Florida Gov. Rick Scott smiles during inauguration ceremonies Tuesday in Tallahassee.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott smiles during inauguration ceremonies Tuesday in Tallahassee. John Raoux/AP
Washington, D.C., isn't the only place where political leadership is changing after last November's election. It's also changing in state capitals across the nation, where 29 new governors are taking office. Several were sworn in this week — including in Florida, where Republican Rick Scott takes over from Republican turned independent Charlie Crist.
Unlike in California and New York, where festivities were toned down in a nod to the economy, Florida's inaugural events bordered on the lavish.
Scott's celebration stretched over two days and included a parade, dinners, breakfasts and a ball. The price tag? Some $3 million — mostly raised from lobbyists and business interests.
It's been a tough few years in Florida. The housing collapse has made the state a national leader in foreclosures. Unemployment is at 12 percent — 2 points above the national average.
At his inauguration, held outside Florida's old state capitol in Tallahassee, Scott told Floridians he's ready to make good on his campaign slogan: "Let's Get to Work."
"Once we take the right steps," he said, "I am absolutely convinced that Florida will become the most exciting place in the world to live and work."
Placing An Emphasis On Business
Scott is a millionaire and the former CEO of the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain, Columbia/HCA. Shortly after he stepped down, the company paid the largest fine for Medicare fraud ever assessed. He won the governor's race by running as an outsider — spending some $70 million of his own money.
He has promised to streamline government and weed out unnecessary regulations. In his inaugural address, Scott said the government should be lean — and do little more than provide a safety net. "Prosperity," he said, "comes from the private sector."
Tea Party conservatives helped Gov. Rick Scott take the Republican nomination from then-Gov. Charlie Crist.
Tea Party conservatives helped Gov. Rick Scott take the Republican nomination from then-Gov. Charlie Crist. Wilfredo Lee/AP
Even before he ran for governor, Scott was an outspoken critic of President Obama and the new health care law. In his inaugural address, he said, "Faced with a deep recession, some say the answer is to expand the role of government. That's the approach the administration is taking in Washington. That is absolutely the wrong approach."
Scott's first challenge as governor will be to come up with a budget that closes Florida's $3 billion budget deficit. To do so, he has floated a raft of ideas — many of them controversial.
He wants to cut the state workforce by 5 percent. He has vowed to slash $1 billion from the state prisons, and to reform the state's pension system.
Scott has also promised to phase out Florida's business income tax and to slash property taxes. He'll be aided by the fact that Florida's Legislature is controlled by Republicans — many of whom share his governing philosophy.
But Lance deHaven-Smith, a political science professor at Florida State University, says finding the money for all that won't be easy. "We've got a budget that's really lean as it is," he says. "Many of the obligations we have are things you can't just undo. You're not going to do away with Medicaid or something like that. Even small changes are difficult there. So I just have a question in my mind about how realistic these plans are."
A Recent Arrival, Now Running Florida
As a first-time officeholder who moved to Florida only eight years ago, Scott is still an enigma to many in the state. With his election, he proved that he has determination, money and strong convictions. Floridians now wait to hear his agenda.
He has said, for instance, that he wants to expand Florida's small school-voucher program to include all of the state's students — a proposal tried on a smaller scale by former Gov. Jeb Bush, and which the courts found unconstitutional.
Coming after four years of the moderate Charlie Crist, Scott is returning Florida to conservative leadership reminiscent of the Jeb Bush era.
At Scott's inauguration, Bush acknowledged that the two men have similar views about government. Of Scott, Bush said, "He's an instinctive conservative. He doesn't start with the premise that the government's role is to solve a problem if there's another way to do it."
Scott has said he'll run government like a business. He is already finding that doing so presents its own challenges. To staff his administration, he has looked mostly to the private sector, but he has had problems filling many of the jobs — in part because of the lower government pay scale.
After first requesting their resignations, Scott has asked hundreds of Crist administration staffers to stay on for a few more months while he searches for replacements.