I haven’t made it a secret that I consider the election of Rick Scott as the governor of Florida a disaster. Still do, until proven otherwise. But he did one thing last week that I approve of–he made an executive of Wal-Mart the new Director of Emergency Management for the state.
Now, those who know me know that I have a certain…antipathy toward Wal-Mart. Antipathy might be too mild. I won’t shop there, even though I have one around the corner (which is the very problem I speak of). I’m intimately familiar with their steamroller tactics. It’s frightening to go up against a juggernaut. In the end, you can only rely on their sense of decency or fairness, and if they don’t have that sense, then prepare to be crushed. Thankfully, by the time I and my neighbors were involved in a battle with them, Wal-Mart had started to develop a smidgen of awareness of their, call it, social impact. You could say that we lost, since there IS a Wal-Mart around the corner, but we “won” 70 something concessions that involved everything from design to operations. “Winning” is not always getting everything you want. And during the process, I developed a sort of grudging respect for them, particularly their lawyers.
During the time of the battle, I read a book called In Sam We Trust, which confirmed a lot of the bad stuff I already thought about them–and that’s what I was looking for at the time–but it gave me a window into a side of Wal-Mart I hadn’t seen or thought of. They were one of the first to have their own satellite to track their trucks. This seems commonplace now, but at the time, it was very forward-thinking.
That brings me to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Wal-Mart was the first to get to New Orleans with truckloads of bottled water, well before the government got there. They had a superior and long-standing ability to mobilize quickly. And by that time, a social conscience big enough to want to help. And all “help” from corporations is based on profit. Which is okay–what Wal-Mart recognized is that they were going to lose money any way you l00ked at it, and they could either be the good guys or the bad guys. They could send in armed teams to protect their stores from looting, or they could send help. They chose to help their customers, not their stores. It was a brilliant move.
Of course, they were turned back at the city limits by the National Guard, but that’s Louisiana for you.
Which brings me to Emergency Management in Florida. It’s legendary, and that’s well-deserved. It’s never been more legendary than it was under the leadership of Craig Fugate, who is now the head of FEMA. His successors haven’t had to deal with the level of disasters he had to deal with, so it’s unfair to say they don’t compare to his ability.
When a new governor is elected in Florida, all agency heads submit a letter of resignation, which the new governor can either accept or reject. As far as I know, Scott accepted all of the resignation letters, because he thinks that the existing agency heads are part of the problem. It’s “the old way of doing business”. It’s “that problem in Tallahassee”. I think it’s throwing out the baby with the bathwater. There’s no evaluation going on. Even President Obama kept George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense.
But Scott is supremely confident–read, arrogant. We’ll see. I expect him to crash and burn. In fact, I’m pretty sure of it. Already, the Republican Legislature is saying, Um, we’d like to be his friend, but we don’t see how we can do it.
Scott already merged the Department of Transportation with the Department of Environmental Protection. As the political reporter, Bill Cotterell, for the Tallahassee Democrat put it, thereby making one agency responsible both for protecting the environment and paving over it.
But call it grasping at straws, looking for the silver lining…we are stuck with Rick Scott. Scott (unless, as I’ve mentioned, he gets indicted for something before he can do much damage), made the selection of a Wal-Mart exec to head Florida’s Emergency Management, and that was a possibly good decision in my opinion. Assuming the guy shares Wal-Mart’s new conscience, and assuming he has any knowledge or skill related to their ability to mobilize. Just being from Wal-Mart does not a leader make.