Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 3.10.24

This week saw a major settlement over the 'Parental Rights in Education' law, while the Gov. DeSantis-backed Disney governing board remains in disarray.

How you feel about Gov. Ron DeSantis’ culture war focus largely depends on which side of the aisle you sit on. The GOP base mostly eats it up, while Democrats cry foul.

But if the NAACP gets its way, this lightning rod legislation could start hurting an area that transcends partisanship: Florida’s storied college athletics programs.

This week, the NAACP warned prospective college athletes to stay away from the Sunshine State due to DeSantis’ policies. The group was responding to news that the University of Florida (UF) has dismissed numerous employees working on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) issues.

“The value Black and other college athletes bring to large universities is unmatched. If these institutions are unable to completely invest in those athletes, it’s time they take their talents elsewhere. The NAACP will remain unwavering in our efforts to hold Gov. Ron DeSantis and all oppressive elected officials accountable for their attempts to unravel our democracy,” the statement read.

“To all current and prospective college student-athletes — the NAACP urges you to reconsider any potential decision to attend, and compete at a predominantly white institution in the state of Florida. This is not about politics. It’s about the protection of our community, the progression of our culture, and most of all, it’s about your education and your future.”

After the NAACP issued that warning, reports emerged that Florida State University had also “quietly dismantled” its DEI efforts.

Now, the NAACP had previously issued a travel warning for Black Floridians to stay away from the state. Florida’s tourism industry is still doing well, and people continue to move here. So it’s unclear whether this latest effort will be effective or if people will see it as an interest group targeting an administration with which it disagrees politically.

But legendary UF running back Emmitt Smith also hammered the university for bailing on DEI efforts, saying UF will “continue to fail based on systemic issues, and with this decision, UF has conformed to the political pressures of today’s time.”

In the NIL era, college athletics is more cutthroat than ever. Even if this creates a slight disadvantage for Florida schools, that could be enough to keep them out of championship conversations that the state has become accustomed to. Will that affect Floridians’ opinions on whether the Governor’s culture war crusade was worth it?

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


Honorable mention: Longtime Miami-Dade homeowners. We all know Florida homeowners have seen their property values soar in the past several years, but a study released this week showed just how lucky they are (well, aside from home insurance costs).

An analysis of the 50 biggest cities in the U.S. showed that Miami-Dade home prices saw the biggest increase since 2000 of any market analyzed in the study. The region saw prices for a typical home nearly quadruple, going from $118,450 in 2000 to $472,711 in 2023.

The 305 wasn’t the only region that experienced a boom. Tampa was ranked fifth among major metros studied, with a 254% increase (from $105,392 in 2000 to $372,746 in 2023). Orlando ranked eighth ($121,519 to $384,720), while Jacksonville ranked 15th ($121,519 to $384,720).

That means plenty of value for those who got in early, in addition to unending headaches for those looking to buy now. As a state, Florida ranked fifth overall in the study behind Hawaii, California, Idaho and Washington, D.C.

Almost (but not quite) the biggest winner: Cory Mills. Mills appeared in this space in October for personally helping evacuate Americans stranded in Israel following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack. He’s here again for similar reasons, assisting Americans fleeing Haiti as violence erupted there.

Mills helped get 10 American citizens out of the country who work at the Have Faith Orphanage in Port-au-Prince. Mills paid for those evacuations and was on the flights to get the individuals at that orphanage to safety.

Mills, who also did similar work in Afghanistan in 2021 while running for Congress, has shown a penchant for helping Americans in need overseas.

He has turned these efforts into a line of attack against President Joe Biden, blaming the administration for not doing enough and necessitating private operations like this in the first place.

Political messaging aside, these are noble acts, and Mills deserves credit for taking action rather than just chirping from the sidelines.

The biggest winner: Equality Florida, et. al. This week saw a settlement between plaintiffs and the state over the precise parameters of the 2022 “Parental Rights in Education” law, which critics had dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

That settlement prompted a back-and-forth between the parties, with each claiming victory. Plaintiffs said the settlement makes clear that students and teachers can “say gay” in school as long as it’s not part of direct instruction to children. The DeSantis administration countered that the law never literally banned the word “gay,” but it was activist groups that ginned up confusion over the legislation.

Regarding that latter point, the DeSantis administration is correct regarding the explicit language in the legislation, as we’ve written before.

But we have also extensively spotlighted the confusion this measure has caused.

Team DeSantis has been far more concerned with virtue-signaling to the GOP base that he is winning the culture war rather than writing solid legislation. Tightening regulations on what children can be taught is well within the state’s authority. But it is also the state’s responsibility to give guidance on the boundaries of those new rules. Interest groups can say whatever they want. If the rules are clear, there should not be as much chaos as we have seen.

Because the state is responsible for writing clear and detailed legislation, the need for a settlement shows that DeSantis and GOP lawmakers dropped the ball in pursuit of a win among the base.

Cecile Houry, a plaintiff in the case who works as a grants manager for the Miami Beach government, explained the problem in a quote to The New York Times.

