"He's interrupted you during dinner. He's interrupted you when you're getting the kids ready for bed. He's interrupted us. Dozens of times. For months. Each time with those annoying recorded message phone calls," the group said on its website. "It's time for us to get our revenge!"
The group is asking people to send along their name and phone number, then they'll call you so you can record your message. Dozens of submissions already have been submitted.
"Stop calling me Gov. Scott," says Thomas B. "I would never vote for you if you were the last candidate in this planet. Forget it. You're an idiot. And you're corrupt. And I don't want anything to do with you, or your government. Bye!"
In another call, an 8-year-old girl who identifies herself as Isabel says: "Hi Gov. Rick Scott. My name is Isabel. I am 8 years old. I think you are a bad governor because my school's budget has been cut because of you. P.S., my mom's a teacher and we wish we could give you a pink slip."
In response to robo-calls to Floridians urging support for the governor, the initiative has set up a robo-call tool of their own to collect messages from Floridians. The group plans to collect the messages over time and then send one message every few minutes to Scott's office on Monday, Aug. 15, according to its website.
The Republican Party of Florida had paid for robo-calls featuring Scott's voice in pleas for support. Scott has been dealing with phenominally low approval ratings for months.
The Pink Slip Rick campaign previously caught up to Scott as he put in a stint of two hours or so working at a donut shop, a press-the-flesh event to help burnish his image. With their cameras rolling, activists put Floridians at the counter one after the other to voice their displeasure to him and hand him a symbolic "pink slip." The video, of course, then went on to YouTube.
Scott's team acknowledged for the first time this week that the private company providing e-mail service deleted the records as early as mid January, about the time the Times/Herald first sought transition e-mails.
Unable to gather records from the server, as is typical to comply with public records requests, Scott officials attempted to recover the governor-elect's e-mails from personal accounts of his top-level staff.
But without access to the server, it's impossible to know how many e-mails from Scott or his staff were lost between Election Day and the inauguration celebration, a two-month stretch when the team made key hiring moves and shaped the new administration's agenda.
Chris Kise, the Scott transition's attorney and public records adviser, said he was ultimately responsible for not preserving the electronic database. Kise said Thursday that he has recommended Scott's administration approve retention guidelines for future transitions to avoid a similar situation.
"As with most things, in hindsight it is relatively easy for me to see the mistake and to understand how to avoid same in the future," Kise wrote in an e-mail. "But that is true of all mistakes."
Those mistakes may have violated state law, public records experts said.
"If they closed that account and destroyed those records, they are in violation," said Barbara Petersen, president of the Florida First Amendment Foundation.
But Kise describes it as an oversight, the result, he said, of a chaotic transition run by a largely out-of-state staff still learning Florida law and unfamiliar with the technology that ran the e-mail system.
After Kise learned in April that the electronic records were lost, he sent a letter - more than four months after the transition ended - to transition team members advising they must preserve transition-related records that remained on their personal e-mail accounts.
Kise said he provided the Times/Herald every e-mail he has been able to obtain. "We've captured most everything," he said.
In the end, the Times/Herald received 69 e-mails that Scott sent as the governor-elect and 78 that he received. The e-mails run the gamut from details on Scott's new stationery to the hiring of agency heads to meeting a Florida Supreme Court justice.
"Have we ordered for when I am governor, seems to take weeks to get," Scott wrote to Enu Mainigi, a Washington lawyer who served as transition leader, about the stationery.
"Enu, I talked to Charles today," Scott wrote in another e-mail about a conversation with Supreme Court Justice Charles Canady. "I asked if we could meet next Thursday or Friday. He said yes. I told him I would call to schedule."
But the e-mails printed from Gmail, AOL and other personal accounts leave clues that not everything has been recovered.
At least two messages indicate Scott traded e-mails with two people outside his transition team. That correspondence, with Naples council member John Sorey and another person identified as "Ogden," was not included in the documents provided.
The documents include one e-mail to Scott from Susie Wiles, his campaign manager who served as his legislative liaison during the transition.
And there's a single exchange between Scott and Tony Fabrizio, the Miami pollster who helped shape campaign ads, tested Scott's agenda with focus groups and remains an adviser on the Republican Party of Florida payroll.
Scott said Thursday that he rarely e-mailed during the transition. "I didn't do e-mail much," he said. "When you run for office you don't have any time to do it. Even after that, I tried to make sure we complied with all the open records things. The easiest way is to primarily do things by phone so you don't make a mistake."
