Gov. Rick Scott kicked off his U.S. Senate campaign last week by reciting tired lines about career politicians and mischaracterizing himself as an outsider. That pitch may have worked during the tea party wave eight years ago, but now the Republican is a two-term governor with a clear record — and it isn’t good. Voters who focus on the accomplishments by Scott and incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and what they stand for will find a stark contrast.
As the campaign unfolds over the next seven months, here are five areas that deserve close attention:
• Health care. Scott ran for governor in 2010 as an outspoken opponent of the Affordable Care Act, and he has not let up in his callous efforts to undermine it even as Florida has more residents — 1.7 million — who obtain coverage on the federal marketplace than any other state. He also flip-flopped on accepting billions in federal Medicaid expansion money, which would have enabled some 800,000 additional Floridians to be covered. Nelson voted for the Affordable Care Act and has argued Florida should join 32 other states that have expanded Medicaid.
• Transportation. In his first year in office, Scott foolishly rejected $2.4 billion in federal money for a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando that would have been a game-changer for Tampa Bay. Nelson supported the project, pointed out the governor’s initial concerns were answered and called Scott’s rejection "pitiful.’’ He correctly predicted the federal money meant for Florida would be steered to projects in other states. While Scott has invested state money in Port Tampa Bay and Tampa International Airport, Nelson has helped steer billions in federal dollars to improve interstates and for transit projects such as Tri-Rail in South Florida and SunRail in the Orlando area. There’s no question Nelson is a better ally in creating a more robust transit system in Tampa Bay than Scott.
• Environment. Scott’s sudden embrace of the environment and for spending millions in the coming year on restoring the Everglades and buying sensitive environmental land cannot cover up an abysmal record that includes gutting water management districts and transforming the Department of Environmental Protection into a virtual rubber stamp for developers and unchecked growth. He made a splash with a handshake deal with the Trump administration to avoid expanded drilling off Florida’s coast, but now that deal looks shaky. Nelson’s environmental credentials are much stronger, and for more than a decade he has led the effort in Washington to protect Florida’s coastlines from drilling.
• Gun control. Scott signed into law a sweeping $400 million package that raises the age for buying all guns to 21 and spends more on mental health. But it also allows school districts to arm school personnel and fails to provide nearly enough money to hire school resource officers for every school. Scott also refused to support a ban on the sale of assault weapons or closing the so-called gun show loophole on background checks, reforms supported by most Florida voters. Nelson supports a ban on the sale of assault weapons and tighter background checks.
• Cuba. Scott supports President Donald Trump’s wrongheaded efforts to unwind the commendable work by former President Barack Obama to begin normalizing relations with Cuba, and last year the governor killed efforts by Florida ports to sign agreements for joint efforts on marketing and other areas. It’s a backward, outdated approach that hurts Tampa Bay. Nelson continued to criticize the Castro brothers, but he supported Obama’s efforts on Cuba.