During Gov. Rick Scott’s administration, I can find areas where I agree with his actions and numerous areas where I don’t. And on some issues where he has reversed himself, I’ve had the opportunity to do both.
But despite how any of us feel on any particular position, what has become a disturbing trend in the Scott administration is his propensity for claiming credit for anything good happening in the state, whether or not he had a direct role in the outcome, while simultaneously distancing himself or completely ignoring anything that goes wrong even when he or his agencies have had a direct role.
It’s the governor’s responsibility to implement legislative policies and to exercise oversight while carrying them out. The governor controls a plethora of state departments and agencies to do this, but ultimately the buck stops with him, or at least it should.
Scott has used every public appearance to reinforce the notion that he is almost single-mindedly focused on creating jobs in the state. He doesn’t miss a ribbon-cutting or groundbreaking of any job-creation announcement, no matter how small.
When there is good news, we are told that it is Scott’s policies that are responsible. Let me be clear, when the economy improves nationally or statewide, I am more than happy to bestow praise on anybody who played any small part in it. And to be fair, Scott does deserve some credit.
It would also be fair to say that many elected officials are more inclined to take credit than they are to accept blame. That’s nothing new. As voters, however, we expect and deserve to know what is happening and what our chief executive is doing about it. We want to know he is aware, engaged and determined to fix any problems that happen on his watch.
The roll-out of the federal health care website in October was an unquestionable disaster. All those hoping for its failure were quick to accuse, point fingers and launch into their self-congratulating “I told you so.”
President Obama, to his credit, admitted that it was ultimately his responsibility, and he accepted fault and vowed to fix the website.
Shortly after that botched roll-out, Florida had one of its own. The launch of CONNECT, Florida’s attempt to modernize its jobless claims payment system, was far from smooth. The 235,000 claimants who use the system were met with long wait times, slow speed, error messages and being kicked out of the system.
After spending $63 million, there are some 60,000 backlogged claims since the sketchy roll-out three months ago.
Not only has Scott failed to accept responsibility for this debacle, but he also seems strangely detached from the pain it is causing many Floridians. Families are being kicked out of their homes for being behind on rent. Some are having their electric and water service disconnected while others are doing without food or medicine. Some can’t buy gas to go look for a job.
What is particularly galling is his response to the news media. When he isn’t avoiding them, he is evading their questions. When asked if it’s his job to fix the faulty system, he deflects by saying that it’s his job to bring jobs to Florida. When reporters press him to take some responsibility for the problem and its consequences on people forced to do without, he cheerily tells them to have a good day.
Huh? That’s it? Have a good day?
Jesse Panuccio, the executive director of Scott’s Department of Economic Opportunity, which oversees the CONNECT project, shares the governor’s responsibility avoidance techniques. During legislative hearings on the problems, he seems content to lay all responsibility on Deloitte Consulting, the vendor his agency selected and is responsible for monitoring.
While Panuccio has been demanding that Deloitte fix the technical glitches, thousands of Floridians desperate for their delayed payments are calling legislators’ offices pleading for help.
Members of the Florida Legislature, concerned about the chronic problems but cautious not to put the governor in a worse light, have not been as aggressive as they could be with the administration’s handling of the situation.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, convinced that not enough was being done, called in the feds. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez assured Nelson that his folks would come to Florida and focus on paying the claims first and then on fixing the technical problems.
A Tampa TV report recently featured a lady with harsh words for the governor. She said while people were hurting Scott was sitting on his butt. If she could ask him why he wasn’t engaged in helping her and others like her, he might just tell her he was busy bragging about all the good things happening in Florida.
Then he’d politely wish her a good day.
Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland. She can be reached at [email protected]