Joe Henderson: Ron DeSantis’ ‘jeremiad’ didn’t tell the whole story

DeSantis emergency managment 3-16
Florida's social safety net has been teetering for years, and COVID-19 was the last Jenga piece in a tower ready to fall

Gov. Ron DeSantis went on what Florida Politics reporter Scott Powers called a “jeremiad” Wednesday in Orlando.

Confession time: I had no idea what a “jeremiad” was, but after looking up the meaning, I’d have to say my colleague nailed it. It’s a literary term that scholars say dates to the biblical prophet Jeremiah. He wrote about ancient Israel’s moral and spiritual decline.

Others say it applies today to those who forecast looming disasters if we don’t change our wicked ways.

Heck, I thought that was my job.

But no, the Governor unleashed his inner Howard Beale from the classic movie Network and became the proverbial prophet of doom. Among many other things he bemoaned the fact it is so easy to fly from New York to Florida.

Lots of New Yorkers are infected with COVID-19, and who knows how many more have exposed to the bug. Many of them are already in Florida, trying to escape New York’s infestation and restrictions. Theoretically, those already here are supposed to contact officials, tell them who they’ve met, and then self-quarantine.

Good luck with that.

Of course, that means more people here will get sick. That could disrupt more commerce and cost jobs, and that could do a number on the state’s economy.

“The unemployment numbers in the state of Florida? You know, we’d get 200, 500, a thousand a day for most of the time up until this point. Now we’re getting 15 to 20,000 unemployment claims a day,” DeSantis said.

“What’s going to happen to those people? What’s going to happen to them if they can’t put food on the table, if they can’t pay their rent, or they can’t pay their bills or take care of their families?”

Stop right there. The point about the New Yorkers is true, but it’s also a misdirection play from the real problem.

A better time to make that point about economic hardships our citizens face might have been in 2011. That’s when then-Gov. Rick Scott gutted Florida’s unemployment compensation system, while members of his party cheered or looked the other way.

It pays a paltry $275 a week for a maximum of 12 weeks, which is shameful.

That’s why, to borrow the Governor’s words, some people won’t be able to put food on the table. They won’t pay their rent, or their bills, or take care of their families. And that falls squarely on members of the Florida Legislature, past and present.

Lawmakers in Tallahassee set up this cheapskate system under the notion that if someone is out of a job, it’s their fault. Fixing this in the name of humanity never seemed to come up in GOP talking points.

Republicans, who have controlled Tallahassee for 20 years, could feel smug about that when the economy was roaring. But now, the tourist industry is freefalling, shops are closing, people aren’t supposed to leave their homes, and there is no bottom in sight.

Many people who work in the service industry already strain to get by in the face of low wages and sky-high rent. COVID-19 was simply the last Jenga piece in a tower that was ready to fall.

But let’s blame this on New Yorkers.

Sorry, Governor. An influx of virus-carrying people from up North certainly merits your attention, but your jeremiad didn’t tell the whole story. The broken public support system points out just how cruel this state can be to the people who it home.

We only hear two main themes out of Tallahassee on this subject.

  1. It’s too expensive to have a viable safety net;
  2. Keep taxes low.

Nothing else matters.

Except now, the system could burst in the coming weeks, and Florida is not nearly ready for the consequences.

That’s not New York’s fault.

Joe Henderson

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.


  • Roger

    March 25, 2020 at 8:11 pm

    Yes. I remember when Scott gutted Florida’s unemployment insurance system, and I also remember that the Florida economy hadn’t really recovered yet… But, he gutted it anyway.

  • John

    March 26, 2020 at 10:00 am

    Totally agree! Previously Scott, and now the state Republicans–which have been in control over 20 years as you mentioned–have gutted the social safety nets in this state. Unemployment is, at BEST, $275 a week. Who the H could live on that? Not in any major city, that’s for sure.

    And the bid to scapegoat this onto the New Yorkers (which is clearly a White House message) is shameful. Yes, cases are coming from NY…but are we not an international tourist destination…airports, cruise ships, etc.? Do our citizens not travel?

    I kept asking myself why DeSantis repeatedly mentioning in his press conferences that he was “concerned about domestic violence, child abuse, drugs, etc.” if he were to shut down the state–as recommended by every doctor, epidemiologist, expert to slow the rate of infection. But then he kept saying these are “public health threats” as if those otherwise noble concerns OUTWEIGH the emergency we are facing that is COVID-19. It’s truly stunning when you think of it.

    As someone who didn’t vote for the governor, but thought he was overall doing a great job (with a few exceptions) before this, I am outraged that he is not taking the health and safety of our state serious enough to shut more of the state down for purely economic reasons. He is absolutely doing the right thing in south Florida but the longer he allows other parts open the more it’s going to spread to smaller areas less equipped and financially able to shoulder the oncoming wave of sick, and burdened hospitals. Even the morgues are preparing for an onslaught of bodies. No one wants our economy to shut down. I fear that the longer our state is in denial the worse it will be for our people and the harder it will be to recover economically. If we care about the economy, we need to protect the health of our citizens first. Period.

    • Susan Schubert

      March 26, 2020 at 10:39 pm

      Well spoken, Joe. I remember when Scott shamelessly gutted that fund. Never seemed to give it a thought about how anyone might survive on $275/wk. because he didn’t care.
      Our current governor is doing nothing about testing or checking people getting off the planes. A man told me he flew in on a necessary trip & wad surorised he could just get off the plane, go get his bag & summon a ride without anyone even blinking. Does DeSantis have our state readied in case this virus suddenly sweeps through? Is he reassuring us he is beefing up equipment & supplies? Not. Not.

Comments are closed.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Jason Delgado, Renzo Downey, Daniel Figueroa, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Kelly Hayes, Joe Henderson, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Andrew Wilson, Mike Wright, and Tristan Wood.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

Sign up for Sunburn