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Substance versus likability

  • By Matt Walsh
  • | 4:28 p.m. June 27, 2014
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
  • Opinion
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OMGosh. The thought of living through this — the Scott-Crist gubernatorial campaigns — can pretty much turn your stomach, especially if you have a low tolerance level for vacuous politicians.

You can sum up the contest quite easily with the two photographs below, both taken from the candidates' respective homepages.

Stuff versus Fluff.

Substance versus likability.

Gov. Rick Scott has stayed on message and mission from the time he ran his first gubernatorial campaign in 2010: He's all about jobs and the economy, creating a climate that allows both to grow.
For Crist, it's all about being liked. Everybody who meets him says he's such a nice guy.

When Brad Swanson, vice president of corporate and strategic partnerships for the Florida Chamber of Commerce, hosted a post-legislative update meeting recently at Duke Energy's offices in St. Petersburg, he characterized the governor's race the same way:

“People like the job Gov. Scott is doing, but he has low likability.

“Crist,” Swanson said, “has high likability but is low on job performance.”

“Gov. Scott is making his case in the record,” Swanson added. “'Like me or hate me, but we've created 600,000 new jobs.'”

Though clearly not a fan of Crist's political positions, Swanson nevertheless told the roomful of business people you have to give Crist credit for the two characteristics that have carried him through his political career:

He never, ever forgets a name and he has no qualms about shaking your hand, charming you like he genuinely cares and then asking you for money. And people give him the cash.

You hear the stories all the time — how nice-guy Charlie can look you in the eye, flash a smile and shake your hand before a speech, and then ingeniously manage to include your name in an anecdote at the end of his talk. It works wonders. Especially when he calls you the next day and asks for a contribution.

This is what the political watchers talk about — Crist's likability and prodigious fundraising abilities.

It's never about the substance of his thinking, his statesmanship, leadership or ideas. Try reading Crist's 15 policy positions on his website ( They're a caricature of a hack. Seriously.
Banal. Unimaginative. Empty. Nothing new. A recitation of predictable political pablum promising something for everyone.

To wit, the opening to Crist's position on “Economy & Jobs, Building an Economy to Last:”

“Charlie believes that in order to really get Florida's economy booming over the long term, we have to make it fairer for the middle class. We need to build a state where we make it easy for every business — small, medium and large — to succeed and create jobs. Right now, the scales are tipped in favor of those who pay for influence. And that's wrong.

“Charlie will start by improving education and making college more affordable, and by expanding job training and technical education.

“He'll work with the Legislature to create a new initiative to reduce the cost of higher education for those studying science, engineering, technology and medicine — as well as for those willing to teach in those fields. He'll also fight to reverse Gov. Scott's cuts to the Bright Futures Lottery Scholarship Program, and work to increase state funding to colleges and universities ...

“As governor, Charlie will reform government to put the people first, using incentives to help homegrown Florida small businesses grow the economy from the middle class out, not simply giving handouts to political supporters.”


Did he miss anyone there?

And here's the amazing thing: All of the pollsters and experts are predicting the results of the Scott-Crist race will have 1- to 1.5-point difference. Razor close.

It's enough to make you lose faith in the intelligence of the voter.

Ok, we get it. Gov. Scott is no Charlie-the-Charmer in front of a crowd of 600 people eating banquet food. Asked why Scott's disapproval rating hovers around 45% while his approval rating is barely higher (47%), the Florida Chamber's Swanson says: “His lack of ability to communicate on camera and in a large setting. His neck stiffens.

“But,” Swanson adds, “he's great one on one.”

Two years ago, Scott spoke at a luncheon of the CEO Council of Tampa Bay. Beforehand, he mingled one on one with several members, and while addressing the group appeared relaxed, connecting with the audience. Afterward, many of the CEOs commented he was “a regular guy.”

Unfortunately, that seldom comes across when some yappy reporter with a microphone tries to goad Scott into saying something inflammatory. Scott's reactive mechanism in those situations is to go icey and straight-faced. Stay on message and don't let himself get sucked into the trick.

