The career of Rick Scott, Florida's Republican governor, has long been one of the outstanding mysteries of the nation's statehouses.
He won his first race for governor in 2010, even though the hospital company he ran until being forced out in 1997, Columbia/HCA, had been accused of defrauding federal healthcare programs and paid $1.7 billion in fines, damages, and penalties, then the largest healthcare fraud settlement in U.S. history. He won reelection in 2014, despite amassing a politically retrograde position on healthcare issues at odds with his supposed expertise in the field.
You don't care about working people -- you should be ashamed to show your face around here.
Cara Jennings gives Gov. Rick Scott both barrels
Scott hasn't supported Medicaid expansion for Florida under the Affordable Care Act, with the result that more than 560,000 Floridians who would have been covered with health insurance are left uninsured, according to an estimate by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Only a few weeks ago, he signed an anti-Planned Parenthood law that could deprive thousands of women of healthcare from that organization.
That's what makes Scott's encounter Tuesday with a stay-at-home mom named Cara Jennings look so much like rough justice. A video of the encounter, which has gone viral, is below, and can also be seen here. It's rare that the average citizen gets a chance to tell a governor what she thinks, face-to-face. It's plain that Scott didn't know what hit him.
In brief, Jennings calls Scott "an embarrassment to our state." That's the kindest thing she calls him (watch the video, but be careful about doing so at work).
While he's in line at the Starbucks, Jennings, who has been identified in local news reports as a former Lake Worth city commissioner, loudly tags Scott with a host of offenses. "You cut Medicaid so I couldn't get Obamacare," she says. "You stripped women of access to public healthcare. You don't care about working people -- you should be ashamed to show your face around here." As he flees without his coffee, she yells, "Rich people like you don't know what to do when poor people like us need healthcare. Shame on you, Rick Scott."
At one point, Scott gamely responds, "We got a million jobs."
"A million jobs!" she cries back. Appealing to her fellow customers, she calls out, "Great! Who here has a good job?"
[UPDATE: Gov. Scott's political committee on Friday struck back at Jennings with an online ad labeling her a "latte liberal" and a "terribly rude woman." The ad chiefly defends his claim to have brought a million jobs to Florida, but it also dismisses her as someone who during her service as a Lake Worth city commissioner "refused to recite the pledge of allegiance." This is true, but Scott's ad curiously replicates some of the critiques of Jennings that began making the rounds of conservative information sites soon after the video of her went viral. It's worth noting, by the way, that there's no coffee cup at all on the table in front of Jennings, latte or otherwise.]
Local fact-checkers have picked apart Jennings' spiel and found it wanting in a few particulars, though it certainly remains well within the accepted margin of error of standard political discourse. Scott's efforts to bring Florida within the ACA's orbit have been halting and cynical. He opposed Medicaid expansion at first, then reversed himself and offered to expand it for three years only, after which it would have to be reauthorized. But he didn't push hard enough to get even that through the Legislature.
Scott has attacked the Obama administration for failing to extend federal funding for its low-income pool, a program aimed at helping Florida hospitals with the costs of uncompensated care that expired in 2015. But as federal officials have pointed out, the remedy for the loss of this funding is to expand Medicaid, which Florida has refused to do. Essentially, Scott wants the feds to pick up the tab for his own failing.
Then there's HB 1411, the law Scott signed in March, which purports to cut off state funding of abortion, but imposes excessive restrictions on abortion clinics similar to those already being challenged in Texas and elsewhere. Scott tried to minimize the impact of the law by saying that Planned Parenthood only received $114,000 a year in state funding, but Planned Parenthood says the real sum is more than twice that, and adds that "because the legislation is broadly written, Planned Parenthood will also lose access to reimbursements from local government entities and federal funding from the Title X program that is contracted through local county Health Departments."
The organization observes that its clinics are mostly located in "medically underserved or physician shortage areas, making them sometimes the only place where people can receive publicly funded family planning services." Many women, it says, may well go without care rather than seek it out in more inaccessible locations.
Scott was right about one thing, according to PolitiFact Florida. His state did gain 1 million jobs on his watch. But for him to claim credit for all those gains, especially in the context of the public services he has cut, is a bit excessive. "Scott took office not long after a severe recession bottomed out. It was no shock that whoever was elected governor in 2010 would benefit from some degree of job growth, since the worst of the recession would be behind them, and the economy tends to run in cycles."