The televised debate between current Gov. Rick Scott and past Gov. Charlie Crist on Wednesday captured the sour atmosphere surrounding Florida's gubernatorial contest. Civility has been a stranger in the candidates' campaigns as countless attacks and counterattacks appear online, in print and in speeches. The debates echo the twisted information coming from both sides.
This has become a case of which candidate carries the least amount of political baggage. Both have flaws, as borne out by polling data that shows deep voter dissatisfaction with both Scott and Crist.
Then there's the Wednesday debate flap over Crist's fan and Scott's delayed appearance, fodder for comedians and pundits but nothing more than trivial nonsense.
Scott, a Republican and a political novice four years ago, captured the Governor's Mansion by investing $75 million of his own money into an anti-government campaign that saturated the airwaves, overpowering the efforts of his Democratic opponent, Alex Sink. Yet Scott only eked out a narrow victory -- with less than 50 percent of the vote.
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That scenario could play out again as the Scott campaign is outspending Crist by a wide margin.
As Florida crawled out of the Great Recession and state revenue shortfalls continued, Scott's early years were marked by deep spending cuts in education, the relaxation of environmental protections and the dismantling of state development oversight.
But to his credit, he's become more moderate in his policies after hearing the hue and cry from various quarters criticizing his positions.
Thanks to rising state revenues, Scott pumped billions into public schools. He also reversed course on conservation funding after previously gutting the state's regional water management districts and disarming the Department of Environmental Protection.
The self-proclaimed jobs governor, Scott may be best known for his dedication to the recruitment of out-of-state corporations -- a relentless pursuit. He's also been successful in increasing tourism, Florida's highly visible and best-known industry.
With an eye toward boosting commerce, Scott pushed for key infrastructure improvements, including roads and ports. His business-friendly platform and small-government commitment focused on reducing regulations and cutting taxes, and he found success with both. More than 3,000 rules on small business were eliminated, freeing companies from burdensome expenses.
But just as Scott cannot blame Crist for the impact of Great Recession on Florida, the governor cannot take all the credit for the rebounding economy, which has been national.
One of the troubling hallmarks of the Scott administration is the resistance to the state's transparency laws under Government-in-the-Sunshine. Indeed, the governor is embroiled in a lawsuit over his refusal to release emails. That secrecy must end.
Plus, we worry that Scott, freed of accountability to voters because of term limits, will return to the tone-deaf ways of his early years and pursue his own agenda instead of the people's priorities.
But Crist totes the heaviest baggage. As the Republican governor who preceded Scott, Crist followed his political ambitions by launching a campaign for U.S. Senate instead of running for re-election and a likely victory.
Defeated in the GOP primary by Marco Rubio, he became an independent to run a Senate campaign. Then he switched again, joining the Democratic Party in a bid to recapture the governorship. Such political opportunism creates mistrust and suspicion.
But Floridians could be forgiving Crist as new polling figures show the two in a dead heat, with each garnering 40 percent of decided voters. Previously, Crist lagged behind Scott.
Libertarian candidate Adrian Wyllie notched 6 percent and undecideds 7 percent in the Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9/UF Bob Graham Center poll. This contest promises to go down to the wire.
On the question of leadership, the survey found Scott ahead of Crist by seven percentage points. Florida needs leadership, and a governor who works tirelessly on job growth.
The Herald recommends Rick Scott for Florida governor.
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