Florida's Leadership Divides on Scott's State of the State

By: Kevin Derby | Posted: March 5, 2014 3:55 AM
Rick Scott, Charlie Crist, Rick Perry

Rick Scott, Charlie Crist, Rick Perry

Responses came in from both the left and the right after Gov. Rick Scott offered his State of the State address on Tuesday.

In his speech, Scott put much of his focus on attacking former Gov. Charlie Crist’s record in Tallhasssee. Despite spending most of his political career with the GOP, Crist is the favorite for the Democratic nomination to challenge Scott in November.

Crist returned fire on Tuesday afternoon, going after Scott and saying he can work with members of both parties.

“The people deserve a governor with bold ideas -- someone who can work with both Republicans and Democrats to strengthen small businesses that create jobs, cut wasteful spending, and make college more affordable,” Crist insisted. “Reaching across the aisle isn't a sin -- it's an obligation. If we work together over the next eight months, next year I will deliver a State of the State that puts the people first.”

George Blair, a spokesman for Scott’s campaign punched back at Crist. "Charlie Crist's response to the State of the State calls for the governor to 'strengthen small businesses that create jobs, cut wasteful spending, and make college more affordable.' Either that's an endorsement of Rick Scott's 2014 budget, or Charlie Crist is suffering from very selective amnesia. Under Charlie Crist, Florida lost over 800,000 jobs, racked up over $3 billion in debt, and repeatedly increased tuition on Florida students. Given Crist's criticism of his own record, Gov. Scott invites him to join four out of five of his Democratic colleagues in supporting the governor's budget, just as they did last year.”

Allison Tant, the chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party, also piled on Scott.

"Today, Rick Scott doubled down on the failed policies that have hurt the middle class for three long years,” Tant said about the address. “Rick Scott confirmed that he is not on the side of the middle class -- he's looking out for the wealthiest special interests. Over and over again, he claimed to be a job creator when Floridians know that is not true. He claimed to be making investments in education, when Floridians know that is not true.

"Floridians don't trust Rick Scott, and that's because he has proven he'll say anything to win a second term,” Tant added. “This was Rick Scott's last chance to show leadership for Florida's middle class. Instead, he tried to mislead the public and delivered a series of spin-tested re-election talking points. ..."

The Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) fired back at Tant and House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, who also responded to Scott‘s address.

“Florida Democrats have no positive vision to keep Florida moving in the right direction,” insisted Susan Hepworth, a spokeswoman for the RPOF. “But this is not surprising considering they’re all-in for Charlie Crist – an opportunist who has embraced a failed law that caused 300,000 to lose the health insurance they like and will devastate many of our seniors because of major cuts to Medicare Advantage.”

Advocates from across the political spectrum also weighed in on Scott’s speech on Tuesday afternoon.

"We hope our state politicians want to keep working for all Floridians, including immigrants," said María Rodriguez, the executive director for the Florida Immigrant Coalition, playing off Scott’s repeated calls to “go to work.”

“In Florida we know by experience that when immigrants are given an opportunity, we all benefit and our culture and economy thrive,” added Rodriguez. “But something is wrong in our state when some of our high school graduates can’t go to college because they have to pay out-of-state tuition, or when thousands of parents can’t drive their kids to school because they can’t apply for a driver’s license. ..."

Lane Wright, a spokesman for the education reform group StudentsFirst Florida, cheered Scott’s address. 

“Our education system in Florida has been steadily getting stronger thanks to great leadership in this state,” Wright said. “Gov. Scott’s remarks during the State of the State should give parents and kids hope that things will get even better in the years to come. Gov. Scott’s focus on improving teacher quality, along with his commitment to give every student the best opportunities possible, will continue to put Florida at the leading edge of implementing education policies that make students the top priority.”

Liberal group Progress Florida held “Awake the State” rallies across Florida on Tuesday and continued to pound Scott.

“This governor will apparently say anything to get re-elected,” said Mark Ferrulo of Progress Florida. “His mantra is ‘let’s keep working’ but middle class Florida families are just feeling worked over. Average Floridians are fed up with Tallahassee politicians balancing the budget on the backs of hard-working Floridians. We will continue to fight Rick Scott and the tea party until we see these anti-middle class policies changed. ..."