A spokesman for the Department of State, the agency that archives public records, said transition records fall under the same public records laws as the governor's executive office. The department has transition records for governors dating back to 1971.
But Kise said there is no clear guidance because the transition staff are not part of an official agency or office.
"Unlike an existing state agency, there are no established IT or records departments, no records management policies nor any records retention policies," Kise said.
State law carries a maximum $500 fine for violations of public records law and more serious penalties, including impeachment, for any official who "knowingly violates" the statutes.
Kise, 46, worked in the Attorney General's Office under Charlie Crist, served on Crist's transition as governor and was the state's solicitor general, the state's top litigator. He is now a partner at Foley & Lardner, a law firm in Tallahassee. A former lobbyist for railroad, real estate and electric companies, Kise was recently appointed by Scott to the board of Enterprise Florida, the state's main economic development arm that awards tens of millions of dollars in tax incentives every year.
After advising the transition, Kise attended daily senior-level staff meetings during Scott's first weeks in office.
Kise resumed an unofficial role with Scott's office in April, about the time the Times/Herald was told by Carolyn Timmann, head of the governor's Office of Open Government, that she would no longer handle transition-related requests. Instead, Kise would coordinate the records from his Tallahassee law office.
The explanation for the change was that a surge of public records requests had overwhelmed the office; Kise volunteered to help.
Kise's involvement followed a Times/Herald report that Scott's office failed to turn over any work product related to a $25,000 state contract the transition gave to an opposition research team.
It was also three months after Rackspace, the private company that hosted the e-mail accounts for Scott's campaign and transition, deleted nearly every transition e-mail account.
Kise said the server was wiped after transition staff received a message from a consultant that transition e-mail accounts were scheduled to be closed. Kise said he did not know that meant the accounts would be deleted and become inaccessible.
Kise said between 40 and 50 transition e-mail accounts, including Scott's, were deleted.
Accounts remain open for three staffers who continued transition-related work beyond the inauguration: Mainigi; Fritz Brogan, Mainigi's top assistant who held a position in Scott's executive office until this summer; and Tim D'Elia of the Gerson Group, a New York headhunter hired to find candidates for the Scott administration.
Mainigi declined to comment.
Candice Odom, a public records specialist for the Council of State Archivists who also held a similar position at the State Department, said lost e-mails would violate state law, which also requires the destruction of public records to be documented.
"It comes down to poor records management," Odom said of Scott's transition. "And that's a poor excuse."
Florida's job loss figure was the second highest nationally behind Illinois. Florida, though, still has a net gain of 64,300 jobs for the year.
Florida's rate also remained significantly higher than the 9.1 percent national jobless figure for July.
The U.S. Labor Department on Thursday, though, had good news for the state.
It reported Florida last week had the biggest drop in applications for unemployment benefits of any state.
They were down by 2,580 due to fewer layoffs in agriculture, manufacturing, construction, services and retail.
Keep in mind the rejected federal funds for that high-speed rail project as you read this, as a transportation analysis has ranked the nation's metropolitan areas by the share of jobs that the average person could reach by public transportation within 90 minutes.
Florida metropolitan areas occupy four out of the top ten spots where people don't have access to many of the jobs in their area, and no other state occurs on the list twice.
The list, from 24/7 Wall St., cites that more than 7.5 million American households don't own an automobile, and while most of the people in those households live within a mile of a public transit stop, those people can reach only around 40 percent of the jobs in their metropolitan area within 90 minutes.
The Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach area ranks ninth worst in the nation, Orlando-Kissimmee ranks eighth, Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater ranks seventh, and Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville ranks as the absolute worst in the nation.
In the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach area, 97.2 percent of people are considered "covered" by public transportation, although the typical resident of the area can reach only 19.7 percent of the jobs in the area within an hour and a half.
How could that possibly be, with one of the highest rates of public-transportation coverage in the nation? According to 24/7 Wall St., it's partly due to "a lack of rapid transit, which prevents people from being able to reach jobs in a reasonable amount of time."
We told you to keep that high-speed-rail idea in mind.
Up in the Palm Bay area, just 8.3 percent of jobs can be reached within 90 minutes, although the high-speed rail route wouldn't have gone through the area anyway.
In other news, Scott managed to rake in $745 million for New York and New Jersey transportation yesterday.
24/7 Wall St.'s list of "Cities Where Americans Can't Get to Work" can be found here.
Scott said the new budgets, which will be formally adopted by the districts next month, reflect his overall goal to refocus government agencies on their core missions.
