Saturday, April 13

Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 8.7.22

State public schools began the new academic year an estimated 8,000 teachers short of what is needed to fill classrooms properly.

Schools also need hundreds of bus drivers and support staff.

Hillsborough County has about 800 teacher vacancies and 600 staff shortages, according to The district has resorted to sending 300 administrators back to the classroom while sometimes forcing regular teachers to handle more and larger classes.

“Every year, it’s been a little worse, and this year might be the absolute worst year we’ve seen in Hillsborough County in terms of filling the positions for these students,” Hillsborough County Classroom Teachers Association President Rob Kriste said.

Polk County is short 216 teachers, spokesman Kyle Kennedy told Osceola schools need 230 more instructors.

Palm Beach County schools are about 400 teachers under what they need.

Get the picture?

Teachers cite the usual problems — burnout from the incessant meddling by lawmakers over what they can or cannot say, unruly students, lack of administrative and parental support, and low pay.

For many, teaching simply is not an attractive career path now.

And with Gov. Ron DeSantis and other GOP lawmakers hitting his constant refrain that schools “indoctrinate” students with “woke” ideology, that won’t change any time soon. Who can blame anyone who chooses not to put up with a steady barrage of harassment?

Yep, Florida has a real problem on its hands.


Honorable mention: Gus Bilirakis. The Republican U.S. Representative from Florida’s 12th Congressional District joined with U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, a New York Democrat, to introduce meaningful bipartisan legislation that could have a nationwide impact.

Called the National Plan to End Parkinson’s Act, Bilirakis said the proposal could ease financial burdens on families and eventually lead to reduced government spending.

“This issue is very important to me as I’ve watched a close family member struggle with Parkinson’s,” Bilirakis said.

“This disease takes a terrible toll on the physical, mental, emotional and economic well-being of everyone involved. The lack of treatment options leaves patients, families, and the American taxpayers in a terrible quandary. We must change our approach in order to get better results, which is exactly what our bipartisan legislation will do.”

In a news release announcing the plan, Bilirakis said U.S. taxpayers spend more than $52 billion annually to provide treatment for Parkinson’s patients. By 2037, the cost of treatment could jump to more than $80 billion annually.

About one million people in the United States have Parkinson’s Disease, more than the combined totals of those diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Almost (but not quite) biggest winner: Val Demings. The Democratic challenger to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio had her best week of the campaign.

Two polls showed Demings has pulled even with Rubio.

Change Research, a Democratic polling firm out of California, finds both candidates drew 46% in a survey of likely Florida voters, with 7% saying they are unsure and 2% saying they would not vote.

An earlier poll by Progress Florida and Florida Watch, two progressive groups, had Rubio and Demings both at 45%.

Rubio fans could smirk and say, yeah, right — what would anyone expect from a Democratic polling outfit and two progressive groups? To be fair, the nonpartisan still gives Rubio a 90% chance of winning, with nearly 54% of the vote.

That’s down 4 points from a couple of weeks ago, but it’s still pretty good odds.

Here’s one thing they can’t dispute, though: Demings continues to smoke Rubio in fundraising. And at some point, that’s going to leave a mark.

Through the end of June, federal records show Rubio has raised $34.9 million and spent nearly $21 million. However, his take from July 1 through August 3 was slightly more than $1.9 million, compared to $4.7 million from Demings in the same period.

Overall, Demings raised $42.4 million, including an eye-popping $12.2 million in the second quarter, and spent nearly $31 million.

Rubio even acknowledged the issue during an appearance last month on Fox News.

“We can’t get out-spent and out-raised three-to-one because we can’t get our story out,” he said. “Florida is a state that should not in any way have close races like this, but we’re going to because they’re raising a lot of money.”

The biggest winner: The Walt Disney Company. Remember the predictions for pain and suffering at Disney following the culture attack on the entertainment giant by Gov. Ron DeSantis?

The Mouse just roared.

The only pain Disney experiences these days is from lifting all those bags of cash as customers keep responding to the siren call of the company they love.

Disney reported a $3.6 billion (with a “b”) operating profit in its latest earnings report, up 50% from a year ago. The company’s revenue was $21.5 billion, a 26% increase from last year.

Two factors drove the increase: A strong performance by its theme parks as people shrugged off the pandemic and paid for a Disney getaway, and the company’s streaming service, Disney+.

While other major streaming platforms struggled, Disney+ grew to 221 million subscribers worldwide, passing Netflix for the first time.

Florida Republicans gloated after taking away Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District, telling anyone who would listen that the company would finally “pay its fair share” in taxes.

It looks like Disney can handle that.


Dishonorable mention: Escambia County Schools. Michael James quit his exceptional student education teacher job at O.J. Semmes Elementary School in Pensacola.

Why, you ask?

As the Pensacola News-Journal reported, James said a staff member at the school removed pictures of historic Black American heroes from his classroom walls, saying the images were “age-inappropriate.”

The pictures included Martin Luther King Jr., Harriett Tubman, Colin Powell and George Washington Carver.

“It really floored me,” James told the News Journal. “I’ve been teaching special education for 15 years, and it just really floored me when she did that.”‘

The newspaper added that James chose the photos because most students at the school are Black, and he wanted to use the images to motivate his students.

He sent an email about the incident to DeSantis and Escambia County Superintendent Tim Smith.

Smith promised to investigate.

Almost (but not quite) biggest loser: Rebekah Jones. She was removed from the ballot in Florida’s 1st Congressional District after a judge ruled she had not been a registered Democrat for the required 365 days.

Jones appealed and on Friday won a stay of the ruling by Leon Circuit Court Judge John Cooper, which was in response to a complaint by her Democratic Primary opponent. Even with the stay, though, having this kind of contusion is a bad look with the Aug. 23 Primary Election bearing down.

In a fundraising appeal to supporters to help with her legal expenses, Jones called it an “egregious decision.”

However, the ruling is in keeping with a new Florida law setting rules for membership in a political party.

Officials removed several other candidates around the state from ballots for the same reason as Jones.

The biggest loser: Randy Fine. There was an explosive story that the perpetually hyperventilating Fine, a Republican state Rep. from Palm Bay, couldn’t wait to share.

There were rumors a transgender student sexually assaulted a girl in the restroom at Johnson Middle School in Melbourne. Fine, ever quick to stoke the fires of culture wars, firing off a letter to state Education Commissioner Manny Diaz to DEMAND AN INVESTIGATION!

Fine then publicly released the letter.

That would have been appropriate if the alleged attack actually occurred.

Ah, but, you know — facts. They can be so inconvenient for someone trying to score cheap political points.

“It did not happen,” Brevard Public Schools spokesman Russell Bruhn told Florida Today.

“There’s no record of law enforcement being contacted. There is no record of anybody at BPS being contacted about this. No parent or student. It is irresponsible to send this letter to the state. It’s an attack that is unjustified. And it’s an embarrassment for our state government.”

It. Did. Not. Happen.

In words Fine might more easily understand, it was FAKE NEWS.

Fine could have just called Diaz and said, “Hey, can you look into this?”

But no. He just ran with it.

He tweeted his OUTRAGE toward two School Board members he detests, Misty Belford and Jennifer Jenkins. Fine called them “champions” of the “open bathroom policy.”

Fine, on the other hand, is the undisputed champion of nonsense.

He must be so proud.

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