Political Animal


February 20, 2013 12:35 PM Hurricane Rick

By Ed Kilgore

For nearly a century, a lot of people have flocked to Florida in search of a semi-tropical paradise, while others have viewed it as a hot, swampy nightmare full of guns and drugs, tourists, real estate developers and other hungry pests (e.g., the state’s new menace, Burmese pythons). In truth you can’t really typecast a place as large and diverse as the Sunshine State, but Floridians from every corner of the state have suffered alike during the last two years from an unusually virulent strain of Tea Party Government led by a governor as scary as any this side of The Walking Dead, Rick Scott.

In a cover article for Mother Jones, Stephanie Mencimer profiles the enduring damage Scott and company have deliberately inflicted on Florida’s public sector, in areas ranging from health care to transportation to the environment to mosquito control. But one pattern of misgovernment she notes that is especially appalling is the state’s refusal to accept even the most generous and badly needed federal funds on the purely political grounds of not wanting any truck with the evil socialist Obama administration.

Florida’s refusal of high-speed rail funds for an abundantly eligible and long-awaited corridor from Tampa to Orlando was the first and most obvious self-inflicted wound of this nature. And an impending decision (on which Scott is now being cagey after many months of suggesting he would join the other Deep South Republican refuseniks) could lead to rejection of a vastly generous federal match for a Medicaid expansion that Florida with its massive uninsured population could definitely use.

But what Mencimer is most effective in showing is a broader practice in Florida of rejecting federal funds for purely symbolic reasons:

In early 2011, the federal government awarded Florida a $37.5 million grant to help get patients out of nursing home care. The grant was part of a Bush-era program, but the latest round of funding ended up in a rider attached to Obamacare. And so, in June 2011, the state Legislature voted to reject the money.
Republicans said they were making a political point: “The legislature didn’t feel it was appropriate to take money from a bill that is unconstitutional,” then-state Rep. Mike Horner told the Orlando Sentinel. “It seemed that we were being inconsistent.”
The nursing home transition funding was just a portion of the millions in federal money that Florida has refused because it’s perceived as part of Obamacare. In 2011, Florida declined about $2 million for a Medicaid pilot project to give hospice care to very sick kids. It sought to prevent the Osceola County health department from accessing an $8.3 million federal grant to help expand two health clinics and build a new one and rejected $50 million worth of disease prevention funding. (The state did accept a $2.6 million abstinence-only sex ed grant provided through Obamacare.)
“Everything they thought was remotely connected to the Affordable Care Act was rejected,” says former state Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich, who is planning a run against Scott in 2014. “Somehow this governor had in his mind that if we reject the money, it reduces the deficit. Nothing could be further from the truth. It just goes to other states.”

Florida provides an excellent example of a state governed by ideologues who may talk about fiscal responsibility and unfunded mandates, but whose most powerful motive seems to be to make sure their own people—mostly those people, to be sure—do not get public-sector help, on the apparent theory that it will simply enslave them and/or empower the enemies of “liberty.” Debate over whether this or that federal program makes sense becomes kind of irrelevant given this mindset.

Scott’s in political trouble now, and there are signs he’s reining in his ideological friends a bit in hopes of being re-elected in 2014 (with the help of a planned $100 million campaign budget). But as Mencimer says, the damage is already done:

Even if Scott ends up a one-term governor, his legacy won’t easily be reversed. When he rejected the high-speed rail money, the state passed up an opportunity to upgrade its underfunded transit system that it may not soon see again. Florida’s internationally renowned mosquito control system took a half century to build, but only three years to decimate. Likewise with public health, says Nan Rich, who fought the cuts in the state Senate: “The infrastructure is being destroyed and responding to public health crises becomes more difficult,” she says. “I shudder to think if what happened with Hurricane Sandy had happened here.”

This is why “constitutional conservatives” would by and large prefer to lose the occasional election in exchange for the opportunity to impose their full and uninhibited agenda even briefly. Mencimer compares what Florida is going through to waking up after a binge. A perhaps even more apt comparison is to the period after a major natural disaster, like one of Florida’s devastating hurricanes: the damage happens very rapidly, while the recovery may never be complete.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • boatboy_srq on February 20, 2013 12:56 PM:

    Governor Voldemort has done his level best to ensure that Florida never rises above its station as 48th best state. If this were still Reconstruction, few former Confederate states would have been as effectively disciplined as his.

    The most bitter irony in the story is that FL excels at ensuring the elderly, if they arrive with their own wealth, don't have the opportunity to keep it for long. One wonders whether Scott has friends - or even investments - in the nursing home industry, and refused the funds to stop the transitioning of nursing home residents to other (probably better) places to be: it would certainly be in keeping with his "experience" at HCA.

    People where I am now often ask me how I could leave FL: it's so pretty, "always warm", and has lots of attractive propaganda floating around. This story - extreme but hardly unfamiliar - is part of why I left, and a good indicator of why I do not intend to return.

  • Josef K on February 20, 2013 1:11 PM:

    the damage happens very rapidly, while the recovery may never be complete.

    My sister-in-law was recently talking about moving to Florida. She's 26 years old, was about to be married, and has one child (now 4) with another on the way. Oh, and she's black.

    I'm suddenly rather glad the marriage didn't happen and she's staying here in NYC.

    That said, I'm having enormous difficulty feeling more than a dram of sympathy for Florida, especially given its inflicted Jeb Bush, Kathleen Harris, and eight years of George W Bush upon the rest of us.

