December 2, 2023

Newsmakers of the Year

Gov. Rick Scott - Outside In

Jason Garcia | 12/26/2014

As the 2014 campaign session began, Florida Gov. Rick Scott appeared in grave danger of losing his job. Polls showed him to be one of the most unpopular governors in the country, and he faced a challenger, in former Gov. Charlie Crist, who was wellknown around the state and generally well-liked by voters. Now, the former hospital executive is just the second two-term Republican governor in Florida history.

How'd he do it?

Money and discipline.

Scott didn't have to spend quite as much of his own money this time around as he did in 2010, when as a complete outsider he invested $75 million to bypass Florida's political leadership and claim the governor's mansion. In 2014, he tapped another $12.8 million of his family fortune during the home stretch of the campaign, demonstrating once again an unprecedented — in Florida, at least — willingness to use his own resources on a political campaign.

What's more, more than any governor before him, Scott successfully end-ran Florida's political media, which has traditionally been the primary method of communication between the state's elected officials and voters. He approached every encounter with rigid talking points and refused to be dragged off of them — trusting that he had enough money of his own to communicate his message if the media did not.

"There are other states that got there earlier, but Rick Scott is the first example in Florida history of a self-financing politician that altered the political landscape," says John "Mac" Stipanovich, a veteran Republican political strategist and lobbyist in Tallahassee. "He just totally bypassed the party and, for all intents and purposes, gutted the establishment — including me."

For all the changes Scott has wrought, his tenure has also demonstrated the power of that establishment. The governor has curtailed or abandoned many of the most dramatic promises he made in his original campaign in the face of opposition from business interests and the Legislature. Scott, who once vowed to bring an Arizona-style immigration law to Florida and to force employers to use E-Verify, last year signed legislation allowing the children of undocumented immigrants to qualify for in-state tuition. His promise to eliminate the state's corporate-income tax entirely has been replaced by a focus on smaller tax cuts, including tax exemptions for smaller businesses and for manufacturers.

"I think that he has always been somewhat of a stranger to the legislative process," says former Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith, who was once a state senator representing the Gainesville area.

"And I think he will do better, from his perspective, as he continues to learn that."

Tags: Floridian of the Year, Government/Politics & Law

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