State Politics

Gov. Rick Scott hits the road, seeking political payback

Area business leaders and workers gather around Florida Gov. Rick Scott after a roundtable discussion about the local economic impact of VISIT FLORIDA and Enterprise Florida in Panama City Beach.
Area business leaders and workers gather around Florida Gov. Rick Scott after a roundtable discussion about the local economic impact of VISIT FLORIDA and Enterprise Florida in Panama City Beach. AP

Call it the Rick Scott retribution tour.

Sure, the Republican governor’s office called his stops in Cape Coral, Tampa, Panama City and Jacksonville this week the “Fighting for Florida’s Jobs” tour. But they all, coincidentally, have one big thing in common.

The four stops have been in the districts of four of the nine House Republicans who last week voted to kill two of his most cherished agencies: Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. And in each stop Scott was sure to remind business leaders that their locally elected representative was part of the group of nine Republicans on a key committee that defied him and voted to completely eliminate those two agencies.

The political stakes of the agencies are huge for Scott. He’s tied his tenure as governor to these two agencies, which he claims have been keys to Florida’s creating 1.2 million private-sector jobs since he was elected.

House Republicans have moved to kill the agencies, saying both are forms of “corporate welfare” that put the government in the role of picking some companies over others to get funding.

In Tampa on Monday, Scott responded by literally standing in Rep. Shawn Harrison’s district when he went off on the Republican for backing the plan.

“I am shocked, right here locally Shawn Harrison voted against Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida,” Scott told reporters after repeatedly telling business leaders at the Museum of Science and Industry that Harrison voted for the bill to kill the agencies.

Harrison responded on Twitter, telling supporters that as a small business owner he’s never taken incentive dollars and that “taxpayer funded job creators should prove themselves!”

Later it was off to Flagler Beach, where Scott launched into Rep. Paul Renner, who represents that community.

“I was shocked last week your local state Rep. Paul Renner presented a bill in a House committee to completely eliminate Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida,” Scott told dozens of local business owners.

In case anyone didn’t catch the name, Scott went after Renner two more times during the roundtable and singled him out again when speaking to the media later. At one point he accused Renner of essentially saying he thinks Flagler Beach has enough jobs and doesn’t need any more.

“But your politicians in Tallahassee today are saying, in your area, that they don’t need any more jobs,” Scott said. “That is exactly what Rep. Paul Renner said.”

Renner didn’t exactly say that, but has declared economic incentives unfair because not every business gets taxpayer support.

Scott’s hit list also put him in Cape Coral earlier on Monday and then in Panama City early Tuesday. State Reps Dane Eagle, R-Cape Coral, and Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, also voted for the bill to kill the agencies.

In each of the stops, Scott has also had a handout that shows overall job creation in each county, the drop in the unemployment rate, and jobs that Enterprise Florida has been responsible for bringing to the area.

During his stop in Panama City, Scott made clear that his travel itinerary is not accidental.

“I’m going to travel the state and I’m going to make sure everybody knows the importance of this vote,” Scott said.

It’s an impossible political spot for House Republicans. Loyally backing House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s efforts to kill both agencies puts them sideways with a two-term Republican governor who has the power to veto bills and projects dear to House members. Side with the governor, and suddenly they are at odds with the Speaker, who can alter committee assignments, kill legislative agendas, and help decide how much, if any, to kick in to their re-election campaigns.

“It was a difficult vote for a lot of members,” Rep. Halsey Beshears, R-Monticello, said of the House Careers and Competition Subcommittee vote last week where the bill to kill the agencies passed on a 10-5 vote.

Beshears said he has no fear of Scott’s trying to call him on the carpet because he said his mostly rural district has seen little benefit from Enterprise Florida.

“I’m disappointed with him about calling out members like that,” Beshears said.

Scott hasn’t shown up in everyone’s backyard yet. For instance, Scott has yet to hit Sarasota County, where Reps. Julio Gonzalez and Alex Miller have districts. Both voted for the bill as well. But there, one of Scott’s biggest supporters and an influential donor to local candidates, Jesse Biter, penned a letter to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in which he accused Miller and Gonzalez of betraying the business community.

“We deserve better than Alex and Julio,” Biter, a member of Enterprise Florida’s board of directors, wrote in the letter.

Gonzalez said the criticism is unfair because he doesn’t know how he will vote if the bill makes it to the full House. He said when he voted for the bill last week, he did so just to keep the conversation about the proper role of government in the marketplace going.

The bill still has more committee stops and has no companion bill in the Senate. The bill would have to pass both the House and the Senate and get the signature of the governor to become law.

It’s hardly the first time Scott has tried to use public pressure to get what he wants out of the Legislature. Last January, Scott had a campaign-style bus tour and used television commercials to try to pressure state lawmakers to boost funding for Enterprise Florida.

It failed. Instead of getting $250 million for job incentive programs, Scott got nothing.

Still, that result isn’t stopping Scott from calling out members. Nine of the panel’s 10 Republicans voted for the bill. The only Republican to oppose the plan was Rep. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, a longtime ally of Scott’s who sounded much like Scott in defending those agencies before the vote.

“Jobs, jobs jobs,” Gruters said just moments before the committee voted to kill the agencies. “The state wins when we bring targeted industries to our communities. We will have another economic downturn and we need to do everything we can to diversify our economy.”

Contact Jeremy Wallace at Follow @JeremySWallace