Monday, December 18, 2017

The State of Crist

Gov. Rick Scott used his election-year State of the State speech Tuesday to draw a sharp contrast between his own "courage" in bolstering Florida's economy and the "terrible mess" left behind by his predecessor and probable fall opponent, former Gov. Charlie Crist.

Setting the stage for a grueling fight in the most important governor's race of 2014, Scott took direct aim at Crist's record in a 30-minute speech dominated by short, punchy sentences and emotional references to his own hard-scrabble childhood, including "Christmas without any presents."

"A lot has happened since I spoke to you last year," Scott told the Legislature on the opening day of the session in Tallahassee. "I could talk about how our unemployment rate is now down to 6.3 percent; how our crime rate is at a 42-year low; how we have invested record funding in protecting our environment while our tourism industry is breaking records."

Without mentioning Crist by name, Scott described a Florida "in a hole" and "in retreat" with 11 percent unemployment and $28 billion in debt in 2010, the year Crist opted not to seek re-election as governor and made an unsuccessful independent bid for U.S. Senate.

Scott criticized Crist for taking billions of dollars in federal stimulus money that drove Florida's economy "into the ground." Crist has said that without the money, the state would have had to lay off teachers and conditions would have been much worse.

"Some say these statistics were all because of a global recession," Scott said. "They say it doesn't matter who was running our state — that anyone would have been just a victim of the times. I disagree."

Returning to the theme a short time later, Scott said: "Let's be honest about it. We inherited a terrible mess. Growing unemployment. Dangerous levels of debt. Growing deficits and a crippling housing market."

Crist responded after the speech, saying, "Sadly, for three years, Rick Scott has only delivered campaign talking points and pay-to-play politics. The people have had enough."

Outside the House chamber, about 150 of the Dream Defenders loudly protested Scott's policies such as "stand your ground." The protesters ignored the Senate sergeant-at-arms' demand that they stop singing or be removed, and were allowed to stay.

Scott renewed his call for $500 million in tax and fee cuts. He called on legislators to hold the line on college tuition, abolish 15 percent tuition differential hikes at select state universities and tuition hikes tied to inflation.

He avoided any mention of a hot-button issue that's a priority of House Speaker Will Weatherford: in-state tuition for college students who came to Florida as children and are undocumented immigrants.

Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz in separate speeches pushed their priorities: tougher laws targeting sex predators, tighter residency rules for lawmakers, and an expansion of a voucher program paid for with corporate tax credits.

Scott made no mention of those issues. His speech glossed over transportation, the environment and health care. He didn't even mention Medicaid expansion, a dominant issue in 2013.

The Republican governor's speech on the opening day of the annual legislative session was more personal than his previous efforts. It was a template for an effort to re-engineer his biographical story to better connect with Floridians and battle low poll numbers.

The former health care executive, who spent $73 million of his own fortune to get elected, spoke about "my story" — his poor childhood in the Midwest and how he and his wife Ann, as young newlyweds in Newport, R.I., were so poor they slept in sleeping bags on the floor.

Describing himself in the third person, Scott spoke of living in public housing, not knowing his biological father, seeing the family car repossessed, buying a struggling donut shop, then another, and learning the value of hard work from his mother, Esther, who died in 2012.

Scott singled out five Floridians whom he described as living the American dream because of Florida's recovering economy, including a teacher battling cancer and a Puerto Rican man climbing the corporate ladder.

The governor hailed a third visitor, Freda Voltaire, who came to Miami from Haiti when she was 8, got a business degree from Florida State University and now works in the bilingual sales department at AT&T. The loudest applause was when Scott introduced Jimbo Fisher, head football coach of national champs Florida State.

The speech revealed a shift in Scott's election-year strategy that suggests many Floridians are still not convinced of the economic revival at the heart of his campaign. Scott has dropped the catch-phrase "It's working" to describe his agenda, and unveiled a new phrase that suggests the job isn't finished.

"We have more work left to do, so let's keep working," he said.

Contributing: Mary Ellen Klas, Kathleen McGrory

Comments
Bucs picked up club option on Jason Lichtís contract for 2018 earlier this year, but GMís future still not clear

Bucs picked up club option on Jason Lichtís contract for 2018 earlier this year, but GMís future still not clear

Bucs general manager Jason Licht did not receive a contract extension after the team went 9-7 last season. Instead, the Glazer family which owns the Bucs decided to pick up a one-year club option on Licht’s contract for 2018. That happened some...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Jim Leavitt isnít coming back to Florida after all

Jim Leavitt isnít coming back to Florida after all

Former USF coach Jim Leavitt isn't coming back to the state after all.Sports Illustrated reported late Sunday evening that Leavitt will remain at Oregon as its defensive coordinator – a position that will earn him a cool $1.7 million annually. ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Rubio takes victory lap after child tax credit fight

Rubio takes victory lap after child tax credit fight

WASHINGTON – Sen. Marco Rubio didn't get all that he wanted but succeeded in making the child tax credit better for working families.Now he's taking a victory lap and enjoying positive news coverage."For two weeks, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio o...
Updated: 4 hours ago
All Eyes gallery: Jim Damaskeís favorite photos of 2017

All Eyes gallery: Jim Damaskeís favorite photos of 2017

Social media could be the buzz word for the year (I might be a tad late). It’s nifty to be able to share what you see practically immediately with our readers (you look at the Times’ website, twitter feed and Facebook don’t you?). I...
Updated: 3 hours ago
The future of Dirk Koetter

The future of Dirk Koetter

Three games. That's how many the Bucs have left. Can the same be said for Dirk Koetter's head coaching career?The answer to that question might be determined by what happens in those three games.If the Bucs lose the rest – and that is more like...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Florida Congressmen on front lines of battle over Mueller investigation

Florida Congressmen on front lines of battle over Mueller investigation

WASHINGTON – Two Florida Congressmen are figures in a growing battle over Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia, with conservative Matt Gaetz calling for an end to the probe and liberal Ted Deutch saying it needs to continue without interf...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Sun, sand, sustainability: Anna Maria Island excels at ecotourism

Sun, sand, sustainability: Anna Maria Island excels at ecotourism

Reach out and grab a leaf. Go on. Now pop it in your mouth. It's the moringa plant, ounce for ounce one of the most nutritious plants on earth, which tastes like a cross between a bean and a pea.Now look over there. It's a Seminole pumpkin. You can p...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Did President Trump break a promise to Floridaís Haitian population?

Did President Trump break a promise to Floridaís Haitian population?

With Election Day 2016 approaching, then-candidate Donald Trump traveled to Miami to earn the support of a group of Haitian-Americans."Whether you vote for me or you don't vote for me, I really want to be your greatest champion, and I will be your ch...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Bulls expected to sign at least 6 (and possibly more) this week

Bulls expected to sign at least 6 (and possibly more) this week

At least a half-dozen high school seniors — and possibly more — are expected to sign with USF when the NCAA's new 72-hour early signing period for football commences Wednesday.Homestead South Dade TE Chris Carter Jr., a three-star prospec...
Updated: 3 hours ago
HomeTeam 25: Girls basketball rankings for Tampa Bay

HomeTeam 25: Girls basketball rankings for Tampa Bay

1. Lakewood (10-0)This week: Friday at OsceolaThe buzz: The Spartans have been blowing teams out, but things will get harder over the winter break when they play in the Florida Prospects tournament in Orlando. Senior forward Toi Smith has missed a fe...
Updated: 2 hours ago