Gov. Rick Scott, responding to a viral video showing him being cursed at by an activist at a coffee shop, has brewed the frothy fracas into a full-force Floridian feud.
Instead of ignoring the exchange that had been viewed more than 2 million times on YouTube, Scott’s political committee on Friday posted its own video that called activist Cara Jennings a “latte liberal” who once refused to recite the pledge of allegiance at a public meeting.
The initial video of the confrontation in a Gainesville Starbucks shows Jennings, 39, calling the governor “an embarrassment to our state.”
Jennings tells him her health care costs had increased because he cut Medicaid and because he signed a bill that prevents any state money going to Planned Parenthood, and said “you should be ashamed to show your face around here.”
Scott, surrounded by worried aides, replied that he has created 1 million jobs, before turning around and leaving the Starbucks empty-handed – he never got his coffee.
As he walks out, Jennings shouts in response to Scott’s oft-cited jobs talking point by asking, “who here has a great job?”
Scott’s “Let’s Get to Work” committee fired back in its own video that espouses Scott’s job creation in Gainesville, where the confrontation occurred. The video displays a satellite map of the Gainesville neighborhood where the incident happened to allege that thousands of new jobs were created there.
“Almost everybody,” the narrator responds to Jennings jobs question. “Except those who are sitting around coffee shops demanding public assistance, surfing the internet and cursing at customers who come in.”
Scott set up Let’s Get to Work back in 2010, but he has continued to raise money for the organization even after he got re-elected in 2014. Let’s Get to Work spent more than $1 million earlier this year on television ads touting his legislative agenda. The committee’s operations are overseen by some of Scott’s closest political advisers.
While Scott can be awkward at times when he meets people in person, he has not been shy about using television and the internet to go after his critics. He once denounced a fellow Republican as the “Tonya Harding of Florida politics,” a reference to the U.S. ice skater who was connected to a plot to injure a rival skater.
In an interview Friday, Jennings said the heated exchange caught on video began calmly, but that she got angry when Scott refused to answer her questions.
Jennings, a political activist who served on the Lake Worth city commission previously, lives in Palm Beach County in South Florida. She was in Gainesville for a job, she said, and stopped into Starbucks to work and have coffee.
The Let’s Get to Work response video shocked her, she said.
“The governor and his (committee) are acting like bullies,” she said. “I confronted the governor about his policies that impact my life. This is a form of intimidation, but it’s more of the same craziness that we’ve seen from him.”
Rick Wilson, a veteran GOP strategist and media consultant, said it’s not unusual for politicians to take aim at private citizens who are involved in politics. But he said he was still “surprised” at Scott’s decision to use his political committee to go after Jennings.
“I don’t think his consultant served him well,” Wilson said. “If I were counseling the governor I would argue that an affirmative and positive message from him is always better than that.”
Melissa Sellers, Scott’s former chief of staff and a top political adviser to the governor, defended the decision to release the video.
“We set the record straight so the world would know the truth – there have been over 1 million jobs added in Florida under Governor Scott, and no lies or string of profanity from an anarchist changes that,” said Sellers in an email.