The Center Square
By John Haughey
October 26, 2021
(The Center Square) – It’s safe to assume Dr. Joseph Ladapo will not get Sen. Tina Polsky’s vote when the Senate is called upon to confirm the controversial vaccine skeptic as Gov. Ron DeSantis’ selection to be Florida’s next surgeon general.
Polsky, D-Boca Raton, is diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer and will soon start radiation treatment. Cancer patients are at higher COVID-19 risk and do not benefit from vaccines as healthy people do, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).
Dr. Lapado, appointed by DeSantis in September, must secure Senate confirmation to be formally installed as surgeon general. He and two legislative aides arranged to meet Polsky in her Tallahassee office on Oct. 20 to garner her vote.
But it went sideways when Polsky, after informing him of her condition, asked Dr. Lapado to wear a mask she provided while in her office. He refused and she ordered him out.
Polsky and the Democrats are outnumbered 24-16 in the Senate. Her vote isn’t necessary to confirm or deny a gubernatorial appointment, but Senate President Wilton Simpson’s, R-Trilby, endorsement is a must-have.
And that is definitely in question.
In a rare Saturday night memo to all members and Senate staff, Simpson called Dr. Lapado’s behavior “disappointing” and wrote “it shouldn’t take a cancer diagnosis for people to respect each other’s level of comfort with social interactions during a pandemic.
“What occurred in Senator Polsky’s office was unprofessional and will not be tolerated in the Senate,” Simpson continued. “While there is no mask mandate in the Senate, Senators and staff can request social distancing and masking within their own offices. If visitors to the Senate fail to respect these requests, they will be asked to leave.”
The incident was first reported by the Associated Press and Florida Politics. Polsky told Florida Politics she asked Dr. Ladapo to wear a mask because she had a “serious medical condition.”
He offered to go outside but she declined. When she asked if there was a reason he couldn’t wear a mask, Polsky said he only smiled in response and she asked him to leave.
Polsky said she was “overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from my colleagues and friends about my diagnosis as well as the unfortunate encounter with the surgeon general. I am very grateful to the Senate President Simpson for his strong statement on behalf of myself and the Senate as a whole.”
Dr. Ladapo has been critical of lockdowns and mask mandates. In a September Wall Street Journal column, he wrote research shows lockdowns increased deaths overall “but nonetheless still considered an acceptable solution.
During a news conference with DeSantis on Thursday, Ladapo said “there’s total dishonesty about the safety of the vaccines.”
Dr. Lapado and DeSantis’ office had not responded to Simpson’s letter by early afternoon Monday. The DOH issued a statement saying it and Dr. Lapado “are saddened to hear about Sen. Polsky’s recent diagnosis and wish her well.”
Condemnation of Dr. Lapado’s actions and calls to deny his confirmation came from expected quarters, as did criticism of Simpson for supporting a Democrat.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, both seeking the Democratic nod to challenge DeSantis in next year’s gubernatorial race, seized on the incident in social media posts as did other Democrats.
There’s been little commentary from state Republicans, except for Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howie-in-the-Hills.
“SHAME on Simping Senator @WiltonSimpson for taking sides with leftist nutjob @TinaPolsky against our great pro-freedom Florida Surgeon General, Dr. Joseph Ladapo!” Sabatini tweeted Sunday. “Pro-Tip for you Wilton: don’t attack our Governor’s appointees to simp for radical Leftists!”