JACKSONVILLE — Gov. Rick Scott shot back Saturday at opponents who have sued and criticized his conservative agenda and was cheered by an audience who supports his efforts to drug test welfare recipients, strip teachers of tenure and make Florida more business friendly.
Scott was a big hit addressing a gathering organized by the conservative RedState blog, drawing laughs several times as he made fun of people who oppose his policies. The governor, whose approval rating was 36 percent in a poll released last week, received a standing ovation when he wrapped the 24-minute speech.
"If you do conservative things in Florida, now you get sued," Scott said, noting that he has been criticized for spending money on lawyers to defend the laws. "After they sue you ... then they say 'Why are you wasting state dollars?' Because it's the right thing to do. That's why you're doing it."
Scott has been sued over laws that require drug testing for welfare recipients, create stricter voter registration rules, prevent doctors from asking patients about gun ownership, force state workers to contribute to their pension plans and more. He was also sued for ordering a purge of voter rolls to make sure non-citizens can't vote. Opponents said people who do have the legal right to vote were also being removed for the lists.
"We're going to have honest, fair elections. If you've passed away, you don't get to continue to vote," Scott said to laughter. "If you have the right to be here, but you're not a U.S. citizen — they'd never allow you to vote in Spain or Italy — why would you have a right to vote here? You don't. You never did and you're not going to."
He also expressed disbelief that anyone would oppose Florida's law to drug test people on welfare. A federal judge has blocked implementation of the law.
"How many people think that if you are the recipient of welfare, which is only for the benefit of the child, and you're the parent, that you should be able to use drugs? Anybody? So we pass that bill, we get sued. That's somehow unconstitutional," Scott said.
Someone in the crowd shouted, "Unbelievable!"
Scott also talked about reducing taxes and regulations in an effort to create more jobs.
"Why do we think that everything in the world should be regulated? In Florida, we regulate hair weavers. It hasn't helped me," the bald governor said to laughs. "But think about these things. How many times have you gone and looked at a license before you've used a service?"
Scott opened his remarks by making fun of high speed rail projects. He turned down $2.4 billion in federal money to build a high speed train from Orlando to Tampa almost immediately after taking office last year. On Saturday, he pointed out that California's plans for a high speed train are far costlier than expected.
"I want to apologize. I'm sure that most of you came down here to ride the high speed rail," Scott said as soon as he stepped to the lectern, drawing laughs. "Any of you from California? How's that worked out for you?"
While Scott said Florida needs a better federal partner to continue growing jobs, and that this year's election is important, he didn't specifically mention presumed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
After the remarks, Erick Erickson, who runs the RedState blog, said he asked Scott to talk about policy, rather than politics.
"I had asked him to make his remarks about Florida and what he's doing in Florida," Erickson said. "People don't realize how funny of a guy he is. He went very well with this crowd and his agenda plays very well with a crowd like RedState."