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Monday, June 6, 2011

How Rick Scott wrecked Florida... in 5 months

From the Orlando Sentinel

by Aaron Deslatte

TALLAHASSEE – Gov. Rick Scott is being portrayed as the most unpopular governor in the country, a toxic political asset for his Republican allies, an alarmingly aloof public servant when it comes to issues Floridians have cherished for decades.

But don't expect the Republican-led Legislature to make him look even worse by overriding a host of his $615 million in budget vetoes this summer.

Lawmakers can't afford to make their titular party head appear any weaker heading into a presidential election year, when GOP hopes of re-taking the White House from President Barack Obama will hinge on re-claiming the Sunshine State.

Democrats are eagerly trying to portray Scott as the face of the Republican Establishment and are feasting on the anti-Scott animus to boost their grassroots organizational strength.

Look no further than Jacksonville. Polling from last month's mayoral upset suggests the unpopular governor and the GOP push to cut education funding played a significant role in helping Democrat Alvin Brown win.

Even though Duval County is Republican country, its Democrat-leaning African-American electorate dramatically out-performed white voters. Black voters are 27.26 percent of the Duval electorate, but 41 percent of eligible black voters cast ballots. White voters are 62.6 percent of the electorate, but only 38.4 percent of them voted.

Democrats won the battle for early votes and Election Day turnout. But race appears to have played less of a role than local issues, particularly cuts to education that were beginning to put sports, arts classes, and after-school offerings on the chopping block.

In Democratic polling, education went from being the second-most important issue among Duval voters in January – behind jobs – to the top spot by April, as Tallahassee prepared to impose big classroom cuts.

"It's almost like voters have given up being angry at Congress and are turning that anger toward the Legislature," said Dave Beattie, a Fernandina Beach-based Democratic pollster who worked in the race. "That's very atypical for Florida."

Sensing the voter unrest, Scott charged lawmakers to restore a portion of their $1.3 billion in classroom cuts with the money he saved through his $615 million in vetoes.

"If we have money to spend on some of those projects, we clearly have money to spend on the education of our kids," the governor said this week.

But the contortion drew a public rebuke from House Speaker Dean Cannon, who noted less than $100 million of the money could go toward schools and that Scott himself had urged a far larger cut to classrooms in February.

Scott's vetoes wiped out money for rural dental and mobile health-care units in economically depressed counties and programs for the deaf, disabled, paraplegics, cancer patients and children with birth-related brain-damage.

The vetoes also took out $167.8 million for new college and university buildings – which would have employed thousands of construction workers.

Then, Scott used Republican Party of Florida resources to send a robo-call out to voters, in which he bragged the budget "delivers on promises I made to all Floridians to put job creation front and center" by cutting "wasteful special interest projects."

One lawmaker who took offense: Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, an Orlando Republican who has become a champion for disability issues in Tallahassee.

"Define special interests. Republican and Democratic members know their districts very, very well," Gardiner says. But, he added, GOP lawmakers are more likely to simply wait and restore the projects in next year's budget.

"In the big picture, do you do something about it, or create a comfort level for the projects next fiscal year?" or 850-222-5564. Follow him on Twitter @adeslatte.,0,3512339.column?

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