Four years ago, Rick Scott, a little-known former health care executive with a checkered past and few discernible political skills, managed to slip into the Governor’s Mansion by the barest of margins.
It seemed a fluke, the result of a crushing wave of anti-government — particularly anti-Obamacare — sentiment. It also helped that Scott was able to pump $75 million of his own money into a campaign that spent three times more than had ever been spent on a Florida governor’s race.
And in the early going, Scott’s performance was difficult to watch, as the new governor, faced with revenue shortfalls, harshly cut education, environmental safeguards and other key programs.
The political novice seemed indifferent to Florida’s resources and history. His administration even entertained a plan to build golf courses in state parks.
If Scott had continued to govern with such ideological blinders, the case for replacing him with former Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican turned Democrat, would be compelling.
Say what you will about Crist’s political ambitions and mutations, he cares about Florida, and he cares even more about pleasing voters.
But Scott did something after his rocky start for which he does not receive sufficient credit. He listened to critics, studied the issues and adjusted his policies to better reflect public priorities, particularly as increased state revenues allowed more spending.
He sought to invest wisely in schools, conservation, disabled children programs, transportation and other state needs.
By no means did he abandon his anti-tax, small-government principles. Throughout his administration, he’s worked to strengthen the private sector by slashing more than 3,000 regulations on small businesses and cutting dozens of taxes.
Scott also brought a private sector-like discipline and accountability to government.
Agencies were expected to have a clear mission and a plan to execute it. He required state workers to contribute 3 percent of their salaries to the state pension fund, just as most private-sector workers must contribute to their retirement funds.
Transforming government, of course, is a herculean task, and success has not been uniform. But Scott is making progress.
Campaigning on the need to create new jobs, Scott also became the state’s chief corporate recruiter, relentlessly working to persuade companies to relocate to Florida or expand here. Economic development officials tell us they have never seen a governor as involved in job recruitment.
Similarly, Scott focused on boosting tourism, with impressive results. Visitor numbers are setting records, and may reach 100 million this year.
The governor also strategically funded ports, roads and other infrastructure to enhance commerce.
Scott does not deserve all the credit for the state’s economic rebound, but his business-friendly policies and tireless labors to attract new enterprises clearly are strengthening and diversifying the economy.
The governor also has been attentive to the needs of Florida families, seeking to keep higher education costs affordable, cutting taxes and fees, and pushing through reforms that attacked the car insurance fraud that was driving up everyone’s premiums. A special concern has been increasing the adoption rate of children.
We still have our differences. We believe Scott erred in cavalierly killing the high-speed rail project, which could have created jobs and economic opportunity in our region.
The decision seemed driven more by anti-Obama politics than data.
It was a mistake to approve the establishment of Florida Polytechnic as the state’s 12th university while the university system’s budget was being slashed.
Despite an improving environmental record and a pledge to spend $1 billion on water conservation, Scott’s early indifference to Florida’s natural heritage remains a worry. His commitment to consumer protections and a foresighted energy policy remains unclear.
But those concerns do not outweigh the fact that Scott’s drive, attention to detail and keen focus on economic growth have improved Florida.
We’ve known Crist for many years and have endorsed him in most of his campaigns. He was a decent, if cautious, governor who responded responsibly when the economy tanked. His politics may be mutable, but he has been a consistent advocate for consumer protection, open government, the environment and education.
This year’s choices for governor are not nearly as depressing as the critics would have you believe.
Scott and Crist have their flaws and past lapses, but both have shown they can lead the state, though their styles and beliefs may differ. The same can’t be said of Libertarian candidate Adrian Wyllie, whose radically unrealistic views would likely wreck the economy.
Another Crist term would not send the state spiraling. He would likely lead as the cautious moderate he’s mostly been.
The Republican Legislature could check any serious liberal foolishness, though a Democratic governor could block legislative efforts to expand school choice, pension reforms and additional tax cuts.
And voters should remember Crist chose to abandon the governor’s office to advance his political career and seek a U.S. Senate seat. Scott, in contrast, is focused on the job at hand.
Scott remains intent on instilling efficiency, discipline and purpose in government and making Florida the best place in the nation to do business.
But he’s pursuing those goals with an increased awareness of Florida’s diverse needs.
In the Florida race for governor, The Tampa Tribune recommends the re-election of Gov. Rick Scott.