Scott's blunder underscores futility of state's Cuba policy
By Michael Lewis
Gov. Rick Scott last week blundered in the minefield of professional anti-Castro politics. The blast smacked Florida's business climate while scarring him in nasty political theater.
He should have known better than to come to Miami to sign a clearly unconstitutional law to ban state or local government deals by firms also dealing with Cuba or Syria. Aides should have restrained him.
There was no winning. He would either sign a sham or not sign an unenforceable but party-backed law. He would do it at the Freedom Tower, symbolic to those who fled the hateful Castro regime.
How could the legislature try to bar business based on a firm's deals abroad? It's all posturing, meaningless in the real world — unless your real world is to win office by being more anti-Castro than the other guy.
That political style ought to have died long ago, because foreign policy in Miami-Dade and all of Florida cannot legally differ from that of the United States — a nearby nation under whose laws we live no matter how many votes a politician can get by stating differently.
Governor Scott tried to have it both ways: pander to politicians who survive solely by being anti-Castro (we wouldn't elect many of them for any other visible quality) yet be adult by admitting that the law he signed contravenes US law, which takes precedence.
He would have been wiser politically to let the law pass unsigned, knowing that it's legally meaningless.
He certainly should have stayed far from the Freedom Tower and those who win office primarily by being vocally anti-Castro, which seems totally unrelated to the job they were elected to.
Mr. Scott would have been wisest to veto the law in the safety of Tallahassee, explaining that he's as fervently anti-Castro as anyone (that's obligatory) but realizes the measure is illegal.
Far more important than the governor's failure to be everything to everyone is that he lofted a dark cloud over the state business climate, his calling card as a businessman in government.
A state that tells corporations with whom affiliates can do business abroad is in deep trouble. We simultaneously lure here Latin American headquarters — an economic pillar — and tell them we'll decide with whom they can work elsewhere.
Firms wouldn't come here in that case, if only due to uncertainty. Today Cuba and Syria are the bad guys. Will we next ban deals with Venezuela and China? Then who?
What if Major League Baseball expanded with a Havana team that would play the Marlins in our county-owned stadium? A Cuba ban could make the league move the Marlins — the stadium contract allows that — and leave us a vacant ballpark for which we'd pay for decades.
Remember, Miami-Dade once had its own foreign policy similar to the one the governor just signed. That 1990s policy kept out of the county an international track & field meet, a chance to host the Pan American Games, a business deal with Spain (which does business with Cuba) and the first-ever Latin Grammys, among others.
That ban went beyond the US embargo to prevent the county from doing business with or supporting any entity that does business with Cuba — very close to the new state policy.
In those years, AT&T and the former BellSouth fought a legal battle to provide Miami-Dade with pay phones (remember them?). AT&T was offering the county $50 million. BellSouth offered just $19 million but played the business-with-Cuba card in a bid to disqualify AT&T and thereby cost taxpayers $31 million.
That's one cost of having a foreign policy that differs from national law. With it came ridicule heaped on Miami-Dade when local Cuba policy was used as a political weapon, selectively enforced for private economic gain.
It would be harder to condemn the truly repressive Castro regime if Florida were to use its own sledgehammer to force global concerns to toe the line of Miami political correctness.
You don't have to be a politician to know how evil Castro's Cuba is. But look at who this state policy would hurt most were it to begin in July.
It wouldn't stop global business deals with the Castros. But it would deter some firms from setting up in Miami and — as in the case of the pay phones — could cost taxpayers millions while making us look foolish.
Boston became a similar butt of national humor for 50 years to the mid-1990s by banning books, films and plays. Publishers and producers cheerfully advertised "Banned in Boston" to hype sales elsewhere. The only losers — in both personal rights and economic gain — were Bostonians.
"Banned in Florida" must not become an excuse for global business to bypass us. The only winners would be a handful of Miami politicians and the Castros of the world.
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