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Daniel Ruth

This candidate's running mate is his checkbook

In the end, maybe this all proves either the power of television, or how gullible people can be, or perhaps the awkward reality that as electrifying political candidates go, Bill McCollum is somewhere between Abe Vigoda and an anvil.

What a difference some 60 days and nearly $5 million can make in a campaign season. Chances are, if back in March you had asked anyone in the state of Florida who Rick Scott was, the response would have been a deer caught in the headlights meets Banjo Boy in Deliverance.

But that was before Scott, a bazillionaire with plenty of time on his hands, decided to enter the Republican primary campaign for governor, to succeed Charlie Crist, the Martin Luther of the Grand Old Pogrom.

Now, in the wake of a $5 million advertising campaign touting his bona fides as a true ideological rock-ribbed Republican, Scott has managed to become an actual contender for the nomination and trails Florida's attorney general by a mere 14 percentage points in a recent poll.

To go from having less name recognition than the president of the Saudi Arabian chapter of the National Organization for Women, to emerging as a viable gubernatorial candidate in about the same time it takes for spring training — that is no small accomplishment.

But what does it say about the political environment when a candidate like Scott, R-Daddy Warbucks, can literally buy his way into a position of legitimately vying to become the governor of the fourth-largest state by simply airing a bunch of commercials? The public knows more details about American Idol contestants than a guy who might be in position to sign death warrants.

In his campaign spots, Scott earnestly hypes his credentials as a hard-charging, savvy, no-nonsense business executive. Why, if you didn't know any better, you might well think Warren Buffett had thrown his hat into the ring.

The apparent cornerstone of Scott's campaign is to make government more "accountable." And, oh yes, there's the suggestion that President Barack Obama quakes in his shoes at the mere mention of Scott's name.

Well, if anyone ought to appreciate the lack of accountability it certainly is Rick Scott, who during his stewardship of health care giant Columbia/HCA saw the company indicted by the Justice Department in the biggest case of health care fraud in American history. Say, there's a feather in the cap for you.

Ultimately, under Scott's visionary leadership, Columbia/HCA agreed to pay a record $1.7 billion in fines, penalties and restitution to the American taxpayer.

For his part, Scott has insisted he was never indicted personally. And besides, many other health care companies engaged in the same sort of behavior as Columbia/HCA, only they apparently weren't quite as good at it. So much for being a stand-up, accountable chap.

For his savvy business acumen, Scott was invited by Columbia/HCA to please, please, please, for the love of God go away and was given a $10 million check, along with another $300 million in stock options. And go away he did — to Florida and his new career as a zephyr of a politician.

The idea a rich newbie pol with a dubious boardroom history can so easily leap to the forefront of a gubernatorial campaign certainly proves once again how on television just about anyone can create a sort of political avatar of themselves.

And yes, Scott's meteoric rise obviously says something — and it's not very pretty — about how easy it is (with enough money) to con the public into believing almost anything you want to sell them.

Scott, R-Sultan of Brunei, is not the first deep-pocketed swell to regard an elective office as if it was a junk bond. Michael Bloomberg, John Corzine, Ross Perot and Steve Forbes, to name just a few, have all — with varying degrees of success and failure — campaigned with a checkbook as a running mate.

It can certainly be argued if McCollum, who is not exactly a fireball of charisma, was a more compelling candidate, he might not have to worry about Scott's portfolio breathing down his neck.

It should hardly be comforting to McCollum that after decades of public service and enjoying an early, commanding lead for the gubernatorial nomination, he now faces the possibility he could conceivably lose to a guy who made American history by leading a company that ripped off the government.

It has been said the people pretty much get the government they deserve — whether they realize it or not.

This candidate's running mate is his checkbook 05/13/10 [Last modified: Thursday, May 13, 2010 5:49pm]
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