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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Rail-clear politics



Why on earth would Japan Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara fly into Tallahassee on a Saturday, Japanese press in tow, to meet with Gov. Rick Scott?

Here’s what Scott said in a minute long speech, duing which he pledged to go to Japan and talk trade and business: “We had a wonderful meeting. We talked about how Japan and Florida can work together better and expand trade both in Florida and in Japan and, of course, the Foreign Minister knows about the great opportunity that both Japan has and Florida has in growing our relationship with Latin America.”

Then it was Maehara’s turn. Through a translator, he described the “very fruitful meeting” and praised the “excellent background” and “tremendous success (of) the CEO governor.” Maehara also said he listened to Scott’s Tuesday inaugural speech and loved all the talk about jobs: “I agree with Gov. Scott here that we have to make concerted efforts toward creating jobs here and expanding our economic relationship.”

And then came the sales pitch: “Today I also had the opportunity of explaining the Japanese system of high-speed rail to Governor Scott.” Maehara went on to explain the safety of Japanese rail (zero casualties) and its efficiency (30 second delays, tops). He also mentioned the favorable loans that Japan’s national bank could make.

Bottom line: Japan would love to build Florida's bullet train.

The sales pitch is timely. Florida has had an on-again, off-again relationship with bullet trains. Voters mandated a bullet train system in 2000, only to repeal it. Last winter, the state committed to a high-speed rail system thanks to the millions and billions pledged by the federal government. But Scott, like some other Republican governors, seems cool to the idea because rail will cost the state millions and billions over time.

Maehara closed his address to the assembled press corps with a suggestion that the rail system would not just create jobs, it would help open more trade doors with Japan.

What did Scott think? Who knows. His press folks advised us he wouldn’t take questions. And he didn’t.

But two reporters from Japanese media outlets tried. Said one: “Governor, any comment on the High Speed Rail? Governor?” Scott said nothing. He smiled, shook the minister's hand and walked back in the governor's office.

[Last modified: Saturday, January 8, 2011 3:18pm]


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