Most politicians stick to the script on the stump, and Gov. Rick Scott is no exception. Always on message, he’s spent the last two days campaigning for the U.S. Senate, talking about jobs, fixing Washington and restoring the American Dream.
But on Tuesday, during a visit to a Hialeah warehouse district off Highway 27, Scott veered off the predictable path in order to eulogize an aide, Jereima Bustamante, who was killed Sunday in a boating accident off the Florida Keys. In English and in Spanish, he talked about how Bustamante was like a daughter to him, and how she “wanted to live the dream of this country.”
“She became one of my best friends. People all across the state loved her,” Scott said from inside the Interstate Beverage Corp. warehouse, owned by a Colombian-American couple, Alvaro and Betty Lozano. “It was devastating to me and my family that we lost her.”
Scott, who announced Monday that he’ll challenge Sen. Bill Nelson this November, often leaned on Bustamante during his South Florida trips, where she grew up and went to school before joining his staff in 2014. The 33-year-old FIU graduate and former WSVN assistant producer served as Scott’s press secretary for a time, and was going to be a part of his Senate campaign. Politico Florida reported that she was planning to work as Scott’s director of Hispanic media.
Based in Miami, she often accompanied the governor on his South Florida trips and was at his side during many of his travels through the region in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. She accompanied him after the mass shootings at Pulse and Parkland.
“I was on “Fox and Friends” this morning. She wanted to be Dana Perino. And you know what? She was going to be,” Scott said from just a few short miles north of Bustamante’s Miami home, where she lived with her husband. “I can’t imagine what I’m going to do without her. She’s been part of my life for years. She became part of my family.”
Bustamante also helped him learn Spanish. The governor is hardly fluent, but practiced enough that he enjoys speaking the language during press conferences. On Tuesday, bucking a habit of avoiding questions from reporters during campaign stops, Scott answered questions from multiple Spanish-language media outlets.
“Jeri Bustamante fue una persona muy especial. Es una buena amiga,” he said. “Mi esposa y yo estamos muy triste.”
(“Jeri Bustamante was a very special person. A good friend. My wife and I are very sad.”)