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Friday, Aug 01, 2014
Joe Henderson

Henderson: Scott’s plea on flood insurance was the right thing

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Published:   |   Updated: February 27, 2014 at 08:13 AM

When then-Gov. Charlie Crist hugged President Barack Obama a few years ago, members of his Republican Party were aghast. How dare he show civility and respect to the leader of the free world in a public setting!

Ah, but as bad as that hug was, man, do we have red meat now. This week, current Gov. Rick Scott went to Washington to ask the president for an executive order to stop federal flood insurance rate hikes.

Let that soak in for a second. Florida’s champion of fiscal austerity just asked the poster child for runaway federal spending to “use his pen” (Scott’s words) if need be to override congressional resistance from the governor’s own party, all in the name of helping people.

Hug this!

I would lampoon our governor for the flippest of flops on a core issue to his supporters, but I can’t. This was a righteous call. I’m glad he did it. People bought these houses in good faith with the expectation of help paying for expensive flood policies.

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Sure, it seems more than a little phony to plead for Washington’s cash after riding to power on a wave of anti-spending rhetoric. Sometimes you have to rise above, though, despite the political risk.

Critics of the flood insurance subsidies that keep rates manageable, including many in the governor’s tea party base, basically argue homeowners who choose to live in flood zones are on their own.

If that sounds callous, just ask U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, a Pinellas County Republican, how seriously GOP/tea party leaders take this. When he broke ranks and voted for a delay in the rate hikes, he was busted out of any significant party leadership role.

These rate hikes are so steep, though, turning his back on an estimated 270,000 Florida homeowners in an election year would not have been a good move for Scott.

“There’s a lot of talk in Washington, not enough action,” the governor told reporters after his meeting with the president. “They’ve been talking about this for months. They haven’t passed anything. The president can do this on his own.”

Scott knows a little bit about doing things on his own. In September 2013, he issued an executive order reversing his own endorsement of the state’s participation in Common Core. The political reality was a Republican governor making a move against a program embraced by the opposition party.

This move is more pragmatic. He’s not the first governor to do such a thing in an election year, and I don’t even care about that. I just know that violent change in the rules on flood insurance subsidies is wrong.

That’s true even though ultra-conservatives here, without regard to the ripple effect of another potential housing crisis, would answer, “Yeah, so?”

Last year, Scott signed a bill moving thousands of Florida homeowners out of Citizens Property Insurance into the private market, provided their rate is comparable. Among the provisions is a ban on obtaining insurance through Citizens on new construction along the coast.

That’s a thoroughly defensible position.

So is weighing the potential impact of these flood insurance rates on Florida’s homeowners.

You want to reform the flood insurance program in the future?

That’s probably a good idea.

But you don’t punish families now by eliminating a program that helps keep many of them in their homes. That’s the politics of mean, and that’s no way to get re-elected. So the governor did what he had to do, what he should do, and now some of those who thought they knew him need a hug.

They’ll get over it.

I mean, what’s their alternative? Charlie Crist?

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