Gov. Scott's tough road to another four years

January 9, 2013 

Midway through his first term as Florida's governor, Rick Scott boasts about the state's improving economy with the unemployment rate falling quicker than all states except one. He also told the state Republican Party last weekend that his bid for re-election in two years will focus on continuing to make Florida more business-friendly.

Yet his 2010 campaign pledge to create 700,000 new jobs in seven years is not keeping pace with Scott's own benchmarks. He also bristles when quizzed about his pivot on the issue, now saying the amount is not in addition to projected job growth.

The jobless rate remains at 8.1 percent, higher than the national average but 3.3 percentage points lower than in January 2010 when Scott took office. Still, in September state economists credited most of the drop not to job creation but to a shrinking workforce.

Scott's low approval rating reflects his broad unpopularity -- his biggest challenge to overcome for re-election. He's unlikely to spend another $73 million of his fortune again, but has already collected $4.6 million through his political action committee.

Can Democrats defeat Scott with either former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist; the party's 2010 candidate, Alex Sink, or former state Sen. Nan Rich, the only announced candidate? Scott will have to battle his own record with few brights spots among the many dark ones.

He slashed public school funding by $1.3 billion one year, then restored most of it the next. He alienated teachers by ending tenure and adopting merit pay, linking salaries to student achievement. He forced state workers to contribute 3 percent of their pay into their pensions, though the issue remains bottled up in court.

He decried pork barrel spending, but signed off on the creation of a new state university in the home district of a powerful lawmaker.

He pledged transparency and protections for the elderly but then when his task force looking at ways to halt abuse and neglect in assisting-living centers issued its final report, the panel urged fewer regulations and less transparency.

During his campaign, Scott vowed to adopt a tough Arizona-style immigration law but wisely dropped the idea. He also backed off his pledge to force private businesses to use the federal E-Verify system to determine immigration status. Both would have damaged Florida's economy.

Scott's executive order for random drug tests of state employees was ruled unconstitutional, and his requirement for drug tests of welfare recipients backfired, costing taxpayers more than it saved.

He altered growth management rules, stripping out duplicative regulations and accelerating the approval process. But at what cost? Will environmental protection suffer? The state Department of Environment Protection has been hiring engineers and consultants from the companies that the agency regulates, not a positive sign.

Scott rejected billions in federal aid earmarked for a bullet train between Tampa and Orlando, costing the region an economic boost.

A maverick upon taking office, Scott is becoming more accessible and moderate. Last year he signed a law decreasing early voting from 14 days to eight, but caught sharp criticism for trying to suppress balloting. Some voters waited up to seven hours in long lines, and Scott now wants to amend the law.

A Quinnipiac University poll released several weeks ago showed 52 percent of Florida voters don't think Scott deserves a second term. Most damaging, though is 53 percent of Republicans and 55 percent overall would like another Republican to run against him in a primary.

Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown stated then, "When voters in a politician's own party want him to be challenged in a primary by another candidate, it's difficult to see it as anything but outright rejection."

Gov. Scott has less than two years to win over the electorate.

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