Wall Street Journal: Transcript of Interview with Florida Governor Rick Scott

Jun 26, 2011

The following article was published in the Wall Street Journal on June 26, 2011:

Transcript:  Florida Governor Rick Scott

By Arian Campo-Flores

The Wall Street Journal’s Arian Campo-Flores sat down with Florida Governor Rick Scott at the Eden Roc Hotel in Miami Beach to talk about approval ratings, changes in his administration, candidates for 2012 and more. Below is an edited transcript of the interview.

WSJ: How do you interpret your low approval ratings?

Mr. Scott: I don’t look at polls. That’s not what I ran on. I don’t think this job is a popularity contest. This job is how do we make this the best place to do business. The way to do it is really three things. One, make sure taxes are fair. We have a big leg up because we don’t have a personal income tax, and we’re phasing out the business tax. Two, making sure we get rid of regulations that kill jobs. We got rid of the Department of Community Affairs [which oversaw growth management]. If we have local review of things, why do we need state review of things? And [three,] just keep focused on how we don’t have frivolous lawsuits.

WSJ: Do you think Floridians are reacting to your policies or to the way in which you’ve communicated them?

Mr. Scott: I got elected to change how the state’s been run. I’m making tough choices, I’m making tough decisions. I know that you’ve got to watch how you spend all the dollars. That’s not the easiest thing to do. That’s not what people think is the most fun thing to do, but it’s the right thing to do. You could always explain things better. Do people believe that state workers should participate in their pension plan? Yeah, they believe in that. Do they believe that if you’re getting a welfare check, we ought to know you’re not using drugs? Yeah, that makes sense. Do they believe that our principals ought to be able to fire bad teachers? Yeah, they believe in that. Now, is there somebody that doesn’t like each of those things? Sure, there’s always somebody who opposes what you’re doing. I was clear in the campaign what I was going to do. None of those things are new ideas that I came up with after I got elected. I ran on those ideas. I got elected on those ideas.

WSJ: I notice you’ve been doing more radio and TV interviews.

Mr. Scott: In the beginning, you’re trying to put together your team. Then you’re going through making sure that you get your priorities into bills, and then you go through the session. So now we’re going through the summer where you have more time to get out and talk to people and explain things. We’re doing a lot of bill signings. Today we signed a bill that reduced property taxes $210 million. That puts money back into homeowners’ hands.

WSJ: What do you consider your most important achievements so far?

Mr. Scott: I think the education reforms we did, the streamlining of government, the tax reductions, the pill mill legislation that got passed. There are seven people dying a day in our state [due to prescription drug abuse]. Now we probably have the most aggressive pill mill legislation in the country. [Also,] drug screening welfare recipients, starting the process to make sure we have a pension plan that’s viable long-term for state workers by having them participate. We had a good session, we got a lot done.

WSJ: What have been the key lessons you’ve learned in how to promote your policies?

Mr. Scott: I think the biggest thing is make sure the public supports it. I ran on a specific campaign. Everybody knows what I ran on, it was clear. That’s what the voters voted for. So I think that’s helpful, and then I let people know all along during the session what I supported, what I didn’t support, the things that were my priorities. I stayed very active and tried to make sure the bills ended up in a manner that I felt comfortable signing them.

WSJ: As a CEO, you were used to ordering that things get done, and now you have a legislature to deal with. How’s your relationship with lawmakers?

Mr. Scott: Big businesses work the same way. In big businesses, you have people that run groups for you. You have to make sure they agree with what you’re doing. Otherwise you’re not going to get much done. So this works the same way. You have to explain to people why you’re doing it, and understand what their thoughts are. We have a good conservative House and a good conservative Senate. I’ve enjoyed working with [Senate President Mike] Haridopolos and [House Speaker Dean] Cannon. I think they have a similar agenda to mine. We want to get our state back to work. We’ve worked well together.

WSJ: Is there anything you would have done differently during the session?

