Blue tarps, bent trees, boarded windows and busted-up roads.
That’s the daily reality in parts of Florida’s Panhandle, 234 days since Hurricane Michael wreaked havoc.
And with the advent of the 2019 hurricane season Saturday, the anxiety is palpable.
For many in the conservative corner of the Sunshine State, angst has morphed into anger, after not one, not two, but three Republican congressmen blocked a $19 billion federal disaster-aid package that includes $1.2 billion to help rebuild heavily damaged Tyndall Air Force base, an economic driver in the area.
Through a process known as unanimous consent, the disaster-relief bill could have passed the U.S. House without most members present. But the Freedom Caucus members defended their stance by saying they want a full vote on the measure next week.
U.S. Rep. Chip Roy initially led the charge against the bill, casting the lone vote to prevent the aid package from moving forward.
The Texas congressman so inflamed Republicans in the Panhandle that a handful of prominent business leaders from the Panama City area, which was crippled by Michael, took out a full-page ad Tuesday in the Austin American-Statesman newspaper to blast his action.
But the ad didn’t daunt Republican Congressmen Thomas Massie of Kentucky and John Rose of Tennessee, who took up Roy’s mantle this week and again thwarted the relief. Roy also opposed the package because it doesn’t include $4.5 billion President Donald Trump had sought to address an influx of immigrants at the Southern border of the United States.
Folks in Northwest Florida unleashed their venom toward the congressional trio on social media, including tweets and Facebook posts that aren’t fit for family consumption.
Other posts included heart-wrenching videos of Michael as it made landfall on Oct. 10 and of still-ravaged neighborhoods, schools and businesses.
Panama City News Herald Editor Mike Cazalas shared a clip of the storm’s destruction of the newspaper’s office.
“Hey @chiproytx @RepThomasMassie @RepJohnRose, here's video of illegal immigrants destroying our office. Oh, wait, it was #HurricaneMichael, not immigrants. 200+ days, no relief. This building and much of this town no longer exists, does your conscience?” Cazalas posted Thursday on Twitter.
HOUSE OF CARDS, PART I
Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet, including Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, spent the week seeing the sights and trying to drum up business in Israel.
But amid the trip, Patronis demanded the resignation of a man he championed just months ago to take over as commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation. Commissioner Ronald Rubin, however, is going to the mat to keep the job.
Patronis’ demand for Rubin to step down was based, in part, on a briefing about the preliminary findings of an inspector-general investigation into an agency employee’s accusations of sexual harassment.
Rubin vehemently denies the harassment allegation, refuses to resign and contends he’s being set up by a powerful insurance lobbyist.
Patronis on Thursday denied knowledge of the charges that Rubin made against him, his staff and lobbyist Paul Mitchell.
“I don’t know anything about his allegations,” Patronis told reporters while in Israel.
Patronis issued a press release Wednesday saying Rubin should resign. That came after Daniel Blonsky, an attorney representing Rubin, submitted an 11-page statement to the inspector general.
Rubin’s statement seeks to tie the sexual-harassment complaint to his decision not to hire Kimberly Grippa, the ex-wife of a friend of Mitchell, a prominent Tallahassee lobbyist with the Southern Strategy Group firm.
Rubin contends Mitchell was angered when told his friend’s ex-wife wasn’t qualified.
In his statement, Rubin said Mitchell argued, “Her qualifications are irrelevant. You were just supposed to hire her!”
The statement also claims Mitchell was aware of the sexual-harassment accusation before the complaint was formally filed and had already drafted a resignation letter for Rubin. Rubin also alleges Mitchell later texted and called Rubin’s 84-year-old father to try to force the younger Rubin to quit his post.
Mitchell, in an email on Wednesday, called Rubin’s allegations “a self-serving narrative.”
HOUSE OF CARDS, PART II
The FBI just can’t quit Tallahassee, apparently.
The Tampa Bay Times reported Thursday that a federal grand jury subpoena seeks information about former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign and other issues, including a charity and a wealthy donor.
Gillum, who’s now a CNN political commentator, denied throughout last year’s campaign that he was the target of an FBI investigation into corruption in city government.
The subpoena could mean that federal prosecutors are looking into potential “misuse or misreporting” of campaign money tied to the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, according to Gillum’s attorney, Barry Richard.
Documents and information demanded in the subpoena, issued in late March, have been turned over, Richard said. That included records focused on Gillum’s campaign, his Forward Florida political committee, and information related to Sharon Lettman-Hicks, a longtime Gillum adviser, and Donald Sussman, a heavyweight Democratic donor.
“It’s difficult sometimes to gather these things,” Richard said, because a lot of the people involved with the gubernatorial campaign are now “gone.”
But as far as he knows, the information demanded in the subpoena has been turned over to authorities.
The full scope of the federal probe is not known, and being named in a subpoena does not mean a person is under investigation. But prosecutors could be seeking to gather information to present to a grand jury.
The federal probe is once again raising questions for Gillum at a time when the former Tallahassee mayor seeks to use money from the Forward Florida political committee to register more Democratic voters for the 2020 elections. The committee had about $3.7 million on hand as of the end of April.
It also comes about a week before the Florida Commission on Ethics is slated to consider approval of a $5,000 settlement in a case stemming from Gillum’s time as mayor. Under the settlement, which will be taken up June 7, the commission would drop four of five charges of ethics violations related to trips Gillum took to Costa Rica and New York with a lobbyist and undercover FBI agents who were posing as developers.
Richard said the newly disclosed subpoena is not linked to those issues.
“This is not related to his term as mayor,” Richard said. “It’s related to his campaign."
STORY OF THE WEEK: A federal grand jury could be seeking information about 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum’s campaign finances.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “The answer is hell no! Not now. Not ever.” Seth Gordon, a Miami attorney representing Ronald Rubin, when asked if the embattled Office of Financial Regulation commissioner will resign.