As 2018 creeps around the corner, so does the end of the governorship of Republican Rick Scott. Although he will remain in office until January 7th, 2019, Florida’s upcoming midterm elections will symbolically mark the end of his maxed out two-term tenure.
Scott has been long expected to announce a challenge against three-term incumbent Senator Bill Nelson (D), who is up for reelection in 2018. A poll released by Morning Consult in April showed promising potential for both legislators in a race against one another. Most notably for Scott, amongst the 8,793 voters surveyed he held 93 percent name recognition, while Nelson only held 79 percent. On the flip side, Nelson held a higher net favorability of +27, in comparison to Scott’s +21.
As the clock continues to tick, voters continue to wait for Scott to make his Senate bid official. Governor Scott historically has not left relatively large margins of time between his opening bids and the close of the polls. When announcing his run for governor in 2010, he waited until April of the election year to put himself in the race.
Nevertheless, many still expected to see Scott jump into the race as Hurricane Irma came to a close in mid-September. Having played a “Bush on 9/11” role to the state’s spirit and recovery efforts, pundits speculated he would take advantage of an anticipated boost in approval ratings. Those of which could potentially mirror the net 31 percentage points increase former Florida Governor Jeb Bush saw in 2004 after the calamitous hurricanes Charley and Frances. This, coupled with President Trump’s coattail offer in saying “The job he’s done is incredible” and “I hope this man right here, Rick Scott, runs for the Senate” during an Irma recovery visit, seemed to make it the perfect time.
Yet, despite a new post-Irma poll from Saint Leo University showing Scott raking in 35 percent against Nelson’s 33, a month has passed since the disaster without any announcement made.
The explanation to Scott’s hesitation may be found in the rebranding he will have to face from what his 2010 candidacy looked like to what his 2018 candidacy will have to look like. In 2010, Scott largely presented himself as a political recluse. In his first-term gubernatorial campaign announcement video, he stated “Florida needs someone who’s not part of the political establishment… that’s why I’m running for governor.”
In the current wave of support for political outsiders, this approach would bode well for voters in Scott’s targeted demographics. But after eight years of holding office and with a now nationally known name, the framing has lost some merit for him. Not only is he generally seen as a Tallahassee insider, but a Washington insider as well. Having spent considerable amounts of time with prominent GOP legislators such as Texas Governor Rick Perry, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and other establishment figures, he has increasingly inched himself closer the party figures he initially ran against.
Therefore, a 2018 Scott for Senate campaign would have to be far more based on legislative accomplishments than on his political identity, a focus that he only halfheartedly relied on during his 2012 reelection campaign but will now need in a more filling portion.
Among Scott’s largest accomplishments lies expanding school choice, raising education spending per-pupil to an all-time high, eliminating Florida’s manufacturing tax, fighting immigration amnesty, and not taking the $130,273 salary for Floridian governors on account of his independent wealth. Politifact’s ‘Scott-O-Meter rates all of these as campaign promises kept, and they are all issues that reside high on the priority list of Republican voters.
In contrast, Scott will face tough opposition for some of his campaign promises rated as entirely broken. These failures include enacting more rigorous work requirement standards for welfare recipients, implementing drug tests for welfare recipients, requiring employers to use E-Verify to ensure their workers are all legal residents and bringing Arizona’s immigration law to Florida. While these were some of the most controversial features of his campaign, they resonated kindly with his tremendously conservative base. Their lacking fruition may result in bitterness from his original supporters, and lead to a difficult time cultivating a base in a 2018 bid.
Additionally, a Scott for Senate campaign will have to address the national issues that he’s formerly been able to skim over. Some of the foremost issues Scott would need to face in the term he would be running for include gun control, health care, terrorism, immigration, and the environment.
On gun control, Scott boasted being the only candidate for Governor of Florida to have an A-grade from the National Rifle Association during the 2010 election cycle. As a strong advocate for denying increased restrictions on the right to bear arms, Scott’s general attitude on the issue would likely settle well with GOP voters.
However, presumptive funding from the NRA to his campaign, as well as his own stances, could interdict him from taking any action to implement ‘common sense’ gun control, which a majority of republicans actually support. A Pew Research Center survey conducted from March to April of 2017 showed that 89 percent of republicans back preventing mentally individuals from purchasing guns, 82 percent agree with prohibiting gun purchases by individuals on federal watch lists, and 77 percent approve of requiring background checks for private gun sales or sales at gun shows. Opposition to these measures has the capability to turn some moderate conservatives away, particularly in an era of disturbing mass shootings.
As governor, Scott most notably dealt with gun control through advancing legislation that protected self-defense, much of which mirrored Florida’s highly debated ‘stand your ground’ law. Most recently, he signed the bills SB-128 “Burden of Proof” and SB-1052 “Justifiable Use of Force.” The former enacted law which republicans claim “restores” the presumption of innocence in self-defense cases and makes it the state’s duty to prove otherwise, and the latter eliminates a former law that requires citizens be in immediate danger in their own homes before exerting self-defense.
