The Florida lawmaker who sponsored a bill punishing Disney for opposing the state’s new anti-LGBTQ education law is apparently a shakedown artist, and newly revealed texts suggest he has a fresh target in mind: the Special Olympics.
Republican state Rep. Randy Fine was an early backer of a bill signed into law Friday that rescinds Disney’s special tax status after company officials spoke against what opponents are referring to as the "Don't Say Gay" bill.
On the same day Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the anti-Disney bill, a public records request revealed a series of text messages in which Fine engaged in a petty standoff against a local official.
In the text exchange, Fine told West Melbourne City Council Member John Dittmore that state funding for the Special Olympics is in danger because Jennifer Jenkins, a local school board member he doesn't like, was invited to a fundraising event for the organization. Fine was not invited initially.
“Jenkins just put your project and special Olympics funding on the veto list,” Fine wrote to Dittmore.
Funding for the Special Olympics as well as a flood risk reduction project in Dittmore's district were authorized in a recent state budget submittal. But the text suggested Fine would encourage DeSantis to scrap funding for both.
The messages were first reported by Florida Today and were released by West Melbourne city attorney Morris Richardson as part of a public records request submitted by Jenkins.
Fine has denied the conversation ever took place and told Florida Today that he never threatened to ask DeSantis to veto funding.
In another text, Fine told Dittmore it would be "smart" to cancel the event with an "apology for wading into politics.”
Fine’s petulance knows no bounds. Even when he was invited to the event, texts showed Fine threw an insulting and seemingly threatening tantrum over being an afterthought. In one text, he referred to Jenkins as a "whore."
“You guys will have to raise a lot of money given that’s who you want to honor, not the person who got you money in the budget," Fine wrote.
Jenkins, Fine’s self-proclaimed nemesis, has been targeted by right-wing extremists in Florida who oppose her support for school mask requirements and other Covid-19 safety measures.
“I’m not surprised by it,” Jenkins told Florida Today about Fine's texts. She added: “It’s typical for someone to attack a woman with sexual innuendos when they are threatened by their strength."
Fine targeting the Special Olympics for event organizers not bending to his political will is more evidence of Florida hurtling toward right-wing authoritarianism. Attacks against Disney have already shown fickle Florida Republicans think businesses should succumb to their wishes or risk punishment.
Fine’s choice to run a similar playbook against the Special Olympics shows there’s no institution sacred or seemingly nonpartisan enough to avoid some Republicans' antidemocratic power grabs.