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Floridians Are Maybe Starting To Understand Their Governor Is A Grifter

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RICK SCOTT
AP

Despite his being best known as a cartoon villain fraudster who bilked Medicare and incurred a record-setting fine from authorities, Florida Governor Rick Scott outspent and outgunned his primary opponent Bill McCollum and then slipped past Democratic challenger Alex Sink in the 2010 GOP wave.

And now, after three months in office, he's become the very face of buyer's remorse:

A PPP poll of registered voters released today shows that in a hypothetical re-do of last year's gubernatorial election, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) would lose to Democrat Alex Sink by a nearly 20-point margin, 56%-37%. Scott won a squeaker of an election last year, edging out Sink by about one point.

Eye-popping as those figures are on their own, they get even starker when you start making comparisons. In this regard, Scott's numbers vastly outpace the "do-over" figures of some of the sexier "buyer's remorse" governors that have garnered most of the media's attention for their battles with public sector employees and the like. (Though Scott did participate in similar exploits, such as cutting teacher pay to fund corporate giveaways and gutting benefits for the unemployed.)

A big part of Scott's unpopularity stems from policy decisions that have managed to cheese off lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. His decision to scotch the SunRail commuter train high-speed rail project earned him the emnity of both Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Representative John Mica (R-Fla.), who had put years of sweat equity into the project. Closer to home, Scott felt the same bipartisan heat from state Senators.

Beyond the kerfuffle over high-speed rail, Scott's planned spending reductions in education aren't flying even with lawmakers in his own party, who see them as inhibitors to job growth.

Aside from engendering a heaping share of bipartisan ill will, Florida's governor has revealed himself to be the person we warned you he was: the exemplar of a serial fraudster. The end result has molded Scott, in a very short time, into one of the most politically isolated governors in America.

For future reference, here are some ways that you can tell if your state's governor is some sort of appalling grifter.

He does vaguely scammy things to the people who worked on his own campaign. Within a week of getting elected, Scott was already leaving those who dedicated themselves to his victory feeling like they'd been had:

A part-time campaign worker who found the job through an ad on Craigslist is upset that the campaign paid him with an American Express gift card.

Mark Don Givens told Florida's WTSP News that he was expecting a paycheck after he made phone calls and knocked on doors for the Scott campaign, which made jobs a top issue in the election. Givens said he and other workers were upset after they were told by the campaign that they could not offer them a paycheck and given American Express gift cards instead.

He spends an inordinate amount of money on self-celebration. Lots of incoming governors noticed their constituents were doing without in this economic downturn, and scaled back on inaugural pomp. Not Scott:

Before he's even taken office, however, some Floridians are criticizing Scott for planning an extravagant inauguration ceremony in the midst of the state's economic turmoil. The Governor's Inaugural Ball will take place in Tallahassee on Jan. 4, and any Floridian that can scrape together $95 can attend. So far, Scott -- who won by the narrowest margin in 134 years in a Florida gubernatorial race -- has raised $2 million for the ball, primarily from large corporations that conduct business in the state.

[...]

When challenged on the expensive ceremony, Scott responded that "he's not sure what the right number is" to spend on an inauguration, and that "it's important to have a celebration." This is a view that was not held by his predecessor, Gov. Charlie Crist, who canceled his inaugural ceremony in 2006 after similar criticisms over the cost and scale of the party. "I made a mistake, and, yes, it was a doozy," Crist said at the time. "Upon reflection, it doesn't feel right to me when there are people having trouble paying their insurance bills and making ends meet."

He's got something of an itching palm. Soon after the election, Scott fielded a call from Republican Governor's Association head Haley Barbour, where he made it pretty clear he wasn't too happy about that time the RGA funded ads on McCollum's behalf truthfully depicting Scott as a massive fraudster.

But it wasn't really a matter of principle to Scott -- it was a matter of cost:

Scott cut him off at one point, according to sources who remember the following exchange:

"Haley, you shouldn't have gotten involved," Scott said.

Barbour: "But...."

Scott: "Haley, you cost me more than $7 million -- $7 million."

Wasn't Scott some kind of multi-millionaire self-funding candidate? Well, that lost $7 million was Haley Barbour's fault. And Scott's basic message was, "Screw you, pay me."

Barbour poured on the Southern charm and tried to steer the conversation to letting bygones be bygones. But sources said, Scott wanted to make sure that the RGA felt his pain - after all, it helped underwrite ads calling Scott a "fraud." Scott also wanted to make sure the RGA would support him and make good on its promise to spend $8 million in Florida.

"Haley, we want the $8 million," Scott said at one point.

Haley tried to tap dance around it, but Scott repeated himself. "Haley, you cost me more than $7 million," Scott reportedly said, repeating it a third time for emphasis.

He seems to want to make it easier for other serial fraudsters to commit serial fraud. Earlier this month, Scott moved to get rid of "an anti-fraud database that would track the fraudulent distribution of addictive prescription drugs in Florida" entirely funded by "federal money and private donations."

The governor claims the database--which allows doctors to search patient drug purchases for potential abuses--would amount to an invasion of privacy, as the New York Times notes in a story about state Republicans who are at war with Scott. Lawmakers from both parties and patient advocates who fought for the creation of the database are flabbergasted: some view the resource as a critical tool in combating black-market drug traffic, the proliferation of pain clinics, and the abuse of prescription drugs.

