TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott decided that using live alligators as fundraising bait wasn't such a great idea after all.
Without explanation, Scott's re-election campaign on Tuesday abruptly called off a planned "private gator hunt" in New Smyrna Beach on Oct. 18 for donors willing to pay $25,000 a head. The invitations said, "Space is limited."
Word of the gubernatorial gator gambit quickly went viral on social media and prompted questions about how the state would issue permits for it, not to mention the imagery of Scott campaign donors stalking a reptile that, despite its menacing image, has long been an unofficial symbol of Florida.
"The event has been canceled," said John French, a Tallahassee lawyer who serves as chairman of Scott's campaign effort, known as Let's Get to Work. He declined to elaborate.
Scott was no help either. At a Broward College event in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday to promote his call for tax cuts, he brushed off questions and told a reporter to call the Republican Party of Florida, which had no role in the event.
The gator hunt and its quick demise were picked up by the Huffington Post, which reminded its readers of a Miami New Times article in 2011 in which Scott told state fish and game employees that he was not especially fond of alligators.
"I don't want to be close to them that much," said Scott, who wears boots made in part from alligator skin. He added that he would be "receptive" to shooting one if that would promote the state's image.
On Twitter, former Republican state Sen. Paula Dockery of Lakeland questioned how Scott's campaign could put on such an event, with limits on the number of alligator permits in the state.
"This raises a few questions. Usually licenses/permits done by lottery. How do they get enough for all donors?" Dockery tweeted.
Alligators are a federally protected species. State law limits Florida's alligator hunting season from Aug. 15 to Nov. 1, managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Alligators can be captured only by people with state permits, which are issued by a random drawing, to a maximum number of 5,000. (Today is the last day to apply for a permit this year.)
Each permit entitles a person to catch two gators. The permit costs $272 — presumably no problem for someone willing to donate $25,000 to a political campaign.
Miami Herald staff writer Amy Sherman contributed to this report. Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.