For the water management districts, Scott said that means an emphasis on protecting water supplies, water quality and Floridians from floodwaters.
In a statement, Scott said the more austere district budgets "are just the first steps in ensuring that Florida's precious water resources are protected and managed in the most fiscally responsible way possible."
The Southwest Florida and the St. Johns River water management districts both include parts of Marion County. The eastern two-thirds of Marion is in the St. Johns district. Roughly the western third of Marion falls in the Southwest Florida district.
The St. Johns River district plans cuts of $35.5 million that would leave its budget at $209.3 million. It plans to lay off 130 employees and 56 contract workers.
The Southwest district is proposing a $157.7 million budget that's down by $122.1 million from its current spending plan. Savings would come in part from eliminating 25 positions and relying heavily on outsourcing
Some environmental groups decried the cuts - which include a $210 million cut in local property taxes - as a major step in diminishing the role of the five water management districts.
"This effort to put lipstick on a pig is grotesque," said Charles Lee, a longtime lobbyist for Florida Audubon. "These districts are now burning through available reserves and will survive only about two years before a much more massive series of cuts - tantamount to extinguishing most agency functions - will occur."
Lee said the "core mission" being pushed by Scott amounted to "essentially ‘do little, if anything.' "
Herschel Vinyard, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, which worked with the districts in developing the new 2011-12 budgets, defended the spending reductions as a way to bring more efficiency to the districts while at the same time continuing to develop and protect water supplies.
Vinyard noted the districts are still spending more than $1 billion on their programs, which range from projects related to protecting the springs and rivers of North Central Florida and the restoration of the Everglades in South Florida to creating more water supplies in the Tampa Bay region.
"We're looking for projects that give the environment the most bang for the buck," Vinyard said.
To achieve the savings, the districts - under the direction of the DEP - have made a number of significant policy changes, including a decision not to borrow any money for water-related projects. "Now is not the time to take on any new debt," Vinyard said.
The districts have also halted new land-buying projects, although they will be allowed to continue ongoing projects. Vinyard said the land purchases may be renewed after the state develops new standards "on why and when we buy land."
The water districts will hold hearings before submitting final budgets to Scott and the Legislative Budget Commission for approval.
Scott is working the halls in a place where he isn’t a familiar face: the legislative office building. It’s rare to see the governor leave his office, behind gigantic wooden doors at the end of a great hall, to whip votes on legislation. Lawmakers usually come to him. But these are desperate times. Scott is working to charm four Republican senators into changing their votes. With only days left in the lawmaking session, he needs a last-minute victory on a bill that prohibits union members from paying dues through payroll deductions, a significant funding source for the state’s organized labor.
But the former corporate CEO and political newcomer is hearing an unfamiliar word from all four—“no.”
The legislation—and another bill eliminating traditional government pensions—is a top priority for Scott, one of the new hard-charging Republican governors, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and Ohio’s John Kasich among them, who are aggressively pushing a conservative agenda that attacks public-sector workers. But Scott is a stranger even to legislators of his own party, which holds supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature. A newcomer to politics, he lacks the relationships, political or personal, necessary to secure a deal in the Capitol, and lawmakers say he puts little effort into developing them. State Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla tells Scott after the fruitless visit, “I’m sorry this had to be our first face-to-face meeting—but I think you’re doing a great job.”
Florida is a diverse state with complicated politics, the nuances of which Scott doesn’t seem to quite understand. Three of the senators he approached represent strong-minded Cuban voters in Miami—voters who consider repression of unions a hallmark of the Castro regime. None of the lawmakers can risk such a comparison. The fourth senator is a former small-town sheriff who worked closely with unionized deputies.
State Sen. Dennis Jones, another Republican opposed to the bill and the longest serving lawmaker in the Capitol, says Scott is ignorant about “things that have taken place and commitments that were made long before he even moved to Florida.” (Scott barely met the requirement that a gubernatorial candidate live in Florida for seven years before holding office.) Jones, whose hair is as white as the beaches in his Gulf Coast district, recalls the work it took to get the unions to support Republicans in recent decades. “Over the years, we’ve developed good relationships with the police and firefighters, and when it comes to campaigns, they’ve been good friends and good workers,” he says. “So early on when this bill came out, a lot of us said, ‘You’ve been good to us; we’re not going to get involved in how you do business.’”
The union-dues bill died that day in the Senate. Later, at a luncheon speech to the conservative Florida Center-Right Coalition, Scott appeared perplexed about why his effort failed. “One of the things that doesn’t make sense to me: paycheck protection,” he said, exasperated. (“Paycheck protection” is conservatives’ term for the abolition of union-dues deductions from paychecks.) “Why would that take any time to pass?”
