When Gov. Rick Scott surprisingly entered the Republican primary four years ago, he took a strong tea party stand on most issues.
He vowed to cut government spending and debt. The multimillionaire businessman promised to slash taxes to create jobs. He called for enacting a tough Arizona-styled immigration law and chided his primary opponent for not doing the same. Scott also railed against President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.
As an incumbent seeking a second term, Scott still talks about the need for tax cuts and jobs but other parts of his platform have been jettisoned.
Now Scott promises to spend more on education and the environment if re-elected. The state budget has grown by billions of dollars under his watch. This past year Scott signed into law a measure that guarantees in-state tuition rates for Florida high school graduates who may be in the country illegally and he never did push for an Arizona-style law. And Scott in 2013 asked state legislators to expand Medicaid in order to take advantage of billions in help promised as part of the president’s health care law, but the Legislature said no.
Scott insists he hasn’t flipped from his previous positions.
“I think I’ve been very consistent,” said Scott during an interview. “We need to continue to hold down the size of government. We need to hold government accountable. We need to make smart investments. We need to improve the education system. We need to lower our taxes and we have been doing all those things.”
Scott is wrapping up a two-week tour where he emphasized a plan to cut taxes by $1 billion over the next two years. During those stops he has compared Democratic rival Charlie Crist to Obama and said both men think “money grows on trees.” Crist, a Republican during most of his term, preceded Scott as governor.
But as Scott mounted his own re-election effort this year, he has been pledging to boost per-student spending to historic levels and to set aside tens of millions to protect springs and purchase environmentally sensitive lands. It seems a far cry from 2010 where he vowed to restore government spending to 2004 levels of $57 billion.
“As governor, I’ll require accountability budgeting to force the bureaucrats in Tallahassee to justify every tax dollar they spend,” Scott wrote four years ago in his 7-7-7 plan to create 700,000 jobs over seven years.
Scott also promised to veto entire budgets if they “spend more than taxpayers can afford.” When Scott rolled out his first proposed budget in 2011, it was $66 billion, a $5 billion cut from the previous year. It included large cuts to education. The budget Scott signed four years later? It was $77 billion.
Crist, who has had his own dramatic reinvention from a “Jeb Bush Republican” to Democratic primary winner in roughly the same amount of time, contends Scott is using the power of the purse to counter his initial tea party image.
But he predicts that Scott will turn back to the same positions he took when he first came into office and push again for large-scale cuts to education. Scott has already pledged to boost school spending by $700 million next year.
“Imagine if he were to get re-elected,” Crist said. “He’d go back to old Rick and start cutting everything again because that’s what he likes to do.”
On the campaign trail recently, Scott’s supporters didn’t appear to be bothered by the more moderate Scott. They maintained that Scott’s evolution is far different from the political switches espoused by Crist.
“You can make promises because that’s what you genuinely believe, but when you get into the office itself reality smacks you in the face and you have to adjust here and there,” said Priscilla Grannis, a Republican from Naples. “You’re not going to please everyone all of the time, but I think Gov. Scott has more integrity in his little finger than Charlie Crist has got in his entire body.”
That was echoed by Sen. Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican who was state Senate president when Jeb Bush was governor.
“You have to pivot a little to appeal to a broad political ideology in the Legislature,” Lee said.
Re-posted with permission of the Associated Press.