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WFSU News' top stories of 2022: A year in review

Two people in navy blue scrubs wearing face masks and handcuffs, sit beside a man and woman in dark suits in a courtroom.
Tallahassee Democrat
Katherine Magbanua and her attorney Tara Kawass (right) during her sentencing hearing; Charlie Adelson and his attorney Daniel Rashbaum during his case management hearing. Both took place on 7/29/22 in a Leon County courtroom

This year brought us no shortage of headlines. 2022 featured heavily watched state and local elections, saw Gov. Ron DeSantis rise to the top of Republican politics and featured the increasingly pitched culture war battles. In Florida, education policy and property insurance became critical issues as the state scrambled to stem the tide of insurance company failures, and local school boards and districts found themselves at the center of a growing backlash to policies deemed too “woke.” At the local level, issues like city and county governance and representation, along with an ongoing rash of violent crime, drug abuse, and LGBTQ issues dominated the conversation. Here is a list of the top state, and local stories of 2022. This list was generated through a combination of story analytics, comments on posts, and coverage in state, local and national media.

Magbanua Convicted, Adelson Arrested

Florida State University law professor Dan Markel was shot and killed in his home in Betton Hills in 2014. It would take two years before any arrests were made. That year, three people—Sigfredo Garcia, Luis Rivera, and Katherine Magbanua, would be charged with what investigators have described as a murder-for-hire. Markel was involved in a custody fight with his now ex-wife, Wendi Adelson.

The first trial resulted in Garcia’s conviction after his former friend, Luis Rivera, testified that the two men had driven to Tallahassee from Miami and killed the law professor. Rivera took a plea deal. Yet, while Garcia was convicted, Magbanua’s fate remained uncertain as the jury couldn’t reach an agreement on her guilt or innocence.

In 2022, Magbanua faced a retrial, and a jury convicted her for her role as the “go-between” for Rivera and Garcia, and her former boyfriend, Charlie Adelson, the brother of Markel’s ex-wife. The family had long been implicated in Markel’s death, but 2022 brought another twist: a 6-year-old undercover FBI recording of a conversation between Magbanua and Adelson had finally been deciphered enough for prosecutors to move forward with arresting Charlie Adelson.

Andrew Gillum Gets Indicted

Six years ago, former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum reached a political pinnacle. In 2016, Gillum stepped on stage at the Democratic National Convention and delivered speech pundits described as reminiscent of years past when a then-relatively unknown U.S. Senator named Barack Obama did the same. In 2018 Gillum narrowly lost his gubernatorial bid to Ron DeSantis. In 2020 he was found naked and passed out in a Miami hotel room. And in 2022, Gillum would find himself standing before a federal judge in a Tallahassee courtroom and pleading not guilty to 21 counts and three federal charges related to conspiracy and wire fraud stemming from campaign contributions he allegedly funneled to himself with help from his longtime advisor, Sharon Lettman Hicks.

Corey Simon topples Lorrane Ausley

Gov. Ron DeSantis’s aggressive effort to rewrite the state’s voting lines paid off handsomely, ushering in the first Black Republican elected to the Florida Senate since Reconstruction. Former FSU football legend Corey Simon’s victory over incumbent Loranne Ausley was buoyed by new voting maps, low black voter turnout, and some seriously-suspect election mailers paid for by Democrats against Simon that many Black voters saw as racist.

Al Lawson loses to Neal Dunn in North Florida Congressional Raceimpacted by redistricting

DeSantis’s version of new voting lines eliminated two districts drawn to ensure Black voters could elect congressional representatives of their choice. One of those districts was the one held by now former Congressman, Al Lawson. Lawson, and his colleague, Panama City Republican Congressman Neal Dunn, were drawn into the same district. And while both men had nothing but respectful words to say about each other and their working relationship, only one could win. And it was not Lawson, who lost the now Republican-leaning district to Dunn.

DeSantis pushes for and gets a new, redder redistricting map

Once a decade, states have to redraw their voting boundaries due to the census. And Florida scores an extra seat in congress due to its population growth. The state’s changing demographics also served to fuel Gov. Ron DeSantis’s efforts to flex his power. He muscled through new voting maps that even gave members of his own party some hesitation due to their clear Republican favoritism. In the end, lawmakers tried to push back, but DeSantis held firm that HIS maps would win the day. And they did. Republicans now hold super-majorities in both state legislative chambers and a big majority in the state’s congressional delegation.  