Scott’s emphasis on weakening the political clout of the state’s labor movement, however, stumped the unions. Unlike Wisconsin, Florida is a right-to-work state, in which union power has never loomed that large. Only about 6 percent of the state’s workers belong to a union. “We are facing record unemployment, facing major changes, and this guy’s walking the halls on a dues bill,” says Matt Puckett, the deputy executive director of the state’s Police Benevolent Association. “I think he should be embarrassed.”
Indeed, critics say Scott’s rhetoric and agenda haven’t always seemed germane to Florida’s particularities. Scott, for instance, wanted to require all public employees to pay 5 percent toward their retirement and put new employees in defined-contribution 401(k) plans—a proposal similar to measures in many states. But in Florida, the retirement fund is not threatened with collapse, as critics claim is the case in other states. “They decided to tax public workers to balance the budget,” says Ron Meyer, a lobbyist for the Florida Education Association, the state teachers’ union. Combined with the union-dues bill, Meyer suggests, the proposal shows how state Republicans are following the playbook of the national GOP and groups such as the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council. “Instead of looking at Florida’s needs, they decided to carry out their dogma,” he adds.
Much of Scott’s agenda does seem to fit the national Republican playbook: restricting civil lawsuits; weakening unions; eliminating regulations, particularly environmental rules that may affect growth; cutting state jobs; and overhauling the education system by fostering more charter schools and mandating more testing. The first major bill Scott signed eliminated tenure protections for teachers and tied their salaries to student test scores. The far-ranging legislation is one of the most sweeping in the nation and a similar measure was vetoed by Gov. Crist the previous year after tens of thousands of critics lobbied his office and held rallies across the state. Scott eagerly signed the bill—at a charter school. The budget that the Legislature sent to the governor also included $1.3 billion in education cuts, far less than what Scott had requested but still the lowest per-student spending level in several years.
The cornerstone of the governor’s economic plan is an effort to eliminate the state’s corporate income tax—a 5.5 percent levy that already ranked among the lowest in the nation. Fewer than 2 percent of Florida businesses actually pay the tax, and experts question whether killing it would help spur business growth. Scott insists that eliminating it would send a message that the state is open for business.
Critics felt the corporate tax initiative was a vanity quest for Scott to get his picture on Fox News. Republican lawmakers pushed back against the governor, saying tax cuts for the middle and working class were more important than giving big business a break.
By the end of the two-month legislative session, Scott and lawmakers reached a detente. Scott won a number of victories, including measures to revamp economic development efforts, eliminate the state agency that monitors growth management, and expand charter schools. The Legislature also sent along a buffet of red-meat conservative bills that Scott eagerly signed.
Yet Scott’s big-ticket items were scaled back. State workers will contribute 3 percent to a retirement fund. It’s not the 5 percent Scott sought, but it still amounts to a pay cut after years without raises. And the Legislature approved $308 million in tax cuts, a fraction of the $1.7 billion the governor had requested. Scott did win a $37 million corporate tax cut, again far less than what he wanted, after apparently making assurances that he wouldn’t veto some pet projects lawmakers put in the budget.
In an interview conducted near the close of the legislative session—and after his polling utterly tanked—Scott sounded steadfast but acknowledged that the new job was an adjustment from the corporate world. He rejected the idea that his policies are overreaching and souring voters. “I’ve done all along exactly what I said I was going to do when I ran. I told people I was going to freeze regulation, ‘Oh gosh, he did it,’” he says mockingly. “I told people the way to get our state back to work is to reduce taxes—‘Gosh, that’s what he wants.’ So that shouldn’t surprise everybody.”
Even now, Scott’s top aides still privately marvel that he won the state’s governorship last November. But Scott’s fortune—estimated at $218 million a year ago—enabled his team to build his formidable candidacy from scratch. He spent a whopping $70 million from his own pocket to develop the most sophisticated campaign in state history, crystallized with a snappy “Let’s Get to Work” slogan in a state with one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates and home-foreclosure rankings.
With nightly polling and dial-measured focus groups, the campaign tested Scott’s every message. All the 30—second television ads he aired just in the contested Republican primary, if played continuously on one station, would take nearly 25 days to watch.
Scott pitched himself as the epitome of the American dream: The son of a long-haul truck driver with a sixth-grade education, Scott talked about briefly living in public housing, celebrating Christmas without presents, and working his way through school and college to become a jet-setting millionaire health-care executive and co-owner (with George W. Bush) of the Texas Rangers.
