Racist Rich Man Gets to Rewrite the Florida Constitution Thanks to Rick Scott

Surprise! Florida GOP voters are going for the guy demanding an end to all Middle Eastern travel and calling Obama an "animal."
Surprise! Florida GOP voters are going for the guy demanding an end to all Middle Eastern travel and calling Obama an "animal."
screencap via YouTube

Carlos Beruff has virtually no political qualifications. He's rich, openly racist, and good friends with Florida's governor. The real-estate developer and major political donor ran for U.S. Senate against Marco Rubio last year and lost. In that time, he called Barack Obama an "animal," called for a ban on all immigration from the Middle East, and reveled in being dubbed the "Cuban-American Donald Trump." Voters heavily rejected him.

So, naturally, Gov. Rick Scott placed Beruff in charge of rewriting the state constitution. Last night, Beruff held a "listening meeting" with voters at Florida International University in Miami to hear what residents want out of their government.

Some background: Every 20 years, the Sunshine State convenes a "constitutional revision commission," a process unique to Florida. In theory, the revision commission is an interesting idea. The commission can propose literally any amendments to the state's central legal document. The public then simply votes on the amendments, and any that pass immediately become law. Every 20 years, a select group of Floridians can simply bypass the state Legislature and propose whatever laws they like.

Revision commissions have convened twice in the past, in 1977 and 1997. The last revision commission was chaired by the well-respected Tallahassee lawyer W. Dexter Douglass, whom New Yorker writer Jeffrey Toobin once called "Florida's James Madison." That meeting led to the creation of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, made it easier for third-party candidates to run for government, and cut a few needless financial positions within the state government.

But the commission's members are largely appointed by the governor and the state Legislature, which means the commission has the potential to go downhill fast. This year, the Sunshine State hit the jackpot in terms of having the worst possible governor in the most powerful position at the worst possible time. Scott, a translucent anglerfish from the Mariana Trench who functions best in pitch-black darkness, appointed his avowed "good friend" Beruff, a man who is passionately and proudly unqualified for the job, to chair what is perhaps Florida's most important governmental position this year. (In addition, the 38-member commission is much more Republican-dominated than either of the previous two, according to the Miami Herald.)

Beruff's appointment is the sort of move that ought to be a major scandal but isn't thanks to the ongoing garbage circus that is the Trump administration sucking all of the oxygen out of the room. Trump, a man so outwardly unintelligent that political gaffes simply don't stick to him, has lowered the bar for public office so far that the appointment of a wholly unqualified guy like Beruff no longer seems frightening. In today's political landscape, Scott could legitimately have appointed the rapper Pitbull, who spoke alongside Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos yesterday at his charter school, and things would have hummed along fine.

But Scott has not been hit nearly hard enough for propping up Beruff, who is basically a hop, skip, and a jump away from being an Eastern European oligarch. Beruff, a Cuban-American born in Miami, is a real-estate developer and homebuilder from Manatee County. He founded Medallion Homes, a development firm infamous in the Sarasota area for building homes with contaminated, toxic "Chinese drywall" and then sparring with homeowners who said their own houses were sickening them. (New Times conducted its own investigation into Chinese drywall in South Florida in 2010.) During Medallion's fight with the people it had screwed over, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune caught the company lying about being broke in order to get out of paying settlements to poisoned homeowners.

Beruff's conduct has also dipped into plain-old douchebaggery, too: After getting caught driving 103 mph on I-75, he tried to get out of the ticket by claiming that, since he was in a really expensive car, it was safer than speeding in a normal car. (Instead, he lost his license.)

Beruff's only true tie to politics is that he's given more than $1 million to political campaigns over the years. Recipients have included Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, and Scott. It's not out of the question to ask whether Beruff simply bought his way to the top of the revision commission.

His other qualifications are remarkably slim. He once sat on the State College of Florida Board of Trustees, as well as the board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District. But he resigned from the latter board after approving a permit for a friend who wanted to build a four-home subdivision on critical wetlands.

Also, while Beruff sat on the college board, he was accused of lying under oath to Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigators.

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In 2016, Beruff ran for Senate. Despite the fact that his campaign was propped up by the Scott administration (Beruff borrowed a few Scott staffers to help run his campaign), incumbent Marco Rubio trounced him in the Republican primary.  (While runing for Senate, it was revealed that Beruff avoided paying $235,000 in taxes in 2015 by claiming he was a farmer and/or lumberjack. And that he tried to game thestate  wetland-mitigation system so he could chop down 40 acres of mangrove trees to get a better view at one of his properties.)

Beruff's biggest splash came when he began launching racist invectives against people he didn't like: He opened his campaign by proudly announcing he doesn't "think it's safe to allow anybody from the Middle East into this country." He pitched a complete ban on Muslim immigration to the United States, which was somehow even more stringent and offensive than Trump's proposals, in that he wanted to bar all Middle East residents, regardless of religion, from immigrating to the States. Except Israelis.

He next called Obama an "animal" on the campaign trail and then refused to apologize.

"Unfortunately, for seven and a half years, this animal we call president — because he's an animal — has for seven and a half years, has surgically and with thought and very intelligent manner, has destroyed this country," Beruff said on tape.

Confronted about the remark, Beruff doubled down and told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that calling someone a racist is "what liberals do when they can't argue the facts."

One fact Beruff couldn't argue with, however, is that his shtick didn't endear him to Florida voters, who overwhelmingly chose Rubio, a man who is bald-faced in how entirely full of shit he is. So now, as a consolation for failing spectacularly, Scott is throwing his racist buddy a bone and letting him rewrite the state's most important document.

It's too early to tell what inevitable amount of damage Beruff will do to the state constitution. Before proposing any amendments, the commission must set rules and schedule its meeting dates. The revision commission's members are mounting a "listening tour" around the state to hear what sorts of amendments voters want — but Florida Politics has already accused Beruff of scheduling those dates to conflict with other commission members' schedules.

The optics don't look good. Voters have asked for common-sense changes, such as better protections for women or LGBTQ people, or more government transparency. It's unlikely most of those changes will pass through a guy like Beruff.


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