Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 7.3.22

The strangest story of the week — which is saying something in this state — involved the University of Central Florida English department’s anti-racism statement.

The Orlando Sentinel reported that the department noted on its website that it suspended the statement because it violated state law. Shortly after that, however, the suspension notice vanished. A UCF spokesman told the Sentinel the university’s leadership didn’t order the removal.

Clearly, the initial move was a reaction to the so-called “Stop WOKE Act” championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Its official name — ironically titled Individual Freedom — is actually about curtailing freedom. It took effect on July 1.

It prohibits Florida K-12 schools, colleges and universities from teaching anything that can resemble critical race theory without really defining what that is.

UCF’s English department apparently believed its statement, adopted in 2021, might have strayed into forbidden territory.

It read in part, “Our discipline of English has been disfigured by an appalling history of complicity in perpetuating colonialist and racist practices and power structures. Our field has for too long upheld a canon of literature that is exclusive, elitist, and blindingly white.”

I understand UCF’s dilemma over this.

DeSantis is on a crusade to say that teaching about Florida’s racist past — and sometimes present — is a crime. He calls that “indoctrination,” while others might say it is “education.”

First Amendment advocates also have a role in this, and we’ll let the courts sort it out.

But the issue now is that the sloppy language in the WOKE law defies any clear legal explanation for what someone can or can’t say.


Here’s the legal summary of HB 7. See if you can figure it out.

Provides that subjecting individuals to specified concepts under certain circumstances constitutes discrimination based on race, color, sex, or national origin; revising requirements for required instruction on the history of African Americans; requiring the department to prepare and offer certain standards and curriculum; authorizing the department to seek input from a specified organization for certain purposes; prohibits instructional materials reviewers from recommending instructional materials that contain any matter that contradicts certain principles; requires DOE to review school district professional development systems for compliance with certain provisions of law.”

That’s legal gibberish, which is probably what the Governor intended. He acts as if the law is whatever he says it is. Who knows what that might be on any given day?

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


Honorable mention: Mark Lombardo. His campaign to unseat U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz in Florida’s 1st Congressional District received a boost. A candidate in what was a four-person race in that Republican Primary withdrew and promptly endorsed Lombardo.

Bryan Jones, a U.S. Air Force Special Operations pilot, had left active duty to campaign for the seat.

“The Republican Primary on August 23rd is a winner-take-all system, and a crowded ballot is not in the best interest of the voters of this district,” he said in a statement.

“While this is one of my family’s most difficult decisions of our lives, my withdrawal of candidacy for this race is out of a higher calling to remain truthful to my faith, the core values that guide me, and my life’s mission of putting the good of others above my own.”

That leaves Lombardo and Greg Merk still in the race against Gaetz.

Lombardo is a retired Marine and former FedEx executive. He vowed to spend up to $1 million of his own money to knock out Gaetz.

Almost (but not quite) biggest winner: DeSantis. His unannounced candidacy for the presidency in 2024 received a humorous boost from an unlikely source.

The Lincoln Project posted a biting video that uses DeSantis to mock what’s-his-name from Mar-a-Lago.

The 30-second bit begins with the image of DeSantis and Donald Trump, with the words, “It’s hard to watch, isn’t it, Donald? Ron DeSantis betrayed you to become a star.”

It later adds, “He’s laughing at you.”

DeSantis is too smart to take a premature victory lap because Trump obviously remains a force with Republicans. But it’s undeniable that DeSantis appears to be moving toward a presidential run, and he won’t demur simply to spare Trump’s feelings.

The biggest winner: Florida teachers. The Florida Department of Education (DOE) celebrated that overall school grades for the 2021-22 academic year exceeded expectations.

The DOE bragged that it happened because of “policies that kept schools open and kept students in the classroom.”

Open classrooms certainly made for a better learning atmosphere. But the gold star for the better-than-expected outcome goes to Florida’s teachers.

Over the years, they’ve been bullied, maligned, belittled and made to twist in the wind from the ever-shifting demands of Florida lawmakers. Then you throw in a pandemic that turned education on its ear, and the overall performance of teachers is extraordinary.

We can’t thank them enough for what they do to prepare the next generations of Floridians.


Dishonorable mention: City of Orlando. City officials were red-faced and apologizing after a post about a Fourth of July fireworks show went overboard.

“When there is so much division, hate, and unrest, why on earth would you want to have a party celebrating any of it?” the statement read.

Go on …

“In that moment, something takes over, and we all become united in an inexplicable bond. Yes, America is in strife right now, but you know what … we already bought the fireworks.”

The post was fireworks enough.

Almost (but not quite) biggest loser: James Judge. The Republican candidate hoping to defeat Democratic incumbent Kathy Castor in Florida’s 15th Congressional District took his devotion for the Second Amendment to a disgusting level. They say timing is everything, and Judge showed an astonishing amount of bad timing.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that Judge announced that he’s raffling off four AR-15-style semiautomatic rifles. He made that pitch two days after a gunman used a similar-style weapon to murder seven people at a Fourth of July parade outside Chicago.

“The radical far left wants to abolish our Second Amendment completely. Not on my watch! My campaign is defying them by giving away four AR-15s,” Judge posted on his campaign website.

Actually, most folks would just like to attend a Fourth of July celebration without fearing a lunatic on a rooftop is out to kill them with a weapon of war.

Before Judge can take on Castor, he must win a three-way race in the Aug. 23 Republican Primary.

The biggest loser: California Gov. Gavin Newsom. If Newsom believed trolling DeSantis in a July 4 ad on Fox News would have any impact, he was grotesquely mistaken.

The ad touts California’s accepting approach to gay rights and takes a clever swipe at DeSantis’ “free state of Florida” schtick.

“It’s Independence Day, so let’s talk about what’s going on in America,” Newsom said in the ad.

“Freedom is under attack in your state. Republican leaders, they’re banning books, making it harder to vote, restricting speech in classrooms, even criminalizing women and doctors. I urge all of you living in Florida to join the fight or join us in California.”

Well, OK, the ad might have had more impact if Newsom wasn’t vacationing in Montana with his family around the time the spot ran. Because of its LGBTQ+ restrictions, Montana is on a list of 22 states banned for state-funded travel by California.

Yes, Newsom paid for the vacation, but it’s still a bad look and deserves dishonorable mention.

Besides, all this did was make DeSantis even more popular with his base, as if that’s possible.

We should also note that the Governor’s wife, Casey DeSantis, is a major asset as he moves forward with his agenda and ambitions. She appears with him at many rallies, and the pair exudes youthful energy and drive. She’s the best running mate any candidate could want.

And we’ll leave this segment with one more jab at Democrat Val Demings and her campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. As we noted recently, her “cop on the beat” ad touting her experience in law enforcement misses the mark.

She needs to focus more on what she’ll do for Floridians if elected, but FiveThirtyEight doesn’t think that will be a problem. It currently gives her a 6% chance of beating Rubio.

She needs to do better.

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