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Unusual leadership style colors Gov. Scott's first 100 days

Gov. Charlie Crist greets Gov.-elect Rick Scott in the governor’s office on Jan. 4. While Crist enjoyed great poll numbers by running to the middle during his first days in office, Scott has done little to reach out to the 51.1 percent who did not vote for him.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

Gov. Charlie Crist greets Gov.-elect Rick Scott in the governor’s office on Jan. 4. While Crist enjoyed great poll numbers by running to the middle during his first days in office, Scott has done little to reach out to the 51.1 percent who did not vote for him.

TALLAHASSEE — Smiling and a bit out of breath, Gov. Rick Scott posed for pictures after finishing a mile-long run to raise awareness for Special Olympics.

Any goodwill from the gesture, however, washed away hours later when he signed an executive order cutting state spending for the care of disabled Floridians by as much as 40 percent.

The dichotomy embodies the unusual leadership style that has colored Scott's first 100 days in office, a symbolic marker he'll cross Thursday.

On one hand, Scott is doing exactly what he promised, setting a decidedly more conservative tone in Tallahassee and using his status as a political outsider to push an aggressively pro-business, job-creating agenda.

But even Scott's analysis of his short time in office is peppered with contradictions: He's awed by how fast the days fly by, but he's surprised by how long it takes to massage massive changes through the Legislature.

"You learn in this job there's so many things that you didn't deal with as a private citizen much," said Scott, a hospital executive and investor before running his first campaign last year.

The start has been as eventful as any governor's in recent history. But Scott has not executed on the big ideas as quickly or as smoothly as his predecessors, the result of a political neophyte still searching for his legs.

His most notable feat is derailing the state's $2.4 billion high-speed rail project as another "federal boondoggle."

Scott or his administration has inspired at least four lawsuits, including one challenging his authority in the rail decision. (The state Supreme Court ruled in his favor.)

"It has been Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, hasn't it?" said Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Tampa, comparing Scott's first three months with the old Magic Kingdom ride known for jerky last-second turns that narrowly avoided a collision between oncoming cars.

• • •

At this time four years ago, then-Gov. Charlie Crist had opened an office of open government, lowered insurance premiums by getting tough with insurance companies and eased voting and occupational licensing requirements for felons.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush highlighted his first 100 days with legislative victories on longer prison sentences for gun-carrying criminals and $1 billion in tax breaks.

Scott has fewer accomplishments in the Legislature. He happily signed a bill ending teacher tenure, but that was largely a priority of a Republican-controlled Legislature that lost a similar bill last year to Crist's veto pen.

Scott has tied much of his agenda to the state budget, an indication that the next few weeks could reveal more about his successes and failures than the previous three months.

In a Capitol building where accomplishments are built on relationships, Scott and his team carried into office the scorched-earth style of a campaign where he spent $73 million of his own fortune tearing apart opponents.

Scott launched a website urging Floridians to contact his fellow Republicans in the Legislature and urge them to approve his spending plan, which he refers to as the "most conservative" budget proposal in the country. The Republican Party of Florida quickly dismantled the website.

Scott launched another website in the name of open government, posting for the first time a list of salaries in his office.

But in an attempt to win the debate on state worker pay, he politicized the site by also releasing an anonymous list of workers who get six-figure pension benefits. Scott, who gave 17 percent raises to his agency directors, wants state workers to pay 5 percent of their salary into a retirement fund.

Scott and his top-level staff shrug at bristling from lawmakers, lobbyists and reporters — the political establishment in Tallahassee he largely campaigned against and groups that the public typically give little sympathy.

• • •

But polls show voters have limited patience for Scott, too. A Quinnipiac survey last week put Scott's approval rating at 35 percent and indicated that as some Floridians learn more about Scott, the less they like.

While both of Scott's predecessors had spent a lifetime around politics before taking office, Scott had a much steeper learning curve, a point reinforced by public records from his two-month transition between Election Day and inauguration.

Months after making a campaign promise that he would force welfare recipients to pass drug tests, Scott e-mailed his policy adviser, Tennessee-based campaign consultant Mary Anne Carter, asking, "How does one get on welfare?"

Enu Mainigi, a corporate lawyer from Washington, D.C., and Scott's closest adviser during the transition, was briefed on how many justices sat on the state Supreme Court, which state judges were appointed and the length of their terms.

"I need the basics," she wrote in an e-mail asking for the memo.

When Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll wondered how the administration would celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Scott cautiously asked for the list of events Crist and Bush attended.

Scott wanted weekly town halls, a tactic that would have introduced him to more Floridians and might have eased the unfavorable opinion many voters had after he devoted much of his $60 million TV campaign to negative ads.

But the few town halls scheduled were in front of GOP groups or at businesses where bosses could keep a watchful eye over employees' questions.

Meanwhile, the transition bogged down over internal squabbles and mixed messages.

On Nov. 15, Pam Pfeifer, a policy adviser now in the governor's budget office, boasted that a pair of transition advisory teams for Scott included, "no legislators, no state employees, no insurers."

Three days later, Pfeifer asked health care lobbyist William Rubin to make suggestions for Scott's health care advisory team.

Mainigi asked for briefings she received a week prior. Carroll complained she had yet to see a schedule of inaugural events, despite a calender posted online and published in newspapers.

Carter mocked the unwieldy advisory teams: "So much for streamlining and efficiency."

Despite several holes remaining in his administration, Scott announced March 31 the transition was "practically finished."

• • •

Scott pushed back at his poor poll ratings last week with a flurry of radio interviews in which he partly blamed the latest budget deficit. "I'm walking into a $3.8 billion budget deficit," Scott told a Miami-based station Thursday. "It's not like I can say I'll worry about that next year. We have to balance the budget."

His top campaign promise was to add 700,000 jobs over seven years to the state's work force of 8 million, a goal practically impossible to judge after three months.

Scott has already made his first foreign trade mission, a ports-related trip to Panama. And he made a $77 million port dredging project in Miami a priority for the state.

Hoping to spark job growth, Scott froze more than 10,000 rules and regulations in the pipeline. The move led to an ongoing lawsuit, but in the meantime Scott has canceled about 10 percent of those rules, saying it will lift unnecessary burdens on businesses.

While Crist enjoyed stratospheric poll numbers by running to the political middle during his first days in office, Scott has done little to reach out to the 51.1 percent of Florida voters who did not vote for him. Instead, Scott has moved to cement his conservative brand of politics, a decision Democrats say will be difficult — if not impossible — to overcome.

"I never believed I would see the day when the governor would roll out the budget in a church to the tea party," Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith said. "To me that spoke volumes about what were are facing."

But others are encouraged by Scott's progress. "He's learned a lot in 100 days," said House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park.

Cannon, who actively campaigned against Scott during the Republican primary, said Scott has been slowed by a "lack of awareness of the history in Tallahassee."

That's a careful way of saying that decisions in the Capitol are often dictated by personality clashes, some of which go back years. Scott has shown little interest in understanding that dynamic.

"Gov. Scott is very smart and people who are smart tend to think that processes are logical," Cannon said. "And Tallahassee is illogical. So adapting to that, I think, has been challenging."

Times/Herald staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. Michael C. Bender can be reached at mbender@sptimes.com.

Overall, PolitiFact Florida is tracking 59 of Scott's campaign promises. The current tally:

Promise Kept: 5

Compromise: 2

Promise Broken: 1

In the Works: 20

Not Yet Rated: 31

For a complete look at

the Scott-O-Meter, go to

politifact.com/florida.

Unusual leadership style colors Gov. Scott's first 100 days 04/10/11 [Last modified: Monday, April 11, 2011 10:56am]
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