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Meet the Governor

June 19, 2012

Before moving to Florida, I had never paid much attention to the state’s politics, except for the few cases when it was unavoidable like the 2000 election clusterf**k.  Now that I’m here, the more I learn, the more it looks like organized crime.

The object of the game is to divert public funds into the pockets of private supporters, to privatize as many government functions as possible and award the contracts to perform those functions to wealthy contributors, and to cripple what’s left of the state government’s oversight and policing agencies.

The former old-school capo di tutti capi, Jeb Bush, has semi-retired and can’t quite hide his disdain for the barbaric youngsters that replaced him, led by Governor Rick Scott.  But he’s willing to swallow his distaste for their style and tactics because, basically, they further the same interests that the old regime had supported.  The only problem is if the new guys’ slash-and-burn tactics might create a public backlash.  That wouldn’t be good for business, capisce?

My first thought when I saw Rick Scott’s photograph soon after he took office on January 4, 2011 was that he looked like he had been separated at birth from the Tucson shooter Jared Loughner who went on a rampage about the same time.  They both have that weird glint in their eyes that says “this dude is crazy!”

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I’m pretty sure that Rick Scott has never actually shot anyone, but in the year and a half he’s been governor, he has been able to do an awful lot of damage.

The astounding thing is that Scott managed to be elected at all.  Prior to running for governor, his major credential was building a huge Texas-based private for-profit health care company called Columbia/HCA which in 1997 was brought up on federal charges of massive Medicare fraud, and eventually admitted to 14 felonies.  Scott resigned as CEO, under pressure from the company’s board, and decamped to Naples, Florida with a nice settlement and his fortune intact, and—best of all—no personal criminal charges.  When questioned, Scott seemed almost unable to remember that he had anything to do with the company.  Isn’t it amazing how CEOs never know anything about what’s happening in their companies despite the astronomical salaries they pull down?

One other detail:  Scott was once a partner of George W. Bush in ownership of the Texas Rangers baseball franchise.

Scott was deeply involved in opposing the Obama health care legislation, and then launched his bid for the Florida governorship, spending a reported $78 million of his own money on the primary and general election.  He managed to catch the wave of the Tea Party movement, which apparently regards defrauding the government as a good thing, and won the election by a margin of less than 62,000 votes (out of 5.3 million cast) over Democrat Alex Sink.

Since the election, many Floridians are apparently experiencing voters’ remorse, and Scott’s polling numbers have gone from bad to worse. Within a year of taking office, Scott had become the country’s least popular governor with an approval rating of only 29 percent.  According to Public Policy Polling, even Republicans now barely support Scott, and he would now lose to little-known Democratic State Senator Nan Rich of Broward County (who recently announced her intention to run) by a double digit margin.  Unfortunately, 2014 is still a long time away.

So, what has he done while in office?  The Miami New Times recently published a handy list (read the whole thing with details here) of the dirty dozen:

  1. He privatized almost all of the state prisons in 18 counties (including Broward and Palm Beach) opening the door to private prison companies that supported his election to win the contracts.
  2. Began a systematic suppression of voters by undoing reforms under Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist that had made it easier for non-violent offenders to have their voting rights restored.  Now they must wait 5 years after completion of their sentences.  Those most affected:  African-Americans.  Their most common crime: drug possession.  Then he made drives for signing up new voters practically impossible (see earlier post).
  3. Mandated drug testing for state workers (but not state legislators) and welfare recipients.  The welfare thing had been tried in the 90s, but was a total failure with few recipients showing up positive and was abandoned.  Then it turned out that one of the companies that would be paid for doing the tests was Solantic which was founded by Scott and his wife.
  4. Sought to repeal the law creating a prescription drug database which had been designed to help control the rampant trafficking of prescription drugs in the state.  Ultimately, he had to backtrack on this.
  5. Proposed privatizing Medicaid statewide despite less-than-successful results of a pilot program in Broward County.
  6. Failed to acknowledge an apparent conflict of interest between health-related proposals and his reported $62 million investment (technically in his wife’s name) in Solantic until it became a media issue.
  7. Cut funding for persons with disabilities.
  8. Gave new tax breaks to business, while cutting unemployment benefits.  Now the length of time someone can receive unemployment is indexed to the unemployment rate—the lower the latter, the shorter the former.
  9. Has avoided the press whenever possible and evaded sunshine laws.
  10. Returned federal funds for building a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando, and then misstated the numbers that supposedly were the reason for the decision.
  11. Gutted state agencies charged with environmental protection and acquisition of land of ecological importance.
  12. Slashed funding for public schools, while approving privately-run, but publicly-funded virtual charter schools.

Scott’s latest fiasco also involves vote suppression and was launched with great fanfare last month with the “news” that untold thousands of non-US citizens were on Florida’s voter rolls.  The campaign to purge the lists has attracted national attention, but turned up relatively few actual fraudulent registrations.  In fact, a number of names on the supposed fraudulent list turned out to be perfectly legitimate, and most of Florida’s counties have now suspended a systematic search because the data they were given to work with turned out to be faulty.  But Scott is still sticking to his guns.

And yes, he supports the “Stand Your Ground” gun law and appointed known supporters to the panel that was supposed to review the controversial law.

All of which makes me wonder why there hasn’t been a recall movement started.  After all, Miami-Dade County got rid of Mayor Carlos Alvarez last year for what seem to me to be lesser offenses.  But nothing of that nature seems to be brewing, and Rick Scott still has a lot of money for a re-election effort.

Maybe his slogan could be:  “Crazy, but not as dumb as Rick Perry.”

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