Today we are excited to launch a new weekly column, The Capitolist Wrap, in which we’ll highlight a handful of interesting stories that are shaping the Florida business, policy and media landscape. If you’ve got tips or suggestions for next weekend’s column, hit me up here.
Sources: Gaming discussion poised to boil over this week.
Republican real estate developer Armando Codina and South Florida billionaire and philanthropist Norman Braman are apparently incensed about the rumored momentum building behind a deal to legalize casinos at properties including Donald Trump‘s Doral golf resort.
Sources told the Washington Post last week that a deal is closer than it has been in years on this perennial subject, thanks to everyone from Tom Brady to Donald Trump, Jr. Tallahassee sources with knowledge of the matter also have confirmed this news is accurate, and also say Governor Ron DeSantis and House Speaker Chris Sprowls are said to be leaning toward an agreement while Senate President Wilton Simpson is more circumspect, but feeling pressure to support the deal.
Codina and Braman are allegedly having none of it and sources say they plan to up the ante this week on their efforts to oppose any gambling expansion. The deal could ultimately prove too controversial for DeSantis, who has more to lose now that he’s part of a national conversation, which brings us to…
A Tale of Three Governors
A mere 12 months ago media outlets were tripping over themselves to praise New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and California Governor Gavin Newsom, both Democrats, for their Draconian restrictions on so-called “non-essential businesses,” and for how quickly they embraced restrictions on public life. Cuomo, at one point, was even floated as a potential replacement for Joe Biden on the Democratic presidential ticket.
In Florida, the opposite scene played out: Republican Governor Ron DeSantis dared to take a different approach, and paid dearly in the media for his rejection of progressive scientific orthodoxy, that dangerous cocktail of a low dose of actual science mixed with an abundance of authoritarianism. Then the inexcusable media coverage of Rebekah Jones’ easily debunked allegations served as gasoline for media pyromaniacs eager to burn DeSantis at the stake for heresy.
But what a difference a year makes.
Daily Show comedian Trevor Noah joked last week that Andrew Cuomo “is the only person who still wishes it was 2020.” He now faces impeachment at the hands of his own Democrat controlled legislature, while prominent national Democrats called for him to resign. They want him to go away for three reasons: (1) he’s a creepy old man who may have engaged in inappropriate behavior with his female staffers; (2) he approved the transfer of COVID-19-positive elderly patients to nursing homes and likely killed a bunch of them as a result; and 3) he covered it all up for political gain while basking in the aforementioned media adoration.
On the opposite coast, Gavin Newsom is facing a recall election. The petition drive results aren’t official yet, but you can take it to the bank that they have the signatures needed to trigger a statewide vote. The threshold is 1.4 million signatures, and as of last count, the state had validated almost 1.2 million, with nearly 900,000 additional submitted and awaiting verification. The validation rate is running above 80 percent – in short, Newsom is in deep, deep trouble. Voters are furious for a range of reasons, from getting caught ignoring his own lockdown orders, to his insulting list of “essential businesses.” Under Newsom, California has been under one of the earliest and tightest lockdowns in the nation, yet California’s outcomes aren’t any better than Florida. That aforementioned progressive scientific orthodoxy? Wrecked.
Contrast their fates with that of Ron DeSantis. His handling of the pandemic is winning over Republicans both near and far. He is currently viewed as one of the top potential heirs to the Trump machine, and as a result, DeSantis is riding high: the Florida economy is showing signs of recovery, spring break is in full swing, and people are flocking to the Sunshine State from northern lockdown states to spend their hard earned cash and their Monopoly-esque Biden Bucks. The state’s over-60 population is largely already fully vaccinated, and DeSantis announced he’ll soon drop the minimum age to 55 years.
Like Pontius Pilate, Ashley Moody washes her hands of opioid lawsuits against OxyContin marketer in Florida
Last month, OxyContin marketing consultants McKinsey & Company entered into a settlement agreement with 47 state attorneys general, including Florida. McKinsey admitted no fault for its alleged role in knowingly marketing the highly addictive opioids and allegedly pushing to reward doctors who cranked out prescriptions of the drug.
All told, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said Florida’s share would be about $40 million, but critics blasted the settlement, which nationally was worth about about $600 million, saying the company got off easy, and suggesting a fairer agreement would have netted closer to $2 billion.
But Moody may be spared some criticism, thanks to a lawsuit by one Florida city. The Miami suburb of Pembrook Pines became the first local government in Florida to sue the company after the state settlement. It’s likely to be the first of many such legal actions, as cities move like vultures to pick at whatever flesh remains on McKinsey’s carcass.
Moody washed her hands of the affair, effectively saying that the state’s settlement wasn’t the final word on the matter.
“Florida cities and counties have their own counsel to independently advise them on whether to bring litigation,” Moody told The Capitolist through a spokesperson. “We believe that the settlement achieved by almost every state in the nation and McKinsey was and is an adequate settlement of the claims that the State of Florida had. Under the settlement, Florida obtained millions of dollars that it will be able to utilize this year to help abate the epidemic, which is claiming nearly 17 lives a day.”
McKinsey has said they view this new wave of local government litigation as “double dipping,” claiming the state settlements precluded action from local governments.
Election shenanigans backfire on Frank Artiles and Republicans in general
For the past several months, Republicans have been able to laugh dismissively at the sour grapes claims of Democrat José Javier Rodríguez that his 32 vote loss to Republican Ileana Garcia was all because of a massive GOP conspiracy to run the similarly named Alex Rodriguez as an independent candidate against him to siphon off votes.
That particular shenanigan is not illegal, and in fact is fairly common in politics across the country. Eddie Murphy even did a movie in which he played a candidate with the same name as a deceased congressman. That’s partly what made it all so funny: the fact that it actually worked by such a close margin and unseated an incumbent just added salt to the already festering Democrat wounds served to amuse a great many Republicans as they perused news stories about the caper.
But this week, things turned a bit more serious, at least for former State Senator Frank Artiles, who was charged with felony campaign finance violations for allegedly paying Alex Rodriguez more than $40,000 in cash to support his sham candidacy. Such payments and the failure to disclose them are indeed a violation of campaign finance limits and reporting requirements.
What’s so shockingly stupid is that the payments shouldn’t have been necessary in the first place. Other than the cost of actually qualifying for the ballot, there’s no other reason for Artiles to have funneled that kind of cash to anyone. There’s no law against Alex Rodriguez intentionally running just to play the spoiler against the incumbent candidate with the same name, so there’s no real financial risk to him. He needn’t do much except lend his name to the effort. Other than negative media attention, Republicans could have openly supported his candidacy. Indeed, some Republicans appear to have done just that, albeit legally, through a political action committee that sent mailers in support of him.
The bigger issue now is the lingering media attention that will hang over Republicans for the foreseeable future. Questions are already swirling around the original source of the bundles of cash that Artiles allegedly pulled from a safe to give to Rodriguez.
Artiles claims to have acted alone. The Miami Herald cited an anonymous source who claimed that Artiles had boasted during an election night party about the Rodriguez affair, “That was me! That was all me!”
If the allegations are true, Artiles’ mouth has once again gotten him in serious trouble. This is the same Frank Artiles who was forced to resign by his colleagues in the Senate a couple of years ago for the casual use of “urban slang” that was construed by those who heard it as an offensive slur. He apologized, but the damage was done.
Artiles should have taken a lesson from the Florida Democrats who pulled off last year’s $780,000 PPP loan fraud scam. None of those folks shot their mouths off, and for now, at least, it looks like they got away with some campaign finance shenanigans of their own.