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Scott says deeper budget cuts ahead

11 October 2011
Gov. Rick Scott recently said on a radio show that the state is going to suffer deeper cuts to its budget this year.

Scott had previously anticipated a $1 billion-plus surplus.

Last week, Scott said during an interview on the Bob Harden radio show said that a projected $2 billion shortfall "is really frustrating."

"We are going to have to go through - tighten our belts, again - and look at how we spend our money," he said.

Scott also said to "let him know" if anyone has any ideas on "how to reduce spending in the state." He said "no one comes to his office and says, ‘Gosh, Governor, why don't you cut spending here?'"

"No, they come and say, ‘You know, I know we are spending a lot of money in this area, but let's spend some more money in this area for a brand new program,'" he said to the radio host.

Last year, the state of Florida cut millions from public programs that provided services to low-income families. Health services for women and children took a big hit this past year, in particular.

Healthy Start, an organization that provides high-quality prenatal care services for at-risk mothers and health care services for children in Florida, lost millions in funding. The state's health departments also suffered big cuts this year. Funds were also cut from a community health center that provided health services to at-risk seasonal farmworkers in Apopka.

A policy research group reported that the state actually made unnecessarily austere and harmful budget cuts this past year. Economists have also said that severe cuts to state budgets, like in Florida, are "a big part of why the economy is back at risk." Because of the decreased spending in states, economists warn there is an increased risk of another recession.

According to a recent poll, a majority of Florida voters feel that Scott's budget was "unfair to people like them" and "do not approve of his handling of the state budget."

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Governor's 7-7-7 Job Plan: Rick Scott's Full Flop

11 October 2011

If Rick Scott assures you it's absolutely not going to rain, you'd be wise to run for shelter. You're about to get drenched.

No politician is immune from embellishing the facts to make himself look better, but Florida's governor is in another category altogether. If he doesn't like the facts as they are, he simply makes up new ones without acknowledging the contradiction. And he does it without a trace of shame.

Scott has told plenty of whoppers since he burst on the political scene less than two years ago, but he's outdone himself with his latest rewrite of his own history. Remember that campaign pledge to create 700,000 new jobs in Florida over seven years? He made it abundantly clear - repeatedly - that his pledge involved new jobs, above and beyond the 1 million jobs that economists projected through normal growth. It was a cornerstone of his campaign.

But in his 10th month in office, when he's discovered that it's easier to talk about creating jobs than actually doing it, Scott had made a huge revision. Instead of having 1.7 million new jobs after seven years, they can look forward to just 700,000 new jobs. Florida would lose 300,000 more jobs than they could expect without Scott doing a thing.

See, anybody who thought Scott was promising 700,000 new jobs in addition to normal growth was wrong. Scott claims to be baffled about how they got that impression. "I don't know who said that," the governor said last week. "I have no idea."Perhaps a review of the televised joint appearance with his Democratic opponent last October might provide a clue. "Our plan is seven steps to 700,000 jobs," he said then, "and that plan is on top of what normal growth would be." He said pretty much the same thing to reporters during the campaign and at another forum in October.

All are recorded and available on the PolitifactFlorida website at http://bit.ly/n6LXbz. Both the Politifact analysis and an accompanying video with before-and-after interview statements from Scott are worth looking over for their direct-and-damning details.

Politifact, an independent fact-checking operation founded by the St. Petersburg Times, concluded that Scott was guilty of a "full flop" on his campaign promise. That shouldn't have surprised anyone. In 52 other checks of Scott statements in his brief political career, Politifact concluded that 14 statements were entirely or mostly false, 12 were only half true and three were so outlandish they merited the label "pants on fire."

Floridians have a right to expect better from their top elected official. Much better.

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Rick Scott Adversary "Pink Slip Rick" Starting Broward County Task Force

10 October 2011

Gov. Rick Scott doesn't always make appearances in Broward County, but when he does, the folks from "Pink Slip Rick" would prefer to be there.

