Steve Bousquet: Bush and Scott budget vetoes: A tale of two governors

Published July 20 2015
Updated July 21 2015

When Jeb Bush used his line-item veto powers as governor, he was being "Veto Corleone," a principled steward of tax dollars and a man deserving of respect.

When Gov. Rick Scott used his line-item veto pen, he was petty, vindictive and arbitrary.

A man to be loathed.

That's the version of events being pushed by two prominent pro-Bush Republican state senators who are showcased in a new Bush presidential campaign video, defending his record on the subject of line-item vetoes. This remains a hot-button issue in Tallahassee because of Scott's meat-ax approach to vetoes.

To Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, Bush got it right and Scott totally blew it. "(Bush) made very clear that it's not our money. It's the taxpayers' money," Gardiner says in the Bush video. "If your project didn't meet the principles that he put forward, he was going to whack it."

"No one was safe from Jeb Bush's veto pen," Latvala says in the video, citing 2,000 Bush line item vetoes worth $2 billion in his eight years in office.

But when Scott whacked $461 million in legislative spending from the new budget on June 23 (without any warning to lawmakers, by the way), both senators had dramatically different reactions.

Gardiner called Scott's actions "purely political" on Monday. He earlier suggested the vetoes were Scott's way of building support for a U.S. Senate campaign in 2018, referring to a "messaging strategy needed to achieve the governor's political agenda."

Latvala said the difference is that lawmakers had a chance to defend their spending decisions to Bush, and that the former governor was consistent in his logic. He said he doubts Bush would have axed money to free health clinics as Scott did.

Latvala again placed much of the blame for the latest vetoes on Scott's chief of staff, Melissa Sellers. "It's just a young lady from Louisiana coming to Florida and throwing her weight around," Latvala said on Monday. "She's been very bad for the process in Tallahassee."

Latvala said Scott vetoed a pay raise for state firefighters that he advocated a year ago, and that nearly a month later he has still not reached out to make amends with legislators — a bad sign.

"It was just totally vindictive," Latvala said.

However, Tallahassee politicians can have short memories.

After Bush's first round of vetoes in 1999, which totaled $313 million and wiped out a Latvala priority to restore the Anclote Key lighthouse in Tarpon Springs, the senator wasn't exactly enamored with Bush.

"I don't think the governor has any idea of the members' feelings about these projects and how deep they go. We have members that are screaming and yelling," Latvala told the Times then.

The latest over-the-top reaction by lawmakers to Scott's vetoes underscores the shabby relations between the legislative and executive branch, and things can only get worse.

Which begs an obvious question: Why doesn't the Legislature assert itself and override Scott's vetoes? That would require two-thirds votes by both chambers.

The short answer is that while senators are itching to get even with Scott, the House would never go along.

"We never discussed any of that stuff," House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said. He's a stickler for procedure who believes a session should focus solely on the issue at hand.

But the larger point here is obvious: As the story line of Bush's candidacy unfolds, it will repeatedly recall his brand of leadership in Tallahassee, and that could mean big trouble for Scott, who in the eyes of Republican legislators cannot measure up.

Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263. Follow @stevebousquet.

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