Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recent news conference had all the elements of a Florida spectacle: a live rock band playing “With a Little Help from My Friends” (the dive bar cover of Joe Cocker’s version), a maskless group of people and a grouchy governor who doesn’t like tough questions intruding on his chosen narrative.
The event at the Capitol in Tallahassee was supposed to showcase DeSantis’ signing of a bill to protect businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits. The band was there, DeSantis said, to remind us of what we’re missing when businesses are afraid of the liability of hosting such events. What better way to demonstrate that than by gathering a handful of Republicans without masks and broadcasting it on social media? (Though most of them were lawmakers, who have to get tested periodically, it sends the wrong message).
But it was all just a sideshow, a distraction. COVID numbers are rising again in the nation’s third most populous state. Mentioning that would’ve struck a sour note indeed.
And so during the news conference, when Herald Tallahassee Bureau Chief Mary Ellen Klas asked the governor why he didn’t waive unemployment benefit requirements, as states like Texas did, during the pandemic, the governor dodged the question. That inaction resulted in pregnant women, people with COVID and people caring for children at home to be denied benefits, according to a story by the Herald/Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee Bureau that showed that the state’s strict anti-fraud measures prevented legitimate applicants from receiving payments.
“I don’t trust the premise of the question. ... I would like to see some validity to what they’re saying before I indulge the premise, because I don’t think that the premise is something I’m going to accept at face value,” DeSantis answered.
Is he challenging the premise that he didn’t waive the requirements or that deserving people were denied benefits? We don’t know because he ordered the press corps to move on to the next question.
Klas’ question was based on information from DeSantis’ own administration, including applicant rejection letters, training documents, interviews with call-center employees and lawmakers.
Pregnant women being denied benefits — and reporters doing their job — don’t mesh well with DeSantis’ self-congratulatory, “we-beat-COVID” tour of the past few weeks. When confronted with inconvenient information, DeSantis’ MO has been to question its accuracy or go on the attack. A few weeks ago, he threatened to take vaccines away from communities that have concerns about his vaccination pop-ups, some of which benefited rich, white communities.
But DeSantis’ temper tantrums matter less to us than getting an honest answer from the governor. He might have had legitimate reasons not to waive those requirements. Or he knows something the Herald’s reporting has yet to unveil.
Whatever that is, just answer the question, governor. It’s your job.
— Miami Herald via AP