8 years of Gov. Scott

Jobs, wa­ter pol­lu­tion and po­lit­i­cal bat­tles

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Gray Rohrer Tal­la­has­see Bureau

TAL­LA­HAS­SEE – When Rick Scott ran for gover­nor in 2010, he was a po­lit­i­cal neo­phyte who barely met the re­quire­ment of be­ing a Florida res­i­dent for at least seven years. He en­tered of­fice fac­ing dou­ble-digit unem­ploy­ment, a mas­sive bud­get short­fall, a miffed GOP-led Leg­is­la­ture and in­censed Democrats.

On Jan. 8, he’ll de­part Tal­la­has­see as a po­lit­i­cal vet­eran who spent more than $150 mil­lion of his own money to win three of the most sharp-el­bowed, heav­ily fi­nanced and clos­est po­lit­i­cal con­tests in state his­tory.

He also leaves be­hind a com­pli­cated legacy of boom­ing em­ploy­ment num­bers, chron­i­cally pol­luted wa­ter­ways, a re­shaped and slimmed-down state bu­reau­cracy and a string of awk­ward en­coun­ters with cit­i­zens, law­mak­ers and – in one mem­o­rable in­stance — a king.

When Scott took of­fice in Jan­uary 2011, the state unem­ploy­ment rate was 10.8 per­cent; as of Novem­ber the rate was 3.3 per­cent, the low­est since 2006.

He made an eco­nomic turn­around his num­ber one pri­or­ity, seek­ing to be known as the “jobs gover­nor.” He calls it his sig­na­ture ac­com­plish­ment.

“If I had one re­gret, I’d like to have even more jobs,” Scott told the Or­lando Sen­tinel in a re­cent in­ter­view. “I want all the best jobs in our state.”

Scott pushed an agenda of tax cuts, elim­i­nat­ing reg­u­la­tions and re­duc­ing gov­ern­ment spend­ing. He also cold-called com­pany ex­ec­u­tives to pitch a move to the Sun­shine State and took busi­ness de­vel­op­ment trips over­seas to en­cour­age job growth back home.

His even went to other U.S. states, all of which had Demo­cratic gov­er­nors, a move slammed by crit­ics as job poach­ing. One quixotic move in­cluded a pitch to move Yale Univer­sity to Florida, which the school de­clined to do.

But for sup­port­ers, his daily fo­cus on the econ­omy is what made him suc­ceed.

“Be­cause of his style, his me­thod­i­cal style, that re­lent­less na­ture that he’s just go­ing to keep on plug­ging away with re­lent­less laser­like fo­cus on his goals, as long as he suc­ceeded in those goals he knew he would turn it around in terms of pub­lic opin­ion and per­cep­tion,” said Brian Burgess, a for­mer spokesman for Scott dur­ing his first term.

Rough start

The tone of much of Scott’s ad­min­is­tra­tion was set in the first few months, when he made a se­ries of moves that upset Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic law­mak­ers. He sold state planes with­out leg­isla­tive ap­proval, killed a fed­eral high­speed rail project from Or­lando to Tampa and or­dered

drug test­ing of all state em­ploy­ees, a move later over­turned by the courts.

Scott had plunked down

$60 mil­lion of his own cash on his bid for gover­nor in

2010, up­set­ting GOP es­tab­lish­ment fa­vorite Bill McCol­lum in the Repub­li­can pri­mary in that tea party year, which com­pli­cated his re­la­tion­ship with Repub­li­can law­mak­ers.

But the Leg­is­la­ture, while re­ject­ing some of Scott’s pri­or­i­ties, still pushed through a se­ries of con­tro­ver­sial bills that upset and en­er­gized a dor­mant Demo­cratic base. They tied teacher pay to stu­dent test scores; or­dered drug test­ing of wel­fare re­cip­i­ents (also over­turned by the courts); re­quired manda­tory ul­tra­sounds for women seek­ing abor­tions; cut en­vi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion funds; and elim­i­nated a growth man­age­ment agency. They did so while pass­ing mas­sive cuts to ed­u­ca­tion to fill a $3.7 bil­lion short­fall.

A few piv­ots

The moves made Scott, who signed all the bills, one of the most un­pop­u­lar gov­er­nors in the coun­try. Demo­cratic and pro­gres­sive groups at­tacked his ev­ery move, some­times in bizarre ways, such as when a group

of Satanists mock­ingly praised him at a 2013 rally.

His aloof style com­pounded the prob­lem, mak­ing him the butt of latenight talk show jokes. Scott’s en­counter with King Juan Car­los of Spain, for ex­am­ple, in­duced guf­faws when he re­peat­edly men­tioned the monarch’s hunt­ing trip to Africa where the king killed an ele­phant, a much-de­rided mo­ment.

Yet, Scott kept driv­ing his core mes­sage of turn­ing around the econ­omy.

“Some­how he went from one is­sue to an­other, and you kind of even for­got one is­sue ex­isted,” said for­mer Demo­cratic House Leader Mark Paf­ford. “What he did suc­cess­fully was [to] re­de­fine those in­di­vid­ual is­sues like the en­vi­ron­ment, like health care . . . and linked ev­ery­thing to jobs.”

As the econ­omy re­bounded and jobs steadily in­creased, his poll num­bers started to climb – aided by a shift from Scott on his pre­vi­ous poli­cies on im­mi­gra­tion, health care and gov­ern­ment spend­ing.

