Florida governor Rick Scott kisses his wife Ann moments after taking the oath of office at the capitol in Tallahassee, FL on Tuesday, January 4, 2011. To the left is his son-in-law Jeremy Kandah, and daughter Jordan Kandah. To the right is his daughter Allison Guimard. (January 4, 2011)
A new-look slate of Republican politicians became Florida Cabinet members today – from Gov. Rick Scott to Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. Even though two of the four have held political office for years, all four campaigned as Tea Partiers who would shake up government. Now they have to actually govern.
Rick Scott, the onetime health-care executive who resigned in disgrace but reinvented himself in a campaign largely financed by his own money, was sworn in shortly before noon today as Florida’s 45th governor.
Flanked by his wife and two daughters, the 58-year-old Scott took the oath of office from Chief Justice Charles Canady in front of the historic Old Capitol as 2,000 invited guests – including three former Republican governors – looked on under partly cloudy skies. Security was tight, with watchers atop nearby buildings scanning the crowd with binoculars.
In a 20-minute speech, Scott opened with a reference to the state’s 12-percent unemployment rate and the million of Floridians who are without jobs. “The people of Florida elected me to get this state back to work,” he told the crowd. “And I believe in this mission.”
“All that’s been missing,” he added, “is the determination to create the most favorable business climate in the world.”
The speech largely tracked Scott’s campaign promises to create jobs and cut taxes. And, as was true during the campaign, Scott offered few specifics about how he’d do either. But he did offer some colorful new language, calling taxes, regulations and abuse of the court system “the axis of unemployment” — and promised to reform all three.
Though the state confronts a projected $3.5 billion revenue shortfall, Scott declared that, “The state of Florida raises enough revenues to meet its needs. It should focus on spending those revenues smarter, setting better priorities and demanding more accountability.”
He also promised to “eliminate” the corporate profits tax and cut property taxes paid for schools – though he didn’t cite a timetable.
He pledged a “top to bottom review of all state regulations” and said he will sign an executive order creating a state office of Fiscal Accountability and Regulatory Reform “to review all proposed and existing regulations to determine their impact on job creation.”
Finally, he said, “We will not allow excessive lawsuits to strangle job creation. And we will not allow a small group of predatory lawyers to stalk the business community in search of deep pockets.”
He said he will follow Texas’ lead in curbing lawsuits against businesses.
“As I explained to (Texas) Gov. Rick Perry, whatever they do in Texas, we’re going to do better. No special interest group can be allowed to triumph over the goal of full employment,” he said. “Job creators need to know that the great state of Florida, the government, we are here to work with business people and job creators, not against them.”
At one point, Scott tried to say he would abolish “programs” that are redundant but accidentally substituted “agencies,” correcting himself after the partisan crowd applauded the idea. “That’ll get in the paper. That wasn’t in the script,” Scott quipped.
Minutes after being sworn in, Scott signed four executive orders, including a freeze on new government regulation and an order for state agencies to use the E-verify system to check whether job applicants are in the U.S. legally.
Scott also signed two executive orders establishing a new office policy on ethics and open government, and one re-affirming a “policy of non-discrimination in state contracting without regard for race, gender, creed, color, or national origin.”
Scott’s brief ceremony was preceded by the swearing-in of three new Cabinet members his running mate, former Jacksonville state Rep. Jennifer Carroll.
The dignitaries who were introduced to the crowd included Claude Kirk, who was elected Florida’s first Republican governor in 1966, as well as former Gov. Jeb Bush and outgoing Gov. Charlie Crist. Bush, who came with his son Jeb Jr., drew by far the biggest ovation. Crist, who abandoned the Republican Party last year in an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate, received only tepid applause.
Though Scott has run as an outsider, lobbyists had some of the best seats in the house at the inauguration. Front row center: Brian Ballard, who co-chaired the inaugural fundraising committee. Others close by were U.S. Sugar lobbyist Bob Coker, South Florida lobbyist Ron Book, Blue Cross’ Mike Hightower, Barney Bishop of Associated Industries, and Scott’s close friend, Fort Lauderdale lobbyist (and lifelong Democrat) Bill Rubin.
The first official to be sworn in was Adam Putnam, the former Polk County congressman elected as agriculture commissioner. He was followed by former state Sen. Jeff Atwater as CFO and by Bondi, who became Florida’s first female attorney general.
Scott won the closest gubernatorial election in Florida history last November, edging Democrat Alex Sink. Before that, he beat veteran Republican Bill McCollum, the sitting attorney general, in a nasty GOP primary.
Scott, who was forced to resign from the Columbia/HCA hospital chain he had built after the U.S. Justice Department began a Medicare fraud investigation in the late 1990s, had never run for public office. But once the Naples investor declared his candidacy last spring, he pumped huge chunks of his personal fortune – eventually $73 million – into a campaign built around the slogan “Let’s get to work.”
Scott left the Governor’s Mansion at 7 a.m. Tuesday for his first inauguration day stop: A prayer breakfast at Florida A & M University. He paused, when a reporter asked if he was ready for the day.
“I’m ready, hopefully the state is,” Scott said.
Before the public events, Scott spent his first hour behind closed doors at a private breakfast. Scott’s inaugural team said nothing about the private breakfast, but Florida Baptist Witness editor James A. Smith tweeted that many of those attending were Southern Baptist Convention pastors.
Later, addressing an overwhelmingly white audience at a prayer breakfast at historically black Florida A&M University, Scott declared, “All of us need your prayers,” adding that “this will be an exciting time. We’ll get this state back to work.”
At the prayer breakfast, Scott and lieutenant-governor elect Jennifer Carroll heard conservative Christian writer, former Nixon White House aide Charles Colson declare the need for a change in the broader culture, saying the mood in the country was worse than during the Watergate scandal that sent him to prison in the 1970s.
Colson’s themes centered on the role of individual responsibility in shaping government. “In a democracy,” he said, “you get the government you deserve.”
He went on to deride the current “sick culture.” Colson said the 2008 economic collapse was largely a result of the “abandonment of the Protestant work ethic.”
“We caused the collapse,” Colson said.
The inauguration was followed by a lunch and then a 2 p.m. parade, featuring 26 marching bands. Tonight, Scott’s supporters will gather at a $95-per-person ball held at the Tallahassee- Leon County Civic Center, normally the home court for the Florida State university men’s and women’s basketball teams.