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Wednesday, Jun 20, 2018
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Tom Jackson Columns

Scott’s ‘scandals’ nothing but a summer sideshow

It’s not summer without sequels on the big screen, so voters can’t be faulted for detecting a sense of the familiar in the race for Florida’s governor. They’ve seen this movie before.

Mirroring tactics applied by President Obama’s re-election campaign, the Florida Democratic Party hopes to render Gov. Rick Scott unacceptable to the electorate with a steady drip-drip-drip of scandal claims that, like those lodged against Republican Mitt Romney, collapse under scrutiny.

But, hey, you know Scott took the Fifth Amendment about a gazillion times, right? The scoundrel.

Instructively, Scott’s strategy amounts to stubborn indifference. He’s disinclined to spend on commercials that refute the claims or address them directly in press briefings. It’s the anti-war-room campaign. His ads tout his record and pound Charlie Crist. With the press, he channels John Wayne: “Never apologize and never explain; it’s a sign of weakness.”

This on-message doggedness pays residuals, driving media folk nuts while irritating Democrats who have hammered away for months to little effect in the polls, suggesting only those Floridians concerned about Scott’s relentless misdirection wouldn’t like his answers anyway. The rest seem content to judge the governor by his record, having lately acquired an aversion to leaders whose chief qualification is phraseology.

So, then, what about the “scandals”? With each, there’s less here than meets the eye.

♦  Yes, he appointed a King Ranch corporate executive to the water board that oversees the Everglades not long after a hunting trip at the company’s famed spread in Texas. But the cost of the trip was borne by Scott and the Republican Party of Florida, and Audubon Florida — no friend of the Scott administration — has heaped praise on the appointee’s leadership, accessibility and open-mindedness.

♦  OK, trains. Saying taxpayers would be on the hook for overruns, Scott spurns federal money for speedy rail linking Tampa and Orlando, then endorses an alternative connecting Miami to Orlando proposed by a firm for whom his chief of staff used to work. Calling it a “100 percent private venture,” he supports some $230 million in state spending that would aid the project, All Aboard Florida.

How does that square? Because building and maintaining the infrastructure that enables transportation is what governments do. Is Delta any less a private airline because it leases space at airports seeded by tax dollars?

♦  Well, he used on-duty cops at campaign stops, a definite no-no. But aides insist they followed the rules, making plain to agency contacts the political nature of Scott’s visits. Whether the essential identifying detail was lost as word spread — ever play “telephone”? — is not established. Absent hard evidence, benefit of the confusion goes to Scott. Next?

♦  In 2011, Scott owned a six-figure interest in an energy giant company doing business in Florida. How do we know his support for fossil fuel development involving that outfit isn’t linked to his investments? They’re all in a blind trust, is why, the sort approved by the Legislature to avoid such conflicts. For all anybody knows — including Scott — his personal fortune is tied up in wind farms, food trucks and timeshare resales.

In short, this is sideshow stuff. We already know the governor is kind of quirky, but we also have a decent notion of how (or whether) his policies work. Deciding if we want four more years of them is what will decide the election, not the campaign equivalent of sword-swallowers and bearded ladies.

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