Should Gov. Rick Scott want to double down on his re-election strategy, he might consider doing something that does not amount to a cynical 180 from a previous position. Polls indicate that most voters haven’t been fooled by Scott’s self-serving efforts at bribing teachers, accepting erstwhile “job killer” Medicaid help and acknowledging that Florida really does need to do a better job accommodating the rights of voters. He gets negligible credit for undoing previous wrongs–and still loses on principle. And, no, he can’t unreject high-speed rail money that was reallocated to other states.
What Scott needs to do is repurpose the gubernatorial bully pulpit for something other than Rick Perry shout-outs and big-government contempt. He needs to get out in front of issues that aren’t brutally partisan but merely beneficial to Floridians across the spectrum. Here are three that would find wide appeal–even if compromised legislators and Tea Party types disagreeably disagree.
*Text and drive: It remains unacceptable that Florida is still without a statewide ban on drivers texting. Thirty-nine states now flat out ban it, and five others proscribe it for teenagers. The need is self-evident. We already know that drivers are better off (legally) drunk than electronically distracted when it comes to behind-the-wheel awareness.
Were Scott to get out in front on this, he wouldn’t exactly be going solo. Motorists and passengers are increasingly leery of distracted-driver roulette. The headlines are too frequent. The crashes too horrific. The human losses too tragic. Moreover, the Florida sheriffs’ and police chiefs’ associations, the Florida League of Cities and many other groups are ardent supporters of legislation banning texting while driving.
Scott can mouth “personal liberties” platitudes, but this is about common sense, public safety, the moral high ground–and the influence of telecom lobbies. Legislation banning texting while driving will save lives. As a governor with abysmal ratings, let alone an ostensibly empathetic human being, how do you not push this?
*Internet sales tax: To date, Florida has seemed indifferent to e-commerce sales, which have been estimated at nearly$3.5 trillion nationally. In fact, such sales grew 15 percent nationwide last year. Economists estimate that Florida loses between $450 million to $1.5 billion annually in tax revenue on goods bought from Internet-only vendors.
The Legislature has been reluctant to move meaningfully on the collection of taxes owed on Internet sales, because the process can be philosophically defined as “tax hikes.” Scott, who has refused a compromise deal offered by Amazon, the largest online retailer, has said he would be open to an online sales tax bill if it does not raise the overall tax burden on Floridians.
Scott needs to untether himself from Norquist-think. Instead, he would be well advised to make the case for fairness. We’re not talking about increasing a tax; we’re talking about collecting what is–and has been–due. And in so doing, helping to even the retail playing field for Florida merchants. Fairness obviously has a constituency. Why not play to it?
And instead of hand-wringing about revenue neutrality, Scott might consider where any additional dollars could do the most good. Florida’s gut economic issue, as he should certainly know by now, is not the state’s tax structure. It’s infrastructure and education. They’re the business beacons for those who would expand into–or relocate with–the jobs of the future.
*”Stand Your Ground”: In winning election, Scott, in effect, ran against President Obama. If necessary, he should consider running against a Legislature–notably Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford–that remains in denial about gun violence and the unintended consequences of the deservedly maligned “stand your ground” law.
While the Trayvon Martin case has been prominently associated with the “stand your ground” defense, the most deleterious impact has been felt in the number of self-defense-claiming, violent aggressors–including gang members and drug dealers–who are back on the streets thanks to “stand your ground.”
Gov. Scott should stand his own ground on behalf of somebody other than gun owners, concealed carriers, Wayne LaPierre acolytes–and their favorite legislators. Media attention notwithstanding, he’d still be in the majority, where any candidate for re-election should want to be.