Joe Henderson: Gov. DeSantis gets an ‘A’ for leadership in a crisis

The Governor couldn't make the Surfside tragedy go away, but he was empathetic, sympathetic, and the state's chief consoler.

I think most people would agree the last couple of weeks in Florida scored high on the stress meter, what with the Surfside calamity and Tropical Storm Elsa. In times like this, politics should go out the window while leaders step up and, well, lead. That’s how we judge them.

We don’t grade these things on the curve, though. The difference between success and failure can hinge on the choice of a word, good or bad. With that in mind, whatever your political leaning, if you’re scoring fairly, then Gov. Ron DeSantis gets an “A” for his handling of this twin crisis.

He thankfully kept politics out of the mix at the condo collapse and struck a welcomed bipartisan tone with President Joe Biden. He worked well with federal relief efforts and was the compassionate, focused Governor all Floridians needed him to be.

DeSantis quickly responded when Elsa started heading for Florida.

On Friday, three days before Elsa began its run up the west coast, he declared a state of emergency for 15 counties in the storm’s path. That included large population centers like the Tampa Bay area and Fort Myers.

The declaration eliminated bureaucratic barriers between state, local, and federal relief agencies.

Sure, the emergency order might seem like something Elmer Fudd could declare. It’s an obvious step to take. But a leader has to back that up with their presence at command centers as the storm gets closer.

In other words, they don’t take a trip to Cancun like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz did when his state had a catastrophic power failure during a killer deep freeze. Blunders like that can leave a lasting mark because citizens want to know their leader is in the boat with them.

We all remember the Navy ballcap that became former Gov. Rick Scott’s trademark as hurricanes approached. He was on the job, and I think that memory might have swayed just enough votes to put him in the U.S. Senate.

Whatever people might have thought about Scott’s policies, they knew he was engaged, prepared, and with them.

Everyone understands that DeSantis couldn’t fly backward around the world like Superman and make the condo crash go away. The Governor could be empathetic and sympathetic, though, and he was. He could be the state’s chief consoler and work across party lines to get answers for people dealing with unimaginable grief.

Now it’s time for the next step.

Condo dwellers on either coast are understandably jittery right now. They’ve heard reports about how water intrusion on concrete support slabs may have contributed to the Surfside collapse.

Local agencies quickly launched reviews of the other aging condo buildings, and DeSantis promised to follow their work closely. Likewise, a task force will examine all aspects of Florida condominium-board law, including construction, operations, and maintenance.

It’s the right response, and as Florida’s CEO, DeSantis has to make sure the investigations are thorough and lead to necessary changes.

As I said, DeSantis gets an “A” for navigating through this challenging patch. It never seems to end, though. Hurricane season has just begun, as has the inquiry at Surfside, and who knows what else could happen?

After all, COVID-19 hasn’t completely gone away.

In this crisis, though, DeSantis showed what it means to be in charge at a time when a person’s political party doesn’t matter.

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.


  • Charles

    July 7, 2021 at 7:56 pm

    Henderson with a rare moment of truthfulness and journalistic integrity as compared to the normal hatful bias and hypocrisy journalism. NICE TO SEE JOE !!!!

  • Tom

    July 7, 2021 at 8:56 pm

    Well said Joe, my compliments. Agree with Charles on your honesty, Governor Ron has been a good leader on this and other challenges.
    Unfortunately, the bias media won’t back off the ideology. 100 year pandemic in which he studied science and used common sense and sided with freedom not lock downs. Kept schools open, jobs/economy and seniors safe.
    I’d grade him a B overall.
    America’s Governor is demonstrating he’s the “right stuff” With his whiz kid skill. He’s commanding national attention and is seen as a future leader. Your honesty is appreciated.

  • Ron Ogden

    July 8, 2021 at 5:11 am

    Have to admit, a readable, rational comment. Henderson, for once, put himself in DeSantis’s shoes.

  • Ocean Joe

    July 8, 2021 at 8:09 am

    Yes, he took off his red hat and acted like a governor. Great to see the folks who usually excoriate Mr. Henderson’s writing ability (not just the content) praise him for once. Point being, Fla. needs a full time governor, not an advocate for the latest far right crusade.

    As for hurricanes, a bit of recent history is helpful: His effort to expedite clean up turned into a pay to play scheme that delayed it. Nelson beat him here by 1 vote. Mine. No audit necessary.

  • Tom

    July 8, 2021 at 8:25 am

    The seaweed has had severe issues for you ocean Joe. Your outline is totally inappropriate.
    The Governor is doing a great job across the board. America’s Governor policies have allowed even Floridians like you to continue with your life. Compared to your lock downer Govs.
    Gov Ron is hitting it out if the park, he’s not running a crusade. Enough of the whining. My goodness with the cheap shots.

  • Kim

    July 8, 2021 at 9:38 am

    Only one thing glaringly obvious to the issue! Refusal to do anything about the cause of the collapse! The future doesn’t look to bright in the sense his leadership would do anything to prevent this type of thing from happening again!

    • Tom

      July 8, 2021 at 11:46 am

      Time will tell, he’s not reactionary.
      He prepares on facts. Local govts set code but yes some state requirements will help ensure higher degree of safety. Looks like locals missed alarm bells last few years.

      • SK

        July 8, 2021 at 2:39 pm

        He is far from anything smart I have seen. (OFF TOPIC HERE) He has allowed Florida to become the 3rd worst state of COVID cases. He opened up the state too quickly at at time when cases were skyrocketing.

  • SK

    July 8, 2021 at 2:37 pm

    I want a follow up on how he handles…dare I say the ‘R” word (?)… REGULATION on condo buildings that have been told to fix items and then don’t move on it. It is not his fault that the Surfside building collapsed but it sure will say something if he doesn’t put some regulations on future developers to meet building codes. At this point, South Florida has met it’s capacity for building. It is overbuilt and needs to stop.

  • Tom

    July 9, 2021 at 4:47 am

    You want nothing and know nothing. America’s Governor is a whiz kid. DeSantis is the model.
    Your numbers are way off on covid. Obviously, partisan tool. He opened up to soon. What do you know? You lock downers are never satisfied. 3rd worse state, your facts are fiction.
    Florida is number one in the country for recovery. As for building codes they are local requirements. The state can offer some basic requirements and it should be reviewed but construction and safety is local. What did the city and county do the last 2 or 3 years. Gracious of you not to blame him. Ridiculous.

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, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

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