Editor's note: Michael Putney is the political and governmental reporter for Miami's ABC affiliate, WPLG-Ch. 10, where he also hosts This Week in South Florida With Michael Putney. This column originally appeared in the Miami Herald and is reprinted with permission.
Gov. Rick Scott, a regular on Fox News and lately a chatterbox on friendly AM radio stations in Florida, finally agreed to sit down with me for an interview, for which I was grateful, what with my suspect "lamestream" media credentials. To kick-start the conversation I even broke with journalistic tradition and sent the governor the questions in writing. Ordinarily, this is a no-no, but he's still relatively new to doing interviews. I had hoped he wouldn't get into that 700,000-jobs-in-seven-years riff. As PolitiFact noted the other day, he's done okay with job creation though his claims are a bit exaggerated.
Maybe I was a bit too direct in my questions. On Tuesday, the governor's chief of staff, Steve MacNamara, canceled the interview, calling some of my questions "insulting." Too bad; there was no insult intended, just tough questions during tough times. In the interest of transparency, here they are, edited to fit this space:
• Are you clueless when it comes to accepting money from Washington? You turned down $2.4 billion for that high-speed rail line from Tampa to Orlando and $19 million more to lay the groundwork in Florida for health care reform. Yes, I know you think President Barack Obama's a European-style socialist (or worse) who never met a payroll, but the money you're telling Washington to keep is just going to other states. Like Texas with your buddy, Gov. Rick Perry, who evidently has no qualms about accepting it. Those federal dollars are largely tax money that Floridians sent to Washington. A lot of us want it back for useful, productive programs. What's your idea of a productive government program?
• Medicaid is not only useful, it's essential for millions of low-income Floridians. True, it's taking an unsustainable chunk out of the state budget, but is turning health care for the poor over to for-profit private insurance companies the answer? Those companies are sure to cut corners serving the old and poor if it's the only way to run in the black.
• Why do you think that in almost every sphere of endeavor the private sector is better than government? I can't think of a governor in Florida history who has had so little regard for the institution he heads.
Sure, I know the old joke about the worst thing that could happen is for a guy to knock at your door and say, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help." Ha-ha. But doesn't government do exactly that in times of emergency? Say, right after hurricanes, tornadoes and fires? Or when they see to it that kids are immunized, roads, bridges and highways are designed and built safely and development doesn't outpace essential services? That's helping, isn't it?
And what about the people who police our streets, put out fires, provide emergency medical care, teach our kids, monitor water quality, guard criminals, etc.? You regularly intimate that all those jobs and more could be done better by private industry. Cheaper in some cases, perhaps, but not always better. Admittedly, government workers screw up sometimes, but so does the private sector.
• What were you thinking when you signed the new state budget at a ceremony sponsored and staged by the Republican Party of Florida where only tea partiers and other true believers were let in and nonbelievers were kicked out? You later said you just showed up at the Villages and didn't know demonstrators had been ordered to leave, but that's a lame excuse. Are you the governor of all Floridians or just for Republicans and the tea party? That 29 percent approval rating tells me that most Floridians don't think you're on their side. Whose side are you on?
• When you vetoed more than $600 million from the state budget you said you were getting rid of "frivolous and wasteful spending." Nobody's for that, but a lot of folks think tax money is well spent on Farm Share, which gives away donated produce and other food to thousands of needy people across the state. You cut $750,000 from Farm Share. And how about the $500,000 nixed for the Dan Marino Foundation, which helps autistic and other developmentally challenged kids? You cut money that would have provided the one hot meal per day a lot of old folks get at the Little Havana Activities and Nutrition Center — the place where you danced with the viejas during your campaign and promised you'd remember them. Heck of a way of remembering. Who was advising you on budget cuts?
• An outfit from Malaysia that runs big casinos and resorts just plunked down $236 million for the Miami Herald property and wants to build, among other things, a casino. The state is hurting for money, and four or five destination casinos would bring in quite a bit. Do you support destination casinos?
Other questions would have cropped up, I'm sure, but the governor will be a no-show on my Sunday show.