Photo: Jon M. Fletcher
Whether it's Rick Scott or Charlie Crist, political dominoes will fall
The race for governor will have a trickle-down effect on the Supreme Court, economic development, education, medical marijuana, court reform, Medicaid expansion, property insurance and more.
By the time the election is done, Rick Scott, Charlie Crist and their respective supporters may have spent more than $150 million on the 2014 race for Florida governor, the most expensive in Florida history. The consequences of this election will be profound. Scott, the Republican incumbent, is a free-market, limitedgovernment advocate who focused much of his fi rst term on helping businesses by lowering taxes, loosening regulations and curbing litigation. Crist, Scott's predecessor and a former Republican now running as a Democrat, is a vocal populist, who views government as a tool that should be used to protect and help consumers and workers.
The choice that voters make on Nov. 4 will wind up tipping dominoes across Florida's $75-billion state government - affecting everything from the laws that the Legislature passes and the people who sit on the state's highest courts to the futures of politicians, lobbyists and advisers from Miami to Tallahassee.
Florida Supreme Court
Mandatory retirement will force four justices off of the bench by early 2019 - Justice James Perry, who must step down in 2017, and Justices Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince. Lewis, Pariente and Quince are the last remaining appointees of late Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles and have served as the backbone of a 5-2 majority cohort on the court (along with Perry and Justice Jorge Labarga) that has often rejected laws passed by the state's Republican-dominated Legislature. Crist or Scott may have an opportunity to alter that balance - or cement it in place - for another generation.
Constitution Revision Commission
Meeting only once every 20 years, this obscure-butpowerful commission has the authority to place proposed constitutional amendments directly onto the ballot. The next commission will convene in early 2017 - and the governor will get to name 15 of the 37 members, including the chairman. Since the Legislature gets to pick 18 members, Republicans will dominate the commission if Scott is re-elected.
Florida Democratic Party
Not well organized or cohesive, the state's Democratic Party has seen its fortunes hit bottom in recent years. Two years ago, the party had to pull out of a competitive state Senate campaign in central Florida because it had to devote all of its financial resources to another race in south Florida. A Crist administration would give the party a chance to finally gain leverage in state government that it could use to raise money and fund more competitive campaigns. Another chance at relevance may not come around for the Democrats until the next round of redistricting - almost a decade from now.
Department of Environmental
Protection Scott put a shipbuilding executive in charge of this state agency and has drawn praise from developers and businesses owners for making the agency more predictable and accommodating to commercial projects. Environmentalists, who tend to support Crist, would likely try to push a Crist administration back toward more traditional, punishment-oriented enforcement.
One of three Republicans to hold statewide elected Cabinet posts, the state's Commissioner of Agriculture, a former congressman from Polk County, is widely expected to run for governor in the next election cycle. He is perfectly positioned if Scott is re-elected, as his term will expire just as the governor's does. A Crist win would complicate things considerably, as he could have to choose between challenging an incumbent Crist or finding a way to bide his time for another four years. Hopscotching across the Cabinet to chief financial officer is a possibility.
The state's current CFO, a former Florida Senate president, is Putnam's most obvious competitor for governor, as his eight-year run in the Cabinet also expires just as term limits force Scott from the governor's mansion. If Crist wins, Atwater could go searching for a spot in Congress.
The state's attorney general, who faces the toughest re-election campaign of the three Cabinet officers, could also be a formidable contender for governor, although there is speculation that she may be more interested in the U. S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat Bill Nelson, who is up for reelection in four years. Even if she intends to run for the Senate, she has as much interest as anybody in ensuring Scott's re-election, as an open governor's race in four years will dilute the field of strong Senate contenders.
Plucked from relative obscurity to be Crist's running mate, the former Miami-Dade Democratic Party chair - who has run unsuccessfully herself for both Congress and county commission - immediately slides to the front of a thin bench of potential Democratic candidates for statewide office.
The mayor of Orlando has publicly flirted with running for governor but, at age 56, he can't afford to wait too much longer. He's set up nicely to run in 2018 if Crist loses this year, as Florida Democrats seem likely to turn to one of their stable of big-city mayors as their next standard-bearer. Dyer would get to enjoy a bit of schadenfreude in the meantime, having once lost to Crist himself in the 2002 race for attorney general. Other Democratic mayors who could step into the batter's box if Crist loses include Bob Buckhorn of Tampa and Jack Seiler of Fort Lauderdale.
One of the two 800-pound gorillas in Florida politics (along with former Gov. Jeb Bush), Florida's junior U.S. senator dreams of being president of the United States. But if that doesn't happen, there are persistent rumors that the former state House Speaker may decide to leave Washington in order to run for governor. But that's probably only a possibility if Scott is reelected and the 2018 race is an open one. While Rubio beat Crist once before, he may not want to give up a seat in the U.S. Senate to try doing so again with Crist as an incumbent.
The Land 'O Lakes Republican, in line to become Speaker of the House after the 2016 elections, will be one of the most powerful legislators in state politics no matter what happens in the governor's race. But should Crist win, no one else in the Florida Legislature is more likely to thrive in a divided government than Corcoran, an adviser to three former GOP House speakers (Dan Webster, Tom Feeney and Rubio) who has a reputation as a shrewd operative and deal-maker.
ISSUES & INDUSTRIES
Rick Scott has made job creation the singular focus of his administration. The state's cheerleader in- chief for economic development has tirelessly wooed businesses to Florida, promising a low-tax environment where they can grow free of government red tape and costly litigation. Scott has led wholesale deregulation across state government and has pledged to continue peeling away business taxes during his second term, including permanently repealing the sales tax on manufacturing equipment. Crist, who had a reputation as an indifferent job recruiter when he was governor, promises a fundamentally different approach, using government intervention to improve the fortunes of workers and consumers. Among his first acts as governor, he says, would be an executive order requiring state contractors to pay at least $10.10 an hour.
