When Rick Scott first broke onto the scene in 2010, he hit the airwaves with brilliant campaign ads that sent the simple but effective message to a weary electorate. Over and over, he stuck to the message of “Let’s Get to Work.”
During a national recession, with Florida’s unemployment rate above the national average, the message appealed to many frustrated Floridians.
As the national economy continues its slow but steady rebound, Florida’s economy is following suit. In fact, general revenue flowing into state coffers is allowing the governor and Legislature to craft a $74 billion budget this year — $4 billion more than the current budget.
All this promising economic news has led to a catch phrase for the governor, who proudly proclaims, “It’s Working.” But despite sticking to a message that resonates among Scott’s shrinking base, not many Floridians seem willing to give him credit for Florida’s improving conditions. In fact, his low polling numbers indicate the opposite.
So with his reelection effort looming and with former Gov. Charlie Crist well ahead in the polls of potential opponents, Scott is trying a new tact. It seems that despite criticizing the former governor, Scott is morphing into him: a kinder, gentler populist.
Recently, a phrase he has used on occasion has become his latest catch phrase. During a meeting of the Florida Cabinet at the Capitol on Tuesday, he said it again. “It’s the right thing to do,” speaking of the student-fee freeze in higher education.
But simply saying it does not make it so. Actions must match words.
So, let’s look at his record:
When he tried to purge the voting rolls, using extremely suspect lists and kicking legitimate voters off the rolls, it was not the right thing to do.
When he signed and then defended the 2011 election reform bill that shortened early voting and led to long waits during both early voting and Election Day, it was not the right thing to do.
When he killed a private/public partnership for high-speed rail that required no state dollars for construction or operations but then approved a government-run commuter train that required at least $1.2 billion in state funds and at least 10 years of state operating funds, it was not the right thing to do.
When he allowed a $300 million cut from the state’s 11 existing universities while creating a 12th with no accreditation, students or faculty, it was not the right thing to do.
When he cut $1.3 billion from K-12 education in the 2011 session, and only replaced $1 billion in the 2012 session while bragging that he increased education funding by one billion “new” dollars, it was not the right thing to do.
When he pushed changes to the personal injury protection auto insurance bill, which removed benefits for consumers while failing to reduce premiums as promised, it was not the right thing to do.
When he pushed prison privatization, effectively putting long-term, low-wage, loyal employees out of work and reducing the level of safety for our citizens, all to make a profit for private prisons with no demonstrable cost savings, it was not the right thing to do.
When he signed the bill requiring state employees to contribute 3 percent to their pension plan after they had not received a pay increase in six years, it was not the right thing to do.
When he weakened environmental protections by dismantling the Department of Community Affairs, decimating growth management laws, firing long-time environmental advocates and starving the water management districts, it was not the right thing to do.
When he tried to turn our pristine parks into golf courses and privatized campgrounds, causing thousands of park users and volunteers to revolt, it was not the right thing to do.
When he continues to collect huge amounts of campaign cash from the very same people who are lobbying issues before him during the legislative session, it is not the right thing to do.
Really, governor? If you want to own the phrase, you have to walk the walk.
• Veto the “parent trigger” bill if the Legislature passes it by ignoring the collective voices of the very parents they claim to want to empower.
• Veto the entire budget if the Legislature doesn’t follow your top priority of $2,500 across-the-board pay raises for our underappreciated teachers.
• Veto the line item spending of member projects, earmarks and turkeys that are not a state priority and return those millions of dollars to the general fund.
• Veto any election-reform bill that does not undo all the damage done in the 2011 election-reform bill and tell the Legislature to try again to ensure that the voices of all Florida voters are heard.
• Veto the ethics and campaign reform bills if they do not represent meaningful reform and don’t include grand jury recommendations and instead are just a sham that weakens the status quo.
• Don’t allow this legislative session to end without addressing Medicaid expansion to serve the 1.1 million Floridians in need.
Paula Dockery was term-limited as a Republican state senator from Lakeland after 16 years in the Florida Legislature.