One of Gov. Rick Scott's first and most heavily debated promises was back in the headlines Friday, as the governor claimed he had reached his goal of creating 700,000 jobs – and critics quickly noted that the original pledge was a bit more robust than that.
It was a fitting end to a week full of open questions, often about semantics, that never seemed to get resolved.
Former Gov. Jeb Bush announced he would "actively explore" running for president —- which many observers saw as a precursor to a formal bid for the 2016 GOP nomination, though Bush still hadn't officially thrown his hat in the ring by week's end (and wasn't expected to for a while). At the same time, longtime Bush-watchers were questioning the national media's rush to label the state's former leader a "moderate."
Attorney General Pam Bondi continued her fight to prevent same-sex marriage from taking effect in Florida —- but the clock was running toward an early 2015 beginning for nuptials, and the courts largely remained quiet. Perhaps, like everyone who doesn't breathe politics, they were simply out doing some Christmas shopping.
700,000 JOBS – GIVE OR TAKE A MILLION
It was notable enough in Friday's monthly jobs report that the state's unemployment mark fell below 6 percent for the first time since May 2008, before the financial market crash that triggered one of the worst economic downturns in American history. The jobless rate checked in at 5.8 percent in November.
But the numbers also gave Scott something to crow about: He claimed that the state had created 700,000 jobs since he took office, a fulfillment of the 7-7-7 pledge he made to voters during his first campaign for the governor's mansion in 2010.
Never mind the fact that not all of the seven steps that Scott had claimed would lead to 700,000 jobs in seven years were fully enacted. And never mind caveats about how many jobs he actually promised.
"Four years ago, we unveiled an ambitious plan to fix Florida's economy and turn the state around," Scott said in a prepared statement. "Our goal was to create 700,000 jobs in seven years. Today our goal was reached three years early, with 715,700 private-sector jobs created in Florida since December 2010."
Not so fast, Democrats countered.
"It’s a fraud against the people of Florida, and an insult to everyone who can't find a job this holiday season," Joshua Karp, communications director of the Florida Democratic Party, said in an email.
The dispute dates back to one of Scott's debates with then-Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, his Democratic opponent in 2010.
"So, our plan is seven steps to 700,000 jobs," Scott said during that debate. "And that plan is on top of what normal growth would be."
The moderator, Antonio Mora, pushed Scott a bit. Economists expected the state to add about a million jobs, so another 700,000 jobs would mean that Florida would have an additional 1.7 million openings over the next seven years, Mora noted, in a state where 1 million people were unemployed at the time.
Scott didn't correct Mora. "We're going to grow the state," he responded, then began ticking off the virtues of doing business in Florida.
Even before this year's campaign, when Scott's biggest talking-point was his record of job creation, the exchange with Mora was repeatedly walked back after the governor settled into office. In a statement issued in October 2011, Scott said his promise was "the creation of 700,000 jobs over seven years regardless of what the economy might otherwise gain or lose" —- a slight change in phrasing that altered the meaning of the promise.
By the original count, Scott still has plenty of work cut out for him in his second term. But Friday showed that Scott will stick to his revised promised. The question is whether Democrats will want to keep holding him to what he said in 2010, or move on to other fights.
With all the policy speeches and newspaper stories bubbling up about the presidential ambitions of the man they once called Jeb!, one could be forgiven for thinking that Bush had already begun to "actively explore" whether to run for the nation's highest office in 2016.
But that step actually happened this week, as Bush announced Tuesday on his Facebook page. That alone was a sign of how much politics had changed since Bush's last bid for public office in 2002, before Mark Zuckerberg had begun building the website that would become Facebook.
In his post to the social media site, Bush wrote about spending time with his wife, Columba, children and grandchildren at Thanksgiving.
"We also talked about the future of our nation,'' Bush wrote. "As a result of these conversations and thoughtful consideration of the kind of strong leadership I think America needs, I have decided to actively explore the possibility of running for President of the United States."
National political reporters hailed the news as the latest signs of hope for the Republican establishment, and perhaps the now-endangered species of GOP moderates. That puzzled Floridians who had long considered Bush a rock-ribbed Republican who backed school vouchers, tax cuts and efforts to keep life support hooked up for Terri Schiavo, a woman diagnosed by doctors as being in a persistent vegetative state.
"I think what's intriguing and I'm sure y'all have been reading the national media (reports) that Jeb is a moderate or middle of the road, and —- y'all covered him," Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said skeptically during a meeting with reporters.
Democrats were all too happy to make the same point, hoping to ding the brother of the last President Bush and lessen the chances that there would be another one.
"Here’s the good news: With this announcement, Americans are going to get their first chance to learn about Jeb Bush," said Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant. "As Florida governor, Jeb was a partisan extremist who fought to privatize public education and abused the power of government to interfere in private medical decisions in the Terri Schiavo case."
YES OR NO ON GAY MARRIAGE?
While the political maneuvers over jobs and presidential ambitions continued, a legal battle to decide whether gay couples can marry in Florida also kept moving. On Monday, Bondi asked the U.S. Supreme Court to place a hold on same-sex nuptials, which could begin Jan. 6 unless an extension of the state's ban is approved.
Bondi's request came less than two weeks after a federal appeals court rejected her effort to at least temporarily extend the gay-marriage prohibition, which U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled in August was unconstitutional. Hinkle placed a stay on his decision to allow time for appeals in three cases then pending before the Supreme Court.
Bondi asked the Supreme Court to keep the hold in place until Florida's appeals run out or until the justices rule in similar cases. The Republican attorney general is asking justices to intervene to avoid confusion and to "maintain uniformity," her spokeswoman Jenn Meale said in a memo accompanying the filing.
"In a continuation of the effort to maintain uniformity and order throughout Florida until final resolution of the numerous challenges to the voter-approved constitutional amendment on marriage, the Attorney General’s Office filed with the United States Supreme Court an application to extend the stay," Meale wrote.
Unsurprisingly, lawyers for same-sex couples asked the high court Thursday to reject that request.
"Every day that the couples we represent and the thousands of families across Florida who are also denied the protections of marriage go without those protections, they are suffering real harm, as Judge Hinkle's order made plainly clear,'' said Daniel Tilley, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, in a prepared statement announcing the Supreme Court filing.
But access to marriage for gay couples could be complicated regardless of whether Hinkle's stay expires. Lawyers for the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers have advised county officials statewide not to issue marriage licenses "until a binding order is issued by a court of proper jurisdiction" and warned the clerks that they could be subject to criminal prosecution if they allow gay couples to wed.
"We realize that it may seem to many that Judge Hinkle’s federal district court ruling that Florida's same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional and violates fundamental rights would permit all Florida clerks of court to lawfully issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples," the lawyers wrote in the Monday memo, an update of an analysis the clerks' lawyers provided in July.
But, the lawyers wrote, "our review of the law indicates that an order and injunction issued at the federal trial level is not binding on any person, including a clerk of court, who is not a named party in the action."
Hinkle's ruling only applies to the Panhandle's Washington County, where one of the gay couples in the lawsuit resides, Greenberg Traurig lawyers Fred Baggett, John Londot, Hope Keating and Michael Moody wrote.