Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 4.14.24

The big winner this week? Florida!!!

Floridians mourned earlier this month when former Naples City Council member John Passidomo, husband to Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, died during a hiking accident. This week, we got another gut punch with the passing of former Gov. Bob Graham.

Graham seems part of a different political era now — and not just because he’s a Democrat who ran the state of Florida. Graham was liked and respected by his colleagues across the aisle. You can see that in some of the eulogies he received after his passing was announced.

Politics is a different beast now, where the other side is seen as the enemy by far too many. That wasn’t Graham’s view, and that wasn’t how he conducted himself in the Governor’s Mansion, during his time in the state Legislature, or while representing Florida in the U.S. Senate.

Much has been written about Graham since his passing. Among the many thoughts shared after we lost this giant of the Florida political scene, this comment from former state Rep. Sean Shaw caught our eye: “There are generations of Floridians who don’t know who Bob Graham was. And that is the problem,” Shaw said.

We agree, so we wanted to use this space to spotlight a list of pieces to help learn about this man and the impact he had on his beloved state.

— Here is a look at the work he did for Florida.

David Johnson recounts a great story about Graham, who was running against then-Republican Charlie Crist.

— POLITICO wrote about Graham’s famous “workdays” and more.

— The Bob Graham Center for Public Service has a comprehensive site to honor and remember Graham.

— And here is a collection of tributes to the man to help you understand just how important he was to this state and nation.

If you have more suggestions, please share them with us or post them online to help people appreciate Graham’s legacy.

We don’t imagine this will lead to a sweeping restructuring of our current political climate. However, understanding Graham’s life can at least show that another way of doing politics is possible. And maybe we’ll find our way back there someday.

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


Honorable mention: Tampa Bay, Miami-Dade Dems. Local Democrats in two major municipalities got some excellent news this week, but for different reasons.

In Hillsborough County, former State Attorney Andrew Warren reversed course and decided he would, in fact, pursue his old job. Gov. Ron DeSantis famously suspended Warren after Warren said he would decline to prosecute certain hypothetical cases.

Warren lost multiple bids to get his job back in court, then announced earlier this year that he had decided against running out of concern that DeSantis would just suspend him again.

But just days later, a federal appeals court found in favor of Warren and revived one of his challenges. That presented Warren a window, and it seems he is taking it.

Look, Democrats have a tough road ahead of them this year after losing statewide races last cycle by 20 points. But every little bit helps. Having a quality candidate like Warren who can also tell a compelling story to the Democratic base (i.e., DeSantis is too aggressively suspended elected Democratic officials) could help drive turnout.

That, plus high-profile ballot initiatives dealing with abortion and recreational marijuana, could add up for Democrats in November. Even if it doesn’t help statewide Democrats get over the hump, increased Democratic turnout could help in tossup regional races.

You know what else will aid Democrats? Good leadership. And in Miami-Dade, the local Democratic Executive Committee has a chance to pick state Sen. Shevrin Jones as Chair.

Jones, a longtime state lawmaker, has raised his profile since joining the Florida Senate. He is serving in significant roles for President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign, even recently keynoting a Democratic Party of Milwaukee County event.

Now, he’s looking to take the reins of the Miami-Dade Democrats after the Florida Democratic Party removed former Chair Robert Dempster.

The county turned red last cycle after years of moving toward Democrats. Jones will have his work cut out for him if he does get the gig, but his leadership could help Democrats get back on their feet.

It likely won’t miraculously happen in one cycle, but again, every little bit can help a party that has been beaten into submission by Florida Republicans in recent years.

Almost (but not quite) the biggest winner: Republicans fending off crazies. Incumbent Republican U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan and Daniel Webster are facing GOP Primary challenges from candidates desperate to be taken seriously. But the first quarter fundraising numbers show they are a long way off from being competitive.

Former state Rep. Anthony Sabatini is attempting to oust Webster in Florida’s 11th Congressional District. He is very much not a serious person, but nevertheless thinks posting inflammatory things on X to rile up right-wing trolls will somehow work this year after failing just one cycle ago.

Well, despite talking big, Sabatini saw a 6-to-1 fundraising deficit in the first three months of 2024. Webster outraised him by more than $100,000 and holds a cash-on-hand advantage of more than $470,000.

Buchanan had an even more impressive first quarter compared to Republican rabble-rouser Eddie Speir. Buchanan showed up Speir by a nearly 17-to-1 fundraising advantage in the first quarter, topping him by almost $250,000.

Speir’s campaign has been plagued by questionable decisions thus far, and a massive cash gap with one of the most respected members of the Florida delegation isn’t going to help. At this rate, both Buchanan and Webster will earn another term comfortably.