“When you make everything a potential issue, a potential lawsuit and a potential firing, it really does that,” Houry said. “People could not or felt they should not or felt they were at risk if they did say something, so it ended up muting or silencing a lot of things.”

Yes, activist groups used an overly broad label to make a point. Yes, media organizations should not have blindly adopted that language in headlines or shorthand without noting its framing by critics of the legislation (nor would they ever, say, use Donald Trump’s “Green New Scam” moniker without qualification when discussing proposed “Green New Deal” changes).

But the problems this legislation has been causing School Districts have been real. Republicans love to criticize the government for overreaching or overstepping. They want limited government. Well, that philosophy alone should dictate that when the government does act, it does so by setting clear standards.

The settlement here clarifies a lot that should have been laid out in plain language from the start. That’s a win for those who sought clarity the state failed to provide.


Dishonorable mention: Blake Paterson. Paterson got himself suspended from leading the St. Johns County GOP after Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) Chair Evan Power stepped in.

An RPOF report explaining the reasoning behind the move said Paterson repeatedly allowed the party’s official social media to trash fellow Republicans. He is also accused of retaliating against St. Johns County GOP Vice Chair Jamie Parham, even calling the cops to prevent Parham from attending Republican Executive Committee meetings.

“In the estimation of the Grievance Committee, this is only the tip of the iceberg as it pertains to the problems in St. Johns County and the inability of Mr. Paterson to adequately perform his role as Chairman,” the report read. “The number of grievances this Committee has received from one County alone — St. Johns — is indicative of a failure of leadership at the top.”

Now, in a year the Florida GOP hopes will be a banner one in Florida to follow up on a stellar 2022 Election cycle, Paterson will be sitting on the sideline thanks to his disruptive behavior leading the local party.

Kudos to Power for stepping in and taking action just weeks after assuming the RPOF Chair role. Ironically, Parham, whom Paterson targeted, will serve as Acting Chair until a new Chair election is held.

Almost (but not quite) the biggest loser: Local Democratic candidates. When the Florida Democratic Party (FDP) announced last Fall the decision it would not hold a Democratic Presidential Primary, multiple long-shot Democratic presidential candidates were upset.

They argued that the party was rigging the system in favor of President Joe Biden, while the party clapped back and said those candidates failed to file their candidacies promptly. Since they missed the deadline and Biden’s was the only name registered, there was no need for a Primary.

That back-and-forth involved the presidential candidates bickering at each other, eating up most of the oxygen in the few days anyone was paying attention. But now, with the date of that now-dead Primary approaching, a different set of candidates is losing out.

As Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel highlighted, turnout for mail ballots is abysmal on the Democratic side, hurting local Democratic candidates in municipalities holding their elections next week. Not holding a Presidential Primary may have helped shield Biden from potential headaches, but it could cost local Democrats easily winnable races.

Some may say the FDP was vindicated here, as Biden became the presumptive nominee earlier this past week. So this race wouldn’t have mattered anyway.

But the same was true on the GOP side, as Trump also just became the presumptive Republican nominee. However, Trump had a serious challenger in the race until recently, which motivated Republican voters to make sure they cast mail ballots during the available window.

The FDP can say their hands were tied here, but the lack of any Presidential Primary at the top of the Democratic ticket no doubt led to suppressed participation before these races were wrapped, and it looks like it could affect the makeup of local governments.

The biggest loser: Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. One of the funniest things in the past several years has been watching Republicans like Trump and DeSantis rail against the “swamp” in government, only to repeatedly reward loyalists with cushy gigs.

And the DeSantis-controlled CFTOD, which serves as Disney’s governing board, is one of the swampiest around, thanks to the Governor.

It’s also increasingly dysfunctional.

This week saw news that Martin Garcia, Chair of the CFTOD governing board, would resign. To be fair, the grind of service can start to weigh on you after serving a grueling (*checks notes*) 13 months as Chair.

Yes, Garcia came in amid the DeSantis rework of the governing board last February. A fun fact totally unrelated to his obtaining this position is that he donated $53,000 to DeSantis and tens of thousands more to Republican candidates and political operations. His term was set to expire in 2027, but he is up and leaving after just over a year.

That follows news that Glen Gilzean, who DeSantis helped fail upward into a $400,000 gig as District Administrator for the CFTOD, will be taking over as Orange County Supervisor of Elections (two totally deserved positions not at all doled out due to his loyalty to the Governor).

Who’s rumored to replace Gilzean? That would be none other than Stephanie Kopelousos, who worked on DeSantis’ presidential campaign and has been an adviser to the Governor.

That’s not to mention board member Bridget Ziegler, who, well, need we say more?

In his war against Disney, DeSantis coaxed the Legislature to upend an established district that had operated just fine for decades, creating a new landing spot for his favorite allies. He literally used government authority to strong-arm this into happening so he could litter this new board with flaky and/or unqualified appointees.

If that’s not swamp behavior, we don’t know what is.

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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