Political careers are often made or broken by tragedies and adverse events. Just ask George W. Bush, Rudy Guilliani, Kathleen Blanco, Ray Nagin and others. We’ve discussed previously on this site how the botched post-Hurricane Andrew period led Governor Lawton Chiles down to an approval rating in the low 20’s. Hurricane Irma and how it was handled by some pols does matter even if it might seem (justifiably in many cases) like grandstanding to those in the media and the political class.
Two potential gubernatorial hopefuls this past week exposed themselves as too flippant and impulsive to run the state through a major crisis like Irma – longtime State Senator and Direct Mail Vendor extraordinaire Jack Latvala who is an announced Republican candidate for Governor as well as Democrat John Morgan who has been toying with the idea of running for sometime.
Last week as Irma was tracking toward the Sunshine State, Latvala held a campaign kickoff and fundraiser in Clearwater. The Tampa Bay Times reported on the campaign kickoff and Latvala’s attitude toward Irma including his feeling that the Governor was “overdoing” the preparation.
Latvala told the Times:
“I have lived in Florida for 50 years. We have hurricane season every year. We try to use good judgment,” Latvala said. ”I’m not sure that we haven’t overdone it a little bit … Do you have to close down the state four days before the storm gets here?”
Right away, Latvala’s comments appeared to be off the mark. I get part of his motivation may have simply to take a pop at Governor Rick Scott. It also reinforced for some of us that those from Pinellas County like Latvala often see Hurricanes in Florida as someone else’s problem, because through the years no area of the state has consistently been luckier when it comes to monster storms than the Tampa Bay area. In Latvala’s 50 years of being a Floridian the Tampa Bay Area has NEVER been hit by a major storm and has rarely been impacted by one. That’s part of the reason Governor Scott and his team realized they had to take this storm so seriously, so early because many in the projected path of Irma had never had to prepare or experience a storm like Irma.
Furthering Latvala’s bad image from this storm was his decision to high tail to Tallahassee after the event instead of riding out the storm with his constituents. Latvala is a favorite of political insiders, lobbyists and other elites in the state including many Democrats. I happen to think he’s probably done more time than anyone running for Governor and deserves a shot. But he demonstrated last week he lacks the temperament or judgement to actually lead Florida and to understand the gravity of serious situations ,if it interferes with his own political plans. He might be creative legislator (some would say a bully, but for me I admire those like Latvala who have an ability work the process in the manner he does – reminiscent of Lyndon Johnson or maybe even here in Florida, Dempsey Barron) and the legislative branch is probably where he should stay.
But Latvala doesn’t stand alone in this week’s annals of “not ready for prime time.” In fact Latvala showed better judgement, temperament than Democrat John Morgan absolutely misrepresented the work of forecasters presumably including the Miami-based National Hurricane Center and showed a Donald Trump-like streak in his public comments. Morgan implied that forecasters claimed parts of the state would be “safe” (They NEVER did and if you believe they did you need a rudimentary lesson in what a Hurricane Warning constitutes) and also made a snarky comment about throwing darts at a board.
For Mr. Morgan remember, the NHC projected track is just for the center of the storm and the 3-day cone represents the margin of error in that period for JUST THE CENTER OF THE STORM. No doubt modeling needs to improve and perhaps the NHC can show a cone near landfall that includes the potential wind field. But the NHC did VERY well as they usually do with Irma. Sure, the center of the storm tracked about 30-35 miles east of where forecast but again the cone represents a possible margin of error (the storm traveled the eastern edge of the cone) and potential storm impacts are NOT represented by the cone. While the NHC can certainly improve its communications and be more robust with its delivery of information, Floridians with a megaphone like Morgan need to take the time to understand what exactly the cone and map graphics mean before shooting off their mouths.
The NHC issued Hurricane Warnings for the first time in history for the entirety of the peninsula of Florida. That should have been enough to make people realize how serious weather impacts could be in their area. A Hurricane Warning means hurricane conditions are EXPECTED in the next 36 hours.
Morgan for me is the Democrats best shot of regaining the Governorship in this cycle but has just made a terribly unforced error and showed a lack of reasoning and understanding that is critical to leading this state. Hopefully this serves as a learning experience for Morgan. As for Latvala, he knows better and I am willing to bet he won’t make a mistake like this again.