Scott leaves mixed legacy in Florida

Out­go­ing gover­nor a key fig­ure in GOP’s tra­jec­tory

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - NEWS - Led­yard King

WASH­ING­TON – Florida Gov. Rick Scott has spent nearly eight years com­mand­ing the na­tion’s largest swing state.

The for­mer health care ex­ec­u­tive ar­rived at the gover­nor’s man­sion in Jan­uary 2011 as a small-gov­ern­ment con­ser­va­tive who had never served in elec­tive of­fice. A po­lit­i­cal novice, he had one enor­mous ad­van­tage: Fel­low Re­pub­li­cans con­trolled the leg­is­la­ture.

Over the next 71⁄2 years, Scott was at the van­guard of the na­tional GOP re­sis­tance to Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and, more re­cently, the Repub­li­can em­brace of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. Along the way, he turned down fed­eral aid for high-speed rail and Med­ic­aid ex­pan­sion, cloaked him­self in law-and-or­der ini­tia­tives and made the cre­ation of “jobs, jobs, jobs” his ob­ses­sion.

“My fa­ther was of­ten laid off. My mother took up iron­ing just so we could have food on the ta­ble. I have a clear me­mory of their fear and un­cer­tainty as they strug­gled to pro­vide for five kids,” Scott said dur­ing his first in­au­gu­ra­tion nearly eight years ago. “So for me job cre­ation is an ab­so­lute mis­sion.”

Here are 10 lega­cies Scott cre­ated dur­ing his two terms:

❚ No Med­ic­aid ex­pan­sion: Scott’s re­fusal to ex­pand Med­ic­aid left more than 700,000 low-in­come Florid­i­ans with­out cov­er­age, ac­cord­ing to an in­de­pen­dent anal­y­sis. He ar­gued the cost, which would have been com­pletely cov­ered by fed­eral tax­pay­ers for the first three years un­der “Oba­macare,” ul­ti­mately would have left Florida tax­pay­ers hold­ing the bag. Scott en­dorsed ex­pan­sion in 2013 but aban­doned the ef­fort af­ter the Repub­li­can-con­trolled leg­is­la­ture op­posed it.

❚ Jobs, jobs, jobs: With laser­like fo­cus, Scott pushed for job cre­ation in the Sun­shine State. By the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s count, the state has added 1.5 mil­lion jobs since Scott be­came gover­nor. The state’s un­em­ploy­ment rate has dropped steadily from 11.1 per­cent in 2011 to 3.7 per­cent in Au­gust, out­pac­ing a sim­i­lar na­tional trend.

❚ Al­gae blooms: Crit­ics say Scott made sev­eral de­ci­sions that led to the al­gae blooms be­foul­ing Florida wa­ters: slash­ing the bud­get of the South Florida Wa­ter Man­age­ment Dis­trict, which ad­vises the Army Corps of En­gi­neers on Lake Okee­chobee dis­charges that cause al­gae blooms in the St. Lu­cie and Caloosa­hatchee rivers; stack­ing the wa­ter dis­trict board with ap­pointees friendly to busi­ness and agri­cul­tural in­ter­ests; and push­ing for re­peal of a 2012 law re­quir­ing rou­tine sep­tic tank in­spec­tions to check for leaks of un­treated waste into wa­ter.

❚ Re­la­tion­ship with Trump: Scott’s Jan­uary 2016 ed­i­to­rial in USA TO­DAY com­mend­ing Trump’s as­cen­sion was seen as an en­dorse­ment for the pres­i­den­tial can­di­date at a time when most GOP politi­cians had yet to climb on board. The move helped so­lid­ify GOP sup­port for Trump, but it also em­pha­sized Scott’s anti-es­tab­lish­ment bona fides and demon­strated he wasn’t get­ting be­hind Florida fa­vorite sons Jeb Bush and Marco Ru­bio. Though the gover­nor has been more will­ing lately to call out Trump, Scott con­tin­ues to main­tain a close re­la­tion­ship with the pres­i­dent.

