Well, Eustis is not exactly a barometer of overall Florida sentiment. Floridians may understand the need to pare budgets and reconfigure pensions and eliminate positions, but they don’t regard their kids’ teachers or state troopers or park rangers as enemies. Layoffs are not regarded as grand political accomplishments, to be celebrated before an angry mob.
Scott didn’t seem to grasp until the November election that he doesn’t live in the old Jim Crow bastions of Mississippi or Alabama or South Carolina, where mean talk means votes. Florida’s votes, despite efforts to tamp down Democrat turnout, went to Obama, while tea party darling U.S. Rep. Allen West was tossed out of Congress.
We’re not in Eustis anymore, Toto (that’s my line, not Shakespeare’s). Governors, in a state like Florida, got to govern the whole damn shebang. Our King Richard seems to have figured this out. Scott has finally endorsed rolling back the so-called “voter reforms” that led to hours-long waits at urban polls.
And Scott’s proposed budget suggests a $1.2 billion increase in public school funding, including $480 million to provide $2,500 annual raises for those once-disparaged teachers. He’s bumping up the money for higher education, earmarking $75 million for the Florida Forever land-buying program and budgeting $60 million toward Everglades restoration. None of these line items are much palatable to the tea party. But he’s not running for the post of tea party martyr.
There are mean cuts in his budget, to be sure — 3,647 state jobs would be eliminated. State workers are looking at their seventh straight year without a raise. Scott shorts both mental health and substance-abuse-prevention programs. But at least he’s not couching these miseries as political triumphs. “ No beast so fierce but knows some touch of pity,” as that other Richard said. Of course, he said that not long before he was clubbed and stabbed to death by an army of his unhappy constituents.
The rehabilitation of Rick Scott still seems a formidable task, though his handlers have something that poor Richard III’s champions lacked in their centuries-long rehab efforts — a $100 million campaign war chest.
But his tea party allies must be feeling much betrayed by his sudden lurch toward political moderation. And his enemies, inside the party and out, will be out to further sully his reputation before next year’s primaries.
As Richard III complained, “ And every tongue brings in a several tale, And every tale condemns me for a villain.”