Former Republican Governor Charlie Crist has received plenty of attention as he ponders another run for governor as a newly minted Democrat.
But the current occupant of the governor’s mansion, Republican Rick Scott, is leaving little question that Crist should be ready for a tough campaign. Scott this week signaled that a major line of attack would juxtapose his economic leadership to Crist’s tenure, when the nation tumbled into a recession that caused widespread job losses.
“We’re going to show that there’s a stunning contrast (between) the economy I inherited and the economy today,” Scott said Tuesday.
He also added: “In the four years before I became governor, the state had lost 832,000 jobs, unemployment tripled from 3.5 to 11.1 percent, state debt had increased by over $5 billion, and, you know the housing market collapsed.”
Is it fair to pin all of that on Crist? Nah, probably not.
But here’s one translation: Scott will not be Jim Davis, the Democrat who Crist steamrolled during the 2006 gubernatorial race.
Need more evidence? Scott this week jumped on Crist after the release of an inspector general’s report about Digital Domain Media Group, a company that received $20 million from Florida in 2009 but later failed. Scott tried to tie Crist to the deal.
“This Inspector General report shows two things – first, our current economic project vetting process is in place for a reason, and second, that process was clearly circumvented by the previous administration for the Digital Domain deal,” Scott said in a release.
Despite all the media attention and a stream of pre-emptive Republican Party attacks, Crist has not formally announced he will run next year. And even if he does, 2010 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink has indicated she is thinking about entering the race, and former Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich has been trying to build support for months.
Rumors also surfaced that Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson might take on Scott. But Nelson, who was in Tallahassee on Wednesday, said he doesn’t have plans to run for governor.
At this stage, Crist appears far more popular than Scott. A Quinnipiac University poll this month gave Crist an edge of 50 percent to 34 percent in a head-to-head matchup.
A group that is a fund-raising arm for Scott began running the campaign’s first ad this week on the Internet. Scott also has taken steps to try to shore up his popularity, such as calling for $2,500 raises for teachers and objecting to college tuition increases.
But Democrats appear ready to portray Scott as a Johnny-come-lately to such issues. The Florida Democratic Party website touts Scott’s “state of denial” and says he is “running away from everything he campaigned on to get reelected.”
THE PARTY’S OVER
Crist might be persona non grata with many Republican leaders. But for months, they probably shared a hope that former party Chairman Jim Greer would head off quietly into Florida political history.
It remains to be seen whether Greer will stay quiet. But a judge this week sentenced Greer to 18 months in prison after he pleaded guilty in a scheme that involved creating a fund-raising company and steering party business to it.
Crist installed Greer as GOP chairman, but a trial threatened to expose a pile of dirty laundry about the party. Greer argued before pleading guilty that he was being punished for his support of Crist, who split from the party to run in 2010 as an independent for U.S. Senate.
Greer’s attorney, Damon Chase, contended that the former chairman should get a short sentence and that he was being punished because of who he was and the high-profile nature of the case.
“If this weren’t Jim Greer, this would be probation,” Chase told Circuit Judge Marc Lubet before the sentencing. “Mr. Greer wants to move on, he wants to make amends, he is contrite for everything that occurred.”
Prosecutors sought a longer term for Greer, but Lubet handed down the 18-month sentence because he noted that Greer had paid $65,000 in restitution and because his former partner in the fund-raising company wasn’t prosecuted. The former partner, Delmar Johnson, served as executive director the party and later wore a wire to help prosecutors make the case against Greer.
“A court has responsibility to see that there’s justice whenever it sentences, tempered with some sort of mercy if that mercy is deserved,” Lubet told Greer at the sentencing in Orlando. He added that Greer, who had no prior criminal history, had “egregiously violated a position of trust for your employers.”
MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE TALL BUILDING ON THE HILL …
Lawmakers had a short week, breaking for Passover on Monday and Tuesday and Good Friday on, well, a beautiful Friday.
But back in the warrens of offices, House and Senate appropriations staffers finished drawing up budget proposals that reflected the brighter economy. As examples, lawmakers could tell folks at home about plans to pump an additional $1 billion or more into schools and give raises to teachers.
Lawmakers also crammed in committee meetings Wednesday and Thursday, as bills spun through on issues such as revamping the state retirement system and allowing designated employees to carry guns at school.
Maybe the most-popular move this week, however, was a final vote on repealing a 2012 law that caused confusion among international visitors to the state — especially the Canadian snowbirds who load up their cars and head south during the winter.
The 2012 law called for foreign visitors to get what are known as international diving permits before leaving their home countries. Those permits would be in addition to regular driver’s licenses, with the requirement designed to help Florida law-enforcement officers sort out traffic incidents.
But the Senate, following an earlier move by the House, voted unanimously this week to repeal the law because of the consternation it caused. Gov. Rick Scott is expected to quickly sign the repeal, which Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said is designed to make sure foreign visitors know the “welcome mat” is out.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Former Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer was sentenced to 18 months in prison after he pleaded guilty in a scheme that involved creating a company and steering party business to it.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “As we all come back from Passover and Easter, that’s when – as President Lee said – the smell of death will be in the air, because bills will begin to die that haven’t been heard.”— Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, referring to former President Tom Lee and the hopes of numerous lobbyists and interest groups watching their bills wither.