They're the ones who hand-delivered pink slips to the governor as he played doughnut salesman during one of his "Let's Get to Work" days, sent robocalls and Mad Libs back to the governor's office, and hold rallies to protest Scott just about whenever they can find him.

Since the governor is slated to make an appearance in Hollywood tomorrow, it seems fitting that the "Broward County Pink Slip Rick Task Force" would hold its inaugural meeting tonight.

The Denny's at 5645 S. University Drive in Davie will host a handful of lefties who aren't exactly the biggest fans of the governor around 7 p.m. today to plan out their stunts.

"We are proud to introduce our Broward Meet Up host, Eldon Weaver, who will be facilitating the meeting tonight," Florida Watch Action Executive Director Susannah Randolph says in an email to supporters. "We will be discussing Rick Scott's visit to the Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood, FL this Tuesday, October 11th and any plans we can make to give him this job-killing, anti middle class governor the pink slip!"

According to an announcement made by Florida Watch Action a few weeks ago, the Broward task force won't be the only one starting up:

Together, we've built a grassroots organization from the ground up that has captivated the media and helped expose Pink Slip Rick for the anti-jobs Governor he is. Thousands of Floridians have taken to the streets - and thousands more have taken to the internet to protest Scott with mad libs, petitions, and robocalls.

But this fight isn't over. In fact, now is the time to turn up the heat and take this battle directly to our communities.

That's why today, we're turning our sites toward organizing PSR Task Forces in every community in Florida.

On October 10th, Florida Watch Action members will meet across the state in communities to start taking this fight to the local level. Can you join up to host a meeting? If not, will you sign up to RSVP to one?

This movement is nothing without people like you making the effort to fight for middle class families.

That's why we need you to come out on October 10th and start organizing this fight in your neighborhoods, your cities, and even your blocks. Pink Slip Rick isn't finished yet - but we have the power to stop his radical agenda if we rally together and build the kind of movement we need to battle him in every part of Florida.

So please, go here and sign up to host an event on October 10th - or agree to RSVP to one in your area:


These meetings will be hosting by regular folks, just like you. We'll provide the details and information as it approachs but right now, we need you to get involved in this effort right now so we can keep beat Pink Slip Rick.

Thank you for being a part of this effort,

- Susannah

Regardless from the obvious political leanings the group falls under, the stunts they pull are often pretty damn funny, even earning the affection of Rachel Maddow, who called the reverse robocall effort the "political tactical innovation of the day."

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Gov. Rick Scott e-mails ‘cleaned out’ from third source

5 October 2011
E-mails from Gov. Rick Scott’s Blackberry are part of a host data that has been lost from his transition into the governor’s office.

E-mails on Gov. Rick Scott's BlackBerry may have been lost in another technology mix-up inside his office.

Scott and his staff have acknowledged that his account and at least 37 others from his two-month transition - a crucial stretch after Election Day when key hires are made and a first-year policy agenda is shaped - were lost when a contract ended with a private company that stored the e-mail data.

Scott also lost about 50 e-mails from his iPad when a staffer inside his office updated software for the device.

Now it's a BlackBerry.

"It's becoming quite a pattern," said Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, chair of the Senate Government Oversight and Accountability Committee. "The first question the public is going to ask is what's being hidden. That is a very legitimate question to ask."

Records from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement show that, after a Herald/Times public records request, investigators tried to retrieve Scott's transition e-mails from his BlackBerry.

Investigators were told the wireless signal had been turned off on Scott's phone, which meant the e-mails might remain on the phone, according to the FDLE records.

Investigators did recover some e-mails but found that the wireless signal had been activated, syncing the device to the empty transition account and deleting the records from the phone, Jennifer Roeder, of FDLE's Digital Evidence Section, wrote to colleagues in April.

