Thursday, April 26, 2018
Politics

Smith: Adam Putnam knows Florida, but that might not be enough today to become governor

Here is a little secret among reporters who regularly interact with Gov. Rick Scott:

Reporters know it rarely matters if they happen to miss one of the governor’s periodic and brief question and answer sessions. He almost never says anything.

How should America respond to the Syrian government’s alleged chemical attacks last weekend, a reporter asked Scott Tuesday after a Tampa rally for his newly announced U.S. Senate campaign.

"The two biggest things that the federal government’s got to do? They’ve got to create an economy where people can get a job. That’s No. 1 and what we’ve done in Florida. No. 2 is we’ve got to make sure we defend this country," Scott responded without hesitation.

"This country is the land of opportunity, it’s the land of the free, the land of freedom, and all that. We’ve got to do that. And when we can help other countries, we need to show up. It’s like what happened in Syria. Disgusting what happened there. Look even closer to home. Look at what’s happened to Cuba over the last 50 years, and what’s going on in Venezuela right now. This country has got to do whatever we can to defend this country, but promote freedom worldwide."

There you have it, Senate candidate Rick Scott’s four-point plan for Syria. Land of freedom and all that. Defend ourselves. Disgusting Cuba and Venezuela. Help when we can.

And that was an unusually responsive answer from the governor.

Pressing Scott’s predecessor, Charlie Crist, for policy prescriptions or interesting, substantive answers about most anything else was similarly futile.

Crist invariably would tell reporters some variation of, "We work for the people." Or sometimes, "What do you think?"

Rewind back to the Jeb Bush era from 1999 to 2007. Reporters learned quickly that if they missed a four-minute Q&A with Gov. Bush, they might miss six good stories.

Gov. Bush could be curmudgeonly and disdainful on any given day with reporters, but he engaged like an actual human being and generally enjoyed weighing in on policy questions and debates.

Never a sound-bite politician, Bush comfortably spoke off the cuff about even obscure policy questions without requiring a staff briefing beforehand.

Watching Republican gubernatorial candidate and current Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam agreeably field an array of questions from a bipartisan crowd at Tampa’s Oxford Exchange recently, it was apparent that Putnam would be Florida’s first governor since Bush utterly at ease wading into policy discussions.

That is a big contrast to his primary rivals, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Palm Coast, and Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Pasco County.

DeSantis so far has all but boycotted reporters who might ask him about Florida issues or holding public events where uninvited guests might hear him discuss Florida issues. Instead, the 39-year-old former Navy lawyer appears on Fox News multiple times a week to criticize the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

One night in February Corcoran held a little-watched online debate with Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum about a sanctuary cities bill in the Legislature, while on Fox News DeSantis and Tucker Carlson lamented unfair treatment of President Donald Trump by investigators.

"Some people are trying to win the Tallahassee news cycle, some people are trying to win the election," scoffed DeSantis campaign manager Brad Herold on Twitter.

Corcoran, 53, also is generally inaccessible. Befitting a lifelong political operative, he invariably wants to speak off the record to reporters before agreeing to what he is willing to be quoted on.

He also can be passionate about policy, but his focus tends to be on broad ideological issues — more private sector competition for public schools, for instance, or fewer tax incentives to recruit businesses — than nuts and bolts governing.

It’s not that Putnam, 43, has a big, bold vision for Florida. He does not. His platform essentially is to keep the Sunshine State heading on its current track, but with much more emphasis on vocational education.

What’s striking, especially after eight years of relatively recent Florida transplant Scott as governor, is Putnam’s deep understanding of the state. A fifth-generation Floridian who has spent a lifetime in state and federal office and decades courting voters statewide tends to know a thing or two about Florida, especially when he also happens to be a policy wonk.

At the Cafe con Tampa community forum, he lamented that promotion of Florida culture and history dwindled after Floridians stopped electing their secretary of state 20 years ago.

He made an offhand comment of Hillsborough County having America’s eighth-largest school district, while north Florida’s Hamilton County had just two schools.

He mentioned the Tampa Bay water wars that divided the region when Putnam was still at Bartow High School.

He spoke of the traffic congestion between Brickell Avenue and Coral Gables in Miami Dade, traffic patterns around Orlando, and how Florida had not expanded its interstate system significantly since Florida’s population was half as large as it is today.

"So that may mean punching Suncoast up to 10," Putnam said, referring to the Suncoast Parkway and Interstate 10. "To me it makes no sense to move the Suncoast back into 75 back into Ocala and Gainesville — which is the worst part of 75, and it doesn’t have to be game day for it to be the worst part."