The campaign was also able to mask, as much as possible, the scandal that marked Scott’s tenure as CEO of Columbia/HCA, the nation’s biggest hospital chain. He was ousted in 1997 amid the largest criminal Medicare and Medicaid fraud investigation in U.S. history. The company paid an unprecedented $1.7 billion fine. On the campaign trail, Scott deflected questions about Columbia/HCA, at times waving his hand in the air when asked about it.
He was fortunate that Democrat Alex Sink, the state’s chief financial officer and once a rising star in the national party, failed to inspire her base and struggled to match her previous campaign’s ability to draw broad support. Scott effectively tied Sink to Barack Obama, even though she attempted to distance herself from the president—going so far as to duck a joint appearance at a Miami fundraiser.
Scott bested Sink by the slimmest margin in a Florida governor’s race in more than 100 years. Sink ran worst in the television markets where competitive congressional races federalized the election and made it hard for her to distinguish herself from the national party. The difference in the end: 61,550 votes.
Even though Scott claimed less than 50 percent of the vote in an election where less than 50 percent of voters cast ballots, he began to govern as if by mandate.
His first 100 days were riddled with controversy. He signed an executive order to mandate drug testing for government employees despite federal court rulings that it violated privacy; he rejected a $2.4 billion federal high-speed-rail grant; he released his state budget at a Tea Party rally held in a Baptist church; he appointed a director for the Agency for Persons with Disabilities who was embroiled in a group-home sex scandal; and he tried to kill a prescription-drug monitoring database in a state with a reputation as the drug tourism capital of the nation. From a public-relations perspective, his biggest gaffe may have been his emergency order to slash money for the developmentally disabled by as much as 40 percent—a document he filed hours after participating in a Special Olympics torch run.
A Quinnipiac poll released in late May put his support at 29 percent. Worse yet, it showed that 57 percent of registered Florida voters disapproved of his performance in office. By a 54 percent to 29 percent margin, voters also believed the state’s new budget was unfair to people like them.
“Scott is a four-letter word to many Florida voters,” says Quinnipiac pollster Peter A. Brown. “It is exceedingly rare for an unindicted governor or president to ever be seen as poorly by the electorate as [they see] his Legislature or Congress.”
Early polling is, well, early polling. And political consultants caution that Scott can rebound, particularly if the economy improves and he is willing to tweak his approach and learn what it takes to be effective. So far, Florida’s unemployment rate fell from 11.9 percent in January, when Scott took office, to 10.8 percent in April.
But the approval numbers apparently were dire enough for Scott’s team to take them seriously. In April, in the weeks after an earlier but almost as devastating Quinnipiac poll, Scott revoked his executive order cutting care for the developmentally disabled and reversed his opposition to the pill-mill database. He also arranged to sell his family’s $62 million stake in Solantic, a chain of urgent-care clinics he founded, after a mounting conflict-of-interest controversy.
Scott’s slash-and-burn budget, his abolition of teacher tenure and rejection of the federal government’s high-speed-rail grant also awoke the dormant opposition. Democrats largely slept through last year’s election, but Susannah Randolph, a progressive activist leading the charge against the governor, says that’s all changed now.
I met her in the Tallahassee legislative office of her husband, state Rep. Scott Randolph of Orlando, on the 13th floor of the Capitol, where Republicans put renegade Democrats out of sight and out of mind.
Earlier that morning, outside the legislative chambers, the Randolphs and a cadre of Democrats had held a press conference blasting House Republicans for dedicating two of the final 10 days of the legislative session to a social-conservative checklist that included a constitutional referendum prohibiting the use of public dollars for abortions; a bill strengthening an existing law that requires parental notification for minors having an abortion; a bill, vetoed a year earlier, requiring all women seeking an abortion to receive an ultrasound; a first-in-the-nation measure to limit when doctors can ask patients questions about guns; a constitutional ballot referendum repealing the prohibition against religious organizations receiving state money; and a bill to require welfare recipients to clear a drug test.
“That was a great event, wasn’t it?” Randolph says as she arrives at the office. On March 8, the first day of the legislative session, she helped organize statewide “Awake the State” protests that drew an estimated 15,000 people to rallies in 31 cities. Now, she’s trying hard to keep the energy going to label Scott “Pink Slip Rick.”
