SARASOTA - Governor Rick Scott, fresh off his decision to allow the expansion of Medicaid to 900,000 Florida residents, visits the Suncoast.
The governor's staff says he will not speak to the media tonight, so we cannot ask him about his change of heart on the Medicaid expansion, or on other issues that he's changed his mind about, including school funding and voting laws -- as he readies for a run for re-election next year.
Tea Party activists showered the governor with applause when he presented his first state budget in Eustis two years ago. With a willing legislature, he pushed through cuts to education, saying schools, from elementary to college, needed to run leaner. "We're all tightening our belts and saying, 'Let's make sure we do all the need-to-do's and not necessarily the nice-to-haves,' and that's what we're going to be doing with higher ed," says Scott.
He championed voting restrictions that, among other things, cut early voting from 14 days to 8. And he fought the federal health care law, supporting the state's legal challenge to it. "Growing government is not free. What we're talking about is a doubling of the number of people on the Medicaid program."
On all those issues, Scott has reversed course. Now, he wants to increase funding for schools, and give teachers a pay raise.
After long lines to vote in November delayed results and embarrassed the state, he called for extending the early voting period to 14 days.
This week, after long resisting Obamacare, he agreed to expand Medicaid coverage under the president's plan. "Now the president's health care law, the mandate, is the law."
“He keeps changing his mind. It's all about being political, and getting re-elected,” says Richard Maul of Longboat Key.
“I really don't think it's a political move. It's more of a financial decision, because it's a big chunk of change for the taxpayer, says Donald Kelly of Sarasota.
People we talked to had varying opinions about the governor's motives for moving his positions. But whether he's adapting to reality or pandering to voters with an election ahead, one person told us that Scott has time to recover from the dreaded perception that he has flip-flopped on these issues. “Most people forget about last year, much less three years from now. I don't think it's going to hurt him,” says Maul.
One cynical person we talked to said that the governor can say he wants to do things like restore school funding, and the 14-day early voting period, but it won't happen because the legislature won't go along.
But, for tonight, the governor gets to talk baseball with people at Ed Smith Stadium.