- Illustration by Shan Stumpf
When Florida Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, somewhat quietly scratched out a personal-as-political manifesto on Feb. 16 - filing not one but two bills that would allow for the recall of elected state officials by the public; one by petition, the other by statute - it was not simply in the name of streamlining political procedure in the Sunshine State. Rather, it was a political call to arms for a state left dumbfounded by its own electoral process.
On Nov. 2, by a margin of 1 percent (or roughly 62,000 votes), Florida elected Richard Lynn Scott to its highest office - despite all of the warning signs, in spite of logic. Within a week of his inauguration, Gov. Rick Scott had intentionally flicked the first domino in what would become an inescapable racket of attacks on social services, state employees and the common good. At his first press conference on Jan. 7, Scott stuttered and sweated through a litany of executive orders: a freeze on regulations, an examination of existing rules, a new Floridian order flecked with anti-immigration sentiments. The press took its position behind the newly installed velvet rope, while Scott disingenuously touted the sacrifices he'd be making - he'd be selling the state's two airplanes, for instance (which was fine by him because he had his own personal aircraft). His ineptitude may have been palpable, but the consequences of his gubernatorial reign had yet to be fully realized.
It was on Feb. 16, the same day the recall chatter was consummated in legislative boilerplate, that Scott lurched for the jugular. In an act of ill-informed antipathy, the governor refused to accept $2.4 billion in federal money the state was depending on to fuel its high-speed rail initiative and create sorely needed jobs that could have put 23,000 people to work immediately. It was a gesture that baffled even Republicans, and it indicated a political flippancy that showed that Scott wasn't just a joke - he was a danger to the tentative health of a state already suffering from a bad case of 12 percent unemployment and an outdated infrastructure. Moreover, Scott's predecessor, Charlie Crist, championed the project just last year, leaving some Republicans in Florida's legislature to question whether Scott even has the authority to act on his whim. On March 1, Sens. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, and Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, filed suit against Scott in state Supreme Court over the rail fiasco. What a mess.
Like others in his class of newbie conservative leaders - Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin - Rick Scott is more ideological than he is gubernatorial, gold leaf for big business interests, but a slap on the face to mere humans. Early in his tenure, he's already a bumbling wagon of horrible mistakes; there's an almost inconceivable list of reasons he's the worst man for his job below - then there are many more lurking around the corner as he prepares to hood-ornament his inaugural legislative session, which begins March 8. Recent indications are that the veto-proof Republican majority might be willing to play ball with Scott despite initial hesitations, meaning even as an ogre with limited political power, Scott will likely set the tone for a session of surface belt-tightening and hidden back scratching.
We are fucked.
He may have successfully distanced himself from the mammoth $1.7 billion Medicare and Medicaid scam associated with his former private hospital company Columbia/HCA - if by "distancing" you mean playing dumb in his 1995 deposition on the matter and being squeezed out of his CEO position by 1997 - but the very fact that he was able to pull that mosquito net over a state full of retirees to get elected is a testament to his reckless audacity. His more recent start-up walk-in clinic company, Solantic (of which he owns more than $60 million in stock), was charged with similar fraud late last year, something for which Scott was deposed six days prior to entering the governor's race. That case has been conveniently sealed in confidentiality since its settlement last April. Transparency means never having to look.
The hard-edged chrome dome wasn't playing so well with the palm-tree set in the two months leading up to the election. His "Let's Get to Work" mantra, declared in joyless repetition, left his campaign stained with stern-jawed severity, so Scott decided to spin a kinder, gentler image for himself: He paraded out the soft, feminine wiles of his mother and his wife, both of whom went into full testimonial mode, to lead the general voting public to believe that, hey, he's a really nice guy from humble beginnings that never breaks a promise. It's like finding out your mother's boyfriend is an abusive jerk after she decides to marry him.
Rather than starch his collar and present his imaginary budget before people who understand economics, our CEO governor took his flashcards to a Baptist church in Eustis on Feb. 7 to roll out his incongruous cuts before the dilapidated yellow snake flags of a Tea Party rally. "There will be a lot of special interests that complain about the cuts to their favorite programs," he clasped his hands in apparent relish at the unveiling. There would also be a lot of regular, hard-working people complaining, too.
Just after taking office, Scott made it clear that he wanted to go toe-to-toe with secessionist Gov. Rick Perry of Texas - the king of state-level deregulation - by scouring Florida's already deficient regulatory fabric for whatever impediments existed to turning the Sunshine State into a big box of low-paying grunt work. He immediately suggested that Florida's Department of Community Affairs was, in fact, a "job killer," or just another expensive hoop restricting big-business growth. He then set his sights on taking down the Department of Environmental Protection and closing one-third of Florida's state parks. All told, Scott says he could save $120 million over the course of two years by reorganizing state offices into one lubricated pro-business stream. There just won't be any streams left.
The only glimmer of victory for progressives on Nov. 2 was the passage of Amendments 5 and 6, the Fair Districts amendments aimed at halting the time-worn practice of gerrymandering for the benefit of (presumably conservative) incumbents. On Jan. 4, Scott rescinded the required federal paperwork to set the amendments into action, thereby undermining amendments approved by more than 60 percent of the state.
