With Florida’s election in the rearview and the 2023 Legislative Session still months away, you might think this is a potential time for a cease-fire in Florida’s perpetual culture war zone.
This week saw two significant indicators that the fight continues to rage on. Fresh off attaining a supermajority in both the House and Senate, Republicans signaled their willingness to further restrict abortion in light of last year’s Dobbs ruling.
That would happen right after Republicans already banned abortions past 15 weeks in the 2022 Regular Session, with the only exception being if the mother’s life is in danger.
It’s not yet clear exactly how a supplementary bill would take shape. Senate President-designate Kathleen Passidomo has said she would support a ban after 12 weeks of pregnancy but wants exceptions for rape and incest, which the 2022 law did not have.
But with mounting support for a possible 2024 bid, would Gov. Ron DeSantis permit adding those exceptions for fear of alienating a hard-core portion of his base? Or would he trade the exceptions for securing a 12-week ban, given most Americans — and a majority of Republicans — back such exceptions?
Also this week, the Governor’s so-called Stop WOKE Act — formally dubbed the Individual Freedom Act (IFA) — ran into some legal trouble, with a judge stopping enforcement of the legislation.
The bill created an avenue for lawsuits if students or employees feel instruction made them feel guilty due to race, gender or national origin. It’s part of the Republicans’ plan to hyper-focus on critical race theory-adjacent policies, despite no clear indicator the problem is widespread in Florida.
Now, the state is stuck footing the bill as the case moves through the courts.
The latest ruling is from Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, a persistent thorn in the side of the DeSantis administration, and could be overturned on appeal. But DeSantis and legislative Republicans have shown a willingness to dump money into inevitable court battles to pass legislation appealing to the base.
The math may not add up finance-wise, but it sure does when it comes to vote counts. Expect more of the same now that Republicans have complete dominance over Florida for the next two years, especially given those 2024 rumors.
Now, it’s on to our weekly game of winners and losers, a column helmed for years by the outstanding Joe Henderson, who is retiring after an incredible career. Well deserved, sir.
Honorable mention: Janet Cruz. It was a tough election night for Cruz, whose seat got swept up in Florida’s red wave.
But credit to Cruz for swiftly landing on her feet, announcing a run for the District 3 seat on the Tampa City Council. And right off the bat, she netted an endorsement from the Tampa Police Benevolent Association.
Cruz, a Democrat, is set for a possible showdown against incumbent Councilwoman Lynn Hurtak, a Republican. Hurtak, however, was just installed earlier this year after Councilman John Dingfelder resigned following an investigation.
That lessens Hurtak’s incumbency advantage and gives an avenue for Cruz, a well-respected Senator, to set up a swift political comeback. Nabbing a police union endorsement as a Democrat is also a nice notch in the belt for Cruz to carry forward.
Almost (but not quite) biggest winners: Democratic orgs. Several Democratic organizations have a bit more cash to continue pouring into Florida, thanks to Democratic gubernatorial nominee Charlie Crist.
Following a lopsided loss to DeSantis, Crist announced he would donate the remaining dough in his campaign account to 20 left-leaning organizations in the state. Granted, Crist wasn’t sitting on the millions raised by the Republican incumbent. But Crist held about $531,000 as of Nov. 3, leaving an average of more than $26,000 per organization.
The groups getting those dollars are as follows: Planned Parenthood Action Fund Florida; Ruth’s List Florida; Equality Florida; Florida Immigrant Coalition; Florida Insulin 4 All; Florida State Conference NAACP; Ban Assault Weapons NOW (BAWN); Florida Rising; Coalition of Immokalee Workers; Mothers Fighting for Justice; Florida Freedom to Read Project; Equal Ground Florida; Florida Black Girls; People Power for Florida; Women’s March Florida; Guatemalan Mayan Center; Floridians for Reproductive Freedom; Senate Victory Fund; House Victory Fund; and Municipal Victory Fund.
Whether this cash will matter in a state that, again, DeSantis won by a Harlem Globetrotter-esque margin is a different story. But it shows Crist is committed to putting his money where his mouth is to help Democratic causes. And hey, at least he didn’t leave $3 million in the bank while losing in a razor-thin recount.
The biggest winners: DeSantis-Donald Trump cottage industry. With Trump officially throwing his red hat in the ring (more on that later), we may finally get the public showdown that has been quietly brewing behind the scenes for a while.
