Before he abruptly resigned as a top fund-raiser for Gov. Rick Scott, health care executive Mike Fernandez let loose with a litany of complaints in an email obtained by the Herald/Times. He described a "homogeneous" team of campaign advisers who are too scared of Scott to disagree with him and who don't understand the culture of Hispanic voters whose support he needs to win re-election.
The aftershocks of Fernandez’s resignation remain a distraction for Scott's campaign, and it underscores a key part of the Democrats' opposition strategy, that Republicans can't relate to Hispanic voters. The most explosive part of Fernandez's Feb. 20 email was his claim, first reported in The Miami Herald, that two Scott campaign aides imitated a Mexican accent while driving to a Mexican restaurant.
When Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera said Monday there was "no validity" to the Herald report, it prompted Republicans sympathetic to Fernandez to release a copy of the email, which in broader terms reveals Fernandez's uneasiness with the direction of Scott's campaign.
Fernandez's email indicates that he never heard the comments he complained about. His business partner, identified in the email only as Luis, apparently did on the way to a Chipolte Grill, a Mexican restaurant.
“It's culturally insensitive for him to hear a senior staff members [sic] mimicking a Mexican accent on the way to Chipotle. It shows that the team does not understand the culture YOU need to win,” Fernandez wrote on his iPad.
Dismissing the accusation, Lopez-Cantera said Monday: “There's no validity that we can find to any of those comments, or what was written. This is a diverse organization. We don't tolerate inappropriate comments and I don't believe they even happened.”
Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, chairman of Scott's re-election campaign, acknowledged turmoil in the campaign and Fernandez's level of frustration."You get high-powered people like Mike Fernandez who's a CEO and used to being in charge," Thrasher said. "But there can only be one person in charge and that's the governor ... Sometimes there's frustration with that."
Fernandez, a million-dollar donor to Scott who helped raise $35 million for his re-election campaign, has declined to comment to The Herald since Friday and didn’t release the email. He sent it to Scott's campaign manager Melissa Sellers. senior advisor Curt Anderson and fundraiser Meredith O’Rourke after an event in Coral Gables.
The email, one of a number of Fernandez missives, offers a rare glimpse into the internal friction in the Scott campaign and mirrors concerns voiced by other Republicans that Scott isn’t doing well enough in the polls against his likely challenger, Democrat Charlie Crist.
Fernandez used the comment about Mexican-accened English as a jumping-off point to complain about how Scott’s top team is new to Florida and that he fears for its Hispanic outreach.
“Would you hire me to manage a campaign in Mississippi for a country bumpkin? I hope not. We have one Texan, one guy from Wisconsin, I don't know where Tim (a brilliant guy) is from, but I guarantee you he is not from Florida, and one smart mercenary strategist,” Fernandez wrote, referencing deputy campaign manager Tim Saler.
Saler has worked as a Republican activist in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, North Carolina and Mississippi.
“I truly believe that the difference in this race is the Hispanic vote,” Fernandez wrote. “But what do I know, I have only made over a billion selling to this population.”
Fernandez didn’t raise this issue as his top concern. He first fretted, for instance, that “the team is united but homogenous in its thinking and seems to be feeding off each other and scared of disagreeing with the Governor.”
With reporting by Marc Caputo, The Miami Herald