Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 3.17.24

The Seminole Tribe of Florida keeps winning in court, and the Florida Democrats keep showing why they are the minority party.

Oh, did you think the Legislature was done for the year? Think again.

DeSantis dropped a Friday news dump signaling that he and Republican lawmakers are working on cracking down on undocumented immigrants as DeSantis continues grandstanding over a possible flood of Haitian migrants into the state.

Now look, unlike Democrats who spent much of President Joe Biden’s administration quibbling over using the term “crisis” regarding our southern border (it was and is), we recognize the strain that a flood of migrants entering the country illegally can put on government resources. The scene in Texas this past week was incredibly troubling and should not be happening.

So we are not coming from an open borders position when framing DeSantis as “grandstanding.”

For one, it’s not even clear that this surge of Haitian migrants is coming. Yes, the country is dealing with incredible strife at the moment. But according to the Coast Guard, that hasn’t led to an uptick of migrants fleeing and trying to get into Florida.

But ok, it’s better to be prepared ahead of time. So what has DeSantis proposed so far? First he floated flying Haitian migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, simply rerunning a previous stunt he pulled to appease the GOP base.

Now, he is proposing a Special Session which could churn out legislation making it easier to detain and criminally punish migrants, mirroring a Texas law that has already been halted by a federal court.

So again, we have the Governor pushing for things that sound great to a slice of voters in his base, but which will cost the state money to accomplish very little.

Republicans love messaging about the dangers of the border to whip up hysteria. And as we acknowledged, some of those dangers do exist, and Democrats have dropped the ball in many ways.

But when push came to shove, congressional Republicans killed a serious border bill so that they could continue running against Biden on this issue. They made a political move instead of a good policy decision.

DeSantis is pushing more of the same here in Florida. And the worst part? The base doesn’t even like him anymore.

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


Honorable mention: Kathleen Passidomo. This week, DeSantis signed landmark legislation pushed by Senate President Passidomo aiming to improve the state’s health care system and workforce.

Lawmakers approved the package last month, and now the slate of bills are part of Florida Statutes.

We’ve noted the serious help this legislation will bring to the state’s health care workforce, which is projected to experience severe shortages as Florida’s population ages.

“This is a game changer, our state will forever be changed,” Passidomo said at a Thursday signing event alongside the Governor and several other health care stakeholders.

This Session could have looked very different were it not for Passidomo. It would have been easy to continue churning out inflammatory culture war bills, and Republicans could have gotten away with it with supermajorities in both chambers and control of the Governor’s Mansion.

Instead, Passidomo stood up and made this work a priority. Our politics needs much more work like this to ensure that government is addressing serious problems instead of inventing problems and “solving” them just to appeal to the base. Credit again to the Senate President for getting this done.

Almost (but not quite) the biggest winner: Evan Power. We’ve shouted out Democrats when they have shown signs that they could dig themselves out of the electoral hole Republicans put them in last cycle.

This week, Florida GOP Chair Power and the Republicans got the shovels out once again. as several municipalities held a slate of local elections on the same day as Florida’s Presidential Primary.

The GOP cleaned up in Clearwater and won surprise elections in Delray Beach, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Oakland and elsewhere. Democrats tried — and failed — to claim their local efforts were a success (more on that later). But any objective read of Election Night shows it was a win for Republicans.

Ok, but that’s just one night, and Democrats also have recent positive election results to point to. What about going forward?

Well, in that respect, the Florida GOP is also historically well-positioned, with a report this week showing the party’s registration advantage of more than 850,000 over the Democrats is the largest one party has had over another since 1988.

That puts Power and Republicans in a great position to prove their dominance in 2022 wasn’t a one-off.

The biggest winner: Seminole Tribe of Florida. The Tribe won yet another court challenge over its Gaming Compact with the state, with the Florida Supreme Court throwing out a state-level challenge this week.

The Justices wrote that a writ of quo warranto, which the petitioners used to challenge the Compact, was the improper method.

