The board members of the Florida Chamber of Commerce must have whiplash. Before last month's primary election, the chamber was among those spending millions to paint Republican Rick Scott as unqualified to be governor. But on Thursday, board members endorsed him over Democrat and retired banking executive Alex Sink. In fact, they didn't find a single Democratic candidate they could embrace. It suggests the chamber is happy to cede its role in making independent, merit-based judgments on behalf of its members to become a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Party.
The chamber was all too happy in the days running up to the Republican primary last month to remind voters of Scott's premier accomplishment in business: serving as a CEO of a hospital chain that committed massive Medicare fraud and paid a record $1.7 billion fine. By comparison, Sink was a bank executive for 26 years at a giant financial institution and has served four years as Florida's chief financial officer.
More importantly for the chamber's membership, Sink's agenda is in line with the chamber's — not unexpected from a candidate who once served on its board. She's proposed giving business start-ups access to capital by deferring corporate income taxes for the first three years. She wants to offer corporate tax credits to businesses that add jobs, and has joined the call to cut regulatory and permitting red tape. Scott has his own economic plan, but it's less detailed and in some cases, unrealistic. For example, one of the ways he says he'll be able to afford broad property tax cuts is to cut $1 billion from a $2.3 billion prison budget. Exactly how he'll do that without wholesale release of prisoners has yet to be explained.
In justifying the endorsement, Steve Halverson, the chamber chairman, said that Scott's experience creating jobs is "the type of leadership that Florida's economy needs." That's a far cry from the way Scott was portrayed in ads paid for with chamber money during his primary battle with Attorney General Bill McCollum. In just one example, a television ad campaign underwritten with $500,000 from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce denounced Scott as profiting from the "largest Medicare fraud in American history."
Just how did Scott go from notorious scoundrel to the right candidate for governor of the fourth-largest state? In the chamber's view apparently only one answer matters: He's not a Democrat.