In FL Capitol, remote Cabinet meeting beset by tech glitches

Florida Phoenix

This is why you don’t hold a Cabinet meeting more than 6,000 miles from the state Capitol and expect the public to participate via a video feed.

Technical glitches began about a minute into the ostensibly ceremonial meeting of Gov. Ron DeSantis and the three Cabinet members, when a phone connection with the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem cut out during the invocation offered inside the Capitol’s Cabinet chamber.

“Uh, we’ve lost the conference line, so we’re reconnecting,” a DeSantis aide interrupted. The gentleman never did get to finish his prayer.

The hearing, billed as historic by the governor’s office, was intended to cement ties between Florida and Israel, and to collect information about water resources and resiliency against terrorism and natural disaster. Everyday Floridians would participate via a Florida Channel video feed, aides promised.

That sounded illegal to the Florida First Amendment Foundation, which with four news organizations went to the Leon County Circuit Court on Tuesday seeking an injunction to block the hearing. Judge Angela Dempsey refused on ground that DeSantis and the Cabinet members couldn’t be served notice of the lawsuit – because they were more than 6,000 miles away in Israel. She rejected a plea to reconsider on Wednesday morning.

The hearing was incidental to a 98-member trade mission that state officials said aimed  to establish connections between Israeli and Floridian businesses, trade organizations, and colleges and universities. Also on Wednesday, DeSantis held a ceremonial signing for legislation (HB 741) intended to crack down on antisemitism in Florida’s public schools and universities.

In practice, the video hookup didn’t work out well. Few, if any, members of the actual public showed up to watch the proceedings from the Cabinet room, where aides had arranged to forward questions to the officials in Jerusalem. The audience of about 20 appeared heavily tilted toward state officials, plus a half-dozen journalists. DeSantis Cabinet aide Beau Beaubien said at the meeting’s conclusion that no members of the public had asked any questions, but that people could do so during the next scheduled Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, June 4.

The  perils of the remote government meeting were certainly evident inside the Cabinet room, as the governor’s people struggled to reestablish the connection, repeatedly punching in a conference code number that the networking system didn’t accept. “Sorry, I did not recognize that conference code. Please try again,” the system responded six times before the aides gave up.

DeSantis and the Cabinet members soldiered on through this, quietly audible via a Florida Channel feed on an audience member’s laptop.

Some six minutes in, DeSantis appeared on video screens inside the Cabinet chamber, sitting at a table covered by a white cloth, backdropped by a stone wall and a gnarled tree growing through an opening in the room’s roof.

Flanking him were Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis – although the camera soon swung stage right, to include Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried, the only Democrat and Jewish member of the Cabinet.

DeSantis’ initial comments were inaudible inside the Cabinet room, although the sound soon picked up. At times, the sound didn’t track with the video feed. (The Florida Channel’s archived video is of better quality.)

The governor and Cabinet OK’d a resolution that DeSantis said recognized the “special relationship” between Florida and Israel, which he called a “very tiny but a very important outpost of freedom” within the Middle East.

At one point, DeSantis appeared to endorse Israel’s policy of planting settlements in Palestinian territories in the West Bank and annexing the Golan Heights. The governor has scheduled a meeting with expansionist Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday – presuming Netanyahu manages to form a governing coalition and doesn’t have to call new elections.

“When we were in Tel Aviv, you look east and you see hills. There’s a lot of people who say that should be given away – which would basically make Israel very vulnerable,” DeSantis said. He pointed to threats from Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Islamic Jihad, and Iran. “Everyone I’ve listed wants to wipe Israel off the map,” he said.

Fried saw the expedition as underscoring a promise she made to herself during her first visit to Israel 25 years earlier “to protect and defend the state of Israel,” she said. She praised its innovations, technology, and research, calling it “a beacon for … freedom.”

Moody extolled Israel’s commitment to democracy, only to be interrupted by the telephone conference system saying, “I’ll connect you to your conference now.”

“And they have excelled in technology,” she joked following the interruption.

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