Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 3.31.24

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Bob Iger stands tall after fighting off a Disney proxy battle, plus the fallout from SCOFLA's seismic abortion rulings.

Republican candidates are beginning to respond to former President Donald Trump’s call to mount a Primary challenge against Republican U.S. Rep. Laurel Lee in Florida’s 15th Congressional District.

Brian Perras of Port Richey was the first to publicly declare his candidacy for the GOP nomination. Then, Pasco County Republican James Judge announced he was swapping from his Primary challenge to GOP U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis to instead train his sights on Lee.

We noted last week that Lee is being unfairly put in a bad spot here. Trump is upset that she dares to endorse her home state Governor, Ron DeSantis, in the 2024 GOP Presidential Primary. Lee served in DeSantis’ administration, and decided to back him originally. When DeSantis dropped out, she immediately endorsed Trump.

That was too little, too late for a man who operates via grievance. And now, it looks like he is setting up an expensive and contested Primary in a district that is purple enough that such a Primary could be a drag on whichever candidate emerges for the General Election.

But that’s no concern to Trump who simply wants to make sure those who wronged him get theirs. He’s doing the same to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu simply because Netanyahu congratulated Joe Biden after Biden won the 2020 election fair and square.

As for Lee and CD 15, her best bet is that enough hard-right candidates enter the race that they end up splitting the vote, allowing Lee to emerge with a plurality. But thanks to Trump, it’s not going to be pretty.

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

Winners

Honorable mention: Road construction workers. DeSantis approved legislation helping the Florida Department of Transportation move forward with some significant transportation projects in Florida.

The biggest of those is arguably the expansion of Interstate 4, which will cost around $2.5 billion in total and help traffic in one of the state’s biggest problem points. The project will widen the road from six to 10 lanes and will touch on about 14 miles total.

That’s a boon for construction workers, who will be hard at work during the project’s duration. Work is planned to last for around a decade, down for an original projection of up to 25 years. But these things also have a habit of running over schedule, so we’ll see how long this effort actually takes.

Either way, it will be welcome relief to residents and tourists who often have to tough out major traffic on the highway. The Governor also announced work on the Poinciana Connector project, aiming to connect I-4 to Poinciana.

Almost (but not quite) the biggest winner: Abortion rights advocates. Those hoping to push back against Florida’s recent abortion restrictions got welcome news this week, when the Florida Supreme Court approved a ballot referendum allowing voters to weigh in.

Advocates have been working to get to this point for a long while. Now that the question is on the ballot, the work begins to convince 60% of voters in November to back the changes, which would amend Florida’s Constitution to protect the right to an abortion until the point of viability.

If the measure falls short of that 60% threshold, it fails.

As we mentioned last week, Democrats see this as a driver for its voters in the General Election. Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, races around the country where abortion has been a focal point have tended to swing toward Democrats.

Even if the measure doesn’t pass, it could lead Democrats to outperform expectations, especially given the GOP’s 20-point wins statewide last cycle. That is almost assuredly not going to happen for a second straight cycle.

But abortion rights advocates are hoping that they can reach enough voters to put this language in the constitution.

The biggest winner: Bob Iger. Coming off a week where Disney reached a major détente with DeSantis allies on the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, Iger notched another victory this week, fending off an investor proxy battle and retaining control of the company.

Billionaire investor activist Nelson Peltz and former Disney financial chief Jay Rasulo made the move alongside Blackwells Capital in an attempt to challenge Iger following his return as CEO. Disney’s relationship with the state of Florida was of course rocky the last few years after DeSantis took offense to the company meekly pushing back on his “Parental Rights in Education” law.

Of course, that back-and-forth started under former CEO Bob Chapek, who was eventually ousted and replaced with Iger.

Perhaps the turmoil of years past gave reason for such a challenge. But since returning, Iger has slowly and expertly worked toward a place where the state and one of its biggest economic drivers could let bygones be bygones and move forward as partners.

That is to say, this challenge really didn’t make much sense at this point in time, and shareholders rejected the challenge by a “substantial margin.”

“I want to thank our shareholders for their trust and confidence in our Board and management. With the distracting proxy contest now behind us, we’re eager to focus 100% of our attention on our most important priorities: growth and value creation for our shareholders and creative excellence for our consumers,” Iger said in a statement.