In a matchup against Senator Nelson, the contrast would be stark. Nelson has strongly advocated for congress to pass common sense gun reform, and delivered a heart-wrenching address to the Senate about their failure to do so in 2016 after the Pulse Nightclub shooting. He has additionally voted yes for a ban on high-capacity magazines that carry over ten bullets, and is a sponsor of the bill to ban bump stocks that has been recently introduced following the Vegas massacre. This issue would be an obvious point of contention between two, and an expected spot to poke at any potential debates.
As for health care, Scott’s position would go over well with his intended base, but his ability to execute it could be easily questioned. Being a former president of a health care company, he has continuously committed to warding off the Affordable Care Act in Florida. But throughout his tenure he has been incapable of making the tangible changes he ensured.
Being a strong ally of President Trump, Scott has met with administration officials several times in recent months to urge for a repeal to be enacted. Amidst the frenzy of Republicans continuously failing to pass an overturn of Obamacare in the past year, he published an op-ed in the Miami Herald that stated, “There is absolutely no question that Obamacare must be repealed immediately so Americans can actually afford to purchase health insurance.”
Yet, despite his words of disapproval, in his nearly seven years as governor Floridians have seen no actual results on the matter. Which, alike many incumbent republicans facing 2018 elections or reelections, will certainly be a difficult situation to defend to voters. Although, for individuals who consider this a decisive issue, it is highly unlikely they would switch to the alternative. Nelson has been an adamant supporter of the ACA through all stages, and has voted down every repeal the republicans have proposed thus far.
On terrorism, Scott has voiced expected opposition to ISIS and has used attacks carried out on American soil to justify his arguments for narrower immigration policies. Although, in some of his discussions on how to combat the efforts of the organization he has been accused of coming off as wildly Islamophobic.
In an interview on “Morning Joe” in March 2016, Scott faced national backlash for refusing to directly answer the question “Do you think Muslims in the state of Florida hate America?” His responses rested on a short spectrum, spanning from “Well, as you know, in Florida we’re the best melting pot in the world. We love everybody coming to our state,” to “We’re a great melting point. That’s what I can tell you about our state,”. But none of his answers flatly denied the idea that Floridian Muslims hated the country they live in.
Show host Mika Brzezinski promptly shut off Scott’s microphone and ended the segment early, calling Scott’s responses “weak sniveling political wavering,” and stating that “that’s just not what we do on our show. It’s like asking him what one plus one is.”
Later the same year Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub shooting somberly offered Scott an opportunity to show diplomacy during a time of healing. But instead his overall response was seen as poorly composed and divisive. Bringing his immigration argument home, Scott called for police to surveille immigrants and refugees for similar actions. The call lacked a logical premise, as the shooter Omar Mateen was an American citizen born in Queens, New York. In following interviews, he struggled to develop a defense to the decision, once stating “When you come into our country, this is our country. Why are you coming here?”
Furthermore, on domestic attacks, Scott has been reluctant to disassociate the word from the exclusively Islamic connotation it’s taken on in recent years. In the immediate aftermath of Charlottesville, Virginia’s horrific run-in with white supremacists this past August, in which attendee James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car into a crowd and killed counter-protester Heather Heyer, members of both parties came forward to overtly identify Fields as a domestic terrorist. Amongst the Republican party, lead figures Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina did so. Yet, Rick Scott still continued to abstain.
Scott’s ability to fluently discuss immigration as a whole is significantly more on par with what voters would expect from a senatorial candidate. With Florida being a state with a large immigrant population, many of his 2010 campaign promises involved “fixing” the process. But despite the talk, he has delivered on relatively few of the goals he set for his supporters.
Amongst the most prominent of his guarantees to voters was the claim that he would bring Arizona’s highly controversial immigration law to Florida. The law, SB 1070, proposed that if a law enforcement is stopping an individual for any aside reason, they then also have the right to question if that individual is a legal resident of the United States. If the person cannot immediately prove their legality they could then be detained. The law moreover created stipulations that requires police to verify the residency status of any arrested or detained individual who they have “reasonable suspicion” to believe is an illegal immigrant.
The nation roared in debate over the bill in 2010, with opponents deeming it as an opportunity for racial profiling. Yet, Scott still pushed for it to be brought to Florida and won over a large portion of the far-right by doing so. However, by 2012 with the Supreme Court ruling large parts of the bill unconstitutional, Scott had not only failed to execute the law in Florida but then stopped talking about the need for it entirely.
Shortly after the ruling, he also began attempting to pivot discussions towards his other major promise of requiring Floridian employers to use E-Verify in order to guarantee the legal residency of their employees. Two terms later that idea was never made a reality either.
