|Page (1) of 1 - 07/13/11||email article||print page|
Florida Gov. Scott follows through on campaign agenda yet approval falls to among lowest in US
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) ' In office just six months, Gov. Rick Scott has kept his campaign promises and then some: cutting corporate taxes, reducing the size of government, drug testing welfare recipients, making government workers pay into their pensions, and privatizing Medicaid.
Yet the conservative Republican is one of the country's least popular governors, with only 29 percent of voters saying in one recent nonpartisan poll that he's doing a good job.
It's a woefully low job performance rating for a governor in office less than a year, much less a Republican governor in charge of a swing-voting state that will be critical to President Barack Obama's re-election chances.
It could be that voters didn't consider the details of how Scott would follow through on his promises. There also are new anti-abortion rights and pro-gun laws that weren't part of the campaign message and that may be turning off Democrats and some independents. Or maybe his opponents are doing a better job of defining Scott than Scott is defining himself.
"What I ran on is what I personally believe, and that's what I'm going to do. People think that being governor is a popularity contest. No. Your job is to be the governor," Scott told The Associated Press in a recent interview, insisting that polls don't matter and arguing that he is thinking about the future rather than trying to please people now.
He insisted that he's working to improve the state's economy and create jobs by making Florida more business friendly and streamlining government, and said: "If you look at all things that we did ... it's going to be the things that pay off long term."
Others have a different view.
"He's governing very far to the right, and that's alienating everyone who's not very far to the right," says state Sen. Paula Dockery, a Republican who argues that the poll numbers reflect as much. She argues that he's not kept his biggest promise: "The one and only reason that they voted for him and the one and only reason that he said he was running was to create jobs and I don't think people see those jobs yet."
Scott, a leading opponent of Obama's health care plan and a chief executive Columbia/HCA in the 1990s, narrowly beat Democrat Alex Sink last fall by presenting himself as a "conservative outsider," highlighting his credentials as a successful businessman, and tapping into voter anger at the Obama-led federal government. The victory kept an important state in Republican hands.
His campaign mantras were "Let's get to work!" and "jobs, jobs, jobs."
Yet, since Scott's been in office, he's been criticized more for the jobs that have been lost than for jobs that have been created on his watch.
About 1,700 layoff notices have gone out to state workers with more than 2,500 still expected. Education cuts mean teachers and other school employees will lose jobs across the state. That, along with his decision to reject $2.4 billion in federal money for a high-speed rail project that supporters say would have created 24,000 jobs, has allowed Democrats to label him as a job-killing governor.
Florida has had job growth each month Scott's been in office. But many plans to expand or move businesses to the state were already in motion before he became governor.
That hasn't stopped Scott from trying to promote his jobs record; he's told voters about his efforts on jobs ' he's gone on two trade missions and says he cold-calls companies to encourage them to move to Florida ' through automated phone calls paid for by the state Republican Party.
Scott's social agenda also may be partly to blame for his unpopularity.
He didn't campaign on hot-button issues like abortion and guns but the Republican-dominated Legislature has passed measures relating to both. Women in Florida will now be required to have an ultrasound before they can have an abortion, a bill considered in only a handful of other states and adopted in few of those. And in a measure unique to Florida, doctors can't ask patients about gun ownership in efforts to make them aware of safety issues.
And then there's Scott's style.
He largely ignored traditional media during his campaign, refusing to meet with any newspaper editorial board and often not taking questions from reporters after events. Instead, he spent more than $70 million of his own money to take his message directly to voters through television and radio ads and mail pieces. He has engaged with the media since taking office but he hasn't done so to the extent his predecessors did and has relied on social media to get his message out.
"You have a governor who's doing exactly what he said he was going to do," said Ron Sachs, who served as late Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles' communications director. But, Sachs said, he's decided to communicate with "tools that may be new, cool, social and edgy but they are not the primary way that you can best connect with the people of Florida on a broader basis."