Rick Scott should look to past for inaugural insights

At noon Tuesday, Richard Lynn Scott will raise his right hand and take the oath of office as Florida's 45th governor.

It's a remarkable time for the state. Less than a year ago, few had a clue who Rick Scott was, and in three days he'll be our leader.

Scott, 58, has already promised Floridians a lot, and soon he'll realize it will be extremely tough to deliver on it all. So perhaps he should temper his inaugural address, and promise only that which he can plausibly deliver.

He might also re-introduce himself to his new constituents, many of whom still know him only from campaign TV ads.

History, as always, provides valuable insights.

Four years ago, Charlie Crist outlined a vision of Florida that included "meaningful, secure work," along with "quality, affordable, accessible health care," "world-class schools" and said: "This is a vision we can make a reality."

The idealized image of this inaugural address met the reality of a recession, a balkanized state bureaucracy, real-world politics and Crist's own limitations as a leader.

In 2003, Gov. Jeb Bush created a stir when he publicly dreamed of Tallahassee's state office buildings being "empty of workers, silent monuments to the time when government played a larger role than it deserved or could adequately fill."

On Jan. 6, 1987, Bob Martinez took the oath as only the second Republican governor since Reconstruction, and did not overpromise. Without proposing new programs, he said the state's primary duty was to focus on education, public safety, public works and health care.

Martinez also promised to eliminate $800 million in waste from what was then a $16.5 billion budget (it's four times that large now).

Democrat Bob Graham took the oath of office on Jan. 2, 1979, a day of numbing cold and snow flurries in Tallahassee.

Graham won in part on the success of his 100 "workdays," a campaign device in which he spent a day doing the jobs of average Floridians.

"True leadership requires not the courage, but rather the unending responsibility to do what is right — and to do so regardless of the consequences in public favor or personal misfortune," Graham said as a howling wind blew noise through the microphones.

Eight years earlier, another Democrat, Reubin Askew, entered office on a promise of reforming Florida's tax structure and restoring people's faith in government as an instrument for good.

"We mistrust our political leadership," Askew said that day, 18 months before the Watergate break-in. "We doubt that any group or any person serves other than the interest of greed and personal gain."

Among Scott's many promises is to make a top-to-bottom review of state agencies to see if it would be more economical to abolish some and merge others.

It's a worthy goal but not a new idea.

When Gov. David Sholtz took office in 1933, he posed these three questions in his inaugural address: "One, can the state afford it? Two, does the state have the money to pay for it? Three, can the state get along without it?"

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Rick Scott should look to past for inaugural insights 12/31/10 [Last modified: Friday, December 31, 2010 5:28pm]

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