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Friday, Oct 31, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: The governor brags, and taxpayers get the bill

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Gov. Rick Scott says every Floridian should brag about our state.

Well, I suppose there are worse things the state’s chief executive could say. I like it here too, especially this time of the year. And the Bucs have won two in a row. Don’t we all feel dandy?

Alas, the governor’s rah-rah declaration wasn’t just about leading cheers for the good ol’ Sunshine State. It was more about leading cheers for the governor.

As the Tribune’s James L. Rosica reported Wednesday, Scott’s “yay us” was in response to reporters’ questions about why he used taxpayer money to send out congratulatory letters to new lawyers who passed the Florida Bar.

There’s nothing wrong with the governor sending a “well done” note to a deserving person, although when the salutation on such a letter is “Dear Attorney” it doesn’t exactly reek of sincerity.

It does, however, reek of politics.

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The letter not only touts the economic gains made statewide since he took office in 2010, it takes an indirect shot at Democrat Charlie Crist.

I mean, how does a letter jump from an opening sentence of “Congratulations on your admission to the Florida Bar” to “Today, Florida has created 365,500 new private-sector jobs and unemployment has dropped to 7 percent, which is good news for Florida families.”

That’s a leap that would contend for an Olympic medal.

Just so we’re clear, Scott isn’t the only governor who takes advantage of the office for a little self-promotion. Showing up for photo ops that turn into campaign mini-rallies is basically standard procedure, especially when coming up on an election year.

I mean, most polls show he is trailing Crist in a hypothetical race, so it’s understandable that Gov. Scott has felt the need in recent months to attend many ribbon-cuttings and luncheons around the state. It’s smart politics to take advantage of every chance to shout “JOBS!” and pound home his message that the economy is improving on his watch.

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But the governor is a millionaire many times over. His campaign war chest should reach close to $100 million. A political committee that wants to see him re-elected already has $23 million in the bank.

So, he couldn’t spring $524.42 to send out 1,951 “congratulatory” letters to the newest members of the Florida Bar?

You might think it would be worth that much to just avoid snarky newspaper columns that ask why taxpayers should pay for a letter that includes, “We have paid down $3.5 billion in state debt while cutting business regulations, keeping taxes low, and making government do more with less.”

That would seem to be a lot more about passing muster with voters, and not so much with “Dear Attorney” passing the Bar.

The governor’s explanation?

“Gosh, I think every Floridian ought to brag about our state,” he told reporters in Tallahassee.

That’s especially true if they can get someone else to pay for it.

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