"None of those e-mail accounts exist anymore, so the BlackBerry cleaned out the cache of e-mails that were no longer accessible on the servers," Roeder wrote.

The Herald/Times first reported in August that e-mails from Scott's two-month transition were not retained - a possible violation of Florida's public records law.

Scott and his staff have acknowledged nearly all accounts from the transition were lost when a contract ended with Rackspace, the Texas-based private company that operated the accounts.

Scott ordered the FDLE to investigate why the accounts were deleted and whether any e-mails could be retrieved.

Records show Scott's team was aware the e-mails were deleted as early as March and that FDLE investigators knew in April.

Scott declined to comment Wednesday.

"As soon as they get their investigation done, we'll get the information out," Scott said.

News that the governor's e-mails were cleared from a third source drew lawmakers' attention.

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said the Legislature should review the public records law for ways to tighten requirements for a governor's transition into office.

"He was a businessman. I can only imagine the last thing he was thinking about was keeping documents prior to becoming governor," Fasano said. "Either his advisers did not understand the public records law or they were ignored."

Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said he would review recommendations on expanding public records law from the Florida Commission on Open Government, of which he was a member.

"It's important that what we do is publicly available," Weatherford said. "It's accountability. It shows the process of how we make decisions. And that should be scrutinized by the public."Scott lost at least 50 e-mails from his iPad when a staffer inside his office updated software for the device in April. Scott's legal advisers disclosed that information last week in a meeting with the Florida First Amendment Foundation, an open government advocacy group whose board includes members of the media, including The Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times.

The foundation then requested records from FDLE related to the agency's attempt to restore the iPad. Those records show investigators were also unable to collect documents from his BlackBerry.

Roeder recovered 87 pages of content, but some messages appeared truncated or otherwise incomplete, something common in e-mails on BlackBerrys.

"The bad news: There is no way for me to prove that we got all of the e-mail content off the phone because the messages have been cleared out of the phone," Roeder wrote in an e-mail.

A member of Scott's transition team warned colleagues in January that the Rackspace accounts were closing and suggested they retrieve any records they needed. But Scott's team said they didn't know that meant the accounts would be deleted, as Rackspace's policy states.

The FDLE e-mails also give a window into the frustration the issue has created for state investigators.

Brett Cureton, in FDLE's Computer Crime Center, wrote the iPad was "too new" to recover records. "Forensics always lags behind new technology," he wrote.

Roeder wrote that she wished the "freaking e-mails were still on the freaking phone."

"The only explanation that I have is that s - - - happens - unsatisfying but true," she said.

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Florida reels in a keeper, Time Warner, as another big one quietly gets away

7 October 2011
What one Florida business incentive giveth, another Texas business incentive taketh away.

This is a cautionary tale of two companies recruited by jobs-hungry states. One business is bringing jobs to Tampa Bay, lured by taxpayer incentives. Another's exiting our metro area, lured to Texas by - what a coincidence! - taxpayer incentives.

Florida economic development officials cheered last month's recruiting coup. Tampa Bay beat out Atlanta with an incentive-laden deal to bring Time Warner and its pledge of 500 jobs by 2016 to Hillsborough County. Those jobs will carry average salaries of $57,200.

Time Warner chief financial officer John Martin was a veritable poster child for Florida's pro-business climate. "You have created a business environment where we can feel good about investing today with an eye toward growing in the future," he said.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott joked that "we only need 1,400 of these announcements" to meet his 2010 campaign promise to create 700,000 jobs in Florida within seven years.

Now let's talk about the company that got away, about the loss of jobs and a corporate headquarters nobody wants to address.

Clearwater's CCS Medical, Tampa Bay's 11th largest private company with $420 million in revenues, slipped quietly out of Florida last month and moved its headquarters to suburban Dallas.

Its pledge to Texas: 230 jobs in the next two years. Average compensation: $69,000, including benefits.

Dirk Allison, CCS Medical's CEO, says the company chose to move its headquarters to the Lone Star State because of "a superior business climate and a strong workforce."

