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Scott cites free speech in defending lawsuit

MANATEE — As Rick Scott, a multimillionaire candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, made his first campaign stops in Manatee County, he got questions Thursday on the lawsuit he just filed challenging a provision of Florida’s public campaign financing system.

He called the election subsidy “welfare for politicians.”

Scott, who made a fortune in the health care industry, has flooded the TV airwaves with his campaign commercials, boosting the first-time political candidate from an unknown into the lead over Bill McCollum, Florida’s attorney general.

Under the current law, McCollum stands to receive $1 for every dollar Scott spends in excess of the $24.9 million cap.

“I believe in the First Amendment,” Scott said in defense of his lawsuit, adding that campaigns should not be funded with tax dollars.

Should Scott’s lawsuit be successful, it would work to the detriment of McCollum, who lacks the same deep pockets.

Scott declined to discuss the lawsuit further, saying he didn’t want to litigate the issue in the media.

Democrats lost no time weighing in Thursday.

Florida Democratic Party Chair Karen Thurman released a statement, saying:

“Rick Scott’s frivolous lawsuit once again shows Floridians that he thinks he is above the law. While this arrogance is what we have come to expect from the man whose company committed the largest Medicare fraud in U.S. history, Floridians de- serve better and expect more.”

Scott did not bring up the $1.7 billion fine for Medicare fraud that was assessed against Columbia/HCA or his involvement with that company during his two Manatee appearances, one before the East Manatee Republican Club meeting at Peridia, and the second at the Argus Foundation’s “Meet the Minds” luncheon at Sara Bay Country Club.

But at the Argus appearance, he was asked about it.

“As CEO, I have to take responsibility for things on my watch,” Scott said.

“Could we have done things better? Sure.

“If mistakes are made, you accept responsibility and suffer the consequences,” he said.

Scott said that accepting responsibility is a key part of the business world, but is too often lacking in government.

He laid the blame for the housing market meltdown, problems with public education, and a struggling job market on government policies.

Ultimately, there is a “day of reckoning,” but “have you heard anyone take responsibility?” Scott asked.

Asked what he would do to put Florida in a healthy economic position, the Naples resident said he would work to downsize government, try to hold the line on taxes, and weed out regulations that have no benefit for Floridians.

Scott said he would also try to bring new payrolls to Florida, saying that the governor should be the state’s best salesman.

Given Florida’s location and climate, there is no reason that it shouldn’t lead the nation in job creation, he said.

Scott said his father was a truck driver with a sixth-grade education and his mother was a hostess at a Chinese restaurant, and that he grew up understanding the value of hard work and strong family values.

Herald wire services contributed to this report.

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