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Florida Democrats say DeSantis' choice for 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.
Most of the public consternation over Dr. Joseph Ladapo is coming from the Democrats. Yet, the surgeon general still has one powerful and influential defender: Gov. Ron DeSantis.

A USA Today Network report says Dr. Joseph Ladapo's hiring at the University of Florida was fast-tracked ahead of his appointment to surgeon general.

Democrats are urging the Republican-led state Senate to reject Dr. Joseph Ladapo’s appointment as 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.

The surgeon general has also found himself earning a rebuke from the Senate’s top Republican, The reaction came after Ladapo visited the office of Democratic Sen. 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 that 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 of Florida 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 health care 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 Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat running for governor next year.

Most of the public consternation over Ladapo is coming from the Democrats. Yet, the surgeon general still has one powerful and influential defender: DeSantis.

DeSantis defended his selection in a statement: "(Ladapo) 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,"

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.