Cerabino: When getting on elevator for Florida guv race, press ‘down’

Feb 01, 2018

It’s nine months to Election Day, and Republican hopefuls in Florida’s race for governor have already started their descent.

The alleged adult in the room, Florida’s Secretary of Agriculture Adam Putnam, has branded his campaign with the slogan, “Florida First.”

Yes, that’s the problem. Too many of those past Florida governors were really sleeper cells for South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.

And to dumb it down even more, Putnam’s pushing for a bill in the Legislature that would allow the state to issue concealed-carry licenses to Floridians before their criminal background checks are complete.

Shoot first, check later. I’m guessing that was the runner-up slogan for his campaign.

And he’s the “establishment” candidate, the steady, experienced hand, the guy you’re supposed to feel safe about.

He’ll be running against U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, an upstart member of the House’s “Freedom Caucus,” and the choice of Fox News’ Sean Hannity. Never a good sign.

DeSantis is the Obamacare critic who suggested the emergency room was a suitable place for people without medical insurance if they had to deal with “cancer and whatnot.”

DeSantis announced his candidacy this week, not in North Florida among the constituents he represents but in Boca Raton — the city of his biggest campaign donor.

If you think Putnam and DeSantis are underwhelming, well, keep reading.

Florida Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran is expected to complete this trinity of petty politics.

This week, Corcoran’s Watchdog PAC released a wildly inflammatory 30-second online ad that features a hoodie-wearing immigrant pulling out a handgun on a leafy suburban sidewalk and executing a shocked young white woman point-blank.

As you see the scene of this sidewalk execution, here’s the narration: “A young woman gunned down by an illegal immigrant who should have been deported but was protected by a sanctuary city.”

After the woman is shot and killed, the video switches to Corcoran standing there and talking.

“I’m Richard Corcoran. When I heard Kate Steinle’s story, I thought about my own daughter, Kate. And how this could have happened to any family anywhere.”

Basing a candidacy for Florida governor on a 3-year-old shooting of a woman in San Francisco is bad enough. We have about 2,500 gun deaths every year in Florida to choose from.

But what’s worse is that his re-creation of Steinle’s shooting is a gross misrepresentation of what happened.

There was no young Hispanic super-predator wandering suburbia looking to execute a white woman.

Steinle’s shooter, Jose Inez Garcia Zarate, was a homeless immigrant here illegally who found a gun wrapped in a shirt underneath a chair at a city pier. He picked up the gun, a loaded Sig Sauer P239, with a trigger that requires 4 pounds of pressure, and the gun went off.

Accidentally. That’s what the jury determined in the case. Jose Ines Garcia Zarate was charged with murder, but the jury dismissed that charge, and also the lesser charge of manslaughter.

“The evidence didn’t show that Garcia Zarate intended to kill anyone,” Phil Van Stockum, an alternate juror who heard all the evidence in the case, wrote in Politico. “Zarate had no motive and no recorded history of violence. The shot he fired from his chair hit the ground 12 feet in front of him before ricocheting a further 78 feet to hit Steinle.”

The bullet hit her in the back, too. Thirty yards away. There was no face-to-face execution.

As for the sanctuary city trope, well, there’s much more to that too. Garcia Zarate, who had been deported five times before, was in federal custody before he was handed over to the city of San Francisco over a 20-year-old warrant on a marijuana possession case.

Why wasn’t he just deported when he was in federal custody? Instead, he was sent to San Francisco to settle a small drug charge that was too old to prosecute in the first place. And then when the city had no more need to hold him, the federal government failed to get a warrant to re-take custody of Garcia Zarate.

And San Francisco refused to hold him indefinitely without a warrant.

So he was released. This was certainly a tragic and preventable death. And the coordination between state and federal government is something that needs to get worked out. But there are cost issues and constitutional questions involved in detaining people without a charge.

Corcoran, a lawyer, probably knows that the subject of sanctuary cities is a lot more complex than the cartoon version he promotes to inflame, rather than educate, for his own political gain.

And making white people afraid of immigrants, who at any time, might just pull out a gun from their hoodies and shoot, is a distortion that betrays the research showing that immigrants — documented or not — are less likely to commit crime.

It’s also an affront to the large numbers of hardworking immigrant laborers, both documented and undocumented, who are crucial to Florida’s vital hospitality and agricultural industries.

So yes, the governor’s race on the Republican side is off to quite a start. But Putnam, DeSantis and Corcoran will have to pace themselves.

Can’t peak too soon. For in this race to the bottom, there’s no telling how many more new lows will be needed for victory.