If anyone had any doubts about Governor Rick Scott running for U.S. Senate this year, his column in last Sunday’s News Tribune should pretty much confirm Scott will be challenging Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson. Scott, who was elected governor eight years ago on the Tea Party wave, was the hard-nosed businessman who wanted to slash social and environmental programs, making “jobs first” the cornerstone of his administration.
So I had to do a double-take when I read his column that gushed about the need to protect the “Dreamers” and pushed to make the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) permanent. Is this the same guy who toasted in the New Year with Donald Trump at Mar-A-Lago? As Trump was flip-flopping on his views of DACA, Scott wrote that Washington should “do the right thing for these kids by removing the uncertainty hanging over their future goals and dreams.” Wow. Who would have thought our governor, who usually takes the hard right on most issues, would have such soft spot in his heart for illegal immigrants? Scott may have been a political outsider eight years ago, but he has certainly learned a thing or two about political expediency.
Scott knows that he will have to garner votes from tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans now living along the I-4 corridor in the central part of the state. (And being so closely associated with Trump, who did not endear himself to Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria, does not help.) Furthermore, he will have to woo the state’s large Hispanic population as well as immigrants from those countries referred to as “S—holes” by our president.
The column was published a week after Scott pushed to have Florida removed from the Trump administration’s list of coastal states that would now allow oil drilling. Ryan Zinke, the U.S. Interior Secretary, was quickly dispatched to Tallahassee where he announced Florida was no longer on the drilling list.
“I will never stop fighting for Florida’s environment and our pristine coastline.” Scott said at the time. This is the same guy who gutted the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation after his first election, firing career engineers and scientists and putting one of his business cronies in charge. After his PAC received nearly a million dollars from Big Sugar, he made multi-million dollar cuts to water management districts, eased water quality enforcement, vetoed money for the Florida Forever program, and renewed long term leases for Big Sugar in the fragile Everglades Agricultural Area. Who does these things and then says he would “never stop fighting for the environment”? Someone who wants to be a U.S. Senator from Florida. Eve Samples, a columnist for the News Tribune, aptly called his turnaround the “green-washing” of Rick Scott.
Scott apparently realizes that he will need the votes of Floridians who actually do care about clean water, the destruction to our Indian River Lagoon due to agriculture runoff, and a program meant to conserve even more of our threatened land. He now is for a $1.7 billion environmental package that includes $50 million for Florida Forever. Part of that money is to go towards restoring the Everglades and building reservoirs to siphon off polluted water from Lake Okeechobee.
I am pleased that Scott is finally pushing these environmental causes, but where was he eight years ago? His leadership as governor would have gone a long way to solve these programs. So we have had to put up with toxic algae, scrapping a plan that would have enabled the state to buy Big Sugar property at a reasonable price, and lax enforcement of anti-pollution laws.
U.S. Senator Bill Nelson calls Scott’s latest moves a political stunt. Hopefully Florida voters will agree when they go to the polls in November.