Governor Scott set forth an ambitious agenda in his budget proposal, one that put him to the left of many of his Republican colleagues in the Florida House and Senate. He'll be looking to laud some legislative success when he hits the campaign trail, but not everyone is seeing eye to eye in Tallahassee. Whether or not the governor is able to rally the troops is likely to weigh heavily on his chances of being reelected in 2014.
Scott and the GOP legislature got off to a rocky start this week. New House Speaker Will Weatherford vocally called out the governor's announcement that he would support the expansion of Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act, and it seems like the legislature is poised to block that pledge.
Meanwhile, Scott voiced his opposition to Weatherford's plan to raise limits on campaign donations from $500 to $10,000 and was unclear whether he would support the controversial “parent-trigger” bill that died in a tie on the Senate floor last session.
Scott's cornerstone agenda items – eliminating state sales tax on manufacturing equipment and increasing education funding by $1.2 billion – are also seen as having iffy chances.
The governor has seemed to bank on a populist bend going into his reelection campaign, even pledging to support across the board raises for teachers. But without the legislature, his pledges are just that. However, the 2012 elections saw the GOP lose their veto-proof majority, meaning Scott can once again choose between the stamp and the pen when legislation lands on his desk, giving him much more leverage with his signature initiatives.
It's not odd for executive and legislative branches to be at odds heading toward an election year. One has to get elected statewide and will be therefore tempted to pivot center, while many of the others are in safely gerrymandered districts in which a primary battle is their greatest concern. Usually, they can find common ground and Republicans have proven themselves particularly good at keeping their infighting behind the curtains.
Scott's administration, however, brings its own unique dynamic. He was a party outsider who used his own wealth to circumvent the RPOF machine. Most Republican politicians supported Bill McCollum in 2010, and there's even been talk of a primary challenge to the governor.
Weatherford, seen as a rising star, has been thrown around as a potential foil and his Speaker role gives him a platform to build a statewide following. But the most obvious threat is Adam Putnam, who publicly blasted Scott's Medicaid decision. The legislature has cozied up to the Commissioner of Agriculture and twice granted his office expansive powers: first by taking school lunches from the department of education and putting them under his oversight, then expanding its role in energy oversight.
Putnam's been keeping a very high profile, throwing support behind legislative initiatives and marketing his successes in his current role from cracking down on unlicensed telemarketers to busting marijuana growers, in a way that no previous Ag Commissioner has. Putnam already has an impressive fundraising network and the favor of the party machine.
A bloody primary battle is obviously not what Republicans want, especially since Scott would force them to spend heavily before a general election that will likely include a well-financed Charlie Crist, who would have strong support from the DNC, looking to take a governor's mansion in a battleground state they haven't had since Lawton Chiles.
Pay close attention to the dynamics in Tallahassee over the next seven weeks. A serious storm might be brewing in the Sunshine State.
Dennis Maley's column appears every Thursday and Sunday in The Bradenton Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to visit his column archive. You can also follow Dennis on Facebook. Sign up for a free email subscription and get The Bradenton Times' Thursday Weekly Recap and Sunday Edition delivered to your email box each week at no cost.
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