Rick Scott Uses State Of The State To Position His Reelection Hopes

By John Celock

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) used his State of the State address Tuesday to tout his record and signature issues as he heads into a tough reelection fight this year.

Scott focused on his administration’s accomplishments, including tax and regulation cuts, during a speech to kick off the Florida Legislature’s annual 60-day session. He focused on elements of his personal story and why he’s focused on jobs during the speech, while also taking jabs at his predecessor, former Gov. Charlie Crist, who is the presumptive Democratic gubernatorial nominee in this year’s election.

“I started caring about jobs when I saw my father lose his,” Scott told lawmakers about why he focuses on the Sunshine State’s economy. “I want Florida to be the land of opportunity. I want every entrepreneur to move to Florida.”

Scott used much of the address to tout his own record and continuing on the path that he has been on since taking office in 2011. He was short on new policy specifics in the speech. He painted a picture of a Florida that has prospered under his leadership, a theme that will likely draw criticism from Crist and national Democratic groups in what is likely to be one of the most competitive gubernatorial races in the country this year.

The Republican used the speech to say that he’s cut 3,000 regulations in his three years in office, while also paying $3.6 billion in state debt and $2 billion to the federal government in unemployment insurance. Scott also noted the state’s decreasing unemployment and what he said was record spending on environmental protection.

Scott, a favorite of conservatives, took pains to straddle a more moderate line in the speech with his talk of education and environmental protection spending, while also addressing economic issues. He promised “record” spending on K-12 education, while also pledging an additional $80 billion in higher education spending. Scott said his higher education funding will be targeted towards colleges that prepare students for good jobs.

In the area of higher education, Scott took time to address his veto of a tuition increase at state colleges last year, citing the need to keep college costs down. The governor said that he wants Florida colleges to be kept available for residents as he addressed an issue that divided him and lawmakers last year.

“I am proud that all of our state colleges offer a bachelor’s degree for $10,000,” Scott said.

In an effort to focus on education, Scott introduced an extended series of guests in the audience who were products of the state’s public schools and colleges. He said that all had obtained good jobs from a Florida education and had low costs involved.

Scott used the audience stories as a segway into a discussion of his own life story, including his father’s unemployment. In highlighting what are likely campaign themes, Scott said that he wants to allow all Floridians to have jobs and have more people move to Florida because of the economy.

Scott never addressed Crist by name but took several swipes towards “the previous administration” and the state’s overall condition prior to 2011. Scott had won the governorship in 2010 in somewhat of an upset, defeating GOP establishment favorite Bill McCollum in the primary and then Democrat Alex Sink in the general election. Crist, who was a Republican while in the governor’s mansion, has since become a Democrat in an effort to return in Tallahassee.

Crist has retained a lead in recent polls. A University of Florida poll released in February shows the Democrat leading Scott 47 percent to 40 percent.

Democrats were quick to pounce on what Scott did not address in the speech. American Bridge 21st Century, a Washington-based group, released a YouTube ad Tuesday afternoon lambasting Scott for not addressing a minimum wage hike in his address. The ad included a line from an earlier news report where Scott questioned the merit of raising the minimum wage.

The minimum wage hike has been a unifying force among Democratic governors and gubernatorial candidates this year, who are following a call from President Barack Obama in January to focus on raising the wage to $10.10 an hour. National Journal reported in January that the Democratic Governors Association was pushing Democratic gubernatorial candidates to follow Obama’s lead on the subject.

With Scott pushing lawmakers to get to work on his agenda, Republicans in Tallahassee said the GOP-controlled Legislature is ready to work.

“The Senate and House will be in session this afternoon so we are wasting no time,” state House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel) said in closing remarks to lawmakers after Scott concluded.