Monday, June 18, 2018

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
Mazzaro’s gets ready to reopen

Mazzaro’s gets ready to reopen

day after an electrical fire broke out in its dry goods warehouse Friday night.Dominic Horwath, a grocery manager at Mazzaro’s on 22nd Ave. N, said staffers spent Monday and the weekend moving things into other warehouses.The damage from the fire at ...
Updated: 4 minutes ago
Pinellas deputies arrest Mississippi man 31 years after sexual battery

Pinellas deputies arrest Mississippi man 31 years after sexual battery

SEMINOLE — She was 22 when deputies said a man forced her at knifepoint into the woods off Seminole Boulevard and sexually battered her in February 1987.The case went cold, but now the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office said it has arrested the man it ...
Updated: 4 minutes ago

WashingtonPentagon suspends August drills with South KoreaThe Pentagon on Monday formally suspended a major military exercise planned for August with South Korea, a much-anticipated move stemming from President Donald Trump’s nuclear summit with Nort...
Updated: 7 minutes ago
Philip Levine says he’ll put assets in a blind trust if elected Florida governor

Philip Levine says he’ll put assets in a blind trust if elected Florida governor

Gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine says he'll place his assets in a blind trust if he's elected governor of Florida, a decision intended to enable the $133 million man to govern without conflicts under state law by handing control of his investmen...
Updated: 7 minutes ago
XXXTentacion, controversial Florida rapper and singer, shot dead at 20

XXXTentacion, controversial Florida rapper and singer, shot dead at 20

The last words posted to XXXTentacion's Instagram Stories on Monday afternoon: "planning a charity event for this weekend Florida!"Whatever it was, it would have been huge. The 20-year-old singer-rapper was among the biggest — and most controve...
Updated: 17 minutes ago
St. Pete heroin dealer delays sentencing by firing another lawyer

St. Pete heroin dealer delays sentencing by firing another lawyer

TAMPA — William Harold Wright was supposed to learn his punishment Monday for bringing massive shipments of heroin to the streets of St. Petersburg.Instead, the convicted drug dealer once again ditched his attorney and declared his innocence, cutting...
Updated: 1 hour ago
For starters: Rays at Astros, trying to stop a streaking champion

For starters: Rays at Astros, trying to stop a streaking champion

UPDATE, 6:40: Cash said he had a good talk with Hechavarria, and that he understood the situation. Cash said Hechavarria will get to play some, and when he does it will be at short. … RHP Chris Archer (abdominal strain) is slated to throw a bul...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Geneva‘Gaming disorder’ named a diseaseThe World Health Organization on Monday officially recognized "gaming disorder" as a condition in its International Classification of Diseases, saying that it is possible to be addicted to video games. Simply pl...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Kevin Kiermaier set to rejoin Rays Tuesday

Kevin Kiermaier set to rejoin Rays Tuesday

CF Kevin Kiermaier is here in Houston and will work out with the Rays today, and said that if all goes well he will be activated on Tuesday.That would be a couple days ahead of his most recent timetable, which had him slated to return to Friday.Kierm...
Updated: 1 hour ago
The Latest: Audio released of screaming children at border

The Latest: Audio released of screaming children at border

A newly released audio recording that depicts screaming children being taken away from their parents has added to the outrage over the Trump administration policy of separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border
Updated: 1 hour ago