Gov. Ron DeSantis and Democratic challenger Charlie Crist will debate each other on Monday night, and both sides will believe they won.
That’s the one thing we can be sure about as the two men argue about which one is most qualified to lead the state. Their supporters, of course, will passionately agree, and they’ll label anyone with a differing opinion stupid and uninformed.
We saw that in the recent throwdown between U.S. Rep. Val Demings and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.
Demings’ supporters believe she wiped the floor with Rubio, while his backers believe he wrapped up the election with his performance that night.
I tend to look at these things a little differently, however.
In close races, it’s probably easier for a candidate to lose the election with a poor showing than to secure victory with a strong performance. And while Rubio had some awkward moments — one of which you’ll find in the “losers” section in this column — I don’t believe he lost enough support with that to change the election outcome.
Besides, Florida has evolved into a tribal state, and voters tend to stick with their chosen party. I’m sure none of Rubio’s backers looked at his shape-shifting about gun laws and decided to abandon ship.
That’s the reality Crist faces in his debate.
He can land all the haymakers he wants about DeSantis’ culture wars and the like — and he should. The Governor deserves criticism for concentrating on divisive things like what “woke” companies teach their employees about tolerance at the expense of soaring property insurance rates.
But none of that will matter to DeSantis’ flock because they’ve heard it all before and, besides, they like his swagger.
I’m sure that trait will be fully displayed in this debate because these things are as much about performance as substance.
And now, it’s on to our weekly game of winners and losers.
Honorable mention: Fentrice Driskell. It can be hard for Democrats in Tallahassee to be heard. Still, the incoming House Minority Leader had a noteworthy dig at DeSantis after the Governor called for another Special Session to deal with property insurance.
“We’re glad Governor DeSantis is finally on board with what Florida Democrats have been saying the whole time: our property insurance market is in crisis, and Floridians are suffering. I’m just sorry it took a hurricane to get him to act,” she said.
“Obviously, we will need to see what they propose. Our last Special Session was specifically about property insurance, and it didn’t even come close to solving the problem. We’ll need to see specific plans and how they’ll actually help the people of Florida. This is not the time for half-measures.”
Well, it can be hard to deal with complicated stuff like Florida’s sky-high property insurance when you’re slaying dragons like critical race theory and woke stuff. I mean, you know — priorities.
Almost (but not quite) biggest winner: Medical marijuana growth. Demand for medical weed is so high that the Florida Department of Health asked for a $6.2 million increase in next year’s budget.
The Department said it needed to hire 31 more full-time employees for the Office of Medical Marijuana Use in its Tallahassee headquarters. It also needs new regional offices to meet demand.
Christine Sexton of Florida Politics reported that the state is projecting that by June 2024, 1,044,072 patients will qualify for medical marijuana treatment and register with the state.
Because of that, it plans to award an additional eight medical marijuana treatment center licenses in the 2023-24 fiscal year.
And if that’s not enough, people could soon buy it at a handful of Circle K convenience stores in Florida. They will need a valid Medical Marijuana card to do that.
Green Thumb Industries, a Chicago-based cannabis company, said it tested the idea in 2023 by leasing space from ten of Circle K’s 600 Florida locations.
The biggest winner: Lee County debris removers. One person’s mess is another person’s gold, at least when it comes to debris left behind by Hurricane Ian.
Lee County Commissioners approved an increased payment to CrowderGulf Disaster Recovery and Debris Management of $40 per mile when the trucks have to leave the county.
The previous rate for that trip was $5 per mile.
The trucks will haul the trash to a landfill about three miles away in Charlotte County. However, officials conceded they may also need to use a landfill about 50 miles away in Desoto County.
It could take thousands of truckloads to finish the job.
The good news, however, is that FEMA will cover up to 60 days of the cost.
The bad news is that it probably won’t be enough.
Dishonorable mention: Marco Rubio. During a particularly heated exchange in his debate with Demings, Rubio disavowed a position he took on assault weapons after the Parkland massacre. Senator Flip-Flop just flopped on this one.
After the Parkland slaughter in 2018, Rubio said he would support raising the age for someone to buy an assault-style weapon. In Florida, that age is currently 18. Parkland murderer Nikolas Cruz was 19 when he bought the weapon he used in the slaughter.
“I absolutely believe that in this country, if you are 18 years of age, you should not be able to buy a rifle, and I will support a law that takes that right away,” he said during a CNN town hall meeting shortly after the murders.
During the debate, Demings hammered him on his record about guns.
“How long will you watch people being gunned down in first grade, fourth grade, high school, college, church, synagogue, a grocery store, a movie theater, a mall, and a nightclub — and do nothing?” Demings, with her voice rising and anger visible, said while pointing her finger at Rubio.
Rubio, a darling of the National Rifle Association, seemed incredulous that raising the age limit would do any good.
“Let me tell you why that law doesn’t work and why that proposal doesn’t work,” he said.
He went on to say persons bent on murder would get the weapons anyway, regardless of their age.
“Denying the right to buy it is not going to keep them from doing it. Here’s the fundamental issue: The fundamental issue is why are these kids, why are these people going out there and massacring people?” he added. “Because a lot of people own AR-15s, and they don’t kill everyone. A majority of people don’t.”
“People who are families of victims of gun violence just heard that, and they’re asking themselves, what in the hell did he just say?” she said.
Almost (but not quite) biggest loser: Election police. DeSantis’ ballyhooed election security force made headlines with the arrests in August of 20 ex-felons for alleged voter fraud.
“They’re going to pay the price,” DeSantis said at a news conference announcing the arrests.
But shortly after the Governor took that victory lap, his political stunt began to backfire. Some of those arrested said elections officials assured them they were eligible to vote in the Primary Election. They were even issued voter cards.
Now, police body cam footage obtained by the Times/Herald shows that even the arresting officers were sympathetic and understanding in some cases.
At issue are changes Republicans made to Amendment 4 in 2018. That’s the one voters overwhelmingly approved restoring voting rights to convicted felons who had completed their sentences.
GOP lawmakers promptly erected financial hurdles they had to complete to have their rights restored. They probably sensed the new law would create a tsunami of votes for Democrats.
The confusion about whether the ex-felons willingly lied about their eligibility led prosecutors to drop the charges in several cases. And on Friday, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch threw out the case against Lee Wood, accused of voting illegally.
So, which is it — security or intimidation and suppression?
The biggest loser: Charlie Crist. Let’s stipulate there is no one more genial in Florida politics than gentleman Crist. However, there’s no sugarcoating what a bad week it was for him.
The latest poll numbers show him falling farther behind DeSantis in the race for Governor. A recent Mason-Dixon Polling survey had DeSantis ahead by double digits.
That isn’t good with Election Day closing in.
But Crist also lost his campaign manager after Austin Durrer left to deal with a “family matter.” We later found out that was a domestic violence arrest. Not good.
DeSantis blankets the airwaves with commercials that paint him as a warm huggy bear and a fighter for Florida. Crist, meanwhile, largely depends on free media. There hasn’t been much of that lately, either — although he’ll get prime exposure in Monday’s debate.
He needs that.