Wait a minute. If Time Warner likes Florida's business environment enough to add hundreds of jobs here, why did CCS Medical flee Florida for the "superior" climate of Texas?

The answer is that businesses make relocation and expansion decisions based on many factors. Incentives is one. The cost of doing business is another. An area's quality of life can play a big role.

Even petty factors matter. If the CEO really likes saltwater fishing or hates snow, Tampa Bay's a winner. If he's a Cowboys fan, we may be out of luck.

Luring businesses from one state to another is a lot like musical chairs. Different businesses are sitting in new seats when the music stops. But in the big picture, did much happen to really help each economy?

To woo Time Warner, Florida offered about $3 million in state and local tax incentives.

To lure CCS, Texas committed up to $506,000 for training. And a town near Dallas called Farmers Branch, where CCS landed, will pay $250 per job for up to 150 jobs, for a maximum of $37,500.

Maybe the biggest winners are all the moving vans that ship corporate possessions back and forth. Or the office spaces that get redecorated.

In this tale, we have two places - Tampa Bay and suburban Dallas - that get to crow about their newly recruited businesses.

Maybe that's important. In this lousy economy, Florida's feel-good message - We're bringing good jobs here at a critical time with our hard work! - may boost sagging confidence and signal that we are competitive.

I must admit I felt better after hearing about the Time Warner deal and reading the headline in Atlanta's newspaper: Tampa beats Atlanta in bid for 500 Time Warner jobs.

CCS Medical's CEO has Texas roots, so he probably leaned toward pulling out of the Sunshine State. And a big investor in CCS - which makes stuff like diabetes test strips, catheters and incontinence supplies - is a firm based in Texas.

By no means is this tale meant to rain on Time Warner's arrival here. Welcome to the neighborhood, TW!

Still, economic development pep rallies can feel a bit contrived. Why is there so much celebration over one company arriving when others get conveniently ignored when they leave?

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Gov. Rick Scott changes the math for '700,000 jobs'

5 October 2011

Rick Scott, the candidate, ran on a platform of creating jobs. That's why the businessman-turned-politician won a bruising Republican primary last summer, he said. That's why he squeaked by Democrat Alex Sink in November 2010. "That was my whole campaign," he said in February. "Seven steps to 700,000 jobs over seven years."

And more than a year since candidate Scott rolled out his 7-7-7 plan, Gov. Scott still talks frequently about those 700,000 jobs.

But just how do you keep track?

Scott the candidate offered one measure: "Our plan is seven steps to 700,000 jobs," he said in a debate a year ago, "and that plan is on top of what normal growth would be." Now Scott the governor is offering another. "700,000," he told reporters Oct. 4, 2011, when asked how many jobs he promised to create.

"But the initial promise was to create 700,000 on top of projected growth," Scott was asked.

"No," Scott said.

While the creation of those jobs is a central promise we're tracking on the Scott-O-Meter, we wanted to rate Scott's statements about his promise on our Flip-O-Meter, which PolitiFact Florida created to measure whether a candidate's shifting on any particular position.

Scott: 'We're going to grow 700,000 more jobs'

Let's rewind to July 2010. State economists had already estimated Florida's recession rebound - no matter who the new governor might be - would add more than 1 million jobs by 2017. On July 21, Scott unveiled his 7-7-7 plan. He would introduce "accountability budgeting." He would reduce government spending. He would cut regulation. He would focus on job growth and retention. He would invest in world-class universities. He would shrink property taxes. He would get rid of the state's corporate income tax. Those changes would create 665,000 jobs over seven years. He rounded up, and the 700,000 jobs promise was born.

Reporters wanted to know: If the state's expected growth alone was projected to restore 1 million jobs, did that mean Scott's structural changes to spending, regulation and the tax code would add 700,000 more?

"Are those jobs that are in addition to the number of jobs that are going to be created automatically, just without any change in tax policy over the next five or 10 years?" a reporter asked Scott while traveling on his campaign bus. (We know, because we have the video.)

Scott answered yes, then pointed out that jobs aren't created automatically. The reporter then corrected himself.

"Well, projected. The job creation that is projected over the next five years," he said.

"It's what's projected, yeah. It's what's projected, yeah," Scott said, nodding. "It's on top of that. If you do these things we're going to grow 700,000 more jobs."

Reporters had their answer. Scott's plan would "grow 700,000 more jobs" than Florida would generate without him.

Three months later, Scott made pretty much the same statement during a debate sponsored by Leadership Florida and the Florida Press Association. (We have video of that, too.)

"Our plan is seven steps to 700,000 jobs, and that plan is on top of what normal growth would be," Scott said.

The debate moderator later noted that would mean creating about 1.7 million jobs, when only about 1 million Floridians were currently unemployed.

"We're going to grow the state," Scott responded.

In November, Florida elected the jobs governor.

Scott: 'I don't know who said that'

Not long after that, Scott moved the goalpost.

The new promise: Create 700,000 jobs. Period.

In June, Scott spokesman Brian Burgess touted news that Florida had added 50,000 jobs since January, saying that Scott was going to count every one toward keeping his promise.

In the same few days, another Scott spokesman, Lane Wright, brushed off a question about Scott's original promise to create 700,000 jobs "on top of what normal growth would be."

"Gov. Scott committed to creating 700,000 jobs in seven years, and we are on track to meet that goal," Wright said.

In August, the governor himself weighed in. An Associated Press reporter reminded Scott that his jobs plan was designed to generate 700,000 jobs on top of those restored by the state's expected growth.
"No, that's not true," Scott said.

So, the reporter pushed, statements by his campaign were totally wrong?

"I don't know who said that," Scott said. "I have no idea."

Last week, the governor again faced the question he was asked as a candidate, nearly a year prior. This time, instead of a debate audience, Scott faced members of the Sun Sentinel editorial board.

"Your pledge was for 700,000 in addition to normal growth, wasn't it?'' Scott was asked.

No, he replied.

The problem with Scott's new position is that there are at least two times during the campaign -- captured on video -- where Scott said the exact opposite. And in both those cases, someone asked Scott a follow up question. And in both replies, Scott reinforced his position -- 700,000 jobs, on top of normal growth.

Now, Scott says it's just 700,000.

To be clear: That's a difference of about 1 million jobs.

The governor's plan was on the record, and it was specific. His policy changes, from regulatory reform to spending cuts, would result in job growth. Instead, his office has counted every net new private sector job - starting from before the governor had a chance to change policy. For the governor, that means a tally of more than 71,000 jobs since January. On the Flip-O-Meter, that counts as a Full Flop.

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Rick Scott, "Worst Governor Ever" Electee, Confirms He'll Seek Reelection in 2014

4 October 2011

It's no surprise by any stretch of the imagination, but Gov. Rick Scott has finally confirmed to the News Service of Florida that he's going to run for reelection in 2014.

His announcement comes on the heels of being polled at the highest approval rating of his governorship -- 37 percent.

He's still the least popular governor in the country -- at least according to polls -- although he recently spent an entire week as just the second-least popular governor in the country, outpolling Ohio Gov. John Kasich by one percentage point.

One thing Scott will have to get over for a successful reelection bid is his record in courtrooms.

He's been shot down by the Florida Supreme Court for exceeding his power, a circuit judge ruled that the prison privatization plans in the state budget ran afoul of the state Constitution, and, of course, this:

Of course, there's still the issue of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigating his missing emails.

Actually, there are still several issues he'll need to iron out if he wants to remain governor.

Since the governor took office in January, Florida workers have had lower hourly wages, fewer hours to work, and smaller paychecks. According to statistics released in August by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Florida ranked 49th out of the 50 states in weekly pay differences between January and May.

When he took office in January as the "getting Florida back to work" guy, employed Floridians worked 35.4 hours per week on average in January, which dropped to 34.9 in May -- one of only three states to see such a decline.

The state unemployment rate has remained stagnant for the past three months.

On the other hand, the man does like fishing.

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Gov. Scott tries image makeover, but he's still not a man of the people

1 October 2011
From $70 million campaign to $10 haircuts, but little sensitivity to Florida's struggling homeowners and unemployed

I'll start by giving Gov. Rick Scott some credit. After a rocky rookie year, he has revamped and recalibrated. His poll numbers are moving from terrible to tolerable. It's nice to see him stepping out of his comfort zone, venturing to places that he previously avoided (like newspaper editorial boards) and dealing with situations where everything isn't wet kisses and softball questions.

He came to the Sun Sentinel for an hour last week and had a cordial give and take with our Editorial Board members, reporters and yours truly. The tightly scripted robo-candidate showed signs of being a real live human being. But when I played back the tape and went over the transcript, there was maddening vagueness and inconsistency.

He wants to get rid of some compulsory car insurance, because "everything that raises the cost of living in this state, I worry about." But then he talks about the need to let property insurers charge whatever they want to for storm insurance to revive the private market, homeowners be damned.

Scott began his session with the time-honored tradition of self-deprecating humor, recounting an episode of hair envy when he went for a $10 shearing at Supercuts recently.

Couldn't the former CEO who spent $70 million of his own money to become governor afford a tonier place for a haircut?

"Yeah, but how are they going to do it any different?" Scott said, stroking his bald head.

So his style is getting more likeable. The substance? Not so much.

As much as the governor tried to show that he's down-to-earth and in touch with common Floridians, the policies and positions he spelled out don't usually align with the little guy. He says he's all about jobs, but he really seems to be about big business. He's all for tax breaks and incentives for corporations while he keeps putting the squeeze on workers, the poor and the unemployed.

Scott is the flip side of journalism's old motto. He wants to comfort the comfortable, and afflict the afflicted.

I asked him about the recent changes to the state's unemployment system, with computer-only filing. I've heard many complaints from blue-collar and older workers about difficulties with the new system, which might prevent qualified applicants from getting benefits.

"It's way better," Scott said. "We can communicate with them better, we can check to see if people are looking for jobs better, the whole system works better."

That's not what some jobless say.

Scott also defended his new drug-testing program for certain welfare recipients, even though only 2.5 percent are flunking. "That's out of the people that are deciding to take the test," Scott said.

He said a truer measure of effectiveness is the number who don't bother applying for benefits for fear of failing (hard to gauge so far), and the number who haven't shown up for drug tests after applying (about 7 percent).

Yes, but we also don't know how many aren't applying or showing up because they can't afford the out-of-pocket testing fees ($28-$40). Isn't it onerous to make a parent who's nearly broke to pay up front for a drug test?

"That's not the issue," Scott said. "My understanding is you get the money back promptly."

Scott may have grown up poor, but he sure doesn't seem very sensitive on this. I heard from a divorced mom last week who had no money to pay for the drug test. She said an aide to state Rep. Irv Slosberg (D-Boca Raton) wrote out a personal check to cover the cost.

When it comes to pocketbook issues like property insurance, Scott seems more concerned with the profits of the industry than affordability for consumers. He's quick to denigrate state-run Citizens and says he wants to create a more competitive environment for private carriers.

"What we're doing now is not working," Scott said. "We've got to recruit companies to come, and we have to price it at a price where they want to want to sell you insurance."

That sounds scary. He said when people make "the decision" to buy Citizens, they don't realize the risks of huge surcharges if a big storm hits. Say what? I told him for many South Floridians, like myself, there's no "decision" in buying Citizens, it's the only option available, and we're acutely aware of high deductibles and surcharges.

