I’ve been known to speak my mind. Whether it was as a member of the Florida Legislature or as a columnist, I have frequently expressed opinions, some of which are fairly provocative or even controversial.
I’ve been beguiled by the reaction to a comment I made at a public appearance last week. Although no longer a state senator since leaving the Legislature in November, I’ve begun the transition into a part-time afterlife as a syndicated columnist.
I must be in a murky gray area, depending on whether the observer views me as a former senator, a future candidate or a current political commentator. I routinely turn down speaking engagements in an effort to close the political chapter of my career and concentrate on my new journalistic endeavors.
Months ago I committed to speak to the politically diverse Tampa Tiger Bay Club to recount my time as a Republican legislator and to offer my views on the state of the party. To my surprise, reporters from two major newspapers and an FM radio station were in attendance. A little odd since I was no longer speaking as an elected official.
I proceeded to offer my opinions and some inside-baseball-type stories from the perspective of a lifelong Republican.
I outlined policy differences I have with Gov. Rick Scott that covered a plethora of issues, including education, the environment, water policy, private prisons and transportation.
I stressed the need for the GOP to be more inclusive and more tolerant of other opinions and my belief that compromise, negotiation and working among various groups within our party as well as across party lines would benefit our party, our state and our nation. Along the same lines, anger, criticism and name-calling toward fellow Republicans for not being Republican enough or loyal enough is not a winning strategy for party building.
But let’s get back to “the comment.”
As an early supporter of Scott in 2010, I have grown increasingly disappointed in both his policies and his governing style. So I said what I’d been thinking.
Simply put: “I can’t imagine a scenario in which I could support Rick Scott again.”
There was no intent on my part to be ambiguous. Heck, I even added, “I hope another Republican or independent will enter the race.”
The news media immediately jumped to the hypothetical of a head-to-head match between Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist. Audience members asked which Democrats could or should get in the race. “What ifs” and speculation ran the gamut.
Several media reports have hinted, if not directly stated, that I’ve endorsed Charlie Crist. I’m flattered that an off-the-cuff remark about not repeating the same mistake I made last time led to such speculation. And my social media sites are abuzz with interesting reaction.
Although amusing, it also shows the depth of fear and loathing in these partisan battles.
Let’s pause for a reality check.
The election is 14 months away, and qualifying for the office is next summer, more than eight months away. There is still plenty of time for candidates to enter the race.
In fact, at this time before the last gubernatorial election, the field of candidates was far from set. I hadn’t even entered my short stint as a candidate, filing in November and dropping out before qualifying week in May. Scott didn’t enter the race until April 2010!
With more and more Republicans turning away from Scott and his policies, I wouldn’t rule out a potential challenger. The Republican Party of Florida shouldn’t assume that all Republicans would fall in line to support Scott if he were the only choice they allow. They tried that last election and look how well that worked out.
Republican voters could stay at home or could consider other candidates such as Adrian Wyllie, the Libertarian, or the eventual Democratic nominee.
Rest assured, I will be deliberative in determining how to vote, but if you want to know whom I will support, ask me after qualifying, when we actually know who is running.
Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland.