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“Rick Scott’s Epic Blunder”: Directly Insulting The Very People Whose Support He Needs

The dust-up over Charlie Crist’s portable fan at the Florida gubernatorial debate has degenerated into a war of words over which side violated the pre-negotiated rules. The truth of who plugged in what device, and on whose authority, may forever remain lost in the murk of Sunshine State politics.

But the issue here is not who is right and who is wrong. The issue is that Governor Rick Scott, by not taking the stage for seven minutes, lost the battle. And he did it in a way that is spectacularly tone-deaf. Non-participation in a debate requires solid justification, especially once the candidates are already on-site and waiting to take part, as was the case in Florida. Whatever the particulars of Crist and his Vornado Air Circulator, the annoyance did not merit the Defcon One response that Scott and his handlers accorded it. In making the event about his own petulance, Scott created a blunder that enters the annals of what not to do in a campaign debate.

Debates are frequently won and lost on the little things. Rick Perry’s “oops” moment. Mitt Romney’s $10,000 bet. Obama’s “You’re likable enough, Hillary” line. George H.W. Bush glancing at his watch. Richard Nixon’s flop sweat. Al Gore advancing inappropriately on George W. Bush and Rick Lazio invading Hillary Clinton’s space to demand that she sign a pledge. The list goes on.

Such mishaps tend to fall into three predictable categories: cosmetic problems (Nixon), strategic miscalculations (Gore, Lazio), and inadvertently self-inflicted wounds (Perry, Romney, Obama, Bush and the watch). Obviously, no candidate ever sets out to damage himself, but in the live arena of a debate, mistakes are easy to make and difficult to undo.

Rick Scott ought to have known that showing up late could only be perceived as an insult to the audience — not just those in the hall but the extended viewing audience as well. Politicians too often fail to take into account the popularity of debates among voters, and the proprietary feeling viewers bring to these programs. Debaters who show disrespect for the institution — say, by refusing to step onstage — are directly insulting the very people whose support they need.

By granting Charlie Crist several minute of valuable airtime alone on the debate set, Scott essentially handed his opponent a huge gift of free advertising. As a number of commentators have pointed out, Scott passed up a golden opportunity to upstage his rival, to use Crist’s vanity against him. Instead, Crist got to grandstand, Scott came off as pissy, and Florida politics — once again — looked nuts.

The high drama of that opening few minutes worked against Scott on a number of levels. Although the moderator backed up the Scott campaign’s point about a rules violation, he also directly attributed Scott’s absence to the fan, planting the issue front and center in the public spotlight. The catcalls of the live audience lent an air of anti-Scott sentiment to the proceedings before the debate had even started. And a cutaway shot of the fan in question, whirring innocently behind Charlie Crist’s lectern, further reinforced the absurdity of Scott’s overreaction.

The key thing about debates, and the reason politicians dread them, is that they are live. Which is to say, the participants get no do-overs. That Governor Scott could not anticipate the damaging effect of seven minutes of dead airtime speaks ill of his judgment. When the candidates reconvene for the final debate on October 21, Rick Scott had better be on time.

 

By: Alan Schroeder, Professor of Journalism, Northeastern University; The Huffington Post Blog, October 17, 2014

 

 

October 18, 2014 Posted by | Charlie Crist, Florida, Rick Scott | , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Man Of Mystery”: If You Don’t Ask, Rick Scott Won’t Tell

Rick Scott is our own man of mystery, Austin Powers without the hair mop and dance moves.

No Florida governor has ever operated with such jet-setting stealth, concealing so many details of his daily travels and contacts. He says he’s out working nonstop for the citizens of his adopted state, yet his official schedule is full of more gaps than the Nixon transcripts.

Occasionally, Floridians catch an intriguing glimpse of Scott’s shadow life. His secret hunting trip to a Texas game ranch courtesy of U.S. Sugar had been kept under wraps for more than a year before it was sniffed out by reporters from the Tampa Bay Times.

