Secretary of State Laurel Lee sure knows how to make an entrance.
Her announcement late last week that she is stepping down as Florida’s Secretary of State came amid speculation she will run for Congress in Florida’s 15th Congressional District. That district covers parts of Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties, including Lee’s home in Thonotosassa.
A district that already promises a whopper of a Republican Primary just got more interesting. Former U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross and state Rep. Jackie Toledo are already in the field. There’s speculation state Sen. Kelli Stargel of Lakeland might jump in too.
If that happens, stock up on popcorn because that race will be no-holds-barred. Republican Scott Franklin technically represents CD 15, but the boundary lines changed after the 2020 U.S. Census. Franklin decided to run in Florida’s 18th Congressional District and, well, we’ll get to that later.
The immediate impact, though, is on the office Lee is departing.
Election security is among Lee’s Secretary of State responsibilities, and that hasn’t been easy in this hyperpartisan climate.
Florida won widespread praise for running the 2020 election, but Gov. Ron DeSantis wasn’t satisfied. He pushed through several initiatives he said would guard against fraud. Critics grumped it was about suppressing minority voters.
Lee also found herself battling far-right cries for an audit of that election, even though Republicans ran up the score statewide. It was all for show, of course. Florida’s government can’t seem to operate these days without equal measures of fear and loathing.
DeSantis also created the Office of Election Crimes and Security and made Lee’s office responsible for putting it together.
She remained a loyal soldier to the Governor’s policies. However, it’s not a stretch that she might see running for Congress as a more attractive alternative.
It’s also safe to assume she isn’t doing this on a whim. Her husband, former state lawmaker Tom Lee, is a savvy tea-leaf reader. She wouldn’t do this so late in the game without a good sense she could win.
OK, it’s on to our weekly game of winners and losers.
Honorable mention: Disney+. You may have heard that relations between the Mouse and Tallahassee are complicated.
But lest anyone believe the feud leaves woke Disney broke, the answer is nope.
The Hollywood Reporter had a story that the company beat Wall Street expectations for its hugely successful streaming business. Disney+ added 7.9 million subscribers in the last quarter. That blitzed the 4.5 million to 5 million investors expected.
Disney reported revenue of $19.2 billion and income of $3.7 billion. That’ll pay for a few fire stations — if you get my drift.
Two other Disney companies reported big gains.
The Hulu streaming service added 300,000 subscribers to reach 45.6 million. ESPN+ added 1 million subscribers to reach 22.3 million.
Also, Axios reported Disney is moving ESPN inexorably toward direct-to-consumer (DTC) streaming. The plan is to eventually bypass cable and traditional streaming platforms.
“What we’re doing is sort of putting one foot on the dock, if you will, and one foot on the boat right now,” Disney CEO Bob Chapek said. “But we know that at some point, when it’s going to be good for our shareholders, we’ll be able to fully go into an ESPN DTC offering.”
Almost (but not quite) biggest winner: Journalism. Good journalism still matters and deserves respect. That’s why it’s noteworthy that the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times received Pulitzer Prizes for breaking news and investigative reporting, respectively.
The Herald’s newsroom received the honor for detailed and vital coverage of the Surfside condo disaster.
The Pulitzer board praised the Herald “for its urgent yet sweeping coverage of the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium complex, merging clear and compassionate writing with comprehensive news and accountability reporting.”
Times Reporters Corey G. Johnson, Rebecca Woolington and Eli Murray won for the series “Poisoned.”
The Pulitzer board recognized the paper’s “compelling exposé of highly toxic hazards inside Florida’s only battery recycling plant that forced the implementation of safety measures to adequately protect workers and nearby residents.”
And let’s not forget reporter Lulu Ramadan of the Palm Beach Post, who joined with three reporters from ProPublica for a finalist package in local reporting. They revealed dangerous air quality during Florida’s sugar cane harvest season. The report prompted significant reforms.
The biggest winner: Eric Lynn. The Pinellas County Democrat saw his path to winning his party’s Primary Election in Florida’s 13th Congressional District get a lot easier.
A tough three-way battle was looming between Lynn and state Reps. Ben Diamond and Michele Rayner, but that changed. Diamond suspended his campaign (not the same as dropping out, but close). There also is speculation Rayner could follow.
Diamond blamed the congressional map drawn by DeSantis. CD 13 had been a relatively safe Democratic district, but DeSantis redrew it to give Republicans the advantage.
“Unfortunately, the Governor and the Legislature did not create fair districts for Florida and did not follow our constitution,” Diamond told Florida Politics.
Diamond did open the possibility of jumping back in the race if the courts overturn the district map. That seems unlikely.
This allows Lynn, who served as Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama, to avoid spending heavily on the Primary. That could leave more cash for the General Election.
He’ll need it.
Dishonorable mention: DeSantis congressional map. The Governor drew a stinging rebuke when Leon Circuit Judge Layne Smith ruled the map he submitted was unconstitutional, specifically regarding North Florida and Florida’s 5th Congressional District.
Before DeSantis’ supporters scream about ACTIVIST JUDGES, remember that the Governor appointed Smith to that post.
For now, however, it conserves the district represented by Democrat U.S. Rep. Al Lawson.
The district stretched from Jacksonville to Tallahassee and was drawn under the Fair Districts amendment to give Black voters a better chance at representation in Congress. DeSantis maintains it’s an illegal gerrymander (see Diamond, Ben, above).
The ruling is subject to appeal, and the Florida Supreme Court could overturn it.
Almost (but not quite) biggest loser: Rick Scott. His diatribe that President Joe Biden should resign because of inflation smacks of hyperpartisanship, even by today’s exaggerated standards.
“We’re in horrible shape. He doesn’t even know what state I’m from. And you said he was supposed to give his ideas on inflation yesterday,” Scott said on Fox & Friends.
“What were his ideas? Oh, it’s everybody else’s fault but his. So we know he can’t do it. Let’s be honest. We know that Joe Biden cannot fix this economy. Alright, get out of the way, let somebody else do it. That’s what you do in business life.”
Well, we know one of Sen. Scott’s ideas is to raise taxes on the poorest Americans to, in his words, give them “skin in the game.”
We also know he proposes all federal programs sunset after five years. That could include Social Security and Medicare, although Scott said that’s not his intent.
Instead, he wants to “review” those programs — probably the same way he “reviewed” Medicaid while Governor of Florida and said expanding the program would cost too much.
It’s political theatrics because none of that will ever happen, but it gives us an idea about the inner workings of Scott’s mind.
It’s not pretty.
The biggest loser: Ramon Alexander. He was set to become leader of the House Democratic Caucus next term, but he announced he would not seek re-election.
His political career imploded after accusations of sexting and groping a Florida A&M University athletics employee.
In January, that employee, Michael Johnson Jr., a former assistant athletic director, left the school. The Tallahassee Democrat reported the departure happened after “an ugly staff shakeup.”
Johnson filed a complaint in February with the Florida Commission on Human Relations, alleging harassment and retaliation by high-ranking FAMU employees.
Alexander, a married father of two, told the Democrat he had an “adult consensual” relationship with Johnson.
In a statement, Alexander said, “After thoughtful consideration and personal self-reflection, I will not seek re-election for my final term in the Florida House of Representatives.”