From voter fraud to the Supreme Court, Gov. Rick Scott opted not to weigh in on some of the thorniest political issues of the day during a media briefing Tuesday, regularly deferring to the Republican Party of Florida, attorney general Pam Bondi, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the board of Citizens Property Insurance and others.
Scott, who has made fighting voter fraud one of his main priorities as governor, has been mum about the registration fraud case that state Republicans find themselves involved in. Last week, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced that it was conducting a criminal investigation of registration forms filed by Strategic Allied Consulting, a private firm hired by the Republican Party of Florida. About a dozen counties have reported questionable ballots, including one that registered a dead woman to vote and others with addresses to a Land Rover dealership and a gas station.
Scott has uttered no public statements on the topic. On Tuesday, when asked by reporters about the case, he mostly demurred.
Has he had discussions with the RPOF, which has since fired the firm, about the case?
"The (Republican National Committee) and the RPOF, they’ve done the right thing," said Scott, not answering the question. "As soon as they had an inkling, they fired the group that was doing that. Again, it’s the right thing to do. If somebody is doing the wrong thing, they shouldn’t be registering voters in our state. So they’re doing the right thing."
Asked if the case hurt the credibility of Republicans to be associated with a firm that now under investigation for fraud, Scott again dodged the question, this time by answering with a long discourse about the importance of getting involved.
"My focus is on making sure that I tell people all the time, that in our state, I want people to go register to vote," Scott said. "They need to go talk to the candidates. When you’re running for office, when you’re in your community or in your state, vet the candidates, get involved, pick your candidates, support them, and then go out the vote. That’s where my focus is."
That response is seemingly at odds with Scott's get-tough, hands-on-approach with other efforts to fight fraud, such as purging non-citizens from voting rolls. Before Tuesday's news conference, Democrats had blasted Scott for his relative silence on the issue. They criticized a fundraising letter he signed last week for the RPOF that sought donations from contributors who supported Scott's voter purge.
"It's shocking and appalling that the governor and the RPOF would solicit money while they remain embroiled in an election frauds scandal," said Democratic Party Spokeswoman Brannon Jordan in a statement.
Asked why he signed the letter, Scott referred all questions to the RPOF.
"You have to talk to the Republican Party of Florida about fundraising," Scott said.
So far, Scott's responses haven't satisfied Democrats. U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch said Scott should appoint a bipartisan task force to investigate Strategic Allied Consulting.
"Given the explicitly partisan nature of this scandal, assurances must be provided to all Floridians that the investigation into these allegations is thorough and fair," Deutch said in a statement to Scott. "So far, your inaction in the face of this scandal suggests that you are putting partisanship ahead of the integrity of Florida's elections."
Scott said Tuesday he has no plans to assuage those concerns. Asked if the issue was too partisan to leave to one party to investigate, Scott replied: "It’s not a party. It’s the Department of Law Enforcement. They’re the ones who are doing the investigation."
Less than a week after Citizens Property Insurance Corp. raised rates by 10.8 percent and auto insurers failed to achieve the 10 percent premium reductions required by the PIP reform law Scott championed, the governor cut the “cost-of-living” component from his “three things” talking point.
Scott, who regularly mentions “three things people care about,” today pared the talking point down to “two things”: Education and jobs. Cost-of-living, a regular point of mention for Scott this year, was not mentioned.
On Citizens, Scott took a different position from the incoming Speaker of the Florida House, Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.
Weatherford wrote a letter to Citizens’ board last week, telling the state-run insurer to halt its new $350 million loan program, and submit it to the Legislature for review.
Asked if he agreed with Weatherford’s statement that Citizens ought to come before the board before enacting the program, Scott said the board had the authority to decide on its own.
“I think the structure is is that there is a board, and this is the purview of the board,” said Scott, who championed the increased independence of Citizens’ board from the Legislature. “The board has the right to make the decision.”
Members of Citizens’ board, meeting Tuesday, appeared to be moving ahead with the plan to enact the program prior to next year’s legislative session, despite Weatherford’s warning. They did agree to delay the process and hire an outside consultant to conduct a thorough review of the $350 million loan before moving forward.
On a number of other issues, Scott opted against taking a position.
On amendment 5, which would require Senate approval of a governor’s Supreme Court justice nominee, Scott said “I’ll leave it to the voters to decide that.”
On the 10 other amendments, Scott said he would not make his position known at this time. He said he might speak out on the amendments at a later date.
On the Republican Party’s decision to weigh in on the merit retention of Supreme Court judges, Scott said it’s up to the voters to decide and his office did not coordinate with RPOF prior to its decision to get involved.
“Lenny Curry runs the Republican Party of Florida,” he said, deferring questions about the party to the chairman of the RPOF.
Scott did say he would “absolutely” be open to changing the law to provide state funding for a prescription drug monitoring program that could run out of money soon. He also expressed support for a new license plate in Florida, but said he had not yet heard about the $31 million estimated cost.
--Mike Van Sickler and Toluse Olorunnipa