Every Democrat in Florida’s congressional delegation wants new U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate Florida’s vaccine rollout.
Reps. Charlie Crist and Alcee Hastings lead a letter to the new Justice Department leader outlining accusations of favoritism by Gov. Ron DeSantis. All 11 Democrats representing Florida in Congress co-signed the letter.
First among those is the opening of a Lakewood Ranch pop-up clinic that provided 3,000 vaccines to the swanky Manatee County community and limited access to those in two wealthy ZIP codes.
“Disturbingly, wealthy contributors to the Governor’s campaign have direct ties to the affluent development,” the letter notes.
DeSantis at a press conference announcing the vaccines, rejected accusations of favoritism. “If Manatee County doesn’t like us doing this, we are totally fine doing this in counties that want it,” he said at the time.
“Given the Governor’s own admission that he does not have a comprehensive strategy for distributing vaccines, Floridians deserve transparency on how the decisions for pop-up vaccination sites are being made,” the letter continues. “Texts messages between a DeSantis-allied County Commissioner and a large DeSantis donor before the Lakewood Ranch pop-up was established seem to indicate that politics and campaign donor influence are trumping the public health needs of our state.”
That references a Sarasota Herald-Tribune report this week about the Lakewood Ranch clinic revealing Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh communicated in texts with Lakewood Ranch developer Rex Jensen about the political benefits for DeSantis in holding a clinic there.
“After all, ‘22 is right around the corner,” Baugh said in one text.
Baugh has come under fire for also asking that she and Jensen be placed on a VIP list to receive vaccines, though she never received a shot.
The letter from congressional Democrats goes on to suggest if DeSantis were wielding shots as political favors or tools of retribution, that would be an “unspeakable abuse of power and possibly a violation of federal law.”
“We appreciate your full attention to these concerns, and we are confident that upon review, the Department will be able to determine whether the allegations merit a full investigation,” the letter closes.
The letter was sent to Garland the same day he won confirmation from the Senate after pledging to depoliticize the Justice Department.
Notably, Crist, a former Republican Governor, has been frequently discussed as a potential Democratic challenger to DeSantis in 2022.