FLORIDA

What the pooch says about our governor

 

carlton@tampabay.com

Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.

—Mark Twain

We may disagree on debt ceilings and fiscal cliffs, abortion rights and gay marriage, but here in America, we tend to hold our dogs dear.

Even when dogs and politics mix.

History can debate what lost Mitt Romney his presidential bid, but I will always believe it was in some small part an Irish setter named Seamus. Seamus got famous for being taken on a Romney family vacation strapped atop the station wagon for hours, an act seen as cruel. This is not helpful when you are a candidate who is very rich and hoping to win over the Average Joe who can read much into how a man treats his dog. OK, so anti-Romneyites sometimes left out the part about Seamus being in a dog crate, a minor mitigator to many of us dog enthusiasts. “MITT IS MEAN!” bumper stickers proclaimed, and columnists, cartoonists and late night comics took their shots.

If Romney was dogged by the shame of Seamus, Rick Scott has now wrought the fate of Reagan.

Back in 2010 when he was running to be Florida’s governor, Scott made the naming of his cute new rescue dog, a doe-eyed yellow Labrador, a “fun contest” on Facebook. And yes, that’s Reagan as in the Republican president, since dogs adopt the politics of whoever fills the dish with kibble. And good for Scott. I was disappointed back when President Barack Obama opted for a purebred over a shelter pooch and all the good it could have done doomed dogs.

Today, Scott is one unpopular, awkward politician struggling to soften his image in hopes of another term. You would think cynical PR types would eagerly trot out Reagan the family rescue, since some of us are willing to forgive a man a lot given evidence that at least his dog likes him.

But as the Times’ Lucy Morgan reported this week, Reagan is gone. Current and former Scott spokespeople (who apparently learned little from those “Mutts Against Mitt” T-shirts) stonewalled, one of them even mocking questions about Reagan’s fate.

Finally, Scott said the rescue dog “couldn’t be around anybody that was carrying anything” and this scared people. Soon after the Scotts got to Tallahassee, he said he gave Reagan back to his prior owner. A spokeswoman later said the dog was returned to a Naples grooming and boarding business. We later learned he is reportedly living on a ranch.

And is anyone but me puzzled that a canine candidate to live in the governor’s mansion wasn’t vetted for suitability like a Supreme Court nominee? All of which might have been a teachable moment about a tough situation, had Scott’s people not been busy doing this dance that made you wonder if the dog had outlived his usefulness or just no longer matched the furniture. (The family now has a rescue Lab called Tallee, we are told.)

So we are left with a sense of a lack of forthrightness. You do not improve your image nor build trust when your people blow off questions about the family dog you took public in the first place.

No, this one’s not about fixing Florida’s voting problems, creating jobs or other critical issues of the day. It’s just the for-now governor and his former dog, and what voters decide it says about him.

Sue Carlton is a columnist for the Tampa Bay Times.

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