Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Rick Scott Can't Stop Doing You Favors

Since the last one personally cost him over $70 million, Rick Scott could use an inexpensive win right now. Two weeks ago, a PPP poll revealed that, in a do-over election, he would lose to Democratic candidate Alex Sink by nearly 20%, a mammoth number for such a high-profile position.

Then, just a week ago, he was booed lustily by Tampa Bay residents while throwing out the first pitch at the Rays home opener. Although the FOX-owned Sun Sports network muted the crowd reaction, its intensity was unmistakable in the stadium. Insignificant and isolated cheers — in part due to planned attendance from a St. Petersburg conservative group — were drowned out by the packed house. People in line buying hot dogs and beer booed him on the concourses, and the crowd noise was loud enough that it was easily identifiable even in the restrooms.

Perhaps stuffing a war chest to buy another victory lies at the heart of Scott's plan to introduce mandatory drug testing for all state employees, close public health clinics and farm out state Medicaid to private HMOs. Scott, of course, founded Solantic Corporation, which runs a chain of 32 urgent care centers across the state and which stands to profit handsomely from managing former public Medicaid-related responsibilities as well as the burden of thousands of regular drug screens.

Admittedly, Scott went to the farcical effort of transferring his investment in Solantic to a trust held by his wife and also professing that Solantic would not profit from the state during his governorship, but both gestures are absurd and meaningless. No married person can hear the myth of "isolated" and "personal" income in a marriage without descending into a fit of giggles, and it's a foregone conclusion that Scott's policies can benefit Solantic even peripherally, long before his mantis-shaped exoskeleton gets booted out of office.

Last but not least, the drug testing has fooled precisely no one. Scott's concerns about a drug-free Florida ring hollow considering that he shut down plans for a statewide prescription-drug database supported by parents groups, social workers, law enforcement, Democrats and Republicans — one which could have restricted Florida's abundant "pill mills" doling out millions of painkillers and exporting them to the rest of the American south. (It also would have created jobs, but in a state with over 10% unemployment, immediate real job creation could only have interfered with cutting taxes to lead to theoretical job creation.)

Further, anyone in the DCA, Florida's Department of Children and Families, other government regulatory bodies, the state educational system, the state prison system or just a union understands that mandatory drug testing means more than just feathering Scott's own nest. Drug infractions are a great way to summarily terminate government workers and either refuse to re-staff their positions or else replace them with people who will work for significantly less.

It sounds intolerably sinister, something that citizens would refuse to accept, but rolling cutbacks and downsizing over the last four years have already left most public-sector agencies in just this condition, to the outrage of virtually no one. The workload stays the same, but the number of people obligated to meet it have slowly been matted out of the group photo — like archival pictures of party leaders under Stalin, or Marty McFly and his siblings in Back to the Future.

In a state where the most significant threat of national disaster comes from hurricanes, you probably can't find a single hazard-mitigation or water management planning department that isn't expected to provide the same level of safety with at most 60% of the personnel they had in 2005. The fact that this burdensome non-solution gives off the appearance of working means that Rick Scott is free to try to apply it everywhere, to even greater degrees, even if it means giving the company he owns countless kickbacks to make it happen.

The above realities aren't vague inside-baseball knowledge. As the ballpark booing shows, this is stuff the average citizen becomes more familiar with as the weeks pass. And as such, Scott could use a public-opinion win these days, which is why he went to all the effort of making one up. Two days ago, Rick Scott claimed he helped avert the shutdown of the federal government. It's funny for two reasons, beyond the obvious fact that it's a boast so comically disproportionate to reality that even the kid on the elementary school playground who says he had sex and that his dad is a spy and an NFL player wouldn't even touch it.

One, this claim represents Scott dipping back into his campaign playbook, one that consists of at most three gambits. This one is called, "Save Florida by running against Washington DC." (The other two are called, "Taxes/Business," and, "Air a shitload of commercials mentioning gambits #1 and #2.") The major idea emanating from his gubernatorial campaign seemed to be that Barack Obama was a really crappy Florida governor, and, if elected, Scott would make sure Obama stopped Florida governoring so badly. By electing him to run Tallahassee, Florida would put a stop to all the bullshit that Washington does. The entire pitch sounded like a babysitter knocking on your front door and explaining how her taking care of your kids on Fridays would make sure that your supervisor at the Tropicana plant, Mr. Rentzell, would stop getting into their closets and making a mess out of their Legos.

Two, the government shutdown claim is iconic Scott because it's simultaneously wrong on multiple levels. For instance:
The $1.5 billion with which Scott allegedly "rescued" the federal government would have gone to a high-speed rail link between Tampa and Orlando that would have created thousands of jobs over several years — one of the things Scott pledged to do when running for governor. Also, independent agencies concluded that the rail line would have generated a surplus starting in its first year.
When Scott rejected the high-speed rail project, he didn't even want to return the $1.5 billion anyway, hoping to reassign it to other projects around the state (which, collectively, would not have equaled the total number of jobs involved in the rail project).
The $1.5 billion in question wasn't even part of the spending-cuts debate in the US Congress. In short, the money was completely immaterial to the threatened shutdown.
The federal government is already planning to give that $1.5 billion to other states anyway.
The entire press release is perfect; it's the perfect summary of Rick Scott as both man and leader. He's trying to polish a turd created by his own actions by asserting economic victories irrelevant to other people and nonexistent in terms of planning and procedure. He wants Floridians to believe that, as the Florida governor, he has improved their lives by stopping something in Washington. Lastly, he has once again managed to create a windfall of over a billion dollars by the crafty self-made entrepreneur's and states' rights technique of letting the federal government give it away.

At least this time it didn't have to involve record-setting levels of Medicare fraud. Then again, he has over three years left in his term. He may surprise us yet.