Text messages recently released between elected officials and organizers of a Central Florida COVID vaccine clinic indicate the event may have taken place in part to help Gov. Ron DeSantis’ re-election bid.
NBC affiliate WFLA-TV, using messages obtained after a complaint was filed in Sarasota County, report communication between Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh and developer Rex Jensen suggest the visit to a three-day vaccine event in February would help DeSantis.
“I told [a staffer of DeSantis] that we would keep the list and that you and I were working together to make this happen,” Baugh said on Feb. 9 in the text message exchange.
“Gov said he might show up,’’ Jensen replied. “Should try to see if that would help him get exposure here.”
“Excellent point. After all, 22 is right around the corner,’’ Baugh wrote back.
DeSantis has not formally announced his re-election bid, with some polls suggesting he could be an early favorite to be the Republican candidate for President in 2024.
The texts show Jensen, the developer of the Lakewood Ranch area where the event took place, was frustrated when DeSantis’ chief of staff for the Florida Department of Health, asked him to maintain a list.
“Amazing. They want me to maintain a list. They can’t. Screw this,’’ Jensen writes.
“Let me see what I can do,’’ replies Baugh.
Baugh was the subject of a complaint filed by a political activist and paralegal over whether state law had been violated when the commissioner admitted to creating and adding her named to a “VIP list” for the event.
“The more disturbing thing to me is the fact that as the governor was holding that press conference at Lakewood Ranch, other citizens in Manatee County who had already been told they had won the lottery to get their vaccine in the next day, were being told that they are vaccine appointments were going to be canceled,” Michael Barfield told the station.
Baugh declined comment on the texts to the station, saying she will speak on them at a later time. A spokesperson for DeSantis called the remarks “absurd.”
“The Governor’s only focus remains getting shots in arms and protecting our most vulnerable,” the spokesperson said.