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The field for governor grows, a special 'vaccine' session, and can Florida help unclog global trade?

Cargo shipping containers sit dockside at PortMiami on Jan. 21, 2021
Tom Hudson
Cargo shipping containers sit dockside at PortMiami on Jan. 21, 2021

State Sen. Annette Taddeo is the latest Democrat running for governor, hoping to attract more Hispanic voters. Gov. DeSantis wants a special legislative session to push back against federal vaccine mandates. And, are Florida ports a solution to supply chain woes?

State Sen. Annette Taddeo jumped into the Democratic primary race for governor this week, saying she is the candidate who can excite voters in her party’s bid to oust Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis next year.

Her candidacy makes three experienced Democrats in the race to unseat Gov. DeSantis in 2022 — Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and now Taddeo. She believes she has what it takes to galvanize Hispanic voters and appeal to progressives Democrats, as the party struggles to regain a foothold in Florida.

"The conversation about me running for governor started in the last election cycle when we saw the huge erosion of Hispanic voters and the decline in voters for Democrats in Miami-Dade," Taddeo said.

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She won her state seat in 2017 in a special election after Republican state Sen. Frank Artiles resigned. He stepped down after used a racial slur in a private conversation with two Black state senators. Taddeo won re-election in 2018 by a comfortable margin. Ron DeSantis was elected governor that year by a 0.4% margin.

She said "being present" is one action Democrats need to take to win back voters.

"We [Democrats] love to come in two weeks before an election, throw [around] a bunch of money, ask for the vote and it doesn't work," Taddeo said.

And the chair of the Florida Democrats is also pledging to being present.

"What's not going to happen anymore is a Democratic Party that gets its field operation stood up only for each election, that limits its work and hopes of winning blue counties to get us over the top," said Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz. "That's what's been done the last 10 years. Not anymore."

Floridians haven’t elected a Democratic governor since 1994. Former President Trump carried the state in 2016 and 2020 by wide margins, even given Florida's traditional political reputation as a "purple" state.

Democrats are lagging behind the Republican Party of Florida in signing up voters. While Democrats still have an edge in the number of registered voters in Florida, it is narrowing. In January, Democrats had a 2% margin. By August it was down to 1%.

Diaz has said it is a "shell game" of registration data for the differences.

"Games are being played with something called 'inactive voters.' An inactive voter is still eligible to vote, but they are no longer recorded in the public numbers," he said.

He did not call such practice unlawful, but "temporarily creating a message."

Potential special session

Gov. DeSantis has called for a special legislative session to push back against federal government vaccine mandates. The move comes as the Biden administration is preparing a rule requiring employees of companies with 100 workers or more to be vaccinated against COVID-19, or get tested weekly.

The president already requires members of the military, federal contractors and federal employees to receive the doses.

DeSantis said Florida can’t wait until the 2022 legislative session, which begins in January, to “strengthen” state laws banning vaccine and mask mandates.

"We want to make it clear that, in Florida, your right to earn a living is not contingent upon whatever choices you are making in terms of these injections," he said.

Democrats question the motivations of DeSantis for calling for this special session. State Rep. Anna Eskamani, from Orange County, called it a political ploy."

The fact that Governor DeSantis is going to be spending public money and time on a politically motivated agenda to boost his own campaign aspirations is disappointing and sad," Eskamani said.

Sen. Taddeo, who announced she was a candidate for governor this week, said the session call is "insane."

"Now the governor wants to tell private businesses what they should and should not do to keep their employees safe and their customers safe. Frankly, I think this is insane," Taddeo said.

Exactly what the governor wants lawmakers to do may not go as far as preventing companies from requiring employee vaccinations, though.

"He talked about, in broad terms, about how vaccine mandates are bad, implying that the federal government's proposals [are] bad. But then when he came straight out with what his ideas are, he's declaring war on employer vaccine mandates. But he's really not asking legislators to outlaw the practice," said Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau Chief Mary Ellen Klas.

The leaders of the Florida House and Senate said they will consider the governor's call for a special session, but what the agenda may be remains in flux.

And, according to reporting from Klas, the leaders may want to go directly at the expected Biden administration employer vaccine requirement.

"They threw out the idea that maybe [the state] should add to the special session removing Florida or withdrawing Florida from all OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] requirements and create [its] own labor department," Klas said.

Floating to Florida

The governor and others hope to take advantage of the backup at ports in Southern California to bring the cargo to Florida instead. Dozens of cargo ships are lined up in the waters off Southern California. It has been one of the pinch-points of global trade that has helped fuel inflation and fed worries about missing presents over the upcoming holidays.

"As Florida’s largest container port we want the industry to know Florida’s ports are a solution to the nation’s port congestion problem," said Eric Green, CEO of JAXPORT, in Jacksonville Tuesday.

"We’ve got capacity and all of our ports can offer these businesses good incentives if  they reroute their ships. We’ve already had some ships rerouted, we expect to have more," said Gov. DeSantis, during an appearance on Fox News Thursday night.

But few Florida ports could handle the biggest of the big ocean-going ships waiting to dock in Los Angeles or Long Beach. According to online marine traffic data, ships with drafts of 42 feet, even 47 feet, await service. JAXPORT is undergoing a project deepening its shipping channel from 40 to 47 feet. PortMiami's channel has been deepened to 50 feet.

"Let's not forget that it's not just the the mega container vessels that are that are stuck over there," said Michael Rubin, CEO of the Florida Ports Council.

It may take more to regularly bring cargo traffic from one side of the continent to another.

"If that cargo is destined for, let's say, Florida or even for a discretionary market somewhere on the East Coast, why not bring it over to a less crowded area there?" Rubin said.

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Tom Hudson is WLRN's Senior Economics Editor and Special Correspondent.