Most people have figured out that Florida Gov. Rick Scott is kind of creepy; those staring, android eyes, the almost computer generated slogans and rapt fealty to the tea party and various right wing think tanks which produce his policy ideas; the Nixonian penchant for secrecy and the iron rule despite a dismal 29 percent approval rating. But this past week, Scott has taken creepy to a whole new level.
In a week that was supposed to be a celebration of the complete Republican takeover of Tallahassee (they already controlled government in Florida, but achieved a supermajority in 2010) Scott spent a day, and Republican Party of Florida cash, zeroing out Republican spending priorities via line item veto, killing off meal programs for seniors in Little Havana and Allapattah plus public radio and television that will hit rural, red counties most, and money for disabled veterans, cancer victims, the disabled and the unemployed (and calling them “wasteful, special interest spending) and signing off on deep cuts to education that Republican state legislators will have to answer for at re-election time — all so he could get big tax cuts for corporations.
But it’s the way Scott conducted the signing of the state’s new, draconian, $69 billion budget last week that raised questions of whether we’re living in Florida, or pre-1989 Russia.
From the Tampa Bay Buzz, via reporters who were at the bill signing, which was held not in the Capitol, but at a conservative bastion retirement community called The Villages:
Sumter County sheriff’s deputies were summoned by Scott staffers wearing suits and black earpieces. They told the deputies that the budget signing was a private event and that a group of Democrats standing or sitting in the last two rows had to leave.
Deputies went to tell the group — more than a dozen people — to leave. The deputies said the town square had been leased and that the organizers wanted the group of Democrats to leave. The group of Democrats said it was unfair.
“You all are preaching to the choir,” a deputy told them. “I’m doing what I’m told.”
The deputies were getting their orders from Russ Abrams, a $60,000 a year special assistant to Scott. Seeing this, the Buzz approached Abrams. He told us the budget signing was “a private event.” When asked more questions, Abrams said: “I don’t need to talk to the press,” and then, “I don’t have anything to say.”
Abrams and other men wearing black earpieces then attempted to identify other people with anti-Scott intentions. They alerted deputies, who told them they had to leave the town square.
We’ve asked Wright if he wanted to clarify his comments, and are waiting to hear back.
Here it is from a commenter at The Miami Herald who says they were there, and whose account matches contemporaneous posts at The Buzz:
The representatives of the Villages Democratic Club were first approached by The Scott security Team. Very Intimidating group. They asked us to leave.
We politely refused ( all we were doing was siting in chairs ect. We did have signs but had not displayed them).The security team called for the Sheriffs dept and the group about 20 were escorted away from the area. about three blocks by 4 sheriffs. There were other groups there also who were asked to leave.
On the way out I and two other folks did seat ourselves. We were again approached by the security team, and then by one of the sheriffs. The sheriff asked us to leave. My Response along with two women, was, two ways we are leaving.
We Walk away on our own or you will have to arrest us and lead us away. Told the sheriff we were not walking away on our own. He must have been a democrat because all he said was to not to be disruptive. Which we had no plans of doing. All the press was there, all filmed the incident with the democratic group and another group being escorted away.
They bused in two busloads of middle school kids from the charter school. The tea party folks and their Teachers distributed signs to the students to display when Scott signed the budget. I saw this type of tactic on the history or military channel.
In addition Something very interesting and disturbing. There was no doubt that this signing was arranged by “The Tea Party” The Chairman of the Republican Party was there, as was Alan Hays, and Representative Marleene O’Toole.
Sorry to be so lengthily however that is was happened. Perhaps you could share what happened here in The Villages with individuals like yourself who really care about what is happening in Florida.
But then, the governor’s spokesman took the unusual tack of denying that what happened, in front of reporters, happened at all:
A spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott today told Politic365 today that the governor’s office did not order anyone removed from Thursday’s budget signing at The Villages, and that the event was meant to be public. Only, that’s not true.
