The suspense wasn’t exactly killing us, but Gov. Rick Scott put an end to it: He’s in.
Scott, who has to move out of the governor’s mansion in early 2019 because of term limits, announced Monday he’ll try to unseat veteran U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in November.
The end of Tallahassee’s worst-kept secret elicited little more than a yawn from Capitol insiders, but that didn’t slow down Scott, who, topped by his signature Navy cap, stumped through the state in a week-long rollout of his Senate campaign.
The governor’s entree into the race not only put an end to speculation about his candidacy, but it also more subtly signaled that the 2018 Sunshine State campaign season is officially in full swing.
While Scott’s announcement didn’t create waves, a decision by U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross to go back home to Lakeland after spending four terms in Congress sparked a firestorm. The Republican’s disclosure came the same day U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., announced he, too, wouldn’t seek re-election.
Republicans aren’t the only ones who are eschewing Congress.
On the other side of the aisle, state Sen. Jose Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami, dropped out of a crowded race to replace retiring Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a moderate Republican whose redrawn Miami-Dade County district is one of the Democrats’ top targets for a flip.
Political insiders, however, set aside prognostications about the domino effect spawned by Ross’ departure from Congress and quickly turned their attention to national news following the release of titillating tidbits from a tell-all memoir by James Comey, the former FBI director who was fired by President Donald Trump.
The revenge-read offers insights into the president’s inner circle and is certain to keep tongues wagging, at least until the next big thing comes along.
Comey also delivers a dire warning that goes far beyond his dissatisfaction with the White House, according to reported excerpts of his book, “A Higher Loyalty.”
“We are experiencing a dangerous time in our country, with a political environment where basic facts are disputed, fundamental truth is questioned, lying is normalized and unethical behavior is ignored, excused or rewarded,” he wrote.
DRAINING THE SWAMP
Scott kicked off his campaign Monday by slamming “career politicians” and calling Washington, D.C., a “disaster,” the same message the former health-care executive parlayed into a 2010 win for the governor’s mansion in his first run for office.
Addressing supporters in Orlando, Scott, a two-term Republican governor, never mentioned Nelson, a three-term Democratic senator, by name. But he repeatedly criticized “career politicians” and said he would push for term limits for members of the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate.
“We have to all acknowledge that Washington is a disaster. It’s dysfunctional. There is a lot of old, tired thinking up there,” Scott, 65, said. “This concept of career politicians has got to stop. We have to have term limits on Congress.”
Nelson, a decade older than his opponent, said he is ready to face Scott.
“I’ve always run every race like there’s no tomorrow — regardless of my opponent,” Nelson, who is the only Florida Democrat holding statewide office, said in a statement. “While it’s clear that Rick Scott will say or do anything to get elected, I’ve always believed that if you just do the right thing, the politics will take care of itself.”
Scott said his agenda as governor, which focused on job creation, lower taxes and fewer regulations, met resistance from the Tallahassee establishment.
“They (said) governor, you just don’t fit into Tallahassee. You know, I think that’s true,” Scott said. “I never intended to fit into Tallahassee. And guess what? I’m not going to fit into Washington either.”
Scott also recounted Florida’s recovery from the recession under his leadership, pointing to job creation, tax cuts, a reduction in state debt and a record numbers in tourism.
“Now we’ve got to take that same mission to D.C.,” Scott said.
Scott also talked about his early life in a family that “struggled for money” and lived in public housing. He credited his late mother and the opportunities provided by living in the United States for his rise as a lawyer who founded the Columbia/HCA health conglomerate.
“It seems to be fashionable now to attack and badmouth this country. I’m sick of it,” Scott said. “There is no place like America. And we need to thank God every day for this country and our opportunity to be here.”
Scott made no mention of Trump, although Scott has been a consistent supporter of the president. He also did not mention the Republican majority that controls the U.S. House and Senate.
But Trump is certain to loom over the Nelson-Scott race, which could have a $100 million price tag over the next seven months.
Key issues that could shape the contest include the mass shootings at Pulse nightclub in Orlando and at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland and hurricanes Irma and Maria.
But a third man not in the ring, Trump, is expected to play a pivotal role throughout the campaign.
Alex Patton, a Republican political consultant from Gainesville, called the contest a “proxy battle” about Trump.
“No issue will take as much importance other than, ‘Will you support Trump?’ ” Patton said. “Hell, I’m not sure it’s even about supporting Trump’s agenda — it’s about do you support him.”
WHAT’S IN THAT JUICE?
A Tallahassee judge created waves this week when she ruled in favor of Tampa strip-club mogul Joe Redner, who wants to be able to grow his own pot so he can juice it.
Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers ruled Wednesday that the 77-year-old Redner can grow his own marijuana because state rules prohibit Florida medical-marijuana operators from selling whole plants or flowers.
State health officials immediately appealed the decision, which could open the door to more legal skirmishes over Florida’s medical-marijuana regulations.
Redner’s doctor ordered a juicing treatment that uses live marijuana plants to prevent a relapse of stage 4 lung cancer, according to court documents. Emulsification, or juicing, of the “biomass of the marijuana plant” was determined to be “the most effective way” for Redner, a longtime vegan, “to get the benefit of medical marijuana,” according to Gievers’ order.
Redner’s lawyer, Luke Lirot, argued that a voter-approved constitutional amendment broadly authorizing medical marijuana “unambiguously allows” the Tampa man to follow his doctor’s recommended method of taking the pot treatment.
Redner is forced to grow his own plants to make the liquid treatment because the Department of Health hasn’t allowed any marijuana operators to sell whole plants to patients, Lirot argued.
Siding with Redner, Gievers found the prohibition defies the 2016 constitutional amendment.
“Nothing in the amendment authorizes the Department of Health (or any other part of Florida’s government) to ignore the rights of qualifying patients to access the medical marijuana treatment to which they are entitled under the Florida Constitution, or to exclude any method by which qualifying patients may take their medicine,” Gievers wrote in Wednesday’s 22-page order.
The judge’s order telegraphs what Gievers may do in a separate lawsuit initiated by John Morgan, the Orlando trial lawyer who largely bankrolled what was known as Amendment 2, the constitutional amendment approved by more than 72 percent of Florida voters in 2016. That lawsuit seeks to force the state to allow patients to smoke medical marijuana.
Gievers’ ruling in the Redner lawsuit “makes the Mills case a fait accompli, or, as my friend says, a done deal,” Lirot told The News Service of Florida in a telephone interview Wednesday.
STORY OF THE WEEK: In a highly anticipated decision, Gov. Rick Scott announced he is running against incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I never viewed this amazing opportunity as a job or a career.” — U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, a Lakeland Republican who announced Wednesday he will not seek re-election to Congress.