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Gov. Rick Scott's election prospects overshadow everything as session begins

Rick Scott 2014As Florida lawmakers open their annual legislative session on Tuesday and the governor gives his fourth state-of-the-state address, overshadowing everything for the Republican-controlled Legislature is one overriding goal: the re-election of Gov. Rick Scott.

Woefully behind in the polls but ahead in campaign cash, the governor faces the greatest uphill climb of any incumbent governor since Republican Bob Martinez ran for a second term in 1990 and lost when Democrat Lawton Chiles emerged from retirement.

To help Scott’s chances, lawmakers are expected to grant the governor his modest list of priorities, including a $500 million tax cut, another freeze on university tuition, and a reduction on taxes on business leases. With that, they hope to end the session in harmony, and draw a contrast to how government will operate if Scott is replaced by the presumptive Democratic contender, Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor who has returned to run as a Democrat.

"The governor needs to succeed on all of his stated priorities — all of which he will because they are popular and limited,” said John M. “Mac” Stipanovich, who served as chief of staff and campaign manager to former Gov. Martinez.

Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, slated to become Senate president next year, said the Legislature is unified: “We want this governor to be successful. It’s important for Florida and important for the state.”

But legislators are also hedging their bets. Faced with the prospect that a Democrat could be sitting in the governor’s office next year, they are moving ahead on a host of issues designed to appeal to their political base and special-interest groups, including several issues that any other year would normally get weak support. Among them: Story here.

Photo: J Pat Carter, AP