Compared to how Republicans reacted to the failings of the federal healthcare.gov website under Pres. Barack Obama’s administration, Florida Democrats have been relatively polite in their critiques of the state’s $63 million unemployment website, CONNECT.
That pretty much ended Thursday in a conference call with state political reporters in which Democratic leaders depicted Gov. Rick Scott as being out-of-touch with unemployed Floridians who have waited weeks to get claims delayed by ongoing problems with the website.
“This governor, he’s sitting there like a king, King Richard or something, and he’s not talking to the people,” said Florida House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale. “If these people were writing a $3,000 campaign check, I assure you that their needs would not be going unmet. But these are real people, real Floridians, hardworking Floridians, who want to work.”
Thurston, Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant and Rep. Lori Berman of Boynton Beach accused Scott of abdicating his role in fixing the system, hitting upon a theme of attack on worker issues such as minimum wage that they will continue to highlight during this year’s gubernatorial battle between Scott and Charlie Crist.
“Rick Scott has never suggested that the original website consultant (Deloitte Consulting) be fired, he has not announced the need for outside help,” said Tant. “He’s demanded no change. He’s taken no responsibility despite this endless fingerpointing at everyone else. It is very clear that Rick Scott’s only goal here is to point the finger and not fix the problem.”
Berman cited California, which paid jobless claims sooner after encountering similar problems, as an example of what Scott chose not to do.
“His inaction has hurt families who are struggling to survive,” Berman said.
What do Democrats propose to do? Their options are limited. In Tallahassee, they are outnumbered and have little influence over legislation. Even so, Thurston said he has heard of interest in revisiting a 2011 law that requires recipients to file online to receive claims and would support those efforts.
But they’re pretty much relegated to using the bully pulpit, as U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has effectively done so far.
“The governor needs to take the lead,” Thurston said. “He needs to apologize, he needs to address the people, he needs to answer the question from the media about how long this will take to repair.”
The Florida Republican Party of Florida issued a statement from chairman Lenny Curry that changed the subject to flood insurance -- which is exactly what Scott did himself when he was asked about U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor’s criticism of CONNECT earlier this month.
“Instead of making specious attacks, Allison Tant and Perry Thurston should follow Gov. Scott’s lead and ask their own party’s president to use his executive authority to stop flood insurance rate hikes that are hurting Florida families,” Curry said in the statement.