Rick Scott has spent months carefully shaping his image in television ads and other controlled settings. But the Republican candidate for governor demonstrated Wednesday night that he remains unwilling or unable to go beyond the shallow answers about his controversial business background. Scott continued to dodge questions about his past in the first debate televised statewide, raising further concerns about how transparent and candid he would be as governor of the Sunshine State.
That performance prompted Democrat and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink to note: "He has a history of answering evasively.''
There is little to suggest Scott is prepared for the scrutiny of public office or appreciates that democracy is designed to enable taxpayers to hold their government accountable. Scott has told voters his leadership of Columbia/HCA has well prepared him to be governor. Yet he refuses to explain his role in creating a corporate culture that led to a record $1.7 billion in civil and criminal fines for Medicare fraud. Nor has Scott released a deposition he gave six days before joining the governor's race in a lawsuit that claimed Solantic, a chain of medical clinics he has invested in, violated state licensing rules.
Not that the deposition likely would reveal much. As the St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee bureau reported this week, Scott's predilection to avoid questions reaches back to at least 1995, when he gave the first of three sworn depositions in lawsuits against Columbia/HCA.
The depositions show Scott to be maddeningly evasive as a witness. He repeatedly claims he doesn't remember events — including letters he signed or whether his quotes in multiple newspaper accounts were accurate. He quibbles over the definition of words, including whether Columbia/HCA — which Scott built into the nation's largest for-profit hospital company — was actually a "hospital chain." In one deposition, he invoked his Fifth Amendment right to self-incrimination 75 times after confirming his name.
The performances reveal a chief executive officer unwilling under oath to acknowledge even the most basic details of his leadership. Scott even claimed in an earlier debate that he invoked the Fifth Amendment in one deposition to thwart the plaintiff's "fishing expedition." But the right against self-incrimination is limited only to those witnesses who think their statements put them at risk of criminal prosecution.
Such arrogance and creative interpretation of law is not a good fit for public office. Florida has strong public records and open meetings laws, and residents expect the governor to abide by them. They also expect the state's chief executive to respond to their questions with candid answers, not canned responses. Scott demonstrated again Wednesday night that he is unwilling to defend his record or be held publicly accountable for his actions. Such evasiveness and lack of candor might work for the chief executive of a large private company whose version of the truth is rarely challenged. But when it comes to the governor of the fourth-largest state charged with the public trust, a very different standard applies.