At the end of every week, we praise a political playmaker, “swipe left” on the week’s biggest political loser, and explain what it all means for Florida’s political arena.
CHAMP: DEO Executive Director Ken Lawson
The past ten days in Ken Lawson’s life should serve as a free public relations clinic on how to flip the script on a festering political nightmare. As has been widely reported, Lawson came under fire last week when the state’s $77 million “re-employment assistance” website crashed under the weight of a historic number of unemployment claimants all visiting the site at the same time.
Other state leaders were correct to point out that the system was only built to handle 20,000 internet connections at a time, and that hundreds of thousands of Floridians were now out of work.
“We went from the lowest unemployment ever, to the highest unemployment in a couple of weeks,” said State Rep. Randy Fine, himself frustrated with the failure. “No system would have worked.”
But none of those details mattered to desperate workers looking for a way to make ends meet, and late last week, Lawson offered no excuses, just an apology, an acknowledgment of the failure and a promise to make things right. Since that time, Lawson has worked non-stop to construct and launch a fully-functioning alternative system that Floridians can access on any device, including mobile phones. But he didn’t stop there. His agency, the Department of Economic Opportunity, contracted with two phone bank companies capable of handling the extremely high number of phone calls flowing in.
“The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity is committed to ensuring Floridians are able to receive the benefits owed to them during this global pandemic,” said Lawson. “The team is working around the clock to make the process for applying for Reemployment Assistance as easy as possible for Floridians.”
There are bound to be new hiccups if the staggering number of claims continue to pour in, but Lawson knows he’s got more work to do. He had a target on his back all week long and still managed to deliver much-needed improvements under extreme pressure. For that reason, he’s our Champ of the Week.
CHUMP: Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried (again)
We hate to beat a dead horse, but Fried continues to put the “DEM” in “pandemic.”
The COVID-19 outbreak brought another catastrophic week for Floridians, with businesses remaining closed down, some shutting for good, thousands filing for unemployment, and lives lost.
But for the Fried, it was another opportunity to capitalize on a global disease that continues to wreak havoc on lives and livelihoods across the state.
The embattled agriculture commissioner continued her crusade to tarnish Governor Ron DeSantis‘ reputation and progress over the weekend, appearing on MSNBC to lambast DeSantis for his stay-at-home order — something she begged for — saying his order was not strict enough and created too much “uncertainty” for Floridians.
Fried also took aim at the former governor, Senator Rick Scott, blaming him for the state’s over-encumbered unemployment system.
“Our unemployment website, which has been failing our citizens from day one, was something that was first created under then-governor, now Senator Scott. But unfortunately, Governor Desantis was also warned about these shortcomings last year, and did nothing to fix it,” Fried said, suggesting both men were at fault.
“And this is now going to be on them.”
It’s not partisan to hold our Governor accountable — yet the @FloridaGOP is attacking me for it.
— Nikki Fried (@nikkifried) April 5, 2020
The state’s swamped website has been one of the main talking points for many Democrats and liberal pundits, who continue to finger point in an effort to pin the current unemployment debacle on DeSantis and Scott.
Of course, the argument that past and present Republican leaders are responsible for the influx of applicants is devoid of logic. Rather than looking objectively at the facts, media outlets and Democrats like Fried are only trying to score cheap political points through revisionist history.
But this didn’t stop Fried, who days later doubled down on the indictment, continuing to spew her rhetoric after DeSantis implemented additional measures to fix the website and help Floridians who are suffering from the state lockdown.
— Nikki Fried (@nikkifried) April 7, 2020
While these actions alone would be enough to garner her the dishonorable mention, Fried would continue to dig her political grave, following up her early antics with further posturing to prop up her political stock.
With farmers across Florida losing money daily from a demand shortage caused by the virus, Fried touted the launch of a new website, proclaiming that it would help farmers connect with alternative consumers and prevent them from losing money.
But the web page is merely a spreadsheet listing some food items for sale along with contact information if a buyer happens to be interested. Many items on the website, however, have no information and offer no direct link to a producer’s website, a key feature of the modern internet.
If the website leads to a spike in sales, it’ll likely only be due to the uproar over how farcical it appears. Fried is using everything at her disposal to virtue signal her way up the political staircase.
Fortunately, many leaders in Florida are noticing her continued use of ‘pandemic politics.’
On Friday, Senator Joe Gruters, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF), punched back at Fried after the Democrat exploited the death of Charlotte Figi, who passed away on Tuesday at age 13.
— Joe Gruters (@JoeGruters) April 10, 2020
The squabble started after DeSantis came under fire once again on Thursday after he claimed the coronavirus hadn’t claimed anyone under 25 nationwide.
“This particular pandemic is one where, I don’t think nationwide there’s been a single fatality under 25. For whatever reason it just doesn’t seem to threaten, you know, kids,” DeSantis said at an educators’ meeting.
“And we lose in Florida between five and 10 kids a year for the flu. This one, for whatever reason, much more dangerous if you’re 65 and plus than the flu, no doubt about that, if you’re younger it just hasn’t had an impact. So that should factor into how we’re viewing this.”
DeSantis has since clarified his statement, but Fried saw this as another opportunity to feud with the governor, politicizing Figi’s death in the process.
“Charlotte Figi. She was 13. She was a national hero to many. Remember her name, @GovRonDeSantis,” Fried tweeted in response, suggesting Figi died as a result of the coronavirus.
Fried, of course, was wrong.
“Charlotte had recently been hospitalized due to pneumonia, breathing problems and seizures. She was treated as a likely case of COVID-19, her mother, Paige Figi, said Wednesday, although she tested negative for the virus,” the article mentions.
Fried has yet to retract her gross statement.