The success story of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ productive first three weeks in office was marred Thursday by reports that the new governor’s choice for secretary of state, Michael Ertel, had resigned after racially insensitive photos of Ertel at a 2005 Halloween party surfaced in Tallahassee.
The story made headlines just hours after a Maxon-Dixon poll showed 48 percent of voters surveyed viewed DeSantis’ first week on the job as favorable.
Other than the emergency landing of the state plane carrying the new governor in his first week on the job, the Ertel photo has been the the first real test for the DeSantis administration in terms of dealing with a “crisis.”
The administration handled it the only way is should according to the public relations pros: acknowledge that it happened, apologize for what happened and tell the public how you’re going to fix it.
“It is unfortunate. I think he has done a lot of good work, but at the same time I’ve got to have an administration focused on what matters to Floridians,” DeSantis told reporters Thursday in Marianna where he was discussing relief efforts for Hurricane Michael victims
“I want people to be able to lead and not have any of these things swirling around,” DeSantis said. “I don’t want to get mired into kind of side controversies.”
The 2005 photo, first reported by the Tallahassee Democrat, shows Ertrel, who had been appointed as Seminole County supervisor of elections months earlier, dressed as a Hurricane Katrina victim. His face is painted black and he’s wearing a purple T-shirt with “Katrina Victim” written on it along with earrings, a New Orleans Saints bandanna and fake breasts.
The photo was taken in 2005, eight months after Ertel was appointed Seminole County supervisor of elections and two months after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. https://t.co/quleb5ZMGX
— Tallahassee Democrat (@TDOnline) January 24, 2019
The party was held just two months after Katrina hit the Louisiana coastline killing 1,800 people.
“There’s nothing I can say,” Ertel told the Democrat.
When DeSantis named Ertel as his choice for the state’s top election official, the announcement drew the praises of both Republicans and Democrats. Ertel had a reputation of bipartisanship and was known for a history of smooth elections in Seminole County — a track record that state government could use in Tallahassee, especially after the problems with the November election.
DeSantis and Ertel could have tried to write-off the 14-year-old photo as a youthful error in judgment, but Ertel was 35 when the picture was taken. They could have waited a day or so to gauge the political winds revolving around the story.
No matter how good of an election official Ertel is, the way DeSantis handled the story was not just the way the administration should have handled it — It’s the only way it could have handled it.
DeSantis is coming off a bitterly fought general election in which his Democratic opponent Andrew Gillum accused him of being racially insensitive after telling FOX News that voters should consider Florida’s economic recovery and not “monkey this up” by voting for a “socialist agenda” candidate.
Gillum also criticized DeSantis for his relationships with conservative groups which have been accused of being racially divisive.
And who can forget Gillum’s quote from one of the gubernatorial debates in October.
“Now, I’m not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist, I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist,” Gillum said.
Immediately accepting Ertel’s resignation was the only way to handle the situation.
DeSantis announced Jennifer Kennedy, who was a deputy secretary at the department, will serve as interim secretary.