DeSantis’ COVID fall out; Tiffany Carr payback; Election fraud plea deal

·9 min read

It’s Monday, Aug. 30, and another school week begins as the politics of COVID has started to shift.

Gov. Ron DeSantis found himself on the losing side of the lawsuit against mask mandates on Friday. The ruling is likely to take effect on Tuesday, but it may have marked the turning point in the politics of the coronavirus.

For a governor who was riding a national wave of popularity over his handling of the pandemic at the beginning of the summer, all the signs last week signaled that a majority of Floridians now appear to be siding against the governor.

WHAT WE’RE TALKING ABOUT

Defiant red counties: The first sign came on Tuesday when Indian River County followed Sarasota County and became the second red county to defy the governor and impose a mask mandate in public schools.

There are now 10 schools districts in the largest regions of the state whose school boards have ordered that teachers, students and staff wear face coverings in school as community spread of the delta variant continues. Together, they comprise a majority of the state’s public school students.

Dropping poll numbers: The next sign arrived with the Quinnipiac University poll, which found that a majority of Floridians were not happy about the Republican governor’s handling of the pandemic. Pollsters found that 59% think COVID-19 in the Florida is out of control, 61% said the recent rise in COVID-19 cases in the state was preventable, and 60% said they disagree with DeSantis and want students, teachers, and staff to be required to wear masks in schools. The worst news for the governor, however, is that a plurality of Florida voters said DeSantis is hurting efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the state — 46 percent to 41 percent — instead of helping it.

Florida U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio, left, and Rick Scott
Florida U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio, left, and Rick Scott

Republicans won’t join fight: GOP internal polls must be showing a drop in public opinion too because both of Florida’s Republican senators came out and distanced themselves from the governor and his decision to put personal freedom over collective responsibility. Sen. Marco Rubio told the Miami Herald the mask debate was “a waste of time.” And Sen. Rick Scott distanced himself from DeSantis’ ban on vaccine passports, saying “the private sector has the right to make their own decisions.”

Court defeat: Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper dealt the final blow of the week when he ruled Friday that school districts can enforce temporary mask mandates to contain the spread of COVID -19 and, to the surprise of the defendants, he used their own argument again them.

Exception to parental rights: In a verbal ruling from the bench, Cooper concluded that the governor and his legal team failed to properly read the Parents’ Bill of Rights, which they used as the foundation for their argument that parents, not schools, should decide whether children must wear facial coverings. The judge said they overlooked a critical paragraph in the new law: The one that allows school districts to make an exception when a requirement “is reasonable and necessary to achieve a compelling state interest.”

Miami-Dade schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, center, walks with students Oliver Angel, left, and Ariah Olawale, right, outside of iPrep Academy on the first day of school, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, in Miami. Schools in Miami-Dade County opened Monday with a strict mask mandate to guard against coronavirus infections.
Miami-Dade schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, center, walks with students Oliver Angel, left, and Ariah Olawale, right, outside of iPrep Academy on the first day of school, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, in Miami. Schools in Miami-Dade County opened Monday with a strict mask mandate to guard against coronavirus infections.

The result, he said, is that the governor tried to unlawfully block mask mandates by improperly invoking and selectively enforcing the new law.

Appeal coming: The governor’s office quickly denounced the ruling as the work of “incoherent justifications,” and said they would appeal the lawsuit to the more right-leaning appellate court.

Punishing defiant superintendents: But the governor and legislative leaders are already considering ways to punish superintendents and school boards in the 10 counties that defied his July executive order blocking school mask mandate. The governor has not specified what the consequences will be to enact penalties on the rebellious school districts, but one option is to expand an existing law. That would require a special legislative session. There are significant legal hurdles.

File--Manatee County Schools Superintendent Cynthia Saunders discusses the ‘Mask Up for Manatee Coalition’ comprised of the county government, the county health department, the school district and local business partners, nonprofits and health care agencies. A new mask mandate with an opt-out provision was approved by the school board.
File--Manatee County Schools Superintendent Cynthia Saunders discusses the ‘Mask Up for Manatee Coalition’ comprised of the county government, the county health department, the school district and local business partners, nonprofits and health care agencies. A new mask mandate with an opt-out provision was approved by the school board.

Punishing isn’t popular: According to the Quinnipiac poll last week, punishing school districts and officials is not popular, even within the governor’s own party. Pollsters found that 69% of all Floridians think punishing school officials is a bad idea, including 52% of Republicans surveyed and 70% of independent voters.

The Fantasy docked at Disney’s Castaway Cay in the Bahamas in March 2012. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)
The Fantasy docked at Disney’s Castaway Cay in the Bahamas in March 2012. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

Disney also defies DeSantis: Disney Cruise Line announced last week that it will will require all passengers to be fully vaccinated in order to sail to the Bahamas, which requires anyone disembarking from a cruise ship to show proof of vaccination. The move made Disney the third cruise line to defy the state’s ban on vaccine passports. A federal court recently ruled in favor of Norweigian Cruise Line and blocked the law from taking effect. Carnival Cruise line has also required passengers to show proof of vaccination.

Records keep breaking: Meanwhile, Florida continues to break records in terms of new cases and COVID-19 deaths. On Thursday, the state reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that 27,584 COVID-19 cases had been added. It was another new single-day record for newly-reported cases. Florida’s average daily death counts also remain the highest they’ve been during the entire pandemic, according to Miami Herald calculations of CDC data.

Nursing home cases soar: The governor’s pandemic strategy was to focus on vaccinating the elderly who were at higher risk of serious disease, and diminish the focus on younger people who were less likely to need hospitalization. But his success with vaccinating elders was worse than all but one state, and even worse among staff. Now, as nursing homes have low staff vaccination rates, resident cases and deaths are rising. For the week ending Aug. 15, there was a 715% increase from the 134 cases reported during the week that ended July 4.

