Broward County is front and center of in the 2018 Florida recount controversies, The county is again in the national headlines for the wrong reasons. Whether it’s school shootings, elected officials being thrown in jail, a bomb suspect arrested or a ponzi schemer being caught, Broward, Florida’s second most populated county has quite a rap sheet.
Broward County’s current political situation, where a Supervisor of Elections, Sheriff and School Superintendent are under extreme fire for high profile public incidents gives Ron DeSantis, likely Florida’s next Governor a great opportunity to create a bipartisan legacy of ethical reform.
I’m in the school of thought that says presumptive Governor-Elect Congressman Ron DeSantis, an arch conservative in the US House and a somewhat clownish, not ready-for-prime time character on the campaign trail might not be as bad a Governor as many in the chattering classes assume. Then again how difficult is it to inspire more confidence than Governor Rick Scott? But irrespective of any comparison with Scott or expectations set by elites, Broward County and how DeSantis handles it will likely define the tenor of his term in office.
Broward County, the most Democratic urban county in the southeast United States is a cesspool of cronyism and corruption. One party rule, meaning a lack of general electoral competition and low-turnout Democratic primaries dominated by corporate and establishment interests have led to the county being a virtual dumpster of the most shady and inept characters imaginable. Politico’s Michael Grunwald , has laid out the craziness of Broward in this masterful piece published on Tuesday. I’m quoted below:
“One obstacle to change may be the Democratic stranglehold on county government. Broward’s dominant coalition of northeastern transplants, liberal Jews, African-Americans and a rising tide of Caribbean immigrants has insulated Democratic officers from having to worry about Republican challengers. Kartik Krishnaiyer, a former Democratic operative from Coral Springs who runs a progressive website called The Florida Squeeze, says that the sugar industry, the construction industry, and other special interests often invest in local Democratic primaries rather than waste money in pre-determined general elections, knowing that the winners usually get to keep their jobs as long as they want them. And Democrats at the state and national level tend to tolerate the routine messiness of the county, because Broward is the bluest part of their base in a purple state.
“I’ve watched the Democrats in Broward get very comfortable with power,” Krishnaiyer says. “There’s no accountability, because there’s no competition.”
Broward represents a unique opportunity for Ron DeSantis to show his independence, decisiveness and problem-solving ability. As of this writing, my contacts indicate DeSantis is very much interested in studying the situation in Broward and making appropriate changes that at least in some regards might satisfy some local Democrats.
What changes are being considered by DeSantis should he become Governor?
1- My understanding is that DeSantis is likely to suspend or fire Sheriff Scott Israel. The office of Israel has become a repository for Democratic Party operatives in the county to get government jobs and DeSantis might see the political upside of removing Israel. It’s difficult to understand why Governor Scott never removed Israel who has been surrounded by controversy for years and whose handling of Stoneman Douglas High School shooting should have been the last straw. Israel is connected to the infamous and largely discredited Roger Stone, so perhaps that gave Scott pause. DeSantis however has no such inhibition about Stone who was very actively trying to aid Adam Putnam’s campaign in the primary while dealing with the Trump-Russia scandal. The assumption is DeSantis, like Charlie Crist who had to fill a void in the Sheriff’s office would appoint a Republican.
2- Dr. Brenda Snipes will be gone sooner or later as Broward Supervisor of Elections. The question is will Rick Scott remove her in his dying days in office and appoint a Republican in the state’s bluest corner or will he defer until DeSantis takes office? My understanding is that DeSantis has a few Democrats in mind to sound out about taking the reigns temporarily. The appointment might even be someone from outside the county who can clean up the mess. Keep a further eye on DeSantis’ public comments on Broward’s recount. Indications are that his reluctance to speak during this recount, much unlike Scott who has behaved without a filter is due to his desire to appear impartial and judicious once he makes the change that everyone in the nation realizes he must make.
3- How will DeSantis handle Superintendent Robert Runcie? During the campaign DeSantis fell under the spell of the increasingly enigmatic Andrew Pollack whose daughter was killed in the Stoneman Douglas shooting. Here I must say concern about DeSantis’ potential approach must be aired – the NRA and Pollack have an ax to grind with Runcie and School Board which is made up entirely of Democrats. But it must be noted many local Democrats want Runcie gone. Expect DeSantis to cultivate anti-Runcie Democrats locally in Broward as he plots his move regarding the school district.
How these three matters are handled will help to define DeSantis’ early tenure. Seen as an ideological titan, DeSantis doesn’t project confidence as a potentially strong executive. However, if he tries to build consensus with Democrats about how he handles Broward and works toward reforming an incredibly corrupt county, he will be off to a solid start in terms of establishing his credentials as a serious problem-solver.