SPRING HILL — The governor who coined the campaign catchphrase "Let's get to work" came Friday night to the county with the second-highest unemployment rate in the state.
Gov. Rick Scott's message: What I'm doing is working.
Speaking to a crowd of about 330 people at the Hernando Republican Party's annual Lincoln Day Dinner at Silverthorn Country Club, Scott reviewed his first few months in office.
Controversial moves that drew criticism from many prompted applause here. The cheers started as soon as he said the words "high-speed rail," a project Scott killed by rejecting federal funds.
"We found a thousand regulations we're going to be able to get rid of," he continued. "They're just killing jobs."
Scott noted Florida's unemployment rate fell to 11.1 percent in March, but didn't mention Hernando's rate stayed stubbornly high at 13.3 percent.
One of the biggest applause lines came when he mentioned the beleaguered Hernando Beach dredge project. In the works for 16 years, the project to deepen and lengthen the channel is supposed to be completed by Jan. 1 or the county could lose millions in state funding.
"I'm learning more about it," he said, hinting he would try to help if the project gets bogged down with the Department of Environmental Protection.
Attendees paid $75 per ticket, or $125 for access to a VIP cocktail hour with Scott. Former U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite of Brooksville, put up the platinum sponsorship for the event but didn't attend. Her successor, Rep. Rich Nugent of Spring Hill, spoke later.
Hernando is dominated by the GOP, and Scott took more than 51 percent of the vote in November. Still, his attendance is a feather in the cap for the local party, the first time a sitting governor has shown up to one of its fundraising dinners despite plenty of effort.
"I tried for 61/2 years," past chairwoman Ana Trinque said as Scott posed for photos a few steps away.
The credit in large part goes to Trinque's successor, Blaise Ingoglia. First elected in 2008, the professional poker player and local home builder is now making inroads at the state party level, taking the assistant treasurer position earlier this year. As Scott pressed his way through a crowd during the VIP reception, Ingoglia stuck close by his side and then revved up the crowd before his speech.
"This county will go deep Republican red and we will get rid of that socialist in the White House in 2012, along with getting rid of (Sen.) Bill Nelson," Ingoglia said.
Hernando was among the counties that benefited the most from the boom years and then crashed the hardest when the housing market imploded and construction jobs dried up. Asked after his speech what he would tell Hernando County residents desperate for jobs, Scott said his office is focused on partnering with leaders on the local level to attract businesses.
"The biggest success we've seen is when the local economic development groups come to us with their ideas and we help them," he said.
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or [email protected]