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Friday, December 9, 2016

Florida Gov. Rick Scott removed his Harry Potter invisibility cloak and flew to Washington the other day.

There he begged for billions of federal dollars from a person he is suing, Sylvia Burwell, the secretary of the Health and Human Services Department. Burwell patiently listened to the governor and, predictably, sent him back to Florida with nothing.

Last summer the feds informed Scott that the government was phasing out a fund that reimburses local hospitals for taking care of low-income patients, basically replacing it with an expanded version of Medicaid.

At first Scott was in favor of the Medicaid move, even though it was a tangent of Obamacare. Then the governor changed his mind. Later, as an afterthought, he sued Burwell and the HHS.

The state Senate supports Medicaid expansion; the House doesn’t. Tallahassee has been paralyzed by the dispute.

In a snit, the House packed up and adjourned the session early, leaving Florida with no budget. Leaders in the Senate were furious.

Remember, these are all Republicans, ripping at each other like addled meerkats.

And where was the newly re-elected Republican governor, leader of the party?

Gone, is where he was — jetting to crucial functions such as the grand opening of a Wawa gas and convenience store in Fort Myers and the debut of a humongous Ferris wheel in Orlando.

It’s impossible to imagine any of the fully functioning governors in Florida’s past — Lawton Chiles, Bob Graham, Jeb Bush, to name a few — vanishing from Tallahassee during a Code Red meltdown of the Legislature.

But Scott isn’t a functioning governor. He is the emptiest of empty suits — no talent for leadership, no muscle for compromise, no sense whatsoever of the big picture.

When the going gets tough, Scott heads straight for the airport. This is what happens when you elect a guy with his own private jet.

Last week’s trip to Washington was pure theater. Scott’s lawsuit over the low-income health funds is a loser, and he knows it. He was trying to do something to give the impression he was awake and experiencing cognitive activity.

In fact, he has been laser-focused on the future — not Florida’s future, but his own. He’s looking ahead to a possible bid for the U.S. Senate in 2018.

(We’ll pause here while you choke on your cornflakes.)

It’s astounding but true — while the legislative process disintegrated in bitter confusion, the governor was airing TV commercials cheerily touting his imaginary accomplishments.

Yes, they were short commercials. And, yes, little of what he claimed to have done for Florida had actually happened, lawmakers having already tossed his proposed budget into the metaphorical Dumpster.

There were no tax cuts, no hefty increase in spending for public schools, no big boost for Everglades funding. Yet Scott’s commercials made it sound like a done deal.

Relax, Florida. All is well!

Perhaps that’s how it looks from 38,000 feet, though not from the rotunda of the Capitol.

It’s weird for a politician to openly resume campaigning so soon after being re-elected, but weird is the norm for the Scott administration. Since the law prohibits a third term as governor, he can only be thinking about Bill Nelson’s Senate seat.

This would be a far-fetched scenario almost any place except Florida, where Scott has already proven that, if you’re rich enough, there’s no such thing as baggage.

Currently he remains one of the state’s most unpopular political figures. He won the November election mainly because his opposition was Charlie Crist.

Yet with money from his “Let’s Get To Work” political committee, the governor has begun the uphill task of inventing a positive legacy upon which to run three years from now.

In the TV commercials, he plays the role of a hard-charging, hands-on visionary, leading Floridians to prosperity one new job at a time. He smiles. He talks. He is, briefly, visible.

Tallahassee is one of the cities where Scott showed his commercials, yet it didn’t move the needle. He was on the plane when he should have been on the ground.

While the Legislature didn’t need any help disgracing itself, Scott’s disappearing act made things worse by validating the public’s view of all state government as insular and incompetent.

As the House and Senate prepare to reconvene next month, desperately trying to salvage some credibility, the governor seems content with his role on the sidelines, essentially a cheerleader for himself.

Coming soon to a Wawa near you.

(Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for The Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL, 33132.) 

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr