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Why Florida's Broward County Always Seems Mired In Scandal


Florida is used to being in the news for unflattering reasons.

MICHAEL GRUNWALD: Well, it does seem that America's national messes always seem to stream through Florida (laughter), you know, whether it's the financial crisis or the recount of 2000.

SHAPIRO: Michael Grunwald of Politico Magazine says this recount is just the latest case. As we just heard, Palm Beach County blew today's recount deadline. But neighboring Broward County could just as easily have been the problem. The recount there has featured mishandled ballots and slow vote counting. Grunwald calls Broward the Florida of Florida.

GRUNWALD: Well, it's - certainly politically, it just seems to be all messed up. There has been a lot of attention to the election supervisor, which just clearly had all kinds of problems with counting votes and destroying ballots. Well, it turns out that this supervisor who everybody seems to agree is pretty incompetent replaced her predecessor who was also removed for being incompetent.

SHAPIRO: But it's not just electoral politics. I mean, there are all kinds of scandals and other ridiculousness that you point to in the...

GRUNWALD: Absolutely. I mean, after the horrible shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, there was a huge scandal over the sheriff's office. Of course, this wasn't the sheriff who had been indicted and sent to jail. This was a new sheriff whose department had done, really, a shoddy response to the shooting, and then he said that everything was amazing. We're talking about a school board member who was taking her bribes in restaurant doggie bags. These are not new problems in Broward.

SHAPIRO: So it's a long, long list. What - is it just something in the Everglades swamp water?

GRUNWALD: Well, you know, in Florida, we've had Republican rule in Tallahassee for 20 years, which has led to all kinds of problems that Democrats have been pointing out. Well, Broward has had complete Democratic rule. And there is a certain sense that, you know, when you don't have to worry about Republican competition, there aren't a lot of incentives to make sure you're on the up and up.

SHAPIRO: Well, you live in Miami, just south of Broward County.


SHAPIRO: Give us a description of this place.

GRUNWALD: Well, you know, it's funny. You know, it was originally known in the '60s - right? - for the beautiful beaches of Fort Lauderdale. But you've also - it's really known for its suburbs around Fort Lauderdale. They're full of, you know, Caribbeans and a very diverse population. But it's pretty much a Democratic population, where you've got the, you know, the Jewish bubbes and zaydes living in the condos on Fort Lauderdale as well as, you know...

SHAPIRO: Alongside the Haitians and the Cubans.

GRUNWALD: Exactly. And for many people, it's a nice place to live. It just happens to be messed up politically.

SHAPIRO: You also describe a funny story about how Broward got its name.

GRUNWALD: That's true (laughter). You know, it was named for Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, a kind of very colorful governor with a colorful name. And he was the guy who set out to drain the swamp. His entire platform was to drain the Everglades.

SHAPIRO: The literal swamp.

GRUNWALD: Exactly, exactly. And he turned out to be not very successful at draining the Everglades. But he was pretty successful at taking bribes from land salesmen who then became famous for - you know, you want to buy some swampland in Florida? You know, that's really the time when Florida started to get its reputation as kind of the land of scam artists.

SHAPIRO: Any hope of this getting fixed anytime soon?

GRUNWALD: Well, Broward kind of has the kind of crazy that you'd like to do in private, behind closed doors.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

GRUNWALD: But the thing about these periodic scandals is that when there are cable trucks all over the place, it does sort of shine a light on what's going on. And that's when, sometimes, you do seem to see some of the consistently screwed-up political actors getting bounced and having to face some consequences.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, but the news trucks have shown up a lot in the past. And when the news trucks go away, some other scandal comes up onto the scene. So it doesn't seem like this is creating long-term change.

GRUNWALD: You know, Florida is Florida. And remember; Broward County is still the home of Roger Stone, who is now under investigation for the WikiLeaks scandal that actually brought down Debbie Wasserman Schultz, which is Brower's congresswoman, you know, who had been the head of the Democratic National Committee. So I think Broward's probably still a place where there are going to be a lot of shenanigans.

SHAPIRO: Michael Grunwald of Politico Magazine, also author of a book about the Everglades called "The Swamp."

Thanks for joining us.

GRUNWALD: Thanks for having me, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.