By Diane Roberts
Florida, eh? If it isn’t hurricanes, it’s massive oil spills. If it isn’t the court slapping down the governor’s racist congressional map, it’s some of his Nazi pals putting on a sidewalk parade in Orlando.
Then there’s Florida’s 2024 U.S Senate race.
As you probably know, Rick Scott is running for reelection.
Or is he? A mere six weeks ago, Scott hinted he might jump into the unseemly mosh pit that is the Republican presidential nomination contest because he’s 1. Rich and arrogant; 2. Rich and clueless; 3. Roundly despised by his colleagues in the upper chamber: When he tried to unseat Mitch McConnell as minority leader in 2022, he lost, 37-10.
Such a resounding rejection by his own party might make a less monumental ego re-examine his priorities and perhaps decide to learn how politics works.
Not Rick Scott. He took it as a sign he should perhaps consider higher office.
Plus, he dislikes Ron DeSantis. Another personality-challenged Floridian bouncing into the Republican presidential food fight would irritate the governor — not that it’s hard to irritate that guy.
Like Donald Trump, whose candidacy Scott was one of the first to champion in 2015, Florida’s junior senator does not appear to have what you’d call a rich inner life, but he enjoys tormenting his successor, pointedly accompanying Joe Biden on his tour of Idalia’s destruction after DeSantis sulkily refused to meet the president, or gumming up the works of the transition in 2019 with last-minute appointments to state agencies, leaving DeSantis’ inauguration before the speech, and holding a rival inaugural ball.
But now that DeSantis’ campaign is deteriorating faster than Marjorie Taylor Greene’s mental health, it appears Scott has officially hit his senatorial reset button.
Maybe because it wouldn’t be fun to beat DeSantis after he beats himself; maybe because there are rumors DeSantis might jump into the Florida Senate race once national Republicans kick him to the curb.
Whatever the reason, he’s drawn two plausible Democratic challengers.
Phil Ehr, a 26-year Navy vet who tried to unseat the egregious Matt Gaetz in 2020, and former U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, an administrator at FIU, born in Ecuador and the first Latin American immigrant to be elected to Congress.
Down there somewhere in the lower lefthand corner, there’s also the combustible ex-congressman Alan Grayson, but his Senate run, announced on June 22, won’t detain us for long.
Ehr lost to Gaetz by 30 points — hardly unexpected given that District 1 is as Trumpy as a Friday night Proud Boys mixer.
Ehr does, however, have an impressive CV, according to his U.S. campaign website and LinkedIn.
He’s a former naval officer — a commander, not a low-rent sailor like Rick Scott, who puts on his Navy ball cap whenever he wants to show he’s a Man of the People. Ehr is one of the leaders of the George Washington Initiative, “an information civil defense force” to counter and disrupt misinformation. When he’s not fighting fake news online, he flies humanitarian missions to Ukraine.
Mucarsel-Powell, however, looks like a better bet. She’s got more name-recognition in South Florida. She’s a pro-gun control, pro-choice Latina personally recruited by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
And she may have spooked the Scott campaign — at least a little bit — given that they’re calling her a “loser” and a “radical socialist.”
Not that they know what a socialist is. But conservatives use the word for anything and anyone that scares them.
In response to the NAACP, the ACLU and the Human Rights Campaign warnings that travel to Florida could be hazardous to people of color, LGBTQ people, or people who just believe in decency and tolerance, Scott posted a huffy hunk of mansplaining on that X-thing that everyone still calls Twitter, warning “socialists and communists” and suchlike to stay out of Florida.
“We’re the free state of Florida. We actually don’t believe in socialism, we actually know people, some people in our state lived under it and we know people that lived under socialism. It’s not good,” he says.
“We like freedom, liberty, capitalism, things like that.”
Things like that.
Alas, however gauche, ignorant, and objectionable Scott may be, Dems shouldn’t get too excited about their chances. Floridians have no trouble electing gauche, ignorant, and objectionable candidates.
Exhibit A: Ron DeSantis: racist, liar, jerk, recently seen yelling at a Black Air Force vet who suggested that his policies as governor have enabled white supremacists.
Exhibit A+: Rick Scott. If he weren’t so rich, he’d probably be in jail.
Before Scott flapped into Florida like a hungry buzzard, he was a rapacious capitalist for whom following the law was more or less optional.
His for-profit hospital chain, Columbia/HCA, defrauded Medicare of vast sums, robbing the heath care funding for senior citizens.
Columbia/HCA got hit with a $1.7 billion fine. Rick Scott got handed $300 million in stock and $5 million in cash to go away before he made even more of a criminal mess.
Floridians knew all of this before we elected him governor (twice), then, in 2018, senator.
What the hell is wrong with us?
Putting up a fight
At any rate, it’s good to see the Florida Democratic Party, demoralized by decades of failure, putting up a fight.
They’ll need to raise astronomical amounts of money; Scott has repeatedly shown that he will spend bucket-loads of his own cash to win.
Florida’s — indeed, the world’s — most urgent issue is climate change, but Scott, prize idiot that he is, has done nothing. In fact, he’s a net negative on the environment.
As governor, he wouldn’t allow state employees to even utter the phrase “climate change,” and he dismantled the Department of Community Affairs, the only state agency that had a chance to manage Florida’s ugly, water-polluting, habitat-destroying, out-of-control growth.
As a first-term senator, he got himself elected head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He had one job: Help Republicans regain control of the upper house.
But by September 2020, he’d squandered 95 percent of the GOP’s campaign cash on ill-judged digital fundraising initiatives and, come the new year, Democrats had added to their slim-but-operational majority.
Compounding the general (and entirely correct) suspicion that this fellow is a few sandwiches short of a picnic, Scott announced a “Rescue America” plan in which (among other things) poor people would have to pay more taxes and Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare would have to be re-authorized every five years and maybe even dispensed with.
Scott actually thought that shredding the safety net created for the old, the poor, the sick, and children would be popular. When Mitch McConnell heard this, he pitched what, for him, passes for an eye-rolling hissy fit.
Scott backed off some of the stupidest proposals by pretending that he was misquoted, misinterpreted, and generally ill-treated by the leftist media and Washington insiders.
You’d think attacking old people’s benefits in a state full of old people — most of whom vote Republican — would be enough to get Scott frog-marched out of Washington.
But then, Florida voted for Trump twice. DeSantis, too. Crazy and cruel sell well in this state.
Still, pigs could fly (if you give them jet packs) and stars could align.
Scott has never run in a presidential election year. If Democrats and Independents actually show up at the polls, perhaps inspired by the necessity to defeat the insurrectionist Trump who is, at the moment, the top contender for the Republican nomination, a good number could decide they don’t want a billionaire who won’t lift a finger to save the planet, much less help the poor, for their senator.
Perhaps we’ll discover Florida is more purple than we think; or perhaps it’s too late. As the storms ravage us, the heat fries us, and the cost of living debilitates us, Rick Scott will be swanning around the Capitol or off on some yacht, counting his money, complaining about socialism and reminding the servants to call him “Senator.”
Diane Roberts is an 8th-generation Floridian, born and bred in Tallahassee. Educated at Florida State University and Oxford University in England, she has been writing for newspapers since 1983, when she began producing columns on the legislature for the Florida Flambeau. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, and Flamingo. She has been a member of the Editorial Board of the St. Petersburg Times–back when that was the Tampa Bay Times’s name–and a long-time columnist for the paper in both its iterations. She was a commentator on NPR for 22 years and continues to contribute radio essays and opinion pieces to the BBC. Roberts is also the author of four books.