The governor still refuses to divulge who went with him, or whom he met. One known fact is that U.S. Sugar, an epic polluter of the Everglades, has donated more than $534,000 to Scott’s reelection campaign so far.

His recent predecessors regularly made public their detailed travel and work records, including political fundraising trips. Up until Scott took office, it was generally accepted that Floridians have a right to know where their governor is going, and why.

Whenever Lawton Chiles took a private plane to a campaign stop, his office released not only the names but also the phone numbers of other passengers on the aircraft. Both Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist, who’s running against Scott this year, often provided lists of who attended private meetings with them, and what subjects were discussed.

Since his arrival in Tallahassee, Scott has promised “transparency,” and on his first day signed an executive order restarting the Office of Open Government, which is supposed to help Floridians gain easier access to public records.

However, Scott’s concept of a public record is narrow, to put it kindly.

By using his own Cessna Citation instead of a state jet, he definitely saves the taxpayers money. He also conveniently shields himself from potentially embarrassing inquiries regarding his whereabouts.

The tail numbers of his plane have been removed from flight-tracking websites, so you can’t see where it’s heading or where it’s been. Scott and his staff won’t disclose even the most basic travel information — destination, times of departure and arrival — until days after the trip, if then.

Key details are typically blacked out, using a public-records exemption that was intended to shield “surveillance techniques” of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The FDLE provides security staff for the governor.

His secrecy obsession policy extends beyond his travel plans.

As part of his initial push for transparency, Scott launched Project Sunburst, which was supposed to makes available his state emails and those of his executive staff.

It would have been good for open government, if only Scott’s chief of staff (and then his successor) hadn’t ordered all employees to use private emails and cellphone texts when discussing sensitive matters.

The objective was to hide important policy-making from outside scrutiny, reducing Project Sunburst to a farce.

A suit by Tallahassee lawyer Steven Andrews has revealed that private emails were used by Scott’s top staff, and even his wife, to coordinate a $5 million project to re-manicure the entrance of the governor’s mansion and purchase nearby real estate for a “governor’s park.”

The planning was being done on state time, and the Republican-controlled Legislature obligingly allotted $2.5 million for the makeover.

For the rest of the funds, a “Governor’s Mansion Foundation” hit up major companies eager to stay in Scott’s good graces — including Florida Power and Light, Blue Cross Blue Shield and the GEO Group, which operates two state prisons.

“U.S. Sugar just came thru w check for $100k!!!” burbled the mansion curator to Scott’s deputy chief of staff, via private email.

A judge’s order was necessary before this interesting message and others were uncovered. It’s a matter of significant public interest when corporations that rely on state approval shower hundreds of thousands of dollars on a sitting governor’s pet project.

You think U.S. Sugar or FPL gives a rat’s azalea about the landscaping at the mansion? They gave the money for the same reason they write campaign checks — to purchase favor.

Scott won’t talk about this because he is, after all, a man of mystery.

Now you see him, now you don’t.

 

By: Carl Hiaasen, Columnist, The Miami Herald; The Nationla Memo, September 2, 2014

 

 

September 3, 2014 Posted by | Florida, Republicans, Rick Scott | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Bought And Paid For With A Texas Hunting Trip”: How ‘I Can’t Be Bought’ Rick Scott Overcame His ‘Disgust’

Back when he first ran for governor of Florida as a self-styled outsider, Rick Scott lambasted his opponent in the Republican primary for taking campaign money from U.S. Sugar, one of the worst corporate polluters of the Everglades.

Scott indignantly squeaked that Bill McCollum had been “bought and paid for” by U.S. Sugar. He said the company’s support of McCollum was “disgusting.”

“I can’t be bought,” Scott declared.

Seriously, that’s what the man said. Stop gagging and read on.

Four years later, the governor’s re-election campaign is hungrily raking in money from U.S. Sugar, more than $534,000 so far.

Exactly when Scott overcame his disgust isn’t clear, but in February 2013 he and undisclosed others jetted to the King Ranch in Texas for a hog- and deer-hunting junket on U.S. Sugar’s 30,000-acre lease.