When crit­ics bashed him for bud­get cuts the first year, he dropped his cam­paign pledge to cut gov­ern­ment and drummed home the point that those ini­tial cuts the first year al­lowed for fu­ture growth.

After cam­paign­ing on strict im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment

poli­cies, Scott aban­doned re­quir­ing po­lice to check the im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus of sus­pects and forc­ing busi­nesses to check the sta­tus of prospec­tive work­ers after law­mak­ers failed to pass them his first year in of­fice.

Scott em­braced His­panic is­sues, even learn­ing Span­ish to ap­peal to a piv­otal bloc of vot­ers. In 2014 he signed a bill al­low­ing chil­dren brought to Florida il­le­gally by their par­ents to pay in-state tu­ition rates at uni­ver­si­ties.

“Of course, there were go­ing to be grow­ing pains,” Burgess said. “He comes in as an out­sider, and he’s go­ing to change the way we do things in the state. Of course, there’s a lit­tle bit of a learn­ing curve.”

But as Scott geared up for his 2014 re-elec­tion cam­paign to bash Char­lie Crist, a Repub­li­can-turned-in­de­pen­dent-turned-Demo­crat as an in­vet­er­ate flip-flop­per, he was en­gaged in some waf­fling of his own.

Scott rose to promi­nence as a staunch op­po­nent of Obamacare but em­braced a lim­ited form of Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion un­der the fed­eral health care law in 2013. GOP House lead­ers re­jected it. He con­tin­ued to back it in

2014, but as Repub­li­can state sen­a­tors read­ied a push for a sim­i­lar pol­icy in

2015 after the elec­tion he re­jected

the plan.

Scott also cut bud­gets for wa­ter man­age­ment dis­tricts, re­duced reg­u­la­tions on in­dus­trial pol­luters and signed a bill re­peal­ing a law aimed at crack­ing down on sep­tic tank pol­lu­tion. But when he ran for the Se­nate this year, he touted large in­creases in en­vi­ron­men­tal spend­ing to pre­serve springs and wa­ter­ways.

De­spite those in­vest­ments, red tide and green al­gae fouled Florida wa­ters for much of the year.

His trans­for­ma­tion from an un­schooled Tal­la­has­see out­sider into a po­lit­i­cal shark im­pressed even op­po­nents.

“He was pretty cun­ning in that re­gard,” Paf­ford said. “I think the guy in the last eight years learned Span­ish? That’s not easy, and he did a very good job at that.”

Florida tragedies

The killing of Trayvon Martin by Ge­orge Zim­mer­man in 2012 sparked a na­tion­wide de­bate over Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which ini­tially led San­ford po­lice to not charge Zim­mer­man after he claimed self-de­fense.

Un­der pres­sure, Scott re­as­signed the pros­e­cu­tor in the case (Zim­mer­man was charged with mur­der but ul­ti­mately ac­quit­ted) and con­vened a task force to re­view the law. But de­spite calls from black law­mak­ers and the Dream De­fend­ers, ac­tivists who held a month­long sit-in at the Capi­tol in 2013, Scott backed only mi­nor changes to it.

Scott also signed sev­eral bills eas­ing gun reg­u­la­tions and mak­ing it eas­ier to get con­cealed carry per­mits. He didn’t change course after the Pulse night­club mas­sacre in Or­lando in 2016 that left 49 dead and 53 wounded, view­ing it as ter­ror­ism rather than a gun con­trol is­sue, even telling one in­ter­viewer that the “Sec­ond Amend­ment didn’t kill any­body.”

But his out­look changed after the mass shoot­ing at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School in Park­land on Feb. 14, where 17 stu­dents and staff died. Stu­dents marched on the Capi­tol de­mand­ing gun con­trol mea­sures. Scott backed a slate of new pro­pos­als, even­tu­ally sign­ing a law that re­stricted gun pur­chases to those 21 and older.

“I re­sponded to what hap­pened; they’re to­tally dif­fer­ent is­sues. In Pulse it was a ter­ror­ist at­tack,” Scott said. “What I’ve done in each of these sit­u­a­tions is re­spond to what hap­pened in that case to try to im­prove the state. I want our cit­i­zens to be safe.’’

Trump and the Se­nate

Scott was one of the ear­li­est ad­mir­ers of Don­ald Trump’s run for pres­i­dent, which put him in the fu­ture pres­i­dent’s good graces but also com­pli­cated his run for the Se­nate this year.

Scott tried to keep his dis­tance from Trump’s twit­ter out­bursts and con­tro­ver­sial moves, even run­ning ads in Span­ish say­ing he would stand up to Trump when he dis­agreed with him. But he also touted fed­eral funds for things like Her­bert Hoover Dike re­pairs he at­trib­uted to his re­la­tion­ship with the pres­i­dent. As Scott pre­pares to join the U.S. Se­nate, he says he will be tak­ing his same prag­matic ap­proach in Tal­la­has­see to Wash­ing­ton, now in the throes of a gov­ern­ment shut­down.

“In Florida, this didn’t hap­pen here,” Scott said. “Even though ev­ery­body didn’t agree on ev­ery­thing, we were able to come to an agree­ment.”

OR­LANDO SEN­TINEL FILE

Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks at the Mar­riott Or­lando Down­town dur­ing a cam­paign rally for his Se­nate cam­paign on Sept. 6.

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