Disaster politics on display: Raves for Rick Scott in storm-battered Gadsden

The Republican governor receives a hero's welcome in a strongly-Democratic community.
Gov. Rick Scott meets with Gadsden County officials in Quincy [Steve Bousquet - Tampa Bay Times]
Gov. Rick Scott meets with Gadsden County officials in Quincy [Steve Bousquet - Tampa Bay Times]
Published Oct. 17, 2018|Updated Oct. 17, 2018

QUINCY, Fla. — When the governor of Florida visits Gadsden County, it's a big deal. Especially after a Category 4 hurricane. Even though the governor is a Republican and just about everybody in Gadsden County is a Democrat.

Gov. Rick Scott came to Quincy Tuesday for the second time since Michael roared through. He had lunch in town and took notes during a 45-minute meeting with county and city leaders.

Scott announced Monday that he was indefinitely suspending his campaign to unseat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in less than three weeks. But he told the people in Gadsden he would help them, and they appreciated it, and everybody wanted to get a picture taken with the governor who's not campaigning, and Scott, as always, cheerfully complied.

"I'm going to say this," Gadsden County Sheriff Morris Young said as he nodded toward Scott. "We've got to let folks know that this man helped us."

This is what disaster politics looks like.

Gadsden, west of Tallahassee, has two confirmed hurricane-related deaths. Schools are closed indefinitely. Many residents struggle to get by and they work for local government, which issues checks at the end of the month. Many were broke when Michael hit.

City Manager Leslie Steele of tiny Midway described a problem Scott said he hadn't heard about. Homeowners, many poor and elderly, whose electric meter poles, boxes and rooftop weather heads were destroyed in the storm can't get their power back until they replace the broken equipment at a cost of about $300, Steele said, which is a lot more than they can afford. (A local representative of Talquin Electric confirmed Steele's account).

"If you give me a card, I'll find out," Scott said. "Nobody's ever asked me that."

Talquin Electric is posting restoration updates on its Facebook page.

The acting county administrator, Dee Jackson, said teachers and police officers will become desperate, because their food was ruined and they make too much money to qualify for food stamps.

"They can't afford to replace their pantry," Jackson told Scott, who replied: "I'll find out."

Scott urged people to call his emergency management chief, Wes Maul, and to work with FEMA to get services tailored to the county's needs.

Even before power went out, some Gadsden residents didn't have Internet access, so even when help arrives, they might not know about it.

Maj. Shawn Wood of the sheriff's office urged Scott to get public service announcements on local radio, to alert people.

"Grandma doesn't have the ability to go to FEMA. She doesn't understand a computer," Wood said. "If we can get that started, to where people know help is coming … "

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, warned of an emerging problem with hotel rooms in the state capital. Lawson said hurricane-stricken residents and rescue workers will be evicted from their rooms this weekend because Florida State football fans reserved them long ago for the homecoming football game against Wake Forest on Saturday.

A large air-conditioned tent city is being assembled near the Tallahassee airport to shelter workers for extended periods.

"People really appreciate him coming in," Lawson said of Scott. "His concern is not so much about a campaign but about their well-being."

Brenda Holt, chairwoman of the Gadsden County Commission, joked about getting a phone call and telling the caller, "Whoever you are, you have five seconds." On the other end of the phone, a voice said: "It's Rick Scott."