Education is at the center of a renewed culture war over race, history, LGBT and ‘wokeness’

The Leon County School District found itself at the center of a major culture-war fight over how schools deal with LGBTQ kids and their parents. In 2021, the district was sued by parents of a student who said the district withheld information from them regarding their child’s gender and sexual identity along with a “transition plan” used by the school. Florida lawmakers responded with a law called the Parental Bill of Rights, which banned schools from using such plans WITHOUT approval from parents and pushed for schools to be transparent with families regarding changes to a child’s gender and sexual identity. Critics argued the measure could lead to kids being outed before they were ready. The law also banned gender and sexual identity teaching and instruction in grades K-3, while restricting it in higher grades. 

Lawmakers also pushed to get so-called “wokeness” out of schools, by curbing how issues of race and history can be taught and discussed.  The law also blocks businesses from mandating their employees take Diversity, equity and inclusion training as a condition of their employment. The law states employers cannot compel employees, as a condition of employment, to take any mandatory teaching that "compels such individual to believe specified concepts constitutes discrimination based on race, color, sex, or national origin."   

DeSantis takes down Disney 

For decades, many state lawmakers feared going against the Disney Corporation given its massive influence on Florida’s economy, and its money in state and local politics. But 2022 saw the House of Mouse get diminished as DeSantis and Republicans pushed back after the company’s now-former CEO criticized the legislature’s moves on LGBTQ issues. In response, lawmakers—in a special legislative session on property insurance—passed a bill to strip Disney of some of its self-governance. The result: local taxpayers could be on the hook for billions of dollars of Disney’s debt. Now, the state is poised to restructure that move in a way that leaves Disney paying its own bills, but with a lot more state oversight involved.    

DeSantis’ nearly 20-point re-election victory may finally put to rest the question of whether Florida is still a swing state 

For decades, national pundits have declared Florida a swing state. That’s because the state has historically gone for both Republicans and Democrats in presidential elections. It voted for President George Bush in 2000 and 2004 (let’s not talk about hanging chads, here), for President Obama in 2008 and 2012, and for President Donald Trump in 2016 and 2022. However, a surge in population, coupled with the changing demographics of Latino and Hispanic voters, and a nearly decimated state Democratic party apparatus, led DeSantis to a nearly 20-point reelection victory, causing many political observers to move Florida into the Red column.   

A mass fentanyl overdose in Gadsden draws statewide attention

The 2020 Florida Medical Examiners Report highlighted the role of Fentanyl in drug-related deaths. According to the report, Fentanyl was the one that caused the most such deaths. Increasingly, health, law enforcement, and other state and local government officials have been sounding the alarm about the dangers of the drug. In 2022, rural Gadsden County in North Florida saw nearly two dozen people overdose on the drug in one weekend. Nine people died. Fentanyl is a prescription opioid. But an illegal synthetic version has made its way into counterfeit pills and in even into other drugs, with some users not even realizing the drug is in there.    

With the state’s property insurance market in meltdown, and two hurricane hits, Florida lawmakers again try to solve the crisis

Six property insurance companies have gone under in Florida this year, and more are on the verge of failing in the aftermath of Hurricanes Ian and Nicole.  

Ian, a Category 4 storm, is likely to become the second costliest hurricane on record to hit the U-S — with costs to insurance companies exceeding $60 billion, according to Mark Friedlander, a spokesperson with the Insurance Information Institute, a nonpartisan research organization.  

Insurers have been folding and pulling out of the Florida property insurance market due to rising insurance claims, which some have argued, are based on fraud. State lawmakers have tried to curb that—cracking down on roofing companies, and changing laws to shorten the timeframe for claims, and blocking contractors from taking over claims from property owners.  During a special session earlier this month, lawmakers also approved an effort to shrink the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance corporation which now holds more than a million policies.   

WFSU News' "Most Read" stories of 2022:

*Editor's Note: The list below is compiled based on total views and reads on stories posted to news.wfsu.org by WFSU reporters.

  • Records show FAMU initiated an investigation into former athletics director Kortne Gosha
  • Connecting the dots: How a 6-year-old FBI recording unlocked the Markel case
  • DeSantis and Crist clash over abortion, the economy in their first and only gubernatorial debate
  • Magbanua Trial Day 2: Wendi Adelson talks about the relationship between Charlie Adelson and Dan Markel
  • A former supermarket will become Tallahassee's largest fitness center
  • Senate District 3: Candidate Profile Corey Simon 
  • Florida will dump standardized tests in favor of progress monitoring
  • Takeaways from the Democratic gubernatorial debate between Charlie Crist and Nikki Fried
  • Magbanua is sentenced to life as Adelson seeks freedom before his trial for Markel's murder
  • IG report finds Rebekah Jones' claims of COVID-19 manipulation to be unsubstantiated and unfounded
Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

Find complete bio, contact info, and more stories here.