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  1. Florida Politics

'Gov. Scarce' is far from Tallahassee as lawmakers call him out

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Published Apr. 14, 2015

As Florida legislators made their way back to the Capitol Monday for the seventh week of the session, Gov. Rick Scott was about as far from Tallahassee as he could get.

The question is, did anyone notice?

Scott was in California dreaming of more jobs.

He made a 48-hour foray to Los Angeles on yet another mission to poach jobs from a state with a Democratic governor.

This time, Scott's target was California Gov. Jerry Brown, whom Scott calls a tax-and-spend liberal, but whose enduring popularity resulted in him winning a state-record fourth term in the fall with 58 percent of the vote.

Joining Scott on the Left Coast were the new CEO of Enterprise Florida, Bill Johnson, and directors of six Florida seaports — Tampa, Miami, Cape Canaveral, Jacksonville, Bradenton and Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades.

Their goal is to steer more seaport business to the East Coast of the United States in response to a labor dispute that has caused headaches for shippers and clogged traffic in and out of West Coast ports.

Scott wrote a letter in March to West Coast shippers that included the requisite bashing of his rival's state ("Brown's tax and spend administration") and its tax policies, including a personal income tax that is prohibited in Florida.

But California is as blue as ever. No Republican has won statewide office there since 2006.

Scott held meetings on Monday with local business leaders. His office said Nestlé USA will shift a majority of its U.S.-to-Puerto Rico shipments from the Port of New York and New Jersey to Jacksonville. Scott met with Nestlé while in Woodland Hills, Calif.

Gov. Scarce got out of town at a time when his own party's Legislature remains mired in gridlock in a deep philosophical divide over health care expansion.

Scott could be helping the Senate and House find elusive middle ground and avoid serious damage to the Republican brand in Florida. Instead, his hands-off approach to the Legislature is becoming so frustrating that some lawmakers are calling Scott out.

"I'll be honest with you. I don't know where the governor is on my issues, and I wish that I had some direction as to what the governor's feeling was," said Sen. Greg Evers, a Panhandle conservative who's trying to rebuild the shattered credibility of Scott's Department of Corrections.

Senators are peeved that Scott publicly sided with the anti-Medicaid expansion House, which in all likelihood ruins any chance that he could serve in a leadership role as a peacemaker and bring the session in for a landing.

Another influential Republican, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, noted that Scott has shifted his stand "two or three times" on the question of Florida using billions in federal money to expand Medicaid, with a goal of getting more people out of emergency rooms and into less expensive doctors' offices.

"The governor is entitled to all of his positions on the issue," Gaetz said of Scott. "Maybe he'll land sometime soon on a position that he'll hold for an extended period of time."

Speaking of landing, Scott prepared to fly cross-country Monday night as a long meeting of the Cabinet awaited him today.

Goodbye, La-La Land. Back to political reality.

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263. Follow @stevebousquet.