For all his ease engaging with voters and reporters Putnam so far has been uncharacteristically cautious about talking to the press during the campaign or weighing in promptly on hot button issues — including the post-Parkland gun control legislation that he eventually opposed.

His cautious strategy seems aimed more at avoiding losing the primary than aggressively running to win it. That means raising vast amounts of campaign money and treading lightly on hot-button issues or the latest Trump controversy.

That’s another way Putnam mirrors Gov. Bush. Bush’s so-called "shock and awe" presidential campaign strategy involved building a massive campaign war chest and relying on his policy smarts and deep ties to the GOP establishment to deliver him the nomination.

Unfortunately for both, that safe strategy failed miserably for Bush. Policy substance should help with governing, but there is little evidence it wins Republican primaries today.

Contact Adam C. Smith at [email protected] Follow @adamsmithtimes.

Comments
HUD Secretary proposes raising rent for low-income Americans receiving federal housing subsidies

HUD Secretary proposes raising rent for low-income Americans receiving federal housing subsidies

WASHINGTON - Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson proposed far-reaching changes to federal housing subsidies Wednesday, tripling rent for the poorest households and making it easier for housing authorities to impose work requirements.Ca...
Updated: 19 minutes ago
VA nominee considers withdrawing as new allegations emerge of drinking, wrecking government vehicle

VA nominee considers withdrawing as new allegations emerge of drinking, wrecking government vehicle

WASHINGTON — White House physician Ronny Jackson has grown frustrated with the nomination process to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs and has told colleagues he may remove his name from consideration, two White House officials with knowledge o...
Published: 04/25/18
Sessions defends Trump pardons of Joe Arpaio, Scooter Libby

Sessions defends Trump pardons of Joe Arpaio, Scooter Libby

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday defended President Donald Trump’s right to pardon former Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former Bush administration official I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Both pardons were issued by Trump and bypassed the ...
Published: 04/25/18
Seniors support ‘grandchildren’ with gun-control rally in Sun City Center

Seniors support ‘grandchildren’ with gun-control rally in Sun City Center

SUN CITY CENTER — Millions of women marched on Washington. Thousands of teenagers rallied in Tallahassee and Tampa Bay.And in Sun City Center, nearly 150 seniors held a demonstration for gun control on April 21, offering a simple but poignant message...
Published: 04/25/18

Sean Hannity, a Trump defender, under scrutiny for real estate deals

Atlanta Journal-Constitution (TNS)ATLANTA — On his Fox News program last summer, Sean Hannity effused praise for his guest, U.S. Housing Secretary Ben Carson. "I know you have done a good job," Hannity said. "You are a good man."Carson’s presence gav...
Published: 04/23/18
Having Cuba in the name of your company can be a financial risk and there is no solution

Having Cuba in the name of your company can be a financial risk and there is no solution

With the third largest Cuban American population, Cuba’s culture is celebrated throughout the Tampa Bay area and in a diversity of ways.Flags hang in homes, fashion is worn, music performed, food served.But be wary of honoring that heritage by puttin...
Published: 04/23/18
Trump says he doesn’t think personal lawyer will ‘flip’

Trump says he doesn’t think personal lawyer will ‘flip’

WEST PALM BEACH — President Donald Trump said Saturday that he doesn’t expect Michael Cohen, his longtime personal lawyer and fixer, to "flip" as the government investigates Cohen’s business dealings. Trump, in a series of tweets fired from Florida o...
Published: 04/21/18

Vive la France: Trump hosts glitzy White House state dinner

WASHINGTON — Now it’s President Donald Trump’s turn to pull off the ultimate charm offensive. Wined and dined on multiple state visits during his tour of Asia last year, Trump is paying it forward and celebrating nearly 250 years of U.S.-French relat...
Published: 04/21/18
Romano: Okay, now who sounds like a hysterical teen talking about guns?

Romano: Okay, now who sounds like a hysterical teen talking about guns?

The writer of the letter sounds hysterical. Perhaps a little desperate. And maybe that’s just who Marion Hammer is these days.Most of the world knows her as the take-no-prisoners maven of the National Rifle Association who directs Florida politicians...
Published: 04/21/18
Rick Scott’s term limits idea: Hugely popular and highly unrealistic

Rick Scott’s term limits idea: Hugely popular and highly unrealistic

WASHINGTON — Gov. Rick Scott’s first policy idea as a U.S. Senate candidate won’t happen and most of his fellow Republicans don’t support it.But it’s a surefire applause line at political rallies.Scott wants term limits for members of Congress: 12 ye...
Published: 04/23/18