Rick Scott’s campaign-first strategy: Will it work?

While governor presses the flesh, prisons are in 'crisis,' union leader says.
Rick Scott's political Twitter account showed him campaigning [Twitter}
Rick Scott's political Twitter account showed him campaigning [Twitter}
Published May 11, 2018|Updated May 11, 2018

Gov. Rick Scott travels to Jacksonville Friday for his latest U.S. Senate campaign event as part of his plan to "Make Washington Work."

It raises a question: Lately under Scott, how well is Florida working?

While Scott was raising campaign money in Dallas this week, his Department of Corrections was cancelling or reducing three dozen contracts for inmate re-entry, substance abuse and probation services.

That was needed to patch a $28 million shortfall in a budget Scott signed in April, a budget that did not fully fund the prison system but sets aside $3.3 billion in reserve for emergencies.

Advocates for inmates call it an avoidable travesty, a result of years of bad decisions like "a prison population that remains stubbornly high and a refusal to take these issues head-on," said Greg Newburn of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a sentencing reform group.

Scott opposed the cuts, which FAMM said could force inmates to go back to prison, a point the state disputes. He could have vetoed the prison budget and forced the Legislature to fix it, as he did when he vetoed last year's public education budget.

"For five years, it has been one crisis after another," Matt Puckett of the Florida Police Benevolent Association said of the prison system during Scott's seven-plus years. The PBA bargains for correctional officers.

Puckett praised Scott for improving the pay of officers, but said chronic understaffing has created a "severe crisis" that places officers' physical safety in jeopardy on a daily basis.

Scott's office noted that he asked the Legislature for more prison money than it provided.

Scott is a perpetual campaigner who has seven months left in his term as governor. His hard-charging campaign style quickly put his opponent, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, on the defensive.

Read more: Scott's early, aggressive pace challenges Bill Nelson

Scott proudly tweeted that he has had 30 campaign events in the first 30 days and that his rival has had none.

Politico reported that Scott's office was unaware of a time lag that could result in someone with a mental illness to obtain a gun because of delays in nearly 20 percent of mental health records being entered into a background check database.

Scott's office said the legislation passed in response to the Parkland school shooting increases state mental health funding.

Scott's office also said eliminated the delay is the responsibility of county court clerks.

"Clerks of court in Florida are locally elected and Gov. Scott expects them to prioritize their resources to resolve this issue as required by state law," the governor's office said.

Also this week, Scott's Medicaid agency was forced to acknowledge that it gave wrong information to the federal government that the state received no opposition to proposed cuts to Medicaid.

"They didn't tell the truth," said Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, who questioned the state's action.

Gibson said Scott's schedule shows he's focused mainly on getting elected to the Senate. "He is done being governor," she said.

"The governor has continued to be dedicated to the responsibilities of his office," said a spokeswoman for Scott's campaign, Lauren Schenone.

UPDATE: Scott's office on Friday issued a statement that accused the Tampa Bay Times of "unbalanced attacks."

The statement noted that in recent weeks, Scott traveled to Puerto Rico, renewed a gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, announced two business expansions in Tampa and Palm Beach County and disclosed a plan to travel to Israel to attend the opening of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, among other developments.

This also was the week that the Times/Herald revealed a pattern in the Department of Revenue, a Cabinet-level agency, of replacing several tax administration experts with staffers from Scott's budget office, who faced losing their jobs after the election.

Read more: Rick Scott loyalists are finding new government jobs

Two top jobs were not advertised. The governor's office said DOR makes its own personnel decisions.

"The governor's office has absolutely no involvement in the hiring or firing of these individuals," Scott's office said.