Even by Florida's shaky standards, Rick Scott stands out as one of the most outlandish characters ever to pop out of the woodwork. • His presence makes this year's governor's race a momentous IQ test for voters. A man who couldn't run an honest company now wants to run state government. Duh. • It's one of those you-can't-be-serious stories that just might come true.
Scott is brimming with oversized promises but, by his own admission, he struggles with the concept of commitment.
"I don't know what the def — your definition or anybody's definition of an 'agreement' is, or an 'offer' is, or 'promise' is," he testified in an evasive 1997 deposition.
Scott has spent long hours among attorneys because the health care firm that he headed, Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., falsified patients' bills and gave kickbacks to doctors, among other scams.
While the FBI was hauling away company records, Scott got the boot. Columbia/HCA later paid a $1.7 billion fine for perpetrating the largest Medicare fraud in the history of Medicare, no small feat.
Scott was never charged with a crime, which is currently the high point of his resume. He left Columbia/HCA with a $300 million-plus severance package that is helping to bankroll his gubernatorial campaign.
The Republican leadership, which attacked Scott relentlessly before the primary, has now lined up behind him to throw mud at Democrat Alex Sink. It's the only feasible strategy, when your own candidate has such a messy history.
Of his years as chief of Columbia/HCA, Scott says he takes responsibility for what occurred, but insists he didn't know anything illegal was going on.
The fraud was so massive and institutionalized that his statement can't be taken seriously. If he truly didn't know what was happening all around him, he's an incompetent fool.
And if he did know, he's a lying crook.
Either way, Floridians need a governor with a different sense of mission.
On the campaign trail, Scott prefers not to revisit the old days. However, glimpses of his management style are evident in some of his depositions.
"I sign letters all the time that I have not read," he testified in one Texas case.
When asked to look at a letter bearing his own signature, Scott said, rather unhelpfully, "I would characterize it as a letter with these words."
Time and again he was stricken with situational amnesia regarding his own orders and actions.
"Promise" wasn't the only word that confused him under questioning. A lawyer by training, he appeared muddled by the definitions of simple terms such as "profit," "market" and even "Central Florida."
Voters might know more about the real Rick Scott if he hadn't invoked the Fifth Amendment 75 times in that now-infamous 2000 deposition in which he refused to answer questions.
That was his right, of course. He was a private citizen then, not a candidate for public office. He didn't even move to Florida until 2003.
Yet, this year, six days before filing for the governor's race, Scott gave another deposition in a case involving Solantic, a chain of urgent-care health centers that he started.
A doctor had accused Solantic of submitting false medical information. The lawsuit was settled by a confidential agreement, and Scott refuses to release the contents of his testimony.
"A private matter," he said.
Not when you're running for governor it isn't. Not when you're promoting yourself as a business whiz and natural-born leader.
Whatever Scott said in that June deposition obviously won't help his campaign, or he wouldn't be hiding it. This is known as a red flag.
Meanwhile, he's sticking to the script, touting himself as an outsider who will storm Tallahassee and turn that inbred culture upside-down. This is sheer fantasy, but it strikes a note in tough times.
The "tea party" crowd likes Scott's antigovernment, antitax message, overlooking the fact that he made his fortune off Medicare, a giant taxpayer-funded entitlement program.
Scott also draws cheers by blasting the new federal health care legislation. No wonder he's all hot and bothered — the old health care system was very good to him. His company milked it big time.
Polls show the race between Scott and Sink is close. If Scott wins, it will surely reignite the debate over whether Florida or California is the dumbest state in the union.
Meanwhile, the man who can't grasp the definition of a promise has plenty of big ones to peddle. At every appearance, Scott grandly pledges to single-handedly slash property taxes, create 700,000 new jobs and shrink state government.
And right after that, he'll climb into a great big balloon and fly Dorothy and Toto back to Kansas.
Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald.
© 2010 Miami Herald