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Florida Democrats say the state's new surgeon general is unfit for the job

 Gov. Ron DeSantis (left) introduces newly appointed Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo (right) in a press conference in September 2021.
Florida Channel
Gov. Ron DeSantis (left) introduces newly appointed Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo (right) in a press conference in September 2021.

Democrats are urging the Florida Senate to reject Joseph Ladapo’s appointment as State Surgeon General. Ladapo was appointed to the job last month. He replaced Scott Rivkees, who resigned. But since coming on board—Ladapo's positions on issues like vaccines and mask mandates have riled Democrats. And a run-in with a Democratic state senator earned a rebuke from the Senate’s top Republican.

Ladapo established himself early on as firmly on the side of his boss, Gov. Ron DeSantis. During his introductory news conference, Ladapo stated his opposition to mask mandates in schools and said vaccination is a choice:

“The state should be promoting good health," Ladapo told reporters. "Vaccination is not the only path to that. It has been treated almost as a religion. That is just senseless. There are lots of good pathways to health, and vaccination is not the only one.”

One of his first actions as surgeon general was to sign off on a revised Department of Health rule governing school mask mandates to give parents the ultimate say in whether their children should wear face coverings. The change led a judge to toss out a lawsuit filed by school districts.

Now, the surgeon general has found himself earning a rebuke from the Senate’s top Republican, Wilton Simpson. The reaction came after Ladapo visited the office of Democratic Senator Tina Polsky, who has breast cancer. Polsky asked Ladapo to wear a mask—but he refused. Polsky later made several media appearances blasting Ladapo.

“For a public health leader to not care about my health says all I need to know about him," she said.

In a statement, Senate President Wilton Simpson said Senators have a right to request visitors wear masks in their offices, and those wishes should be respected. More recently, an investigation by the USA Today network found Ladapo’s hire to a medical professorship at the University was fast-tracked ahead of his appointment to surgeon general.

It's all led to calls for the rejection of his confirmation.

"He should not be our surgeon general. He should not be somebody who is in charge of our healthcare policies in the state of Florida. So I am asking our state Senate to do what is right for the people of our state and deny his confirmation this legislative session and to make the governor come back to the table with a new appointment for surgeon general," said Agriculture Nikki Fried. She is running for governor next year.

So is former Governor, and Congressman Charlie Crist—who also wants Ladapo gone.

"Dr. Ladapo has made it clear that he was appointed not to help our state battle this public health crisis but to be an ill-informed political tool for the governor of Florida," Crist said.

Other state Democratic leaders have issued similar calls. In fact, Most of the public consternation over Ladapo is coming from the Democrats. Yet the surgeon general still has one powerful and influential defender. Gov. DeSantis.

"He actually explained he offered numerous accommodations and it was more about an issue. There are pictures [of Polsky] very close with [other people with] no mask in other instances. I don’t see people talking about this… They’re trying to politicize this," DeSantis said in defense of his surgeon general.

On the same day she met with Ladapo, Polsky attended a senate committee meeting alongside other unmasked senators. It may all be moot. Republicans are in lock-step behind DeSantis, and they control the legislative committees that have to approve Ladapo's appointment.

Copyright 2021 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.