Legislative wrap up forum turns to Rick Scott vs. Charlie Crist discussion

05/09/14 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: Rick Scott, Charlie Crist, 2014 legislative session, immigration, in-state tuition, Darryl Paulson, Steve Bousquet


Tampa Bay Times reporter Steve Bousquet weighs in on the effects of the 2014 legislative session in Tallahassee.

photo by Janelle Irwin

There is a flurry of bills waiting for Governor Rick Scott’s signature now that the 2014 legislative session is over. During a Suncoast Tiger Bay luncheon Friday in St. Petersburg two political wits looked at the winners and losers in Tallahassee politics this session.

One of the biggest asks from Governor Rick Scott this year was for the legislature to pass a tuition freeze on public universities. He got that. He also succeeded in getting $500 million in tax cuts. Another bill Scott supports is one that will give children of undocumented immigrants a waiver to pay in-state tuition instead of the higher out of state rate. One of the speakers today was conservative professor emeritus of government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg Darryl Paulson.

“Is it fair to hold somebody accountable for the sins of our father or sins of our parents, so to speak. And most people would say no. He was brought here by his parents. He didn’t ask, Mommy, can I go to the United States today?”

That issue was championed by Republican House Speaker Will Weatherford and several other conservative legislators. Paulson mused that efforts like that are an attempt by Republicans who see their party criticized for being out of touch with many constituents to seem a little more friendly to the common Joe. But he also speculated that Democrats have a game of their own. A constitutional amendment legalizing and regulating medical marijuana will be on the November ballot. That, Paulson said, could be a good way to get younger voters, many of whom tend to be more liberal, to the polls.

“Even though the polls indicate right now that better than 70% of Floridians favor that proposal, it’s not a sure thing because the opposition is forming. We will have a Tiger Bay in a couple of weeks, a spokesperson for the opposite side, Drug Free Florida, which Mel Sembler, a local businessman and financier just put $100,000 into that and has indicated he’s willing to put much more.”

Another hot item coming out of Tallahassee this session was a bill that passed allowing the Department of Transportation to raise speed limits up to 5 miles per hour. Governor Scott hasn’t said whether he will sign it, but opponents like AAA are saying higher speeds would result in more crashes and worse ones too. Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist who’s trying to nab his old job back showed up a few minutes late to the luncheon. He said if he were governor, he’d sign the bill.

“Cars go awfully fast over in Europe and it seems to me that Floridians are very responsible people and I think that they could handle it.”

Crist also lamented some things that didn’t get done this year.

“…particularly Medicaid expansion. I’m very disappointed that the governor and the legislature didn’t feel empathy enough for over a million of our Floridians to make sure they would get healthcare by expanding Medicaid and it would benefit Florida to the tune of about $51 billion over the next ten years. That was a disappointment.”

He’s also frustrated that more money wasn’t put in the budget for K-12 public education. Governor Scott has been touting a $400 million increase that puts spending at the highest it’s ever been. That’s true for overall spending, but because more and more students enter the public education system each year, per pupil spending is not at a record high.

“During the great recession we were able to fund per student spending greater – almost $200 greater – than what Rick Scott did this session when they had a $3 billion, almost $3 billion surplus.”

Also weighing in on the legislative session today was Tampa Bay Times reporter Steve Bousquet. Even though he spends just about the entire two month session in Tallahassee away from his family, Bousquet questions whether the state would benefit from more time.

“I think the time has come to re-evaluate in a state of 19 million people that they can get everything done in a public policy realm in 60-days. And this, by the way, is 60-days when they take a day to honor Bubba Watson, a day to honor Jimbo Fisher.”

After leaving Tallahassee, Bousquet traveled to South Florida to talk to voters about what they think about the next big political event in Florida – who will be governor for the next few years. Bousquet gives a slight edge to Charlie Crist over Rick Scott because he said Crist is more likeable.

“What I found was, enthusiasm. I wouldn’t call it overwhelming, but positive enthusiasm. But mostly what I found was – and these were older voters who live in the condos of Broward and Palm Beach County and a lot of women voters – they’re sick of losing.”

Both Bousquet and USF’s Paulson spent some time talking about the gubernatorial election. Crist recently said he supports normalizing relations with Cuba and is considering a trip to the island nation. That prompted criticism from Republicans who point out that when he was governor his stance was the complete opposite. Bousquet said he thinks Crist’s new stance is an OK one, but called it hasty for Crist to actually go to Cuba.

“A photograph of a Democratic candidate for governor cozying up or appearing to cozy up to a Marxist dictator could have a devastating effect in the November election in this state. That’s why we’ve all – especially the young man in the back there with the white main of hair – we all know about the hug. This could be the hug times 100.”

The hug he’s referring to is from 2009 when Crist was photographed hugging President Obama. It has since become an iconic image Republicans use to highlight Crist’s flip floppiness. Paulson, the government professor from USF joked about that lesson.

“I saw governor Crist jotting down a note – do not hug fidel.”

But Crist, who hugged just about everyone at the luncheon including the staff, stands by his new take on trade relations in Cuba.

“What is important is to understand a couple of things. Number 1, the people of Cuba are suffering because of this embargo. Number 2, I believe that Florida could benefit greatly, especially our middle class, if we were able to have trade with businesses in both Cuba and Florida and those are the things that are most important to me and why I’m considering taking a trip to the island itself.”

Crist didn’t say when he’d go to Cuba if he makes that decision.

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