January 14, 2019 7:00 am
rick scott

Florida U.S. Sen Rick Scott is isolating himself at his home in Naples following a positive COVID test. Screenshot

On the same night Donald Trump got on national television to spew a pack of nonsense about the border “crisis,” Florida’s ultimate bottom-feeder, Rick Scott, threw a self-congratulatory “Sunshine Ball.”

In Washington, D.C. In the middle of a government shut-down.

Tickets, appropriately named after credit cards, ranged from $100,000 “Platinum,” down to “Bronze,” though for a lousy ten grand you didn’t even get a photo op with Florida’s newest senator.

You might think that Scott would be so giddy about ascending to what was once called, with a straight face –“the world’s greatest deliberative body” – that he’d be happy to leave Florida government alone. But no: Scott is a control freak. He hung onto gubernatorial power until the state constitution pried it from his cold, dead(ish) hand, sitting there at Ron DeSantis’s inauguration, having just made 84 last minute appointments to state agencies and boards. The most spectacularly godawful of them all? Putting developer Carlos Beruff on the Fish and Wildlife Commission.

This was like giving Dracula a job at the Blood Bank or picking David Duke for the Diversity Committee. Thankfully, DeSantis at the end of last week abruptly rescinded Scott’s 84 appointments, including Beruff’s. DeSantis said he wanted to review them all.

Perhaps Scott “forgot” that Beruff ran against DeSantis in the 2016 U.S. Senate primary? When Marco Rubio gave up on winning the White House and stayed in the senate race, DeSantis dropped out. Rubio beat Beruff like a rented mule. Tone-deafness or maybe epic asshattery: you decide.

As  far as the wildlife commission, Beruff was pretty much without qualifications of any kind (unless you like tacky pastel houses) and he should never be let near Nature. He’s facing an environmental ethics complaint, dating from when Scott appointed him to the Southwest Florida Water Management District Board. Seems Beruff voted to allow a friend of his to rip up mangroves and ruin wetlands in order to build a “family compound” on Perico Island in the Gulf of Mexico.

His career as a drain-and-pave builder in Central Florida is rife with indifference for the state’s ecosystems–and the few environmental regulations we have left after eight years of Scott’s rapacious administration.

Beruff’s gotten in trouble for using toxic Chinese drywall. A bald eagle nest mysteriously “disappeared” from one of his properties. He planted a few little pine trees to get an agricultural exemption from property taxes (and strict building codes) on land he owns near Mount Dora. He wanted to build a bunch of high-rises on a deep water marina on Sarasota Bay, which would harm seagrasses and water quality. When a county commissioner opposed the monstrosity, Beruff poured cash into the campaign of the commissioner’s opponent.

Beruff made headlines when he called Barack Obama an “animal,” then claimed he wasn’t being racist, he was just thinking in Spanish– in which the word for “animal” is, in fact animal, and means exactly the same thing.  But he’s a Scott loyalist, so I guess that’s what mattered to our erstwhile governor, who has, over the years, appointed the college drop-out Beruff to everything from the Sarasota-Bradenton Airport Authority to the Constitution Revision Commission to the State College of Florida Board.

No doubt it’s the merest coincidence that Beruff has given tens of thousands to Rick Scott’s campaigns.

If there’s good news here (and I use the word “good” somewhat gingerly) it’s that our new-with-tags governor seems like he might not want to let his megalomaniacal predecessor make choices for him. DeSantis’s picks can’t possibly be worse than Scott’s. Scott’s FWC did not exactly cover itself in glory – or take much notice of science, for that matter.

The indefensible bear hunt of 2015 featured guys in orange vests proudly displaying the lactating mother bears they shot. Then there was the FWC plan suggesting the state and the feds should stop devoting resources to the Florida panther, the most endangered mammal in the eastern United States. FWC Executive Director Nick Wiley and board member Aliese Priddy–a large southwest Florida landowner–argued it would be perfectly all right to mine, drill for oil, and develop the living hell out of panther habitat–even though there are only 200 panthers left.

They eventually scrapped this boneheaded idea. Still, it perfectly illustrates FWC under Scott: monetize every inch of ground. If those panthers want to live, let ‘em move to less valuable real estate.

Perhaps Ron DeSantis will choose to see Florida as something else, something beyond money, a glorious tangle of exuberant nature, full of miraculous lands and waters, home to creatures large and small. Perhaps Florida’s 46th governor will actually care about Florida. That would make a nice change.

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Diane Roberts
Diane Roberts

Diane Roberts is an 8th-generation Floridian, born and bred in Tallahassee, which probably explains her unhealthy fascination with Florida politics. Educated at Florida State University and Oxford University in England, she has been writing for newspapers since 1983. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, and Flamingo.