The day before Charlie Crist announced his candidacy for governor in 2013, I asked Gov. Rick Scott what he thought of him.
“I’m focused on three things,” Scott replied. “I want to make sure every Floridian who wants a job can get one, to improve education and to hold down the cost of living for working families.” Well, yeah, governor, but what do you think about Charlie Crist? “My job is to do three things…” his replybegan.
I knew, as he did, that if I asked the same question a dozen more times, I’d get the same cordial response. At that point, coincidentally 365 days before the election, it was Scott’s strategy to never mention Crist’s name – or even acknowledge the existence of a campaign. Marshawn Lynch was more loquacious at Super Bowl media day last week than Florida’s governor is, most days. The difference is that Lynch was contractually obligated to be there, while Scott can duck out of public appearances with armed guards and zealous aides clearing a path to waiting elevators or cars.
It’s pretty much always been that way.
On June 17, 2010, Scott filed his qualifying papers at the Division of Elections and was literally backed up against a wall by a gaggle of reporters who had never seen him before. An hour later, Scott spoke to the Capital Tiger Bay Club and expressed surprise that the press could do that. In his first weeks in office, Scott’s staff actually put up little velvet ropes in the conference room, theater style, as if that might hold back the hordes.
No doubt, in the hospital business, he had plenty of PR staff to filter the corporate message and run interference. Scott still has that in the governor’s office, so that when he doesn’t feel like saying anything himself, his communications staff will say nothing for him.
Through his first term, Scott made a show of openness by putting all state employee salaries online, along with a “Sunburst” site for access to emails. He invited the press in for coffee and doughnuts a few mornings, and those sessions were fairly productive. But at the same time, he and his staff used their personal emails for some state business and he’s still got lawyers fighting to hide some communiques and financial-disclosure data.
Like all governors, Scott publishes his daily schedule. But it often comes out late and his office leaves off meetings he doesn’t want people to know about. Sometimes, they cite security concerns but mostly the policy might be summed up, “We’re very open with everything we feel like being open about.”
It’s not just Scott. They all do it.
Gov. Lawton Chiles, whose aw-shucks demeanor masked a calculated mastery of the game, could use candor as a sort of verbal jiu-jitsu if pressed for an answer. When a reporter asked him if he’d told us everything about some long-forgotten topic, Chiles smiled and said, “No, but I’ve told you everything I want you to know about it.”
Gov. Bob Graham blithely denied plans to run for the U.S. Senate, long after the whole world knew he was in the 1986 race. Graham wouldn’t even say whom he liked in the Florida- Florida State football game – insisting that whenever twogreat teams compete, the people of Florida win.
It’s almost enough to make you yearn for a governor like New Jersey’s Christ Christie, who tells people to “sit down and shut up.” Scott would never be so blunt. When he stops, he just smiles, nods and repeats talking points.
In the recent flap over gay marriage, Attorney General Pam Bondi virtually disappeared while her communications staff put out statements saying what everybody already knew.
Are you going to appeal? What’s your reasoning? Oh, the Supreme Court refused to extend a stay of a district court order, Bondi’s office would say, and the attorney general wants uniformity statewide – and eventually nationwide.
OK, sure, we’ve known that for several days, even weeks. The question was, what did she plan to do next? We’re studying the order, her office would say. Of course you are — we’re all doing our jobs, too.
It’s a technique taught to every high school debate team: Answer the question you want, not the question you were asked.
In the current imbroglio over former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Gerald Bailey’s forced resignation, Scott’s office has issued a series of “FAQ” white papers, purporting to answer questions – without quite answering them. After initially claiming Bailey resigned, which Bailey termed a “lie,” Scott’s office said the governor had decided last year to change some department heads for the second term.
But Scott said Bailey had done a great job, so why oust him? Well, the governor wanted change. But the three Cabinet officers were led to believe he retired. Well, there must have been some miscommunication.
Loyal Republicans all, the Cabinet members were stuck with that “Cool Hand Luke” explanation — what we have here is a failure to communicate. That’s why the top item on their agenda in Tampa today is to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Original article here.