This week one by one the other members of the Florida Cabinet voiced displeasure with Rick Scott’s decision regarding Medicaid expansion. While Scott clearly can read public opinion polls and seems to have taken some steps to reinvent himself following a poor elections cycle for core Republican issues (best evidenced by the failure of ideologically crafted and motivated ballot measures) many other Republicans seem to have slept right through November 6th and subsequent analysis of the election.
The actions of Adam Putnam, Jeff Atwater and Pam Bondi this week again reflected a sense of governing entitlement, bordering on a “divine right” that the Florida GOP has developed over the course of the last decade and a half. The reaction from leading Republicans was one of outraged indignation. It is impossible to ideologically pragmatic or flexible in today’s Florida GOP.
Ten years ago, when Jeb Bush was Governor he faced significant GOP opposition on most of his pet issues. Whether it be school “choice” legislation, tort reform, PIP legislation, school funding, workers comp reform, the cat fund, whatever it may be he would face questioning and sometimes outright opposition from Republican legislators and fellow GOP members of the Cabinet.
By contrast, the Scott era has been one of lock-step ideological marching by Republicans in the Cabinet and the Legislature. While I am no fan of Governor Scott, he must be given credit for being more astute to political winds than his fellow Florida Republicans who have seemingly become more and more isolated from the lives, needs and thoughts of ordinary Floridians during the long reign of power they have enjoyed.
The Republicans have had a uncontested majority for so long that any questioning of them that is done, be it by a lonely Democratic Representative or the state’s press corp is seen as an attack on the party and the party’s governing philosophy. Now that attack has come from the ostensible leader of the party, the Governor who ran on a tea party platform and governed for two years as a far right conservative.
The Governor has been the leader of this movement the past two years bringing stability to Florida Republican “kingdom” governing as a despot following the tumultuous year of Charlie Crist’s blind ambition which threatened to tear the Republican empire apart. If it seems like I am describing some European Kingdom in the 19th Century during the “Era of Revolution” I am partly doing so. It seems as if the Florida GOP’s total control has resulted in something resembling a foreign government in a one party state not what we have become accustomed to in American Democracy. Alexis De Tocqueville would be rolling over in his grave if he knew of how Florida, an American state was being run in recent times.
With seemingly unchecked power and wielding an ideologically motivated ax to state programs, the GOP has developed a Soviet like control over Florida Government and politics. Defiance is crushed among activists, corporations and lobbyists using various levers of power to intimidate and punish perceived “enemies.” Submission to the leadership has become a trademark of GOP rule over the state and this arrogance has also led directly to a culture of cronyism and corruption. Either you play ball with Florida’s Republicans or you get crushed, in a more subtle way than the Soviet crushed their internal opposition but with the same ruthless effect.
Rick Scott’s defiance this week puts him on a track to clash with the leaders of this Soviet styled kingdom the same way Charlie Crist did three years ago. The difference being Scott, despite his lack of popular appeal is wealthy and seems to have taken in a lot of establishment Republicans who were initially weary of his candidacy in 2010. How this story further develops is going to be a fascinating subplot of legislative session and the summer months.