“Quo warranto is not, and has never been, the proper vehicle to obtain a declaration as to the substantive constitutionality of an enacted law,” the order read. “For that reason, we deny the petition because the relief that Petitioners seek is beyond what the writ of quo warranto provides.”

That is yet another win in court for The Seminole Tribe of Florida, and enables the Gaming Compact to remain in force.

After the most recent win in federal court late last year, The Seminole Tribe of Florida launched its sports betting app in full, which has already provided the state with $120 million in revenue as part of the Gaming Compact. The U.S. Supreme Court is still weighing another appeal over a different challenge to the Compact, but with win after win for the Tribe, it appears the Compact is here to stay.


Dishonorable mention: Carolina Amesty, Eddie Speir. A couple of bad candidates make this list for some troubling reporting that emerged this week.

Amesty got in hot water last Summer over reporting from the Orlando Sentinel about payments and controversies related to Central Christian University, which she runs. This week, the Sentinel followed up with another bombshell report about Amesty notarizing a document signed by educator Robert Shaffer, which he said he never signed.

“If I was called to court, I would say that is not my signature,” Shaffer told the Sentinel.

The report describes how Central Christian University was seeking a license and listed five people on faculty to help boost the university’s appeal — except those five did not work at Central Christian University, according to the report.

“Using the credentials of Shaffer and four other men with graduate degrees likely helped the school get a state license, as the rules require most instructors to have advanced degrees,” the Sentinel’s report adds.

As for Speir, Steven Walker of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune authored a report spotlighting Speir’s use of his Christian school to run his congressional campaign. Federal law, however, bars such nonprofits from being directly involved in political campaigning.

A separate report from our own Jacob Ogles added that Speir is using campaign funds to pay relatives for their work. That seems like less a legal issue than one of optics, however.

Amesty is so far unopposed in her re-election bid in House District 45. So despite her controversies, it’s unclear whether she will face any repercussions.

Speir, however, is mounting a Primary challenge against Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan. Challenging a respected sitting Congressman is always difficult. It only gets tougher when issues like this arise and long shot candidates have to start playing defense.

And reports about Speir potentially violating laws regulating nonprofits is one he certainly needs to provide answers for. The current reporting, however, shows he’s not a candidate that voters should take seriously when deciding who should represent the state in Washington.

Almost (but not quite) the biggest loser: DeSantis. Look, it’s easy for critics to just simply point and laugh at DeSantis’ vote share in this week’s Presidential Primary, as the one-time next big thing in the Republican Party pulled in less than 4% of the vote in his home state, which he leads as Governor.

But does he deserve it? Yes, yes he does.

And yes, we know DeSantis supporters will point out that he dropped out of the race in January, and that Donald Trump has already earned presumptive nominee status. They’ll make the case that this Primary was meaningless, and that’s true to the extent that it will affect the outcome of the race. Trump is going to be the nominee.

But this had to be an ego hit for the Governor. Nikki Haley also exited the race a few weeks back, and she pulled in 14% of the vote. Yes, she remained in the race for at least part of the early voting period. But Haley’s path was effectively shut long ago. The only reason to cast a vote for either DeSantis or Haley was as a Trump protest vote. And on that metric, Haley did far better.

And though this race would have been far more interesting with some stakes, the way it shook out served as a perfect coda for how this Primary played out. Why would those uninterested in another Trump term ever vote for DeSantis? They were drawn more to a candidate like Haley who actually contrasted herself with the former President.

The people who liked Trump voted for him. And DeSantis did far too little, far too late to ever put a dent in Trump’s support. So armed with just a protest vote, there was no reason to check the box next to the Governor’s name.

But hey, good luck with 2028.

The biggest loser: Nikki Fried. Last week we warned this was going to happen. “Not holding a Presidential Primary may have helped shield Biden from potential headaches, but it could cost local Democrats easily winnable races.”

Well, it did. The lack of a race at the top of the ticket cost Democrats what should have been wins in multiple municipal contests.

A Republican won the Delray Beach Mayor’s race. Every GOP-backed candidate won in local Lauderdale-by-the-Sea contests. And Republicans went 3-for-3 in Clearwater contests.

