Running a state like a business is always a little tricky. It sounds great during the campaign, especially when the budget is the issue du jour. But, as many Floridians seem to be grappling with, the men (and women) of the business world have a very different idea of how governing should work, and it doesn't involve consensus building.
Last November Governor Rick Scott beat out Democratic challenger Alex Sink by just one point (49% Scott vs. 48% Sink) -- that's roughly 60,000 votes. Yet, Scott and his team have compromised little, governing with the type of mandate one typically claims after securing upwards of 70% of the vote (that would be about 3,750,000 votes). Unlike most politicians, it seems Governor Scott does not see himself as the aggregate of many constituencies, but rather as the CEO of Florida.
Then again, that's pretty much exactly what he said he'd do if elected.
But, people aren't used to Scott's style of top-down leadership. Our most recent Suffolk University poll (April 13th) found that just 100 days in a majority of registered voters (53%) did not agree with how Governor Rick Scott is governing the state. By party, three quarters of Democrats (74%) disagreed, a majority of Independents (56%), and one quarter of Republicans (26%).
It doesn't take polling data to reveal that the Sunshine State is sharply divided over his approach. The backlash he's felt since assuming office has made national news, particularly his rejection of federal funds for high-speed rail in Florida, for which even his own party sharply criticized him.
It's doubtful that Scott is unaware of his falling approval ratings. His bold approach is a gamble, and it's likely he's hoping that positive results over the next three years will bring his approval numbers back to life in time for re-election.
Being a CEO is a results-oriented job where one answers to shareholders once a year. This contrasts sharply with the ongoing dialogue of public life -- a dialogue that up to this point Scott has all but ignored. His falling popularity may in part be a rejection of his approach, not necessarily his overall vision to turn around the state.
Right now voters, interest groups (teachers, unions, environmentalists) and especially legislators in Tallahassee are feeling left out of the process. And, without a place at the table, it's far easier to start rejecting policies that you might even agree with.
What Scott may be overlooking is that, unlike corporate boardrooms, popularity is political currency. An energized opposition (pinksliprick.com, awakethestate.org) is actively hammering away at Scott while some Republicans have begun to feel disappointed with his work -- some 24% said he has not stayed true to his campaign promises.
Thus, he may be unnecessarily sacrificing positive approval and hurting his ability to effectively lead by leading on his own. Further, he has strained his relationship with the legislature and that could seriously damage his agenda -- who wants to vote for unpopular policies from an unpopular governor who won't consult you?
However, despite strong opposition people aren't ready to oust the governor. If the election were held again today, 41% said they would vote for Scott's former opponent Alex Sink vs. just 31% who would support him. That's bad for Scott, but not particularly good for Sink either.
There is a solid core of opposition to Governor Scott. When asked about the job Scott is doing as governor some 49% disapproved, however, nearly one quarter (23%) remained undecided. Despite disagreement, after just over 100 days in office, some voters aren't ready to pass judgment.
Florida has gotten its first dose of medicine and it doesn't taste good. They are reeling from deep budget cuts in nearly every area of public life and in Florida (and across the country) people aren't entirely sure they want to support additional tax cuts (a central part of Scott's plan for Florida).
The next does of medicine may taste just as harsh, or perhaps it could be lined with the honey of collaboration. It really depends upon what prescription Scott feels will work best.