  • c u n d gulag on February 20, 2013 1:35 PM:

    I'm kind of with Joseph K on this one.

    FL, WI, OH, and PA, among others, have seen the damage that Republicans can do, both locally, and nationally, for well over 30 years.

    And, despite experiencing the corruption of Nixon, the debt left by Reagain, and, especially George W. Bush, and his financial collapese, they decided to put local members of that party in charge of their towns/districts/states.

    So, sorry, but enough of us are trying deal nationally with the damage done, so don't expect us to cry a river for your state's own self-inflicted wounds.

    We have enough wounds of our own wounds to deal with that weren't self-inflicted.

  • schtick on February 20, 2013 1:56 PM:

    I gather the people of Florida thought it was great to elect a felon to run things. Sad part is, now they're stuck with electing a dem to clean the mess up or keep it the same.

  • Jimbo on February 20, 2013 2:05 PM:

    As the blog post states, Florida is a large enough state that stereotyping it is difficult. So let's not blame all Floridians.

    Scott won -- as the article states -- by 1 percentage point in a dream year for the Tea Party/GOP. In any other semi-normal climate he never would have gotten past the primaries.

    Unfortunately, Florida's northern and rural regions are just as right-wing as any other Southern state -- AND THEY VOTE!

    As a member of the non-rural, non-northern parts of Florida, I can only sit by and pray that more damage isn't done in the next two years.

  • GK on February 20, 2013 2:41 PM:

    Moved to Florida to follow my job 18 months ago. Was able to cast a vote to get Allen West out of the House and get Obama florida's EC votes. I look forward to voting out Gov. Scott and continuing the growing blue tendency of the sunshine state. Still lots of problems to solve, here and everywhere. If we only seek to live where we are comfortable with the politics, things will never change.

  • mudwall jackson on February 20, 2013 2:41 PM:

    "I gather the people of Florida thought it was great to elect a felon to run things. Sad part is, now they're stuck with electing a dem to clean the mess up or keep it the same."

    no "we" didn't. scott was elected amid the tea party tempest of 2010 when too many progressives throughout the country thought it was a swell idea to sit out because obama and the democrats were just so gosh darn disappointing. his opponent was dishwater exciting, and on top of that the statewide unemployment rate was hovering near depression level numbers. in other words, it was a perfect set of circumstances for an extreme candidate such as scott to get elected. his own party chose him over a less radical candidate.

    as jimbo notes, scott's victory margin was hardly overwhelming, and he is incredibly unpopular for sitting governor.

  • boatboy_srq on February 20, 2013 5:28 PM:

    @Jimbo / mudwall jackson:

    Yours truly voted in the 2010 election - in FL. I remember it well. All FL may not be to blame for Voldemort, and in a campaign where the opponent was less-than-stellar (Alex Sink? Really? Couldn't somebody have convinced a Castor, or Grayson, to run?) it is a bit more surprising, but he won a majority of votes while campaigning on the agenda he's doing his damndest to enact. I spent half of 2011 listening to Conservatists lamenting all the things Scott was doing - and having to remind them that everything he's doing he told you he was going to do when he ran for the office. He's unpopular in no small part because nobody believed he'd follow through on the promises he made to their darkest heart of hearts, and now he's doing it they see the results and they're as unpretty as they feared. If 51% of FL's electorate is stupid or masochistic enough to vote for a guy who tells you right off the bat that he's going to slash the BLEEP out of the state budget, lay a bunch of folks off and say NO to federal money any chance he gets, all to their detriment, it says a good deal. It says a lot more, though, that when he carried out his promises the people who voted for him suddenly discovered they didn't like what they asked for.

    And ALL FL may not be responsible for Scott; but it's a lot harder to explain the supermajorities the GOTea won in both houses of the legislature. You can't have 51% of 4/5 of the districts on the same split as the state as a whole: the statistical likelihood of that is pretty slim. And Voldemort wouldn't have anything like the "success" he's had without his army of Death Eaters in Tallahassee behind him.

    FYI: northern FL may be teeming with Teahad cells, but the Gulf Coast isn't much better (there's Lower Wingnuttia, and theres' Tampa/St.Pete/Sarasota), and if you poll the Space Coast it doesn't get much better (go tour Boca Raton if you doubt me). Of late there's fewer and fewer non-wingnuts in the state, and the wingnuts are popping up in more and more places.

    Time to get mad, or get out.

  • jrosen on February 21, 2013 10:03 AM:

    I have had several experiences in Florida, almost all of them bad. And these range in location from the north (Jacksonville) to the Middle (Orlando), the South (Miami,
    West Palm, and Ft. Lauderdale) to the West (Fort Myers, a drunken wallow with my wife's family on Xmas, the worst). There is something about that state that brings out the lowest impulses in the human spirit --- is it the climate? Maybe it is just the fact that FL is really 3 states: the snowbirds and Cuban wingnuts in the south, the relatively sane folks in the middle, and the redneck deep-south of the North and the Panhandle.

    Carl Hiassen who was (is?) a regular columnist for the Miami Herald and has several very entertaining novels about the place said on 60 minutes (I paraphrase): "if you took the map of the US and tilted it down to the right, all the sludge would run down into Florida." He should know.

  • David Martin on February 22, 2013 2:52 AM:

    Carl Hiaasen still writes columns for the Miami Herald but hasn't lived in Miami for a while.