Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 5.12.24

This week saw a big win for voting rights restoration advocates. And the very religious moral leaders, the Zieglers, are back in the news with more info about their rampant threesomes.

U.S. Rep. Greg Steube this week accomplished something not seen in Congress in nearly a decade: successfully using a discharge petition to force a vote on the floor.

In this case, Steube’s cause was more than worthwhile. He wanted the House to vote on legislation offering tax relief for those impacted by disasters.

That’s something most Americans can get behind. But that fact usually doesn’t stop Congress from stalling out otherwise popular legislation for one reason or another. That’s a reality that’s gotten worse as Congress grows ever more dysfunctional.

So rather than rely on the standard procedural rules of the House to bring a bill forward, Steube went directly to his colleagues, collecting signatures from a majority of House members in order to force a floor vote.

It remains to be seen where the legislation goes from here. Will all 218 signatories vote for the bill once it comes up? That seems likely, but then there is the Senate to consider. Worth noting though: more Democrats signed Steube’s petition than did Republicans.

And this measure is particularly important in Florida, with hurricane season returning in a matter of weeks. One would think commonsense legislation could get to the floor more often by using this method even when leadership is stalling. But no one has made this happen since 2015, meaning Steube deserves credit here for selling this legislation to his colleagues and breaking through the gridlock in Washington. That’s no small feat these days.

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


Honorable mention: Seminole Tribe of Florida. It’s not over yet, but the Seminole Tribe of Florida just got a big assist in its fight over the Gaming Compact in the U.S. Supreme Court.

President Joe Biden’s administration is recommending the court find in favor of the Seminole Tribe of Florida as companies seek to challenge the agreement with the state of Florida, which allows for mobile sports betting, among other expansions of gaming in the state.

So far, several legal challenges against the Gaming Compact have failed. The Seminole Tribe of Florida is now looking for victory before the U.S. Supreme Court as plaintiffs argue the Compact violates the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Not so, argued Department of justice Attorneys, who filed a motion on behalf of the U.S. Department of Interior, the agency which authorized the Gaming Compact at the federal level. That motion shot down the legal arguments of the plaintiffs, demonstrating that the state, federal government and Seminole Tribe of Florida are all in agreement here.

It remains to be seen how the court will rule. But bringing in the Biden administration to argue on the deal’s behalf will certainly carry some weight, as the Seminole Tribe of Florida looks to get clear of legal tussles over the Compact once and for all.

Almost (but not quite) the biggest winner: Florida TaxWatch. We wanted to use this space to spotlight the diligent work of the organization, which released its annual “Budget Turkey” report this week.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is still waiting to receive the budget, where he will use his veto pen to strike out line items of funding as he chooses.

The TaxWatch report spotlighted hundreds of millions of dollars in projects — the bulk of them water projects — that the group says deserve a veto, as documented in their thorough report.

To be clear, we’re not taking a position on the legitimacy of those projects, and neither is TaxWatch. Rather, the group is looking to hold lawmakers accountable for allotting funding outside the normal process, and bringing attention to those funding tricks in each year’s report.

It’s worth a read for anyone interested in digging into how the sausage is made up in Tallahassee. We’re glad to see that someone still takes the budget process seriously.

The biggest winner: Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. The group is backing off its lawsuit against the state after state officials finally agreed to set up a process for former felons to determine whether their voting rights have been restored — which is exactly what the FRRC wanted all along.

This controversy started after Floridians approved Amendment 4 in 2018, which allowed individuals who completed their sentences to once again be able to vote, unless they were convicted for more serious crimes such as murder or sexual offenses.

But after that amendment passed, two issues arose: What does it mean to “complete” a sentence? And, more importantly, whose responsibility is it to ensure a person’s sentence has been “completed”?

Lawmakers approved a measure requiring individuals to pay back fines and fees before applying to vote. Individuals also need to complete probation first.

But these requirements aren’t obvious at first glance. And when some individuals got out of prison and registered to vote, they were approved by their respective local governments. Some say they were even approached upfront to register, and were given bad information that they could apply.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, in an effort to look tough on voter fraud following Donald Trump’s delusional push in 2020 to blame fraud — still unproven all these years later — for his loss to Joe Biden, then sent prosecutors after these people who had mistakenly registered to vote even though they were ineligible. And again, many of these individuals had their applications approved by elections officials.

