Florida Chamber flip flops to endorse Rick Scott, uber alles for GOP
Wake up and good morning. The Florida Chamber of Commerce's decision to endorse Rick Scott -- after endorsing rival (and unsuccessful) candidate Bill McCollum and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat Scott in the Republican primary -- speaks volumes about this statewide organization nominally charged with representing the business interests of Florida businesses. Aside from the taint of a political flip flop -- Dear Rick: All those ads about your role in Medicare fraud and dubious character?... well, never mind -- the Chamber essentially turned its back on one of its own. Alex Sink, the Democratic candidate for governor, was a bank president in Florida for years and served on the Chamber's board. Apparently that counted for diddly squat. Here's the Florida Chamber's endorsement of Scott. (Photo: Rick Scott visits Valpak president Jim Sampey Thursday in St. Petersburg. By Cherie Diez, St. Petersburg Times.)
The concern, of course, is that the Chamber has become another political victim of form over content. Better to hold the nose and back Scott than endorse the current Chief Financial Officer of the state, a business woman whose economic prescriptions for the state would warm the hearts of many a Chamber member. If Sink had the exact same platform for revitalizing the Florida economy but was running as a Republican, I'd say the Chamber would be 100% behind Sink.
Here are today's stories from the St. Petersburg Times and Jacksonville Times Union on the Chamber's pick of Scott. All this talk about jobs? Preserving GOP power in Tallahassee is Job One, as this story points out.
Of course, taking a closer look at who's calling the shots at the Florida Chamber should make the Scott endorsement less surprising. Florida board chairman Steven Halverson (photo, left), a builder who runs the Haskell Co. out of Jacksonville, was appointed by Republican Gov. Jeb Bush to be a trustee of the University of North Florida and a member of the Florida Council of 100.
Better yet, the Florida Chamber's vice chair is Allan Bense (photo, right), a career Republican politician who was elected House Speaker in Tallahassee in 2004. Bense is identified on the Chamber web site as the chair of a business called GAC Contractors (a firm heavily dependent on government projects) in Panama City, though GAC refers to him as a partner. The Chamber web site refers deferentially to him still as "Speaker Bense."
As for Alex Sink? She apparently never had a chance at a Chamber endorsement, despite her extensive business roots in the state. What's less clear in such an election year is whether a Chamber endorsement, post McCollum flip flop, helps or hinders Scott.
As the online magazine Slate opined last month: "What's harder to ascertain is just why Scott got into the race, and why the Republican Party, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and just about every interest group that matters is trying to stop Scott from seizing this nomination."
This just in from the Chamber: Dear Rick: All is forgiven.
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist