For Ron DeSantis, what a difference a deluge makes
This is the story of a ravaging storm, severely shifting winds and gusts of hot air. I’m not talking about Hurricane Ian, but the actions of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) when Hurricane Sandy ravaged New York almost exactly 10 years ago.
In 2012, my congressional district on Long Island, and others around it, was devastated. Power lines down, homes uprooted or imploded, entire neighborhoods under water. Parts of our region looked war-torn. Not much different, actually, than the heartbreaking images we see in Florida today.
When Congress considered a $9.7 billion relief package for my region, then-freshman Rep. Ron DeSantis voted no, saying that he’d been elected to oppose the “put it on the credit card mentality.”
Apparently, things have changed. Now, when Floridians survey the wreckage of their homes, beaches and businesses, the governor has learned that he must, well govern. Now, the same man who refused to support a lifeline for flooded New Yorkers argues that we’re all in the same boat. He’s gone from chest-thumper to glad-hander with the Biden administration. In February, he wrongly said that President Biden “stiffs” storm victims for political reasons. This week, he proclaimed that he was “thankful” for the Biden administration’s efforts.
What a difference a deluge makes.
It’s not just Democrats who note the irony. Former Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.) said, “He held those convictions strong in the House. I doubt he will hold them as strongly in the governor’s mansion.”
DeSantis’s 2018 GOP primary opponent, Adam Putnam, made an issue of the votes against disaster funding. A Putnam spokeswoman warned that Florida voters should protect themselves against “further destruction at the hands of Hurricane Ron.”
Give DeSantis credit. Even before he became governor, he demonstrated an ability to overcome hypocrisy with dexterity. Five years after voting against federal assistance for my congressional district, he voted for a relief package that benefited (wait for it) … his district. The difference, he explained in a Facebook post, was that the Hurricane Sandy relief “was mostly a measure for long-term projects that should have been funded through the normal appropriations process.” The claim was widely debunked by fact-checkers.
In 2013, there was grumbling among New York members of Congress about DeSantis and other Republicans who voted against our constituents. Some of us considered voting against disaster assistance when the next hurricane, tornado, flood, wildfire or drought battered their districts.
But the threat was idle; and quickly overcome by the recognition that you can’t govern with grudges. Politics can get petty, but not when American lives are at risk. So, we held our noses as we inserted our electronic voting cards and helped those who had voted to hurt us. You know, E Pluribus Unum and all that.
Of course, DeSantis is not alone in applying a double standard, and never was. Neither political party has a monopoly on hypocrisy. I know of few political practitioners who haven’t, from time to time, made intellectual concessions or based positions on spongy rationalizations. Or just changed their minds, which is valued in emotional growth but strangely vilified in our elected representatives.
I suspect that before long, DeSantis will return to his corner, and then come out swinging. Let’s enjoy the respite while it lasts. This week, especially as President Biden heads to Florida, Ron DeSantis will continue to suspend partisanship. (Although, I wonder whether he’ll be cognizant of a different irony: The last Florida Republican governor who got too close to a Democratic president was DeSantis’s current opponent, Charlie Crist, in what Crist himself called the hug that ended his Republican career.)
Still, this is a teachable moment for all those future governors whiling away their time in Congress: There are some issues that should be immune from partisan posturing. Natural disasters should top the list. Ron DeSantis has learned that it was easy to be a tea party blowhard. It’s tougher to govern when the winds blow hard.
Steve Israel represented New York in the U.S. House of Representatives over eight terms and was chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now director of the Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy Institute of Politics and Global Affairs. Follow him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.