Rick Scott’s $11,370-Worth of “Congratulations” Letters Blur Line Between Applause and Electioneering
FlaglerLive | November 29, 2013
Gov. Rick Scott has sent congratulatory letters to law-school grads, lottery winners, new business owners and others that tout the state’s advances under his watch, at a cost to taxpayers of at least $11,370.
Scott views the missives as a means to applaud individuals and to promote Florida. His critics say some of the messages include language that deviates into campaign talking points.
With Scott’s re-election on tap for 2014, along with his near-automatic propensity to reel off his jobs and economy mantra in public comments, don’t expect the letter-writing campaign to slow or the questionable language to disappear from such messages.
The use of letters highlighting positive accomplishments isn’t unusual by government agencies and elected officials, it’s just that Scott hadn’t always employed such a bulk of correspondence, said Susan MacManus, a political-science professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
“It’s not much different than a county sending out to everybody’s mailbox a summary of the budget of the year and what’s been done,” MacManus said. “It’s just the timing of it certainly raises the questions about whether it’s about the election or about the individual’s accomplishments.”
Since the beginning of the year Scott has affixed his signature to what has become more than 620,000 letters to state employees, new lawyers, winners of various games offered by the Florida Lottery, teachers, parents of children with disabilities and business owners.
Asked if he was politicking on the state dime, Scott replied he was promoting the Sunshine State.
“Gosh, I think every Floridian ought to brag about our state,” Scott told reporters after a Cabinet meeting this month.
“We live in a great state. Jobs are coming back, people are doing wonderful things,” Scott continued. “We’ve got great teachers, we’ve got great volunteers, we’ve got heroes. I want to congratulate everybody in our state that’s doing a great job, and I’m going to continue to do that.”
Florida Democrats have called the campaign “wasted taxpayer dollars.”
“This is what you do when you’re desperate to win, and have more spin doctors than common decency,” Florida Democratic Party spokesman Joshua Karp said in a statement to reporters.
Asked about the cost and number of letters, Scott’s office deferred to various media reports on the topic.
“We don’t have a list or calculation of total cost,” Scott spokesman John Tupps said in an email.
Scott’s office also didn’t respond to a question about who actually penned the language in each letter.
Scott, it should be noted, has been known as a letter writer.
He has followed etiquette rules regarding dinner guests, writing individual notes of thanks to those who have sat down with him for meals. The stationery included disclaimers that no taxpayer dollars were used.
Still, those personal notes did not get into the realm of talking points that is visible in some of the recent bulk mailings.
Lottery winners were advised by Scott that lottery proceeds pay for education, which helps create jobs. “I am focused on keeping Florida’s economy moving in the right direction,” big-money winners are informed.
The congratulatory letter that has been sent to almost 400,000 business professionals — linked to the reception of business licenses for 2013 — includes a brief bio on the governor.
“Only in America can anyone from any family or zip code have the freedom and opportunity to pursue the American dream,” Scott’s letter said. “I know, because I have been blessed to live the American dream. Growing up, my parents struggled financially. In fact, when I started school, we lived in public housing. At age seven, I started my first part-time job selling TV Guides door-to-door.”
The business license letter continues with Scott’s goals for the state.
In the letter to attorneys, Scott discusses the state’s economic turnaround from when former Gov. Charlie Crist, a potential Democratic challenger in 2014, was in office.
“Before taking office two-and-a-half years ago, Florida was losing jobs and many families were losing their dreams,” Scott wrote to those who just passed the Bar exam.
Scott also advised the attorneys about his work to improve business, family and education in Florida.
“As a result, our pro-growth solutions are working, and we are seeing an incredible economic turnaround in our state,” Scott wrote to the new attorneys.
Scott has also added his name to a recent bulk mailing that went out to about 2,000 parents of children with disabilities. Also, the letter went out to educators, including those who specialize in children with disabilities.
Unlike the other letters, the mailing strictly highlights a measure (SB 1108) approved during the 2013 legislative session that gives parents more influence over the educations of children with disabilities.
–Jim Turner, News Service of Florida