Rick Scott set to take final step in improbable journey to Florida governor

TALLAHASSEE

Republican Rick Scott will take the final step in his improbable journey from public housing to the Governor's Mansion when he is sworn in at high noon today as the state's 45th governor.

Scott, 58, will take office with the same pro-business zeal he displayed on the campaign trail, delivering an inaugural speech acknowledging the state's economic crisis and promising tax cuts and less government spending as a harbinger of job growth in Florida.

"My job is to make sure that this is a place where we grow jobs," said Scott, who moved into the Governor's Mansion Sunday.

After the speech, Scott will sign two executive orders. The first halts new business regulations in Florida. The second will reaffirm the state's commitment to diversity, but a Scott spokesman declined to provide details.

The backdrop for the celebration of Scott's rags-to-riches-to-governor story will be the rolling hills and hanging moss of Tallahassee, the state's remote capital city that he pilloried on the campaign trail as overrun by special interests.

But special interests, like the state's biggest health insurance, utility and lobbying companies, have paid $3 million — at Scott's request — to cover costs of the inauguration. Many of these companies, or their clients, stand to benefit from Scott's decision to suspend new regulations.

The money helped build a three-tiered riser for TV cameras set up in front of the historic Capitol, where Scott will stand on the steps and take the oath of office as dozens of former governors did before him.

A stand was set up under a tent where Scott and his family will watch the inaugural parade down Monroe Street that includes 26 marching bands.

The special interest money paid for Scott's campaign-style tour last week and a donors-only candlelight dinner Monday. A $95-a-ticket, black-tie ball at Tallahassee's civic center punctuates festivities today.

The inaugural committee mailed over 7,000 invitations to events as well as more exclusive gatherings, such as the Salute to Women in Leadership breakfast and Forging a Path to Prosperity reception on Monday, and a Let's Get to Work luncheon today. Those invitations went to family, friends, supporters and business leaders, according to Erin Isaac, a spokeswoman for the inauguration.

Isaac said organizers also reached out to hundreds of thousands of Floridians via e-mail and social media, encouraging them to attend events and buy tickets to the inaugural ball.

Scott's inauguration contrasts to more laid-back inaugurals around the country.

In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry canceled his black-tie event. Blue jeans were part of the dress code for Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton's inaugural ball. California's Jerry Brown served hot dogs at his inaugural lunch Monday.

Four years ago, Gov. Charlie Crist canceled his inaugural ball after a backlash from constituents. Crist said it was inappropriate to have a lavish celebration while Floridians were burdened by high property insurance and property tax bills.

Florida's unemployment rate was 3.5 percent at the time, nearly 3½ times less than today.

Scott has defended his inauguration, which was planned by Spencer Geissinger, who helped coordinate four presidential inaugurals. The events Monday had a presidential feel: Scott's advance team, equipped with Secret Service-style ear pieces, kept a tight leash on the press while two government helicopters flew overhead.

Scott's public relations team pointed out that the "appreciation tour" events last week were open to the public. But those meet-and-greets were largely advertised by Republican clubs and attended by his supporters.

Open events in Tallahassee on Monday included a military appreciation concert featuring country singer Lee Greenwood. Scott served several years in the Navy and has surrounded himself with men and women who are military veterans, including Jennifer Carroll, who will be the state's first black female lieutenant governor, and Mike Prendergast, his chief of staff.

Free events today include the swearing-in, the parade and an open house at the Mansion.

The public, polls show, is still apprehensive of Scott. Despite his message of less government and more jobs, Scott has yet to win the same populist credentials as Crist, the man who will hand over the governorship.

Crist leaves office with a 50 percent approval rating, his highest of the year, according to Public Policy Polling.

Meanwhile, just 33 percent of Florida voters have a favorable opinion of Scott, according to the same poll.

"I've never seen anyone with numbers like this get elected," said Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning polling firm based in North Carolina. "He's the best example of how desperate people were to not vote for Democrats."

Approval ratings are important as Scott looks to push his agenda through the Legislature.

Scott has fellow Republicans in charge of the House and Senate, but leaders in both chambers have longer relationships with lobbyists than they do the incoming governor. And their veto-proof majority blunts one of Scott's biggest advantages.

Scott has also surrendered some of his power over the budget, already promising to veto spending projects, known as earmarks or "turkeys." Crist and other governors threatened budget vetoes to help leverage their agenda through the Legislature.

Scott's team is aware of his poor poll numbers and knows that, despite $60 million in campaign TV ads, the first-time candidate still has to introduce himself to many Floridians.

To that end, Scott spent two days last week visiting some of the state's largest cities, Orlando and Miami, as well as lesser-known places, like Clewiston.

"I love Florida," Scott said in Fort Walton Beach. "I want my family to live here, but they're not going to live here if we don't have jobs for them."

Times/Herald staff writers Steve Bousquet and Janet Zink and researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this story. Michael C. Bender can be reached at mbender@sptimes.com.

Inauguration schedule

Bay News 9 has live coverage beginning at noon.

8 to 10 a.m. | Inaugural prayer breakfast, Florida A&M University.

11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. | Swearing-in ceremony, Old Capitol. Tampa Bay Children's Chorus performs the national anthem; U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam takes oath of office as commissioner of agriculture and consumer services; state Sen. Jeff Atwater takes oath of office as chief financial officer; Pam Bondi takes oath of office as attorney general; Lt. Gov.-elect Jennifer Carroll takes oath of office; at noon, Gov.-elect Rick Scott takes oath of office as governor administered by Chief Justice Charles T. Canady, using Scott family Bible carried by Scott's wife, Ann Scott.

12:30 to 2 p.m. | The Governor's Let's Get to Work Leadership Luncheon, the Capitol

2:15 to 4:15 p.m. | Inaugural parade, Monroe Street

4:30 to 6:30 p.m. | Governor's Mansion open house

7 p.m. | Celebrating Florida's 45th Governor Inaugural Ball, Leon County Civic Center

Rick Scott set to take final step in improbable journey to Florida governor 01/03/11 [Last modified: Monday, January 3, 2011 10:15pm]

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