Backroom Briefing: Firing political shots over shots

Florida News

(Nexstar DC photo)

TALLAHASSEE — After criticism about residents of two upscale communities in Manatee County getting 3,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses from the state’s allocation, Gov. Ron DeSantis fired back Wednesday that the state can always send the shots to another county.

And his response only furthered talk of a potential 2022 gubernatorial election fight.

“If Manatee County doesn’t like us doing this, then we are totally fine with putting this in counties that want it. And we’re totally happy to do that,” DeSantis told reporters as he faced questions during an appearance at the Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch.

“So, anyone that’s saying that, let us know if you want us to send it to Sarasota next time, or Charlotte or Pasco or wherever, let us know, we’re happy to do it,” he said. “But I think most people if we have an opportunity to bring vaccines and do it efficiently, I think that they’re gonna want it. And so, you know, there’s going to be folks that are going to complain about getting more vaccines, you know, I’ll tell you what I mean, I wouldn’t be complaining. I’d be thankful that we’re able to do it. Because you know what, we didn’t need to do this at all.”

The media questions focused on comments some Manatee County commissioners made about the decision-making behind a vaccination pop-up site at the sports campus. Also, vaccine doses were going to people from communities in two Zip codes with 2,548 COVID-19 cases, while other more-diverse regions of the county had higher caseloads.

During an appearance Thursday in Pinellas County, DeSantis appeared to distance himself from how the Manatee County decisions were made.

“We don’t dictate how it’s done. We do not say they can’t invite people from outside. That’s up to them, how they do it,” he said. “However they want to do it, it’s totally fine with us. We just believe going to senior-dominated communities allows us to reach a critical mass quickly. … And you know what, the seniors really appreciate it.”

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat who is widely rumored to be considering challenging DeSantis next year, went on the attack after the controversy erupted Wednesday. She sent out a statement calling the governor’s comments “troubling and potentially illegal.” 

“Vaccines should be distributed to counties based on need, capacity, and science,” Fried said in a news release.

Fried also started the week with a couple of salvos at DeSantis, topped by a claim the state’s response to the pandemic has been made harder by the governor’s “Blind allegiance to an insurrectionist,” referring to the governor’s close relationship with former President Donald Trump.

As expected, Republicans hit back.

“Fried is floundering and it’s uncomfortable to watch,” tweeted Sen. Joe Gruters, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. “Dems see it. The press knows it. No record to run on or promote. Instead attacks one of most popular govs in country. The end of this movie writes itself.”

FUTURE POWER PLAYS

Lawmakers could look to rein in executive powers DeSantis has used during the pandemic on issues such as business shutdowns, with Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, saying the concern is the potential actions of future governors.

“I think what the concern is is that in the future that other executives may lockdown for other reasons that we certainly would not think would be necessary,” Simpson told reporters Thursday. “There are some protections in the Constitution today, the Legislature could convene and there are some things that we can do to undo some executive orders.”

Simpson made sure to add that DeSantis “has done a tremendous job.”

“Nothing’s perfect, but this governor has done an above-average job, an excellent job of handling the executive orders,” Simpson added. “But you have no idea what other governors may do in the future. Right. And there are many examples around the country of lockdowns having worse outcomes.”

CRUISE SHIPS AND TOASTERS 

Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, is ready to override the voters of Key West and prevent local cruise-ship regulations.

Perry warned Tuesday during a Senate Transportation Committee hearing on seaports that a Key West vote — limiting the size of cruise ships and number of passengers that can get off the ships while using the Port of Key West — could lead to the closure of “every single port.” 

“What has happened in the city of Key West is being, you know, a slippery slope that I can’t believe the state would want to go down. I can’t believe that anybody, besides maybe 60 out of 10,000 people in Key West may want to go down, you’re talking about restricting commerce,” Perry said. “Now, it’s people. Tomorrow, it’s cars. The next day, it’s something else. You know, we don’t want toasters from China, because we don’t like their labor laws. And they got a bad review on China’s labor laws. And we’re not gonna let more toasters come in.”

Sen. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, has filed a proposal (SB 426) that would prohibit local governments from restricting or regulating commerce in ports. That would apply to issues such as the sizes and types of vessels, the sources or types of cargo and the numbers, origins or nationalities of passengers. The bill also would seek to void county and municipal policies that “existed before, on, or after the effective date of this act.” 

Caribe Nautical Services Chairman John Wells argued the Key West vote could negatively impact the cruise industry, saying that of the 287 reservations in place for 2022 cruises, only 18 ships would meet the size criteria. 

Arlo Haskell, treasurer oF the Key West Committee for Safer, Cleaner Ships, said lawmakers should let lawsuits against his group’s successful efforts play out before imposing statewide rules. Haskell added that smaller cruise ship operators have already started to focus on Key West.

TWEET OF THE WEEK: “@FLCaseyDeSantis and I are saddened to learn of the passing of fellow Floridian and our friend, Rush Limbaugh.” — Gov. Ron DeSantis ( @GovRonDeSantis).

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