DeSantis has made a point to take the high road despite the former President trying to sharpen his attacks against the Trump-dubbed “DeSanctimonious.” But as we saw during 2016, Trump will try to torpedo any possible Primary opponent, and his erraticism leading up to Jan. 6 shows he’s not too concerned about throwing longtime allies aside if they stand in his way.
That could mean a Trump scorched-earth run that could only get uglier if he sees the nomination fading, with Trump’s vindictiveness being well-established.
Whether DeSantis wants to enter the field knowing that reality is yet to be seen. Allies in Florida are already pumping up the Governor as a possible 2024 candidate, though many are also reiterating that DeSantis has time to make a final decision.
But the Governor already has a super PAC boosting him on the airwaves. And while those millions he holds from his re-election effort can’t directly boost a bid for federal office, it can be shipped into a DeSantis-friendly super PAC to help amplify his message.
Surely, an incredibly well-funded Florida Governor would wipe the field with Trump, right? Right?
Either way, there will be plenty of interest generated from a DeSantis-Trump match should it manifest, this present page included.
Dishonorable mention: Rick Scott and Byron Donalds. Both Florida Republicans tried to upset the apple cart following the GOP’s woeful underperformance outside Florida this cycle — and both failed.
Scott, of course, made good on a move signaled for months by challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Indeed, Scott thought he’d be making a move for Senate Majority Leader, but that door was already shut. Scott tried to put that failure on McConnell’s shoulders. But Scott also Chaired the National Republican Senate Committee (NRSC), meaning he spent plenty of time deflecting the blame — and now, possibly an audit — as well.
Donalds also looked to make a move of his own, following through with a planned push to become GOP Conference Chair despite current Chair Elise Stefaniak deciding to try to remain in that role. Republicans also sided with the incumbent, blocking Donalds’ bid and keeping Stefanik.
Both are relatively fresh faces in Washington, with Scott winning the Senate seat in 2018 and Donalds just securing his second term in the House. So perhaps they have time to take another shot in the years ahead. But an L is an L.
Almost (but not quite) biggest loser: Trump. Yawn.
That about sums up the reaction to Trump’s “low energy” announcement speech. The former President could barely pull any politicians to appear at the announcement, and few have signed on for another Trump run since. Not even his own daughter, Ivanka, is entertaining another run after the chaos caused by Trump over the last several years.
Moreover, Trump continues to face legal troubles — some of which even implicate his children. And with DeSantis — his presumed main rival for the 2024 nomination — coasting following Florida’s success, it’s not looking too bright for The Donald.
So why not make him this week’s biggest loser? Well, we’ve seen this story before, no? Most establishment Republicans opposed his 2016 run too. And Trump rode a wave of populist support to oust an unpopular Democratic nominee on the way to the White House. With Joe Biden’s approval ratings tanking since his 2020 run, could the same happen again?
Well, one enormous difference this time is Trump’s repeated losses. His lack of political experience was positive in many ways in 2016, but one main area was his lack of a track record. Republicans have now seen two Midterms turn into duds — 2018 and 2022 — and Trump himself famously lost in 2020.
Voters may be tired of the insanity, and Republicans have facts to point to when labeling Trump as the thing he fears most: a loser. Time will tell if that bears out — like, a lot of time. We’re still 700-plus days out from the 2024 election, people.
The biggest losers: Vickie Cartwright and Broward voters. The Broward Schools Superintendent got shivved (figuratively) this week when, at the final meeting of a majority DeSantis-backed School Board meeting, Board members voted to oust Cartwright despite just voting to subject her to a simple probationary period.
DeSantis was able to fill several seats on the Board following a series of suspensions due to malfeasance by prior Board members. But with the recent General Election, Broward County voters had just weighed in on their preferred replacements. Rather than waiting for those members to take their seats, the DeSantis-appointed members took the drastic step of firing Cartwright, who had just recently taken over for the disgraced previous Superintendent, Robert Runcie.
This isn’t to say explicitly whether Cartwright deserved to stay or go. But Broward voters did not deserve to get the middle finger from members on their way out the door in their final meeting. Broward did not turn red like their neighbors to the north and south. And while the Governor’s allies may have wanted their way, this was a bit over the line for a lame duck Board.
Sure, the new Board members could bring Cartwright back. But for all the talk of “freedom first” and returning power to parents — which at times gets unfairly mocked by Democratic opponents — trying to deny parents who just voted for their preferred Board members the power to decide the leader of the county’s schools seems more than a little hypocritical.
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