Gubernatorial Contenders Clash on the Economy
Around the State
The economy was front-and-center Monday in the increasingly contentious Florida gubernatorial race as Gov. Rick Scott announced Florida's unemployment rate dropped to 6.1 percent in January, the lowest it's been since June 2008.
Scott noted that more than 500,000 jobs had been created in Florida since he took over from former Gov. Charlie Crist, the favorite for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination despite spending most of his political career as a Republican. Speaking at a media event in Orlando, Scott highlighted the unemployment rate dropping almost 2 percent last year, the largest drop of any state according to a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"We are creating an opportunity economy where businesses can continue to grow, and with more than 500,000 new private-sector jobs in Florida in just over three years the progress we have made is evident," Scott continued. "We have come a long way in three years, but let’s keep working to make sure every person who wants a job can have one.”
Jesse Panuccio, the executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity stressed the same theme.
“With a 5-point drop in the statewide unemployment rate and more than 500,000 new private-sector jobs created since December 2010, we have another successful chapter in Florida’s economic turnaround story,” Panuccio said on Monday. “More Florida families are getting back to work across the state, and there is still more work to do to foster an opportunity economy for Florida’s present and future generations.”
But Crist’s team fired back with campaign spokesman Kevin Cate insisting Scott had promised to make 1.7 million jobs. Scott’s team insisted their policies would create 700,000 jobs over seven years during the 2010 campaign.
"Rick Scott’s 1.7 million jobs promise is failing because he handed a billion dollars in corporate tax breaks to his buddies for almost no jobs, while cutting education and training," Cate said on Monday. "He is still desperately attempting to take credit for a recovery that’s more anemic than what the economy was already predicted to do on its own."
The Florida Democratic Party also hit Scott on Monday, with Chairwoman Allison Tant attacking the governor for not supporting raising the minimum wage.
“Helping Florida working families succeed should be something we are all on board with ... right?” Tant asked supporters on Monday. “Rick Scott doesn't think so. In fact, talking about raising the minimum wage makes him ‘cringe!’
“His failed leadership is crushing Florida's struggling middle class families,” Tant added. “Instead of cheap political games, Scott needs to do the right thing and raise Florida's minimum wage.”
The Florida Democrats are currently gathering petitions urging Scott to raise the state minimum wage.
In the meantime, Scott’s team continues to take aim at Crist. Over the weekend, the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) released an ad attacking Crist for defending President Barack Obama’s health-care law.
“Charlie Crist is the only candidate in America who is giving Obamacare the full embrace,” said Greg Blair, a spokesman for the Scott campaign. “Obamacare has already cancelled health insurance for hundreds of thousands of Floridians and raided Medicare at the expense of 1.3 million Florida seniors. Now the president has finally admitted that many Americans will lose their doctors as a result. It’s appropriate that this ad is the first of its kind because there’s no bigger cheerleader for Obamacare than Charlie Crist.”
Trying to catch Crist in the Democratic primary, former Florida Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich is also throwing jabs, even as she unveiled a new endorsement. Rich won support from the National Organization for Women (NOW) over the weekend as she continues her underdog challenge for the Democratic nomination to challenge Gov. Rick Scott in November. Despite spending most of his career as a Republican, former Gov. Charlie Crist is leading Rich in polls of the Democratic primary.
“Today at the National Organization for Women brunch, national NOW President Terry O'Neill announced the endorsement of my campaign for governor by National NOW Inc.," Rich informed supporters on Saturday. “NOW members will work in Florida to elect me!
“Women are going to make the difference in this election and will make sure Rick Scott is a one-term governor,” Rich added.
Rich is increasingly trying to lump Scott and Crist together as she tries to win over Democratic primary voters. Over the weekend, she turned up the heat on both of them on education.
“Charlie Crist has been asking Democrats to support him because he says he’s better on education than Rick Scott,” Rich insisted on Saturday. “Actually, Charlie Crist tried to weaken Florida’s class size cap for public schools. He expanded vouchers for private, religious schools by tens of millions of dollars, he even threatened to withhold education funding from schools that used union payroll deduction funds for political purposes. When it comes to education, Rick Scott and Charlie Crist are more the same than they are different, and Florida deserves better.
“I’ve always believed public money should stay in public schools,” Rich added. “I believe education funding should be a priority for Florida every year, not just in election years. As governor, I’ll do what’s right for children, not big corporations.”
Rich is not the only dark-horse candidate going on the attack. While Scott cheered the news that Florida’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.1 percent for January, his Libertarian rival isn’t buying it.
Adrian Wyllie went after Scott on Monday, insisting the lower unemployment rate means nothing.
“The number of working Floridians has decreased dramatically on his (Gov. Scott’s) watch, and his lackluster policies have directly resulted in thousands of lost jobs in Florida,” Wyllie insisted on Monday. “Florida’s labor participation rate has fallen from the 25-year average of 62.4 percent, down to 59.6 percent, according to the Florida Legislature Office of Economic and Demographic Research.
“It’s easy to tout positive unemployment numbers when you stop counting the 441,859 Floridians who have given up hope of finding work,” Wyllie added. “Take a stand for putting people back to work -- not taking them out of the equation!”
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com.