agenda, Judge Winsor said those comments aren’t enough to support a legal challenge.

“It is settled law that ‘when a statute is facially constitutional, a plaintiff cannot bring a free-speech challenge by claiming that the lawmakers who passed it acted with a constitutionally impermissible purpose,’” Winsor said.

Disney has appealed the ruling, and no doubt has the resources to continue pushing the issue as far as it can in court. But this is obviously a significant setback to gaining any relief for the Governor’s response.

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].


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