The moniker refers to the jobs Scott proposed to cut—including 118,000 state and local public workers, among them an estimated 20,000 teachers, through cuts to education and the state payroll. The high-speed-rail corridor between Orlando and Tampa was estimated to create 20,000 construction jobs at its peak and more than a thousand permanent positions when completed.
“He is basically costing this state jobs,” Randolph says. “He is going at this just like he promised. He’s going to run this state like a CEO: ‘I’m going to treat my workers like crap, I’m going to make huge profits for myself, and I’m going to pay all the people at the top the most and starve the folks at the bottom,’ and that’s exactly what’s happening.”
The 37-year-old community organizer wore a black patterned dress and a pink button with the word “UTERUS” in capital lettering—a reference to her husband’s remark, on the House floor, that if his wife incorporated her uterus as a business, Republicans would stop trying to regulate it through anti-abortion legislation. It went unnoticed until the Republican House speaker asked Democrats not to use the word because of the young legislative pages in the room. Rep. Randolph then publicized the “ban,” and it spiraled into the nonsense land of cable TV news, getting a segment on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show.
Susannah Randolph served as the campaign manager for Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson’s failed 2010 re-election bid and now runs a political advocacy organization called Florida Action Watch. The anti-Scott movement, developed with the help of Ray Seaman at Progress Florida, a liberal advocacy group in Tallahassee, was inspired by the protests in Wisconsin. Its success has surprised the organizers. “I think it was everybody … waking up to the fact that we have a Wisconsin situation coming on here,” Randolph says. “That we had a Scott Walker here.”
One crucial constituency that turned against Florida’s governor is the state’s Hispanic population. The group is not a monolithic voting block: The Cuban exile population in south Florida is filled with loyal Republicans, but new immigrants are trending Democratic.
Even though Scott won the GOP primary thanks to his far-right support for an Arizona-style immigration law, exit polls showed he remarkably took the Hispanic vote in the general election—a reflection more on the Sink campaign’s failure to court Hispanics than on Scott’s popularity with them. His Hispanic support fractured, however, as the immigration issue came to the fore during the legislative session. A House bill would have allowed state and local law-enforcement officers to determine the legal status of any person they investigate for a crime. It also would have required employers to use the federal E-Verify database to ensure the legal status of new hires. “We do believe that if you are violating our laws in our state, you ought to be able to be asked if you are legal or not,” Scott said in an interview. The tougher immigration laws eventually died in the Senate (where three Hispanic Republican senators opposed it), another major political defeat for Scott.
Hispanics’ opposition to Scott is not coordinated with the progressive rallies that Randolph has organized, which chiefly attract teachers and union supporters. But Hispanics’ discontent with Scott is just as strong—and audible on Spanish-language radio, where angry callers regularly trash Scott and like-minded Miami-area lawmakers. “One of the things he’s doing is what the Democratic Party of Florida has not been able to do, which is to unite Hispanics in the state regardless of party affiliation against a Republican governor,” says Fernand Amandi, a leading Hispanic political strategist who works with Democratic candidates.
He is now realizing he has to retool his image—that’s huge, that means we are winning.
Randolph acknowledges that Democrats in Florida were slow to oppose Scott. But as the consequences of his election have become clearer, Democrats have renewed their spirits. “The difference between 2010 and 2011 is we now have a very defining message around who this governor is,” she says. “Our goal is to brand him, and we are doing it. He is now realizing he has to retool his image—that’s huge, that means we are winning.”
Teachers are putting significant energy into the anti-Scott movement, holding signs that say “If you can read this, thank a teacher” at roadside protest rallies organized by Randolph and other progressives. The opposition is likely to grow this summer as teachers and other public-sector workers begin receiving smaller paychecks. “Now you’re seeing all these groups aligned—teachers, police, firefighters—more closely than they have ever been,” says Meyer, the teachers’ union lobbyist.
At the state level, Democrats hope to make the 2012 election a referendum on Scott, particularly if his numbers continue to sag. “If he stays where he is right now, he will be as familiar to voters next year as Obama was last year,” says state Rep. Ron Saunders, the House Democratic leader. “You will see Rick Scott’s picture on a lot of legislative mail pieces.”
“Next year, all you need to know about the Democrat is the Democrat is not a Rick Scott supporter,” he continued. “And at that point, if that’s not enough to get every firefighter, cop, and teacher off their ass to go vote … then you probably deserve what you get.”
Those are the actions Gov. Rick Scott said he took to persuade three companies to bring new jobs to Florida. That limited participation, however, hasn't stopped him from taking credit for those businesses plus all 50,000 jobs the state has added since January.
