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Florida State Government: Weekly Roundup

By: Keith Laing, The News Service of Florida
By: Keith Laing, The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Jan. 7, 2011 --

Rick Scott dropped the elect from his title last week, becoming the 45th governor of Florida and immediately getting to work, as he promised to do during his campaign – repeatedly.

His first order of business after taking the oath of office was to deliver an inaugural address, however haltingly. Scott stumbled over several of his lines, but he used his speech to make the case for a business, business and more business agenda, even borrowing a phrase from former President George W. Bush – with a slight twist.

"States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world,” Bush said of three nations - North Korea, Iraq and Iran - in his 2002 State of the Union speech.

"Three forces reduce that chance for success," Scott said this week. "Taxation, regulation and litigation. Those three form the axis of unemployment."

Scott took the side of those looking for work in making the case for getting to work.

“This morning more than a million Floridians got out of bed and faced another day of unemployment," Scott said. "For months they've searched for work. They fill out applications. They beg for interviews. They face rejection after rejection. Many people who once earned a good living on a construction site, --when the economy stalled, building stopped -- found themselves with skills, but no degree and absolutely no job.”

That’s why “job creation is an absolute mission," Scott said near the top of a roughly 20 minute speech in which he used the word jobs 20 times. At one point, Scott looked up from his prepared remarks and asked roughly 4,000 attendees “can you tell I’m focused on jobs?”

The crowd responded favorably for the most part, though Scott’s message was not well received by everyone in attendance. A heckler interrupted Scott at one point, shouting "Criminal! You are not Christian! You're a heathen!"

But even there, it all came back to employment. "Get a job!,” someone in the crowd responded, though Scott himself did not take the bait.

Members of the GOP in the Legislature loved Scott’s speech, which was music to their ears after a year of having a Republican turned independent who governed at times like he was a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat.

"His comments on… making sure that we create a better environment to create jobs in Florida was probably what stuck out the most," said Rep. Will Weatherford, who is expected to be speaker of the House during the second half of Scott's tenure. "Frankly, that's what the Legislature's been talking about and that's what we'll be focusing on as well."

Weatherford was even willing to overlook the fact the audience for Scott's first official remarks as governor included many of the lobbyists he railed against during his populist campaign. In fact, many of them had the best seats in the House, right in front of the podium. But Weatherford said those who share Scott's goals aren't the "special interests" the former health care executive ran against.

"If what you mean by special interests is tax cuts and deregulating industries that have been far too over-regulated for far too long, if it means helping out small businesses, if it means creating a 21st century education system and putting free markets into our health care, than I'm OK with those special interests," Weatherford said.

Democrats were less charitable after the speech, which was filled with red meat rhetoric aimed squarely at them, or whatever is left of them after last year’s disastrous-for-the-Dems election.

"I think he had a golden opportunity to bring everybody together and start from a fresh page and say 'look, these are my goals, but today we are one Florida.' I think we missed that a little bit," said Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, one of the few Democratic lawmakers who actually attended the inauguration ceremony.

MILLION AIR (AND A MILLION MILES)

One of the first things Scott did as governor was ground two state airplanes by putting them up for sale. That’s easy for him to do, of course, because he has his own jet, which was used this week to take him around the state.

But don’t try to keep up with the whereabouts of Scott’s private plane - he’s blocked it from flight trackers, and said Friday morning he has no plans to let the public track the planes takeoffs and landings on the Internet. “We put out … where I’m flying, where I’m going,” Scott said. “It’s all public record.”

A reporter noted that might make Scott able to “slip away” like former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford. “I don’t think you have to worry too much,” Scott responded.

Scott ordered the Department of Management Services to sell the state's 10-year-old Beech King Air 350 and its 2003 Cessna Citation Bravo on the Website Aircraft Shopper Online - with bids opening on Feb. 9. As for the other members of state government who don’t have their own wings, Scott said they could fly commercial, despite the fact that means they could be spending much of their working time in Terminal B in Atlanta. They could also drive, the governor with his own sky miles said, which probably wasn’t much comfort either.

The ground stop on official state flights is already putting a crimp in the travel plans of new Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who said he was driving himself to Weston for the Everglades Coalition Conference. And then drive to St. Augustine.

“It certainly presents some challenges, but we'll make the most of it," Putnam said this week. It’s the governor’s prerogative, he said, and “it is what it is.”

Other new Cabinet members said they would get familiar with Florida’s highways and byways too. A spokeswoman for state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater said he will continue to move around in his blue minivan, and Attorney General Pam Bondi said in a statement she would drive or catch a ride.

Elsewhere in his busy first week, Scott froze agency regulations and ordered checks on the immigration status of new state hires, both of which he had promised to do. Following his inaugural speech, he signed an executive order creating a new office to carefully vet proposed rules by agencies and go back over state contracts.

The day after, the moves were still being debated, with some lawmakers and lobbyists praising Scott for being bold, and others boldly saying he was wrong to paint all regulations with the same brush.

“I don't want to use the word disappointed, but I wish Gov. Scott had consulted the Department of Health before he signed the executive order, understanding the effect it may have on the Legislature's attempts to crack down on pill mills," said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey.

"He's not looking at what rules might be worthwhile or effective," Audubon of Florida Executive Director Eric Draper said. "To stop rules arbitrarily, like he's done, doesn't make sense."

Also this week, Florida Senate president Mike Haridopolos said that a proposed high-speed rail connecting Tampa and Orlando was too expensive, despite the fact that the federal government has offered to pay for about 90 percent of it. The remarks that the state shouldn’t be paying for rail appeared to be on a different track than Haridopolos’ voting record however, since he supported a late 2009 bill that allowed the state to purchase tracks for the proposed SunRail commuter train in Orlando.

As for Scott, who has yet to weigh in on the project, he said he was still waiting for a feasibility and ridership study.


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