Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 6.12.22

Gun Rights

We know what Ron DeSantis, Florida’s buckaroo Governor, thinks about efforts by federal health agencies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Two words: Nanny State.

Mask mandates? Nope.

Vaccine mandates? Nope.

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Lockdowns? Oh, pul-eeze!

But just when it looked like this enormously popular guv went too far this time, a different and confusing story emerged Friday about Florida’s youngest citizens and their access to COVID-19 vaccines.

The McClatchey News Service reported that DeSantis reversed course and eased vaccine access for children between six months and five years old. Guv. Rambo said now it’s OK for healthcare providers, including pediatricians and children’s hospitals, to order COVID-19 vaccines directly from the feds.

Christina Pushaw, the Governor’s perpetually agitated press secretary, immediately blasted the story.

She tweeted, “What they have couched as a reversal is actually the Governor’s steadfast position that the State of Florida does not recommend nor distribute shots for babies. Any healthcare provider that wants the vaccines can obtain them and any parent who wants it for their child can get it.”

The administration said pediatricians and children’s hospitals had been prohibited from ordering COVID-19 drugs not approved by the FDA. But now that the agency gave nationwide approval, they can go for it.

The state health department, as the story said, still has no plans to participate, and DeSantis’ position is that vaccines are, in his words, “not appropriate” for the youngest Floridians.

Just a few days before, McClatchey reported that Florida was the only state not to pre-order those vaccines for distribution by the state’s health department.

The only one.

Let’s repeat that.

Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi pre-ordered, but Florida did not.

That is not a badge of honor, even for the “free” state of Florida. That put politics ahead of kids.

Parents wanting the vaccine for their kids may have to go to outlets like Walgreens and other pharmacies. But that is hit or miss because those Florida locations aren’t as ramped up to distribute the vaccine as they might be if the state was involved. Some sites were confused about whether they had the authority to order the vaccines directly.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told McClatchy the feds will “pull every lever to get pediatricians across Florida vaccines as quickly as possible.”

DeSantis changes course about as often as a rockslide coming down the mountainside, so it’s not surprising that his administration would remain defiant. And try telling skittish parents that it’s “not appropriate” for the youngest kids to receive the shot. It flies in the face of widely accepted medical evidence.

Despite the looming availability of the vaccine for kids, DeSantis still has to own that “not appropriate” It’s a source of confusion for parents and exasperation for health officials trying to save lives.

But DeSantis, like his benefactor from Mar-a-Lago, believes he alone (and his true believers) has a copyright on knowledge.

Why is it always like this in Florida?

Oh, and happy Father’s Day.

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

Winners

Honorable mention: Tampa Electric. The energy company announced that four new solar plants are online and producing electricity.

The company promised to make this move, and now it has. Customers benefit because using solar will see significantly lower fuel costs.

“Thanks to our strategic investment in solar power, Tampa Electric customers are expected to save about $100 million in fuel costs this year alone,” President and CEO Archie Collins said. “At a time when fuel costs are escalating, we know how important these savings are for customers.”

In February 2020, Tampa Electric announced its commitment to double its investment in solar. The company produces enough solar energy to power 140,000 homes with the new plants.

Tampa Electric expects to complete four more solar projects by the end of this year and three more in 2023. Once it reaches that goal, 14% of Tampa Electric’s generated energy will come from the sun. That’s the highest percentage of any utility in the state.

Almost (but not quite) biggest winner: The University of Florida. The state’s flagship university (sorry, FSU) received a thumbs-up for handling troubling allegations about academic freedom last year.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) said UF acted properly when investigating complaints that officials improperly barred professors from testifying in lawsuits against the state’s COVID-19 policies.

The SACS  accredits universities in the Southeast.

Its report noted that UF “provided evidence of new procedures approved by the Faculty Senate that rectified the problems that arose last year.”

There was a caveat, though.

Association members expressed concern about the state’s new efforts to restrict what professors can teach.

The biggest winner: Miami. In the United States, we’re geared to believe the Super Bowl is the world’s biggest sports event.

Well, yeah, it’s big, but something is bigger — a lot bigger.

It’s the FIFA World Cup, and Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium is one of 11 U.S. sites to host games in 2026.