During his term as a Republican governor, Crist successfully goaded the GOP-controlled Legislature into passing a sweeping reform of the property insurance market by having the state assume more of the financial risk from hurricanes. Crist championed policies to grow state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. and publicly vilified private insurers such as State Farm. Scott, by contrast, has supported measures allowing insurance companies to limit coverage and pass more costs onto consumers, while pressuring Citizens to raise rates and turn policies over to the private market. The insurance industry wants to see more changes that would further shrink both Citizens and the state-backed Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, policies that Scott would likely support but Crist would almost certainly oppose.
Republican legislative leaders, urged on by the business lobby, have spent more than a decade chipping away at the ability to sue businesses, capping attorney fees, curbing damages and rebalancing burdens of proof. Business leaders have set their sights next on changing the way medical damages are calculated in civil awards and clamping down on "bad faith" lawsuits against insurance companies, both of which are measures that Scott would likely sign. Any talk of tort law change is likely to die under Crist, whose campaign for governor is being heavily financed by plaintiffs attorneys.
If anyone can persuade the Florida Legislature to accept federal money to expand Medicaid coverage for lowincome Floridians, it may well be Crist, who proved himself in his first term to be a master of using the bully pulpit to drive lawmakers in directions that they may not want to go. While Scott, too, has expressed limited support for expanding Medicaid, he has also been content to accept the Legislature's decision not to accept the money.
Some legislative Republicans say they expect Scott will do more in his second term to overhaul the state's pension system and steer more public-sector workers into defined contribution plans. But they also say they expect the issue would fizzle under Crist, whose political committee cashed a $1-million check over the summer from the union that represents tens of thousands of state workers.
As he did with the property insurance industry, Crist repeatedly clashed with the state's investor-owned utilities and fought legislation and Public Service Commission actions that would have meant higher rates for consumers. It's one reason that Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy have together spent more than $1 million helping Scott's re-election effort.
Should voters approve Amendment 2, the next governor of Florida will play a central role in how it is implemented, both in working with the Legislature on crafting legislation and leading executive rule-making through the Department of Health. Scott is expected to advocate for a limited interpretation, adhering as closely as possible to the limited, low- THC marijuana legislation he already signed this year. Crist, very close with Amendment 2 booster John Morgan, would likely interpret the amendment more broadly.
Some top Republicans in the Legislature want to resurrect controversial plans to curb the power of state courts - but only if Scott, who would likely support such efforts, is re-elected.
With Amendment 1 on the ballot and incoming legislative leaders making water policy and springs protection a priority, the environment could be a central issue of the next governor's term. Environmentalists generally love Crist, who has championed green-energy policies, greenhouse-gas reductions and land acquisition, and loathe Scott, who they accuse of defanging state regulators. Agribusinesses and developers much prefer Scott, who has made state government more proactive in working with businesses and who wants to steer more environmental spending into alternative water-supply projects.
During the final year of his first term as governor, Crist vetoed legislation to eliminate tenure for public school teachers and implement merit pay tied to student test scores. The next year, the newly elected Scott signed a similar bill into law. Crist, who has bound himself politically to the state's teacher's union, is likely to emphasize public schools above all other forms of education. Scott, who just signed an expansion of the state's corporate tax credit scholarship program, will be more supportive of alternative education, including charter, private and online schools. Both governors allowed university tuition to rise under their administrations, although Scott has attacked Crist for signing a bill in 2009 allowing the state's Board of Governors to hike tuition by as much as 15%. Scott signed a bill eliminating that ability this year.
A personal friend of Scott's for more than two decades and one of the very few Tallahassee insiders to side with Scott from the very beginning, Rubin has seen his business boom during Scott's first term. The Rubin Group has ballooned from about 25 clients and about $700,000 in annual fees to lobby the executive branch in 2010 to more than 60 clients and about $3 million in fees last year. Florida Power & Light, Walmart and the parent company of All Aboard Florida are among the companies that have hired him since Scott took office.
The top Democratic political strategist in Florida, he's part of a small circle of advisers helping to guide Crist's gubernatorial campaign (along with Dan Gelber, a former state lawmaker, and David Rancourt, a lobbyist who co-founded Southern Strategy Group). Schale started his own lobbying business a year ago, and no one's client list is likely to grow faster than his if Crist is elected - assuming, that is, he doesn't join a Crist administration.
A former Republican House Speaker who launched his own lobbying firm even before he left office, Cannon has a close relationship with Scott, having guided the state House during the governor's first two years in office. Cannon was openly disdainful of Crist near the end of Crist's tenure, putting him at risk of isolation in a Crist administration.
A Democratic lobbyist with a firm founded by Republican icon Al Cardenas, Day has helped raise money for the Crist campaign.
The Lobbying Corps
Though most of the Capitol lobbying corps is helping Scott, few seem too concerned about the outcome of the race. Many worked closely with Crist as a state senator, Cabinet member and Republican governor, and they're confident that he won't carry many grudges over from this campaign. "It's not like Attila the Hun's at the gate," one veteran lobbyist says. "It's Charlie at the gate."
The brash personal-injury attorney is more responsible than anyone for resurrecting Charlie Crist's career, having handed him a lucrative job after Crist lost his 2010 Senate race and keeping him in front of voters through billboards and TV ads. He's certain to be an influential (though unofficial) voice in any Crist administration - some suspect Mr. "For the People" will become a de-facto gatekeeper for anyone seeking judgeships or other executive appointments from Crist.