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Rick Scott takes office, asserts himself as state's chief job creator

TALLAHASSEE — Taking office as Florida's 45th governor, Rick Scott asserted himself Tuesday as the state's chief job creator, drawing on a childhood shaped by poverty and the pains of a state ravaged by unemployment to help validate his pro-business agenda.

But if he offered hope to out-of-work Floridians in his inaugural address, Scott also cast the government he takes over as parasitic.

"A lean and limited government has a role to play in providing a safety net," said Scott, 58. "But … the only path to better days is paved with new private sector jobs."

Scott, who has hired just five of the dozens of agency heads and division directors he needs to manage his administration, signed four executive orders after being sworn in, including one that halts new business regulations and creates a new government office to review future rules.

On a comfortable, 50-degree, overcast day, Scott took the oath of office at 11:56 a.m., surrounded by family members outside the Old Capitol. Scott's wife, mother, two daughters and their husbands were his only entourage during most of the campaign season while the state's political establishment lined up to defeat him.

"We did it," Scott whispered to his wife, Ann, in a moment picked up by a wireless microphone clipped to his dark blue suit jacket.

Afterward, Scott hosted a luncheon for many of the state's political elite and watched with Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll as 26 marching bands and three circus elephants passed by in the inaugural parade along Monroe Street, renamed Rick Scott Way for the day.

Also watching the parade was Billy Spain, a Pensacola chiropractor who has attended nearly every inauguration since Claude Kirk's in 1967. Spain said Scott should be trusted despite a record $1.7 billion in Medicare fraud fines paid by the hospital company Scott created.

"He wants to give back to Florida," Spain said. "He's on a mission to redo his name and leave a legacy."

The Scotts hosted an afternoon open house at the Governor's Mansion, where several hundred people lined up to meet the Republican governor and the first lady. The pair then celebrated into the night during an inaugural ball that punctuated four days of events.

Nearly 4,000 people applauded earlier as Scott was introduced at the inauguration by John Willyard, a Nashville-based voice-for-hire who emceed and has done narration for the Country Music Association Awards, CNN and Toyota.

Sharing the stage

Scott seemed to put aside any hard feelings, too. Senate President Mike Haridopolos and House Speaker Dean Cannon, who backed Scott's primary opponent, shared the stage.

Lobbyists and corporate executives, who largely paid for the $3 million festivities, received prime seats in the first three rows.

But there was at least one dissenter.

During the speech, a heckler yelled to Scott: "Criminal! You are not Christian! You're a heathen!" Someone in the crowd yelled back: "Get a job!"

Scott paused but didn't engage the heckler as the crowd booed. The man, who declined an interview request, strolled away as several law enforcement officers walked toward him.

The ceremony started at 11 a.m. and included the swearing in for the Cabinet and Carroll, the first black woman to serve as lieutenant governor.

But the program moved too quickly, forcing the Florida National Guard Army Band and country singer Lee Greenwood to take turns playing patriotic music for more than 20 minutes while officials waited until just before noon when Scott could officially take office.

Hampered by a hoarse voice and problems with his teleprompters, Scott was tongue-tied through much of his 21-minute speech, written by Sue Rankin, a Nashville-based speechwriter who also worked on the campaign.

Scott, who earned millions as a hospital executive before launching his first attempt at public office last year, incorporated many campaign themes into his speech. He jabbed President Barack Obama for the "magical thinking" that government spending could blunt the recession and closed with his trademark, "Let's get to work."

But most of the speech focused on Scott's goal of creating new jobs and deflating the state's 11.9 percent unemployment rate. He mentioned the word "job" or "jobs" 25 times, but did not refer to his oft-repeated campaign pledge of 700,000 new jobs in seven years.

Scott empathized with Florida's out-of-work construction workers and unemployed parents by recalling his childhood in Missouri where his father was often laid off and his mother ironed clothes for income.

"I have a clear memory of their fear and uncertainty as they struggled to provide for five kids," Scott said. "So, for me, job creation is an absolute mission."

Absent from his speech was any reference to the hundreds of specifics offered up by his transition teams, which have asked him to consolidate state agencies, reform the state pension and use tax money to send Florida students to private school.

Scott repeated his vows to eliminate the corporate income tax and reduce property taxes, coining the phrase "axis of unemployment" to describe taxation, regulation and litigation.

"Left unchecked they choke off productive activity," he said.

House Democratic leader Ron Saunders noted that Republicans have controlled state government for 12 years and created many of the regulations Scott criticized.

"This axis of unemployment he talked about was either put there or kept there by other Republican legislators," said Saunders, D-Key West. "He needs to talk to his fellow Republicans and ask them why."

Executive orders

Scott's first official act was to make good on three of his campaign promises by signing four executive orders. The orders:

• Freeze new regulations, require state agencies to review every contract over $1 million and create a state Office of Fiscal Accountability and Regulatory Reform to approve any new rules.

• Impose new ethics rules and require his general counsel, Hayden Dempsey, to review the recent grand jury report on government corruption and recommend immediate changes.

• Require state agencies to verify the citizenship of all new hires and anyone employed by a state contractor.

• Continue the state's prohibition on discrimination in hiring and contracting.

Scott promised to "weed out" unnecessary regulation and named Jerry McDaniel, budget chief to former Gov. Charlie Crist, to head his new fiscal accountability office.

Early criticism

The freeze on regulation drew immediate scorn from environmentalists who warned that it may have unintended consequences.

A rule scheduled for a hearing this week, for example, would have set limits on the amount of mercury allowed in Florida waters. Two other rules would have streamlined regulations intended to clean polluted water.

"Gov. Scott is shutting down our environmental rules,'' said Eric Draper of the Florida Audubon Society. "Most of Florida's water bodies have contamination problems and we need rules to help clean them up. This stops the cleanup in its tracks.''

Scott promised an education system focused on "individual student learning'' and not dictated by special interests.

He trumpeted health care reform that would let patients choose their own doctors and protect doctors from being "trampled" by federal mandates.

"I want to make a real and lasting improvement to the lives of our citizens,'' Scott said.

He urged the public to hold him and other elected officials accountable and promised to be "resolute in seeking bold change."

"Probably more bold than some people like," Scott said. "But bold, positive change."

Times/Herald staff writers Steve Bousquet, Janet Zink, Marc Caputo and Katie Sanders contributed to this report. Michael C. Bender can be reached at

Rick Scott takes office, asserts himself as state's chief job creator 01/04/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 5, 2011 11:51am]
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