TALLAHASSEE — Rick Scott's improbable journey from political unknown to Florida governor took just seven months. Keeping his many promises will take much longer.
"I think what people expect is, they expect me to do what I said," Scott says. "I'm willing to upset the applecart and say we've got to do business differently here now, and I think that's not the easiest thing to do."
By labeling himself "the jobs governor," Scott carries the burden of reviving Florida's economy. He wants to be held accountable and he senses political traps ahead. After all, he has lived in the private sector, is unfamiliar with how the state Capitol works and has no experience at political leadership.
How effectively he uses the bully pulpit of governor will shape his success.
"Nobody did it better than Jeb Bush. We have no idea whether Rick Scott can do that or not. That's an unanswered question," said Pete Dunbar, a lobbyist, former Pinellas County lawmaker and onetime counsel to former Gov. Bob Martinez. "He may turn out to be like Lawton Chiles or Bob Graham, who were not effective in relation to their legislative voice. Or he could turn out to be like Jeb Bush and Reubin Askew, who were strong-voiced governors and really threw their elbows around."
Scott's narrow win over Democrat Alex Sink on Tuesday, coupled with a Republican sweep of all three Cabinet seats and gains in the Legislature, gives Florida its strongest and most conservative leadership in years.
Central to Scott's vision is a belief in smaller, limited government. That view is shared by Sen. Mike Haridopolos and Rep. Dean Cannon, incoming leaders of a veto-proof Legislature.
Scott has laid the groundwork for significant changes:
• On the economy, he pledges to create 700,000 jobs in addition to expected job growth in a state where more than 1 million people are unemployed.
• On education, he supports a re-do of a teacher tenure and merit-pay bill Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed in April, and he favors paying the best teachers more and expanding school choice.
• On the size of government, he wants to lay off 5 percent of state workers, require them to contribute to their pensions, and cut $1 billion from the prison budget.
• On abortion, he favors a law similar to Nebraska's, which prohibits abortions in most cases after the 20th week of pregnancy.
In addition, he wants to cut property taxes by 19 percent, phase out the corporate income tax over seven years, drug-test welfare recipients, recruit more private property insurers to Florida, make it harder to sue Florida businesses and enact an Arizona-style law to curb illegal immigration.
Trouble may lie ahead with legislative leaders who control political committees that funded vicious attack ads against Scott in the Republican primary. But Scott got 2.5 million votes, is now the titular head of the Republican Party, and he'll likely anoint the next state GOP chief, points he may need to remind Haridopolos and Cannon about.
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When Scott takes the oath of office on Jan. 4, he will insist on benchmarking everything, with the goal of making Florida the best.
To hear Scott tell it, governing isn't complicated: It means having a plan and executing it.
"It's just like a business in that you write your plan and you staff your plan," Scott said. "I'm going to staff my plan with the best people I can find."
He offers few hints as to what his administration will look like, but he wants hard-working, hopeful people who share his vision of smaller government. New faces will abound: Most campaign workers were from out of state, and both leaders of his transition team are lawyers from Washington and Nashville.
It won't be surprising if he recruits state agency heads from the business world or other states. When they arrive, they will be expected to increase efficiency with fewer people.
"Typically, where I've found savings, it's generally in layers of management," Scott says.
But for all his talk of "running government like a business," Scott may find the two are very different.
The Legislature is an equal partner whose members require constant cajoling. The mainstream media can turn hostile quickly and are on the lookout for gaffes. An entrenched state bureaucracy will seek to protect itself, and a legion of opponents will be rooting for him to fail.
Scott will find himself constrained by competitive bidding laws that in many cases require the state to hire the cheapest vendor, not necessarily the best.
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Haridopolos framed Tuesday's results as a green light for more conservative policies and an end to the moderation that has marked the Senate for decades.
"I feel that the Legislature was not as conservative as it should be," Haridopolos said Friday. "It was one which was very sympathetic to unions, very sympathetic to trial lawyers."
Haridopolos said the Senate will consider cutting Medicaid costs through a welfare overhaul, and may revive a law Crist vetoed to require women seeking abortions to view an ultrasound of their fetus.
All of it worries liberals in Florida.
"Women will severely lose their freedom of choice. Public schools will take a back seat to private schools," said Lois Frankel, mayor of West Palm Beach and a former Democratic state legislator. "The people who need government the most are going to suffer the most."
But Scott's idea of upsetting the applecart may not always dovetail with the Legislature's agenda, no matter how ideologically compatible they appear.
For example, Haridopolos is not ready to sign on to Scott's proposal for an Arizona-style immigration law.
"If we choose to go in this direction, we're going to create a Florida-style plan that works for Florida. Arizona's a different state," the Senate president-designate said.
The Republican wave that swept Scott into office also leaves him with less absolute power than any governor in more than two decades. Voters weakened Scott's power when they elected enough Republicans to give both the House and the Senate veto-proof majorities.
"There won't be anything to stop this Legislature," said Barbara Zdravecky, director of a Planned Parenthood group.
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In shaping his transition from candidate to governor, Scott has reached out to both mavericks and political insiders.
In his victory speech, he proclaimed: "Some are beginning to wonder if anyone in Tallahassee can turn things around. I will.''
Three transition advisory board members — Sally Bradshaw, Toni Jennings and Kathleen Shanahan — have close ties to former Gov. Jeb Bush. He also selected Sen. Paula Dockery of Lakeland, a vocal critic of the state road-building agency and many of her fellow Republicans.
Two others, Rep. Mike Weinstein of Jacksonville and former Rep. Baxter Troutman of Winter Haven, also have bucked the GOP legislative hierarchy.
"He wants to know what works and what doesn't work," Dockery said. "I think he'll be getting a lot of good advice."
Scott sees the state's chief responsibilities as public safety and quality schools, plus functions that the private sector can't do as well, such as building roads.
"I believe all the things I've said are doable," Scott says. "We have to work it every day."
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Scott is methodical, punctual and abhors distractions. Aides say that he has a firm "no jerks" rule, that he has zero tolerance for gossip, backbiting and boorish behavior by subordinates.
Scott is an early riser, so 7 a.m. staff meetings should not come as a surprise.
"He's a workaholic," said Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City. "He carries two BlackBerrys. He sleeps four hours a night. He doesn't stop working."
Scott makes decisions and forges ahead, and if he's nagged by self-doubt, he won't show it publicly. But he also has referred to himself as a "worry wart" with a fear of failure.
As a first-time candidate, Scott was tightly scripted and almost robotic at times, but in the final weeks he showed a friendlier side and lingered at events.
"You need to connect with people," he says. "People want to have a governor that they can see and touch, and I like that."
Times/Herald staff writer Marc Caputo contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at email@example.com or (850) 224-7263.