TAMPA — On Monday, Gov. Rick Scott refused to give a direct answer to questions about on-duty uniformed police officers who said they attended one of his campaign events in the belief it was an official governor’s office function.
Tuesday, Scott gave a more direct answer: He blamed his likely Democratic election opponent.
“This is all Charlie Crist mudslinging,” Scott said.
The questions arose because at least a dozen uniformed officers turned up for the Scott re-election campaign photo opportunity and news conference on crime and public safety at a Tampa uniform store last week.
Florida law says public employees can’t take part in political events during working hours. The officers were participating in the event, not providing security — they were lined up behind Scott as a backdrop while television cameras filmed him talking about his policies on crime.
One officer from the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said he thought he was asked to the event to help with security, and officials with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said they thought it was a governor’s office event, not a campaign event.
A Scott campaign spokeswoman insisted the campaign made it clear in invitations that it was a campaign event.
In a news conference in Largo on Monday, TV reporters Lauren Mayk of WFLA and Noah Pransky of WTSP asked Scott repeatedly why the officers were there and whether it was proper.
Instead of answering, Scott repeatedly talked about his endorsement by the Florida Police Chiefs Association and by elected sheriffs. Video of the exchange was posted by American Bridge, a liberal political action group that videotapes all of Scott’s public appearances.
Asked whether he knew the officers were on duty, Scott responded, “I’m very proud that last week the police chiefs endorsed me. I’m very proud that 40 sheriff’s have endorsed me. ... We’re at a 43-year low in our crime rate. So we invite them to our campaign events, and I’m very appreciative of the ones that came.”
In response to three follow-up questions about whether the officers’ appearance was improper and whether they should be disciplined, Scott repeated, “I’m appreciative of everybody who comes to my events and, gosh, we’re at a 43-year low in our crime rate, so we should be very appreciative of law enforcement.”
Scott got the same questions at a news conference on hurricane preparedness in Tampa on Tuesday.
He responded: “We’re always making sure that we comply with the law, comply with the rules. Here’s what’s nice: The Police Chiefs Association, I’m real proud that they endorsed me, 40 sheriff’s endorsed me.
“But look, this is all Charlie Crist mudslinging. He doesn’t have anything to run on. He can’t talk about jobs; he lost jobs, 832,000 jobs. He can’t talk about education; he cut education funding. So we’re doing the right thing, and I’m proud that people want to come to our campaign events.”