One of America’s most critical midterm election is the upcoming gubernatorial race in Florida and, despite having a campaign war chest of almost $20 million, incumbent Rick Scott is looking as vulnerable as ever.
Scott’s primary issue continues to be the perception that he is too cozy with Big Business and mega-money contributors, a perception reinforced by a variety of missteps, gaffes and politically costly decisions made during his first three years in Tallahassee. From the very start, Scott’s staff did a poor job of keeping the public informed of policy decisions, with media outlets reporting the Executive Branch was under orders to use private email accounts as a means to skirt state Sunshine Laws. Scott’s surrogates in the Republican Party were then linked to a variety of fundraising and electioneering scandals, and were even accused of voter suppression during the 2012 Presidential campaign.
And the hits just kept coming.
Jennifer Carroll, once considered Vice President material for the GOP, was forced to resign her position as Lt. Governor when reports surfaced on her involvement in a sexual harassment incident while serving as a member of the Florida House of Representatives. Then came the resignation of Steve MacNamara, the governor’s Chief of Staff, amid allegations of his being too chummy with lobbyists. Florida political powerbroker J.D. Alexander, under a term-limit guillotine, managed to get Scott’s blessing on the proposal to spin off the University of South Florida’s Lakeland-Poly campus into the state’s 13th public university, Florida Polytechnic University, an institution which the University System’s Board of Governors said was unnecessary. On the basic education front, Scott’s decision to do an about face and call for higher teacher salaries has some Tea Partiers and right-wingers looking at him as a turncoat.
When word of Progress Energy’s looming decision to shutter the Crystal River Nuclear Plant, scrap the Levy County Nuclear Plant plan, and stick Progress (now Duke) Energy customers with the $3 billion tab came, Scott did nothing but sit back and watch the Public Service Commission sit on its dithers. Citizens Insurance continued, under Scott’s watch, to push through rate hike after rate hike, citing “actuarial reasons” while getting fat and sassy off the backs of middle, lower and fixed income Floridians. And despite Scott’s claims of being well on his way to creating 700,000 jobs over 7 years, most of these positions are minimum wage slots obtained through the expansion of the retail sector.
From a health standpoint, the word is simple – nasty. Governor Scott has refused to push the General Assembly to comply with the Affordable Care Act, and has not exactly gone out of his way to show any sort of compassion for the state's 3.5 million uninsured residents. Despite promises to expand and improve it, the state’s Medicaid system is in shambles, and insurance costs have skyrocketed thanks in large part to a regulatory mentality akin to the Wild West. In fact, Scott himself sold off investments linked a company which benefited from his decision to require drug testing for all welfare and food stamp recipients.
Not everyone in Florida is hurting, however. The state’s wealthiest continued to see their income rise exponentially, and the number of seven-figure earners moving to the state has never been higher. Attendance at theme parks are up, and the state continues to enjoy some of the lowest tax rates in the nation. However, all these rosy stats cover a brewing issue; Florida has one of the nation’s largest gaps between rich and poor, and it is only growing larger. Drug usage among Floridians continues to soar, with pain clinics peddling Oxycontin and other opiates like candy.
What does this mean for Rick Scott? When a Google search of “America’s Worst Governor” pulls up your name, it means a rocky road ahead. When your predecessor, former Governor Charlie Crist, outpolls you after switching parties, you are on the hot seat and when your own Attorney General postpones an execution for her own fundraiser, you are proving to be asleep at the switch. When one of your largest donors shutters his own company, lays off 500 employees, and cites federal regulations after getting hammered for violating a variety of laws, your campaign team needs to be better than both President Obama's and former President Clinton's combined.
Long story short, Rick Scott is going to need every last penny of campaign cash he can scrape together because, barring all his opponents dropping out of the race, the state experiencing a job boom, and Scott learning how to stroll on the Gulf of Mexico without getting his feet wet under his own power, Florida is likely going to have a new person at the top in 2014.