Irma Will be Defining Moment for Scott, Nelson

Under The Hood


Nothing quite shows the mettle of state officials like a hurricane. As Hurricane Irma sets its sights upon the Sunshine State, our leaders so far have been up to task. That holds some political significance for a pair of important politicians set to battle each other next year—politicians who must maintain a simpatico relationship today. Fortunately, Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, both appear committed to the public safety of Floridians right now. 

Could tensions between them rise? Let’s hope not. At the moment, the term-limited governor is widely expected to challenge the incumbent senator next fall. Neither candidate expects a primary opponent, so this is one race where the candidates can be expected to take pop shots at one another whenever the occasion arises.

And the men both face a tremendous test on their leadership right now. National media is recent weeks has looked to the way President Donald Trump faced the first national disasters of his presidency. Everyone’s aware a storm can undo an administration if it’s mishandled. Poor performance by FEMA in 2005 delivered a blow to President George W. Bush’s approval ratings from which he never recovered. And the sad truth for pols is that the benefits of a good job don’t deliver so great a yield.

Following Hurricane Harvey, there wasn’t much to note. Sure, partisans swiped at whether Trump hugged enough survivors (he made a return trip that was more focused on impacted citizens then government response). But we didn’t the sort of legendary snafus on the part of actual government response that marked Katrina. Besides, there’s a new national story every week to impact Trump’s standing positively or negatively.

For Nelson and Scott, this moment will prove more definitive. A good job means voters will hold a positive view. Missteps will mar their image. So what’s happened so far?

Scott’s certainly spend more time on the air. It’s his job to declare a state of the emergency, and he issued a call this week to close all schools and state universities in Florida, even areas unlikely to be hit, so that the facilities can be used as shelters. The governor early on encouraged evacuations for those most in danger, and stressed that those who’d made the decision to flee the state may as well go immediately to ease stress on the roads.

Nelson, the state’s senior US senator, meanwhile started groundwork on getting FEMA resources directed to Florida now. In a press conference this week, he joined with Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is requesting the president to issue a declaration of emergency in Florida before the storm made landfall; the president quickly complied. Nelson has also started a search for federal dollars, as so much FEMA funding already became depleted after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas.

Thus far, the governor and senator have worked in concert when occasion warranted. It’s best to assume that each one takes pride in their own public service and wants to do what they can for Floridians in a moment of vulnerability. To whatever extent political consequence makes a difference, both officials surely realize that working together and impressing citizens will be more beneficial to their campaigns next year that getting into any sort of outwardly petty squabbles.

The real test will come in the aftermath of the storm, wherever it hits. This is when the fight for federal funding will prove most consequential. It’s when response by state law enforcement and emergency personnel needs be the most expedient.

Let’s hope everything goes smoothly, and that our leaders continue to relish the chance to impress Florida before political expediency starts pressuring them to tear each other apart.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor for SRQ Media Group.

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