First, here’s what Scott spokesman Lane Wright said, according to the political website. “Governor Scott did not have these individuals removed. This was a public event. It was brought to our attention that the local authorities had removed some. We don’t know first-hand who was removed or why.
“We are only seeing what you’re seeing in the news reports,” Wright added. “It’s disappointing to know that anyone who made the effort to be at such an important event wasn’t allowed in.”
But again, it all unfolded in front of reporters…
As if that’s not enough, the entire event was broadcast by only one source: Republican Party of Florida Internet TV. If you wanted to watch it live, you had to do so via the party website. Isn’t that how it works in China or North Korea???
And as if that’s not enough, the governor’s office attempted to invent public support for the vetoes (just like they did with the bussed-in charter school kids, who were encouraged by Scott staffers to chant Scott’s campaign slogan, “let’s get to work” — while holding handmade signs that the Scott people created to make them look like the children brought them) via robocalls. And about those robocalls:
The automatic, pre-recorded calls feature Scott’s voice derided the hometown projects he vetoed from the budgets as “special interest waste.” Not the kind of message that fellow Republicans, who crafted the budget, wanted to hear. Especially when those special interests included hungry and needy seniors, homeless veterans, paralysis victims, etc.
Former Republican State Rep. J.C. Planas of Miami said he was called and was infuriated that needy projects were being described as waste. What’s more, he said, the incoming number on his cell phone caller ID showed that it was his own number phoning in — a process of disguising calls known as “spoofing.”
“It’s bad enough that he’s hurting my community with these vetoes and misrepresenting the purpose of them,” Planas said. “But then he’s spoofing my phone? Why?”
No one in the Capitol can remember the last time a governor had to resort to robo-calling to drum up support. He also is urging supporters on Twitter and Facebook to support his vetoes (which kind of add up to $615 million) and call on legislators to plug some of the freed-up money back into education.
But Scott never mentions that he called for a bigger cut to education than the Legislature was comfortable with. Now he’s flip-flopping on members of his own party and playing the blame game.
House Speaker Dean Cannon was irked that the calls suggested the Republican controlled Legislature skimped on education — when it was Scott himself who called for a deeper cut. House Republican leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami was doubly bothered.
“The Republican Party of Florida is paying for this?” Lopez-Cantera asked. “That’s interesting. I’m on the Republican Executive Committee and I’m Miami-Dade’s state committeeman and no one gave me so much as a courtesy call that they were going to be doing this.”
Lopez-Cantera was among the Republican representatives who wanted about $730,000 to feed needy seniors in Allapattah and Little Havana. Both line items were vetoed.
“This wasn’t money for special interests,” said Lopez-Cantera. “These are needy seniors.”
And of course there’s also the irony of Scott droning on about special interests when he signed his budget in a “private event” while flanked by Florida Chamber of Commerce lobbyist David Hart and National Federation of Independent Business lobbyist Allen Douglas, not to mention the ultimate “special interest” with sway over Scott: the tea party groups who have become Florida’s modern-day Bolsheviks — the central party vanguard of support for Scott’s peculiar version of democracy — and Florida TaxWatch, which essentially wrote his vetoes. Scott enacted 89 percent of the vetoes the group requested as part of the $315 million in actual vetoes, plus another $300 million in fake vetoes that come from the state forgoing the option of buying up conservation land via Florida Forever.
BTW, Florida TaxWatch, which bills itself as a non-partisan, non-profit research organization (but which has run with Grover Norquist’s extremist Americans for Tax Reform) is headed by Dominic Calabro, who has authored papers for the libertarian Reason Foundation, which also produced the bogus report Scott relied on the kill high speed rail, even though a state-funded report said rail would make money for Florida.
Interesting take: did Scott fake his cuts?
Who is this guy? And where are the Republicans who will finally stand up to him (the legislature has already backed down on using their veto override authority) and sign on to Rep. Rick Kriseman’s DOA bill to make it possible for Florida’s citizens to recall him?