2017 Roundup: Turbulent times in Tallahassee

2017 Roundup: Turbulent times in Tallahassee

2017 Roundup: Turbulent times in Tallahassee

In the midst of the Latvala inquiry, allegations of sexual harassment ended the career of a utility regulator before it even began.

U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Fla. This Southwest Florida Republican has had a higher profile than most congressional freshmen. Relying on his background as ambassador to the Holy See and working on the Panama Canal, Rooney has excelled on foreign policy. Even before his first year in Congress was finished, he was named vice chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and he continues to pen pieces on global affairs. If Rooney stays where he is, he could wind up filling Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s shoes when it comes to leading House Republicans on international issues. 

Ritch Workman. For SSN, it was a tough call — whether to make Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto a winner for ridding Florida consumers of a Public Service commissioner with no utility industry experience, or finding Workman a place of his own on the loser list. In the end, though, we erred on the side of Floridians, who made a lucky escape. Though the governor appointed Workman to the PSC, Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, chair of the Senate Rules Committee, had a greater knowledge of the Melbourne Republican and former state representative than she ever wanted. She recounted an experience during a charity event last year, when Workman  “approached me from behind, pushed his body up against me and made vulgar and inappropriate gestures. I immediately asked him to stop. He continued to make vulgar and inappropriate comments and gestures until other attendees intervened.” Benacquisto refused to let his name get past Rules, and Workman quickly bowed out.U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla. With a depleted Democratic caucus, this Florida congressman continues to move up the ranks. Deutch is now the ranking Democrat on the House Ethics Committee where he has taken aim at the Trump administration. He also remains the top Democrat on the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee where he continues to offer bipartisan support to the GOP majority on issues ranging from the war against terrorism to supporting Israel. Deutch is pretty secure in his South Florida district and he is increasingly growing prominent among House Democrats, even proving to be a key supporter in getting U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-NY, to lead the minority on the House Judiciary Committee. Keep an eye on him in 2018, especially if Democrats look likely to flip the House. Sen. Daphne Campbell.D- Miami Beach. Campbell wanted special treatment, too, but unfortunately for her she wasn’t as lucky, popular or powerful as Flores, apparently, because when she tried to use her connections to restore electricity to the homes of her family after Hurricane Irma struck, the media skewered her like a kebab. Campbell sent a series of text messages Sept. 11, two days after Hurricane Irma struck, to FPL’s Director of State Legislative Affairs John Holley with the addresses for her sister and her mother, requesting help to turn their lights back on after the storm knocked out their power. Campbell said her mother was “sick” and “on oxygen.” FPL failed to oblige, but power was restored at Campbell’s relatives’ homes within hours anyway. 

But fallout from sexual harassment scandals quickly put the damper on Florida Democrats’ revelry.

Scandal, storms and sniping were the hallmarks of 2017 in Florida, where political squalls and natural disasters created havoc in the Capitol and sent tremors through the Sunshine State.Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami. In September, Anitere Flores used her powerful position as chairwoman of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee to request favors for her mother’s Hurricane Irma-damaged property, including getting a Citizens Property Insurance claims adjuster to put her mother’s claim ahead of policyholders with greater damage. By using her chairmanship to gain some special advantage — at the very least, creating a perception that the state’s insurers dance to her command — particularly failing to be forthright with the public record … one would have thought there would be consequences. There were none — sadly, not from Senate President Negron, not even an admonishment from the Capitol Press Corps. 

Miami Republican Frank Artiles left the Senate after the 2017 legislative session began and less than six months after he defeated incumbent Democrat Dwight Bullard in a brutal contest for the newly redrawn District 40 seat.
One White House official, when asked about Trump’s recent impromptu interview with the New York Times, was perplexed, wondering aloud, “What interview? Today?” Another frustrated aide called it “embarrassing.”

Richard Corcoran. Critics see him as a bully and sanctimonious hypocrite, an utter insider pretending to be a populist. But the wily Florida House speaker from Pasco County has dominated the agenda in Tallahassee like no one since Jeb Bush. He outmaneuvered both the governor and Florida Senate in last year’s legislative session, and there is little reason to doubt he will do so again in 2018 as he raises his profile in advance of a likely gubernatorial run.

A strong case could be made that Florida voters were the chief losers, given all that we’ve learned about our Legislature: State senators hitting on and sleeping with lobbyists (and others) — or turning a blind eye as their colleagues do. State House leaders spending obscene amounts of special interest money on elite restaurants, cigars, posh resorts. Lawmakers drinking behind closed doors.

To the end, Latvala steadfastly maintained his innocence, pointing the finger for his downfall at political foes and even a special master brought in to investigate the senator’s alleged wrongdoing.Rick Scott. The governor and likely candidate for U.S. Senate in 2018 earned loads of goodwill from his handling of Hurricane Irma. The state’s response had significant problems, but internal campaign polls show that the ubiquitous presence of Scott and his trusty Navy hat significantly boosted his approval ratings as he heads towards a tough challenge of Sen. Bill Nelson.

Posted in Tallahassee