Florida’s wild 2022 ride starts now – POLITICO – Politico

Good morning and welcome to 2022.

Onward — Here we go. Gov. Ron DeSantis is steaming ahead into his reelection year. Val Demings vs. Marco Rubio for U.S. Senate is likely to be one of the most anticipated races in the country. State legislators get back to work next week during a session where they will adopt new congressional and legislative maps that could help Republicans. That session will also likely include battles over abortion, elections, and critical race theory. A surge in Covid-19 cases in Florida means the polarized battles over the pandemic won’t end soon. And oh yes, there’s that Florida man who lives in Palm Beach who could upend everything.

Here’s what some of those who work and follow Florida politics think about the year ahead. Their responses varied from predictions to thoughts and legislative outlooks.

Sean Shaw, Democratic National Committee member and founder of People Over Profits: “Can Democrats show the American people that a congressional majority and the White House = demonstratable progress? And can Florida Democrats find a message that actually works?”

Joe Gruters, state senator and chair of the Republican Party of Florida: “I am looking forward to seeing how many more seats the Republicans can pick up at the local, state and federal level as well as watching the advantage of registrations that the Republicans continue to build.”

Mac Stipanovich, veteran Florida political strategist and observer and columnist: “I remain surprised by how weak the Democrats are even after disparities in resources and public platforms are taken into account. DeSantis is masterful in defining the ‘issues’ and he who defines an election wins it. In this vein, the Dems were sure COVID was his Achilles heel. He has accepted that challenge and made COVID his calling card, a strategy to which events have given credence. The Dems are flummoxed.”

Annette Taddeo, Democratic state senator and candidate for governor: “2022 will be the cycle Democrats are tested like never before… This year will no doubt have DeSantis fake crises that are made to lift up his imaginary presidential campaign. We must focus on the here and now, and the real challenges families face and offer meaningful solutions to the public’s cry for true leadership.”

Juan Peñalosa, public affairs strategist and former executive director of the Florida Democratic Party: “While it’s common for celebrities to have public feuds, politicians have (mostly) perfected the art of the frenemy — claiming to be best friends publicly and communicating insults via ‘unnamed sources close to (insert name here). As the 2024 presidential GOP stakes heat up I expect Donald Trump, who has always been more celebrity than politician, to have a Mariah Carey ‘I don’t know her’ moment re Ron DeSantis. The question is: Will the governor withstand the heat of Trump’s public barbs better than Florida’s previous golden boys, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush?”

Trey Radel, former member of Congress and Southwest Florida radio show host: “Ron was right… Should be a hashtag. But that’s what I got. And now Dems in various states are coming around to the same — no school shutdowns. No lockdowns.”

Joshua Karp, communications and strategy consultant and adviser for Charlie Crist’s gubernatorial campaign: “I’m watching the content different campaigns are producing like local campaign stops and social media videos, closer than ever. Especially in a midterm that’s all about turnout, the link between a great campaign and authentically interesting content has never been stronger.”

Anna Eskamani, Democratic state representative from Orlando: “Definitely the abortion fight and corporate taxes — and I have no idea if any of the dark money reporting will get the attention of other political people (or if they plan to keep ignoring it!) but it deserves more attention.”

Helen Aguirre Ferré, executive director of the Republican Party of Florida: “In 2022, you will see a vigorous defense of the many achievements under Governor DeSantis’ leadership over the last 3 years. The RPOF will not permit the lies and deceit of weak and unaccomplished Democrat candidates go unchallenged. We are prepared for a healthy and rigorous debate on the issues and accomplishments that matter to Floridians. If Democrats are going to be up for the task, they have a lot of catching up to do.”

Carlos Guillermo Smith, Democratic state representative from Orlando: “Floridians deserve accountability and transparency from our nursing homes. This mostly for-profit industry receives $4 billion annually from Florida taxpayers and should enact better minimum standards for resident care. Some great bipartisan reforms are already moving through the Legislature and I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues to raise the bar for our seniors.”

Jimmy Patronis, Republican and Florida chief financial officer: “For the upcoming session, woke businesses will come under fire. Republicans traditionally felt they couldn’t weigh in on the activities of big businesses. But those companies are now adopting liberal policies through their human resource departments and social media accounts. They’ll be called out in committee a lot this year. Session will also be Florida vs. Biden. Every time Biden announces a new rule or policy, there will be a new bill and a new press release pushing back within the same news cycle. There will be total unification with the House, Senate and the governor against a liberal, unpopular administration. “

Marc Caputo, veteran Florida political reporter: “Will DeSantis’ Covid policies be a hindrance or benefit to his reelection chances in 2022? If you look at Twitter, you would think he has zero shot. But if you look at polling, it suggests not. And if you look at the number of people who moved into Florida, it really suggests that folks — at least when it comes to new arrivals — aren’t that concerned.”

— WHERE’S RON? — Gov. DeSantis will be in Fort Lauderdale where he will hold a press conference with state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, and Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Simone Marstiller.

