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Analysis: We still don't really know Rick Scott

Former Gov. Jeb Bush was among four former GOP governors at Tuesday’s inauguration. Bush said of Gov. Rick Scott: “He’s an instinctive conservative. He doesn’t start with the premise that the government’s role is to solve a problem if there’s another way to do it.”

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Former Gov. Jeb Bush was among four former GOP governors at Tuesday’s inauguration. Bush said of Gov. Rick Scott: “He’s an instinctive conservative. He doesn’t start with the premise that the government’s role is to solve a problem if there’s another way to do it.”

TALLAHASSEE — Not since an outsider named Claude Kirk took the oath of office 44 years ago have Floridians welcomed a governor as enigmatic as Rick Scott.

We know the broad strokes of Scott's agenda: slash government and taxes, cut the regulation and lawsuits that hurt business. We know he's a hard-charging CEO who intends to be ambitious, maybe even radical, in striving for job creation.

"I will be resolute in seeking bold — probably more bold than some people like — but bold, positive change,'' Florida's 45th governor told about 4,000 people gathered before the Old Capitol on a bright, sunny inauguration Tuesday.

Still, we don't really know Scott, even after he spent more than $60 million of his own money on TV ads and narrowly won the governor's office.

We don't know whether Scott cares about consensus or worries about combativeness. We don't know if he's ready to work with — or stand up to — a strong-willed Legislature.

He's both mild-mannered and audacious, but we don't even know whether the multimillionaire ousted from his own health care corporation is a competent leader.

His delivery of his inaugural speech could prove to be a metaphor: Scott knew exactly what he wanted to say and ordered up a well-crafted speech, but then stumbled repeatedly while trying to give it.

"He's not some petty office-holder used to placating," said an admiring former Gov. Kirk, who turns 85 Friday and was invited to attend by Scott.

Four former Republican governors — Kirk, Charlie Crist, Jeb Bush and Bob Martinez — were on hand Tuesday and each offered similarities to Scott.

The new governor shares Kirk's outsider status, but certainly not Kirk's flamboyance; he shares Crist's penchant for answering questions with vague platitudes, but not his enthusiasm for accessibility or bipartisanship; he shares Martinez's zeal for cutting waste in government, but not the former Tampa mayor's experience governing.

Bush looks like the best comparison. Scott clearly shares Bush's bedrock conservatism, though not his charisma or political savvy.

"He's an instinctive conservative," Bush said. "He doesn't start with the premise that the government's role is to solve a problem if there's another way to do it."

Scott has promised to trim the state work force, a distant echo of Bush's barn-burner of an inauguration speech in 2003 when he dreamed of a day with less government: "There would be no greater tribute to our maturity as a society than if we can make these buildings around us empty of workers."

Said Scott on Tuesday: "It requires magical thinking to expect government to create prosperity. Government has no resources of its own. Government can only give to us what it has previously taken from us — minus a huge cut for the government middleman."

But there are major differences between what Scott faces today and what Bush took on in 1999. Bush had the benefit of a vastly stronger economy as well as a deep reservoir of goodwill from his Republican base and colleagues in the Legislature.

Scott faces a still-reeling economy and lacks any long-standing support or goodwill with Republican activists or legislative leaders. Top lawmakers spent millions opposing Scott and painting him as a crook, and plenty of skepticism remains below the surface.

That said, Scott will be working with a veto-proof Republican majority in the Legislature and the most conservative Florida Senate ever.

"He's ready to tackle some problems that Gov. Bush might have had a harder time accomplishing for the lack of a dance partner in the Senate. The stars are aligned for the agenda he's laying out,'' said former state Senate President Tom Lee, R-Brandon.

Plenty of Bush loyalists are working on Scott's transition team, but his inner circle appears largely made up of outsiders to Tallahassee and even Florida. Many come from Conservatives for Patients' Rights, the political group Scott formed in 2009 to fight the Democrats' health care reform.

Even the inauguration events felt like a departure from what Tallahassee usually sees — more security than ever before, grand motorcades, regal decor on the inaugural stage.

Scott's personal wealth and lack of reliance on Tallahassee insiders and special interest money-raisers gives him an independence that most politicians lack. It's not clear, however, that his still-forming administration has a handle on all the moving parts involved in Florida government.

"Here in Florida," Scott declared Tuesday, "we have what we need to make the next four years the most exciting time in our history."

Sure sounds like it. And the most unpredictable.

Times/Herald staff writers Marc Caputo and Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. Adam Smith can be reached at asmith@sptimes.com.

Analysis: We still don't really know Rick Scott 01/04/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 5, 2011 10:39am]
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