As someone who’s spent most of his life in Florida, I’m acutely aware of the preparations people in the projected path of Tropical Storm Michael should now be taking. I’ve lived through hurricanes, and covered them as a reporter. So to discuss the political impact of a hurricane before it hits the state may seem insensitive – but this is a political news website. That’s what we do.
There are always political winners and losers after a tropical system impacts Florida. Former Governor Jeb Bush is the gold standard. He was tested under fire – 8 hurricanes during a two year period in 2004-05. The Miami Herald named him the “hurricane governor.”
Two men stand to have the most to win or lose if Michael hits Florida less than 30 days before the November election. Their offices are separated by Pensacola Street in Tallahassee – Governor Rick Scott and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.
Scott, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, has dealt with his share of hurricanes too. He’s running a TV commercial touting his leadership during 2017’s Hurricane Irma. It helps to have the full resources of the state government – including the National Guard – at your disposal. It gives Scott the opportunity to look gubernatorial or even senatorial.
Gillum may have the most to lose. He’s already under fire for his handling of a 2016 hurricane that hit Tallahassee, the first in 30 years. Despite it being a low grade category 1, power was out in some parts of the city for 6 days. The Florida Republican Party is currently airing commercials critical of Gillum’s response to the story.
Mayor Gillum has two things working against him – Tallahassee is a tree city and the city-owned utility company has an aging grid causing the power to go out during a strong thunderstorm. It’s clear Gillum and the City are aware of the 2016 fiasco. They are sending news releases to political reporters touting their preparation for this potential hurricane. Of course, those news releases look political in nature when they’re sent from Gillum’s chief of staff, instead of the city’s public affairs office. But then again, Gillum has a lot riding on Tallahassee’s response to another hurricane. It’ll either be redemption or another failed opportunity to show leadership. Gillum has canceled his campaign plans, pulled his TV ads in the Panhandle and has returned to Tallahassee.
Even former Governor Charlie Crist, in his ever present hope of being relevant, called on Republican Ron DeSantis to pull his ads. “Rather than ripping us apart with his negative campaign, Ron DeSantis should unite with the rest of Florida, take down his false attack ads, and help those facing down this coming storm,” said Congressman Crist. That’s an eye-rolling comment from Crist.
The two bystanders in this hurricane response will be Ron DeSantis and for the most part Bill Nelson. DeSantis issued a statement Sunday urging residents to prepare for this storm. That’s the most he can do since he currently holds no political office. Nelson, though a three-term Senator, will likely be frozen out. Hurricane responses are led by the Governor. Scott and Nelson are running for the same office in a race that has increasingly gotten personal. There’s just not much a Democratic senator can do with a Republican Governor and President leading the way.
The best case scenario? The storm fizzles at the last minute. Floridians along the path endure a big rain shower, and political season takes its place front and center again. That doesn’t seem likely, but it’s what we hope for – even from a political news website.