Less than three weeks since he took office, Gov. Ron DeSantis is looking for a new secretary of state to act as Florida’s top elections official. His first choice, Michael Ertel, resigned Thursday after photos of him posing in blackface as a female victim of Hurricane Katrina were obtained by the Tallahassee Democrat. There was no other alternative.
There is no excuse for such poor judgment and racist behavior. It doesn’t matter that the incident occurred more than 13 years ago. At that point, Ertel already had been the supervisor of elections in Seminole County for eight months. What adult, what public official, would think this is appropriate behavior in any circumstance?
This is particularly disappointing because Ertel was widely regarded as one of the new governor’s best appointments. Ertel had strong experience running elections, and he had won awards for improving procedures and registering more voters. He was expected to be a significant upgrade from his predecessor. Ertel sent the right message earlier this month by advising supervisors of elections to register everyone on the effective date of Amendment 4, which provides that voting rights be automatically restored for most felons who have completed their sentences.
So much for a fast start. Ertel’s good work cannot excuse appearing in blackface, and DeSantis noted he cannot “get mired into side controversies.’’ Let’s hope the governor can find a new secretary of state with strong experience in elections — and better judgment in how they conduct themselves.