On the campaign trail, Rick Scott, a self-described outsider, claimed he would clean up Tallahassee's corrupt culture. But it's starting to look like the Republican governor is no more interested in ethics reform than any other leader in Florida's state capital. Nearly 11 months into the job, Scott has done nothing to change the balance of power in a town dominated by special interest lobbyists and ever larger sums of campaign finance. Now, even the tea party base that helped him get into office is taking note. So should Scott. Floridians of all partisan stripes recognize Tallahassee desperately needs ethics reform.
In January, it had looked so promising. Scott issued Executive Order 11-03 his first day in office, one of four that day. The order was committed to "ethics and integrity," calling them "essential to maintaining the public trust." It laid out three goals: tighter ethics requirements for state employees who worked for the governor; extending the Office of Open Government that former Gov. Charlie Crist had established to improve citizens' access to state records; and a pledge to act on recommendations from a stinging December 2010 statewide grand jury report on public corruption.
Two of those goals were met simply by signing the executive order. But as an article earlier this month by Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau reporter Michael C. Bender highlighted, Scott has done nothing to implement reforms suggested by the grand jury.
Scott stood on the sidelines last year as state Sens. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, and Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, proposed reforms similar to those recommended by the grand jury. Dockery pushed to allow the state's near-toothless Commission on Ethics to launch investigations on its own instead of waiting for a complaint, and Fasano wanted to require the governor and Cabinet officials to put personal financial assets in a blind trust while in office.
Other unheeded recommendations from the grand jury included improving the state's vendor bidding system, tightening campaign finance laws, strengthening penalties for officials convicted of corruption, and requiring lawmakers to abstain for votes where they stand to gain or lose financially.
Blame Senate President Mike Haridopolos and House Speaker Dean Cannon. Both feigned interest in ethics reform but ultimately stood in its way. And blame Scott. In January he claimed he would use his bully pulpit to change Tallahassee's culture. He hasn't. Floridians are still waiting for the governor to actually lead on ethics reform.