Ivermectin
Ivermectin

Dewormer derangement: An anti-parasitic medication, commonly used as a dewormer for cows, horses and other livestock, has become the latest unscientific fad used to treat COVID-19. Sales of ivermectin have gone up so much that the Food and Drug Administration put out a warning and Florida’s poison control center has seen calls to the center increase 282 percent.

It turns out that the same doctor the governor turned to conduct a July closed-door discussion to discourage mask policies in schools, California psychiatrist Dr. Mark McDonald of Los Angeles, is also an expert on ivermectin. He has promoted its use as a drug for COVID patients.

Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees speaks to the media about the coronavirus during a press conference on Monday, March 2, 2020, at the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County.
Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees speaks to the media about the coronavirus during a press conference on Monday, March 2, 2020, at the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County.

Rivkees leaves: The state’s top doctor is parting ways with the governor. Scott Rivkees, Florida’s surgeon general and a pediatrician, announced he will be leaving the Florida Department of Health on Sept. 20. Rivkees has been notably absent from the DeSantis administration’s public pandemic messaging efforts since the early days of the outbreak.

Tiffany Carr — shown during a 2004 visit to a Hollywood nail salon where she spoke on domestic violence — was the longtime CEO of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Tiffany Carr — shown during a 2004 visit to a Hollywood nail salon where she spoke on domestic violence — was the longtime CEO of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Tiffany Carr agrees to pay: The state of Florida announced it has recovered $5 million of the $7.5 million paid to the former CEO of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Tiffany Carr. She agreed to pay $2.1 million as a settlement to a lawsuit prompted by an investigation by the Florida House, working on information first disclosed by the Miami Herald. Carr was accused of cashing in funds intended to help victims of domestic abuse by getting some members of the coalition’s board of directors to pad her salary through excessive paid time off.

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

Brown ocean hurricane: Meanwhile, Floridians watched with worry as Hurricane Ida maintained its wind gusts, speed and movement as a “major hurricane” more than eight hours after making first landfall in Louisiana. Late Sunday, the National Weather Service was attributing the hurricane’s sustained power to the “brown ocean effect,” which occurs when a strong tropical storm meets extremely wet soil, which then releases a large amount of stored heat just as the ocean does, further fueling the storm’s power.

Gov. Ron DeSantis was in New Jersey Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021, for a fundraiser hosted by Joe Cayre, a businessman and member of Sephardic Jewish Community.
Gov. Ron DeSantis was in New Jersey Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021, for a fundraiser hosted by Joe Cayre, a businessman and member of Sephardic Jewish Community.

Fundraising in New Jersey: DeSantis spent Sunday in New Jersey, where he attended a fundraiser hosted by Joe Cayre, a video and music producer and real estate developer who got his start in Miami. The event was attended by “Sefardi moguls who also backed Donald Trump’s run for President,” according to the Twitter account of The Belaaz, a Jewish media outlet.

Prisons to close: As a last-ditch effort by the agency to grapple with severe staff shortages, chronic under-funding, and a recent reduction in the inmate population related to COVID, the Florida Department of Corrections will soon close multiple prisons in North Florida. The move is seen as a temporary fix without the long-term solution sought by a minority of vocal legislators for years.

Legislative budgeters meet: This week, an important committee of the Florida Legislature returns on Friday to launch the beginning of a series of important committee week hearings. The Legislative Budget Commission meets to hear the long-range budget outlook and take up a series of budget amendments for several state agencies. Among the agencies: health, health care administration, transportation, education and state. The Department of Corrections is not on the list.

Plea deal in Artiles case: What will Frank Artiles do now that no-party candidate Alexis Rodriguez took a generous plea deal in the Miami election fraud case? That is the question as for Artiles because Rodriguez is clearly cooperating with investigators. He will get 36 months probation and 12 months house arrest, compared to the 20 years in prison he faced before he agreed to cooperate.

Widening probe into Brodeur district? As investigators continue to probe the details in the Miami state Senate race, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirmed that it is also investigating allegations tied to another state Senate race in Central Florida: the Senate District 9 election won by Sen. Jason Brodeur, a Republican from Sanford.

From left to right: Miami-Dade Mayoral Candidate Daniella Levine Cava, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, (FL-26), Donna Shalala, (FL-27) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, (FL-23), attend a Barack Obama drive-in rally in support of Joe Biden near Florida International University in Miami, Florida on Monday, November 2, 2020.
From left to right: Miami-Dade Mayoral Candidate Daniella Levine Cava, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, (FL-26), Donna Shalala, (FL-27) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, (FL-23), attend a Barack Obama drive-in rally in support of Joe Biden near Florida International University in Miami, Florida on Monday, November 2, 2020.

Shalala versus Powell primary? Redistricting remains the unknown, but we’re getting word that a Donna Shalala versus Debbie Mucarsel-Powell primary is possible in the Miami-Dade district that is Florida’s most competitive House seat.

Here is a screen from a video released by the National Institute of Standards and Technology on Aug. 25. The video showed images of overcrowded column reinforcement and corrosion.
Here is a screen from a video released by the National Institute of Standards and Technology on Aug. 25. The video showed images of overcrowded column reinforcement and corrosion.

Surfside revelations: New footage released by a team of federal investigators last week offered more evidence of overcrowded concrete reinforcement and extensive corrosion in Champlain Towers South — issues first raised by engineers as part of a Miami Herald investigation into the structural integrity and design of the building, which collapsed in June, killing 98.

Stay well and we’d love to hear from you. Miami Herald Capitol Bureau Chief Mary Ellen Klas curates the Politics and Policy in the Sunshine State newsletter. If you have any ideas or suggestions, please drop me a note at meklas@miamiherald.com.

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