If there is one promise Scott has kept on the matter, it’s to fight against amnesty for illegal immigrants. Amnesty is a decentralized issue amongst the Republican party, with legislators traversing a wide range of opinions. Some are supporters of amnesty for all individuals already here, some only approve of amnesty for individuals brought to America illegally while they were children, and some vouch for straight deportations of all illegal immigrants.As a governor-elect in 2010, Scott testified to congress against the DREAMers act, which goes hand-in-hand with DACA to provide amnesty and opportunity for children and adults who were brought to America illegally while still under their parents’ care – a decision that was out of their control. While both acts were successfully executed, at least until recent months, Scott has at least been able to say he tried to his former supporters and potential future voters.
Scott has essentially not touched immigration since 2012, where within those two years of office he only enacted some small pieces of legislation. The most significant two being allowing DREAMers in-state college tuition, and denying illegal immigrants the ability to get a driver’s license.
Finally, in order to develop a viable senate campaign, Scott will need to address his stance on the environment.
Over the years Scott has boasted downsizing state agencies, including ones that played vital roles in protecting the environment. Shortly into his first term, he ordered water management districts to drastically diminish their property collection taxes, which caused a large offset to funding the agencies’ budgets. Specifically, the South Florida Water Management District now operates on half of what it used to, severely impairing their ability to carry out their Everglades restoration projects. Scott also eliminated the entire Department of Community Affairs in 2011, which oversaw property developments to ensure they were done in an environmentally sound way.
Scott also made controversial changes to way Floridian officials were allowed to discuss the environment as well. In 2011 he appointed Herschel Vinyard Jr. as the director of the Department of Environmental Protections, who then has been accused of implementing an unspoken policy banning the use of the terms “climate change” or “global warming”. Scott’s spokeswoman Jeri Bustamante and DEP’s press secretary Tiffany Cowie have denied allegations of this policy, but four former DEP employees from offices throughout Florida have come forward saying that the policy was well known and verbally distributed. Raising concerns on how DEP officials are supposed to research and battle against climate change if they’re not even allowed to mention it.
Then, as a final sting, Scott has not followed through on his campaign promise to enact harsher punishments for violations of environmental regulations. Although only a reelection campaign promise, three legislative sessions have gone by with bills passed to progress this goal. Critics have said that his priority has only been to help businesses avoid penalties instead of protecting the natural resources regulations are meant to protect.
These issues alone likely would not be problematic with Scott’s conservative followers, who largely prioritize businesses and budget cuts before the environment. However, another focus of Scott’s campaign promises could give him some trouble: water.
For starters, running during the very midst of the Deepwater Horizon BP Oil spill in 2010 made oil drilling and the fear of another attack on Florida’s shores a particularly hot topic. He vowed to expand drilling while simultaneously fighting for policies that ensure companies are “adhering to the strictest of safety standards”, per his 2010 campaign website. Seven years later, not a single piece of legislation has been passed to ensure that this tragedy is not repeated.
Going inland, Scott again has near run out of time to complete two other promises on water: to invest $1 billion into a “funding program for alternative water supply”, and to issue an executive order to invest in springs restorations and improvements.
Republicans tend to not place the environment overall as one of their top issues. According to a Pew Research Center poll, only 52 percent of GOP voters in 2016 considered it to be “very important”. But these issues of water may serve as exceptions.
The 2010 BP Oil spill was absolutely devastating to Florida’s economy, crippling the fishing and tourism industries. Scott’s inattentiveness to preventing a repeat of this sort of fiscal fiasco has the potential to ward off conservative constituents, particularly those in the rural North Florida panhandle that rely on ocean waters to fills their nets and wallets. Similarly, resentment could flourish over Scott’s stalling of any efforts to care for the state’s freshwater, which serves as the main attraction at Florida’s state parks and non-coastal tourist attractions.
Ultimately though, Scott’s largest hesitation may not rest in his policy positions, but in who he’s endorsed to execute them. Rick Scott stood amongst a minority of legislators in 2016 in endorsing now President Donald Trump during the primaries. The day after Florida’s primaries, which caused Floridian Senator Marco Rubio to drop out due his double-digit defeat from Trump, Scott stated “I believe it is now time for Republicans to accept and respect the will of the voters and coalesce behind Donald Trump”.
But now ten months into Trump’s presidency and with only a 38.7 percent approval rating according the Real Clear Politics, voters, particularly moderate conservatives, may question Scott’s judgement in endorsing and supporting a candidate that the country is so unsatisfied with.
Separating himself from Trump would not be an easy task, with the President already having offered an endorsement and with their personal friendship long before and after the election. Although Trump did win Florida’s closed primaries in March 2016, he only took 45.7 percent of the vote. Meaning a majority of 54.3 percent at that point were vying for another option. Thus, creating a larger space for questioning on how Scott’s endorsement contributed to the success of a candidate over half of Florida did not originally support.
Assuming Trump’s approval numbers continue on the gradual decline seen since February, it may be the Scott for Senate campaign’s greatest fear, and reason for refraining from the inevitable senate bid announcement, that their materialized numbers plummet in tandem.