Rick Scott says Florida has a friend in Donald Trump

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, left, and President-elect Donald Trump have known each other for 20 years.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, left, and President-elect Donald Trump have known each other for 20 years.
Published Nov. 21, 2016

TALLAHASSEE — Since taking office in 2011, Gov. Rick Scott has had strained relations with the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington D.C.

Lawsuits and big policy confrontations, not cordial phone calls to the Oval Office, have characterized Scott's limited interactions with President Barack Obama.

But with Donald Trump's Nov. 8 election, Scott will suddenly have a White House ally who the Republican governor says will undoubtedly pay dividends for Florida.

"I think we are going to see good change," Scott told reporters Tuesday in Orlando.

Specifically, Scott said he expects the federal government to now do more to address toxic algae blooms, provide a faster and better response to disaster declarations, allocate more resources to fight Zika and end legal showdowns on a variety of issues.

"When we have a problem and need a solution, at least we have someone to talk to," Scott said of Trump.

Scott met with Trump on Thursday in New York — the fourth time he has spoken to Trump since Election Day. Compare that to the three times Scott has spoken to Obama for the entire year, even as Florida battled Zika, two hurricanes and the emotional aftermath of the Pulse nightclub killings in Orlando.

But don't blame Obama for that divide, says former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, now a Democrat and a congressman representing St. Petersburg and parts of Clearwater. Crist said when he was a Republican governor and Obama was in the White House, he found it easy to work with the president. He said his successor, Scott, is the reason for the split.

"It's unfortunate for Florida," Crist said. "I know the president is the kind of guy who works with anyone and wants to help everyone."

Just because Scott and Obama are from opposite parties, it doesn't mean Scott has to go around trying to "stick a needle in his eye," Crist said.

But the relationship between Scott and Obama was doomed to fail, said longtime University of South Florida political science professor Darryl Paulson. Scott, the former CEO of the largest hospital company in America, has views on health care that were destined to collide with Obama, who built his presidential legacy around the Affordable Care Act. Paulson said the divide on such a core issue was too vast to bridge politically.

Even before Scott won election in 2010, he put $5 million of his own money into a group to oppose Obama's health care reform efforts.

Not only was Florida a leading player before the U.S. Supreme Court in fighting the mandate to require health care insurance, Scott later sued the administration for cutting back funding for low-income hospitals in an effort to "coerce" states like Florida to expand Medicaid.

Having embarked upon a never-ending campaign against Obamacare — waged on Fox News and in the courts — Scott took on the White House on other issues. Most notably, he rejected more than $2 billion in federal funding for a high-speed rail and opposed Obama's diplomatic moves on Cuba.

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Scott also sued Obama over carbon emissions limits for power plants, access to a Homeland Security database to prove whether some voters are not legal citizens and state jurisdiction over medical facilities that cater to veterans.

But a lawsuit by Scott against a federal government run by Trump is almost unthinkable. Not only was Scott the chairman of Trump's super PAC, but the two also have known each for 20 years. Scott said he even considers Trump a friend.

With that friend in the White House, Scott said he anticipates having better cooperation with the federal government on the following issues:

Lake Okeechobee

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has spent $220 million to make repairs and shore up to the Herbert Hoover Dike, a 143-mile earthen dam that surrounds the lake. But another $800 million is needed to do another stretch of 35 miles. With Trump in office, Scott expects he will be able to get the project funded quicker, though that would require additional funding via Congress, not the White House.

Zika funding

Scott's office said it is still waiting for federal funding from the Obama administration to combat the spread of Zika. That includes 10,000 Zika prevention kits and a detailed plan from the Obama administration on how Florida should be working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency better. Scott's hopes of getting those requests fulfilled now appear more likely. Trump earlier this year praised Scott's handling of Zika. "You have a great governor who's doing a fantastic job, Rick Scott, on the Zika," Donald Trump told CBS12 of West Palm Beach in August.

Pulse nightclub

Scott could also resubmit his request for federal funding to help with local police response to the Pulse nightclub attack. Scott requested $5 million in federal help in June to help with the state's emergency response effort. Asked if the state would resubmit the request under a new administration, Scott's spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said: "We're looking at everything moving forward."

Disaster declarations

Scott has asked for federal emergency or disaster funding from FEMA 10 times since taking office. FEMA has denied his requests six times, a far higher rejection rate than the national average. Since 2004, FEMA has approved more than 85 percent of disaster requests. Beyond the high rejection rate, Scott said his frustration is that FEMA has been slow to respond and rarely gives him input on how to adjust his requests to get what the state needs. "We'll get a faster response on disaster declarations," Scott predicted.

Times political editor Adam Smith contributed to this report. Contact Jeremy Wallace at Follow @jeremyswallace.