In an event that was half policy and half retail politics, U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown was joined by Audrey Gibson and Mia Jones and other African-American Democrats on Monday morning. Their shared purpose: to lambaste the governor for failing to secure federal funding for local hospitals.
As well, there was more than a little bit of electioneering going at the press conference held at UF Health , such as a call to get out to vote for Alvin Brown and not for “flip-floppers.” And because this policy initiative veered into the political realm, there was necessarily a discussion of a mystery handoff of a check at a Sunday rally from one Congressional Black Caucus member to another. It was money that South Carolina U.S. Rep. James Clyburn described as enough money “to get everyone to the polls,” money that would seem to contradict campaign finance rules given that it came in after the fundraising deadline this past Thursday.
At the beginning of her remarks, Congresswoman Brown brandished a glass vase filled with $1 bills, a prop that represented “Florida tax dollars, not China, not Europe” that were not being brought back to hospitals like UF Health because of Gov. Rick Scott’s intransigence.
“Fifty-five million dollars of tax dollars” being returned to the Feds, she said. “I really do not understand that logic.”
Brown said her colleagues ask her: “‘Y’all got any more money you want to send us? We want it.'”
State Sen. Audrey Gibson was next, saying, “The governor is running around like a chicken with his head cut off when he had ample time to ensure the health care needs of the people of the state of Florida.” The tight spot could have been avoided, she said, if the state of Florida had abided by federal guidelines.
The governor’s refusal to cooperate, Gibson contended, was done “for political reasons,” as Governor Scott “won’t even entertain the Senate plan.”
State Rep. Mia Jones chimed in, meanwhile, saying that “we’ve had opportunities (to abide by) the Affordable Care Act,” but Florida has not “chosen to take advantage of that opportunity.”
“It’s time for Florida to stop putting a Band-Aid on an open wound,” she said.
“If UF Health goes, the entire health care system in Jacksonville will crumble,” she said. “All hospitals are at capacity” and could not absorb the pressures of indigent care, she said.
Brown added a call to voters to get out to vote, and “not vote for flip-floppers,” which seemed to be a conflation of purpose, so Florida Politics asked her a political question related to the mystery check that Clyburn gave North Carolina U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield at the Sunday rally.
She claimed to know nothing about the check that was handed off just feet from where she sat. When asked whether she thought Lenny Curry was one of the “flip-floppers,” she demurred and said her focus was on getting Mayor Brown re-elected, who, in her reckoning, is not a flip-flopper on the issue of getting UF Health its federal funding.
Yianni Varonis, on behalf of the Alvin Brown campaign, said Monday morning that Clyburn “wrote a check to Taking Jacksonville to the Next Level, a political committee. That check will be used as the political committee deems fit. All information will be publicly available the next time the committee reports.”
The conflation of policy and politics is nothing new. But apparently questions are not to be asked about such issues. Gibson spoke to Florida Politics twice during and after the event, saying such questions should not be asked.
If that’s the case, why would Brown interject herself into local politics? It was clear that the event was intended to be a vote driver and intended to message against Curry. The press release from the Florida Democrats said: “Today at 11 AM U.S. Representative Corrine Brown will hold a press conference at UF Health to urge voting in tomorrow’s election and hold accountable Rick Scott’s attacks on Jacksonville’s health care.”
Corrine Brown will never lose an election, barring the unforeseen. But when she conflates politics and policy, she should expect to be called on it just like anyone else. And when checks get passed around at rallies promoted by Friends of Corrine Brown, it is legitimate to ask material questions.