Iger touted the recent settlement with the state following his win, and also said Disney is prepared for the upcoming release of Epic Universe by its rival, Universal Orlando. It appears as though Iger is ready to continue leading Disney into prosperity for the remainder of his tenure.

Losers

Dishonorable mention: Brandon Alvarado. A tough break for Alvarado this week, after he lost a Lake Wales City Commission race by just four votes.

The original count saw incumbent City Commissioner Daniel Williams with just a one-vote lead in the race for Seat 2. After taking in all the votes, curing ballots and holding two recounts, that lead grew to four.

Williams earned 943 votes, while Alvarado got 939 votes.

Alvarado ran a close race as voters also sent out another incumbent in Seat 3. But he came up just short of doing the same.

And such a slim margin is yet another reminder that every vote counts, especially in smaller, off-cycle elections.

Almost (but not quite) the biggest loser: Abortion rights advocates. No, this is not a typo. Because while those backing abortion rights got good news with the potential that abortion rights could be protected in November, the Florida Supreme Court also issued a ruling that puts into motion a six-week abortion ban taking effect later this month.

The court upheld a law, passed in 2022, which bans abortion after 15 weeks. That law came under legal fire after DeSantis signed it, which happened when Roe v. Wade was still the law of the land.

Later in 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its Dobbs decision, striking down Roe. So GOP lawmakers, emboldened by the new decision, came back in 2023 and, just one year after establishing that 15-week cutoff, dropped it down to just six weeks.

But that 2023 six-week law explicitly did not take effect until the legal wrangling over the original 15-week measure was finished.

On the same day the Florida Supreme Court allowed the abortion referendum on the ballot, Justices upheld the 15-week law, triggering a 30-day countdown until the six-week restriction takes effect.

Those pushing to protect abortion rights may have hope that the November election can change the status quo in Florida. But the reality is that in the coming weeks, that six-week law will take effect. That’s reality, and there aren’t any “ifs” surrounding it like with the referendum.

Depending on the outcome in November, those who support abortion rights may get a win in the end. But the only thing guaranteed right now is that Florida is about to have some of the most strict abortion rules in the country.

The biggest loser: Trump. And that leads us to the former President, who will have to navigate the landmines of the first post-Roe Presidential Election.

Now, Trump deserves no sympathy here. This issue has erupted thanks in large part to Justices he appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. If Democrats are fired up in November over this issue, he deserves much of the blame.

But Florida has an interesting twist in that Trump has specifically spoken out against the six-week ban pushed by DeSantis, calling it “a terrible thing and a terrible mistake.” That prompted some back-and-forth during the GOP Presidential Primary, with DeSantis clapping back and appealing to pro-lifers.

DeSantis made this (and other culture war measures he pushed hard during his tenure as Governor) a focal point of his now-defunct presidential bid. It failed. So with DeSantis out of the race, he won’t have to deal with any of the repercussions electorally. Trump, now the party’s presumptive nominee, will.

Trump has failed to say anything substantive about his position going forward. Will he embrace the pro-life protections to appeal to evangelicals? Will he continue opposing the restrictions in an appeal to moderates in what could be seen as a de facto endorsement of the referendum that would undo the law?

Well, the most likely result is that Trump will do what he always does on thorny issues: dance around it as long as possible without saying clearly either way, allowing his supporters to fill in the intellectual blanks and believe what they want to believe.

Trump’s way of campaigning has gotten him to the point of serving as the GOP’s presidential nominee for a third straight cycle, along the way eliminating DeSantis, who was repeatedly attacked by Trump due to his perceived disloyalty. Trump and his team no doubt took great pleasure at seeing DeSantis’ political star dim over the past year-plus.

But if DeSantis’ abortion restrictions cause headaches for Trump in Florida this cycle, it may be DeSantis who gets the last laugh.

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].


2 comments

  • Yeah, it could

    April 7, 2024 at 8:25 am

    “Even if the measure doesn’t pass, it could lead Democrats to outperform expectations,. . .”
    Good old fashioned blood-on-the-street politics, brought to you courtesy of your local “journalist.”

  • Cheesy Floridian

    April 7, 2024 at 12:51 pm

    I think both measures the abortion and weed will pass. I don’t think Florida is a Republican state. I think we are still a purple state.

Comments are closed.


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