Mr. Scott: Getting everything done the first week would have been nice, instead of the last week. But we got a lot of stuff done, I can’t complain. It would have been nice to have an immigration bill done that was fair. Most of that is going to be done at the federal level. We need to secure our borders, have a logical immigration policy and a good work visa program.

WSJ: Some of your fellow Republican lawmakers have been critical of how you’ve handled things, like not giving them a heads up that you planned to cancel high-speed rail.

Mr. Scott: In everything, you do your best to try to talk to people, and the longer you work with somebody, you figure out what their interests are and what their needs are. A lot of it is just working with people longer.

WSJ: What did you do in response to those complaints?

Mr. Scott: I explained to people why I made the decision. I try to be respectful of how other people think, I try to listen to what they’re saying. At the same time, I know what I believe in, and if they can be persuaded, that’s great. If not, I’m going to continue to go down the path I believe is good for families in Florida. My job is to make sure that if you’re a family in Florida, your children can get a good education and you have the opportunity for a job. That’s my job and that’s what I think about every day.

WSJ: Do you think you’ve overreached in any respect? Has public reaction caused you to reconsider a particular stance?

Mr. Scott: Everything that I’ve accomplished, I ran on. If you go back and look at what I talked about in my campaign, all the different plans I put together, I ran on all those things — pension reform, education reform, drug-screening welfare recipients, Medicaid reform, not raising taxes. So that’s what the voters voted for.

WSJ: Can you explain the recent changes to your staff?

Mr. Scott: People come to work for a certain period of time, and people then choose what they like. So [former chief of staff] Mike Prendergast, who’s retired Army, 31 years, he wanted to be in Veterans’ Affairs. So he’ll do a great job. [Top adviser] Mary Anne Carter, she lives in Knoxville, has a young daughter, she came for a short period of time. The positive is, there’s a lot of people who want to come work in government right now.

WSJ: Can we expect other staffing changes?

Mr. Scott: I’m going to continue to make sure that the people that work with me, that they believe in what I believe in. That’s holding government accountable, watch how we’re spending money, coming up with new ideas. I want to bring in people that are going to come up with new ideas and say, ‘You know what, we did this in the private sector and figured out a better way of accomplishing that, and it didn’t cost us more money.’ That’s what I’m constantly looking for.

WSJ: By bringing in so many outsiders, did that make it difficult to navigate the political culture in Tallahassee?

Mr. Scott: We got a lot done. We had a good session.

WSJ: Is this a pivot point for your administration?

Mr. Scott: I’ve made a lot of tough decisions, and now, look what’s happened. The state’s getting back to work. Hopefully our state revenues will pick up next year, so we’ll be able to put more money into programs we believe in. That’s my hope.

WSJ: Do you see yourself playing a significant role in the 2012 elections?

Mr. Scott: I’ll be involved in the Presidency 5 straw poll [in September]. I’ll be very supportive of the Republican nominee, and I’ll decide down the road if I’m going to endorse anybody.

WSJ: Have any of the Republican candidates come to you seeking an endorsement?

Mr. Scott: I’ve talked to pretty much all of them.

WSJ: Have they asked for your endorsement?

Mr. Scott: They don’t say it in those words.

WSJ: Did they suggest they’d be interested in your endorsement?

Mr. Scott: Yeah, yeah. We have great candidates. It’ll be fun to watch the primary.

WSJ: Some Republicans have voiced concern about you being a drag on ticket.

Mr. Scott: The person who wins the primary and the person who wins the general election is going to be the person who wins the race like I did, who has the right blueprint for job creation. That’s going to be the key to winning. So whoever the voter believes is going to get the country back to work, that’s going to be who wins. The choice is going to be clear. It’s going to be between bigger government and smaller government, more personal freedom and less personal freedom, more federal control and less federal control.

WSJ: What are you doing, if anything, to reboot and get your message across more effectively?

Mr. Scott: Just use as much time as I have to talk to as many people as I can, no different than I did in the campaign. When I sit down with people and explain the fact that I care about their family, their family’s education, their family’s ability to get a job, this is the reason why I’ve made the choices that I’ve made, they get it. So my job is to talk to as many families as I can all across the state.