TALLAHASSEE (AP) — There’s one person not on this year’s ballot who is still getting his fair share of grief: Gov. Rick Scott.
Scott has been battling poor poll ratings almost since taking office, but now he is turning into a target for Democrats running for the Florida Legislature.
They have run ads going after the Republican governor on education, property insurance rate hikes and his push for tax cuts.
Dwight Dudley, a St. Petersburg Democrat, vows to “stop Rick Scott’s tax giveaway to millionaires” while an ad touting Key West Democrat Ian Whitney says he will “fight Rick Scott’s property insurance hikes.” Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Democrat running in Miami-Dade County, echoes Whitney by saying he wants to go to Tallahassee to “stop Rick Scott’s outrageous property insurance increases that hurt our families.”
All three of these ads were paid by the Florida Democratic Party, which has been hitting Scott and Republicans, especially over education budget cuts in television ads showing across the state.
“A lot of things Rick Scott has done are supported by voters,” said Brian Burgess, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Florida. “Democrats run against his policies at their own peril.”
The Democrats are highly unlikely to wrest control of the Florida Legislature away from Republicans but they are focusing on Scott in a handful of competitive seats.
“Voters see Rick Scott and politicians in Tallahassee aren’t on their side,” said Brannon Jordan, a spokeswoman for the Florida Democratic Party. “Education in particular is an area where they feel their values don’t line up with Republicans actions. We plan to spend the next five weeks hammering the contrast home.”
The Democratic ads shade the truth, especially on property insurance rate hikes. Scott does not control insurance rates, although he has advocated shoring up Citizens Property Insurance, the state-created insurer that has nearly 1.5 million policies statewide. Citizens has been raising rates and taking other steps that have come under fire for its impact on consumers.
Still the ads reflect the reality that Scott’s favorable ratings have hovered at or just below 40 percent since shortly after he took office in January 2011.
Republicans have tried to counter the poll ratings, including running their own ads touting Scott. Republicans also say they can point to popular stances taken by the governor including pushing drug testing of those seeking welfare or screening voter rolls for non-U.S. citizens.
Yet Scott so far has not been a much of a presence on the campaign trail this fall. Some Republican legislative candidates have even distanced themselves somewhat from Scott in their own campaigns.
The Republican Party of Florida paid for an ad that features Monticello Republican Halsey Beshears saying that “we need to be more supportive of hard-working state employees.”
“To do what’s right for working families, we need our north Florida values back in Tallahassee,” says Beshears for an ad that ran in north Florida.
When asked this week about the ad Beshears noted that state workers have gone without raises for several years.
“You can’t beat a man down so long in the job and not reward him with something and expect him to work harder, work smarter, work faster,” said Beshears.
He contended that he was not criticizing his fellow Republicans but merely reflecting his viewpoint as a businessman and someone from the “outside looking in.”
Scott while governor has pushed through changes to state worker pensions and has signed state budgets that have resulted in state worker layoffs.
Burgess defended the party ad, saying that Beshears was trying to appeal to the constituents that make up his district.
Another Republican who is trying to appeal with a district that has a heavy concentration of state employees is Bradley Maxwell. Running for a House seat in Tallahassee, Maxwell has promised to pass a bill that would block the state from publishing the salaries of state workers on the Internet.
Such a move goes directly against the governor who last year created a website that posts state worker salaries. Scott said he did so taxpayers can hold state government accountable. But Maxwell says that the information shouldn’t be readily available.
“I think we can find ways to hold elected officials accountable without compromising safety and exposing our state employees to public voyeurism,” Maxwell said.