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Joe Henderson: With Hurricane Michael bearing down, state leaders must excel

When you see Governor Rick Scott put on the Navy ballcap, stuff’s about to get real. It has become his trademark look when taking the lead role as warner-in-chief during past Florida hurricanes, and we can expect more of the same in the coming days as Hurricane Michael takes aim on the Panhandle.

With this potential Category 3 monster approaching, Scott is already sounding the familiar warnings of the impending emergency and for residents to find safe shelter or get out of Dodge before it’s too late. 

Well, that’s what he should do – and most people believe some of Scott’s best moments have come during these tense situations with the potential for disaster. The stakes are even higher now, both for Scott and Democrat and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

This time, the October surprise came from the National Hurricane Center. What’s about to happen here should be about people and saving lives, but there is no escape from the fact it also comes with major political implications.

How the Governor and the Mayor perform in the days leading up to the storm and its aftermath could tilt close elections in their favor – Scott, for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Bill Nelson, and Gillum in what has become an increasingly snippy race for Governor against Republican Ron DeSantis.


There really isn’t much Nelson or DeSantis can do to keep the spotlight off their opponents, either – although Nelson, to be fair, was visible along with Republican senatorial counterpart Marco Rubio during last year’s bouts with Mother Nature.

But Scott will have all the cameras focused on him for updates as the storm gets closer. And with Florida’s strategic importance in the national political picture, he won’t have any trouble getting whatever aid people need to be delivered from FEMA in a timely matter when the storm is gone – probably with lots of free media coverage on TV, too.

Republicans, meanwhile, have already opened attacks against Gillum for his performance in the aftermath of Hurricane Hermine in 2016, when much of Tallahassee’s power infrastructure was damaged.

In an ad that has been appearing around the state in recent days, Republicans claim Gillum refused help from outside workers waiting to help restore power to the city. DeSantis said Gillum was waiting for unionized workers to arrive on the scene, a claim vigorously disputed by Barry Moline, the former head of the Florida Municipal Electric Association.

In the Sun-Sentinel newspaper, Moline said the decision about accepting extra was made by him and Tallahassee’s general manager of electric utilities. Under Tallahassee’s form of government, Gillum was not empowered to make that call.

“Any claim that suggests the mayor had anything to do with rejecting crews is a flat-out lie,” Moline said. “It’s wrong. It’s false. It didn’t happen. The mayor wasn’t involved with selecting or choosing crews to bring into Tallahassee.”

But, the ads keep airing and the image DeSantis is painting of Gillum might stick with enough voters to turn a close election. 

The image of Gillum, shovel in hand to help fill emergency sandbags, that was being circulated Monday afternoon on Twitter may help to blunt some of that.

Performing exceptionally in the coming days would blunt all of it though.

Hurricane Michael a real-life situation far too familiar to this state, and how the men who want to lead it to show what they can do under real pressure will go a long way toward determining if Floridians believe they’re up to the job.

Written By

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Jim Rosica, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Dan McAuliffe, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
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St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

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