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Nancy Smith

You Were Expecting What? Intelligence? Oh, Rick Scott, You Silly!

December 14, 2010 - 6:00pm

Take a look at Rick Scott's face as he listens to our lawmakers in Fort Lauderdale Tuesday. What do you imagine he's thinking?

Is he wishing he brought his gun? Is he contemplating a swan dive off the Seventeenth Street Causeway Bridge? I think it's something mischievous, something like, "I'll stand up slowly and when the tall one turns his head, I'll run for it!"

We ought to have a what-was-he-thinking contest: Everybody hazards his own guess, then we get the governor-elect to tell us who came closest.

What I'm trying to do here is make light of something that really isn't. The truth is, I've been rudely awakened to the fact that the Florida Capitol -- the House especially -- is awash in legislators whose elevators don't go to the top. I always knew we had a few here and there. But, so many?

Listening to a tape of Tuesday's meeting with Rick Scott and a few of the legislative delegation in South Florida, I felt as if I'd been plunked down in the middle of a how-many-idiots-does-it-take-to-screw-in-a-lightbulb joke.

Scott made it very clear what he wanted, what he was listening for. He wanted 1) to hear novel, workable ideas on how to cut the state budget, $3 billion-plus shortfall and all, and 2) to convey the absolute surety that he will not support ideas or items or programs unless they can be paid for in cuts elsewhere in the budget. Every legislator in the room knew that, or so you'd think.

But one after another, like Art Linkletter's kids, they said the darndest things.

Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, had an idea all right. A "limited income tax" was his idea. Yes, that's what he said, an income tax.

Now, I don't expect my next-door neighbor to know this, or my mailman, or my doctor. But you would think, would you not, that a four-year-veteran Florida legislator would know that the state Constitution prohibits an income tax. It's basic civics in an 8th grade classroom, let alone standard prep for Florida House members.

But Perry didn't know, he really didn't.

Then there was Rep. Martin "Marty" Kiar, D-Parkland, who -- in an effort to knock SB 6 -- told Scott the state education system is in fine shape. "When something's not broken ... we shouldn't focus on trying to fix it," he said.

Does it bother anyone else that Kiar serves on the Education Policy Council and is a ranking member of the PreK-12 Appropriations Committee, yet he doesn't seem to know where Florida stands educationally? He doesn't know that, among Southern states, the most recent comparative testing shows Virginia, Georgia and West Virginia scoring higher than Florida, with Arkansas in a tie with us -- each of us scoring an identical 79.6 on a scale of 100.

If Kiar is helping to steer education in the Sunshine State, I'm a little nervous, and I think Scott was, too.

Rep. Lori Berman, a Boca Raton Democrat, an attorney who drives an electric car, wanted Scott to create an incentive program so that every Floridian can "get on solar." She had no idea how much getting on solar would cost or how it could be paid for, nor did she want to see tax increases on any Floridians -- but with all this sun, well -- every Floridian should be on it.

All of a sudden I'm wondering, why are legislator ineptitudes so new to me? Certainly I've been around long enough that I've seen them before. Are legislators dumber now than they were 10 years ago? I don't think so.

Here's what I think happened: I think Rick Scott happened. I think Scott is an outsider, and here I am -- mentally anyway -- sitting in a hotel boardroom in Fort Lauderdale with Scott the maverick -- forced to look at his new world through a maverick outsider's eyes. I see what he sees and I'm embarrassed for both of us.

Had Bill McCollum or Alex Sink been elected, I wouldn't have noticed. It would have been business as usual. Dumb is the status quo, it would pass, it would be just fine -- I'd go right along.

On the other hand, neither McCollum nor Sink would have been on a tour trying to interview all 160 legislators before preparing a budget.

Scott's effort is admirable. He's not even halfway finished. Will he ever do it again?

Look at his face. You tell me.

Reach Nancy Smith at nancybutlersmith@yahoo.com, or at (850) 727-0859.

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