In the meantime, liberal PAC American Bridge released two new Web videos, attacking Scott on education and the minimum wage.

But the business community continues to reinforce its support of Scott. Mark Wilson, president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, released a memo on Tuesday praising Scott and showcasing the group’s support of the governor. 

“We have contributed over $1 million to his re-election effort, and will continue to invest in this important effort,” Wilson wrote, painting Crist as a “well-known trial lawyer."

“Florida is growing again and small businesses are hiring,” Wilson added. The overall health of Florida's job creators is improving, but remains fragile.”

Still, Wilson sounded optimistic pointing to expectations that the Sunshine State will see almost 200,000 new jobs in the private sector in 2014 with Florida exports and capital funding increasing this year.

“Job creation happens when the private sector has confidence in the marketplace and in the policymakers who make the rules,” Wilson wrote. “While other states are dealing with more regulations, higher taxes and a population exodus, Florida's private sector remains encouraged by the actions of Gov. Scott, the Cabinet and the Florida Legislature.”

Scott and the entire Republican ticket -- Attorney General Pam Bondi, CFO Jeff Atwater and Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam -- won the support of another leader of the business community this week. The Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) board of directors announced on Monday it would back the four Republicans for re-election.

“AIF board of directors unanimously endorses Gov. Rick Scott and the entire Florida Cabinet in their campaigns for re-election for the 2014 election cycle," said former U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Fla., the president and CEO of AIF, on Monday. “The governor campaigned on ‘Let’s Get to Work’ and continues that mission today with ‘It’s Working Florida.'”

“The governor and Cabinet members are doing all they can to not only attract new job creators to Florida, but keep businesses in the state working smoothly and money in the pockets of hard-working Floridians through tax cuts and reduced regulation,” Feeney added. “Each of the candidates shares the same goals as our AIF board of directors, and we are proud to stand in support of them as they seek re-election this year.”

Scott also won the praise of an old political ally: Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas. Scott and Perry have often engaged in friendly competition to see whether Texas or Florida could generate more new jobs.

"Gov. Rick Scott is a strong competitor with a vision for how to create jobs and opportunity for Floridians, a vision that has helped boost the Sunshine State's economy in his time as governor,” Perry said. “Our nation needs more leaders like Rick Scott, who understand the value of freedom, innovation and competition in the states. ..."

Perry ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 and has left the door open to running again in 2016. Last week, Perry visited Iowa, home of the first presidential caucus, creating more chatter that he could seek the presidency again.

Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com.

Comments (3)

Registered independent
11:53AM MAR 6TH 2014
I have seen teachers brought to tears, literally crying because of what Scott has done to public education.
8:56AM MAR 5TH 2014
I laugh everytime the Republicans blame Charlie. The Republicans have been in charge in Florida for 16 years. While the office of govenor is important, the House and Senate pass bills, thus controlling the vast majority of actions and activities. The Gov has really authority. Most important, since the RPOF has been in charge for 16 years, everything, good, bad or indiferent, is owned by the RPOF! The commendations or blame is theirs.
8:06AM MAR 5TH 2014
I simply cannot believe the governor's speech AND his overall attitude. He comes accross as an arrogant, selfish, pigheaded liar when he speaks that it was he who brought money back in to education. Does he really believe people have forgotten his drastic cuts in funding when he first arrived in Tallahassee? He also credits himself (of course) for the drop in unemployment in Florida. I would personally challenge him to provide truthful facts supporting his claims. It's our economy which has still not "bounced back" as it should have. Travel around the country and you can observe where areas had been hard hit but have truly bounced back. Will the governor also take credit for those as well?
His general attitude towards our middle class citizens and taxpayers is appalling! His statements remind me of that fat,old ruler who shouted, "Let them eat cake!" while he, himself gobbled up all the prime rib for himself. Now, that IS our current governor!
No, I'm not saying Charlie Crisy will be so much better, however, he will govern differently than Scott and by that, hopefully bring stability back to our middle class. If not, there's always 2018!

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