Apparently this has become a secret tribal rite for some top Florida Republicans. Exposed last week by reporters Craig Pittman and Michael Van Sickler of the Tampa Bay Times, the politicians ran like jackrabbits for the hills.

All questions were redirected to the state Republican Party, which couldn’t get its story straight. “Fundraising” wound up as the official explanation for the free pig-shooting sorties.

Scott refused to field questions about the King Ranch shindig. A spokesman said the governor covered his own air flight and hunting license.

Days later, a bit more information: Scott shot a buck deer on the trip, his flack said, and paid the taxidermist out of his own pocket. What a guy!

A month after his secret safari, the governor appointed an executive of King Ranch’s Florida agricultural holdings to the board of the South Florida Water Management District, the agency supposedly supervising the Everglades cleanup.

The inner circle, you see, goes unbroken.

Florida Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam was so mortified to be asked about his King Ranch excursions that he slithered behind a door that was then shut in a reporter’s face. Slick move. Putnam is the same social butterfly who once criticized the state law forbidding elected officeholders from accepting gifts like free trips, booze and meals. Putnam lamented that the ban was “a disincentive for fellowship.”

Thwarting the statutory gift ban has been accomplished by letting the political parties operate as money launderers for special interests. U.S. Sugar, for example, gives tons of cash to the Republican Party of Florida, which then spreads it around to Scott, Putnam and other candidates for purported political expenses.

The King Ranch, which has its own sugar and cattle holdings in Florida, has also hosted GOP House Appropriations Chair Seth McKeel and Dean Cannon when he was House Speaker.

The current House Speaker, Will Weatherford, and the incoming speaker, Steve Crisafulli, have both received Texas hunting licenses, although they won’t say if they’ve been to the King spread.

Florida has an abundance of deer and wild hogs, but an out-of-state safari offers the appeal of seclusion and anonymity. Interestingly, no Republican senators or Democratic leaders appear to have participated in the King Ranch flyouts. Former Gov. Charlie Crist, Scott’s likely opponent in November, has taken contributions from Big Sugar, but said he’s never been to the ranch.

Buying off politicians with hunting and fishing trips is an old tradition in Tallahassee, interrupted by the occasional embarrassing headline followed by flaccid stabs at reform.

Nobody believes the absurd GOP party line saying that the King Ranch hunting jaunts are “fundraisers.” They’re just free (or heavily discounted) vacations.

You really can’t blame Big Sugar or its lobbyists. They know who and what they’re dealing with; the only issue is the price.

The company has given more than $2.2 million to Republican candidates in the 2014 election cycle, and there’s no reason to believe it won’t get its money’s worth.

Taxpayers, not the sugar tycoons, remain stuck with most of the cost of cleaning up the Everglades. Every time someone tries to make the polluters pay a larger share, the idea gets snuffed in Tallahassee.

Meanwhile the politicians who could make it happen are partying in Texas with the polluters — shootin’ at critters, smokin’ cigars, sippin’ bourbon around the fire. Hell, maybe there’s even a steam bath.

These are the people controlling the fate of the Everglades. They’ve been bought and paid for, just like Rick Scott said four years ago. Now he’s one of them. His staff won’t say why he changed his mind about taking Big Sugar’s money. It also won’t say where he put the stuffed head of that buck he killed at the King Ranch.

The bathroom wall would be a fitting place, hanging right over the toilet where he flushed his integrity.

 

By: Carl Hiaasen, Columnist, The Miami Herald; Published in The National Memo, August 5, 2014

 

August 6, 2014 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Florida, Rick Scott | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“All Aboard, Suckers”: Florida Taxpayers About To Be Railroaded

Here’s a really clever idea:

Let’s run express passenger trains 16 times round-trip every day between downtown Miami and the Orlando airport. That’s right, the airport.

