When President Donald Trump arrives in Panama City for a campaign rally Wednesday evening he’ll be greeted by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who just a year ago was riding the coattails of the president as he undertook a longshot bid to be governor.
Today, it could be argued that Trump is looking to benefit from DeSantis’ skyrocketing popularity as governor heading into next year’s presidential contest.
“The governor did such an amazing job in his first couple of months, that now the president will benefit from having the governor in office,” noted state Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, who also serves as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.
“It’s one of these rare things where they both help each other so much,” Gruters said enroute to Panama City for the presidential visit. “It’s great to be a Republican in Florida. With what we’ve seen in the past four to six months, it’s been an absolute home run.”
For the residents of the Panhandle community, they’re hoping for a home run as well.
The area was devastated by Hurricane Michael last October and the people there have been looking for some long-awaited word about federal help for the those who are still struggling to rebuild their lives from the storm.
“I’m at a loss for words and shocked we’re not getting the help we need,” Natalie Turner, a resident of Panama City, said during a rally at the state Capitol last month calling on state and national leaders for help. “I compare it to if we were Miami-Dade County, or even Tallahassee, we wouldn’t be here today. Because we’re a smaller community it’s like we don’t matter. But we do.”
Residents in that part of the state feel as though they’ve been forgotten by both Tallahassee and Washington. While the Legislature did include a $1.8 billion dollar relief package in the budget it passed on Saturday, the federal government has been unable to reach an agreement on a recovery plan.
As reported by Politico, some Florida Republicans have suggested to the White House that Wednesday’s visit to the Panhandle should include an announcement that federal help is on the way.
“The fact that he is coming is his announcement,” said state Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, who also serves as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.
“I guess you’ll hear a lot from the president on this issue,” Gruters added. “But, listen, they could have gone anywhere else in Florida, but they are chosing the Panhandle and I think it’s because he wanted to shine the spotlight on this area.”
“I think what the president owes everyone an explanation,” Don Gaetz said Tuesday (to Politico). “The people in the Panhandle want to know why the funding is being held up and what he’s going to do about it.”
Gaetz is a former Senate president who now chairs Triumph Gulf Coast Consortium. Triumph is a nonprofit group that was appointed to oversee the expenditure of the settlement money from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The board agreed to provide $15 million toward storm recovery costs.
A federal relief package for hurricane victims has been held up by a dispute between Washington Democrats and President Trump on a proposal that includes the appropriation of additional funds for hurricane relief to Puerto Rico, which is still recovering from Hurricane Maria in September 2017.
“I think at the end of the day the Democrats should stop playing games and make sure we should come together as a country, just like we did with Katrina and Hurricane Sandy and make sure we help the people who are most in need,” Gruters said. “I think his visit will do just that by delivering a spotlight to the area.”