Give Gov. Scott his due. He got out of the office last week and toured schools around the state — even public schools, for a change, rather than just charters — on his so-called “listening tour.”
I say “so-called” because Scott took with him — and handed out at each school before meeting with teachers and administrators — his own six-point plan for improving Florida’s schools. There are some perfectly worthwhile ideas on that list, but putting it in front of educators before asking for their opinions made it look like Scott arrived with his mind already made up. It wouldn’t be the first time. I recall his first “listening tour” shortly after he got elected when he met with state lawmakers and heard their concerns. And then pretty much ignored them. At least the Democrats.
On this listening tour the media were allowed to spend the first five minutes in the room as Scott explained to teachers and administrators what he hoped to achieve and set out his basic education goals. Once the teachers started speaking, reporters were curtly escorted out so all we know about what transpired is what they and the governor said happened. Here, verbatim, is some of what Gov. Scott said after his closed-door meeting at Boca Raton High
“ We just finished a, ah, I know we did some questions with students, which was fun and I asked, got to ask them a few things. Then we just had a good meeting with the teachers. This is the, we did Jacksonville, then Miami and this and we move tonight on over to the west coast. But the things we’re looking at is, what can we do to make sure our education system is tied to getting our students ready for a career or college.”
Word for word, that’s what Gov. Scott said. That’s not taking his comments out of context, that is the context. That’s how he speaks. His quotes are usually corrected for grammar and sense by newspaper reporters and judiciously edited to sound OK on TV. But the truth is, the governor has a hard time uttering a complete, coherent declarative sentence. He mangles language. As they said in Cool Hand Luke, “What we got heah is a failure to communicate.”
Since he has a serious problem expressing himself, one is forced to consider the governor’s body language and tone of voice. But that’s not helpful either. His voice is flat, unemotional and lacking in tonal variations. His facial expressions don’t reveal a lot either. He smiles frequently, but it’s rather mirthless. In short, Gov. Scott is opaque; his mood, thoughts and emotions almost impossible to read. This may be effective in the business world (or playing poker), but it’s a downer in politics. A psychologist might say he’s lacking in affect.
But not lacking in intelligence. Scott is a smart, shrewd guy. He rose from humble Midwest beginnings (a history he repeats far too often), worked hard and eventually earned a law degree. He went on to build and manage the largest hospital chain in America (even if it was later hit with the largest civil penalty ever for fraud). He sold himself to Floridians — with $70 million of his own money — as a businessman who could put people back to work and fix the economy. He’s had only mild success. And as for the management skills, remember that it was Scott who brought in an education commissioner, Gerard Robinson, whose tenure was an unmitigated disaster.