Get the governor a state plane, already.

April 5, 2019 7:00 am

WJHG screenshot

For Heaven’s sake, let’s buy the man an airplane.  Our new governor has taken to begging for rides with billionaires these days.

And he’s already risked life and limb riding around in a 16-year old plane owned by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.  After a couple of emergency landings, Gov. Ron DeSantis needs to consider some other option.  The state bought the plane at a surplus sale for $10,000 in 2016 and has used it mostly on law enforcement missions.

Florida would still have airplanes for the governor and Cabinet if we had not been stupid enough to elect Rick Scott governor some years ago.

Scott took office and sold off the airplanes, fired the pilots and put his own jet into service so he could trip around the country without disclosing where he was going or who went along for the ride.  It was not good for Florida and it certainly penalized other state officials who need to get outside the state Capital to take care of business.

It was a good way to keep Cabinet members who might decide to run for governor away from the throne so to speak.

For years Florida governors such as Bob Graham, Bob Martinez, Lawton Chiles and Charlie Crist flew on state-owned airplanes piloted by state employees and released daily copies of their schedules listing the names of everyone on the plane, travel times and destinations.  We knew where the governor was back in those days.

Scott trashed all of that and even got his airplane removed from the international tracking web site that allows us to track the travel of most airplanes.

He didn’t want anyone to know where he was going or who else might be on board. He was Florida’s most secretive governor. The reporters assigned to cover him only knew what he was doing if he chose to tell us and he didn’t do that much of the time.

Yes, Scott paid for his travel himself.  But he created a situation where the public knew nothing about what he was doing.  That made it easier to get re-elected and then elected to the U.S. Senate.  He was a multi-millionaire with money to burn while other candidates were mere mortals who spent a lot of time driving around the state.

It wouldn’t be so bad if there was decent airline service out of Tallahassee to other cities, but that disappeared many years ago, not too long after Air Florida flew into a bridge on the Potomac.

In recent years people frequently had to fly through Atlanta to get to Orlando or take an airline that flies tin cans.  Most of us are haunted by horror stories of waiting in Tampa, Orlando or Miami for airplanes that did not let us know until the last minute that they would, after all, not be making the trip to Tallahassee that evening.

That left people scrambling to rent a car or find a place to stay overnight.

We cannot expect the governor and Cabinet to govern a state this big without a way to get around it with speed and safety.

And trust me, we don’t want to return to the days when “Air Sugar’’ supplied the transportation for state officials.

Last month we got a whiff of what that might look like when DeSantis made a trip to New York on an airplane owned by South Florida billionaire Jeffrey Soffer.  And Soffer, who owns the Fontainebleau resort hotel in Miami Beach and the Big Easy Casino in Hallandale Beach, went along for the ride.

They made it legal using a bit of a dodge that has often been used by legislators: They got the Florida Republican Party to lease the plane for the trip, thus evading a law that prohibits public officials from accepting such gifts.

But taking the rich owner with them who is a frequent donor to Republican campaigns makes it slightly different than a straight up charter of a plane.

The average Floridian can’t buy that kind of time to have the ear of the governor.

When quizzed about the fight, DeSantis said he was able to meet “some pretty significant movers and shakers’’ interested in bringing business to Florida.

When asked about his traveling companion, DeSantis told the Miami Herald, “I’ve known Jeffrey before this…it is what it is.’’

Florida can afford better.

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Lucy Morgan
Lucy Morgan

Pulitzer Prize-winner Lucy Morgan was chief of the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times capital bureau in Tallahassee for 20 years, retiring in 2006 and serving as senior correspondent until 2013. She was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame and the Florida Newspaper Hall of Fame. The Florida Senate named its press gallery after Morgan, in honor of her two decades covering the Legislature.