ST. PETERSBURG — By cutting taxes and slicing government regulations, Florida's Republican leaders have turned the state's economy in the right direction, Gov. Rick Scott said Saturday.
"Conservative principles, lower taxes, less regulation, smaller government, liking businesses — it works," Scott said.
"We've had the second-biggest drop in unemployment in the country," Scott told more than 400 people at Pinellas County's Lincoln Day Dinner.
Scott was full of praise for Republican legislators in the audience. But not so much for President Barack Obama, who he said was preparing to come to Florida soon "to brag about how well we're doing."
"I'm sure he'll give us credit," Scott quipped.
The Lincoln Day Dinner is an annual fundraiser and rallying session for GOP faithful. This one came four months after Obama's re-election, but the Democrat's victory wasn't up for discussion.
Instead, Scott said, "every person who lives in the state of Florida should be a Republican. We're the party of jobs, we're the party of education, we're the party of keep the cost of living low."
Business owners should be Republicans, and so should employees who need those businesses to thrive, Scott said. "If you're on a safety net, you for sure should be a Republican because who's going to pay for that?" Somebody working a job paying taxes, he said.
Scott also touted his plan to give $2,500 pay raises to schoolteachers, and that got applause too, but a few people seemed to be grumbling about it. Pinellas Republican chairman Michael Guju said he heard the reaction, but said it's hard to make any judgments about the meaning of an "audience noise." He stressed, "I think the governor's showing real leadership."
One Republican name that didn't come up was Jennifer Carroll, Scott's lieutenant governor who resigned abruptly this month in the wake of an investigation into a $300 million gambling operation involving Internet cafes. Scott declined to give an opinion after the dinner on whether Internet cafes in general should be banned. He said he would wait to see how the Legislature acted.
Attorney General Pam Bondi introduced Scott to the audience, and Scott returned the favor by praising her for her work to combat human trafficking and prescription drug abuse.
Bondi urged parents in the audience to be wary of dangerous synthetic drugs with harmless-sounding names such as "Scooby Doo" being marketed to adolescents. She also discussed the high number of drug-addicted babies being born in Tampa Bay hospitals.
In spite of Obama's re-election, Bondi said it's not time for a Republican course correction. "We're not going to change our principles," she said. "We're going to work harder than the other guys and we are going to keep our word."