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Thursday, Dec 18, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Scott’s game of dodge-the-question may have consequences

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Published:   |   Updated: August 11, 2014 at 10:17 AM

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The economy is humming. People are getting back to work, and more jobs are coming into the state every day. Incumbent Gov. Rick Scott ought to be 30 points ahead of likely challenger Charlie Crist in the polls.

He is not. Polls show the race is essentially even.

It seems curious that a sitting governor with such a record would be laboring to beat someone like Crist, who has enough personal baggage to fill a Boeing 777. The following Miami Herald account of an interview with Scott may offer an explanation.

Reporter Michael Putney, WPLG-TV, was asking Scott about gay marriage in our state. Scott said he is against discrimination but, well, goshdarn it, voters in Florida passed a law in support of “traditional” marriage.

I guess the governor realized answering the question directly would force him to take an actual position. After repeating that he doesn’t favor discrimination, the reporter asked, “Aren’t gays being discriminated against?”

“Let’s talk about jobs,” Scott quickly said.

No, let’s talk about “Talking Points Rick” and the way he retreats behind rhetoric when questions move into areas he would rather not discuss — and folks, that covers a lot of ground.

His feeling about climate change?

“JOBS!”

The computer meltdown at the state unemployment office that meant lengthy delays of rightful benefits to Floridians?

“JOBS!”

Using on-duty sheriff’s deputies as props at a campaign rally when the law says they can’t do such a thing?

“JOBS!”

Yes, indeed, Scott has had his share of issues since taking office in 2010.

His former lieutenant governor, Jennifer Carroll, resigned under a cloud. There are lots of raised eyebrows about his entanglement with All Aboard Florida, a “private” rail project connecting South Florida and Orlando. It is private except for, well, $230 million to build a station in Orlando and millions more in grants and publicly backed loans.

Adam Hollingsworth, Scott’s (third) chief of staff, worked for the company pushing All Aboard Florida and was a key voice in Scott’s rejection of $2.4 billion in federal high-speed rail money (and the JOBS that would have been created).

He says he is a friend to education, but Scott cut $1.3 billion from public schools in his first budget.

His second budget cut $300 million from state universities (while, incredibly, he approved the start-up Florida Polytechnic near Lakeland). Per-student spending is lower than it was under Crist.

The Bright Futures scholarship program has been slashed.

One of his four education commissioners, Tony Bennett, resigned after eight months following revelations he changed the way Indiana schools were graded, to the great benefit of a failing charter school supported by wealthy Republican backers.

Scott was for Medicaid expansion in Florida, then changed his mind. There was the nutso voter purge that blew up in his face. There was ... oh, I’m running out of room.

That’s bad, but voters seem to have reacted with a collective “meh.” Playing dodgeball on every issue of substance, though, could be something different.

Voters tend to pay more attention as elections get closer, and with three debates and many campaign appearances between now and November they will want answers. So far, the governor gives them talking points they have heard a thousand times.

Answers with substance? Not so much.

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