Re-elect Bill Nelson to the Senate. He puts Florida’s interests first.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat being challenged by Rick Scott, has called on the National Transportation Safety Board to allow the release of records pertaining to the collapse of the Florida International University bridge.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat being challenged by Rick Scott, has called on the National Transportation Safety Board to allow the release of records pertaining to the collapse of the Florida International University bridge.

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Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott was a political unknown before he ran for governor eight years ago and rode into office on the tea party wave. Reelected in 2014, the term-limited state leader wants to move to the national stage.

Floridians should say No. There is too much at stake for Florida — and the nation — for state voters to give Scott a chance to do damage on a larger scale.

Scott, a Republican, is challenging incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson in what has been a nationally watched marquee matchup from the start. Republicans think they can flip it in a state that went for President Trump two years ago. Democrats have to hang onto it if they hope to win a majority in the Senate.

In his three terms in the Senate, Nelson, 76, has made Florida, its people, its environment and its well-being his priority. After eight years, unfortunately, the same simply cannot be said about Scott.

Nelson is a fifth-generation Floridian with wide knowledge of state issues from the Florida Keys to the Panhandle. Representing Florida in the Senate for the past 18 years, he has established himself as a champion of Florida and Democratic principles.

He has been a consistent advocate for providing broad access to affordable quality healthcare and a state education system that works for all families. He has focused on protecting Florida’s environment and tourism-driven economy. A pet project is beefing up job skills training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the state.

Scott, a multimillionaire who is largely self-funding his campaign, has spent about $30 million, much of it on a television commercial that touts his hardscrabble childhood, living in public housing with his mother and siblings.

But in leaving his own childhood of poverty behind, Scott, abetted by the Republican-led Legislature, has done little to ensure that many Floridians subsisting in similarly tough conditions can do the same. During his tenure, Florida has consistently beggared traditional public schools, for instance, bestowing more-favorable funding on charter schools.

Charters, indeed, offer many families a beneficial alternative for their children. But they are allowed to cherry-pick the more promising students, whereas traditional public schools must take all comers. It hasn’t been a fair fight.

Where Nelson has worked diligently to protect Medicare and Medicaid for Floridians, Scott steadfastly refused to expand Medicaid to give healthcare to up to 1 million more uninsured residents. This left local jurisdictions responsible for providing them the most costly care — in emergency rooms.

While failing to make access to voting easier for much of his two terms, Scott, this year, overrode Secretary of State Ken Detzner and insisted that Florida accept federal funds to harden the state’s voting system against cyberattack — too late, of course, to get the funds for the 2018 election. And the governor and the Cabinet hewed to an unfair and arbitrary process to restore ex-felons’ civil rights, struck down by the courts.

Scott has been an election-year Johnny Come Lately to many issues of the utmost importance to the state. During his 2010 campaign, he was disturbingly open to oil drilling off Florida’s shores. His stance didn’t change even after the Deepwater Horizon oil-spill disaster. In January, however, he boasted that he wrestled a promise from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to not open Florida to new offshore drilling. It was a pledge that no other state with fragile coasts received and it looked like clear election-year posturing. Indeed, there remains no guarantee that new drilling won’t occur.

His poor environmental record, conservation advocates say, has led to the red tide crisis on one Florida coast and a slick of blue-green algae on the other. Red tide began in Southwest Florida this summer. Fingers are being pointed at Scott’s decision to place nutrient testing in waterways in the hands of the state rather than the more strict federal Environmental Protection Agency. The state says nutrient testing wasn’t watered down and that it was developing its own standards for our lakes, rivers, streams, springs and estuaries.

Scott defends his record and says the departmental budget actually increased $300 million under him. And, yes, the governor has since committed $14 million in state funds for research, fishery rehabilitation to address the tide. Wouldn’t that money have been better spent on the front end?

To his credit, after the horrific Parkland high school shooting that killed 17 people, Scott defied the National Rifle Association — finally — and got some modest gun control measures passed in a state that had been one of the most gun-friendly in the country.

The governor has been at his best during hurricane emergencies — although the deaths of 12 elderly residents at a Hollywood nursing home, left without power after Hurricane Irma last year, implicated his office when it allegedly failed to answer telephone calls from the home.

Again, to his credit, Scott did keep his promise to create 700,000 jobs in seven years, but they have not necessarily been the high-wage jobs that allow Floridians to have a comfortable quality of life.

Scott has been touched by scandal. He was the chief executive of Columbia/HCA, which eventually became the largest private for-profit healthcare company in the United States. Scott was pressured to resign in 1997 after the company was accused of defrauding Medicare and Medicaid. In most sectors, he has consistently favored corporate giants over everyday Floridians’ interests.

We think Sen. Nelson is the better choice to fight for Florida. The Herald recommends BILL NELSON for the U.S. Senate.