What a world of difference between the Rick Scott campaigns of 2010 and 2014.
During his first campaign, Scott was a relative unknown in political circles; he spent nearly $70 million of his own money and did little fundraising through the primary election. He had very few elected officials supporting his candidacy and bemoaned special interests and the party apparatus for selecting their candidate and treating other Republican candidates as unwelcome.
Legislative leaders worked against him, including the Senate Rules chairman who pointed out his record at his former company and basically called him a crook.
But four years later, now facing re-election, Gov. Scott is well known but not particularly well liked. He's willing to dig into his checkbook again, but he probably won't have to. Through his campaign, his political committee and the Republican Party, he has raised over $50 million, maybe close to $100 million.
Large chunks of his campaign cash came from the same special interests he earlier derided. In fact, he called out Bill McCollum, the 2010 party favorite, for taking money from U.S. Sugar then, but he is happy to let them be his sugar daddy now.
Today Scott enjoys the public support of nearly all elected Republicans, with some of his most vocal supporters ironically the same individuals who were his most vocal opponents in the last election. He now controls the state party and its resources and directed the party to keep other Republicans out of the race — the very strategy he assailed when he was not the chosen one.
Then, Scott was the “Outsider,” gloating at his primary victory party that the Tallahassee political elite would be crying in their cocktails. He's now the “Insider,” sharing laughs with them over cocktails.
In 2010 Scott campaigned on passing an Arizona-style immigration law. But Scott quickly went silent on that cause after the Florida Chamber of Commerce and agriculture interests expressed their opposition. In the 2014 legislative session, Scott supported and signed legislation to grant in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants.
Soon after taking office, Scott proudly boasted of a huge cut in education funding. Legislators settled on a $1.3 billion cut, far less than what the governor recommended. Higher education also took a hit — $300 million. He announced his cuts and frugal budget to a cheering crowd of tea party faithful at The Villages, a retirement community in Lake, Sumter and Marion counties.
Now the governor, facing a tough re-election, wants the electorate to believe he is “the education governor” and has unveiled a promise to raise per-pupil funding to the highest levels in state history. That's interesting, since per-pupil spending was at an all-time high during weak economic times under the previous governor whom Scott is trying to defeat. His proposed education budget — $19.6 billion.
Additionally, Scott has had four budget cycles to convince the GOP-controlled Legislature to do just that. The last two budgets were the healthiest in state history, with record levels of revenue and spending.
What? The frugal governor has signed a budget — two, in fact — that had record spending levels? Yes, and in the last $77 billion budget, he vetoed a mere $69 million, one of the lowest veto amounts in recent history, particularly compared to his $615 million in vetoes of items in the first budget of $69 billion.
This week, Scott continued his metamorphosis, this time on education policy and funding, while on his Education Tour. He promised to form a committee to investigate Florida's standardized tests. He also promised a review of the Common Core/Florida State Standards. Common Core opponents responded with skepticism, having been to that rodeo with him before.
Scott had more new tunes to roll out on his statewide tours. After starving environmental programs — vetoing $300 million for Florida Forever, cutting $700 million from water management districts, and undoing hard-fought springs protection legislation — he now promises $1 billion in funding for the environment.
Then there was the transportation tour. While turning down $2.2 billion of federal transportation funds for high-speed rail and dismissing the benefits of stimulus funds, the governor now promises $10 billion in funding for transportation projects to put Floridians to work.
His theme song for 2014 should be “Hey, Big Spender.” Education? More money! Environment? More money! Transportation? More money!
And how's the tour going? It sold out!
During Scott's first term he sold out public schools, the environment, and high-speed rail. Now it looks like the fiscal conservatives are getting sold out, too.
Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland. She can be reached at PBDockery@gmail.com.