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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Missing: Outsider businessman in GOP primary for governor



Gov. Rick Scott may have his eyes on unseating U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in 2018, but that doesn’t mean he will sit by idly as Republicans nominate a career politician to succeed him. Scott, the controversial and mega rich ex-CEO of a hospital chain, came out of nowhere to run for governor in 2010, and The Buzz among Republicans in Tallahassee is that Scott is actively recruiting a wealthy outsider like himself - and like Donald Trump - to run  for governor in 2018.

Scott has a frosty relationship with two leading Republican prospects for governor -- Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam of Bartow and Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O’Lakes, and a third, state Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater is considerably more moderate than Scott. And all three are the sort of longtime political insiders disdained by the governor, who frequently suggests that extensive private sector experience is the best qualification for job-creating governors.

What do Corcoran, Putnam, and Latvala think of that view?

It’s bunk, said Corcoran, who is blocking Scott’s plans for a generous economic incentives program to lure companies to Florida.

 “Tons of people who have built billion dollar fortunes, who have created more jobs and wealth than leading figures worldwide will tell you -- You can go to University of Chicago. You can pick up a primer by (Milton) Friedman, (Thomas) Sowell, anybody  -- and they will tell you that if the concept that those who create jobs will all believe that picking winners and losers and having government engage in the free market is a good thing, they haven’t read enough literature.”

The private sector experience of Latvala and Corcoran largely involves working as political operatives, but Latvala suggested Putnam’s lack of business background would be a serious liability.

“You’ve got one guy who’s been in elected office since he was 21 years old and has never written a paycheck, has never written a workers’ comp check,” Latvala said of Putnam earlier week. “Is a party that just nominated Donald Trump going to nominate somebody that’s never been in private business?”

Putnam, 42, is walking definition of a career politician, joining the Florida legislature at age 22 before spending a decade in the U.S. House and then becoming Florida Agriculture Commissioner seven years ago. And yet he said Gov. Scott is right about business experience. 

“Someone having business experience that they bring to public life is very helpful. As a guy who’s part of a small business, I get it,” Putam said, alluding to his family’s sprawling citrus and cattle operations. “You have a better feel for what the regulations mean and what the paperwork translates to, and things that often sound like a good idea in Tallahassee by the time they get to main street businesses is a hot, wet mess. So it is helpful for people to have an appreciation for the business community and what it means to create jobs in this state.”

Florida is loaded with little known super men and woman who could suddenly emerge and spend tens of millions of dollars of their own money on a campaign. The name most often mentioned is Naples builder and former ambassador Francic Rooney, but he wound up running for and winning a congressional seat last year. Might he run for governor in 2018?

“Out of the question,” said Rooney, noting he is focused on his district, Everglades restorating and increasing the effectiveness of Florida’s congressional delegation.

Democrats have at least two wealthy businessmen looking at the governor's race: Trial lawyer and entrepreneur John Morgan and entrepreneur Philip Levine, now serving as Miami Beach mayor.

[Last modified: Saturday, February 4, 2017 4:27pm]


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