Orlando was one of the finalists but didn’t make the cut.

You think Tallahassee is political? Lawmakers could learn a thing or three from FIFA about how to twist arms.

For the first time, the 64-game tournament is divided among three host nations — the U.S., Mexico (three sites), and Canada (two sites).

“It was the most competitive process ever for the FIFA World Cup,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino told Fox Sports about the selection process.

Like each bid city, FIFA told Miami organizers to prepare to host as many as six games.

The Super Bowl, which Miami has hosted 11 times, had 208 million viewers for the 2022 game. The 2018 World Cup final between France and Croatia had 1.12 billion viewers.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez called his city’s selection “a generational opportunity.”

He’s not wrong.

Losers

Dishonorable mention: Julie Fancelli. She’s the 72-year-old daughter of the founder of the Publix shopping chain. She likes to donate lots of money — some to good causes and some to wacko causes.

Today, we’ll focus on one of her wacko causes.

Records show she wired $650,000 to multiple organizations that helped stage the Jan. 6 rally that turned into a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol.

And, as CNN first reported and the Washington Post followed, $60,000 from that pot of gold went to Kimberly Guilfoyle. She’s the fiance of Donald Trump Jr.

Turning Point Action, a nonprofit led by yakker Charlie Kirk, paid the money to cover Guilfoyle’s speaking fee at the rally.

She, in turn, spoke — for a whole 3 minutes or so, mostly to introduce Junior.

This all came to light when U.S. Rep. and committee member Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, appeared on CNN.

“I’m not saying it is a crime, but it’s a grift,” Lofgren said.

It’s important to note that Fancelli has no role in Publix management. She spends a lot of the money Publix generates.

Almost (but not quite) biggest loser: Shawn Harrison. The former Republican state Representative from Tampa was running to unseat Democrat Janet Cruz in Senate District 14 — until he wasn’t.

Harrison’s campaign ended a few days ago after former Green Beret Jay Collins decided to challenge Cruz instead of running for Congress.

Gov. DeSantis quickly endorsed Collins, and that was that.

POLITICO reported that the committee that coordinates Senate Republican races already spent more than $40,000 backing Harrison’s campaign.

The entire Senate leadership, including incoming President Kathleen Passidomo, had endorsed Harrison.

What the Governor wants, the Governor gets.

“Proud to support @JayCollinsFL for Senate District 14. Jay is a conservative, a fighter, and a veteran,” DeSantis said in a tweet. “He was a Green Beret and is a Purple Heart amputee. I look forward to serving alongside him in Tallahassee.”

As of this writing, there is no word about Harrison’s future political plans — if he has any.

The biggest loser: The National Rifle Association. During her time with the NRA — as the organization’s President and most recently its chief lobbyist in Florida — Hammer earned a reputation as someone a politician, particularly a Republican, better not cross.

GOP lawmakers from the top of the food chain to obscure took her calls and did her bidding. She was the force behind the nation’s first “stand your ground” law, for instance. Her biggest weapon was a computer mouse, because with one click she could summon a wave of loyalists to flood a lawmaker’s inbox.

Hammer announced her retirement on Thursday, and that leaves a canyon-sized hole in the NRA machine.

Decide for yourself if Mama Gun’s relentless push for the expansion of gun rights was righteous or terrible.

Know this, though.

Without the persuasion of this diminutive dynamo, the NRA’s stranglehold on Florida politics just got a little looser. While Florida is not likely to become a gun-free zone in this or any other millennium, the NRA won’t find anyone who can fill Hammer’s shoes.

“When I was first hired in September 1978, I was given one mission — ‘Do what you need to do, but do not let Florida become another California,’” she said.

“For 44 years, I am proud to say that I faithfully delivered on that assignment with the help of our great NRA members.”

There’s no disputing that.

The NRA’s once-unquestioned power has lessened in the last few years. The organization’s “good guy with a gun” solution to school shootings rings hollow, and it has severe financial problems.

The departure of their most influential lobbyist won’t help.

Hammer may still be around — don’t dismiss that thought — but her retirement from the day-to-day signals that the NRA better come up with Plan B in a hurry.


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