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A Times Editorial

Times recommends Bill McCollum in GOP primary

Two uninspiring candidates are pandering to the state's most conservative voters in the Republican primary for governor. Rick Scott is a hospital executive who ran a company that was fined a record $1.7 billion for Medicare and Medicaid fraud. Attorney General Bill McCollum offers few new ideas, and his proposals are warmed-up leftovers from previous campaigns. But Scott, who has spent his personal millions on television ads attacking McCollum and glossing over his own ignorance of state issues, is an irresponsible choice. McCollum, a longtime standard-bearer for conservative Republicans with a transparent record of public service, is better prepared to be governor than a disgraced businessman who wants to buy the office.

Just four months ago, McCollum looked like a shoo-in for the nomination. The 66-year-old Brooksville native and former naval officer had toned down his rhetoric from his days as a longtime Orlando-area congressman who was among the House investigators for President Bill Clinton's impeachment trial. He was elected attorney general in 2006 after two failed bids for U.S. Senate.

Then Scott, 57, opened his checkbook and bought his way into the race. The record $28 million Scott has spent on media thus far has had an impact. But McCollum has his own weaknesses that make him ripe for a challenge from an outsider.

McCollum turned the attorney general's office into a political enterprise that often appears more focused on pursuing conservative causes than serving all Floridians. He launched a lawsuit against the federal government over health care reform and waded into another lawsuit to support the Arizona immigration law. He wasted $120,000 in taxpayer money on an "expert" psychologist already discredited in court to defend the state's unconscionable law that bans gay Floridians from adopting children.

The attorney general also has not adequately explained why, when first told of financial irregularities at the Republican Party of Florida, he did not immediately alert law enforcement.

Nonetheless, McCollum has been a competent attorney general. He has focused on Internet predators, criminal gangs and Medicaid fraud. More than once, he has reminded the rest of state government of the need to maintain open records. And he has been generally helpful in the state's response to the BP oil spill.

McCollum's campaign plan to help create jobs — which repeats the outdated notion that reducing the state's already low taxes will revive the economy — is not without some substance. He has elaborate plans to bolster economic development in part by streamlining regulatory bureaucracy, an idea that has some promise. He wisely opposes offshore drilling while Scott supports it. He supports clean energy investment and campaign finance reform to lessen the influence of special interests. He pledges to improve public schools and higher education, though it's far from clear how he would maintain even the status quo given his push to cut state revenues and the state's looming $6 billion shortfall.

Most importantly, McCollum is not Rick Scott, whose self-aggrandizing spending spree of a campaign is void of any credible attempt to serve Floridians. Scott has steadfastly refused to expound on his candidacy unless he's paying to produce the sound bite. He takes responsibility for Columbia/HCA's Medicare fraud, then denies knowing about practices such as paying doctors for referrals. Which is it? Was he a savvy corporate CEO who made huge profits by dictating policies that led to fraud charges? Or was he a terrible manager who looked only at the bottom line? He has refused to face McCollum in a statewide debate. He has declined repeated requests for media interviews of any length and refused invitations from multiple Florida newspaper editorial boards, including this one. It appears that if Scott cannot control the situation, he avoids it. That may work when running a company that flouts government rules, but it is unacceptable from a candidate who wants to govern the nation's fourth-largest state.

Scott is unprepared to govern. His economic plan is strikingly similar to McCollum's: less taxes, spending cuts and business development — and further out of touch with reality. For example, he pledges to cut $1 billion from a $2.3 billion state corrections budget by reducing prison guard salaries and other costs. Really? He claims he'll foster energy exploration in Florida but also lower power rates. Good luck with that.

The first-time candidate's campaign pitches are hardly testaments of integrity. In television ads, he inaccurately portrays McCollum as an opponent of the Arizona immigration law. His focus on the story of a severely disabled Texas woman and her family to bolster his image as a prolife candidate was cruel and exploitative. Such disregard for the truth and insensitivity does not belong in the Governor's Mansion.

Republicans know McCollum, and his public record speaks for itself. He is a far more responsible choice than an elusive millionaire whose most notable accomplishment is that he led a hospital company that defrauded taxpayers and made him rich.

In the Republican primary for governor, the Times recommends Bill McCollum.

Opportunity to respond: The Times offers candidates not recommended by the editorial board an opportunity to reply. Candidates for governor should send their replies no later than 5 p.m. Tuesday to: Tim Nickens, editor of editorials, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731; by fax: (727) 893-8675; or through our website at: Replies are limited to 150 words.

Times recommends Bill McCollum in GOP primary 08/07/10 [Last modified: Saturday, August 7, 2010 8:31pm]
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