As Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam struggles to draw attention to his support of President Donald Trump’s programs, Gov. Rick Scott continues a campaign that simultaneously seeks to remain at arms-length while also embracing the president.
Scott attended a pair of low-key events Tuesday with Trump in Washington D.C. and Tampa, flying on Air Force One between cities, before heading off for a fundraiser in Clearwater rather than appearing on stage at a campaign rally with the president.
The rally was advertised as a promotion of Trump’s support for Congressman Ron DeSantis over Putnam in the Republican gubernatorial primary and for Scott’s bid in this year’s U.S. Senate race.
But after Trump left the stage, the governor’s office sent out a hyperbole-free release about Scott’s activities Tuesday.
“Today, Governor Rick Scott attended a bill signing at the White House for the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act,” the release opened. “The governor then traveled to Tampa to attend an event with the president at Tampa (Bay) Technical High School to highlight the legislation.”
The release also noted Scott asked Trump to pressure Congress to approve the Everglades Agriculture Area reservoir and urged support for the National Flood Insurance Program and that the governor inquired “about two important foreign policy subjects --- Nicaragua and Cuba.”
Florida Democratic Party spokesman Nate Evans sent out a statement calling the visit of Trump and Scott to the Tampa high school nothing more than a “photo-op” that failed to hide that “Scott has not adequately funded public schools and has backed efforts to privatize schools.”
But for Scott, the real tightrope challenge emerged earlier in the day.
Trump sent out a morning tweet criticizing the billionaire conservative donor Koch brothers, who oppose the president’s trade policies.
“The globalist Koch Brothers, who have become a total joke in real Republican circles, are against Strong Borders and Powerful Trade,” the tweet said. “I never sought their support because I don’t need their money or bad ideas. They love my Tax & Regulation Cuts, Judicial picks & more. I made them richer. Their network is highly overrated, I have beaten them at every turn. They want to protect their companies outside the U.S. from being taxed, I’m for America First & the American Worker --- a puppet for no one. Two nice guys with bad ideas. Make America Great Again!”
Why is this troubling for Scott? Over the weekend, Scott was in Colorado attending a Koch brothers invitation-only gathering of about 500 in which the Associated Press noted each attendee “committed at least $100,000 annually.”
Scott’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
PUTNAM, TRUMP AND PLANS
Meanwhile, Putnam sent out his own statement Tuesday as Trump and Scott visited Tampa Bay Technical High School.
“I am thrilled that President Trump has made it a priority to strengthen vocational training throughout the nation," Putnam said. "Here in Florida, I believe that if we give Floridians greater access to skills and training, then they can find their piece of the American Dream. Like President Trump, I have a plan. My opponent, the congressman (DeSantis), has released zero plans on any Florida issue since announcing his campaign.”
Putnam also rushed Wednesday to Fox News, where he declared Floridians “don't want to import Washington dysfunction.”
The image of Putnam, once the GOP’s gubernatorial favorite, waving for attention from the sidelines brought glee to Democrats, who hope DeSantis’ harder-right views are too extreme for middle-of-the-road voters.
“National Republicans continue to intervene in the Republican gubernatorial primary --- rallying behind Ron DeSantis and leaving Putnam supporters considering jumping ship,” the Florida Democratic Party said in a release.
CRITICISM OF SCOTT COMES WITH HOLES
Palm Beach County Mayor Melissa McKinlay had some harsh criticism for Scott and his administration’s health-care policies this week, but not of all them were founded.
In a media call Tuesday that also included Democratic Congresswoman Lois Frankel and Democratic state Sen. Audrey Gibson, McKinlay said the Scott administration denied people access to health care when it refused to expand Medicaid and that Medicaid could have helped play a role in the state’s response to the opioid crisis.
Both of which are true.
She also ripped into Scott for an administration proposal that redirected $3.1 million to help fund a homeless program that assisted more than 13,000 people last year.
Why the criticism? The money, she said, was being diverted from providing mental-health services, which are underfunded, to providing homeless services.
“They basically robbed Peter to pay Paul,” said McKinlay, a former staffer for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who Scott hopes to defeat in November. “People who need mental-health care like that generally need places to live.”
She added that the governor should have ponied up new funding, instead of taking money from mental-health services.
McKinlay, who was re-elected to Palm Beach County Commission for a four-year term this summer when she was unopposed, has made curbing the state’s opioid epidemic one of her top priorities. She was one of the first public officials in the state to lobby Scott to declare an opioid crisis.
But it turns out the money McKinlay claims was being spent on mental- health services wasn’t. It was directed to pay for debt service on the South Florida State Hospital.
The current year budget included $3.18 million for what’s called a “certificate of participation” for the South Florida State Hospital. The obligation ended June 30, yet the $3.18 million was erroneously included in the new budget, which took effect July 1.
Members of the Joint Legislative Budget Commission on July 19 agreed to transfer the debt-service money and spend it on the homeless program.
The money was necessary because although the current year budget authorizes the Department of Children and Families to spend as much as $4.1 million for “challenge grants” for local homeless agencies, lawmakers never appropriated the necessary funding.
State Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, refuses to be dissuaded that Republicans, who have embraced the state’s “stand your ground” self-defense law, may block his call for a special session to readdress the law after the July 23 shooting death of Markeis McGlockton in the parking lot of a Clearwater convenience store.
“I’m the eternal optimist,” Rouson said. “This issue is not about Republicans or Democrats. It’s about principles. It’s about when one should reasonably claim ‘stand your ground.’ Even those who perceive it as the subjective mind of the shooter, there has got to be some reasonableness and common sense in assessing subjectivity and what was the imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm.”
Rouson sent a letter Sunday to legislators to start a roll call for a vote on the need for a special session.
The first step requires 20 legislators to join the request, which should be the easier part of the effort. But Rouson ultimately would need to get three-fifths support in each of the Republican-dominated legislative chambers to hold a special session.
In May, a Democratic effort to use the member-polling process to hold a special session to increase education funding died as Republican opposition blocked the idea.
TWEET OF THE WEEK: “I’m proud to endorse Tallahassee Mayor @AndrewGillum in his race for governor of Florida.” --- U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders)