Gov. Rick Scott's disappointing inaugural address was neither inspiring nor enlightening, and his awkward delivery won't win any style points. His "axis of unemployment'' — taxation, regulation and litigation — is repackaged Republican campaign rhetoric, and Scott offered little insight into how he will approach those tired themes any differently. The new governor fell far short of the inaugural tradition of inspiring all Floridians, regardless of political persuasion, to work together for a brighter future.
To his credit, Scott focused Tuesday on the issue Floridians care most deeply about: tackling the state's crippling unemployment rate. He poign-antly recalled his childhood and the struggles his fearful and unemployed parents endured to provide for their five children. The wealthy former hospital executive has not entirely forgotten his modest roots.
But from there, Scott devolved into a patter of partisan rhetoric with attacks on "a small group of predatory lawyers'' and the teacher unions. He said his administration would offer Floridians more choices in education and health care, vaguely promising "a system focused entirely on what's best for individual student learning" and pledging to avoid "top-down government programs that treat patients like interchangeable parts on an assembly line." Of course, that's exactly the management philosophy Scott relied upon to make millions as the head of the giant hospital company Columbia/HCA.
There was almost no mention — other than repeating his commitment to cut property and corporate taxes — of the state's fiscal straits. Next month, Scott has to propose a 2011-12 budget that anticipates at least a $3.5 billion shortfall in state funding before any additional tax cuts.
Of course, Scott's message played well with the business lobbyists afforded reserved seats in the audience because of their donations to the inaugural fund. It fell far short of comforting Floridians that he has a workable vision to improve education or government efficiency. Some of his first actions as governor also reflect a top-down style that won't work long-term, particularly considering that much of his authority can be checked by the Legislature.
Scott issued one executive order that effectively halts all rulemaking in the governor's agencies — all of it authorized by the Republican-led Legislature — until his office can review each rule change. And no state agency under his control can spend more than $1 million without the approval of his office. No word on whether counting paper clips is next. This is a recipe for government gridlock, which may please the special interests but will not benefit the public.
While the governor plans to adopt a tough ethics policy for his staff, his pledge to be transparent already rings hollow. His inaugural staff repeatedly shut members of the media and public out of his meetings with lobbyists and lawmakers Tuesday afternoon. He is no longer in the private sector, and he will have to adjust to the constitutional requirements to conduct public business in the sunshine.
In fact, Scott's learning curve remains high in many areas. His administration is still taking shape, as dozens of key appointments remain unfilled. The longer it takes for Scott to get specific, the more he will defer his agenda to the Legislature — which is led and influenced by the so-called insiders he trashed on the campaign trail. The new governor better quickly become more comfortable and convincing explaining those policy details than he was in delivering his best-forgotten inaugural address.