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Florida’s special session, state investigating Opa-locka, and weird Florida stories

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Florida’s race for governor is on. Plus, a special legislative session on COVID mandates. The state is investigating the city of Opa-locka over corruption allegations. Also, nudists, alligators and more Florida stories with author Craig Pittman.

On this Monday, Nov.15, edition of Sundial:

Florida’s special session

Governor Ron DeSantis continues his fight against COVID mandates with a special legislative session that started Monday.

“He's framed it around sort of protecting the rights of workers who don't want to get the vaccine. There's legislation that would create a series of exemptions based on religious status and a few other things that would make it easier for for folks to keep their job, [for those] who who don't want to get vaccinated,” said Matt Dixon, Politico Florida’s bureau chief.

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The governor has rallied against these restrictions since early on in the pandemic, following the footsteps of former President Donald Trump.

With time, it will become clear whether his take on COVID will help or hurt him in his re-election bid.

The gubernatorial election is a year away but some experts are already saying DeSantis seems unbeatable.

“Ron DeSantis is putting up several million dollars a month in new money that he has raised in his political committee. And those other [Democratic] candidates aren't anywhere near that. They're far less than a million dollars each month,” Dixon said.

On top of that, the Democratic Governors Association won’t be making major financial contributions to help Democrats running to become Florida governor, according to a report by Politico Florida.

State investigating Opa-locka

The city of Opa-locka once again finds itself tied up in controversy. Last week, the mayor, Matthew Pigatt unexpectedly resigned in the middle of a commission meeting.

Pigatt ran for the office in 2018 and argued at the time that he wanted to take the helm of his hometown that has struggled with state oversight, financial challenges and mismanagement. However, he cited the very same reasons for his abrupt departure last week: saying, “I will not be a figurehead for corruption."

"We are still trying to kind of figure out what exactly he meant when he was citing corruption in that, kind of, surprising resignation speech last Wednesday night," said Samantha J. Gross, a local government reporter with the Miami Herald. "He's leaving his office one year before his term ends, citing corruption and making a lot of other allegations, too, that he didn't quite elaborate on. But it's being investigated now, and I'm sure a lot of those answers are going to start to come out. He has kind of declined to talk further on this."

Opa-locka Vice Mayor Veronica Williams will take over for Pigatt in the interim period.

Gross, who has been covering the drama in city hall for the Miami Herald, explained the city's history of federal investigations and financial mismanagement.

"[In] 2016 the FBI raided city hall, and a lot of former city employees were arrested on bribery charges, and it was kind of unveiled that there were insider deals happening and contract schemes and elected officials soliciting bribes from contractors and all of these things," she said. "And you know, Opa-locka is one of the county's poorest cities and kind of fallen into a state after struggling through the financial crisis and owing millions to the county for water and sewer and other fees. And all these things really affected the people who live there. But it seems like at least for the last for a little while now, things have been quiet. I don't know if that necessarily correlates to things have been good, but they've just been quiet."

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is now investigating the city's latest claims of corruption.

"I think that there will probably be more to come once we know a little bit more about what exactly they're investigating," said Gross. "There's certainly a lot of question marks there at the city level right now."

Weird and wacky Florida stories

When you think about it, Florida has a little bit of everything. People love making jokes about Florida, from our politicians to criminals, to the wildlife, the tourists, the residents, and all of our quirky laws — the Sunshine State is never a boring place.

And the person who has written about all the weirdness and eccentricities of this state is Craig Pittman.

“I will never run out of Florida stories — never,” said Pittman. “We're supposedly the Sunshine State, even though we're actually rainier than Seattle. But I contend we should change our nickname to the most interesting state because I think we can back that one up pretty easily."

His most recent book is titled "The State You’re In: Florida Men, Florida Women, and other Wildlife."

He is presenting at the Miami Book Fair Tuesday alongside another Florida writer, Tyler Gillespie, who wrote "The Thing about Florida: Exploring a Misunderstood State."

Find more information about the live-streamed event, here.

Leslie Ovalle produces WLRN's daily magazine program, Sundial. She previously produced Morning Edition newscasts at WLRN and anchored the midday news. As a multimedia producer, she also works on visual and digital storytelling.