Ruth: The governor who wasn't

Tampa Bay Times
Published May 6, 2013

Only in political life do we stumble across people who aspire, yearn, crave to hold high and powerful offices without the slightest clue about what the job requires.

And yes, you would be forgiven if the first name that comes to mind is Gov. Rick Scott.

It was telling that Scott needed a civics 101 class when he admitted after being sworn into office that he hadn't fully realized he was the guy who has the authority to sign death warrants.

Who did Scott think had that responsibility? "The Punisher"?

Scott spent $73 million of his personal fortune to buy the governorship without ever comprehending what a governor is supposed to do. This would be like dropping a couple hundred thousand dollars on a Lambor-ghini and never bothering to learn how to drive.

Governors do all kinds of stuff. But after nearly 2 ½ years of sitting in the governor's chair, Scott is still on a learning curve that appears to be akin to trying to explain to a 6-year-old how quantum physics works.

As Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee bureau chief Steve Bousquet noted the other day, Scott managed to get through the legislative session without once publicly meeting with Florida House and Senate leaders to discuss — anything.

Or put another way, J.D. Salinger was more of a chatty social butterfly than the hermit governor.

It might have been understandable in 2011 to suggest Scott was a stranger to Tallahassee and unfamiliar with the tribal customs of the denizens of the Capitol. Even in 2012 one might conclude the governor kept getting lost trying to make his way from his office to the mosh pit of moolah changers upstairs.

But by 2013, don't you think it might have finally sunk in to the Thomas Pynchon of Tallahassee that maybe it would be a good idea to invite Senate President Don Gaetz or House Speaker Will Weatherford to sit down and share three straws over a Boston cooler if for no other reason than to pretend he is actually running the state?

What Scott doesn't seem to grasp is that the governor's job is much more than merely the chief executive officer of the state. The governor, at least an effective one, is also the arm-twister/knee-capper and back-slapper-in-chief.

It's true not everyone has the retail political skills to cajole, threaten and otherwise work their will to accomplish an agenda. It is also true that without the skill set of Machiavelli meets an Amway salesman, perhaps one ought not aspire to the governorship.

The governor of the fourth-largest state entered this year's session with only two modest goals: a sales tax break for manufacturers and pay raises for teachers. This was like a tyke sitting on Santa's lap and only asking for a chattering teeth toy in the stocking.

Scott also meekly came out in support of accepting $50 billion in federal Medicaid funding over the next 10 years to help 1 million Floridians get health insurance. Then he promptly went back to sleep instead of using the bully pulpit of his office to hammer a tea-party-beholden Weatherford and an ideologically recalcitrant House to accept the money.

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He didn't. They didn't. And more than a million Floridians are now left holding an empty Medicaid bag.

And yet, the Greta Garbo of the Governor's Mansion wants to run for another term as governor. What's the point? So he can redesign the state's Bob's Barricades on road construction projects?

Regardless of party, some of Florida's most notable governors — LeRoy Collins, Reubin Askew, Bob Graham, Lawton Chiles and Jeb Bush among them — understood the power and the optics of the office and how to use them. So did many of the others, including Bob Martinez and Charlie Crist.

And all of those governors realized that a legislative session is not the time to go into political seclusion as if they were the Mary Celeste of the subtropics.

Scott could have schmoozed Weatherford and maybe, just maybe he might have made an inroad on Medicaid funding. To be sure, winning over a speaker who has become the beefcake boy of the Villages would have been a long shot.

But the political mortal sin here is that Scott didn't even try.

Lawton has to be spinning in his grave.