Joe Henderson: Rick Scott again passes the ‘hurricane test’

in Statewide by

It seemed like Gov. Rick Scott was everywhere in the days and hours leading up to the impact on our state by Hurricane Matthew. His face was on nearly every news show, local and national, warning the people of Florida “this storm will kill you.”

He pleaded, “If instructed to evacuate, don’t wait. You can always repair and rebuild— and we’ll be here to help you do that. The most important thing you can do is keep you and your family safe.”

I saw him Friday morning on the “Today” show, telling the hosts the goal is to avoid the loss of even one life from this storm. His Twitter account was active throughout the night, blasting out updates on the approaching storm.

He mobilized the National Guard. Tolls were suspended on roadways leading away from the storm. He worked with President Obama and FEMA to ensure a rapid response in the aftermath of the storm. He passed out praise to local officials and law enforcement for the roles they played. He even thanked the media for making sure people stayed informed.

There may be some problems later — it seems like there always are in the aftermath of major disasters — but even his critics would have to admit that Scott has been the strong leader a governor should be in this time of crisis.

We tend to reduce everything to politics when it comes to our highest officials, and maybe some will try to do that later. This isn’t about whether you agree or not with Scott’s policies. This is a time where the people of Florida stand as one and look to the governor to take charge.

Scott has passed that test.

Scott can look wooden and stiff on the campaign trail. He is not the most gifted public speaker (although he has gotten better). But people who know him best say that behind that exterior is a caring man, and that trait has shown through strongly in recent days.

Scott moved quickly once it became all but certain that Matthew was going to deliver a gut punch to the east coast. People can’t say they weren’t warned. He worked with emergency officials to coordinate the best response possible to the unprecedented event of a major hurricane raking up the coastline.

People apparently listened, too. News reports Friday morning told of empty roadways in the affected areas. While some people hunkered down (and that’s always going to happen), Scott said about 20,000 had moved to shelters and thousands more either fled to the west coast or filled up hotel rooms.

The next challenge will come after the storm moves out and people begin to assess the damage left behind. Although early reports say a slight shift to the east may have saved some places from catastrophic damage, it’s too early to say what the final toll will be.

Scott said the state is already working with federal and local agencies to assist those who need it most.

There will be plenty of time later for politics, and plenty of time to second-guess the governor’s policies and ambitions. But as this hurricane approached, the people of Florida weren’t looking for a politician. They were looking for a leader.

Scott stepped up.

Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.