TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CBSMiami/AP) — Florida Governor Rick Scott is taking on his second term promising to stick to the same agenda as in his previous term.
Scott, who will be inaugurated on Tuesday on the steps of the old Capitol, maintains his focus will remain on improving the state’s economy, bolstering Florida’s schools and holding the line on college tuition increases.
“I’m going to do the same exact thing now and focus on the things I told people I would do,” Scott said in an interview with The Associated Press. “So when I finish my eight years we will be the best place to get a job, we will be a great place to get a great education and you will live in a safe community.”
He added: “By doing my job I’m going to make it very difficult for anybody to say they would like to live anyplace else.”
Scott was seen in the run-up to the 2014 elections as one of the most vulnerable governors in the nation, with polls consistently showing that a majority of Floridians didn’t approve of the job he was doing. But Scott won re-election by 64,000 votes after a bruising, expensive and negative campaign against a former governor, Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist.
One key element of Scott’s pitch to voters was that the state’s economy had improved and unemployment had fallen since he took office in January 2011.
That uptick in the economy should help the 62-year-old Republican as he pushes a much more restrained — and focused— agenda. Scott is promising to boost education spending to record levels, while at the same time cutting taxes by $1 billion over the next years and increasing spending on environmental programs.
The success of Scott’s second term, however, will hinge greatly on the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature. Many of Scott’s campaign promises require approval from state legislators. But the governor’s relationship with his GOP colleagues has been rocky at times. With no future race on the horizon, Republican legislators could buck Scott on some of his key priorities.
Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, contended that Scott will continue to have considerable sway over legislators.
“Anytime you have a veto pen you don’t have lame duck status,” Gardiner said.
Scott also predicted he would continue to work well with lawmakers.
“We have had four good sessions and we will have another four good sessions,” Scott said.
Scott also will have fresh challenges. Among them will be negotiations this year on a new gambling deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
Meanwhile, the governor continues to grapple with lingering scandals that remain from his first four years in office.
Earlier this month he tapped Julie Jones, the former head of the state agency that oversees the highway patrol, to try to turn around Florida’s troubled prison system that has been under scrutiny for inmate deaths, abuse and allegations of cover-ups.
Still there are signs Scott will approach his second term in a much different way than he opened his first four years office.
Scott isn’t making bold sweeping promises like he did in 2010 when he vowed to slash billions in government spending and taxes while pursuing tough anti-immigration policies. He’s made changes to the top ranks of state government, but he’s also kept several holdovers from his first term.
Even the way he’s handling his inauguration has changed. Four years ago he held a series of elaborate events including a massive black-tie ball. This time around Scott nixed the ball and a parade and said he wanted to have an inauguration centered around his push for job creation. The budget for the inaugural events has shrunken from roughly $3 million to just over $500,000. Scott held barbecues at businesses around the state, and he plans to highlight people who have gotten jobs in his inauguration speech.
In 2010, Scott campaigned with the backing of many tea party conservatives, but in the second half of his first term he abandoned his push for immigration changes and even advocated expanding Medicaid eligibility that was included in President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.
Scott insists he has been “very consistent” in what he had told voters, but he also acknowledged that he is willing to change.
“I think that in anything I have done in life, I have always learned and tried to get better,” Scott said.
State Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, predicts the Scott that rankled some Floridians in his first year in office won’t return. Smith said he understands Scott will continue to push economic policies such as tax cuts, but he expects the governor to remain moderate going forward.
“He’s corporate, not conservative,” Smith said. “He doesn’t have to bow to the tea party because he doesn’t have to run for anything else.”
When asked about his future plans, Scott insisted he is not considering any run for any other elected position.
“I ran to be governor so I like this job,” Scott said.
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