❚ Re­jected fed­eral rail money: Weeks af­ter tak­ing of­fice in 2011, Scott re­jected more than $2 bil­lion from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to build a high­speed rail line along the I-4 cor­ri­dor be­tween Or­lando and Tampa. The move was roundly panned, but the gover­nor said he was con­cerned the project would suf­fer cost over­runs and op­er­at­ing losses from low rid­er­ship that Florida tax­pay­ers even­tu­ally would have to ab­sorb. Yet ear­lier this year, he an­nounced the state would con­sider pri­vate bids to build a high-speed rail that would link Tampa-area beaches with Or­lando-area theme parks.

❚ Off­shore drilling ban: When he first cam­paigned for of­fice, Scott sup­ported off­shore drilling de­spite broad op­po­si­tion among Florid­i­ans fear­ful a ma­jor spill could harm two ma­jor in­dus­tries: tourism and fish­ing. Scott tem­pered his sup­port fol­low­ing the 2010 Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon ex­plo­sion that sent tar balls to Pan­han­dle beaches. Then, in Jan­uary, In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke flew to Tal­la­has­see to per­son­ally an­nounce that – thanks in large mea­sure to Scott’s per­sua­sive ar­gu­ments and his rep­u­ta­tion as a “straight­for­ward leader who can be trusted” – Florida would be ex­empt from the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s push to open up more oil and gas drilling off the U.S. coast.

❚ Low­er­ing state debt: State debt has been cut by more than $10 bil­lion. It has meant less money for gov­ern­ment pro­grams, a trade-off not ev­ery­one is happy about. But it also has led to up­grades in Florida’s bond rat­ing, al­low­ing the state to bor­row money at lower in­ter­est rates.

❚ Park­land gun bill: The gover­nor still re­calls the hor­ror of the 2016 Pulse night­club mas­sacre in Or­lando, but it was the mass shoot­ing at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School in Park­land ear­lier this year that ul­ti­mately led him to chal­lenge the NRA and sign a gun con­trol bill. The mea­sure Scott signed in March raised the min­i­mum age to buy ri­fles in Florida from 18 to 21 and im­posed a three-day wait­ing pe­riod for the pur­chase of long guns. Gun rights ac­tivists crit­i­cized the bill, but the politi­cian with an “A” rat­ing from the NRA showed he could tack to­ward the mid­dle.

❚ Out­reach to Puerto Rico: Fol­low­ing Hur­ri­cane Maria’s dev­as­tat­ing blow to Puerto Rico, Scott made a con­certed ef­fort to reach out to the U.S. ter­ri­tory, many of whose res­i­dents fled the crip­pled is­land for the Sun­shine State, which al­ready has a thriv­ing Puerto Ri­can com­mu­nity. The gover­nor made sev­eral trips and wel­comed those ar­riv­ing from the is­land. In ad­di­tion, he di­rected state agen­cies to “do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to ef­fec­tively sup­port the Puerto Rico re­sponse ef­fort,” in­clud­ing hous­ing as­sis­tance, cri­sis coun­sel­ing, un­em­ploy­ment as­sis­tance and le­gal ad­vice. The ef­fort has paid off, as polls among Puerto Ri­cans in Florida show strong sup­port for Scott at a time when many have an un­fa­vor­able view of Trump.

❚ Vot­ing rights: He re­versed a pol­icy au­to­mat­i­cally restor­ing vot­ing rights to non­vi­o­lent felons who com­plete their sen­tence. The de­ci­sion ap­pealed to lawand-or­der Florid­i­ans, but crit­ics said it was a po­lit­i­cal move be­cause felons are dis­pro­por­tion­ately low-in­come and mi­nor­ity – groups that tend to vote for Democrats. The is­sue is on the bal­lot this fall.


Gov. Rick Scott’s two terms in that post are wind­ing down, but he may stay in Florid­i­ans’ lives, as he’s run­ning for U.S. Se­nate.

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