Florida Politics Monday Backroom Briefing: Former Governors Split on Cuba


Charlie Crist and Rick Scott

Charlie Crist and Rick Scott

Florida’s past two governors showcased the conflicting views about policy toward Cuba, after President Donald Trump’s administration this week banned a popular way to travel to the island nation.

U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, a Republican who left the governor’s office in January, gave full support to the decision. Scott, an ally of Trump, said money spent in Cuba goes directly to the Castro regime and helps keep President Nicholas Maduro in power in Venezuela.

“Cuba continues to be the most powerful force propping up Nicholas Maduro as he starves and kills his own people,” Scott said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Scott’s predecessor in the governor’s office, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, released a joint statement with U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., opposing Trump’s move. They also noted the impact on Florida’s cruise industry.

“Banning U.S. cruise lines and most Americans from traveling to Cuba hurts Florida’s economy and is a major step backwards for U.S.-Cuba policy,” the statement said. “The American people are our best ambassadors for spreading democracy and freedom.”

Crist was elected governor as a Republican in 2006 and later became an independent and, ultimately, a Democrat.

Scott has recently floated the idea of a naval blockade off Cuba to limit Venezuela’s oil sales.

The Treasury Department action this week blocks what are known as “people to people” trips to the island. Crist contends that rolling back the policy will “push an island nation 90 miles off our shores further into the hands of our adversaries.”

“Americans can travel to Moscow, Beijing, virtually anywhere in the world, but not Havana? It doesn’t make sense,” the statement by Crist and Castor said.

Last month, Scott criticized Crist for having traveled with little publicity to the island in April on a trip sponsored by the Center for Democracy in the Americas.


Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried’s political committee is raising money off state Rep. Mike Hill’s “homophobic” behavior.

In an email from her political committee, Florida Consumers First, Fried described being “horrified and disgusted” by Hill, a Pensacola Republican who recently said LGBTQ people should not be a protected class under law because “it’s a choice” and laughed with supporters when asked if he would introduce legislation that would put to death a man who had an affair with another man.

“I’m proud to support LGBTQ rights and will do everything in my power to stop people like Rep. Hill from advancing their hateful agendas,” Fried said in the email that asks at the bottom for people to “donate.”

Clicking the donate icon sends recipients to a page asking for contributions from $5 to $250.

For days, Hill has faced pressure to apologize for chuckling at a suggestion that he should introduce legislation based on a Bible verse that a constituent said would allow a man who has an affair with another man to be “put to death.” The question was asked by a man at an event held by Women for Responsible Legislation in Pensacola.

On Wednesday, Hill issued a statement saying he regrets “how the tone of my response to a constituent was received.”

“I apologize for not directly responding to the fact that the premise for this question was inaccurate,” Hill said in a statement. “I deeply regret how the tone of my response to a constituent was received at this event.”

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat who is gay, said Hill issued a “fake apology,” and suggested House Speaker Jose Oliva should strip him of committee assignments.

Some Democrats, including Fried, have suggested Hill should resign. However, House spokesman Fred Piccolo said the speaker’s office has not received formal complaints. Without a complaint alleging a violation of law or a House rule, Piccolo said Oliva “can’t act in any capacity until next session.”


Florida’s Republican U.S. senators are backing a move by the Trump administration to impose tariffs on Mexico because of the flow of migrants across the U.S. border.

But Fried isn’t such a fan.

“As we’re working to market Fresh From Florida products globally, these tariffs may raise prices on Florida consumers, raise the cost of doing business for our farmers, and send a message that America isn’t open for business,” she said in a statement Thursday. “Many regard these tariffs to be a tax on American families. “

Trump has proposed a 5 percent tariff on all Mexican goods, an amount that would increase monthly until the “illegal immigration problem is remedied.”

While many Republicans in Congress have questioned the tariff proposal, Scott and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., say Trump has no other choice.

“I don’t generally like tariffs either. But what alternative do my GOP colleagues have to get #Mexico to secure its southern border, use the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to screen northbound rail cars & vehicles & act on intel we provide on human traffickers?” Rubio tweeted.

On Fox News, Scott blamed Democrats for failing to secure the border.

“The president is trying to do his best to try to figure how to secure the border,” Scott said. “This is a path he can go down. None of us like tariffs. But we’ve got to get Mexico to be a better partner than they are now.”

Scott suggested “any tariff dollars we collect we ought to reduce it in taxes and get it back to American consumers.”

Critics of Trump’s proposal counter that the tariffs will result in higher costs for U.S. consumers without resolving the migration situation.

Enterprise Florida, the state’s business-development arm, estimated the state conducts about $6.8 billion a year in trade with Mexico, with the top imported items being cars, gold, non-fortified fruit juice, clothing, jewelry, seafood, liquor, refrigerators and heat pumps, non-crude oil, dates, figs, pineapples, avocados and beer.

TWEET OF THE WEEK: “Thank you Florida Reps. Francis Rooney and Greg Steube for giving me something to chat about on next week’s hightopsandpolitics.com Your vote against financial aid for the Florida Panhandle because you didn’t like the rest of the bill is nonsense. You knew it would pass. You just wanted an opportunity to score a political point. Clearly you don’t give a damn about the folks who continue to suffer in the Panhandle. There are times when your job is to put politics aside and take care of those who are suffering. Especially if they are your fellow Floridians.” — Brian Crowley of the Crowley Political Report (@crowleyreport), after Rooney and Steube voted against a federal disaster-relief package.