Editorial: Florida needs straight talk from Washington

Was South Florida set to get thousands of migrants or not? Is Florida protected from offshore drilling or not? And who knows what about Russian hacking?
President Donald Trump shakes hands with Gov. Ron DeSantis as he arrives at Tyndall Air Force Base to view damage from Hurricane Michael, and attend a political rally this month. The governor's wife, Casey DeSantis watches at left. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump shakes hands with Gov. Ron DeSantis as he arrives at Tyndall Air Force Base to view damage from Hurricane Michael, and attend a political rally this month. The governor's wife, Casey DeSantis watches at left. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Published May 21

It would be nice if at least once Floridians could get some straight talk out of Washington. First the Trump administration was sending thousands of migrants to South Florida; then it wasn’t. First the counties whose voter data bases were hacked by Russians in 2016 were never told; then they may have been. First the state was assured it was off the list for expanded off-shore drilling; now it’s unclear. Is it too much to ask for some straight answers?

The latest case of shifting story lines involves the concerns that leaders in Broward and Palm Beach counties raised last week after they said they were told by federal officials that 1,000 migrants could be sent to the region every month as the Trump administration copes with a surge at the Mexican border. Broward Mayor Mark Bogen told the Miami Herald that the sheriff’s office was informed that 270 migrants would be flown into Palm Beach and Broward every week starting in two weeks. It’s reasonable that the nation should share the burden of the surge of migrants, but this is not a responsible approach that would enable local communities to adequately prepare.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and members of Florida’s congressional delegation were caught by surprise. Federal officials downplayed the migrant influx as only a possibility and suggested local officials had misinterpreted them. Then a DeSantis spokeswoman said Sunday that President Donald Trump had told the governor the undocumented immigrants would not be sent to Florida. Yet the Miami Herald reported Tuesday that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement posted a notice last week that it was accepting bidders to transport undocumented children and families across the country. So was there a plan or not? Did Trump put a stop to it just because DeSantis talked to him?

There also are still no straight answers about which supervisors of elections had their voter data bases hacked by Russians before the 2016 election. DeSantis was finally told the names of two counties in a meeting with federal officials this month but signed a nondisclosure agreement. There are conflicting accounts of whether the two counties were told at the time or whether they even know now that there were intrusions. This is the type of secrecy and shifting stories that undermine voter confidence in public officials and in the integrity of the election system.

Also murky is the future of oil drilling off Florida’s coastlines. After the Trump administration announced plans last year to open new areas for drilling off the Atlantic coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, then-Gov. Rick Scott and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke reached a handshake deal that Florida would be exempt. Now Zinke is long gone, and so is that exemption that was never codified. The administration is reviewing its plans to expand offshore drilling, but the oil lobbyists sound awfully confident. Will it take another chat between DeSantis and Trump to protect Florida?

Of course, this is a president who often makes snap decisions. Sometimes, that pays off for Florida. For example, Trump reversed course last week and tweeted his support for spending $200 million in federal money on projects aimed at restoring the Everglades as DeSantis and the congressional delegation had been urging. As he took off this month for a campaign rally in the Florida Panhandle, Politico reported, Trump had nothing new to offer to help the region recover from Hurricane Michael. By the time he landed, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach had persuaded the president to announce the federal government will cover 90 percent of the cost of debris removal and other storm-related expenses. That should save local and state governments hundreds of millions.

When they work in the state’s favor, the president’s impulses are easy to applaud. But conflicting information, unnecessary secrecy and handshake deals that can be forgotten later are risky business for Florida.

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