On Jeff Atwater, Kathleen Peters, and Chris Dorworth

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There is perhaps no worse damnation in Florida politics than to be labeled the “Loser of the Week” by Adam Smith and the other writers of the Tampa Bay Times.

Find yourself on the losing end of their column and you will be blogged about and tweeted at. Your enemies will send “ICYMI” emails — as if there was any case of you missing it – far and wide alerting the world to your newfound ‘Loser’ status.

Surprisingly, I have never been declared the “Loser of the Week in Florida politics,” although I am sure I have finished a close second on a couple of occasions (remember when I prematurely declared that Congressman Young had died?) On the other hand, my wife and I have twice been named “Winners of the Week in Florida politics” — the first time after we were married, the second time for the birth of our daughter. The recognition made us both all warm inside.

This past weekend, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater was tagged the loser of the week because he did not make the cut as a finalist for the Florida Atlantic University president’s job.

“To add insult to injury, another politician wowed the selection committee: former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux,” wrote The Buzz.

Obviously, Atwater will not be the next president of FAU, but is he a “loser” for simply applying for the position? What did he lose? A little shine off the hood? Sure. But not enough for him to be called a “loser.”

Atwater is still the Chief Financial Officer for the state of Florida. He still has $1.1 million raised for a sure-bet election bid. He’s still the former President of the Florida Senate. He’s still, by almost all accounts, a good person and great guy. 

So what if he risked just a little bit of his political capital to dare greatly? Isn’t that what President Theodore Roosevelt was talking about when he made his famous “Man in the Arena” speech

The credit belongs to the man who … strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming…

Jeff Atwater strove valiantly, came short, but failed while daring greatly. That’s what defines greatness. It certainly does not make one a loser.

The same needs to be said about my friend, state Representative Kathleen Peters. Unless all of the public polling is wrong, she is going to lose tomorrow’s primary election in Congressional District 13. Undoubtedly, the critics will try to paint Peters a “loser.” Her political opponents will attempt to use her (likely) failed bid for Congress as an argument to end her political career. 

Win or lose tomorrow, Kathleen Peters is still a tremendous woman who has dedicated much of her life to bettering her community. She’s still a former mayor. She’s still a state legislator. She’s still a sensible moderate who has built a career on solving problems.

But it’s likely none of that will be enough to keep from labeling Peters a “loser.” All because she decided to run in a special election.

I’m sorry I just don’t get it.

My befuddlement at all of this was driven home Saturday evening when I happened to run into former Speaker Designate Chris Dorworth. As everyone in Florida politics is well aware, Dorworth lost his election last November and with it the chance to be Speaker of the Florida House. That was certainly a dramatic setback … a life-changing one, perhaps. If I remember correctly, there were a lot of people calling Dorworth a loser then.

But the Chris Dorworth I saw on Saturday night was the same shiny, happy, intelligent Chris Dorworth he’s always been — only now he’s six-figure a year lobbyist with none of the pressures he felt before. 

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote that there are no second acts in American lives. He could not have been more mistaken, at least as far as Florida politics is concerned.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.