Sunday, December 10, 2017
Opinion

Column: Florida's best and brightest, in Scott's eyes

Apparently Gov. Rick Scott has a rather flexible bar when it comes to determining "greatness."

With the governor passing out "Great Floridians" secret decoder rings as if they were Gasparilla beads, it is only a matter of time before our beloved skunk ape, the Creature of the Black Lagoon and lap dance impresario Joe Redner are recognized for their distinguished contributions to the state's quality of life.

Since the "Great Floridians" program began in 1981, only 89 people had received designation for being wonderful. The list includes truly notable figures like former Florida Supreme Court Justice Fred Karl, Thomas Edison, World War I ace Eddie Rickenbacker, authors Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Zora Neale Hurston and Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and the late Gov. LeRoy Collins.

There are some curious choices, like late Sen. George Smathers, whose Senate career is notable only for his being John F. Kennedy's pal, and former Florida State University football coach Bobby Bowden, who spent almost as much time arranging bail for players as he did fiddling around with the X's and O's.

You might think getting tagged a "Great Floridian" would be confined to people of considerable heft in the making-a-difference department. Please. This is Florida after all, where dignity and standards go to die a tabloid death.

This year, Rick Scott has named 23 "Great Floridians," roughly padding the state's "Great Floridians" ranks by 25 percent.

Are most of the those tapped for greatness fine and decent people? Absolutely. But Jeffersonian, Gandhi-like, Jackie Robinson-inspired greatness? Not quite.

Of the 23 "Great Floridians," Scott acknowledged the late former Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Alto Lee Adams, who during his tepid tenure on the bench refused to desegregate the University of Florida law school, as retired Times associate editor and Florida historian Martin Dyckman noted. This guy is a "Great Floridian"?

Former Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson is also on the list, praised by Scott for creating innovative programs to protect and promote Florida agriculture. Or put another way, Bronson was knighted for doing his job.

The late Dr. James Robert Cade is supposedly great for leading the team that invented Gatorade at the University of Florida. But Dr. Dana Shires, who was also part of the Gatorade team and went on to found the LifeLink Foundation, which does incredible work in organ transplant science, is not great enough to be honored by Scott.

Walt Disney went to that Space Mountain in the sky in 1966, but he finally made Scott's greatness roster for creating an amusement park.

The governor went even further back in history to give Juan Ponce de León greatness status for being the focal point of a made-up story about searching for a Fountain of Youth in Florida in 1513. Ponce de León is also noted for using forced labor and introducing small pox and measles to the indigenous people of Puerto Rico.

Former Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula made the final cut. Sure, Shula was a swell football coach decades ago. But since then he is better known for selling $8 baked potatoes at his fancy steak houses.

Perhaps to mollify Gator Nation, former head coach Steve Spurrier now gets to rub figurative elbows with Bowden, finally getting his rightful credit for being the greatest visor-throwing football coach in history.

Garbage hauler Wayne Huizenga is great in Scott's eyes, a greatness only enhanced by the mogul's generous campaign contributions.

Perhaps nothing suggests the list ought to be renamed "The Sort-of-Above-Average Floridians" more than the addition of professional golfer Bubba Watson. Scott notes Watson's sole major victory at the 2012 Masters that vaulted the golfer to a fourth-place ranking worldwide. That's nice.

However, Tiger Woods, who happens to live in Florida, owns 73 career wins, including 14 major victories. He currently is ranked No. 1 in the world. But no greatness for Woods. Watson has slipped to 16th in the world.

The lesson for Scott after declaring segregationists, sports figures and an oppressive invader "Great Floridians": Next year, study the history of the state you're supposed to be governing.

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