"We are capturing the attention of the business community worldwide," Scott said Wednesday while announcing Garda World Security, a Montreal-based armored car company, would move its U.S. headquarters from Pasadena, Calif., to Boca Raton.
But Garda's expansion into Florida along with similar announcements from Vision Airlines and Bing Energy earlier this year was started and nearly completed when former Gov. Charlie Crist was in office.
While the economy dictates the fate of many politicians, Scott has made job creation the defining characteristic of his administration. But his zeal to count every new job toward his campaign promise of creating 700,000 has some questioning his credibility.
"Despite the promise to be an outsider, he is nothing more than a typical politician who wastes money for his own ego and takes credit for other people's work," Florida Democratic Party spokesman Eric Jotkoff said.
Scott's office acknowledges that the three companies started the process to move to Florida while Scott was a candidate for governor. But the former hospital executive and venture capitalist portrayed himself Wednesday as the closer who stepped in and cemented the deals as a new governor.
"I'm extremely pleased we were able to close the deal," Scott said.
Scott spends several hours every week in "economic development" meetings but only recently signed into law his first budget, which contains the bulk of his policy changes.
When Scott ran for office last year, he told voters that Florida enforced too many regulations, collected too many taxes and wasn't friendly to businesses.
Either Scott was wrong about Florida's business climate or it has made drastic improvements during Scott's five months in office.
When Garda made its decision, Scott said Wednesday, "Florida was chosen over two other states thanks to our low taxes and our great business climate and it's just a wonderful place to live."
Economist Sean Snaith said its virtually impossible to prove "causality" when it comes to a politician's role in shaping the economy.
"There's many things you may criticize the governor for, but you can't criticize his timing," said Snaith, a University of Central Florida professor. "It's impeccable. He came into office just as the economy was starting to turn."
Scott's office isn't parsing at all.
According to state statistics, Florida has added 50,000 non-agricultural jobs since January. (Florida lost 12,900 jobs in January, which means if Scott's office started its count in December instead of January, their total count would be thousands less.)
Scott spokesman Brian Burgess said all 50,000 count toward the goal of 700,000 jobs in seven years.
"We're on track," Burgess said.
But the fine print of Scott's campaign promise is more nuanced.
When Scott put out his economic plan, state economists had already estimated that Florida would gain 1 million jobs over seven years with no major change to state policy. Pressed about that, Scott said his plan accounted for that prediction and would add an additional 700,000.
Despite a current unemployment rate of 10.8 percent, job growth is ahead of economists' projections.
Instead of counting that difference toward Scott's goal, his office is counting every one.
Scott's latest announcement was made in Montreal, where he's on his second foreign trade mission in three months. He visited Panama in March and plans to travel to Brazil in October.
The Garda deal, however, had been finalized for months and was reported by the Palm Beach Post in February. The company took $1 million in incentives from Boca Raton, Palm Beach County and the state in return for a promise to create 100 jobs with an average salary of $65,769 by the end of 2013.
Gary Hines, senior vice president of the Palm Beach County Business Development Board, said the county and the company started talks in August, but that Scott did play a role once he took office.
"He made a phone call," Hines said.
Garda CEO Stephan Cretier recalled that Scott called on his fifth day on the job in January and said, "Hey, we want Garda in Florida."
"I have been very impressed," Cretier said.
Similarly, Bing CFO Dean Minardi said he decided to bring his fuel-cell manufacturing company to Tallahassee in December, after Scott won election and promised to phase out corporate income taxes. The company plans to hire 12 employees and add a total of 244 jobs in seven years.
"There is no guarantee on the corporate income tax," Minardi said after a press conference with Scott in February. "But it makes sense."
In January, two weeks after he took office, Scott stood side-by-side with Vision Airlines chief operating officer David Meers, who announced the company would open an Atlanta-Fort Walton Beach route and bring 4,200 "direct and indirect" jobs to Florida.
Scott took credit for those jobs during the press conference.
"The way I look at it," Scott said at the time, "if I could do about 150 of those, then I get to my 700,000 jobs."
1 State workers Positions in prisons, social services and other areas have been slashed. Scott says he's only interested in private sector jobs. State employees buy houses, cars and appliances, too — even if they have not had raises in five years. Estimated Jobs lost: 4,500.
2 Public schools Spending will drop by $542 per student, or 8 percent. School districts are sending out lay-off notices to thousands of teachers, including 1,400 in Broward and 1,100 in Pinellas. Some of those could keep their jobs. But Pasco schools could eliminate 470 overall positions and Pinellas could cut 400 positions. School districts are the largest employers in many counties. Estimated jobs lost: THOUSANDS.
