Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 9.25.22


Often when calamity strikes, we look for someone to blame. This time it’s different though. After Hurricane Ian, everyone just wants to help.

That starts with the détente between President Joe Biden and Gov. Ron DeSantisand it was so good to see these men put people ahead of politics. There’s no need to repeat all the insults DeSantis hurled at the President because what was past doesn’t have to remain the prologue for what Florida needs now.

The Governor is a staunch opponent of top-down federal mandates like we saw during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Florida can’t handle something like this by itself. Only the federal government can muster the resources to help on the scale Florida needs, and Biden promised DeSantis that help will keep coming.

“My view on all this is like, you’ve got people’s lives at stake, you’ve got their property at stake and we don’t have time for pettiness,” DeSantis said on Fox News. “We’ve got to work together to make sure we’re doing the best job for them, so my phone line is open.”

Well said, sir. Please keep saying that.

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We might call Florida a state that’s increasingly red, but this isn’t about that. It’s about grandma and grandpa’s retirement home crushed by wind and flood waters. Businesses were obliterated within a matter of hours. Roads and bridges were wiped out, adding to the complication of getting aid to those who need it most.

It’s a sense of helplessness about those family members and friends still missing. And yes, it also is about realizing that it will be years before the parts of Southwest Florida that took direct hits will recapture any sense of normalcy.

The political stuff will work itself out. DeSantis took a few jabs about his vote against Superstorm Sandy while he served in Congress, but none of that matters now. Maybe leaders on both sides of the aisle can look at the shattered faces of Fort Myers and Naples and realize you don’t play the “red state-blue state” game in times like this.

It’s about people, not politics.

Now, it’s on to our weekly game of winners and losers.

Winners

Honorable mention: Rick Scott. When he served as Florida’s Governor, you knew things were about to get really bad when he showed up wearing a Navy ball cap. That meant a hurricane was coming and it was time to stock up on canned goods.

Still, it was oddly reassuring to see Scott at those times because you knew he was in charge. He rose to the occasion when Florida was threatened by monstrous storms.

Scott was at it again as Ian approached. He was proactive in the days leading up to the storm.

I’ve reached out. I’ve been talking to Sheriffs. I’ve reached out to the Governor, but I’ve been talking to Sheriffs, police departments, state workers. I’ve talked a couple times to the CFO, Jimmy Patronus,” Scott told Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel.

He added, “So I told them, I told all of them: I spent eight years as Governor. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure every federal resource is there. If you need any help, tell me. I’ll tell you what I can do, whatever I can to be helpful.”

As best we can tell, DeSantis didn’t return Scott’s call. That probably had something to do with Scott’s pointed comments about the state’s property insurance crisis. But, that’s their problem.

The point is, Scott knows a thing or three about crisis management during a major hurricane. And like we said before, everyone just wants to help.

Almost (but not quite) biggest winner: Patronis. He was a key player in the days before Ian struck and as CFO he will have an outsized role in helping Floridians recover. For now, though, let’s concentrate on what he did as Ian approached the Southwest coast.

He sounded the warning for Floridians to prepare while Ian was well off our shores.

In a public service announcement, he stressed an important step in pre-storm preparations.

“Tropical Storm Ian, in the next few days, will more than likely become a hurricane. What I want you to do is take your smartphone, go walk outside your house, and shoot a video of what it looks like today. Then, go back inside your house and shoot that same video inside,” he said.

“If you are affected by this storm, this will give you a cut-and-dry example of what your house looks like before and after the storm if you had damage. You’ll have that to take to your insurance company in order to have a cut-and-dry claims process. God bless, stay safe and visit PrepareFL.com for your own hurricane plan.”

Good advice.

The biggest winner: Kevin Guthrie. In his biggest test since taking over last year as Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, Guthrie has been a steady hand on the wheel.

A key move was to ask people who planned to shelter in place during Ian to register with the state so workers could check on them after the storm passed. About 20,000 people did so, and by Thursday an estimated 10,000 had been contacted and confirmed safe.

That’s a great tool for rescue workers, especially in a devastating storm like this one.

One of the grim tasks in a situation like this is confirming the number of fatalities. That total is likely to increase in the days ahead.

“Let me paint the picture for you. The water was up over the rooftop and we had a Coast Guard rescue swimmer swim down into it and he could identify what appeared to be human remains,” Guthrie said at a news conference. “We want to be transparent, but we just don’t know that number.”

Managing an emergency like this one takes a methodical, compassionate and organized approach. Guthrie, who had a tough act to follow in former Director Jared Moskowitzwas all those things.

Losers

Dishonorable mention: Political ads during a catastrophe. Look, we know the election is a little more than a month away, but have some basic decency, huh? No one wants to see self-serving political TV ads during a disaster.

But they saw some anyway.

TV spots for DeSantis, Val Demings and blond frame competed for attention, and that was just unseemly. In fairness, Demings did pull spots from the Fort Myers and Tampa Bay markets in advance of the storm.

Charlie Cristwho hopes to defeat DeSantis, announced earlier he wouldn’t advertise in Fort Myers and in the Tampa Bay market when it looked like it could get a direct hit.

That prompted this anonymous quote from a Democratic consultant to POLITICO.

“This is not the time to go off the air,” the person said. “Somebody needs to tell Charlie Crist it’s not 1992. It’s 2022 and the rules of the game have changed.”

In the same piece, former Gov. Jeb Bush said, “I think campaigns should shift to helping what will be hundreds of thousands of Floridians that will need a lot of assistance.”

Almost (but not quite) biggest loser: Rubio. There was an interesting story on Salon.com about the buddy-buddy relationship between Rubio and financial adviser Bernie Navarro.

Last year, Navarro — who runs a private equity mortgage company — extended Rubio a perfectly legal $850,000 bridge loan. There’s nothing unusual about that. Such loans are often used in real estate purchases to allow a person to buy another home while waiting to sell the one they have.

OK, so what’s the big deal?

Three months after getting the loan,  Rubio appointed Navarro, his longtime friend, to an advisory committee that helped select potential nominees for federal judgeships. Navarro has no law degree or legal experience.

Rubio got the loan in January 2021, but didn’t disclose it until his financial form on Aug. 30 of this year.

As Salon noted, the Southern District Judicial Advisory Commission, where Navarro was appointed, picks finalists for several important federal appointments in south Florida, including U.S. district judges, U.S. marshals and the U.S. attorney.

Adam Bozzivice president for End Citizens United, told Salon he saw a clear “threat of conflict of interest” in Rubio’s relationship with Navarro.

“It becomes worse when you actually are in debt to the person and you put them on a board that gives them special access (to give) advice to you,” he added, “and it becomes even worse when you don’t disclose it.”

The biggest loser: Francis Suarez. The Miami Mayor should have been pretty busy last week. For a time it looked like his city could feel damaging effects from Hurricane Ian.

And as the New York Post reported, he was busy — busy attending two political fundraisers in New York City while, back home, residents were under tornado and flood watches.

Those same residents didn’t know the Mayor was, as the Post reported, at the exclusive Casa Cipriani private club and Le Bilboquet, described as a “posh Upper East Side French restaurant.”

He was engaged enough to tweet that residents should “stay informed & stay safe.”

Except, well, those same residents might have wanted to be “informed” of the whereabouts of their Mayor.


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