TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott's debut State of the State address tonight is his chance to smooth a rocky relationship with the Legislature, focus his fuzzy image in the minds of many Floridians and amplify his first-year agenda.
Scott will deliver the speech to a joint session of the Legislature and predicted it would be "a lot of fun," but as he showed in his inaugural address on Jan. 4, he's not a particularly gifted public speaker.
The main points of Scott's speech won't surprise anyone: He wants to create jobs, cut spending and taxes, reduce red tape on businesses, and shrink the size of state government.
"I'm going to talk about a lot of things I have been talking about," Scott said. "The budget, making sure we continue to focus on what taxpayers and citizens elected us to do: Watch how we spend every dollar, make sure that we give money back to taxpayers, make sure we prioritize things, make sure the education system is for the benefit of children, not for special interests. So those are generally the things I'm going to talk about."
The evening talk is also a chance for Scott to build bridges with the people who have the power to advance or wreck his agenda.
After barely two months in office, the Republican governor has alienated legislators in his party by not consulting them before rejecting billions in federal rail money and selling two state airplanes.
The House speaker and Senate president are lukewarm to Scott's tax-cutting ideas; the Senate forced one of his agency heads to withdraw; and some lawmakers are growing impatient with the sluggish pace of Scott's choices for other agency leaders.
"Rick Scott has gotten off to a rocky start with the Legislature," said J.M. "Mac" Stipanovich, who has penned speeches for a governor and legislative leaders. "To the extent he can convey a more collegial message and exhibit a more cooperative demeanor, it certainly can't hurt him."
But Stipanovich, a longtime Republican strategist, said State of the State speeches are overrated and rarely remembered in detail. He doubts the decision to deliver it during 6 p.m. newscasts will draw a wide audience and joked that his 80-year-old parents, who live in rural Williston, would "hit the clicker" if they saw Scott giving a speech.
The night also gives Scott an opportunity to reconnect with voters who have yet to decide whether they like him or not. A January poll of 1,160 voters by Quinnipiac University found that 45 percent didn't know enough about Scott to give an opinion of him.
Traditionally, State of the State speeches are about style as well as substance.
Past governors have cited everyday Floridians as case studies to humanize the dry prose of budgets, social services and schools. Some showed inspirational video snippets of people who benefited from state services.
Lobbyist Eric Eikenberg, who as chief of staff helped write two of Charlie Crist's State of the State speeches, called the ceremonial address a refreshing time.
"The governor has an opportunity to lay out an agenda," Eikenberg said. "And I think Gov. Scott will offer the Legislature an olive branch. Remember, on the majority side, they want the governor to succeed."
Democratic Rep. Rick Kriseman of St. Petersburg said Scott, a career health care executive who ran as an antigovernment outsider, has already set a clear tone for the next four years.
"He's used to being a CEO who told people what to do, and they'd do it or lose their jobs," Kriseman said. "Government doesn't work that way. This guy has no government experience, and it's already showing by the way he's governing."
Asked if he expects Scott to magnanimously reach out to lawmakers, Kriseman said: "We're not going to see an olive branch. We're going to see a bamboo pole."
Legislative leaders on Monday reaffirmed their view that while they want to work with Scott, their priority is to cut spending by up to $4 billion before any tax cuts are considered.
Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, who spent two hours with Scott and their wives over dinner at the Governor's Mansion on Sunday, said he's "just getting to know" the governor.
Scott's message should be well received by a conservative Capitol.
"This is real change," Haridopolos said. "This is a much different place than it was when we left last year. The House and Senate are much more conservative. Clearly, we have a more conservative governor."
Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, says Scott should display a more humble side and make it clear that he doesn't know all the answers.
"He needs to convey to the Legislature that he's going through a learning process, and that he understands the importance of having three branches of government," Fasano said. "If he continues going down the road he's on, it's going to be a rough road for the next four years."
Times/Herald staff writers Michael C. Bender and Marc Caputo contributed to this report.