Thoughts on the week that was in Florida politics

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This week, Red Bull released an amazing multi-point-of-view video — including altitude, g-force, and air speed — of Felix Baumgartner’s incredible 128,000 foot speed-of-sound-busting free-fall. It has been a year, believe it or not, since Baumgartner made the record-breaking Stratos jump. 

Watching that video, I was reminded again of how I felt watching the original jump a year ago — a nearly indescribable feeling of helplessness. And I was sitting at a desk behind a computer. 

This week in politics felt a little bit like what Baumgartner must have felt falling at 844 miles per hour: things happening fast, and little opportunity to control the motion.

Obviously the big news this week was the passing of Congressman C.W. Bill Young, the longest serving Republican in the House of Representatives, and a political icon in Pinellas County. This news was sad not just for the Young family who lost their patriarch, but for an incredible bi-partisan coalition of political activists and constituents who lost a shining example of what it means to be a dedicated public servant.

As Americans, Floridians, and Tampa Bay-area residents mourned the loss of Young, speculation about what was next, politically, cropped up almost immediately. It will be impossible to fill Young’s shoes. But the work of filling the now-vacant 13th Congressional District seat rests with Governor Rick Scott, who, per the Constitution, set a special election.

The news of Young’s passing was also made in how we learned of his death. 

Earlier in the week, Peter had tweeted that the Congressman had died. This was, in some very sad ways, prescient, but also, unfortunately, wrong. At that time, the Congressman was still alive. He discovered the error — but it was too late. National outlets had picked up the news and run with it. The rest of the day was spent retracting the news.

I know Peter was genuinely upset about the entire incident, and I thought he explained it quickly and well. I also found the Young family reaction particularly moving in its generosity and understanding, especially during such a difficult time.

At the risk of sounding cold, cynical, and uncaring for the feelings of those who may have been hurt by the misreporting of Young’s death earlier in the week: these things happen. We live in an age of new media, where things travel quickly, and once they are communicated, you have little control.

Watch the altimeter, feel the g-forces, check your speed…

The death of Congressman Young affected everything. It even overshadowed an incredible endorsement of Rick Kriseman for Mayor of St. Petersburg by the Tampa Bay Times. The endorsement was, not surprisingly, effusive of Kriseman, his vision, his capabilities, his plan for St. Petersburg. But they went out of their way to slam incumbent Bill Foster, who seems to have muddled his way through the mayorship. 

From the point of view of a political operative like me, the passing of Congressman Young was made particularly poignant in that it came in the days after the shutdown of the federal government. The shutdown, as everyone widely acknowledges, was the direct cause of activist tea party ultra-conservative Republicans, more interested in doing away with the federal government than in governing.  

Congressman Young was a lifelong Republican. But he dedicated his life to politics and government.

Next week we’ll be two weeks away from Election Day. Picking up speed, feeling the g-force, moving just a little closer to earth — a lot faster than you think.