Gov. Rick Scott became a Spanish punch line this week after a televised gaffe with the King of Spain, who’s reeling from an elephant-shooting scandal.
“I’ve ridden elephants, I’ve never tried to shoot one,” Scott said smiling as he walked in and shook the hand of King Juan Carlos.
The king seemed to freeze and mumble “Oh.”
You can’t blame him.
The 74-year-old monarch was pilloried for hunting elephants in Botswana, where he injured his hip. Spaniards were infuriated because the king took such an expensive hunting trip at a time when the country is in such dire economic straits. About one in four Spaniards are unemployed. Also, Juan Carlos is an honorary president of Spain’s branch of the World Wildlife Fund.
“I am very sorry. I made a mistake. It won’t happen again,” the king said in an apology when he left a Madrid hospital in crutches.
The king has since recovered. And the scandal had seemed to die down.
Not only did the governor start with the I’ve-never-shot-an-elephant ice-breaker, Scott then continued to talk about elephants and Botswana after he introduced his wife, Ann, to the king.
“We were in Botswana,” Scott says. “And we were in the Jeep. And an elephant started to chase the Jeep. My wife was in the back part of the Jeep and she wanted to get out to the front of the Jeep.”
“I needed you in the Jeep with me,” Ann leans in to say to the king.
Juan Carlos laughed nervously at the elephant in the room and ...
Cut! The video stops.
But the laughter began. Newspapers nationwide and late-night Spanish television made Scott’s elephant story a topic of uproarious laughter.
“All the news outlets highlight the absolute lack of tact of the Florida governor, attributable only to little preparation before the meeting,” TV personality Sandra Sabatés says on the satirical news show El Intermedio (Halftime). “Gov. Scott continues, obstinate in his error. He adds insult to injury and asks the king increasingly uncomfortable questions about the details of the hunt.”
At one point, Scott suggests that the king needs a better story to tell than that he injured his hip getting out of bed while on the trip.
“On top of it, he thinks the anecdote is sh--!” the show’s host, a comedian known as El Gran Wyoming (The Great Wyoming), roars about Scott. “That’s because he’s American. If the story is about an exploding car and Will Smith killing someone, he’s bored.”
Back in the United States on Thursday afternoon, Scott was met by a gaggle of media at Miami International Airport.
“If I did anything to do anything wrong I completely apologize,” he said. “The king’s a wonderful person. He’s a wonderful world leader. He’s done so many wonderful things in his life. And we had a great conversation.”
Scott emphasized that he spent more time talking jobs than elephants with the king.
“The first thing I asked him about it was his hip of course because he had been injured,” Scott said.
This wasn’t the first time that the Spanish king has had an awkward moment with a Florida governor. Scott’s predecessor, Charlie Crist, feted Juan Carlos at a royal dinner as part of a food-and-wine fest at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables.
But Crist isn’t a big eater. And he’s not known for long talks about foreign policy.
So Crist and his wife, Carole, left before dinner was over and left Juan Carlos and Queen Sofía sitting next to empty seats — a protocol no-no.
Maybe protocol is just not a Florida forte.
When King Juan Carlos arrived at Miami International Airport several years ago, neither the mayors of Miami-Dade County nor the city of Miami were available to greet him, as is customary.
About an hour before Juan Carlos’ arrival, county officials hastily called then-County Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, who rushed to get dressed up and make it to the tarmac in time for him and then-City Commissioner Tomás Regalado to shake the king’s hand.
“When he got off the plane, he referred to me as mayor,” Gimenez said, recalling the story. “I had to kind of say, I’m not the alcalde, I’m a commissioner.”
Last week, Gimenez, now the county mayor, had to similarly step in after the mayor of Lisbon came to Miami for the Volvo Ocean Race. He was here on the invitation of now-Miami Mayor Regalado — except Regalado was out of town, so Gimenez had to carry out the traditional exchange of flags instead.
Gov. Scott’s trip to Spain comes on the cusp of the 500th year anniversary of the Spanish discovery of Florida in 1513. If only Ponce de Leon knew what was in store.