Marc Caputo: Gov. Rick Scott hopes pen is mightier than past

06/09/2013 7:14 PM

06/09/2013 7:32 PM

Dear [First Name],

Congratulations! I am so proud of the hard work you have done this year. Through your outstanding efforts and the outstanding work of your teachers, you achieved a perfect score on:

[Assessment]

Bearing the name and signature of Gov. Rick Scott, form letters like this are soon to arrive by express mail at each of Florida’s 67 school districts. School workers are to fill in the blanks and personalize certificates, which are to be sent out with report cards to students who did well on standardized assessment tests.

Just in time for Scott’s reelection efforts.

There’s no shortage of eye-rolling and grumbling among educators.

None can recall Florida’s self-styled education governor, Jeb Bush, launching a campaign like this, even though the Republican made student achievement a hallmark of his campaigns, his eight-year term and his ongoing concern to this day.

Bush didn’t need to send out letters and certificates like this.

Scott does.

Scott’s high-profile interest in education stands in inverse proportion to his cellar-dwelling polling numbers.

Only 33 percent of registered Florida voters had a favorable opinion of Scott, while 46 percent had a negative feeling, according to the most-recent Quinnipiac University Florida poll released in March.

That gives Scott a favorability index of -13. It was +4 just after he took office and just before he proposed and signed his first 2011 budget that cut about $1.3 billion from K-12 education.

This year’s budget increased education spending by about $1.1 billion and the 2012 budget also boosted K-12 by about $1 billion.

Scott’s evolution on school spending, however, began almost as soon as he called for cutting K-12 in 2011. Scott’s political team quickly realized it was toxic.

So when Scott signed that first state budget two years ago, he made a point of vetoing record sums and calling on the Legislature to increase education spending. Even though he initially called for cutting even more education spending.

The House speaker at the time, Dean Cannon, chided Scott for his “sudden emphasis on K-12 education.”

In 2012, Scott launched an “educational listening tour” and then asked school districts, community colleges and universities to send out letters he penned for teachers and students.

Scott has since broadened his emphasis to include higher-education tuition.

In his first year, Scott called for big cuts to higher-education and approved an 8 percent tuition increase. The following year, 2012, he approved a 5 percent tuition increase.

This year, Scott vetoed a tuition increase, calling it a tax hike. He didn’t mention he signed two previous tuition/“tax” increases.

BUDGET SPIN

The rhetoric of Scott, too, has changed.

In 2011, he showcased all budget cuts, for which he campaigned. He compared many government programs to junk in a cluttered attic that also contained a few “priceless” things.

“Over the last month, I’ve spent a lot of time in that attic. And I’m cleaning it out,” he said when he advertised his “jobs budget” and vetoed a mammoth $615.3 million in spending.

This year, Scott’s office touted a press release headlined “Families First Budget Includes Historic State K-12 Education Funding.”

Scott also started to repair his relations with teacher and state-worker unions by calling for pay raises, instead of layoffs and de facto pay cuts.

At the same time, the economy is improving and Scott is well positioned to take the credit.

The Republican Party of Florida is sending out frequent reminders about the drop in unemployment — and the tough times under his predecessor, Charlie Crist, who might run against Scott as a Democrat.

‘GOVERNOR’S FOCUS’

That’s part of the job of being the executive; you get blamed or credited if the economy is bad or good.

And form letters, too, are part of the job.

The student letters are at the least a decent way for the governor to give students a deserved attaboy. Those who achieve a perfect score on a subject test are supposed to receive a personalized letter and a certificate; those who do well on subject tests are to get non-personalized letters.

Meantime, Scott is putting his pen to other uses. He’s making much of his “One Way Ticket to Florida” letter-writing campaign to woo businesses in five Democratically held states — California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland and Minnesota.

Also, in Florida, those who get a business license have received a form letter from the governor addressed to “Dear Business Professional.”

“I find this letter disturbing. The Governor has undoubtedly used taxpayer funds for self-service of his political office and future,” Gail Ellyson, who re-upped her Florida Broker’s License, wrote The Miami Herald in a recent email. “I resent my tax dollars being used for a tagalong political comment with my renewal.”

Said the governor’s office in a written response: “Applauding the work of business leaders in our state is a part of the Governor’s focus on job creation.”

It’s also part of his focus on getting reelected.

About Marc Caputo

Marc Caputo

@MarcACaputo

Marc Caputo is the Miami Herald's political writer. Hailing from Key West, he graduated from the University of Miami.

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