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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Scott: Haley Barbour's presidential bid could benefit Florida economy



Scribbles in my notebook after the Florida Chamber of Commerce International Days Conference.

1.) Gov. Rick Scott, who says he's competing with all of the country's governors to attract new businesses to the state, sees a benefit for Florida in Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour's potential presidential bid.

"Thankfully, Haley is on his last year as governor and looks like he is going to run for president, so he won't be focused on it," Scott said.

Mississippi has a 10.4 percent unemployment rate, more than a percentage point below the 11.5 percent of Floridians who are out of work.

2.) Scott's comment came as he was introducing perhaps his most important hire to date: Enterprise Florida President Gray Swoope. Swoope was hired from Barbour's Mississippi Development Authority.

"Gray was a competitor. He was helping Haley Barbour make sure that all the jobs that could have come to Florida the last seven years went to Mississippi," Scott said. "So now we're going to take all of his relationships and all of his knowledge and his hard work and make sure those jobs end up in Florida."

3.) Just eight months ago, Scott was such a political outsider that he had to wait until nightfall to meet someone like former House Speaker Allan Bense.

Things have changed.

Bense gave Scott a glowing introduction at the Chamber event, saying "I've never seen a person with a bolder agenda than Gov. Scott."

4.) Bense vaguely referred to the poor poll ratings for Scott. But Bense suggested that Scott was doing a favor for leaders, like his son-in-law Will Weatherford, in the Republican-controlled veto-proof Legislature.

"Our governor has taken more slings and arrows from a lot of folks," Bense said. "I told my son-in-law in the Florida House of Representatives that, 'He is taking heat for you guys.'

"So, I think they get it. I think they understand it. But I will tell you, I am so pleased at the great job Gov. Scott is doing," Bense said. "Some of his ideas are off the charts. We needed to think off of the charts if we want to get through these tough times."

And while Scott hammers away at the influence of "special interests" in the Capitol, he considers the Chamber one of his closest allies. "If there is anything my office can do," Scott said, "if you call any of us we will do everything we can to make things happen."

5.) Scott repeatedly described himself as optimistic at the half-way point of the legislative session, each time tying his confidence to the powerful GOP majorities, which he described as "very receptive" to his pro-business agenda.

"This is a golden opportunity so we need to take advantage of it," Scott said.

At one point, Scott acknowledged that much of his agenda includes ideas that Republicans were unable to pass in previous years.

"For whatever reason we couldn't get some of these things done. But we are going to get them done now. We're clearly going to be the model for the country," he said.

6.) It was a predictably friendly crowd for Scott, Senate President Mike Haridopolos and House Speaker Dean Cannon. But even Haridopolos could not resist pointing it out after the first several audience questions directed at him did not include an actual question.

"My favorite color is blue," Haridopolos offered.

7.) Though they were never in the same room, Haridopolos and Cannon offered similar boasts about the pro-business agenda moving through the Legislature.

Haridopolos told the Chamber that Scott's leadership was the "north star" for the Legislature: "On the last day of session, I want to report back to you that ... we balanced our budget, we didn't ask for any additional sacrifices and you are free, without having to look over your shoulder to see what the government was going to do to you next."

Cannon: "I call it the Hippocratic oath of lawmaking: First, do no harm. Don't raise the cost of doing business, don't raise taxes, don't raise fees."

What these statements ignore, however, is the men and women prowling the Capitol in protest of the proposed cuts to health care, schools and state worker benefits. These Floridians would argue they're the ones being asked to make an additional sacrifice (remember the $2 billion in taxes and driving fee increases in 2009?) and they're the ones harmed by the Republican policies.

Haridopolos said he would look the protestors in the eye and tell them, "Sorry."

"These are the tough calls you make," he said. "This is how you lead."

8.) Speaking of increasing costs on the middle class, Scott implied he would be willing to consider a 30 percent tuition tuition increase at state universities.

"We've got to make sure that we're fair to the citizens of this state. We've got to make sure we have the funds at our universities so they can do a great job and so we have great universities. So I think we have to look at those things," Scott said. "But at the same time we also have to really measure our universities, see if they're spending their money well."

9.) Scott left little doubt about a proposal (HB 283/SB 524) that would lift some security regulations off of Florida's ports.

"It's going to get to me and I'm for sure going to sign it," Scott said.

10.) Scott's devotion to capitalism means he is, for the moment, a bit of an environmentalist, too.

Maria Martinez, founder of the Tampa-based Naturally Green Products, asked Scott for his thoughts on items like "natural" pest control and environmentally-friendly cleaning products.

Scott says the market has spoken.

"Our consumers care about it more everyday," Scott said. "You can see it in the stores you go to.

"I had invested in a pharmacy chain on the West Coast and they sell a lot of those type of products. People really care about it," Scott said. "So I think we need to do everything we can because one of the reasons we all live in Florida is we like our beaches. We like our lakes, we like our rivers, we like the Everglades. And so anything we can do to help promote, to make sure that keep the environment as pristine as we can, I believe in."

[Last modified: Wednesday, March 30, 2011 4:35pm]


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