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Ahead of Senate vote, will Ladapo mask confrontation matter to Tampa Bay?

When Florida’s new surgeon general visited the office of a state Senator, he was asked to wear a mask but refused.
Floridia's Surgeon General and Florida Department Of Health Secretary Dr. Joe Ladapo, during a news conference with Governor Ron DeSantis, at the NeoCity Academy in Kissimmee, in September.
Floridia's Surgeon General and Florida Department Of Health Secretary Dr. Joe Ladapo, during a news conference with Governor Ron DeSantis, at the NeoCity Academy in Kissimmee, in September.
Published Nov. 1, 2021

Florida’s new Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo divided state politicians the day he was appointed in mid-September.

The former UCLA professor was known for penning opinion articles opposing mask and vaccine mandates and casting skepticism on the benefits of vaccines for young adults. On his second day in office, Ladapo issued a rule that took power away from school boards to control quarantine and mask practices.

He ruffled feathers again when meeting with Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, ahead of his confirmation vote when the Legislature convenes in January for session. Polsky, who has breast cancer, said she told Ladapo she had a serious health condition and asked him to wear a mask. Ladapo refused and was asked to leave.

In a statement, Ladapo said he could not communicate effectively with a mask on and suggested meeting outside instead, which was refused.

Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, put out a memo saying that though there isn’t a mask mandate in the Senate, Senators and staff can request masks be worn in their offices.

“What occurred in Senator Polsky’s office was unprofessional and will not be tolerated in the Senate,” Simpson said in a memo. “The Florida Senate has a long history of respect and camaraderie, and I expect the tradition to continue during my administration.”

In the time since, some Florida politicians have said they will not vote to confirm Ladapo, like Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Ocoee.

But in Tampa Bay, lawmakers, even Democrats, are sounding more reserved.

It was a rookie mistake, said Senator Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, but not an unforgivable one.

“I think it’s predominantly been hashed out,” Brandes said. “It’s not an issue for me in my office.”

Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, said he appreciated Simpson standing up for Polksy and the ability of Senators to request accommodations to their comfort. Rouson would not say if the incident would affect his vote, though. He had met with Ladapo to discuss his role and health issues in the Hillsborough and Pinellas communities that Rouson represents.

“I don’t want to forecast a vote right now, I want to be studied in my assessment and this may be a game day decision,” he said.

For Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Palm Harbor, said he hasn’t yet met with Ladapo and would reserve judgment until then, but that he’s sure Ladapo will be asked about the incident by the senators he meets with.

“I’ll be glad to meet with him and I’ll be glad to ask the same questions that he will probably get asked a thousand more times,” Hooper said.

Simpson did not return calls asking for additional comment. Neither did Sens. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills and Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, though Cruz has been outspoken on Twitter in support of Polsky.

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