Ron DeSantis has had quite a summer. Running for re-election in 2022, positioning himself for a 2024 run for President, Florida’s Republican governor has been trolling Democrats, whipping up culture wars, cruelly using asylum-seeking Venezuelans as campaign props, and attacking Joe Biden. He contemptuously calls Biden “Brandon” and “the American Nero” and derides Dr. Fauci as a “little elf” who should be “chucked across the Potomac.”
The Federal Emergency Management Association actively engaged in advance of Ian, and now the President is due to visit Florida and Puerto Rico to assess recent hurricane damage. So inquiring minds want to know: how will DeSantis publicly behave with Biden? Will there or won’t there be gracious words of cooperation and a reprise of the photo of Chris Christie’s enthusiastic thanking President Obama for supporting New Jersey after Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy?
Don’t forget that in 2013 then-Congressman DeSantis excoriated post-Sandy support for the hard-hit Northeast region as a wasteful bailout. He was one of only two Florida congressmen to oppose a $9.7 billion flood relief bill. He also opposed the larger $50 billion Sandy disaster relief legislation, claiming it wasn’t narrowly targeted enough and not offset by cutting elsewhere. Come 2017, however, he supported a massive disaster relief bill, without any offsets, because it included help for Florida victims of Hurricane Irma.
And last week, before Ian struck, I don’t recall the Governor’s urging Republicans in the Florida delegation to support disaster relief for other areas of the country. They didn’t. Florida’s two GOP senators (Scott and Rubio) didn’t support the $18.8 billion stop-gap budget the Senate passed on Thursday that included funds for FEMA to respond to Hurricane Ian and future disasters. Afterwards, Scott and Rubio wrote to the chairs of Senate Appropriations Committee requesting “much needed” financial support for Florida. That hypocrisy must be infectious.
My gag reflex is working overtime. To be sure, DeSantis is not an outright climate denier – as is Rick Scott, his predecessor. But he has avoided seriously connecting the dots…linking the planet’s recent history of hurricanes growing more intense, storm surges getting higher, rising sea levels and much heavier rainfall and flooding because a warmer atmosphere holds more moisture.
The “resiliency” plan that DeSantis touts (raising roads and installing pumps) is better than nothing but has myriad downsides. Building more homes in low-lying, flood-prone areas, instead of incentivizing construction elsewhere to accommodate the deluge of new residents, only makes matters worse.
The death count from Ian is nearly 70 and is expected to rise. Maybe some of the dead could have been saved had officials in Florida’s Lee County and at the state level not dithered in issuing evacuation warnings. It’s the same laissez-faire spirit that had DeSantis telling residents that vaccinations were optional, masks unnecessary, and Florida health officials wrong for urging a more robust response to Covid. In 2021, the Miami Herald reported, “DeSantis’ administration changed data, manipulating dates to create a non-existent decline in deaths when the opposite was happening.”
Each loss of life from Ian is tragic and should be mourned, but it’s worth remembering that the average daily death rate from Covid in Florida is still over 40. According to the latest, and likely-understated data, 81,416 have died from Covid in Florida, many of whom were proudly unvaccinated. As Miami columnist Fabiola Santiago wrote: “The undeniable reality is this: DeSantis could have saved lives had he taken COVID seriously. But he didn’t. It’s that simple.”
These numbers fit nicely with the governor’s craven stance on gun safety and other proactive, precautionary measures. In seeking an appropriately pithy slogan for his presidential campaign, perhaps he should tweak the Granite State’s motto. I can see it now. “Ron DeSantis: Live Free and Die.”