Rick Scott’s uphill race for a second term



It must be an election year because Rick Scott is doling out the goodies. Practically shoveling them out the door in his proposed budget.

He’s added an extra $31 million for the beleaguered Department of Children & Families, whose budget he cut last year. There’s an extra $65 million for Everglades restoration and $30 million more for seniors (they vote). Scott is promoting extended sales-tax holidays right and left and a promising a $500-million tax cut, most of it by slashing auto-tag fees.

What’s not to like about Scott’s budgetary largesse? Very little, and thank goodness the state’s economy has improved to be able to do it all. Well, perhaps not all. A Herald/Tampa Bay Times study found the governor and Legislature will have to cut about half a billion dollars elsewhere to pay for all the budget goodies the governor’s proposing.

Much of Scott’s new-found budget generosity is at odds with his previous budget priorities. Scott was understandably stingy in his first three years when the state was struggling out of the recession. At the same time, however, Scott found hundreds of millions for tax incentives and breaks for business while he cut education funding by $1 billion.

When the cries of outrage reached Tallahassee, the governor quickly reversed course and now considers himself an education champion. His latest budget proposal hikes K-12 education spending by $542 million to $18.84 billion. But the Florida Education Association says that’s still not enough to cover new costs for school districts, including the technology upgrades needed for computer-based tests. And, once again, Scott short changes traditional schools on capital needs, setting aside PECO funds only to renovate or build charter schools.

Ask Scott about that, or almost anything else, and you’re likely to get a bland monologue about the talking point of the day. He is as unresponsive to reporters’ questions as any governor in memory.

When he recently visited AeroTurbine, a jet engine repair facility in Miramar, I asked Scott how many of the 462,000 new jobs in Florida that he claims credit for were the result of his labors and how many were the result of a national economic turnaround. Scott, ever smiling, launched into a meandering story about his 2-year-old grandson who wants to be a cowboy and how Scott is working so that one day he can pursue his “American dream” job. Nice, but not on point. And when I asked if a PPP poll showing him closing the gap on Charlie Crist was good news for a second term, the governor said he was only thinking about Florida’s economy and putting people back to work.

Ah, but there’s an unseen team of PR elves in Tallahassee who do nothing but think about Scott’s re-election. His press office daily sends out a blizzard of “news releases” in which his latest pronouncements are praised to the heavens by a host of friends and admirers. Of course, all the people quoted are either GOP lawmakers or members of state boards and commissions whom Scott appointed.

One recent missive from governor’s press office had 11 pages — 11 pages! — of hyperbolic quotes about Scott from various GOP toadies. One former Scott appointee to a state board says the quotes are churned out by “sycophantic EOG staff.” My friend said they would call him beforehand and read the quote that would be attributed to him. Pretty cheesy.

The Scott PR machine is also busy sending out tweets from “#What’s Working Today.” You’ll remember that Scott ran on a mantra of “Let’s get to work.” For his re-election he’s moved on to “It’s Working” and the Twitter handle continues the theme. A recent Scott tweet invited Fox’s Sean Hannity to come on down: “You should leave high-tax, freezing NY and come to low-tax, sunny FL.” Great, just what we need — Sean Hannity in the state to help keep us fair and balanced.

When the Scott PR mavens have nothing else to do they send out emails blasts with Scott’s latest appointments to state boards and commissions. Here’s a typical one: “Gov Rick Scott Appoints Three to Immokalee Water and Sewer District.” Whew, stop the presses!

It’s all supposed to make you think the governor is a whirlwind of engery and activity. Without doubt, Scott is hop-scotching around the state, mostly visiting companies that have opened a new facility and made some new hires. At these stops he usually gives the CEO the “Governor’s Business Ambassador Award,” a gold-colored medal on a ribbon. He also has taken to handing out other medals and awards, the criteria for which are vague. But it makes for some nice photo ops.

You’d think all this prodigious PR effort and nonstop travel would be reflected in the polls, but a new Q Poll has Charlie Crist back up by eight points. More worrisome for Scott, a solid majority think Charlie would do a better on jobs and the economy.

And 54 percent of Floridians say Scott doesn’t deserve a second term.

Charlie hasn’t broken a sweat yet (or organized much of a campaign), but has the better poll numbers and The Mo. Rick Scott is running hard, but doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere.

Read more Michael Putney stories from the Miami Herald

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