Calm amid the storm

IRMA RE­SPONSE COULD PRO­VIDE FLORIDA’S GOV­ER­NOR WITH A PO­LIT­I­CAL PAY­OFF

National Post (Latest Edition) - - WORLD - Bren­dan Far­ring­ton

Stand­ing tall in a Navy cap, Florida Gov. Rick Scott will be an en­dur­ing im­age from Hur­ri­cane Irma. Seem­ingly ev­ery­where but the eye of the storm, he was there on so­cial me­dia urg­ing mil­lions to evac­u­ate, calmly tak­ing charge at emer­gency brief­ings, even de­liv­er­ing early word of dev­as­ta­tion in the Keys af­ter a much pub­li­cized fly­over.

Po­lit­i­cally, that im­age of calm be­fore the storm couldn’t come at a bet­ter time for Scott.

Near­ing the end of his sec­ond term, the con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­can has some of his high­est ap­proval rat­ings as he con­tem­plates chal­leng­ing Demo­cratic U. S. Sen. Bill Nel­son in next year’s elec­tion. Even Democrats ac­knowl­edge Scott did a good job com­mu­ni­cat­ing about Irma.

And at least for a time, that could boost Scott’s pop­u­lar­ity af­ter he re­peat­edly said a run against Florida’s se­nior U. S. se­na­tor is some­thing he’d con­sider.

“The ini­tial re­sponse has been pos­i­tive. He’s been avail­able to ev­ery me­dia out­let short of Ra­dio Free Europe. I think that’s very smart and it ap­pears that he presents a com­pe­tent im­age,” said Mitch Ceasar, a f ormer state Demo­cratic Party chair­man.

“I look for Scott to have a short term bump; whether it lasts will de­pend on how well the re­cov­ery goes.”

Nel­son also toured hard- hit com­mu­ni­ties and had Irma me­dia avail­abil­ity. But the prom­i­nent Capi­tol Hill Demo­crat was over­shad­owed dur­ing the storm as all eyes fell on the state’s chief ex­ec­u­tive.

If Scott runs, as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump en­cour­aged when the two toured hur­ri­cane dam­age Thurs­day, it would give Nel­son his great­est chal­lenge since be­ing elected in 2000.

But it wouldn’t be easy for Scott. Nel­son is the state’s most pop­u­lar Demo­crat. A cham­pion of the space pro­gram, he also fought to pro­tect Florida beaches from off­shore drilling and helped se­cure bil­lions in fed­eral dol­lars as Florida re­cov­ered from four dev­as­tat­ing hur­ri­canes in 2004.

When he first ran for gov­er­nor, Scott was cast as a mega- mil­lion­aire for­mer hos­pi­tal chain CEO try­ing to buy that of­fice; he barely won in a year other Repub­li­cans had huge vic­to­ries. Then Scott squeaked by for re- elec­tion with less than 50 per cent of the vote. Though he of­ten comes across as ro­botic and scripted, his pop­u­lar­ity has grown as Florida’s econ­omy im­proves. And now he can point to his lead­er­ship dur­ing Irma should he chal­lenge Nel­son.

A sim­i­lar sce­nario of a gov­er­nor get­ting a boost by dis­as­ter was played out in 2004. Then- Repub­li­can Gov. Jeb Bush’s ap­proval rat­ing soared that year, jump­ing from 47 per cent be­fore the hur­ri­cane sea­son be­gan to 62 per cent at the peak of storm sea­son, ac­cord­ing to Quin­nip­iac Uni­ver­sity polling.

The woman who was Bush’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor that hur­ri­cane sea­son sees sim­i­lar­i­ties in the way that Scott has com­mu­ni­cated with Florid­i­ans.

“He has been the voice of calm and I think peo­ple look for that in a cri­sis. He pro­vided Florid­i­ans with com­fort and as­sur­ances that help was on the way,” said Alia Faraj, now a public re­la­tions man­ager in Tal­la­has­see for a ma­jor group.

Nonethe­less, Scott’s of­fice was crit­i­cized as the cri­sis un­folded for re­strict­ing me­dia ac­cess to emer­gency man­age­ment brief­ings — some­thing never done be­fore. And the flow of in­for­ma­tion on crit­i­cal is­sues af­ter Irma has been slowed as the gov­er­nor’s of­fice clamped tight con­trol over mes­sages com­ing out of state agen­cies. Re­porters have pub­licly com­plained, and the Capi­tol Press Corps is plan­ning a meet­ing next week on whether to take ac­tion to try to im­prove the in­for­ma­tion flow be­fore another storm hits.

“Ev­ery­body has their own style, but I share the phi­los­o­phy that any in­for­ma­tion you can get out to peo­ple that could be help­ful to them, the sooner the bet­ter,” said for­mer gov­er­nor and cur­rent Demo­cratic U.S. Rep. Char­lie Crist.

Scott also was crit­i­cized by some — no­tably con­ser­va­tive ra­dio host Rush Lim­baugh — for caus­ing too much panic be­fore the storm, lead­ing to gas and wa­ter short­ages and caus­ing some to evac­u­ate hun­dreds of miles only to find them­selves threat­ened when Irma shifted di­rec­tions.

Still, Scott has re­ceived praise from many for his con­stant pres­ence in the storm. His so­cial me­dia com­mu­ni­ca­tions in­cluded video of state troop­ers es­cort­ing fuel trucks down high­ways when sup­plies ran scarce and YouTube videos of Scott tour­ing bat­tered ar­eas by he­li­copter.

For­mer Florida Demo­cratic Party chair­man Scott Mad­dox, now a Tal­la­has­see city com­mis­sioner, also praised Scott.

“Dur­ing times of cri­sis, all par­ti­san­ship is for­got­ten,” said Mad­dox, a par­tic­i­pant in daily con­fer­ence calls with Scott and emer­gency of­fi­cials. “I was im­pressed with Gov. Scott’s han­dling of this storm.”

Whether it plays in the next elec­tion is another ques­tion. “Any time you do your job well it helps you when you’re seek­ing the next job, but Bill Nel­son is a Florida icon,” said Mad­dox.

JESSE ROMIMORA / GOV­ER­NOR’S PRESS OF­FICE VIA AP

Gov. Rick Scott looks out the win­dow of a C-130 as he as­sesses dam­age to the Florida Keys dur­ing the af­ter­math of Hur­ri­cane Irma. Scott has been praised by me­dia and some politi­cians for his lead­er­ship dur­ing the cri­sis.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.