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The 10 most chaotic and oh-so Florida moments of 2023
From book bans to pudding fingers to flamingos, here’s a look back.
 
A view of the boots worn by Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as he speaks at the Heritage Foundation, Friday, Oct. 27, 2023, as part of the Mandate for Leadership Series in Washington. (AP Photo/Jess Rapfogel)
A view of the boots worn by Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as he speaks at the Heritage Foundation, Friday, Oct. 27, 2023, as part of the Mandate for Leadership Series in Washington. (AP Photo/Jess Rapfogel) [ JESS RAPFOGEL | AP ]
Published Dec. 8, 2023|Updated Dec. 9, 2023

Well, we made it through another calendar year. Almost. Shh, do not speak too loudly, lest a gigantic cowboy boot come stomping out of the sky. Florida gave 100% Florida energy this year, spitting out a mixture of scandals, hostile takeovers, deeply cheekboned football stars and flamboyances of pink flamingos.

The following incidents do not encompass the full anarchy of the Sunshine State, but they contend for most archetypally Floridian. Put it this way: When family from other states ponder our relentless news cycle, their margarita-dappled ideas probably look something like this:

Republican presidential candidates from left, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, participate in a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by NBC News on Nov. 8, 2023, at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County in Miami.
Republican presidential candidates from left, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, participate in a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by NBC News on Nov. 8, 2023, at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County in Miami. [ REBECCA BLACKWELL | AP ]

Pudding fingers

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis decided to run for president, and as a result attempted to be likable. Unfortunately for him, that... has not happened. Instead, his campaign produced a thick volume of memes involving unnerving tongue flicks, forced smiles, suspiciously tall cowboy boots and fecal maps. In other universally endearing moves, he selected a protein bar as his favored snack from a gas station and warned a child that his slushie had a lot of sugar.

Matt Gaetz, R- Fla., talks with reporters on Oct. 3, 2023, after a meeting of the House Republican Conference in the U.S. Capitol.
Matt Gaetz, R- Fla., talks with reporters on Oct. 3, 2023, after a meeting of the House Republican Conference in the U.S. Capitol. [ TOM WILLIAMS/CQ ROLL CALL | ZUMA Press ]

Gaetz of hell

Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz went all “Les Misérables” and led the ouster of U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy. He then proceeded to grin at nearby news cameras like the Grinch as the United States government plunged into mayhem. I cannot wait to see who plays Gaetz in the inevitable Broadway spectacular.

Peaches the flamingo walks along the shallow waters on the northern tip of the east beach at Fort De Soto Park on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023 in Pinellas County.
Peaches the flamingo walks along the shallow waters on the northern tip of the east beach at Fort De Soto Park on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023 in Pinellas County. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Flamingo-ing wild

Floridians, predisposed to plastering flamingos on wine glasses and tote bags, saw an unusual influx of the real thing thanks to winds from Hurricane Idalia. These majestic birds, once plentiful in the state until hunting eradicated them, chilled everywhere from the Sanibel Causeway to Fort De Soto Park, which became home to a relatable loner named Peaches. Rumor has it, Peaches will be auditioning for the role of Matt Gaetz.

In this handout photo provided by the U.S. Department of Justice, stacks of boxes can be observed in a bathroom and shower in the Lake Room at former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.
In this handout photo provided by the U.S. Department of Justice, stacks of boxes can be observed in a bathroom and shower in the Lake Room at former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida. [ U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE | Getty Images North America ]
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Trump’s filing system

Florida Man Donald Trump stored classified government documents next to the toilet, among other locations at Mar-a-Lago, which honestly makes sense. Sometimes you need to switch up the reading materials from “The Ultimate Bathroom Joke Book” and old copies of “Car and Driver” to national security secrets involving weapons capabilities.

Taylor Swift performs “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince” to start the first of her three sold-out Tampa shows on the Eras tour, at Raymond James Stadium, Thursday, April 13, 2023 in Tampa.
Taylor Swift performs “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince” to start the first of her three sold-out Tampa shows on the Eras tour, at Raymond James Stadium, Thursday, April 13, 2023 in Tampa. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

Tay and Bey, saviors

Presidents pro tempore of the Senate, Taylor Swift and Beyoncé, brought disruption to Tampa in the best possible sense. We were blessed to be a destination on both the Eras Tour and the Renaissance Tour, drawing top-tier fan fashions full of fringe, glitter and optimism. Considering some of the dire tour stops on this list you’re reading, seeing Beyoncé ride a disco horse through Raymond James Stadium airspace proved therapeutic.

The "Partners" statue sits in front of Cinderella's Castle at Magic Kingdom on May 1, 2019 at Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
The "Partners" statue sits in front of Cinderella's Castle at Magic Kingdom on May 1, 2019 at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. [ ALLIE GOULDING | Tampa Bay Times ]

Disney duel

Remember back in the spring, which may as well be 25 years ago, when DeSantis started a fight with... Disney? The world’s preeminent theme park was too gay, if memory serves, which meant we all had to learn about special taxing districts. This fight is ongoing, though it seems to be a fading campaign talking point as politicizing Mickey Mouse has proven as popular as canceling pizza.

Jimmy Buffett performing on NBC's "Today" show in New York in 2016.
Jimmy Buffett performing on NBC's "Today" show in New York in 2016. [ CHARLES SYKES | Invision/AP ]

R.I.P. Jimmy

Florida is synonymous with blowing out a flip-flop and stepping on a pop-top. The undisputed king of day-drinking tunes, Jimmy Buffett, died in September, saddening legions of Parrotheads and dampening our tropical party vibes. However, his Florida legacy will live on via a vast array of Margaritaville businesses, including an enormous new cruise ship sailing out of Tampa next year, on which the population of the party deck will chant “WHERE’S THE SALT, WHERE’S THE *&^#$^ SALT?” in remembrance.

Florida Party of Florida Chairman Christian Ziegler addresses attendees at the Republican Party of Florida Freedom Summit, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, in Kissimmee, Fla.
Florida Party of Florida Chairman Christian Ziegler addresses attendees at the Republican Party of Florida Freedom Summit, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, in Kissimmee, Fla. [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP ]

Yucky-yucky-ew

Republican Party of Florida chairperson Christian Ziegler and his wife, Moms for Liberty co-founder Bridget Ziegler, both at the forefront of cultural attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, are mired in a scandal involving an alleged rape and sexual relationship with another woman. While these accusations, still unfolding in real time, could have serious criminal implications, writers around the country stayed busy struggling to describe threesomes in print.

Michelangelo's "David."
Michelangelo's "David." [ Shutterstock ]

The Schools Purge

Where to begin? The copious book bans? The whitewashing of Black history? The hostile takeover of New College? Florida’s Legislature, buoyed by candidates from so-called parental rights groups winning seats on school boards, went bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S, on a mission to remake all public schools in the image of a primetime family sitcom from 1956. The falling dominoes led to an exodus of educators from the state and unexpected renewed PR for Michelangelo and Shakespeare.

Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady sits with Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich on Monday, Jan 16, 2023, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady sits with Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich on Monday, Jan 16, 2023, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Tom Brady, elder

Sports fans kicked off the year by collectively agreeing that at 45, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady had reached the winter of his life and should live out his days in an active living community offering chair yoga and weekly outings to the mall. Retirement is great in Florida, and we wish him all the best untangling his Roth IRA.

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