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LIVE FROM PALM BEACH — “At time of Capitol prayer service Jan. 6, Trump will deliver remarks doubling down on the ‘Big Lie,’” by POLITICO’s David Siders: Donald Trump has already telegraphed the remarks he plans to give at Mar-a-Lago on Thursday, the anniversary of the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. If he follows the script laid out in his announcement of the news conference, he will commit a whitewashing of the day, repeating the lie that the 2020 election was rigged and defending his part in fomenting the insurrection — all while a solemn prayer service is held at the Capitol, in a vivid split-screen moment.

SETTING THE STAGE — “Outcome of redistricting looms over Florida’s 2022 election landscape,” by Miami Herald’s Ana Ceballos: “Heading into 2022, Florida will again be a hotbed for political activity. But this time with a once-a-decade flair. Not only will Florida land in the national spotlight as Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio try to fend off Democratic challenges and the Republican-led state Legislature redraws the state’s political lines in a process that could have huge ramifications for Congress as the GOP attempts to retake control of the U.S. House of Representatives.”

COMING SOON — “Here are the fights that could define the 2022 legislative session,” by POLITICO’s Matt Dixon: Flush with cash and with an eye towards the 2022 midterms, Florida’s Republican-dominated Legislature returns to Tallahassee next week to start a legislative session that will double as a political high wire act. The shadow of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ political aspirations will cast a huge shadow over the two month session, which includes the once-in-a-decade task of redrawing the state political lines. GOP majorities will need to balance the need to hand DeSantis legislative wins that can help fuel his reelection campaign and national rise, while also avoiding election-year pitfalls that can hand vastly outnumbered Democratic lawmakers political wins headed into the midterms.

Reminder — “It’s an election year and a redistricting year, so in cases like that the first order of business is do no harm,” said Florida Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mark Wilson.

PREDICTION — “‘A hell of a year’: GOP eyes big 2022, but weaknesses remain,” by The Associated Press’ Steve Peoples and Will Weissert: “GOP leaders are brimming with confidence. ‘We’re going to have a hell of a year,’ said Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who leads the national GOP’s Senate campaign arm. ‘Every state that Biden won by less than 10 is now a battleground state.’”

SOARING — “Florida breaks single-day COVID case record,” by The Associated Press: “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday reported more than 75,900 new cases of COVID-19 in Florida. That tally raises the 7-day average daily to 42,600, which is twice as high as it was at the peak of this summer’s surge when the delta variant fueled a surge of infections in the state. Friday’s report marks a single-day record for the number of new cases in Florida. It breaks the record set a day earlier when more than 58,000 cases were reported in the state.”

SCHOOL DAZE — “Florida schools brace for Omicron surge,” by POLITICO’s Andrew Atterbury: School districts in Florida are ramping up their Covid-19 precautions with teachers and students days away from returning to campus after the holiday break amid a nationwide spike in cases fueled by the Omicron variant. But unlike the Delta variant surge over the summer and fall, school leaders are now hesitant about requiring students to wear masks, a sign that policies recently pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis were effective in blocking local coronavirus mandates.

— “Puerto Rico faces staggering Covid case explosion,” by The New York Times’ Frances Robles

— “Archdiocese of Miami changes mask requirements for its schools after COVID-19 case rise,” by Miami Herald’s David J. Neal

— “COVID surge shuts down baby delivery unit at Fort Lauderdale hospital,” by Sun Sentinel’s Susannah Bryan

— “University of Miami to start next semester remotely,” by The Associated Press

— “Orange mayor Demings blasts DeSantis, expands COVID-19 testing, requires masks for employees,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Ryan Gillespie

— “Nikki Fried boosters up at busy FAMU site,” by Florida Politics’ Christine Jordan Sexton

HAZY — “DeSantis is ‘blurring the lines’ using state plane for campaign-style events, watchdog says,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Steven Lemongello: “Gov. Ron DeSantis flies to events all over Florida in the state plane, which cost more than $15 million to buy and $3 million-plus a year to operate. But some of the official appearances his office promotes as news conferences have resembled campaign rallies, filled with Palm Beach International Airport supporters and political chants. … A Florida watchdog criticized the practice as increasingly flouting the spirit of the law that separates official duties from campaigning. ‘There doesn’t appear to be a border in this case,’ said Ben Wilcox, research director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan group Integrity Florida.”

‘DESANTIS PLAN IS OPTICS’ — “The messy reality behind Florida Guv’s aggressive pitch to America’s cops,” by Daily Beast’s Andrew Boryga: “But critics of his proposal say the governor—who has become a darling of the right and a rumored 2024 presidential candidate—is simply using a chunk of Florida’s budget to score political points among the right-wing activist set. They also fear his proposal—and in particular calls for officers out of state to find refuge in Florida—could lead to an influx of cops with misconduct issues or who are more focused on culture wars and money than serving the public. ‘He cares about whether he’s going to get enough delegates when he runs for president,’ Alex Saiz, director of legal services for the Florida Justice Center, a nonprofit legal aid and reentry service agency, said of DeSantis’ proposal.”