Except the trains won’t go straight there, but will stop first in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, then head up the seaboard to Cocoa and hang a hard left 40 miles west across the middle of the state.

Oh, and the trip will take at least three hours one way.

Leaving aside the fact that you can inexpensively drive from downtown Miami to the Orlando airport in about the same time (or fly commercially in only 42 minutes), the project grandly known as All Aboard Florida raises other elementary questions.

Like, “Why?”

As it waddles down the tracks, this turkey enjoys the robust blessing of the Republican-led Legislature and Governor Rick Scott, who said the following to a reporter last month:

“It’s all funding that will be provided by somebody other than the state. It’s a private company.”

Scott’s either clueless or lying. All Aboard Florida is a future train wreck for taxpayers. With the possible exception of the Hogwarts Express, passenger rail services almost always lose money and end up subsidized by government.

All Aboard Florida already has applied for $1.6 billion in federal loans and plans to rent space at a new terminal at the Orlando International Airport, for which state lawmakers recently appropriated $213 million.

That’s just the beginning. According to the Scripps/Tribune Capitol Bureau, the company also wants the state to pay $44 million to connect its lines with Tri-Rail, the daily commuter link serving South Florida.

Only three short years ago, playing the Tea Party scrooge, Scott killed a proposed high-speed train project between Orlando and Tampa. In rejecting about $2 billion in federal funds, the governor asserted that Florida taxpayers would have ended up paying to operate the rail service once it was finished. He was right.

Now he’s yodeling a different tune, perhaps because his latest chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, formerly worked for one of the companies connected to All Aboard Florida. (When a reporter asked Scott if he’d talked to Hollingsworth about the project, he didn’t answer.)

Meanwhile, all along the proposed route, opposition is erupting. Here was the front-page headline in the July 13 Indian River Press Journal: ALL AGAINST ALL ABOARD.

Officials in Stuart, Fort Pierce, Vero Beach and other communities are rightly worried about the impact of adding 32 trains every day on the Florida East Coast tracks that All Aboard Florida plans to use.

The frequent stoppage of traffic at rail crossings is a major concern, especially because it will impede police, firefighters and other emergency responders. For residents and businesses near the track, the train noise and vibrations will be a recurring headache.

Indian River County Commissioner Bob Solari believes it could hurt local property values. And where the trains will cross busy waterways like the St. Lucie River, many say the repeated lowering of the railroad bridges will restrict boat travel and hurt the marine trades.

All Aboard Florida insists that its trains will be moving so fast that boaters and motorists won’t be inconvenienced for long periods, and it has promised to upgrade the road crossings to make them safer.

Few of the many critics seem reassured. Municipalities and counties fear they’ll be stuck with funding new infrastructure, just for the privilege of watching shiny locomotives whiz past all day long.

The whole project is anchored on the dubious notion that millions of people can’t wait to hop a train from Miami to the Orlando airport (via Cocoa). Although All Aboard Florida has sued to keep secret its ridership surveys, its website sunnily predicts that three out of four passengers will be tourists.

Tourists who are what … afraid to fly? Too scared to drive?

Talk about a narrow market.

And while it’s always beneficial to reduce the number of cars on the highway, this particular experiment can’t possibly break even. The only money will be made in the beginning with real-estate deals, by well-connected contractors working on new stations, modernizing the rails and laying 40 miles of fresh track between Brevard County and the land of Disney.

At this point, the momentum for All Aboard is all political, and only the rising outcry can derail it. Scott, who’s up for re-election, recently asked the Federal Railroad Administration to extend to 75 days the public-comment period that will follow the agency’s upcoming environmental impact study.

If the trains ever start running, spewing red ink with every toot of their horns, don’t be surprised if the state steps in to bail out the project, or asks the feds to do it.

Either way, we’ll get stung with the bill somewhere down the line.

All aboard, suckers.