Despite the appearance of supporting tax cuts for all, Scott's plans to cut property taxes would save the average homeowner only about $100 annually in a state that already favors the rich in taxation. The rich - or corporations - currently suffer under a 2.6 percent cumulative tax rate, while low-income residents are saddled with 13.5 percent, despite the fact that Florida doesn't even levy a personal income tax. On the buttered side of the bread, Scott's asking for $700 million worth of cuts to corporate state income taxes to inspire greedy CEOs to come to Florida's vaunted sweatshops and make, well, more bread.
Just like the homebound miscreants populating newspaper message boards, Scott espouses the "anti-entitlement" notion that's currently wrecking our public schools. Why should I pay to educate your children? It's called society. His budget proposal includes a $3.3 billion cut from the state's education coffers, some of which would come from $1.4 billion carved out of education-directed property taxes. Rick Scott would rather cut you a check and let you figure out how to learn your children right.
Rick Scott will bust a motherfucking union. He may be on record in support of collective bargaining, but one phone call from Wisconsin Gov. Walker (or a fake Koch brother), and the deal will be off quicker than Scott's hair. Already, Scott's pulling the pension-gate schtick by requiring all public employees - including teachers, police officers and firemen - to begin funding their own pensions with 5 percent of their already frozen salaries. Nearly 655,000 workers will have their pay effectively cut in the wake of the Great Recession. What a fucking bargain.
Standing before a group of black legislators last month, Scott unleashed this little slice of backfire empathy: "I grew up probably in the same situation as you guys. I started school in public housing. My dad had a sixth-grade education." Several in attendance were rightfully appalled. But the veins of racial dysfunction run deeper than candor in Scott's stated policies. He stood in support of an Arizona-style immigration law throughout his campaign. He's come out against the state's $421,000 Office of Supplier Diversity, which sought to ensure minority bidding on state contracts. This is, after all, the Old South.
Also key to Scott's budget proposal were notable cuts to philanthropic agencies. Scott wants to repeal the law that established the state's Office of Homelessness. According to the Miami Herald, more than 74,000 homeless people were assisted with just $7 million just last year. Scott's also placed indigent criminal defense, rape crisis programs, unemployment and suicide prevention on the chopping block. The sooner you're out of his way, the better off he is.
Perhaps it's apt that a man who's made his millions off the backs of sick people (and the federal government) would find his most salient issue in the deep waters of the health care debate. In December, Scott's advisors hinted that there might not be much need for public hospitals. That's funny coming from an administration poised to profit off of the expansion of private health care facilities, and even funnier coming from a man who wants to decimate Medicaid and resist the federal Affordable Care Act. Back before he was known as the Republican who won by a hair with no hair, Scott spent at least $5 million of his own fortune buying television ads for his anti-reform group Conservatives for Patients' Rights. Rich patients, that is. Scott, ever the deregulator, has even come out against electronic medical records meant to stem the flood of dilated pill-mill pupils overrunning our crime news feed, meaning he probably feels pretty good right now.
Maybe a quick trip to the pokey would help flesh out his ambition to privatize prisons at the cost of 1,690 corrections jobs and leaving up to 1,500 inmates in the hands of private prisons. Florida's own entrepreneurial prison venture, GEO Group out of Boca Raton, gave $400,000 to the Republican Party to get its friend Scott elected and another $25,000 to make sure he was inaugurated in a manner suited to an unlikable despot.
Last month's decision to refuse $2.4 billion in federal aid to launch the high-speed rail line from Orlando to Tampa was one of great political haste and questionable fiscal merit. Scott hadn't even received the numbers yet, but, ostensibly in the wake of offending minorities the day before, he came out swinging against federal intrusion into our rundown highway state. He thinks more money should be spent on ports and roads - something that makes sense on paper because public transportation has never been known to operate in the black. Then again, we don't live on paper, do we? We live in sprawling suburbia dotted with strip malls and hubris: a perpetual disconnect.
Even during his campaign, Scott's ill-informed focus seemed to be one with its crosshairs on the Obama administration. His wandering beady eye has led some media outlets to question whether Scott is vying for a higher office. Case in point: Scott's announcement in late February that he'd be globetrotting to Panama, Colombia or Canada in his first six months to look into boosting U.S. trade. How horribly presidential.
And he's all yours
There is no excuse - other than a milquetoast Democratic Party incapable of raising a finger, much less a viable candidate - for making this monster our figurehead and Florida's de facto leader. Democratic hopeful Alex Sink, at worst, was a genuine person with some Bank of America baggage. But we're stuck now. Early suspicions that Scott's heavy hammer wouldn't carry much weight among more reasonable conservatives in the legislature have proven untrue - House Speaker Dean Cannon and Senate President Mike Haridopolos have both fallen pathetically in lockstep with Scott in recent weeks on the rail issue, and that's just the first piece of (un)laid track. Expect more social issues and more societal failure as Florida's leadership feels its way around a dark funhouse of political atrocities. Just don't expect a recall. Fuck.