Morning must-read: Florida wakes up from its Tea Party experiement

By on February 20, 2013
mother jones

This morning’s must-read is from Mother Jones, which examines how the Sunshine State is waking up from the failed Tea Party experiment of the last two years.

For all of his tax cutting and Obamacare bashing, Rick Scott did not end up on the vice presidential short list. Nor is he considered a presidential contender in 2016. Instead he has become so unpopular that Mitt Romney’s campaign largely steered clear of him in a critical swing state; just after his first budget, his approval rating dropped to 29 percent, the lowest of any governor in the nation. This past November, the GOP lost its supermajority in the Florida Legislature, and voters ditched tea party icon Rep. Allen West. “The oxygen of the tea party is escaping,” says Christian Ulvert, a Democratic political consultant in Miami.

Not coincidentally, Scott has softened a bit, reversing course on some of his most radical budget cuts and restoring $1 billion in education funding. He is even negotiating with the Obama administration over the Medicaid expansion (but only, apparently, in an effort to turn the whole program over to private managed-care plans). He remains under fire for myriad other decisions—from shuttering a state hospital in the midst of the nation’s largest tuberculosis outbreak to cutting funding for rape crisis centers during Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Polls have beenshowing Scott losing handily to a generic Democrat—and more than half of the state’s Republicans would like to see him face a primary challenge in 2014, according to a Quinnipiac University poll in December.

But even if Scott ends up a one-term governor, his legacy won’t easily be reversed. When he rejected the high-speed rail money, the state passed up an opportunity to upgrade its underfunded transit system that it may not soon see again. Florida’s internationally renowned mosquito control system took a half century to build, but only three years to decimate. Likewise with public health, says Nan Rich, who fought the cuts in the state Senate: “The infrastructure is being destroyed and responding to public health crises becomes more difficult,” she says. “I shudder to think if what happened with Hurricane Sandy had happened here.”

The tea party’s influence may be waning, but that might not matter in the end. “I don’t think it’s insurmountable to recover from dismantling 50 years’ worth of great government structures that made society in Florida better,” says Rep. Pafford. “But it could be a decade before we really begin to address some of these issues. It’s gonna take dollars.” Pafford thinks the biggest task ahead is “rebuilding the confidence of the average Floridian that an elected person like the governor can actually do good things.” What’s happened here, he says, “is really an incredible example of how government should not work. Hopefully people can learn from Florida’s tea party experiment.”

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