ORLANDO — Gov. Rick Scott sought to rally the Republican faithful Saturday at the annual meeting of the leadership of the state GOP in a rambling speech that touched on jobs, Common Core education standards, grass roots activism and his three grandchildren.
As he began his first major campaign speech of 2014, Scott received a polite standing ovation from more than 200 activists at the Rosen Centre hotel. He got the most applause when he announced that state education leaders next week will release a set of changes to Florida education standards in place of the Common Core benchmarks many conservatives oppose as overreaching.
"We're not going to have the federal government telling us how to do our education system," Scott said. He said a "data security bill" to be filed in the Legislature will stipulate that curriculum is controlled locally and schools can't collect "unnecessary information" from students. On Friday night, GOP activists approved a nonbinding resolution in opposition to Common Core.
Scott spoke off-the-cuff to the crowd of county chairs and state committee men and women, and if they were eager for some rhetorical red meat, he offered none. He never mentioned his likely Democratic challenger, ex-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, but said: "It's always easier to campaign than it is to govern."
"This is going to be a big year. We're going to win big in this state," Scott said. "We are doing very well because we care about education and we care about jobs."
State GOP chairman Lenny Curry began the party meeting by saying Florida Republicans' mission for 2014 can be summed up in two words: "Rick Scott."
At the end of his 19-minute speech, Scott shook a few hands on the dais and an FDLE agent hustled him out to a waiting state car so he avoided reporters who were covering the event.
Engulfed in a media firestorm over the traffic blockade on the George Washington Bridge, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie might be eager to get out of town — especially to sunny Florida.
He's scheduled to visit Saturday for a series of fundraising appearances on behalf of the Republican Governors Association to benefit Gov. Scott's re-election campaign. As reported by the National Journal, Christie is scheduled to appear with Scott at events in Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando. "I just hope he (Christie) doesn't snarl up the traffic on the Pensacola bridge," Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, quipped to the National Journal.
RPOF chairman Curry said the state GOP welcomes Christie and that his problems at home won't be a distraction.
"It's a New Jersey issue. He addressed it directly, and we'll see when he gets to Florida," Curry said. "I think any Republican governor — or any Republican, for that matter — who's high profile and has experienced some success who's willing to come in here and help us raise money and get elected is certainly an asset. We welcome it."
Catch debate today
All three Pinellas Republican congressional candidates gathered Friday for a debate that will be broadcast on WEDU's Florida This Week this afternoon.
It will be the last good chance to watch Mark Bircher, David Jolly and Kathleen Peters discuss the issues on television before Tuesday's special primary election in congressional District 13. The show airs on WEDU at 12:30 p.m.
Rubio's stance on pot
As the nation's stance on marijuana evolves, could Sen. Marco Rubio's?
The Florida Republican on Thursday made clear he does not support broadly legalizing pot or decriminalizing pot, as 20 states and the District of Columbia have done. But Rubio did not shut the door on medical marijuana, which Florida voters may decide in November.
"You hear compelling stories of people who say the use of medicinal marijuana provides relief for the thing they are suffering. So I'd like to learn more about that aspect of it, the science of it," Rubio said in an interview, when asked about the Florida initiative.
"I have qualms about that proposal, I really do, but I probably need to learn more about it," he said. "The broader issue of whether we should be legalizing it is something I'm pretty firm about. I don't think legalizing marijuana or even decriminalizing it is the right decision for our country."
Talking about 2016
Ready for Hillary is welcoming former Clinton White House adviser Craig T. Smith to St. Petersburg later this month to discuss the 2016 presidential race. The Pinellas County event is scheduled for Jan. 27 from 6-7:30 p.m. at the Marriott Hotel located at 12600 Roosevelt Blvd. N. A donation of $25 is requested to attend the event. For information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (727) 712-8810.
Alex Leary and Curtis Krueger contributed to the Buzz.