The biggest winner: Florida!!! The state had a banner week this week, and it wasn’t just because of Taylor Swift’s new album.

Yes, the biggest modern star in music releasing a brand new album with a song spotlighting the Sunshine State is going to excite fans in Florida. And it has. It’s not as if the state had no imprint in pop culture before, but Swift’s song can do for Florida what her dating Travis Kelce did for the NFL: take an already known quantity and surge interest even higher.

But there was good news for Florida outside the music world as well. The Michelin Guide announced nine new restaurants earned stars in Florida, with four in Florida, three in Miami and two in Tampa. That means more eyes on the state’s cuisine, and food tourism is very much a thing.

And then there is Florida’s job market. The Wall Street Journal recently teamed with Moody’s Analytics to find the best job markets in the country, analyzing about 380 metro areas. “The rankings determined the strongest labor markets based on five factors: the unemployment rate, the labor-force participation rate, changes to employment levels, the size of the labor force and wages,” according to the analysis.

As Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis noted this week, Florida has four cities in the top 6!

Culture, cuisine, careers: Lately, Florida is on top in all three.


Dishonorable mention: Red Lobster. The company, headquartered in Orlando, is potentially facing bankruptcy for one of the most ridiculously on-brand reasons.

The restaurant, of Beyoncé and “Happy Gilmore” fame, has dealt with financial troubles for a few years now. Famous for its $20 endless shrimp promotion, the company made the seasonal offering permanent last Summer.

It didn’t go well, as the company underestimated the degree to which Americans would go to stuff their faces with a limitless supply of crustaceans. Red Lobster was forced to raise the price of the deal, but it didn’t save the company from losing millions as the year came to a close.

Those losses, in part, are leading Red Lobster to consider filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. And its biggest investor has already cut bait.

It seems this deal may not be so endless after all.

Almost (but not quite) the biggest loser: Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. We are putting the likely Democratic U.S. Senate candidate here with a qualifier this week after two brutal polls.

One survey found that nearly three-quarters of Floridians (74%) don’t know who she is. Even worse, another poll later in the week saw her trailing incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Scott by 16 points in a hypothetical matchup, with Scott above 50%.

That puts Mucarsel-Powell far away from a possible win in November. And it goes without saying that it is going to be near impossible to oust someone with the resources of Scott if only a quarter of the electorate knows who you are.

The first survey focused on favorability and found that 12% of respondents had a favorable or somewhat favorable view of Mucarsel-Powell, a former U.S. Representative, with 14% holding an unfavorable or somewhat unfavorable view. The rest had never heard of her.

Of course, this means Mucarsel-Powell has room to grow her name ID among voters. And Scott, while better known, was underwater with favorability, with a 37%-48% split between favorable and unfavorable ratings.

So if Mucarsel-Powell can raise her profile — which she is working with Democrats to do amid a campaign focused on abortion rights — then perhaps she can make up some ground here. Her Q1 fundraising numbers were good, better than Scott’s in terms of outside contributions. So she will have resources.

But this is a column about where we are now. Right now, down double digits and way outside the margin of error, Mucarsel-Powell has a lot of work to do.

And while Mucarsel-Powell brought in plenty of outside cash in the first quarter, Scott has made clear in his previous runs that he is more than willing to pour in tens of millions of his own money to win an election. Both candidates are going to have resources. The question is: Who will use them more effectively?

That, as of today, is unknown. We have more than six months until Election Day, and Mucarsel-Powell has the right to make the case that she can carve out a path going forward. But where we are right now shows she is a ways away from being competitive with the richest man in the U.S. Senate.

The biggest loser: Carolina Amesty. Amesty has been in plenty of hot water surrounding shady dealings regarding Central Christian University, a university run by her family. Now, the school has lost a request to exempt the Amesty family home from property taxes.

Amesty’s father lives at the home, and the university’s officials argue he does business from the home, which should lead it to be exempt.

Nice try, but a special magistrate and the Orange County Value Adjustment Board both shot down that effort.

The Orlando Sentinel has done superb work keeping up with this story. You will recall that the Sentinel’s original reporting showed unpaid taxes on the home were piling up (as were other payments more directly tied to Amesty).

The first-term Representative lived at home during her first campaign but no longer does. According to her attorney, she also dropped her role at Central Christian University after serving as its Vice President. However, she held that role when this tax exemption request was made in 2023.

The Orlando Sentinel’s prior reporting — including allegations that the university falsely claimed individuals worked there who did not and accusations that Amesty notarized a document signed by a man who said he never signed it — have certainly been more damning for Amesty than a disagreement over tax-exempt status.

But the latest decision is still another loss in a string of them.

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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