TAMPA — After a late night in Tallahassee, Gov. Rick Scott and Hillsborough Republicans took time Saturday night to praise the just-closed legislative session and provided what may be the opening shots of the 2012 campaign.
For Scott, the annual Hillsborough GOP's Lincoln Day Dinner was a chance to repeat his mantra on lower taxes, smaller government and the elimination of state regulation that he says kills jobs.
On all counts, he said, the just-approved state budget was successful.
"That's the budget we have," Scott told more than 650 county Republicans at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay. "We've changed the direction of the state. … All the things we knew we had to get done have happened. We can all be proud of what's happened this session."
Scott joked that he was surprised about the number of special interests in Tallahassee.
"It's pretty darn interesting up there," he said. "I did not have anyone come to my office to say we should cut this."
Scott said the state can become a model for the rest of the nation.
"I hope everybody understands this is a fight to turn our country around," Scott said. "As a group we changed the thought process in the state."
The biggest applause lines of the evening may have come when Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi talked of state litigation aimed at defeating "Obamacare," a probable line of attack for the GOP in 2012.
"We will not forfeit our rights to an unconstitutional health care takeover," Bondi said. "We must prevail. This is bigger than health care."
Bondi also lashed out at the Environmental Protection Agency, noting the GOP was continuing efforts to prevent the feds from "bankrupting the state by imposing regulations that are out of control and unsustainable."
With individual tickets costing $125, the dinner raised $200,000 for the GOP. A wide assortment of state Republican leaders attended the event, from U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis to state Senate President Mike Haridopolos.
As Scott left the dinner early to return to Tallahassee, Hillsborough Republicans presented him with a parting gift.
A Louisville Slugger bat.
William R. Levesque can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3432.