Florida Governor Rick Scott Is Growing More Unpopular By The Minute

By Ren LaForme, Political Columnist – April 6, 2011

Rumor has it Florida Gov. Rick Scott has said that he does not care if he becomes a one-term governor. True or not, his track record builds a case for the rumor.

Only three months into his four-year term, Scott has managed to squander the support he still maintained after narrowly defeating Democrat Alex Sink in late 2010. His poll numbers are down – way down – even among Republicans. A meager 57 percent approve of his actions so far. [1] Support is even lower among those who self-identify as “somewhat conservative” – an ugly 48 percent – and a massive 72 percent of those who characterize themselves as moderates outright disapprove of Scott’s performance.

What gives?

Scott was never a widely popular figure in Florida. He was elected with less than 50 percent of the vote, beating Sink by slightly more than one percentage point. [2]

Before that, he faced a harsh primary battle against Bill McCollum, a long-term Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Florida and state attorney general. [3] The McCollum campaign was less than favorable to Scott’s image, especially when word spread that he was somehow involved in a mammoth case of health care fraud against the federal government. [4]

In 2000 and 2002, The Columbia Hospital Corporation – a for-profit hospital chain that Scott started in 1987 – was caught defrauding the government and was forced to pay out more than $1.7 billion in settlements in what became the largest health fraud settlement in history. [5] The company plead guilty to 14 felonies and admitted to overcharging the government by inflating the seriousness of patient diagnoses, claiming marketing costs as reimbursable and providing false data about hospital space use. They also confessed to giving kickbacks to doctors and health clinics who provided referrals to their hospitals and to filing false cost reports.

Scott was forced to resign as chairman and CEO by his board of directors when the investigation was launched in 1997, and was thus not directly implicated in the lawsuit. [6] Though several of the company’s executives were indicted and two were sentenced to prison before being overturned by another jury, Scott was never indicted nor questioned, even though he was running the company at the time the fraudulent activities took place.

During the Florida 2010 gubernatorial election, while his opponents implied that he was directly involved in and benefitted from the fraud case, Scott’s actions did nothing for his image as a ruthless and moneyed businessman. He sunk $78 million of his own funding into the campaign, while Sink spent significantly less at $28 million. [7] Amid the economic crash and the heightened levels of unemployment in the state, not to mention Scott’s own insistence that frugal government is better, some wondered if Scott’s spending was appropriate. [8]

Scott began further chipping away at his image almost immediately upon taking the reigns as governor. He cut $3.3. billion from education over the next several years while pushing for property and business tax cuts worth $4 billion. [9] He ended tenure for new hires in public schools and created a merit-based pay system that will reward or punish teachers based upon their students’ test scores. [10]

Schools across the state wondered how they would be able to make up the budget cuts, while teachers, school administrators and parents were shocked that Scott would cut from education while providing tax cuts to corporate entities. [11]

And then came the train.

However unlikely it is that a bastion of 19th century America lost Scott a huge amount of support from not only Democrats in Florida, but also Republicans, that is exactly what happened. In mid-February, Scott rejected $2.3 billion in federal funding that would have developed a high-speed rail between Tampa and Orlando, citing price and ridership concerns. [12] Even after a veto-proof majority of the Florida Senate – which is 70 percent Republican – wrote a letter rebuking Scott and asking the Department of Transportation to reconsider the funding, he stood firm.

Florida residents seemed particularly upset about Scott’s decision. A poll from the Tampa Bay Business Journal showed that 63 percent of respondents disagreed with him. [13] U.S. Senator Bill Nelson from Florida claimed that Scott had turned away 24,000 jobs. Scott was even booed when he threw out the first pitch at a New York Yankee’s training camp game, though to his credit he has a much better throwing arm than former Gov. Charlie Crist. [14]

Most politicians would reconsider their actions at this point. Not Rick Scott.

In late March, he signed an executive order requiring all prospective state workers to submit to a drug test. [15] In addition, the order requires all current state employees to be subject to random drug screenings. This could potentially affect 100,000 people and cost the state up to $3.5 million at approximately $35 per drug test.

Some began to question Scott’s motives for enacting an order that will cost the state so much at the same time he is slashing budgets and raising the flag of frugality. The answer was not hard to find.

Scott co-founded a chain of urgent care centers in 2001 known as Solantic. [16] As of March 2009, Solantic owned and operated 24 of these centers, all in Florida. [17] It turns out that one of Solantic’s more popular services, according to CEO Karen Bowling, is drug testing. [18] Surprise, surprise.

To be fair, Scott divested his interest in Solantic in January. Then again, the controlling shares were placed in a trust in his wife’s name. That Scott does not have some personal benefits in mind with this executive order is a hard decision to reach.

Scott certainly acts like a man who does not care if he ends up a one-term governor. He might serve for an even shorter period, if a new bill currently making its way through the state House of Representatives passes. House Joint Resolution 785 would allow Florida residents to recall state officials. [19]

With that in mind, Rick Scott may want to take heed as he continues his reign as Florida’s governor. His next move may be his last.

Sources
[1] http://fcir.org/2011/03/30/rick-scotts-approval-ratings-plummet/
[2] https://doe.dos.state.fl.us/elections/resultsarchive/Index.asp?ElectionDate=11/2/2010&DATAMODE=
[3] http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2010/08/24/health-care-exec-scott-holds-lead-mccollum-florida-governor-primary/
[4] http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/06/11/1674327/was-candidate-involved-in-us-healthcare.html
[5] http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/health/2002-12-18-hca-settlement-_x.htm
[6] http://www.nytimes.com/1997/07/26/business/2-leaders-are-out-at-health-giant-as-inquiry-goes-on.html
[7] http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2010-10-26/news/os-sink-scott-cnn-debate-20101025_1_alex-sink-republican-rick-scott-debate
[8] http://firstread.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2010/08/24/4962783-rick-scott-spent-50-million-on-primary-bid
[9] http://fcir.org/2011/03/28/are-rick-scotts-education-cuts-unconstitutional/
[10] http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/03/24/2131275/scott-signing-fla-teacher-pay.html
[11] http://jaxkidsmatter.blogspot.com/2011/03/florida-schools-prepare-for-massive.html
[12] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/17/us/17rail.html?_r=1
[13] http://www.bizjournals.com/tampabay/poll/results/45541
[14] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/20/rick-scott-booed-at-yanke_n_838197.html
[15] http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/03/23/2130397/gov-rick-scott-orders-random-drug.html
[16] http://www.bizjournals.com/jacksonville/stories/2006/04/17/story1.html

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