And how about national catastrophe insurance? This might be a perfect time to push for it, as Hurricane Irene and a vicious tornado year widened the circle of fear/risk nationwide.

"Does it make sense to share the risk? Sure. But I don't see how other states are going to agree," Scott said. "It's unrealistic."

How's that for leadership?

Gov. Scott may be showing signs of improvement. But when it comes to doing what's best for Floridians, Rookie Rick is still a work in progress.

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Gov. Scott welcomes House Speaker Dean Cannon to the mansion

29 September 2011

House Speaker Dean Cannon and his family are headed to the Governor's Mansion tonight for dinner with Gov. Rick Scott and First Lady Ann Scott.

It's Cannon's first social visit to the mansion since Scott moved in.

Scott has dined with plenty of other Republican leaders in the Legislature, including Senate President Mike Haridopolos, Haridopolos' likely successor Don Gaetz, Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander, designated House Speaker Will Weatherford, House Majority Leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera and Rep. Chris Dorworth, who is scheduled to take control of the House in 2014.

Cannon backed Scott's primary opponent, but so nearly every elected Republican, including most of those in the list above.

Cannon's dinner with Scott, like the one with Haridopolos and the House leaders, is behind closed doors. The state Constitution requires meetings between the governor and speaker or Senate president to be open to the public if the purpose is to agree on legislation.

"It's a family dinner," Cannon spokeswoman Katie Betta said. "It's purely social," said Scott spokesman Brian Burgess.

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Jeff Atwater Says Florida Needs Rick Scott for Eight Years

30 September 2011

Defending Florida's embattled governor, state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater says, "We need Rick Scott for eight years."

Speaking to Sunshine State News on Thursday, Atwater praised Scott's "bias for action" in downsizing state government and boosting private-sector jobs.

"We need a consistent player, and I will do everything I can to help," Atwater said.

Earlier, speaking to the Indian River County Tea Party in Vero Beach, Atwater declared, "Scott doesn't give a hoot" about negative press or lackluster poll numbers.

"We can't worry about that. We have the right guy," the former state Senate president said.

Noting that Scott "does not run a big press office," Atwater said the governor "is a straight talker who is just doing the job."

And in a slap at newspapers whose editorial boards universally endorsed Scott's Democratic opponent last year, Atwater observed, "People are getting far better informed through other media, outlets which have a far better presentation of the facts."

Calling on the tea party audience to "get behind" Scott, Atwater thanked the governor "for the arrows he is taking."

One of those arrows landed this week when a Public Policy Polling survey reported that 37 percent of Florida Republicans wanted "someone else" as governor.

Last week, a Quinnipiac poll showed the general electorate split 37-37 on whether they liked the governor as a person -- and that was an improvement from August, when 34 percent liked him and 45 percent disliked him.

The PPP survey, along with Atwater's high-profile presence at the Presidency 5 summit in Orlando last weekend, fueled speculation that the CFO is eyeing higher office, perhaps even the governor's mansion.

"He's raising money three years out. He's hired additional staff. He was in campaign mode at Presidency 5," said Peter Schorsch, a center-left blogger who runs the political website, SaintPetersBlog.com.

"Atwater may not be running for governor, but he is running so that in case Rick Scott doesn't, he is best positioned to pick up the GOP mantle."

Schorsch called the PPP numbers "indicative of a GOP base that still isn't healed from the bitter 2010 primary contest. Scott's numbers are particularly weak with moderate Republicans -- 56 percent of whom say they'd replace him."

Atwater sought to quash any notion that he has his sights set on higher office.

"If I get just one term, I'd be happy to go home and improve my net income," said the banker, whose family residence is in Palm Beach County.

As for Florida under Scott, Atwater pointed to the state's reduced "top-line" spending and continued strong credit rating -- a sharp contrast from what's going on in Washington, D.C.

"Tell me that leaders don't matter," he said to a burst of applause.

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