It's difficult to tell whether the public's perception of this persona bothers the governor. When you speak to him, he is always single-minded about what he is supposed to do as governor. He will tell you his job is not to win popularity or beauty contests. It's to create an economic and governmental environment where everyone can have an opportunity to get a job and pursue (and perhaps live) the
American dream. And he walks that talk.

Crist must know he doesn't have that kind of record, or substance, on which to run. Why else would he and his campaign handlers — all Obama campaign managers — be resurrecting the 2010 canards about Scott and his tenure at Columbia/HCA? (See sidebar.)

If you have no substance of your own, tear the other guy down. Make him out to be the bad guy.

Charlie's vacuous fluff versus Scott's substantive stuff.

It shouldn't be close.

Tampa Bay television viewers swallowed their first taste last week of slimy television attacks ads in the state's gubernatorial campaign.

Democrat candidate Charlie Crist's campaign aired a commercial with footage of Gov. Rick Scott from nearly 15 years ago and a voiceover saying:

“Maybe you've heard about what was the largest Medicare fraud in history, committed when Rick Scott was a CEO. Or that Scott's company paid record fraud fines of $1.7 billion. And when Scott was deposed in lawsuits about his company, he took the Fifth 75 times. Meaning, 75 times, Scott refused to answer questions because — if he had — he might admit to committing a crime.”

If you go to PolitiFact, published by the Tampa Bay Times, here is how it “fact-checked” the ad:

“In early 1997, federal agents revealed they were investigating the Columbia/HCA chain for, among other things, Medicare and Medicaid fraud. Allegations included that Columbia/HCA billed Medicare and Medicaid for tests that were not necessary or ordered by physicians, and that the hospital chain would perform one type of medical test but bill the federal government for a more expensive test or procedure. Agents seized records from facilities across the country.

“Scott resigned in July 1997. Scott said he wanted to fight the federal government accusations, but the corporate board of Columbia/HCA wanted to settle.

“In 2000, the company pleaded guilty to at least 14 corporate felonies and agreed to pay $840 million in criminal fines and civil damages and penalties.

“The government settled a second series of similar claims with Columbia/HCA in 2002 for an additional $881 million. The total for the two fines was $1.7 billion.

“Scott gave a deposition in 2000 in which he invoked the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution 75 times. The amendment reads in part that no one 'shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.'

“But that deposition was not part of the criminal fraud case. In fact, Scott was never officially questioned during the federal criminal investigation.

“The deposition was part of a civil case in which Nevada Communications Corp. alleged that Columbia/HCA breached the terms of a communications contract.

“Scott gave the deposition months before the settlement with the federal government.

“The deposition shows that Scott repeatedly refused to answer questions. Scott's lawyer first interjected after an opposing lawyer began the deposition by asking simply if Scott was employed.
“'Under normal circumstances, Mr. Scott would be pleased to answer that question and other questions that you pose today,' Scott's lawyer, Steven Steinbach, said. 'Unfortunately because of the pendency of a number of criminal investigations relating to Columbia around the country, he's going to follow my advice, out of prudence, to assert his constitutional privilege against giving testimony against himself.'

“Scott then went on to read the same answer, even when asked if Scott is a current or former employee of Columbia/HCA — 'Upon advice of counsel, I respectfully decline to answer the questions by asserting my rights and privileges under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.'

“During a Univision debate in October 2010, Scott was asked about the deposition: 'With regard to that deposition, that was years after I left HCA. It was just, you know, all the same trial lawyers that are supporting my opponent, they were doing a fishing expedition, and they sat there, you know, it was a case I knew nothing about, I was not involved, I was not a defendant. So to stop the fishing expedition I just didn't do it.”

PolitiFact's ruling: “Democrats don't specify that the deposition was from a civil business case — not the federal government's criminal fraud investigation into Columbia/HCA. But Scott used the Fifth Amendment due to that federal investigation.

“We rate this claim Mostly True.”


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