Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 6.16.24

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Legal challenges against the Seminole Gaming Compact have folded, while investigations continue to swirl around Matt Gaetz.

Last week, we bemoaned the fact that legislative staff was staring down a major budget shortfall thanks to a veto by Gov. Ron DeSantis. This week, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and House Speaker Paul Renner announced they were stepping in to make sure that gap was made up.

To recap quickly, DeSantis vetoed a $56.7 million funding bucket due to concerns about a study on credit card company fees. But the move also nixed the full legislative support services budget, affecting around 200 employees.

According to Gary Fineout of POLITICO, Passidomo and Renner sent a memo letting staff know they would be accessing the rainy day fund to cover any shortfalls, and that legislative help would be coming if needed to make sure the issue was solved.

That’s credit to the leadership this pair has shown since taking over. These staff members do so much work behind the scenes. They of course don’t deserve seeing their funding threatened due to a completely unrelated issue.

We’re happy this issue seems to be resolved, and swiftly.

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

Winners

Honorable mention: Darryl Rouson, Michelle Salzman. Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday signed legislation (HB 21) providing $20 million to compensate victims of the horrors at the Dozier School for Boys and Okeechobee School, capping off the wonderful work from Sen. Rouson, a Democrat, and Rep. Salzman, a Republican.

The horrors at these juvenile detention facilities included physical violence, rapes and deaths of young boys, many of them pre-teens.

Rouson has pushed for this financial compensation for years following a 2011 investigation into the crimes committed. Efforts came up short in years past, until this year, when the Legislature approved Salzman’s version of the bill.

“I want to thank the Governor and the Senate and House leadership for (bringing) closure in a small way to these men who’ve been coming to Tallahassee for decades, telling their stories,” Rouson said in comments to the Tallahassee Democrat after DeSantis quietly signed the measure.

“Money will never compensate them for the actual harm that they suffered and witnessed, but it’ll go a long way towards closure and I’m finally glad that we have a law in place to create the process of them being able to (make a) claim for their damages.”

Credit to Rouson for not giving up here, and to Salzman for helping to shepherd a successful version through the Legislature. Sometimes moving forward together — whether we’re talking about a nation or a married couple — requires acknowledging and attempting to right the wrongs of the past. Even as the state gets dragged into culture wars left and right, this legislation is an acknowledgement of that simple fact.

Almost (but not quite) the biggest winner: Shan Rose. Rose is the newest member of the Orlando City Council after prevailing in a Special Election to replace suspended City Commissioner Regina Hill.

Rose and Travaris McCurdy emerged from a seven-person field last month to compete in a runoff to replace Hill, who was removed after being arrested and accused of defrauding an elderly constituent.

On Tuesday, Rose secured more than 54% of the vote, topping McCurdy by just 168 votes in the low turnout contest.

The race got nasty, with reports emerging about Rose being fired from a previous gig and another site targeting McCurdy, bringing up arrests from nearly 20 years ago. McCurdy said those attacks were directed from the Rose campaign, and accused her of pressuring him to pull out in order to suppress the information.

But McCurdy had significant backing, with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer backing his bid. Hill also endorsed McCurdy, though it’s unclear whether that helped or hurt his effort.

Hill could be reinstated if she beats the charges against her. If not, Rose will represent District 5 until the end of 2025.

The biggest winner: Seminole Tribe of Florida. That’s it, that’s all, it’s over. The challengers to the Gaming Compact have gone bust after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up their last-ditch appeal.

That means the agreement between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the state that allows for mobile sports wagering will remain in place.

West Flagler Associates and Bonita-Fort Myers Corp. were challenging the Gaming Compact, arguing it violates the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) because it allows bets off of tribal lands, via the Hard Rock Bet app.

The challengers originally won at the district court level. But almost one year ago, an appeals court reversed that decision, arguing the IGRA doesn’t bar gambling off tribal lands, but simply regulates operations on those lands.

