Pro Tip: When Doing Vaccinations To Help The Governor's 2022 Campaign, Always Discuss It In Text Messages
Back in February, Florida GOP Governor Ron DeSantis made sure he showed up at a coronavirus vaccination event in an upscale retirement community, Lakewood Ranch in Manatee County, where most residents are white and tend to vote Republican. The event raised some eyebrows because the two day "pop-up" vaccination clinic was limited to residents of two zip codes where mostly wealthy people live, even though other parts of Manatee County have had far higher infection rates.
As Yr Wonkette noted at the time, the event sure looked like it might be a tad political, a charge that has been leveled at several other vaccination events in Florida. Well wouldn't you know it, now some text messages have surfaced showing that the organizers of the event had DeSantis's 2022 re-election prospects in mind, as the Tampa Bay Times recently reported. (That story is paywalled, but there's also a good report at the Orlando Sentinel).
The temporary vaccine site came about after DeSantis phoned Lakewood Ranch's developer, Rex Jensen, to suggest it would be really neat if Jensen would host a vaccination event to distribute some 3,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine. Jensen asked Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, a close ally of DeSantis, to help put the event together, and their text messages didn't exactly stick to matters of public health.
Jensen texted Baugh on February 9 to say "Gov said he might show up. [...] Should try to see if that would help him get exposure here."
Baugh replied, "Excellent point. After all, 22 is right around the corner," which was not about vaccinations at all, or even a small-caliber firearm, but the 2022 election. The Tampa Bay Times explains the context as well:
Jensen had just finished a call with DeSantis and another Lakewood Ranch Developer and Republican donor, Pat Neal, about hosting the event and what followed was carefully-choreographed, records obtained by the Bradenton Herald show.
In a later exchange on February 12, as the two decided on a site for the pop-up vaccination clinic, at a county-owned sports complex, Jensen said he thought it "could have a nice setup for him" — i.e., DeSantis — and Baugh agreed, "Absolutely. [...] This can be huge for him."
The Manatee County Commission, including Baugh, had already voted in January to have the county's IT team use a random selection algorithm to put together a list of potential vaccine recipients, but once DeSantis called Jensen, that plan went right out the window. Instead, DeSantis's office asked Jensen to come up with his own list of people who should receive the 3,000 vaccine doses. Did Baugh or the governor's office say anything about randomly choosing people, for "fairness"? Heck nah, even though Jensen's texts to Baugh made clear he didn't want to be in charge of for selecting all those people or scheduling appointments for them:
"Amazing. They want me to maintain a list. They can't. Screw this,'' Jensen wrote to Baugh in a text message on Feb. 9, shortly after a conversation with Courtney Coppola, the chief of staff for the Florida Department of Health.
"Let me see what I can do,'' Baugh responded. Jensen then gave her Coppola's cell phone number and added: "Said if can get past the list thing they would probably give shots over 2 days."
Baugh then helpfully told Manatee County's public safety department to select only folks living in those two affluent zip codes — which by pure coincidence are in Baugh's district. Funny thing, she didn't mention that January vote to randomly choose people across the county.
Jensen, apparently unaware of how Baugh was already taking the problem off his hands, complained in a text to Coppola at the state health department, telling her "I have no infrastructure or staff to field all the calls necessary to assemble and maintain a list of candidates for the vaccine." We're sure weighed heavily on him, because since when are rich men ever expected to arrange parties? They have people for that. (Although spoiler alert, Jensen and Baugh both ended up on the list Baugh prepared.)
Strangely enough, even though the event was a triumph, and DeSantis praised the excellent work he'd done in getting older Floridians vaccinated, nobody in government wanted to share their formula for success:
Neither the Florida Department of Health, the Florida Division of Emergency Management or the governor's office would explain why they asked Jensen and Baugh to create a list of vaccine recipients, instead of relying on the county's random vaccine standby pool.
Can't blame 'em, because what if other states' governors tried to steal that miracle formula?
For his part, DeSantis initially responded to criticism of arranging the vaccination site in a wealthy enclave by threatening to take his vaccines and give them to places where they'd be appreciated. After the text messages got reported in the media, DeSantis got huffy all over again, explaining at a press conference that Manatee County had been chosen solely because so few seniors there had been vaccinated, don't you see?
But then DeSantis changed tack, and acted as if reporters were making out the very fine residents of Lakewood Ranch to be the bad guys here, because reporters hate Republican seniors:
DeSantis said it was "a mistake to try to demonize certain seniors. I think there [are] some elements of, particularly, the partisan corporate media, who doesn't want people being vaccinated who disagree with them politically. That's insane."
Yes, that has to be it, you duplicitous shitweasel. The problem isn't that Ron DeSantis is using vaccinations against a deadly pandemic for political purposes. Everyone's fine with that! But knowing that a lot of Republicans got the vaccine as a result of the governor's perfectly unobjectionable quid pro quo? That just really sets us off.
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