 

By: Carl Hiaasen, Columnist, The Miami Herald; The National Memo, July 22, 2014

July 22, 2014 Posted by | Florida, Infrastructure, Rick Scott | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“In Florida, Anything Can Happen”: Vampires, RINOs And Things That Go Bump In The Night

From the state that gave us Katherine Harris and Mark Foley came news this week that a vampire is running for Congress.

This particular bloodsucker — actually, he does role-playing as a vampire after dark — is trying to defeat Rep. Ted Yoho in a Republican primary in central Florida. The fanged contender believes Yoho — a tea party conservative — is a liberal who has “embarrassed” his constituents.

Speaking of embarrassing, the SaintPetersBlog Web site reported that this challenger, 35-year-old attorney Jake Rush, has moonlighted as a participant in a Gothic troupe engaged in “night-to-night struggles ‘against their own bestial natures.’ ” Rush, a former sheriff’s deputy, issued a news release.

“I’ve been blessed with a vivid imagination from playing George Washington in elementary school to dressing up as a super hero last Halloween for trick-or-treaters,” Rush’s statement said, adding that he also is a “practicing Christian” who “played Jesus” in a church play.

Running for office in the Sunshine State poses some unique problems for vampires, not least their difficulty of campaigning in daylight hours. Yoho will probably keep his seat, particularly if he remembers to wear garlic.

But the Rush candidacy reminds us of an important truism in politics: In Florida, anything can happen.

For more evidence of this, consider what is happening next weekend on Amelia Island, not far from where Jake Rush and the other undead play. There, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy will speak at a fundraiser for Republican moderates. In today’s Republican Party, moderates are less popular than vampires, so it is extraordinary that these two young leaders, who have assiduously courted the tea party the past five years, are willing to associate themselves with those the tea partiers deride as RINOs, Republicans in Name Only.

“It’s great news,” says Steve LaTourette, who runs the Republican Main Street Partnership and is a board member of its offshoot political action committee, which is hosting the gathering at the Ritz-Carlton. “The fact that they want to come is very encouraging as a centrist Republican. . . . That they at least want to break bread with us I give them credit for, because they’re certainly getting attacked for it.”

That they are, in the blogosphere, on talk radio and even in fundraising pitches from tea party candidates. “Next weekend, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, and 25 other members of Congress are flying to Amelia Island to collaborate with a group dedicated to defeating conservatives in Congress,” conservative pundit Erick Erickson harrumphed.

Actually, House Speaker Boehner has addressed the group before but will be on foreign travel this time. More significant is the first-ever attendance of Cantor, who has been seen as a potential threat to Boehner from the right.

The presence of Cantor and McCarthy shows their increased confidence in defying the purity demands of organizations such as the Club for Growth, Heritage Action and FreedomWorks. You can’t get much more defiant than siding with LaTourette, who, in a Post op-ed in September, likened 30 to 40 conservative Republicans in the House to trained monkeys, writing that “the monkeys are running the zoo.”

LaTourette, a former (moderate) Republican congressman, thinks it’s a sign of things to come. He noted that of the 10 Republican House members targeted for primaries by the Club for Growth’s “primarymycongressman.com” project, nine belong to his organization. “We’re not going to lose anything,” LaTourette predicted. He noted that conservative groups have gone from saying “they’re going to kick our ass” to saying “we’re going to win one.”

It’ll be a long time before the 52 House Republican members of the Main Street group gain any real power, but from Florida anything seems possible. Florida has given us everything from former representative Allen West, the most militant of conservatives, to Rep. Alan Grayson, the most strident of liberals. Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor who lost a Senate bid as a Republican and then as an independent, is running for governor again — as a Democrat — and just might win.

Florida, too, gave us Republican Rep. Trey Radel, who recently resigned after a cocaine arrest, and Democratic Rep. Tim Mahoney, who succeeded Foley after the congressional-page scandal by promising to restore family values; he lost the seat after it was reported that he paid a staffer $121,000 to keep their affair quiet.

Now Florida is giving us vampires, RINOs and other things that go bump in the night. It is fun to believe they might be real.

 

By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 4, 2014

April 7, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Florida, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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