— “Florida lawmakers get some happy new years news: an extra $400 million to spend,” by News Service of Florida’s Jim Saunders

— “Improved jobless rate leads to scaled-back benefits in Florida,” by News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner

HITTING THE HIGHWAY — State Sen. Annette Taddeo, a Miami Democrat running for governor against fellow Democrats Nikki Fried and Charlie Crist, plans to visit all 67 counties in a RV as part of her gubernatorial campaign. “In the spirit of Governor Lawton Chiles’ ‘Walking with Lawton’, we are going to go to every corner of the state,” Taddeo said in a statement that references Chiles’ famed 1970 campaign for U.S. Senate. “Democrats can’t wait until August to begin campaigning for November and I’m going to tell our story and vision to all 67 counties.” Taddeo’s campaign says they will announce the start of the tour in the next few weeks, but that all events will be held outside and in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

NEW FRONTIER — “Republicans eye new front in education wars: Making school board races partisan,” by POLITICO’s Andrew Atterbury and Juan Perez Jr.: In Florida, school boards are among the last elected officials who blocked policies of Gov. Ron DeSantis. If Republicans succeed in pushing the state to strip school board elections of their nonpartisan status and gain more representation on school boards, they could break the last holdouts who regularly defy the governor. “We’re out there trying to elect good conservatives that will follow essentially the governor’s mission as it relates to education,” said Sen. Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota), the state Senate’s education chair who also leads the Republican Party of Florida.

— “COVID-19 concerns force Village Democrats to delay appearance by former Gov. Crist,” by Villages-News.com

— “A special January election will decide Broward’s newest state representative. Here are the four candidates,” by Sun Sentinel’s Anthony Man

WHAT WE DID FOR THE HOLIDAYS The news did not slow down in the final days of the year. So before we move our attention fully to 2022, here’s a few things that happened while Playbook was on winter break:

GONE — “Murphy, a leader of House Dem centrists, won’t seek reelection,” by POLITICO’s Sarah Ferris: The Florida Democrat — who flipped a GOP-held battleground seat in 2016 and helped write the party’s playbook for its House takeover two years later — said she is leaving the Hill to spend more time with her family, including her two school-aged children. “It’s been a real honor for me to serve in Congress, but it does come at a personal sacrifice. My time away has been hard on my family and my kids and on me,” [Stephanie] Murphy told POLITICO.

UM, WHAT? — “Former Florida Board of Education chair quietly resigned amid investigation,” by POLITICO’s Andrew Atterbury: The former chair of Florida’s Board of Education quietly resigned in November amid an investigation exploring whether he and other top officials broke conflict-of-interest rules by attempting to leverage their positions to score a contract with the state. Both Andy Tuck, a citrus grower first appointed to the state board in 2014, and Melissa Ramsey, the vice chancellor for strategic improvement at the Florida Department of Education, left their posts last month in the wake of the probe, which was completed Dec. 13 and first reported by Florida Politics.

— “DeSantis touts ‘freest state’ of Florida during appearance at New Years Eve Christian concert in Miami,” by Fox News’ Kyle Morris

— “Donald Trump, Melania host Mar-A-Lago NYE Party for allies, including Matt Gaetz,” by Newsweek’s Brendan Cole

— “Top DeSantis official embraced critical race theory in dissertation,” by POLITICO’s Matt Dixon and Andrew Atterbury

— “Federal judge rejects bid to scuttle voting rights lawsuit against Florida,” by POLITICO’s Gary Fineout

— “Florida Gov. DeSantis makes picks for new state gambling commission,” by News Service of Florida’s Dara Kam

— “Judge postpones penalty trial for Parkland school gunman,” by The Associated Press

— “Puerto Rico’s shattered power grid could become a ‘big experiment’ for Biden,” by POLITICO’s Gloria Gonzalez

— “Famous Key West buoy burned after 2 set tree on fire,” by The Associated Press: “Police in Florida are searching for two people who burned a part of Key West’s famous Southernmost Point buoy early New Year’s Day after setting a fire near the tourist attraction. Authorities said two males lit a Christmas tree on fire in front of the buoy around 3:30 a.m. Saturday and the flames charred sections of the colorful, 4-ton (3,600-kilogram) cement monument that reads ‘90 miles to Cuba, Southernmost Point, Continental U.S.A.’”

— “Tiger attack Florida: Naples Zoo reopens as staff mourns the loss of Malayan tiger Eko,” by Naples Daily News’ Liz Freeman: “A decision by a Naples man to breach a safety fence at the Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens was a bad mistake, yet the zoo wishes him well in his recovery after being mauled by a Malayan tiger, the zoo’s top official said Friday morning. Jack Mulvena, president and CEO of the zoo, did not indicate if he has spoken to the family of River Rosenquist, 26, of Naples, who was hospitalized Wednesday in Fort Myers. A Collier sheriff’s deputy responded to a 911 call to the zoo around 6:30 p.m. Wednesday after Rosenquist tried to pet or feed the tiger, Eko.”

BIRTHDAYS: State Rep. Tom FabricioAl Cardenas, former Republican Party of Florida chairman … (Was Sunday) Former Rep. Robert Wexler

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