Were RPOF staffers Juston Johnson & Tim Saler “in the van” during racially-insensitve comments that drove away Mike Fernandez?

in Uncategorized by

A telephone press conference featuring Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera was abruptly ended this morning after reporters kept asking about the departure of Mike Fernandez from the Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election campaign.

According to a report from Scott Powers of the Orlando Sentinel, Lopez-Cantera said he believed there was no basis for allegations, first reported in the Miami Herald, quit the Scott campaign after an incident involving campaign staffers allegedly joking around with Mexican accents.

It’s still unclear if the campaign staffers in questions did, in fact, make racially insensitive comments, but the question of who the campaign staffers may be answered.

According to an extremely well-placed anonymous source who has intimate knowledge of the events in question, the two staffers at the center of this controversy are RPOF executive director Juston Johnson and Tim Saler, the deputy campaign manager for Rick Scott. Also in the van was a driver, two FDLE staffers, an associate of Mike Fernandez and Johnson and Saler. 

The associate of Fernandez is the individual who informed the Miami billionaire about the incident.

For its part, the Scott campaign is denying most of the details about the incident or that it prompted Fernandez to resign from the Scott campaign. But in their denials, the Scott campaign unwittingly gave away a key detail — that the incident happened in the van — that the media did not yet have. 

“Mike was not in the van,” Scott’s campaign manager, Melissa Sellers, said in an email to the Herald.

The only trouble with that statement is no one had yet asked about the van. 

“I spoke to every staffer in the van,” Sellers wrote. “If something was said in an accent, no one remembers what it was. We are a diverse organization and we do not tolerate inappropriate comments.”

Why ask staffers about an incident that supposedly didn’t happen?

The Republican Party of Florida’s Susan Hepworth responded to my inquiry about whether Johnson and Saler were in the van and said, “No comments were made. I’ll refer you to the statement from Melissa.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.