TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Rick Scott’s second inauguration kicked off Tuesday with a prayer breakfast at Florida A&M University, where clergymen and community leaders sought spiritual help for him to lead with strength and compassion.
“God has called upon you to lead us,” FAMU President Elmira Mangum said at the start of the 90-minute event as she called on Scott to govern with “strength, courage and a tender heart.”
On a 37-degree morning, hundreds attended the breakfast at Jake Gaither Gymnasium, home of the FAMU Rattlers basketball team, where a giant floor-to-ceiling American flag was hung from the rafters. In the crowd were Texas Gov. Rick Perry, dozens of state legislators, lobbyists, and family and friends of the Republican governor.
The breakfast co-chairs included several pastors along with former House Speaker Dean Cannon, a Tallahassee lobbyist; former state Sen. Pat Neal, a Bradenton real estate developer; and Orlando lawyer John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council and a leading opponent of same-sex marriages in Florida.
Pastor Pam Olsen of the International House of Prayer in Tallahassee urged Scott to protect all Floridians, “from the unborn to the elderly.”
Scott’s daughters, Allison Guimard and Jordan Kandah, read passages with quotes from legendary coach John Wooden and a prayer by St. Francis de Sales.
The inauguration prayer breakfast has been a long tradition in Florida politics.
The keynote speaker, Jim Towey, president of Ave Maria University in Naples and a former Catholic missionary who worked for Mother Teresa, recalled attending a similar event in 1991 when his mentor, former Gov. Lawton Chiles, took office. Towey later directed faith-based programs for President George W. Bush.
“Wherever you look, you see Floridians who are struggling, including countless families in search of stable employment and housing — a cause to which our dear governor has devoted his administration,” Towey said.
Guests praised Scott and voiced hope for more of the same in his second term.
“I think he’s done a great job with the economy,” said Brooke Renney, who worked as a field director for Scott’s campaign in eastern Polk County. She said her family has benefited from the Florida G.I. Bill, a Scott priority to make higher education more affordable for veterans and military personnel.
The only prominent statewide elected official who did not attend the event was Attorney General Pam Bondi.
The governor’s hometown pastor, Kirt Anderson of Naples Community Church, made the only reference to the brutal campaign between Scott and Democrat Charlie Crist, which ended with Scott winning by 1 percentage point, 48 percent to 47 percent. Anderson referenced the most bizarre moment of the campaign, a debate where Scott failed to appear on stage for seven minutes after his advisers protested Crist’s use of a portable fan on stage.
Peering around the podium and pausing for dramatic effect, Anderson said: “I thought I was going to get a fan.”
Perry was mobbed by guests as the event ended, and said he came to the inaugural “for a friend,” Scott. The two governors have good-naturedly competed over job creation for the past four years, with Texas still leading Florida.
“Rick Scott has got Florida on a trajectory that’s pretty envious,” Perry said.
Following the prayer breakfast, Scott and the three re-elected members of the Cabinet were scheduled to be sworn in to new four-year terms in ceremonies at the Old Capitol. The guest list included New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie along with former Florida Govs. Wayne Mixson and Bob Martinez.
As he takes the oath to begin his second term, Scott will contrast Florida with high-tax and cold-weather northern states such as Illinois, Pennsylvania and New York, which Florida recently overtook to become No. 3 in population.
But Scott isn’t satisfied with leading a state of nearly 20 million people. In his inaugural address, he’ll issue an open invitation to people in those northern states to come on down where the weather is warmer and taxes are lower.
“Move to Florida!” Scott’s speech text says. “We want you to keep more of the money you make.”
Millions of New Yorkers have moved to Florida and Scott’s criticism of northern states is not new. Two years ago, he wrote to hundreds of CEOs, urging them to move their companies to Florida from New York and other states.
But by singling out New York for its wicked fiscal ways, Scott will overlook another state with even higher taxes.
In three of the past four years, New Jersey has ranked dead last among all 50 states for its antibusiness tax system, according to the Tax Foundation, a conservative think tank. That’s obviously due in part to New Jersey’s heavily Democratic Legislature.
But why stick it to New York and let New Jersey off the hook, governor?
It just might have something to do with the fact that a special guest at Scott’s swearing-in ceremony will be Christie. As chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Christie steered more than $18 million in campaign money to Scott’s re-election, more than the RGA gave to any other governor.
Scott’s inaugural address also will include references to his opposition to “the silent growth of government.”
“Many states, like Florida, are fighting to limit the growth of government, and grow opportunity instead,” Scott’s speech says.