Thursday, May 24, 2018
Opinion

Scott schooled in art of being a politician

Sure, two years is an eon in politics. But when the governor has approval ratings lingering somewhere between Casey Anthony and Bashar Assad, it probably doesn't bode well for his re-election prospects.

You could argue Gov. Rick Scott's sagging prospects transcend policy and party.

Recent polling paints a dire portrait, with the public opposing Scott's proposals to charge lower university tuition for students pursuing degrees in math, science, engineering and technology. The great unwashed also aren't too crazy with the governor's education goals.

Voters are still scratching their heads over Scott's rejection of federal high-speed rail money that would have created thousands of jobs. And let us not forget the governor's not too successful voter suppression effort to once again turn Florida into an annuity for The Colbert Report.

But for all the policy screw-ups and with a 36 percent approval rating Scott, has a bigger problem: Rick Scott. This awkward, tone-deaf former health care executive isn't very adept at being a politician. How does a political consultant make over a client who creeps people out? No small stump challenge.

Scott bought the Governor's Mansion with more than $70 million of his own money. But the price didn't include a peppermint of body politic love on the gubernatorial pillow. Two years into his term, Scott still hasn't grasped there is a huge difference between running a corporation and governing a state.

By contrast, you don't need to be a political scientist to deduce newly minted Democrat and former Gov. Charlie Crist is off and running to reclaim his old job.

Some of Crist's most ardent detractors gleefully accuse him of being an empty-suited, flip-flopping, loyalty-challenged opportunist. Maybe so. But they can't deny Crist is awfully good at it.

A Democrat for only what seems like 20 minutes and benefiting from statewide name recognition honed over two decades of campaigning, Crist has emerged as the leading candidate to take on Scott in 2014.

Retail politics, much like stand-up comedy, when practiced at the highest level should appear to be effortless. A Crist-Scott match-up would look like George Carlin taking on your Uncle Earl, who has been telling the same farmer's daughter joke at Thanksgiving dinner for 20 years.

Here's a case in point. Crist, channeling his inner FDR, appeared before a U.S. Senate committee to decry Scott's decision to limit early voting as a crass GOP plot to subvert the outcome of the November elections.

The former governor, reacting to the Newtown, Conn., school shootings, also reversed his earlier position opposing gun control, announcing he now favored a ban on assault weapons and extended magazine clips, and tougher background checks.

Crist also now regrets his earlier opposition to gay marriage. If this goes on much longer, Crist will break out the love beads, a tie-dyed T-shirt and introduce Ellen DeGeneres as his running mate.

Go ahead, accuse Crist of pandering to his new constituency. He's got an app for that. "I think life is a learning experience and the older you get the more wisdom you accumulate," he said. "I have an open mind." It is a thing of hustings beauty.

While Crist was coming off as Deepak Chopra, Scott was busily trying to shift blame for Tallahassee's effort to suppress voter turnout by blaming those big meanies in the Florida Legislature for botching everything.

After ducking interview requests for weeks, Scott, in a foundering conversation with CNN's Soledad O'Brien, bemoaned he had no choice but to follow the will of the Legislature, overlooking that he was the governor who signed into law the voting restrictions.

Scott could have vetoed the more restrictive voting regulations. He could have used his executive authority to extend voting hours as lines of citizens grew ever longer. He did neither.

He could have admitted he was wrong. Instead he came off as silly and small.

It's entirely probable that if Crist had not been scheduled to testify before the Senate, Scott would still be hunkered down in his office, avoiding O'Brien as if she was a process server.

The performances of Crist and Scott offered a tantalizing glimpse of what a gubernatorial debate might look like between the two men. Watching Crist blithely skip through a minefield of potentially damaging position reversals, did Scott see the light?

Or was it merely a flickering exit sign?

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