Advertisement
  1. News
  2. /
  3. Florida Politics
  4. /
  5. The Buzz

On Mike Pence’s new press secretary and her bizarre Florida connection

Katie Waldman, a former University of Florida student senator, was accused of helping discard independent student newspapers with a front-page endorsement of a rival party’s candidate. | Analysis
Vice President Mike Pence reacts during an immigration and naturalization ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House grounds, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) [ALEX BRANDON  |  AP]
Vice President Mike Pence reacts during an immigration and naturalization ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House grounds, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) [ALEX BRANDON | AP]
Published Sep. 21, 2019
Updated Sep. 21, 2019

If college is a training ground for the real world, an interesting case study is that of Katie Waldman — the University of Florida alumna named this week as Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary.

Political journalists were quick to point out that Waldman, 27, was a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, who had defended the agency’s divisive immigrant family separation policy. Some added that she was apparently dating Stephen Miller, a key adviser to President Donald Trump and a main proponent of the border wall.

Publications also noted the inevitable Florida connection. More than seven years ago, Waldman was in student government at the University of Florida when she became involved in an incident that would help define her time there.

It started with the publication of the Feb. 20, 2012 edition of the university’s independent student-run newspaper, The Independent Florida Alligator. It included an article reporting then-football coach Will Muschamp had endorsed a Waldman rival, a walk-on player who was running for student body vice president. Waldman was one of two students spotted discarding copies of that day’s Alligator.

I was a freshman journalism major then, trying to get my foot in the door at the Alligator, which is widely known as the place to be if you’re trying to work in traditional media. It was shocking to me at the time, but, looking back, it’s not that surprising in the context of UF’s student government.

Campus politics in Gainesville have long been controlled by a powerful few with the help of a voting bloc made up of social sororities and fraternities. Much of the power-brokering occurs in a highly selective organization called Florida Blue Key that includes a long list of former governors, senators, football stars and current VIPs, such as Sen. Marco Rubio, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried.

The ruling party has taken on many names over the years. It was once “Gator,” then “Unite” during the paper-tossing scandal, then rebranded “Swamp” when I was editor-in-chief of the newspaper. But the tactics have stayed largely the same.

A 2013 email from a Swamp party senator asked sorority and fraternity representatives to collect “I voted” stickers from members and donate $250 to the party. In the last line, she asked them to delete the email after reading it, adding that it was “sketchy, but do it.” The student was appointed a student senator the next month.

Five years earlier, more leaked emails surfaced instructing Gator Party senators on how to keep members of the opposing party off certain committees.

And then there was Feb. 20, 2012. Waldman was seen with fellow student Jason Tiemeier when he tossed copies of the Alligator in the garbage. Waldman, a Unite student senator at the time, denied that she threw away any papers and said she advised Tiemeier against it. At the same senate meeting she offered the denial, she was named chair of the senate’s appropriations committee.

Tiemeier, also a Unite senator at the time, first denied the allegations then penned an apology letter in the Alligator, naming Waldman as his accomplice.

“When Katie Waldman and I were walking around campus, I let my sense of competition get in the way of the integrity and everything I believe I have always striven for in my time at UF," he wrote.

Tiemeier, who now works as a transaction tax associate for Ernst & Young in New York City, declined to comment Friday. Waldman couldn’t be reached for comment.

Waldman’s appointment sparked chatter among my UF friends, Alligator alums and not. On Facebook, my former Alligator colleague Meredith Bauer, who worked as metro editor during the newspaper-tossing scandal, nailed why the actions of student politicians matter.

“This is the problem with letting morally wrong (student government) election tactics go unpunished,” Bauer, 29, wrote. “Everyone knows it’s a staging ground for state and federal politics.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally contained an incorrect last name for Meredith Bauer.

Kathryn Varn is a former editor-in-chief of The Independent Florida Alligator and graduated from the University of Florida in 2015.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Visitors head to Florida's Old Capitol building on Tuesday, the first day of the annual session. The same day, the advocacy group Equality Florida denounced four bills filed by Republican lawmakers, calling them “the most overtly anti-LGBTQ agenda from the Florida legislature in recent memory.” [SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Most of the bills try to eliminate local ordinances, and Republicans say they’ve been unfairly labeled.
  2. Attorney Joseph Bondy tweeted this photo of his client, Lev Parnas (right) with former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi on Friday, Jan. 17. Bondi on Friday was named on of President Donald Trump's impeachment lawyers. [Twitter]
    Parnas’ lawyer tweeted out the photo of the former Florida attorney general along with #TheyAllKnew.
  3. Florida Senator Rob Bradley, R- Fleming Island, watches the action on the first day of the session, 1/14/2020.  [SCOTT KEELER  |  TAMPA BAY TIMES]
    A popular bill would allow judges to dole out punishments less than the mandatory minimum sentences spelled out in state law for many drug crimes if the defendant meets certain criteria.
  4. Vice President Mike Pence take selfies with supporters after giving a campaign speech during the "Keep America Great" rally at the Venetian Event Center at St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church in Tampa, Florida on Thursday, January 16, 2020.  [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    ‘Come November the American people are going to have our say,’ Pence said.
  5. Rep. Stan McClain, an Ocala Republican, presents a bill that would allow Florida public colleges and universities to sponsor charter schools, during a January 2020 meeting of the House PreK-12 Innovation subcommittee. [The Florida Channel]
    Alternative authorizers have been found unconstitutional in the past. But that isn’t stopping the effort.
  6. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, members of the Florida Cabinet, left, and the Florida Supreme Court, right, stand at attention as the colors are posted in the Florida Senate during the first day of the Florida legislative session in Tallahassee, Tuesday, January 14, 2020.  [SCOTT KEELER  |  TAMPA BAY TIMES]
    The court ruled that Amendment 4‘s “all terms of sentence” include the payment of all court fees, fines and restitution.
  7. Thousands rallied and marched from the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center to the Florida Historic Capitol to demand more money for public schools Monday, Jan. 13, 2020. Thousands of school workers from around the state thronged Florida's Capitol on Monday to press Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Legislature to more than double the nearly $1 billion the governor is proposing for teacher raises and bonuses.  (Tori Lynn Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat via AP) [TORI LYNN SCHNEIDER  |  AP]
    The PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee cutting exercise would come in nearly 25 percent below Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposal.
  8. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.,, center, speaks as fellow candidates businessman Tom Steyer, from left, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. listen, Tuesday during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) [PATRICK SEMANSKY  |  AP]
    The candidates’ proposals reveal differences in how they plan to approach the issue.
  9. Vice President Mike Pence points to supporters before speaking during a campaign rally at the Huntington Center, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020, in Toledo, Ohio. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak) [TONY DEJAK  |  AP]
    Vice President Mike Pence will take the stage in New Tampa, at the Venetian Event Center at St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church, at 1:30 p.m. It wasn’t planned that way.
  10. <Samsung D70 / D75 / S730 / S750>
    For the first time since he was nominated by Gov. Ron DeSantis for the job of Florida Surgeon General, Scott Rivkees appeared before senators to answer questions that have been percolating for nine...
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement