Why won’t the governor answer questions? I don’t mean silly, inconsequential questions, which any elected official can ignore.
No, I’m talking about questions concerning serious policy, personnel or legislative matters. Ask Rick Scott about any of those, and you’ll get not an answer but a recitation of his talking points. Over and over again. Virtually word for word.
It’s been going on for nearly four years, but seems to have gotten worse lately. Last Friday, for example, during a campaign stop in Doral I asked the governor to clarify his statement after Monroe County Judge Luis M. Garcia ruled that the state’s gay marriage ban was unconstitutional. In his statement, Scott said he believes in “traditional marriage,” but opposes any kind of discrimination.
“Aren’t you trying to have it both ways on this issue,” I asked? “No,” replied the governor, “but in 2008, the voters decided that this state would be a traditional marriage state. It’s going through the court system. But what’s important to me is I don’t want anybody to discriminated against.”
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But isn’t it discriminatory, I asked, when a same-sex couple tries to get a marriage license in Florida and can’t? Aren’t they the victims of discrimination? Fixing me with wide, unblinking eyes and a mirthless smile, Scott replied: “I’m against any discrimination. But in 2008, the voters decided this would be a traditional marriage state.”
When I started to ask another question hoping to get a real answer the governor cut me off: “Let’s talk about jobs — 37,000 jobs in a month! It’s the biggest jump, Michael. Michael, this is our biggest month since I got elected.”
True, the jobs numbers released last Friday are impressive and good news for the state. Better news for Scott, who is taking full credit for the improvement, as any politician would. But I wasn’t asking about jobs. Asking Scott about jobs would be like asking if Geico can save you 15 percent on insurance — everybody knows that. Lordy, he’s the “jobs governor” and don’t you forget it!
I also asked the governor if he’s troubled by the scalding death of prison inmate Darren Rainey and if he still has confidence in Department of Corrections Secretary Michael Crews. He gave me the same answer I got when I asked him that question two weeks earlier: “Every inmate needs to be safe, every corrections officer needs to be safe, the Miami-Dade Police are investigating and when they’re done we’ll look at that. But here’s the positive: We’re at a 43-year low in crime in our state.” Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, Scott always returns to his talking points.
A day or two before my encounter with Scott some reporters in Tampa tried to pin him down on whether it was kosher for his campaign to have invited on-duty cops to show up in uniform for a campaign event, which is against the law. Around and around they went, the reporters asking and the governor repeating, ad nauseam, that he was “appreciative” of the support he’s getting from law enforcement. No matter how the question was phrased, Scott’s answer was almost word-for-word the same.
That drew ridicule from CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who featured Scott on his “Ridiculist” segment. He ran the Tampa video clip and commented, “What the hell are we talking about? That’s the point of talking points, to throw you off track. Except it really doesn’t work, it just insults everybody’s intelligence.”
Point taken. We media types are paid a living wage (Scott won’t give a straight answer either on whether he supports a higher minimum wage) to have politicians insult our intelligence and vice versa. We’re locked in our strange pas de deux with them and delude ourselves into thinking we’re leading. But when it comes to a Q&A with Scott, he’s leading and all we can do is show it to you.
But here’s the point. We in the media are your surrogates. We ask politicians the questions we think you want answered. They often bob and weave and duck and evade us — it’s all part of the game. But Scott takes it to another level. When a governor flat-out refuses to answer legitimate questions, as Rick Scott does, he’s not disrespecting reporters, he’s disrespecting you.
Correction: In my last column I erred in reporting the gist of the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision that struck down key portions of the Defense of Marriage Act. The Court ordered the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages that had taken place in states where they are legal. Apologies.