Tampa Bay lawmakers have mixed reaction to Florida surgeon general not wearing mask


TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Several Tampa Bay Republican legislators had mixed reaction on whether a mask incident at the Florida Capitol will have any impact on the confirmation of the state’s surgeon general nominee.

“It’s probably not going to make his confirmation vote easy or pleasant,” said Fla. Sen. Ed Hooper (R-Palm Harbor) of the incident, in which Fla. Sen. Tina Polsky (D-Boca Raton) kicked Surgeon General nominee Dr. Joseph Ladapo out of her office for not wearing a mask.

Ladapo was reportedly meeting with Polsky to discuss his confirmation. Hooper said he doesn’t know whether the incident will affect whether he votes to confirm Ladapo, but said it will likely change the type of questions he will face during the process.

“I’m trying to reserve my full opinion until I have a chance to look eye-to-eye with the doctor,” Hooper said. “So far, I don’t think he’s really gotten off on the right foot.”

At least one fellow Republican state senator in the Tampa Bay area agrees, in part.

“It was a rookie mistake he won’t make again,” said Fla. Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-Largo) of Dr. Ladapo. Brandes said he will still vote to confirm him.

“It’s who the governor appointed,” said Brandes. “I have confidence in the governor, and the governor should get his appointments.”

Another Tampa Bay Republican senator is holding back judgment until he can meet Dr. Ladapo in person.

“I take the Senate confirmation process very seriously,” said Fla. Sen. Ben Albritton (R-Bartow). “I haven’t had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Ladapo to discuss his medical qualifications and experience relative to performing the task of Surgeon General, but I certainly look forward to doing so. I support Senate President Simpson’s formal response to the incident between Dr. Ladapo and Sen. Polsky. The Florida Senate has long been a body of collegial respect, and that is how I intend to continue to operate.”

On a video conference Wednesday afternoon, Congressman Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg, a Democratic candidate for governor, called for Ladapo to resign if Gov. Ron DeSantis doesn’t withdraw his nomination.

“That’s outrageous human behavior,” Crist said. “It’s not practicing the Golden Rule: doing unto others as you would have done unto you.”

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, also a Democratic candidate for governor, called for state senators to deny Ladapo’s confirmation and DeSantis to appoint a new nominee.

Fla. Sen. Annette Taddeo (D-Miami), another major Democratic candidate for governor, also called for the senate to reject Ladapo’s nomination.

On Tuesday, Dr. Ladapo released a statement about the incident, but did not apologize.

“Having a conversation with someone while wearing a mask is not something I find productive,” Ladapo said, “especially when other options exist. It is important to me to communicate clearly and effectively with people. I can’t do that when half of my face is covered.”

Following this incident, the governor’s office said it still stands by Dr. Ladapo.

“Governor DeSantis appointed Dr. Ladapo as State Surgeon General because he is highly qualified for this important role,” said Christina Pushaw, press secretary for Gov. Ron DeSantis. “The governor stands by this decision and is not reconsidering Dr. Ladapo’s appointment.”

On Thursday in Lakeland, Gov. DeSantis addressed the incident in response to a question from 8 On Your Side.

“There’s pictures [of Polsky and others] very close with no masks in other instances,” DeSantis said. “So I think this was more they’re trying to politicize this.”

Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby) had previously issued a statement about the incident, calling it “disappointing” and “unprofessional.”

Simpson’s office said the confirmation vote for Ladapo had not yet been scheduled.

“When the appointment is received by the Senate (which has not yet occurred), the President [Sen. Simpson] will refer it to the appropriate committees for review,” a spokesperson said. “Agency heads are typically referred to three committees prior to the floor. It is during the committee process, in addition to individual meetings, that the Senators will have the opportunity to ask questions of Dr. Ladapo.”

Some Democratic state senators said Dr. Ladapo was wrong to treat Polsky that way.

“For someone who claims credentials from an Ivy League institution, he sure is playing the Scarecrow,” said Fla. Sen. Janet Cruz (D-Tampa), referencing the character from The Wizard of Oz. “I’d like for Governor DeSantis to immediately rescind his nomination and put forth someone qualified who will work towards the health and safety of all Floridians.”

“His refusal to wear a mask at her request was disrespectful,” said Fla. Sen. Darryl Rouson (D-St. Petersburg), when asked whether it would affect his vote to confirm Ladapo. “I don’t usually forecast my votes ahead of time. I want to take everything into consideration and allow the process to work because I respect the process. The process is that a man should be fully heard and vetted. I have an idea where I’m going, but it probably will be a gameday decision.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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