Carl Hiaasen

‘With friends like this, I could get myself unelected!’

U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, a Treasure Coast republican, led Gov. Ron DeSantis’ transition team on environmental and agricultural matters.
U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, a Treasure Coast republican, led Gov. Ron DeSantis’ transition team on environmental and agricultural matters. YouTube

An oddly timed political commercial has been appearing on West Palm Beach television stations, aimed at voters in Florida’s 18th congressional district.

The ad urges people to call Rep. Brian Mast and thank him for courageously standing with President Trump and working to repeal Obamacare.

At first the commercial appears to be a prank hatched by Democrats in order to rattle Mast, a Republican newly elected to the U.S. House. He is a vocal opponent of Obamacare and did side with Trump factions in the narrow 215-213 passage of a replacement bill.

Back home, however, Mast has been facing acid criticism at town hall meetings, which he prefers to call “constituent conversations.” Many of his constituents are angry about the House healthcare plan, which would raise insurance premiums drastically for many Americans over 50.

The bill would also allow individual states to opt out of providing so-called “essential benefits” and broad coverage for pre-existing conditions. It would also let insurance companies clobber you with a 30 percent penalty if your coverage lapses for more than 63 days.

Obviously, the last thing Brian Mast needs right now is for everyone living in his district to be reminded over and over that he voted for a healthcare law that would bankrupt lots of sick people and abandon others.

So it made perfect sense that the Democrats would launch the “thank Brian Mast” commercials, just to punk the freshman congressman.

Not so. Incredibly, the ads are real.

The one that has aired throughout the Treasure Coast was produced by a group of Trump campaign staffers called America First Priorities, which was formed in January.

America First got off to a shaky start when one of the six founders had to quit because of — big shocker — the Russia thing.

His name was Rick Gates, and he’d served as deputy to Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort.

For years Gates was a partner at Manafort’s lobby firm in Washington. When details of Manafort’s interactions with Russia became known, Gates was forced to leave America First.

Currently, the FBI is scrutinizing Manafort’s contacts as part of its investigation of Russian interference in the presidential election. Neither he nor Gates has been charged with any crimes.

Still, if you’re Brian Mast, you’d rather not have to explain America First’s mottled pedigree, or why that group is buying TV time on your behalf so soon after you were elected.

It all goes back to the big guy in the White House. After the first version of Trumpcare failed to reach the House floor for a vote, the president was annoyed that America First had been so quiet during the controversy.

Part of the reason was staffing problems, and part of the reason was that America First hadn’t raised that much money.

Next time around, the group announced it would spend $3 million to buy ads praising 12 members of Congress throughout the country who were supporting the new edition of the healthcare package.

One of those on the list was Mast.

Whoever thought TV commercials were a wonderful idea evidently hadn’t attended any of the town-hall meetings where Republicans were getting their walnuts scorched.

And, demographically, you couldn’t pick a worse media market than South Florida for hyping a healthcare plan that would jack up costs for folks in their 50s.

Because of that America First ad, plenty of worried patients and their families now know that Mast’s office phone number is 202-225-3026.

The hope was to generate positive calls, but not everybody wants to say thanks. In fact, Mast is probably tired of hearing from seniors with pre-existing Type 2 diabetes, or women who won’t be able to get screened for cervical cancer at Planned Parenthood anymore, if Trumpcare passes.

But that’s another irony. The House healthcare law hailed in the America First commercials has exactly zero chance of getting through the Senate intact. Changes will be significant, and even then there will be no guarantee that it passes.

So if you’re Congressman Mast, and you’re as weary of “conversing” with constituents as he appears, you should ask America First Priorities to pull their TV commercial and stop showing voters how to find you.

Or at least take the darn phone number out of the ad.

It’s an easy edit, only 10 numerals: 202-225-3026.

You’re welcome.

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