Now, finally, state officials say they will work on a rule to establish a way for ex-felons to determine their eligibility, prompting the FRRC to dismiss their lawsuit over the state’s enforcement of 2018’s Amendment 4.

Should it take a state six years to set up a process to guide citizens on whether they are truly eligible to vote? Absolutely not. But better late than never, we suppose. And it’s a win for groups like the FRRC, who have been looking for proper leadership throughout this entire process.


Dishonorable mention: Matt Gaetz. Gaetz earned his spot here this week for two reasons.

First, while joining the train of Republicans prostrating themselves before Donald Trump in New York at his hush money trial, Gaetz posted a picture of himself standing behind the GOP leader with the caption, “Standing back and standing by, Mr. President.”

That is a reference to Trump’s comments in a debate during the 2020 debate cycle where, instead of condemning the hate group the Proud Boys, Trump stumbled into telling them to “stand back and stand by.”

The Proud Boys, of course, were later instrumental in orchestrating the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.

Now, much of Gaetz’s persona is to throw bombs out there to get a rise out of people. And maybe we’re falling into that trap a bit. But as an outlet which has given Gaetz credit when he’s earned it, we have to call this one out.

Do we really have to try and rehabilitate every terrible thing someone on our side has said? How is tying yourself to a hate group, or at least tying yourself to Trump playing footsie with them, a good move, exactly? And why even rehabilitate those remarks at all? Trump already lost one election due in part to his inflammatory rhetoric and actions. Why generate another news cycle reminding them?

And Gaetz bringing attention to himself like this is especially questionable given the ongoing ethics investigation against him in Congress. That brings us to the second reason Gaetz landed here, as a House ethics panel has now subpoenaed the Justice Department to get more info on Gaetz as it looks into his conduct.

Sometimes it’s okay not to make yourself the center of attention, we promise.

Almost (but not quite) the biggest loser: Carolina Amesty. Last month featured a follow-up for Amesty, when her family lost a request to exempt a family home from taxes, reviving previous reporting detailing instances of failed payments and questions surrounding Central Christian University, which she previously helped run.

This week, a follow-up on another piece of reporting about Central Christian University, as the Orlando Sentinel reported that she is now under state investigation surrounding allegations she violated notary laws.

The Sentinel previously reported that Amesty notarized a document signed by educator Robert Shaffer, which he said he never signed, as part of an effort to promote the university’s staff. In that prior report, the Sentinel said five people listed on faculty to help boost the university’s appeal did not actually work at Central Christian University.

Now, it appears that the state is investigating whether Amesty abused her power as a notary following a complaint from retired law enforcement officer Dennis Warren.

This investigation could impact Amesty’s status as a notary, but wouldn’t lead to any criminal charges. A State Attorney investigation could, however, but the Sentinel could not get any confirmation as to whether such an investigation was underway.

Either way, this is another black mark for a woman trying to serve as a leader of the state.

The biggest loser: Christian and Bridget Ziegler. It’s been a few months since we checked in on these naughty dogs. Let’s see what’s new, shall we?

Report details how GOP power couple prowled pubs for threesome partners.” Oh, really? Tell us more, Florida Trident.

“There were numerous text messages between Bridget and Christian where they are on the prowl for a female and Bridget is directing him to numerous different bars in search of a female that they are both interested in,” wrote Det. Angela Cox in a previously undisclosed report describing the contents of Christian Ziegler’s phone.

“During these conversations Christian is secretly taking photographs of women in the bars and sending them to Bridget asking her if she wants this one or that one. Bridget is telling him to pretend to take pictures of his beer, so they don’t see him taking pictures of them. She tells him ‘Don’t come home until your dick is wet.’”

The report also detailed that police found “numerous sexual videos” of the Zieglers with other women.

Family values, everyone!

It has been almost six months since this story first broke, and we have gotten a steady stream of increasingly embarrassing revelations — most courtesy of the Trident — about this very Christian couple ready to lecture you about how amoral your schools are.

By the way, this latest salacious story broke as the couple appeared in court and Christian Ziegler testified in a case about some of those phone contents. You see, they’re suing the Sarasota Police Department and the regional State Attorney’s Office to prevent any more information from getting to the public.

How’s that working out for ya?

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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