Gov. Rick Scott artfully wrapped his approach to government in a cherished American value when he delivered the annual State of the State speech to open the 2015 legislative session.
“I believe we are the best place in the country and the world to make dreams come true,” said Scott. “I call this Florida Exceptionalism.”
Scott’s journey from public housing to the Governor’s Mansion is an exceptional story and it follows that he would embrace Alexi de Tocqueville’s idea that America is different; a nation built upon the ideas of freedom, equality and private enterprise.
Tocqueville traveled the republic in the 1820s and his observations have grown among Americans into a belief that the country is uniquely capable of a serving as a beacon of opportunity for the rest of the world.
It has also become a dog whistle in a red/blue argument over who loves the country more after President Barack Obama compared American Exceptionalism to British or Greek exceptionalisms.
Academics, consultants and opponents agreed Scott’s use of “exceptionalism” was a neat call to arms and not an indication of any goals other than those outlined for the next two months. University of Central Florida Political Science Professor Aubrey Jewett sees it as a recommitment to the small government principles for which the Republican Party of Florida stands.
“(It’s) a way to get people excited about the Sunshine State and to think about Florida as being a special and unique place to live,” said Jewett. “I also think it is a call to the Legislature to continue to enact conservative policy that has been the norm since Republicans took control of state government in the late 1990s.”
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli endorsed the approach in his opening remarks for the 2015 session.
“The results of our low-tax policies are clear. We have the second best business climate in the country,” Crisafulli said. “Our economy has added over 728,500 private sector jobs in four years and the unemployment has fallen to 5.6 percent.”
While House Minority Leader Mark Pafford agreed Florida is exceptional, he also said he heard a lot of dreaming in Scott’s remarks.
“And I think that the point is there are 19 million people dreaming of a quality of life in the state, not everyone has it,” said Pafford. “The point is people are working really hard and they are not having the type of income to support themselves and their family.”
Scott promised to increase spending on public schools, make college tuition more affordable and spend more on environmental programs than what was mandated by voters with approval of Amendment 1.
“Our budget should reflect the principles we campaigned on or, in other words, we should do exactly what we told voters we would do,” said Scott.
And with a populist flourish Scott proclaimed, “It should not require a federal loan and decades of debt for students to get a college degree. Price limits access – plain and simple.”
If Scott achieves his legislative goals for 2015 and the economy continues to improve the exceptionalism remark may be an opening line in the next chapter of his political career.
After all it was U.S. Sen. Barack Obama who freed the idea from history and philosophy seminars with a 2004 speech to the Democratic National Convention. He then fumbled the ball, mishandling a question about multilateral agreements and turned the nature of America’s distinction into one of the differences dividing political partisans.
Rick Scott does have an exceptional story to tell. Five years ago when he signed up to run for governor he was surprised by a group of reporters cornering him and firing questions; the idea of a public official caught in a press gaggle was foreign to him.
Shortly after being elected he asked where reporters went when during Cabinet meetings a group of them followed out of the room someone who had just spoken to the officials.
Scott is no longer a rookie politician as evident by a joke in his speech about his great rhetorical skills. He’s using his economic program to travel to other states to entice companies to pack up and move to the state with a perfect business climate.
A couple more successful legislative sessions and a continually improving economy and the exceptional story everyone may be talking about in 2016 and 2018 could very well be a Rick Scott candidacy for higher office.