With eye on Se­nate, Scott walks fine line on NRA af­ter shoot­ing

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY JAMES VARNEY

If Florida Gov. Rick Scott has a rep­u­ta­tion for any­thing, it’s keep­ing a cool head in a cri­sis. How he is nav­i­gat­ing the lat­est may help de­ter­mine whether he wins a new job in Novem­ber.

In the after­math of the mas­sacre at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School in Park­land, Mr. Scott has be­gun draw­ing fine lines be­tween him­self and more un­yield­ing po­si­tions of pow­er­ful groups.

The Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion has blessed the Repub­li­can with its cov­eted A+ rat­ing, but the gover­nor will not be ad­dress­ing its con­ven­tion in May.

Mr. Scott has de­clined to say whether he will chal­lenge Sen. Bill Nel­son, a Demo­crat seek­ing a fourth term in Novem­ber.

With the leg­isla­tive ses­sion wind­ing down and emo­tions raw from the mass shoot­ing in Park­land, Mr. Scott will need to draw on the sorts of reserves that have stood well with him in the past as he nav­i­gates a fluid sit­u­a­tion.

“He’s per­ceived as a very com­pe­tent ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer in the state,” said Thomas Pic­colo, a Repub­li­can Party con­sul­tant in Tampa. “Now he’s try­ing to bal­ance a cri­sis with a con­sti­tu­tion­ally guar­an­teed right, and he’s been mea­sured in his ap­proach here, too, for sure.”

Mr. Scott con­tin­ued his care­ful step­ping at a Cab­i­net meet­ing last Wed­nes­day morn­ing. A num­ber of pro­pos­als, not all of which the gover­nor sup­ports, are con­tained in a bill un­der debate in the House.

The leg­is­la­tion, which passed the state Se­nate ear­lier this week and the House on Wed­nes­day evening, would raise the le­gal age for ri­fle pur­chases to 21, which is the min­i­mum for hand­gun pur­chases. Mr. Scott ear­lier said he would sign such a bill, but he is un­de­cided on a “Guardian mea­sure” in the leg­is­la­tion that deals with on-ground se­cu­rity at schools.

He de­clined to com­mit him­self Wed­nes­day.

“I’m go­ing to take the time, and I’m go­ing to read the bill, and I’m go­ing to talk to fam­i­lies,” Mr. Scott told re­porters in Florida late Wed­nes­day.

Be­fore the Feb. 14 school shoot­ing, Mr. Scott had earned a rep­u­ta­tion for disas­ter han­dling. When Hurricanes Her­mine in 2016 and Irma last year hit Florida, Mr. Scott re­ceived pos­i­tive re­views from Re­pub­li­cans and Democrats for the way he pre­pared the state for the storms and stayed on top of re­lief ef­forts.

Mr. Scott’s ac­tions saved lives and money in the face of disas­ter.

Hurricanes, though, al­low for such plan­ning. Heinous crimes like those that rocked Or­lando in 2016 and now the Fort Laud­erdale area with the Park­land high school mas­sacre do not, and Democrats say he has fallen short.

They un­veiled bill­boards in Tal­la­has­see and Or­lando this month declar­ing Mr. Scott “did noth­ing” af­ter an Is­lamist gun­man sprayed bul­lets in Pulse, a gay night­club in Or­lando, killing 49 peo­ple.

Dur­ing his seven years as gover­nor, Mr. Scott signed bills cut­ting costs for con­cealed carry per­mits and ex­panded the def­i­ni­tions of “stand your ground” self-de­fense claims.

But with 17 killed in the Fort Laud­erdale area, Mr. Scott is at­tempt­ing find bal­ance. Just how far he will go re­mains un­cer­tain, par­tic­u­larly af­ter he walked back his sup­port Wed­nes­day for the min­i­mum age of 21 for ri­fle pur­chases.

Mr. Scott has also pro­posed nearly $500 mil­lion to boost school se­cu­rity, a num­ber likely to be re­duced in the leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

Re­pub­li­cans note that such a plan is fea­si­ble in part be­cause Mr. Scott’s sound fis­cal poli­cies have al­lowed Florida to amass a sub­stan­tial rainy day fund, but the de­tails haven’t all been smooth.

Mr. Scott would like rep­re­sen­ta­tives of lo­cal law en­force­ment agen­cies to be the chief providers of school se­cu­rity. He op­poses arm­ing teach­ers, a pro­posal that the NRA and Pres­i­dent Trump have en­dorsed and a po­si­tion that has led to uncer­tainty about his sig­na­ture on the leg­is­la­tion.

Some hard-core gun rights vot­ers in Florida now are wa­ver­ing on their sup­port for the gover­nor.

Whether Mr. Scott will also lose the back­ing of the NRA and Mar­ion Ham­mer, its lob­by­ing legend in Tal­la­has­see, re­mains to be seen. Ms. Ham­mer and the NRA were staunch back­ers of Mr. Scott in his maiden gu­ber­na­to­rial bid and his re-elec­tion, but the or­ga­ni­za­tion didn’t re­spond to re­quests for com­ment on the gover­nor’s po­ten­tial Se­nate bid.

Some Florida Re­pub­li­cans are not con­cerned. When asked if she would pull her sup­port, Wal­ton County Repub­li­can Com­mit­tee mem­ber Char­lotte Flynt was aghast.

“I think that’s go­ing way over­board,” she said.

Mr. Scott’s re­sponse is fine with her, she said, and most of the other Re­pub­li­cans in the Florida Pan­han­dle, long a con­ser­va­tive strong­hold. Mrs. Flynt said she has been a gun owner for many years, as was her late hus­band, a re­tired Air Force colonel who will be in­terred in Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery this week.

“With some of the things he’s been say­ing since the shoot­ing, I find my­self ap­plaud­ing,” Mrs. Flynt said. “For in­stance, he said not every­one should have a gun, and I whole­heart­edly agree.”

The Demo­cratic Party and lib­eral groups have been out­spo­ken about Mr. Scott’s care­ful po­si­tion­ing, which they con­sider kow­tow­ing to the NRA. Mr. Nel­son at­tended a CNN event in Florida last month and chided Mr. Scott for not ap­pear­ing.

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