Rick Scott Competes With Scott Walker For Most Isolated GOP Governor
WASHINGTON -- The theatrics of Wisconsin's ongoing budget protests have left the impression that there is no more isolated governor in the country than Scott Walker.
But down in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott's steadfast opposition to a national high-speed rail project has put him squarely on an island, with federal, state and even local officials all petitioning him to change course.
The latest chapter in the saga came on Tuesday, when leading Republican and Democratic state Senators formally sued the governor in Florida Supreme Court in an attempt to salvage the high-speed rail plans. Just hours later, the Court announced Scott had until noon on Wednesday to respond in kind. His office responded to the lawsuit (not the Court) with a statement from the governor declaring that his "position remains unchanged."
And why not? Scott has, if anything, shown remarkable imperviousness to political pressure on this front, continually insisting the plan would cost the state an additional $3 billion in overlays -- a number defenders insist is pure fiction. While in D.C. for a national governor's convention on Friday morning, he met with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood at LaHood's office in the southwest corridor of the city. A long, frank discussion ended with the governor promising to provide a list of what he needed to support the high-speed rail project by the end of this week. So far, Transportation officials confirm, he has not provided it.
The topic of high-speed rail did not come up when Scott, alongside other governors, met with the president that same day, an administration official said. But the Florida Republican has had two separate conversations with Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fl.), a big booster of the proposal.
Unlike Walker -- who still retains the backing of Republican office-holders in state -- Scott has engendered the opposition of GOP lawmakers in state and federal office. And on Monday night, the mayors of three affected cities -- Orlando, Tampa, and Lakeland--gathered privately with the governor to pitch him, once again, to accept the plan.
Certainly, politics would suggest that Scott should refine his approach. A recent Harris Interactive poll showed 67 percent of Floridians support state or federal funding for high-speed rail, with 17 percent opposed.
And on other issues, the governor has shown willingness to forgo ideological orthodoxy in favor of not alienating voters. Punting on legislation to deny public workers collective bargaining rights -- which has landed Walker in hot water in Wisconsin -- was done with an eye towards the support his predecessor, Charlie Crist, won when he declined to go after the teacher unions.
But leading Democrats and political observers in the state say they would be shocked if Scott ended up budging. For starters, Republican governors with a High Noon approach to politics carry a certain allure within conservative circles. Secondly, Scott has spent the past few weeks insisting the high-speed rail project would absolutely cripple the state's budget. The courts, said one Democratic insider, are the one thing that could save Scott from himself.
All of which has created incredibly fragile political terrain for Scott. Asked if she could remember a governor isolating himself in such a high-stakes legislative battle, long time Florida political analyst Susan MacManus, a professor at the University of South Florida, replied: "Not one with this much money behind it."
"We have had battles in the past. But you'd have to go back to the civil rights era, which is a whole different issue," McManus added. "With this one, really, so much of it comes down to whether people think this system is going to create jobs. Because supporters and business people who might support Scott are against him on this because they passionately believe this is going to work."