Pamela A. Zeiser By: Pamela A. Zeiser
Associate Professor of Political Science
View profile and Diary

14 Jul 2020 : Jacksonville, FL: No-Mask Fundraiser and Officially Maybe Outdoors

Since Friday July 10 we have seen a number of developments in Jacksonville’s Republican National Convention plans:

The State of Florida recorded over 15,000 new cases Sunday July 12, giving it more cases of COVID-19 than most countries in the world. As of July 13, Jacksonville/Duval County has 12,624 cases (per Florida Department of Health).

Pettiness and Pennies

On Friday, the New York Times reported that an internecine Florida GOP dispute is limiting donations to the Convention, as Governor DeSantis is said to be not only refusing to assist but actively discouraging state donors now that former Trump political operative and Jacksonville-area resident Susie Wiles has become an advisor to the host committee. DeSantis suspected Wiles of releasing confidential information while working for him. Given that DeSantis is a Trump supporter who actively campaigned to bring he convention to Jacksonville, the article said the governor’s sudden about-face was “a stunning act of political pettiness.” The article goes on to quote Republican officials who suggest most major donors to the convention are national, rather than from Florida, and DeSantis’ reluctance will not hurt the overall efforts.

No-Mask Fundraiser with Pence

On Saturday, Vice President Pence arrived for what was alternately billed as a “thank you” to host committee members and a fundraiser. (It was probably a combination of both.) By Monday, a social media storm had developed as local officials attending the event posted/tweeted pictures showing themselves arm-in-arm or grouped together – and no one was wearing masks, despite it being a large, indoor gathering in a city with a mask mandate. On Tuesday July 14,  The Jacksonville Times-Union reported the Mayor’s Office declared that because the room was configured to allow for social distancing – though none was occurring in some photos – no violation of the city’s mask mandate had occurred. The one photo that included Pence did show a barrier of tables ensuring social distancing, and he wore no mask.

Social media further reported after the Pence event that attendees at an earlier local GOP event were being notified that they had been exposed to a lobbyist that tested positive – and many of the attendees at that event and the Pence event were the same people.

Whatever It Takes

On Sunday July 12, local news station News4Jax quoted the Duval County GOP leader as saying “Jacksonville will do whatever it has to do to make RNC work” as the Associated Press reported that, ultimately, the decision about the convention was up to Trump – who was reluctant to approve an outdoor venue due to lack of the “campaign rally” atmosphere he prefers.

Houston Decision Could Impact Jax

I noted in an earlier entry that local businesses and resident had filed a lawsuit to prevent the convention as a danger to public health. On Monday July 13, the Texas Supreme Court ruled against the Texas GOP’s breach-of-contract appeal after the City of Houston banned the State of Texas Republican Convention there, citing health concerns. The Texas GOP changed to a virtual convention. Legal commentators are drawing comparisons with the lawsuit here in Jacksonville.

And . . . it’s more likely outdoors now

This afternoon (July 14), the New York Times reported that the Republicans are now planning to hold convention events in outdoor venues in Jacksonville, though that decision could still change. The Trump Campaign apparently made the decision as more Congressional and other Republicans indicated they will not attend due to health concerns.  Local officials maintain that COVID-19 cases could diminish between now and the end of August.

Local Jacksonville pundits and social media quickly pointed out the heat, humidity, and afternoon thunderstorms that will complicate outdoor events – then pointed out convention attendees will seek air conditioning in restaurants and bars, thus moving the health threat back indoors. A move outdoors also does not address local concerns about COVID-19 spread by out-of-towners to residents working in restaurants, bar, hotels, and shops who could then spread it more widely in the city. And, vice versa, if out-of-towners contract the Coronavirus in Jacksonville and take it home.

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