The Supreme Court declined to review the case, as President Joe Biden’s administration advocated on behalf of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The decision to decline the case leaves the appeals court ruling in place. And with a win earlier this year in a separate state court case, the Seminole Tribe of Florida can carry forward with the Gaming Compact in full without the threat of a major legal challenge in the background.

Losers

Dishonorable mention: Miami New Times. It’s bad enough that the state of the news industry is one where sometimes outlets have to run ads from complete yahoo organizations just to help make ends meet. But when that advertisement has multiple uses of the N-word, it probably should be a sign that you shouldn’t sign off on the ad.

Unless of course you miss it entirely and end up printing the ad without a second thought.

That’s apparently what happened with the Miami New Times, according to a report from Martin Vassolo of Axios Miami. Miami New Times publisher Adam Simon responded to the outlet that the staff didn’t have time to review the ad, so they ran it without checking.

“Naturally, had I seen it, which I should have, I would not have let it run as-is,” he said.

The ad is from a completely out there organization called Blacks for Trump. We’re not talking about a mainstream effort to rally Black support for the former President. No, this is a group run by a conspiracy theorist who is a former cult member and thinks Oprah Winfrey is the devil, among other insanity.

The rambling ad in question quotes Biden using the N-word, which he used during a Senate hearing in the 1980s while quoting a racist statement made by another lawmaker, as a means to push back against a nominee who Biden argued was allowing Louisiana to gerrymander districts based on race.

The ad then uses the word another time, with the conspiracy theorist who runs this group posting his old mug shot next to Trump’s, with language underneath reading, “White gentiles are just finding out that they’re ‘N-words’ like us.” The word ran uncensored in the original.

The Miami New Times told Axios they would not be accepting any ads in the future without reading them. Fine, but why was this group accepted in the first place?

Almost (but not quite) the biggest loser: Citizens policyholders. The Citizens Board has approved a whopping 13.5% increase on its most common policy and a 14.2% increase on policies for condo owners.

As the property insurance market has collapsed in Florida, people have fled to Citizens, which is the state-run insurer of last resort. Lawmakers have worked in years past to push homeowners back into the private market. But those who are still relying on Citizens policies — there are still 1.2 million of them, according to the News Service of Florida — might be staring down a significant price increase if these changes go through.

The Office of Insurance Regulation still has to review the Board’s proposed changes and approve them. So there is still a chance that those rate increases don’t go through.

But add this to the list of signs that the property insurance market is very much still a nightmare for Floridians.

Lawmakers say changes made in recent years are long-term fixes that haven’t fully kicked in, but that they will ameliorate the market once they do. They had better hope so, because this turmoil is unsustainable.

The biggest loser: Matt Gaetz. The House Ethics Committee made an unusual move this week, when members publicly released a letter detailing the committee’s investigation into Gaetz.

The good news: The committee dropped several probes into Gaetz, including “allegations that he may have shared inappropriate images or videos on the House floor, misused state identification records, converted campaign funds to personal use, and/or accepted a bribe or improper gratuity,” per the committee statement.

But there was plenty more to it, as the committee confirmed it is looking into whether Gaetz “engaged in sexual misconduct and illicit drug use, accepted improper gifts, dispensed special privileges and favors to individuals with whom he had a personal relationship, and sought to obstruct government investigations of his conduct.”

To that end, the House Ethics Committee quickly brought in multiple witnesses who say they attended parties with Gaetz in years past. One said Gaetz paid her for sex. Others confirmed they were paid to attend these wild parties, which “featured drugs and sex,” according to ABC News.

Much of this stems from those famous Venmo payments from Gaetz and his buddy, disgraced former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg. Gaetz has denied paying for sex and has denied wrongdoing generally regarding these accusations. And a day before this new letter dropped, he posted on social media trying to frame the continued probe as a “Soviet” style probe into his life.

But these issues aren’t going away. Gaetz dodged criminal charges here, and he may well dodge any punishment by the House. If and when that comes, it’ll be a good week for him.

But this week, we saw more and more salacious allegations about Gaetz’s private life. And that point about possible obstruction was a theme of the committee’s letter, and perhaps the strongest grounds for a possible sanction against the flamethrowing lawmaker.

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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