On paper, state Rep. Mike Hill of Pensacola Beach looks like everything Republicans would want in a legislator. A captain in the Air Force, father of three and a State Farm agent with a grade of 97 out of 100 this year from the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Not perfect, but close.
As it turns out, that 97 was far from perfect, and polls suggest that barring a miracle, Hill will lose his Republican state Senate primary on Tuesday to Rep. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, in a race featuring one of the toughest TV ads of this primary cycle.
The Florida Chamber of Commerce ran a hard-hitting spot featuring Gov. Rick Scott, as a narrator says Hill "broke his word," that "Rick Scott can't trust Mike Hill, and we can't either." Scott has not formally endorsed Broxson but calls him a "friend." The Chamber spot, paid for by one of Scott's staunchest allies, left no doubt about Scott's preference, and just for good measure, Chamber President Mark Wilson also recorded a 60-second radio spot saying: "Gov. Scott trusts Doug Broxson, and you can, too."
Hill's problem was that he voted no on HB 1325, a bill that was a priority of Scott and the Chamber in 2016. The bill would have set up a framework for spending $250 million in new tax money to attract jobs to Florida (as it turned out, the Senate never passed HB 1325 and the House rejected the $250 million, making the bill irrelevant to just about everybody except for Scott, the Chamber and Hill).
In pushing his red button on Feb. 24, Hill had some powerful allies, including Reps. Richard Corcoran, Matt Hudson, Blaise Ingoglia, Jose Oliva, Chris Sprowls, Greg Steube and Carlos Trujillo. (the roll call vote is here). But to compound his problem, Hill had promised to support the bill in a release from Scott's office -- and then didn't. ("I'm proud to fully support the proposal," Hill says in a canned quote from Scott's office on Dec. 10, 2015).
That infuriated Chamber members, said Marian Johnson, the group's senior vice president for political strategy -- and when Americans for Prosperity began to hammer Broxson with ads calling his yes vote on the bill "corporate welfare," the Chamber struck back. "It was difficult seeing Doug being attacked for voting for what many of our members believed was their most important issue," Johnson said.
The Chamber faces big challenges on this issue in 2017 because Corcoran, Oliva and Trujillo, all part of the new House leadership, agree with Hill that giving money to attract businesses is the wrong strategy. As for Hill, the only way he can get even with Scott and the Chamber is obvious: He has to beat Broxson Tuesday.