It’s Monday, Sept. 14, and today is the deadline for Gov. Ron DeSantis to make his appointment to the Florida Supreme Court and fix the high-profile defeat.
The conservative court on Friday stood by its ruling that the governor’s first choice, Palm Beach County Judge Renatha Francis, was not eligible to hold the post and ordered the governor to take the do-over by the end of the day Monday. Because the governor must choose from a list of seven candidates that now includes no Blacks, the seven-member court will be without a Black justice for the first time in more than 40 years.
Defeat and revenge: It was an embarrassing defeat for the governor who campaigned on a promise to fill the court with conservative justices who would adhere to a textualist judicial philosophy — meaning they would adhere to the plain words of the legal text. The court then applied the text to reject Francis as unqualified, because she had not been a member of the Florida Bar for 10 years as the state Constitution requires. The court, which is expected to frequently side with the governor and the Republican Legislature in future rulings, also sent a signal of independence when it selected Justice Carlos G. Muñiz, who was appointed by DeSantis, to author the opinion.
But the governor was able to exact some revenge — by dividing Democrats. He enticed a group of Francis supporters, all Black Democratic leaders of Caribbean-American heritage, to appear with him at a Miramar news conference to assail the ruling. They also called on state Rep. Geraldine Thompson, the Democrat who filed the lawsuit setting the conflict in motion, to withdraw her lawsuit. She declined.
WHAT WE’RE TALKING ABOUT
Hispanic trouble: Joe Biden has a Latino problem, according to the polls.
A poll of 500 likely Miami-Dade voters, released Tuesday by Bendixen & Amandi International and the Miami Herald, found President Donald Trump may be far behind the Democratic presidential nominee in Democrat-dominated Miami-Dade County, but is doing significantly better than he did four years ago. In 2016, Trump lost the county to Hillary Clinton by 27 percentage points. In 2020, the Republican president is only behind 17 points, 38% to 55% in the county.
Why does this matter? Vote-rich Miami-Dade, the state’s most populous county, is crucial for Democrats to score a big advantage in order to offset Republican votes in the Republican suburbs, coastal communities and rural areas around the state.
However, the statewide numbers, although less reliable data sets, are more troubling: Hispanic voters split with Trump at 47% and Biden at 46%, and for respondents who chose to conduct their interviews in Spanish, a crushing two-thirds support Trump.
Harris Haitian snub: Miami welcomed Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris last week, and her visit underscored how difficult a job it is for candidate to court some voters without offending others in South Florida. Harris met with Venezuelan, African-American and Jewish voters but she didn’t meet with Haitian Americans, reinforcing feelings of neglect by members of the South Florida Black community that has long felt overlooked by Democratic politicians.
Bloomberg buy: Florida is a TV state. Just ask Rick Scott, or Ron DeSantis, who went from virtual obscurity in political terms, to governor, in less than a year because of the power of television. Now look at the decision by Mike Bloomberg, the billionaire former New York mayor, to spend $100 million on television ads over the next seven weeks to help Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden win Florida. Considering the electorate is pretty locked in at this point, that’s a lot of money to throw at the small margin of undecideds. We’ll be interested to see how much messaging is aimed at getting people out to vote.
Perennial promise: Sometimes the political playbook is pretty predictable. Presidential candidates know that oil drilling off the Florida coast doesn’t poll well, so they tout the perennial promise to ban oil and gas exploration in federal waters off Florida.
President Donald Trump arrived in Jupiter last week and followed the playbook. He signed a presidential order that extends a ban on drilling off the state’s coastline from 2022 to 2032 and expanded the order to also ban energy exploration, development and production to include the Atlantic coast of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Ever wonder why bills like Republican Rep. Francis Rooney’s, calling for a permanent ban on oil exploration, never get passed?
WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
Classroom confusion: With DeSantis announcing Miami-Dade County is moving to Phase 2 in the COVID-19 recovery, Miami-Dade Schools may have students back in class by the end of the month. Miami-Dade, the epicenter of the state’s COVID cases, has been in the more restrictive Phase 1 since the pandemic began in the spring.
Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho has managed to fend off pressure from the state by adhering to the district’s eight criteria for reopening schools. He said that while the criteria are currently being met, he will convene a meeting again with the district’s medical experts on Thursday.
Failing first-days: In-person classes may be a relief valve for the county after the district’s disastrous debut of a school year, where teachers, students and parents were continually disconnected or booted from the platform due to K12 issues and cyber attacks.
After a 13-hour meeting, the school board voted unanimously to jettison the online learning platform, My School Online, and sever ties to the company that produced it, K12. Asked what he thought of the school-year opening, DeSantis waved off Miami-Dade’s woes as “bumps in the road.”
Not out of woods? DeSantis lifted the statewide closure rules on bars and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said to expect movie theaters, bowling alleys and other venues to reopen soon as South Florida moves into “Phase Two” of the state’s COVID plan. But when it comes to bars, Gimenez added: “We’re still not out of the woods yet. But we’re getting close.”
Failed transparency: How many COVID-19 cases are in Florida schools? The state won’t tell the public, although the Florida Department of Health says it has provided school officials with data on the number of students and staff with the infection.
State officials briefly released a six-page draft report that showed nearly 900 students and staffers had tested positive during a two-week period in August as students across the state returned to the classroom. The report was wiped from the department’s website a few hours later. DeSantis, who has pushed for in-person learning, was defensive Friday when asked why the state has taken so long to release school-related COVID-19 data to the public.
WHAT ELSE DID WE LEARN LAST WEEK?
Russian malware: A new book by journalist Bob Woodward reveals that the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency have classified evidence that Russians placed malware in the election registration systems of St. Lucie and Washington counties in Florida.
How deep is state’s deficit? State lawmakers are facing a $5.4 billion revenue shortfall, tourism won’t recover for at least two years, and the unemployment rate won’t fall to close to 4% until 2027 because of the pandemic-induced economic decline in Florida. But state economists said the news is better than it was a decade ago. They predicted the impact won’t be as deep, or last as long, as the Great Recession.
Prison visits restored: Florida prisons announced that beginning Oct. 2 in-person visitations by family members will be permitted when COVID-19 conditions allow.
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