Rick Scott's Dash to the Left Wins Few Friends

Florida Gov. Rick Scott learned this week that his dash to the political left is winning him few friends among liberals and the media. To the contrary, his recent embrace of liberal policies offended and chased away many grassroots conservatives who strongly supported him in 2010.

In the four months since the November 2012 elections, Scott repeatedly surprised his grassroots conservative supporters by staking out liberal positions on some of voters’ most important issues. Scott proposed a 2013 budget containing the most government spending in Florida history. Included in the budget proposal, Scott called for large pay raises and bonuses for government workers, who already earn substantially more than their private sector counterparts. Then, just last month, Scott launched a public relations blitz on behalf of President Barack Obama’s controversial proposal to expand costly Medicaid programs in the states. According to the Scott administration itself, Medicaid expansion in Florida would add at least $50 billion in new spending over the next 10 years.

Scott’s recent policy positions stand in sharp contrast to his first two years in office, when Scott cut back government spending and fought Obamacare and related government intrusion into health care services. Scott’s fiscally conservative policies during his first two years in office strengthened the Florida economy and drove down the Florida unemployment rate more than any other state in the country.

Nevertheless, the state’s liberal media pounded Scott for his conservative policies. Scott never presented an effective counter to the media narrative, as Scott displayed little personal charisma and his public relations team never seemed to connect with Florida voters. As a result, Scott’s approval numbers floundered. In August of 2012 Scott brought in a new chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth. Soon thereafter, Scott embarked on his high-profile transformation into a more liberal politician.

Despite Scott’s recent move to the political left, the media continue to savage him in news articles and editorials.

Yesterday, PolitiFact Florida, an arm of the Tampa Bay Times and the Miami Herald, published a “fact check” of Scott’s March 5 State of the State speech. PolitiFact Florida addressed two statements Scott made about the Florida economy and education spending.

In response to Scott’s assertion that a “legacy of taxing and borrowing” crippled the Florida economy before Scott became governor, PolitiFact Florida ruled Scott’s statement was “false.” PolitiFact Florida justified its ruling by arguing that high taxes have little impact on economic growth and that other factors beyond former Gov. Charlie Crist’s control were more to blame for the economy’s poor performance. Such arguments are by nature subjective and not capable of objective, factual verification. This, nevertheless, did not stop PolitiFact Florida from claiming that Scott told a falsehood when he said high taxes crippled the state’s economy.

PolitiFact Florida next addressed Scott’s assertion that “Our total education investment of $10.7 billion in state funding for K-12 schools this year is the highest state funding level in Florida history. This represents an increase of more than $400 in per-student funding over the current year.” PolitiFact Florida acknowledged that “Yes, at $3,941, the state’s share of per-pupil spending in Scott’s budget would be the highest dollar investment” in Florida history. Nevertheless, PolitiFact Florida ruled Scott’s factually accurate statement was only “half true” because Scott did not affirmatively point out that a slowdown in federal stimulus money and local spending dampened the effect of the record state spending. So PolitiFact Florida argued that although Scott made a factually true statement about state educational spending, he was as untruthful as he was truthful because he did not make liberal arguments for raising state education spending still further.

Other members of the liberal media continue to beat up on Scott, also. The Huffington Post published a March 5 article titled, “Governor Rick Scott Says ‘It’s Working,’ But Florida Disagrees.” Tampa Bay Newspapers Weekly published an article titled, “The education governor – is it really Rick Scott?” claiming recent gains in Florida education “owe no thanks to Scott’s policies.” The Orlando Weekly published a Feb. 27 article describing Scott as “the same scary bald man who spent $5 million of his own money campaigning against Obamacare before he was even really running for governor, licked his lips and took to a Tallahassee podium to awkwardly change his tune completely on the matter.” On the Maddow Blog, MSNBC’s liberal anchor Rachel Maddow described Scott’s recent liberalism as a “remarkable change in direction for the unpopular Republican, who’s spent the last few years bragging about his unyielding opposition to President Obama’s health care law and everything in it.”

While Scott’s rush to the political left fails to win over liberals and the media, it is by contrast depressing and chasing away grassroots conservatives who long formed his political base.

“I question why Gov. Scott, who came from the healthcare industry, entered the political arena opposing ObamaCare and knows Medicaid is broken, would want to add a million more Floridians to a broken system that is in dire need of reform,” Sharon Calvert, co-founder of the Tampa Tea Party, told Media Trackers Florida.

“America is nearly 17 trillion dollars in debt. Taking so called ‘free money’ from Washington DC and adding one million plus residents to a failing government entitlement program in my mind makes you complicit in our national debt crisis,” Slade O’Brien, Florida Director of Americans for Prosperity, told Media Trackers Florida.

This conservative disappointment is not merely academic. Several grassroots conservative leaders urged their colleagues to rethink their support for Scott when he runs for reelection in 2014.

Fort Walton Beach Tea Party leader Henry Kelley wrote Scott a “breakup note” and posted it on his website.

“Just like the national Democrats trying to explain Obama’s sudden flip on sequestration and drones, Florida conservatives are scratching their heads over their governor. The only difference is most of us on the right aren’t trying to defend the indefensible. I hope our next governor in 2014 remembers that when confronted with hard policy choices,” wrote Kelley. “A personal note to Gov. Scott:  Sorry to send you the breakup note in writing, but you’re hard to get a hold of lately. I still believe in the same things when we first met, and, well, it really is you, not me.”

“He’s really the Benedict Arnold of the tea party/patriot movement in Florida. Most conservatives feel betrayed by him and members have been calling me and saying they want him fired,” said Everett Wilkinson of the South Florida Tea Party. “He’s flip-flopped on such major areas. It shows how a man can be corrupted with D.C. and Tallahassee.”

“He suddenly goes to Tallahassee and drinks the water there, goes to D.C and drinks the water there,” said Wilkinson. “It’s not just a lie or a flip-flop, it’s rather insulting.”

Former State Senator Paula Dockery warned that Scott is jettisoning his only source of loyal supporters.

“He kind of doesn’t have any particular group that’s sticking with him because he himself changed so much on positions over a short time of two years,” Dockery said.

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