Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Rick Scott: The Most Secretive Florida Governor in Modern Times

“No Scheduled Events.”

Day after day, that’s the schedule sent out by Gov. Rick Scott as he travels the state campaigning for the U.S. Senate.

It’s not that he ever told us where he was, but the dearth of information is far more pronounced these days.

No governor in modern times has been as secretive about his whereabouts or the company he keeps.

In days gone by, past governors were very up front about their travels. Daily schedules told reporters where governors were going; what airplanes they were traveling on, and who else was on the planes, including Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents.

Today the reporters who cover the Capitol have no idea where Scott is or what he’s doing – unless he chooses to tell them.

He’s quick to notify the press as he hands out hundreds of medals to every living veteran in the state or celebrates the talents of various individuals invited to a Cabinet meeting.

Even his campaign schedule in the U.S. Senate race is a secret unless he is doing something he wants reporters to know about.

And he’s pouring his own money into the campaign day after day.  So far, reports are that he has tossed in more than $20-million.

We’d like to be more specific about his financial situation, but for years Scott has refused to disclose his tax returns or the names of many corporations he owns. He put some of his assets in a “blind trust’’ that has been the subject of repeated lawsuits seeking more information about his ownership of companies that do business with the state.

What he owns in a blind trust is only now coming to light as he meets federal requirements to run for the U.S. Senate.

And only now that he has been forced to disclose his wife’s assets, we are learning more about what appears to be some serious conflicts of interest, based on various news accounts:

• Backing a private company in which he owns an interest for a high-speed rail from Orlando to Tampa after canceling a $2.4-billion federally financed one like it when he took office in 2011.

•Giving $200,000 in state tax incentives to a Fort Myers cancer treatment company in which he has a financial interest.

•Receiving $400,000 in contributions from a company that got a lucrative health contract in Broward County.

•Ownership of $500,000 in stock of NextEra Energy, the parent company of Florida Power & Light, one of the state’s largest regulated utilities. A commission appointed by the governor governs its rates and regulations.

•A million-dollar investor in Gilead Sciences, the controversial manufacturer of a drug used to treat Hepatitis C. The treatments used in prisons in Florida and other states have cost taxpayers billions of dollars for treating the often-fatal liver disease.

The governor’s secrecy recently led to a lawsuit. The nonprofit AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF MCO of Florida) accused Scott of violating public records law and asked that he turn over documents showing details of his whereabouts, from meetings and appearances to travel plans and events — including a list of campaign and fundraising events. (Scott is opposing U.S. Senator Bill Nelson in the November election.)

A circuit judge on Wednesday ordered Scott to produce the requested records — which cover the period between July 20 and Oct. 31.

Scott has until Sept. 15 to cough up the documents – unless he appeals the court’s decision. He claims the travel records should remain secret for security reasons. But the judge found the travel schedule does not reveal surveillance procedures, but is simply information regarding the governor’s travel schedule.

It is strange to see Scott sitting in an office once occupied by governors such as LeRoy Collins, Reubin Askew, Bob Graham, Bob Martinez, Lawton Chiles, Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist.

I can’t say that all those past governors loved letting reporters know everything they were doing, and I know some of them occasionally slipped away from the FDLE security force to do something “off the record.”

We know Chiles loved to slip his guards and go hunting in the early morning hours. And Bush took his daughter, Noelle, to dinner on her birthday without security.

But no governor has been as secretive as Scott.

He takes no salary and pays some of his own expenses. He sold off the state’s airplanes and uses his own plane to go wherever he damn well pleases. He even blocks the flights of his own airplane from appearing on Flight Radar that shows us where most planes are going.

Other state officials are on their own when it comes to travel in a state where it is practically impossible to get commercial service from the state capital to other cities. The records of transportation costs are public, so it’s not hard to track where those state officials have been.

Scott could be in Timbuktu for all we know.

And he could be accompanied by Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump if he was inclined to invite them.

Lucy Morgan, now retired, is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who began her career at the Ocala Star banner in 1965. Ms. Morgan Morgan was inducted into the Florida Women's Hall of Fame in 2006. In 2005 the Florida State Senate renamed its press gallery in her honor.

This piece appeared in the Florida Phoenix and was reprinted by the Columbia County Observer with permission or license.

Graphic and layout by the Observer; Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr/cc)  

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