3 Universities Operating expenses have been cut at the 11 public universities by $140 million, or 4 percent. The University of Florida alone loses $54 million in state money, although some of that will be recovered with an expected 15 percent tuition increase. Florida State University expects to cut 50 faculty members. States that starve higher education cannot attract high-paying new jobs. Estimated jobs lost: Undetermined.
4 Transportation Another $150 million will be transferred from the transportation trust fund to pay for other government services. That means fewer roads will be built, and fewer private construction workers will have jobs. Estimated jobs lost: 8,400.
5 Everglades Money earmarked for restoration has been cut from $200 million in 2008 to a token $30 million in this budget. The water management district budgets have been cut another 25 percent. Over decades, Everglades projects are to create 22,000 jobs directly related to construction and hundreds of thousands of jobs in tourism, commercial fishing and other areas. Estimated jobs lost: hUNDREDS.
6 Health care Medicaid reimbursement rates to hospitals will be cut by 12 percent, or $510.5 million, a decline in state and federal funding that is expected to require hospitals across the state to cut jobs, particularly those such as All Children's in St. Petersburg and Tampa General that serve a high volume of Medicaid patients. All Children's is expecting at least $6 million less in Medicaid funding; Tampa General $19 million. Estimated jobs lost: Undetermined.
* We would mention the Tampa to Orlando high-speed rail project, which would have created 6,200 jobs in 2011 but was killed when Scott rejected $2.4 billion in federal money to pay for it. But that would be piling on.
-- St. Petersburg Times
Despite the governor's campaign promise to focus on job creation, Florida Governor Rick Scott and the Florida legislature have focused their attention on other matters.
In the legislative session that ended Saturday, lawmakers passed no job creation bills for Scott to sign. But they did pass five bills restricting abortion rights and a state budget that cuts nearly 4,500 public sector jobs.
The five bills, which Scott is expected to sign, force women to undergo ultrasounds prior to having an abortion, prohibit private insurance coverage of abortion care in the new state health-insurance exchange, require young women to prove the medical necessity of their abortions before a judge in order to bypass parental permission, establish state-sanctioned license plates that funnel money to anti-choice "crisis pregnancy centers" and starts the process of amending the state constitution to prohibit the government funding of abortion.
Florida Republicans filed a total of 18 anti-abortion bills during the session, the third most in the country, according to the ACLU, and twice the number of anti-choice laws introduced last year in the state, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America.
The focus on abortion rights has caused some lawmakers -- including some fellow Republicans -- to question how they got so far off-track.
"I came up here to help put food on the table," said state Sen. Evelyn Lynn (R-Ormond Beach) during debate on the ultrasound bill. "I came up here to get people jobs. I came up here to protect people from the kinds of safety issues that fire and police take care of. I came up here to protect education."
"I will vote no on every abortion bill," she added. "It is the wrong thing for us to be discussing."
During the session, Florida lawmakers also cut jobless benefits and Medicaid reimbursement rates, strengthened gun rights and passed nearly $4 billion in budget cuts that will effectively lay off thousands of teachers and government employees.
Progressives and conservatives alike are wondering whether Rick Scott -- whose campaign catchphrase was "Let’s Get to Work" -- is going to notice that not one bill on his desk creates jobs.
"Sadly, I have yet to see a piece of legislation come before the House or Senate and go to the governor that will actually stimulate the economy and create jobs," Sen. Mike Fasano (R-New Port Richey) told the Tampa Tribune.
The unemployment rate in Florida currently hovers at 11.1 percent, notably higher than the 9 percent national average. The state also has had one of the worst foreclosure rates since the beginning of the housing crisis.
"A lot of people had expectations that lawmakers were gonna focus on those issues," said Danielle Prendergast of Florida's American Civil Liberties Union. "Instead of that, we got a lot of social wedge issues."
A spokesperson for Rick Scott told HuffPost that despite the legislature’s social policy-focused agenda, creating jobs is still the governor’s number one priority.
"That has not changed since the campaign," he said. "He will look at every bill to determine its impact on job creation on the state of Florida and decide if it helps create jobs or hinders job creation."
NARAL spokesperson Ted Miller said the Florida GOP’s disproportionate focus on abortion this session would irritate voters during the next election cycle.
“This is an opportunity to talk about priorities and values," Miller told HuffPost. "These politicians campaign on economic issues, yet spend so much time focusing on attacking choice. They look very out of touch with where the public is right now.