Michael Putney: Rick Scott, Florida’s CEO

To warm up his chilly persona Gov. Rick Scott likes to show photos of his grandchildren.
To warm up his chilly persona Gov. Rick Scott likes to show photos of his grandchildren.


It’s taken nearly three years, but I’ve finally figured out what it is that bothers me about Rick Scott’s concept of being governor. He wants to manage the state, not be its political leader. He sees himself as Florida’s CEO. It’s Florida, Inc., Rick Scott, prop.

This might work if the goal of government were to produce a profit. But it’s not. It’s to provide services to its citizens. To organize those functions and responsibilities that only government can — safe roads, highways and bridges. Efficient airports and seaports. Mass transit systems. Prisons for criminals, and police to put them there. Good schools and an economic climate that puts people to work when they graduate.

To protect the vulnerable young and frail old. To care for the disabled.

To safeguard the air we breathe and water we drink. To be good stewards of the environment.

All this takes leaders who remind us that we’re a community, not a crowd, as Lawton Chiles used to say, and have prepared themselves for public service.

I wonder if Rick Scott seriously, systematically thought about the idea of governance before he ran for governor. Did he read Rousseau and Hobbes, John Stuart Mill and John Maynard Keynes? Oliver Wendell Holmes and Henry David Thoreau? The writings of Franklin, Adams and Jefferson? The Federalist Papers? He gives no indication that he has. His speeches, his style and his demeanor indicate his reading tends to books like Who Moved My Cheese?

Sorry if that sounds elitist, but the best elected leaders I’ve known in Florida had read all those Big Thinkers and a lot more before they sought public office. I’m thinking of, among others, former governors Bob Graham and Jeb Bush. Bush, in fact, talked endlessly about “how we organize ourselves.”

Scott’s concept of societal organization is fairly straightforward: Business good, government interference bad. So you shut down the state agency that controls unbridled growth (Department of Community Affairs ), defang the agency that protects the environment (DEP), privatize much of the state’s prison system, order drug tests for all state workers and welfare recipients (Fourth Amendment be damned), make it harder for minorities and students to vote, initially turn down $51 billion to expand Medicaid and do everything in your power to interfere with the roll-out of Obamacare.

On the plus side, Scott has focused with OCD-like intensity on putting Floridians to work and luring businesses to the state. He’s had some success there, although the natural bust-and-boom economic cycle is also responsible. After slashing education funding in his first year, he has restored it to nearly the same level it was when he took office.

“I ran for governor because I didn’t like the way the country was going or the state,” Scott told the Latin Builders Association last week. He received a courteous, but not particularly enthusiastic reception from the LBA membership, who should be his people, a gimme. But they weren’t. He gave them his standard blah speech, and they gave him only polite applause.

It was the same scenario the week before when Scott spoke to a group of business leaders in Fort Lauderdale as part of his It’s Your Money tax-cut tour. Scott proposes to slash taxes by $500 million next year, a transparent election-year ploy. I spent a few minutes talking to Scott after the meeting and came away feeling like I’d been force-fed cotton candy. The interview was pleasant, but just empty calories.

Scott often reminds me of what Gertrude Stein, a San Franciscan, said of Oakland: “There’s no there, there.” I suspect there is, but this is a data-driven guy, not a humanist. I’m told that when he headed Hospital Corporation of America, Scott meticulously pored over each day’s figures on admissions, discharges, billing, etc. and that drove his decision-making.

He and his advisors recognize that he’s a cool personality and are trying to warm him up. At both South Florida events he began by pulling out pictures of his newborn grandchildren. It’s a natural “awww” moment that’s good for Scott. His pride in his grandkids is genuine, but there’s something slightly off-kilter about it. He has to show pictures of grandkids to prove that he’s got human emotions like everyone else?

Scott is the Tin Man of Florida politics. He needs a heart.

Read more Michael Putney stories from the Miami Herald

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