That’s bad enough, and should make the Democrats rethink their decision not to hold competitive Presidential Primaries in the future. But the Florida Democratic Party (FDP) continued tripping over itself afterward, falsely claiming that its Take Back Local program helped flip seats.

Yes, Democrats did win some contests Tuesday night. The Take Back Local program targeted only seven races, however. And Democrats did win four of those seven.

But in all four, a Democrat already held the seat in question. So that program resulted in exactly zero flips.

Like we said earlier, we’ve given the FDP credit when they’ve come through and won highly contested elections. May this was merely a blip in Democrats’ efforts to make Florida a toss-up state once more.

But this week, Chair Fried and the FDP dropped the ball and looked like the FDP of old.

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].


  • Suzy Garrison

    March 24, 2024 at 11:00 am

    The FDP is losing many races because instead of doing the hard campaigning of door to door conversations and registering more Democrats, they are relying on rallies that attract only voters already on their side. Supporting local candidates with registration drives will do even more good than 50 rallies.
    Currently the way Florida is being run is very much like Los Vegas in the 50s. It is government by the mafia. Instead of getting people who are qualified to do the jobs for which they are appointed, cronies and yes men are found. Legislation is passed that pleases the boss whether it is good for the state or not.
    The Seminole tribe has managed to circumvent the government mob and is proving that it is profitable for them and Florida. That is more than the film industry has been able to do for forty years. The film industry forty years ago had the infrastructure and trained personnel for a thriving film industry. They asked for only the same concessions they received in New York, Texas, and Louisiana, but the legislature refused. The film industry then went to Georgia that now has that thriving industry. My only guess is that the state government thought that citrus and tourism were enough to carry the state or that if they said no, the state could squeeze more money out of the industry. It didn’t work on both counts.
    Republicans have been controlling for by the stingy iron thumb in a velvet glove and now the glove is off. Democrats need to come out swinging and like Buster Douglas knock the champ on his derriere. Why do people continue to support and vote for the Republican thugs? Is it just to show up the libs? That thinking has put Florida at the bottom of most economic indicators.
    The Florida Democrat Party needs better leadership and quality candidates.

    • rick whitaker

      March 24, 2024 at 11:03 am

      suzy, nice comment,thanks

  • tom palmer

    March 24, 2024 at 11:15 am

    Clearwater has been a Republican stronghold for decades, so GOP win there does not seem unusual.
    The GOP did not put the Democrats into a political hole; they did it all by themselves.

  • Ocean Joe

    March 24, 2024 at 11:29 am

    The ‘hole’ is the result of Republican migration to Florida over the past 30 years, just as Democrats held an 8 or 9 to 1 advantage back in the good old days.
    If people vote party, which most do, Florida will stay red regardless of the quality of candidates or issues.
    It bothers me most that these folks who are now proud Floridians always vote against our environment.
    As for DeSantis getting 4% that’s a solid example of ‘what goes around, comes around.’

  • TJC

    March 24, 2024 at 12:01 pm

    I understand the metric for sorting winners and losers here aims for raw advantage in specific context (such as, who’s kicking butt in the gambling arena), but if we were judging only what is best for Florida, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo is the biggest winner. The political success of GOP Chair Power is fine for the GOP, and the legal win allowing the Seminole Tribe to dominate gambling is dandy for them, but a serious effort by Passidomo to make serious gains in healthcare for all Floridians tops politics and gambling.
    Let’s hope she’s planning more of the same.

  • Margaret

    March 24, 2024 at 12:26 pm

    I am a Democrat and I will vote for Democrats, regardless, but not to have a Democratic Primary was STUPID. It makes me wonder if a Republican lawyer friend was merely joking when he suggested that Republicans should join the Democratic Party in order to infiltrate it and affect their policies. He also suggested the same thing regarding the NAACP and other justice related organizations. Knowing how much the current Republican Party and our State Democratic Party have veered from morally-centered policies, the possibility that my friend’s joke was not a joke comes to mind. (Lawyers are able to hold two opposing thoughts in their minds at the same time, so his “joke” may only represent such an exercise…still……..?.)

Comments are closed.


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