Excuse my impertinence, but I’m talking to you.
Today, a Quinnipiac poll shows that more Floridians disapprove of your performance as governor than approve of it, this despite the fact that you just spent $80 million burnishing your TV image and Floridians’ generally sunny outlook about the future of the Sunshine State. How is it that you, Gov. Scott, are so successful when measured by your ability to amass wealth in the business world but can be such a bust at politics?
I attribute it to your failure to understand the three Ps: policy, people and process.
When your communications team leaked the theme of your second inaugural speech, I was stunned (sort of) to hear that it was about one thing: jobs. You had wiggled into your first term as governor by the thinnest of margins by pounding the jobs drum during the tail end of the worst economic climate since the Great Depression. When you took office in 2011 the unemployment rate in Florida was a painful 10.9 percent. Today it is 6.0 percent. Can you legitimately take credit for the drop? Maybe, although when Barack Obama proposed to create jobs with the stimulus package Republicans incessantly reminded us that “government does not create jobs, the private sector creates jobs.”
But, no matter your take, we can all agree that unemployment has been cut in half in Florida in the past four years.
So, why was I stunned when I heard you intended to focus on jobs for four more years? Because, to put it bluntly, nobody cares about jobs any more. Almost everyone who wants a job in Florida has one. What you fail to understand is that once people have steady employment, they then begin to dream about a higher quality of life. They want things like high-performing schools, cleaner rivers and better roads.
Unfortunately, you are a one-note politician in a multi-dimensional world, and you are hopelessly out of step with the average Floridian. You are still living in 2009, but it’s 2015 now. You seem to feed on the energy of deep-seated insecurities formed during a difficult and impoverished childhood, and in your world simply having a job, no matter how menial, is the very definition of success. That is not the way the rest of Florida sees it.
What you’re seeing now in Tallahassee is the sucking vacuum caused by your failure to grasp policy, to have a real agenda. Beyond robotically talking about jobs, what do you have to say? The answer, sadly, is nothing at all. And, in the absence of something substantive to talk about, the press is only too happy to fill the void by talking about things like the firing of Gerry Bailey. (After reading the first chapter of Jeb’s new e-book I am reminded of what is was like to have a governor who tackled big issues on every front and who was accessible to the people and the press. The contrast is truly painful.)
Gov. Scott, want to solve some of your problems? Quickly develop an agenda that appeals to Floridians in an improving economy. Quit talking about just getting a job and start doing something to get people more pay and better healthcare, for example. Tell them how you’re going to improve their quality of life, not just guarantee them some form of subsistence living.
And, Gov. Scott, if you’re going to push a better agenda, you need to solve your people problem. How do I put this? You suck at choosing the team around you. I assume this is a holdover trait from your earlier life at Columbia/HCA, when you managed to assemble a team that then went and swindled the federal government out of billions of dollars resulting in a record federal fine against your company.
You need to quit picking senior staff based on how enthusiastically they scream “yes” whenever you make a comment. You need to quickly build a team with emotional intelligence and political judgment; two qualities that, frankly, can’t be found in you in any measurable quantity. Right now you’re down to a bunch of 30-somethings who don’t understand government, can’t envision an ambitious agenda, and do nothing in the Governor’s Office but sit in a closed circle and reinforce their own bad judgment. You sit at the top of an organization driven by a bunker mentality, but alas, there is no war to warrant being in a bunker. The only battle you face right now is the fight against your own incompetence and lack of vision.
And finally, you need to develop some intuitive sense of the political process. You exist as a single leg on the proverbial three-legged stool, and you don’t get along very well with the other two legs. You’ve never understood the legislative process nor tried very hard to grasp its mechanics or nuances. Out of some inexplicable sense of generosity, the Florida Legislature actually wants you to succeed, but you seem hell-bent on destroying whatever goodwill might exist in that relationship. You are not a dictator who gets to ignore the Legislature’s policy directives. It is a world built on relationships and trust, and yet your approach is aloof and erratic. You need a steady hand to guide you in a world that you little understand, but your office is filled with a D-list team that barely understands the process better than you.
Of course, you also have failed to grasp the political process at the grassroots level. Your recent humiliating defeat during the battle for the chairmanship of the Republican Party of Florida tells us all we need to know about the quality of your relationship with the rank and file. If you want to build an enduring political legacy, it needs to begin at the grassroots level. Your dictatorial style will never work to build authentic loyalty among a large group of volunteers.
So, Gov. Scott, you have some work to do. The good news is that you have four years in which you can accomplish it. The bad news is that every day you keep the current team of incompetent sycophants around you is a day that you not only didn’t move the ball down the field, you probably got sacked and lost precious yards. If you don’t quickly do something bold, you will lose the game. To update your campaign slogan to confront the new reality, you might want to consider “It’s not working.”
All the best,
Peter Schorsch is a new media publisher and political consultant based in St. Petersburg, Fla. Column courtesy of Context Florida.