Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 2.18.24

Tension between the Legislation and Gov. Ron DeSantis is heating up with Session nearing its end, as DeSantis continues cosplaying as a presidential candidate.

A few weeks before the 2024 Session started, we wondered whether this year would see more battles between Gov. Ron DeSantis and the GOP-dominated Legislature. Sure, Republicans agree on much, but the degree to which Republican lawmakers acceded to the Governor’s demands in recent years was unprecedented in modern times.

Much of that was done to prop up DeSantis ahead of a presidential run. But he’s already out of the race, leaving open the door for the executive and legislative branches to flex their independence.

We saw some of that last week when the Senate President effectively killed a series of culture war proposals backed by more hard-line Republicans.

This week, DeSantis it was DeSantis’ turn to flex his muscle. Just in the last few days alone, he has continued to raise questions about a bill banning minors from certain social media accounts (more on that later), helped scuttle a proposal to bring back Primary runoffs in Florida (also more on that later) and slammed the Senate for possibly paring back restrictions on Chinese nationals buying land.

That’s two veto threats and another bill already killed. With all of these public intraparty disputes, our question from December has been answered, and we’ve still got two weeks of Session left.

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


Honorable mention: Blind luck. We’ve all used coin flips to answer otherwise unsolvable questions: What are we having for dinner tonight? Who will run to the store? Should I try to jump this rising drawbridge? We’ve all been there.

What you see less is this random device of chance used to pick our leaders. But that’s exactly what happened in Niceville this week, when the Council tried to decide who should replace Councilman Abner Williams, who resigned abruptly from the five-person Council earlier this year.

Williams’ decision left just four people on the Council as they decided on a replacement (you can see where this is going). Ultimately, the choice came down to Doug Stauffer or Doug Tolbert, who were tied at two votes apiece. The only certainty emerging from this disarray is that someone named “Doug” would be taking Williams’ place.

Faced with no way to resolve the 2-2 tie, the Council left it in the hands of fate, flipping a coin and declaring Stauffer the winner after the coin showed tails. Tails never fails, after all.

Stauffer will hold the seat until 2025, when Williams’ term would have ended.

Almost (but not quite) the biggest winner: Kathleen Passidomo, Paul Renner. Both chamber leaders had their signature legislation pass this week, with lawmakers approving Passidomo’s Live Healthy plan and Renner’s social media ban for minors just hours apart Thursday.

We highlighted progress on the Live Healthy negotiations earlier this month, when the House agreed to Senate spending levels, seemingly setting a path to hammer out the remaining disagreements.

Lawmakers did so this week, approving major legislation that will aim to bring more doctors and nurses to care for Floridians in the years ahead and fend off a projected shortage of health care workers.

Renner’s legislation has courted a bit more drama. His bill (HB 1) has courted skepticism from DeSantis, who has expressed concerns about the constitutionality of banning social media use by minors under 16.

Despite the Governor saying negotiations were ongoing regarding the bill, lawmakers the same day moved it forward in an attempt to address mental and emotional harm social media use can cause to developing minds.

The ball is in the Governor’s court now. Will he stand up to Republicans in the Legislature? Or continue his tough talk against social media companies by putting the clamps on minors having accounts?

The biggest winner: Space Florida. The U.S. saw a major milestone in space travel this week, with the first private business operation to land on the moon. And while Houston-based Intuitive Machines was behind the lander, Odysseus, which touched down on the moon, Florida played a major role in making this event happen.

The launch took place from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center here in Cape Canaveral. And the camera sent up to the moon was built by students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, located in Daytona Beach.

The landing Thursday was a qualified success, as the lander ended up on its side, though Intuitive Machines confirmed it was communicating with Odysseus and receiving data.

Space Florida deserves major credit here for enabling this launch. The rocket that took Odysseus up was made by SpaceX, a company that Space Florida has also worked to spark a good relationship with, allowing Kennedy Space Center to host multiple launches for the Elon Musk-run firm.

And hey, it was the lander from the Houston-based company that screwed up, if anything. The launch went smoothly and the camera works. So Florida’s partners did all they could do here.

As the U.S. looks to reignite its dominance of space, expect Space Florida to play a primary role going forward.


Dishonorable mention: Primary runoffs. A bill to revive runoffs in Florida Primary Elections died the same week it was spawned after many conservative Republicans shot down the idea.

Originally seen as a shot at U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, Byron Donalds or other MAGA-aligned Republicans considering a run for Governor in 2026, the bill would have taken effect that very cycle. The legislation would have moved Florida’s original Primary to June, with a runoff taking place 10 weeks later in races where no candidate earns majority support.

Gaetz, for his part, responded immediately to the proposal, saying he had no plans to run for Governor in 2026. Nevertheless, he teed off on the bill, calling runoffs in Primaries a “bad idea.”

That triggered a series of public comments from GOP lawmakers, including Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson, state Sen. Blaise Ingoglia and others following Gaetz in pushing back against the bill. Faced with a deadline for the 2024 Session less than three weeks away, Renner confirmed the bill was dead.