That's from Mother Jones' Suzy Khimm, who points us toward this article in the St. Petersburg Times:

"This is a step in the wrong direction," said Capt. Robert Alfonso, head of the narcotics division of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. "We were looking forward to using it..."

"It makes no logical or rational sense," said Paul Sloan, a Venice-based pain clinic owner and president of the Florida Society of Pain Management Providers. "It's absolutely absurd. This is the most important weapon in the fight against prescription drug abuse..."

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who has been a champion of efforts to fight prescription drug abuse and sponsored the drug monitoring legislation, rapped the governor for sliding his proposal into his mass of budget recommendations.

"I'm extremely, extremely disappointed with the governor and his administration for sneaking this into a...bill," Fasano said.

That's not all, of course! Scott's plan to privatize as much of the public school system as he possible can is, in the words of Stephanie Mencimer, a "fraud magnet."

As soon as the state starts handing families $5500 a year, it's virtually assured that enterprising thieves will devise various schemes to help them part with those funds, including by starting "independent" for-profit virtual schools, charter schools, and other predatory "educational" institutions. While the idea of privatizing the education system may seem like a big money saver, and no one really loves school bureaucracies, putting that much taxpayer money out there without adequate oversight (i.e. bureaucracy) is a formula for disaster.

It's not just a hypothetical harm, as charter schools in many states have demonstrated. Charter schools get paid by the number of kids they enroll, and they are free from much of the bureaucracy Republicans like to bash so much. All that money mixed with all that freedom hasn't produced much in the way of an education boost: Charter schools perform no better and often much worse than traditional ones. But they have produced a bumper crop of fraudsters.

In recent years, the US Department of Education's Office of the Inspector General has been raising red flags about charter school fraud and embezzlement, a problem that is increasing. In March, the OIG wrote that it had opened more than 40 charter school criminal investigations that resulted in the convictions of 15 charter school officials, with 24 cases still pending. Most of the cases involved charter school operators and employees who falsely increased enrollment figures and used the extra money to bankroll lavish lifestyles. They often engaged in testing and grade-fixing antics to ensure the money kept rolling in. At the time the report was released, prosecutors had recovered more than $4 million stolen by charter school employees and operators since 2005.

He avoids scrutiny like a vampire avoids sunlight. Scott very quickly went to war with media -- he's hidden out, clamped down, and stifled coverage.

About the only thing that can be said in Scott's favor? It was Joe Biden who stuffed an Orlando Sentinel reporter in a closet. Though that event prompted these reflections:

Biden's office later apologized, but the incident resonated in Tallahassee among a press corps that feels the new governor is shutting them out of the party.

"We have never had a governor who was this reluctant to talk to the press corps," claims St. Petersburg Times reporter, Lucy Morgan.

Morgan has covered ten Florida governors over the last 40 years. She says Rick Scott's office delays requests for documents, tries to hand-pick pool reporters, and has forbidden his agency heads to talk to the media on their own.

In fact, a survey conducted by the Associated Press confronting the issue of transparency in state governments found Scott to be particularly wanting:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has taken a step back from his state's generally strong record on transparency. His office has announced plans to charge a fee to fulfill open records requests, a practice allowed under state law but waived by the previous governor, Republican-turned-independent Charlie Crist. Scott's spokesman said the decision was made to save taxpayer money, not to block access to information.

As is typical in this day and age, both sides were reduced to sparring on Twitter.

Oh! And he basically crafts policy for the sole purpose of personal enrichment. If there's one word that could account for Scott's dramatic fall from -- we hesitate to use the word, but, okay -- "grace," it is Solantic. That's the name of Scott's post-HCA company, a chain of urgent care facilities in which he had a $62 million stake.

But rather then divest himself of the company, he shifted his share to his wife, a move that met "the letter of Florida ethics laws, if not the spirit."

He then set about crafting policy designed to ensure that Solantic would do very, very well:

Scott and Florida Republicans are currently trying to enact a sweeping Medicaid reform bill that would give HMOs and other private health care companies unprecedented control over the government health care program for the poor. Among the companies that stand to benefit from the bill is Solantic, a chain of urgent-care clinics aimed at providing emergency services to walk-in customers.

[...]

Florida Democrats and independent legal experts say this handover hardly absolves Scott of a major conflict of interest. As part of a federally approved pilot program that began in 2005, certain Medicaid patients in Florida were allowed to start using their Medicaid dollars at private clinics like Solantic. The Medicaid bill that Scott is now pushing would expand the pilot privatization program to the entire state of Florida, offering Solantic a huge new business opportunity.

"This is a conflict of interest that raises a serious ethical issue," says Marc Rodwin, a medical ethics professor at Suffolk University Law School in Boston. "The public should be thinking and worrying about this."

In addition, he signed an executive order that would force "many state employees and job applicants submit to mandatory drug tests." Alongside that mandate, Scott's been seeking legislation that would require the same of welfare recipients. Naturally, Solantic "conducts drug-testing for employers and employees alike and stands to profit from this proposal."

Scott also apparently does not use email -- or he claims to not use it, anyway. Serial fraudsters know it's best not to leave much of a paper trail, electronic or otherwise.

So there you have it: the more he reveals himself as the grifter he is, the more Florida voters turn against their governor. All the classic signs of a scammer are right there on the surface, they've just been largely obscured by the sort of P.R. Scott's money can purchase.

Maybe he finds a way to turn this around, maybe he doesn't. All we can say to Floridians is this: we warned you!

[Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not? Also, please send tips to tv@huffingtonpost.com -- learn more about our media monitoring project here.]

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