Rick Scott seemed fascinated with the beans.
The Florida governor grabbed a package of Goya beans off the shelf and pointed out that packages have a special lining.
“On the inside,” Scott said, “it’s an anti-static. So the beans are a little bit dusty. But you never see it. Because it [the bean dust] doesn’t attach.”
Smiling and sweeping his right hand over the package, Scott last weeksounded almost like an infomercial host at the Goya food warehouse in Doral, where he hosted his 15th regular-guy workday.
“When I was growing up, in the grocery store, the bean bags were always cloudy,” he said. “They’re not like that anymore.”
This is the Rick Scott you don’t always see: down to earth, engaging and fascinated with the smallest of details — from the appearance of beans to a genuine interest in what tamarinds are.
Often, though, he’s guarded, aloof and muddling details to such a degree that it blows up on him.
And that’s the Rick Scott giving fellow Republicans heartburn these days.
Earlier in the week, Scott traveled to Washington and penned an op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times that, in the eyes of Florida budget experts, wildly inflated how much President Obama’s plan to grow Medicaid would cost the state budget.
“Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration put out their estimate of what the expansion will cost, just for Florida taxpayers, and it’s over $26 billion,” Scott said in DC.
Scott didn’t mention that AHCA is his agency.
Nor did he say that, weeks before, the agency was told by staffers with the Republican-led Legislature that the estimate couldn’t be used by the state. The number didn’t jibe with the Obama Administration’s policies or with federal law, which says the federal government will pick up a larger share of the cost of the expanded Medicaid health-insurance program.
Under fire, the agency Thursday lowered the price tag to Florida by as much as $21 billion — an 80 percent decrease.
Republicans were aghast; 2013 was supposed to be a re-branding year, a charm offensive when Scott shored up shaky poll numbers and put himself in position to handle the onslaught from an energized Democratic Party when he faces reelection next year.
But instead, Scott began the New Year by playing right into the Democrats’ narrative of him. They’ve spent years fashioning him as an untrustworthy figure who ran a hospital company that ultimately paid a record Medicare fraud fine for allegedly cooking the books.
And Scott went along by touting untrustworthy budget numbers about healthcare.
Less than 24 hours after his agency’s budget-number do-over, Scott shrugged off the controversy during his Friday workday at Goya and then Sedano’s Supermarket in Westchester.
“I think it’s positive that we’re having a discussion about how much the president’s healthcare bill is going to cost us,” Scott said.
Asked if he made an error in how he framed the issue, Scott said: “I always try to improve on everything I can do, but here’s what we know: Government is not free.”
He explained that he and his agency are concerned that government healthcare programs usually cost more than their original estimate. And, he said, the federal government could ultimately renege on paying for so much of the Medicaid program, sticking Florida with the bill.
“I want to make sure we have a healthcare safety net that has access to quality care that we can afford,” Scott said.
What has Scott done to make healthcare more affordable? Nothing directly so far. At least 1 in 5 residents is uninsured in Florida. Scott said he’s concentrating on job-creation — cutting taxes on businesses, for instance, to spur more hiring.
“The more people get back to work, the more people have healthcare coverage,” said Scott, who plugged a manufacturing tax cut.
The jobs-jobs-jobs message carried the day for Scott in 2010.
Since then, Florida’s economy has improved. Businesses are hiring. The unemployment rate is falling. At Goya on Friday, he learned that there’s a nationwide bean conference for grocers and food distributors every year. And he vowed to try to get that held in Florida. Ever dollar, every convention, every visitor counts.
The job statistics and Scott’s determination should help him in 2014.
But there’s a chance voters might not give him the credit he hopes for when it comes to the economy, which is improving across the nation.
Scott is still undoing problems partly of his own making, from cutting education spending his first year to angering I-4 Corridor leaders when he cancelled federal bullet-train money.
Scott is calling for more and more schools money. He’s more accessible to lawmakers and the news media. And he launched his workday program last year in a nod to the workdays of former Democratic Gov. Bob Graham, one of the state’s most-popular political figures.
But if he doesn’t get his numbers right or if voters don’t see the friendly guy at Goya, all the governor’s workdays might not amount to a hill of beans.