Once again, Gaetz played leader among the GOP base in pushing back against a major policy shift, and it appears he won this round. Maybe those 2026 plans will change now?

Almost (but not quite) the biggest loser: Joe Ladapo. Surgeon General Ladapo, purportedly the state’s top science-focused official, is once again chucking conventional wisdom out the window and playing to the crazies after several measles cases were reported in a Broward elementary school.

The Surgeon General sent a memo stating that the decision on whether to continue sending kids to the school — whether vaccinated or not — was up to parents. That goes against the guidance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends action to bar unvaccinated students from attending a school in the event of a measles outbreak.

Ladapo’s decision also earned public criticism from his predecessor, Scott Rivkees, who was silenced and eventually forced out after failing to play along with DeSantis’ anti-vaxx schtick.

“This is not a parental rights issue,” Rivkees said. “It’s about protecting fellow classmates, teachers, and members of the community against measles, which is a very serious and very transmissible illness.”

We seem to increasingly be in an era where a certain section of the population is going to be against conventional wisdom, no matter the issue. While these science skeptics would likely try and roast those who believe in CDC guidance here as sheep falling in line with whatever the government says, what they fail to understand is reflexively doing the opposite is exactly the same thing, just on the other end of the continuum. It’s not brave. It’s not edgy.

And the science here isn’t complicated. The measles vaccine works. It has worked for decades. Thoughtful people could disagree about the COVID-19 vaccine, which came to market fast and can have some deleterious health effects (though often not as serious or as often as catching COVID-19 itself).

Instead, what we often see, thanks to the Governor, the Surgeon General and his ilk, is a wild conspiracy theory-based rejection of that vaccine (and apparently, others as well).

It’s also worth pointing out that vaccine skepticism has not been a partisan issue in the past (see Kennedy Jr., Robert). So this isn’t uniquely a Republican problem.

But RKF Jr. isn’t Surgeon General right now. Ladapo is. And he has shown time and time again that his decision to go against the grain isn’t rooted in research or logic, but a desire to virtue signal to a fringe base. Here we go again.

The biggest loser: DeSantis. Ladapo’s boss, however, shows no desire to back off much of the culture war, liberal-trolling nonsense that led him to enter, and subsequently get laughed out of, the 2024 presidential race.

DeSantis rehired Christina Pushaw this week after she had moved from the Governor’s Office to the campaign side. With the campaign dead, she’s back being paid $155,000 by taxpayers to post vitriolic troll posts online aimed at half of the state and media members she doesn’t like.

After several other recent rehires, it seems DeSantis is intent on bringing back together the band that played background music to a presidential campaign that failed to win a single county. Seems like a can’t-miss strategy.

And he’s continuing to cosplay as a presidential candidate despite denying any interest in reentering the race. Road trip to South Carolina days ahead of the GOP Primary there? Check. Using the homeless population to throw out some fire-breathing culture war rhetoric? Check. Courting emasculating put-downs from the Donald Trump campaign — which he just endorsed — without standing up for himself? Check.

DeSantis seems to still be living in a world where he was thiiis close to becoming President, if only Trump’s fans weren’t so loyal. So he seems content on running the same act with the hopes he can regain his mojo in 2028.

Meanwhile, per Fox News, Florida’s home insurance is 421% above the national average.

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].


  • Julia

    February 25, 2024 at 8:55 am

    i think it’s interesting that a young faux-lawyer, masquerading as a journalist, accuses the governor and his spokesman of attacking half the state’s population, by attacking the more-than-half-of the population which voted for him. But then neither this site, not its “reporters” have ever demonstrated much personal insight.

    • TJC

      February 25, 2024 at 2:42 pm

      You are confusing voters with population. Approximately eight million Floridians voted in the governor’s race of 2022, four and a half of them for DeSantis. The population of Florida was a little over 22 million in 2022. For you to suggest that over half the State voted for DeSantis is incorrect, since it would mean he got over 11 million votes out of eight million cast.
      Now, for the writer to suggest that the Governor and his spokesperson are putting out “vitriolic troll posts online aimed at half of the state” is indeed a wild guess in terms of the use of “half,” but the vitriol is real, and in the writer’s opinion that is the pitiful truth about this Governor and his spokesperson.
      And like the Governor, your insults reveal your heart and mind, that much is clear. You seem to believe you have the “personal insight” that you say the authors of this site do not, but your “insight” apparently does not include logic or math.

  • ScienceBLVR

    February 25, 2024 at 11:22 am

    Well done opinion piece again! Some folks just can’t grasp the differences between hard factual news reporting and editorial opinion. So they resort to name calling and insults. Oh well, just shows as I’ve said before, the greatest threat to humanity is ignorance. And dismissing scientific truths is a big part of it, sadly.

  • Hung Wiil

    February 25, 2024 at 2:06 pm

    The author of this opinion piece is the week’s biggest loser. Cosplaying, really? How stupid. Is there a hashtag to go with it? Ladapo is a winner as the conventional wisdom during Covid proves that the Establishment has a lust for power and control, even though they are so wrong about everything. Go Ladapo!

Comments are closed.


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