AUGUST 19, 2014
In the politician’s version of the reality television show America’s Dumbest Criminals, Florida’s Republican governor appears in a campaign commercial with a Cuban-born grocery store owner convicted of human smuggling.
The embarrassing story comes via a nonprofit journalism conglomerate in Florida. Governor Rick Scott is up for reelection and he’s reaching out to the state’s large Hispanic population with a multitude of Spanish-language television and radio ads. One TV commercial, broadcast on a popular Spanish cable network, features Scott in a hug fest with a Tampa business owner that touts the governor’s wonderful record of creating jobs in the Sunshine State.
The man’s name is Maikel Duarte-Torres, according to the news story, and four years ago he was convicted of human smuggling in the Caribbean nation of St. Maarten. He was sentenced to two years in prison, but jail overcrowding forced authorities to release him after only two days, according to island officials quoted in the story. Duarte-Torres has been permanently banned from St. Maarten. The bottom line remains that the governor of a large U.S. state has a convicted felon endorsing—and hugging—him on television.
Now Duarte-Torres owns a grocery store in Tampa, where the campaign commercial was filmed, and he wants his fellow constituents to know how great Governor Scott has been for businesses like his. Here’s what the convicted human smuggler says in the 30-second segment, paid for by the Republican Party of Florida: “Four years ago, the economy was very bad. Rick Scott helped Florida’s economy and you can see the difference. He’s created jobs. That’s why I support Rick Scott. I’m just like him. I’m like the American Dream.”
The Cuban merchant is a member of a coalition of more than 100 business owners from dozens of Florida counties that support Scott for re-election. The group is called Small Business for Scott. A few months ago Duarte-Torres also courted Scott and Florida Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera during a campaign stop at a local grocery store chain. Evidently the Cuban business owner dreams of owning a chain of markets. Currently, his small store has 18 full-time employees, according to the article.
Scott has been embroiled in a number of controversies during his first term. Early in his tenure he was slapped with an ethics complaint for abusing the power of his office to financially benefit a chain of medical clinics that represent the single biggest chunk of his vast fortune. Last fall a south Florida mayor with close ties to the governor pleaded guilty to public corruption for participating in a scheme involving the theft of federal grants earmarked for his tiny working class city. The mayor, Manuel Maroño, was a rising star in the Republican Party and played a key role in Scott’s gubernatorial transition team in 2011. In 2012 Scott’s chief of staff resigned over a scandal involving his steering no-bid contracts to friends and interfering in staffing decisions throughout state government.
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