Right on schedule, state Sens. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, and Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach -- water carriers for a giddy Florida Democratic Party -- have called for a special Senate investigation of Concealed Carrygate.
You knew it was coming, right? It's an election year and an opportunity has presented itself.
“The recent acknowledgement by the Department of Agriculture that it had wrongly issued hundreds of concealed weapons permits to non-eligible individuals over a period of approximately one year, and subsequently failed to promptly disclose that failure for at least one year after, has deeply shaken our trust in the agency’s ability to safeguard the people of Florida,” Stewart and Rader wrote Monday in a letter to Senate President Joe Negron requesting the investigation. “As more details have emerged since news broke of the scandal late Friday, questions have mounted as to the degree of knowledge within the agency, namely who knew what, and when?”
What a great way to carry on the employee mistake in Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam's 4,000-employee office. Investigations go on forever. Why, you can drag out this "scandal" thing clear into the new year, no problem.
Think of the free negative publicity Democrats will get to dump on Republican gubernatorial candidate Putnam. No need to rely on costly ad buys in the state's big media markets. Every day newspaper headlines hammering away at Putnam. Every day reporters competing for that extra drip of new information.
If voters don't know what to believe by Aug. 28, that's OK, too. They won't be voting for Putnam. And just like that, you've finished off probably your toughest opponent, unquestionably the most viable, knowledgeable, electable and best-financed candidate in the governor's race.
Never mind that the office mistake made didn't allow a single applicant to buy a gun. Background checks were made on all gun-permit applicants, without exception. The omission was made on those seeking a concealed-carry permit. The only story I've seen that gets all the details right is NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer's.
It's clever, this letter to Negron.
Listen to what Stewart and Rader say: "The disqualifying criteria that the missed screenings were supposed to catch include fugitives, those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence, anyone deemed mentally defective or confined to a mental institution, and those dishonorably discharged."
Wow, think about that.
You're supposed to confuse the background checks. Instead of concealed carry permits, you're supposed to see applicants for a gun license able to purchase a weapon with no scrutiny. How many voters' imaginations are running wild after reading that? How many have hundreds of crazed psychopaths on Florida streets, armed to the teeth, dancing in their heads?
In their letter, the two senators requested Negron immediately appoint a special select committee under Senate Rule 1.5 “to provide the measure of full transparency the public demands from their elected officials.”
Wait a minute here.
A staffer in Putnam's 290-employee Division of Licensing stopped checking the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System after she encountered log-in problems in February 2016. The problem was caught in March 2017, at which time the staffer was fired, the incomplete background checks were completed and the department's inspector general was called in to investigate and detail what happened in a report. That took place immediately.
“During all of the committee hearings this session, nothing was disclosed,” said Rader, who is vice chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, which has oversight of Putnam’s agency. “Was it a cover up?" he asks. "Was it a way to rubber-stamp what they knew they had already done?”
How about asking, "Was it part of a confidential investigation?"
The most under-reported fact in Concealed Carrygate is that Putnam was following protocol by not talking about the incident -- or, by failing "to provide the measure of full transparency" -- until the inspector general had finished his work.
There obviously are things broken in the Division of Licensing and they need to be fixed. All of them. Employee competence, the assurance of a clockwork routine, even supervision. That's the lesson.
Part of me wants to applaud the drama these two senators were able to create in their letter, speaking for the loved ones of those gunned down so recently in Orlando and Parkland -- "an affront to all those families still suffering from these wounds who look to us to prevent similar tragedies in the future” ... as if the Democrats' motive for wanting this "full and independent" investigation is pure and holy and has nothing to do with their own Election-Day ends.
It's a political ploy, Sen. Negron, which I'm sure you realize, too. And even if you truly believe a select committee is necessary, I hope you'll take the politics out of it as much as humanly possible by letting the investigation wait to commence until after November.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith
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