When he claimed victory over incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, the first person Rick Scott thanked was President Donald Trump.
Now, the lame duck governor is spending his final days in office a) waging a vindictive battle against Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes for keeping his win in doubt for 12 days, and b) setting the electoral stage to ensure that Trump wins Florida in 2020.
And so it follows that Scott won’t be leaving the Governor’s Mansion early to be sworn in with all the new senators on Jan. 3, as the U.S. Constitution mandates, but will take a remote oath from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The reason Scott’s spokesman gave for Scott staying until Ron DeSantis becomes governor on Jan. 8 is laughable and demagogic: Scott, he said, “promised to fight for Florida families every single day of his term.”
The real reason is that Florida is too important for Republicans to leave in the hands of anyone but crafty Scott, who has proven he can pull off one slim victory after another with the most dreadful of résumés — and in a year when he really blew it for Floridians.
That he was dubbed “red tide Rick” for his role in Florida’s algae bloom and red tide environmental debacles made him break into a sweat this election time around, as the vote margins were so close the race triggered a manual count.
But he pulled it off.
His last act will be to battle for control of Florida’s largest Democratic county — Broward. To that end, he has suspended Snipes, who had resigned in the aftermath of Broward’s vote-counting spectacle, and replaced her with his fixer, Pete Antonacci, last Friday night.
Enter the name into any database and Antonacci, Scott’s counsel, will appear playing a role in most of Scott’s big controversies: the multimillionaire governor’s not-so-blind blind trust; the wasteful and beleaguered Enterprise Florida; the private-prison abuse scandal; and as executive director of the South Florida Water Management District. The former lobbyist was sent there to fire water specialists and replace them with cronies and yes-men and to enforce Scott’s multimillion-dollar budget cuts. The weakened agency put Florida’s clean water in jeopardy and led to the mismanagement of toxic releases into beaches and waterways.
It should be no surprise that now Scott wants to assign Antonacci, a Republican, to manhandle Broward’s department of elections.
In the country’s largest swing state, Antonacci would have control over the voting system of the largest Democratic stronghold in Florida. That’s one heck of an advantage for Republicans going into the 2020 presidential election.
He would have the power to decide issues that could promote or repress voting. Things like level of staffing at precincts, how many days of early voting to have and where the voting sites are located, all would be in his hands.
If Scott gets his way and the office stays in the hands of Antonacci, Broward will need international election watchers — or an army of journalists — assigned to keep tabs on his power.
The Florida Senate’s Ethics Committee, which gets to review the Snipes suspension and has a final say on the move to replace her, should seriously consider the lack of trust such an overtly partisan appointment will engender in Florida voters.
There was no reason for this last-minute intrusion by Scott. The problem of accountability for the midterm election failures had already been addressed. Snipes had resigned. Now as a result of his underhanded move, she has rescinded her resignation, and is fighting back because the suspension could cost her the $71,000 annual pension she has earned in the 15 years she has been in the position.
Worse yet, Scott’s manipulation leaves the real voting problems unaddressed.
“Rick Scott should not, on his waning days, be concerned with Brenda Snipes, but that our election process work appropriately, making sure voting is standardized across the state, not having 60 voting systems,” Melba Pearson, deputy director of the ACLU of Florida and former Miami-Dade prosecutor, tells me.
“The dust-up with Broward County is really detracting attention from the bigger problem: all of the things that went on in a variety of counties during this election,” Pearson says. “One of the biggest things we’re concerned about at the ACLU of Florida is the standardization of vote-by-mail. There is no standard procedure to see if a signature matches. Every county has its own procedure. This resulted in ballots getting rejected. ... We need to make sure every ballot counts.”
The state’s focus should be on all voters’ rights, not on partisanship or vengeance.
Spare us the last-minute antics, Sen. Scott, and leave the campaign trail behind.
Get to work in Washington! We can hardly wait for that chapter.
Follow Fabiola Santiago on Twitter, @fabiolasantiago