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Friday, December 9, 2016

Rick Scott. Charlie Crist.

Nineteen million souls in the state of Florida, and this is the best we can do? You could toss a mullet net over any park bench between Key West and Pensacola and drag in two people who’d be more inspiring.

Watching Scott’s cringeworthy performance in the TV debates made it all the more astonishing that he ever got elected governor, even with $75 million of his own dough.

He’s spent the last three and a half years refusing to answer reporters’ questions, and it’s clear why. Rarely will you find a politician who is so uncomfortable — make that miserable — in front of a camera or a microphone. Scott’s gecko death stare and toneless responses give the impression of a reluctant witness under oath, a role he infamously experienced in the Columbia/HCA fraud probe.

The second debate didn’t help. PR-wise, you cannot overstate the stupidity of refusing to come on stage for seven minutes, just because your opponent brought a portable fan. Scott behaved like a petulant boob, and once again provided a wacky Florida punchline for comics coast to coast.

On the other side stands Charlie Crist, who — by leaving the governor’s office after one term to run for U.S. Senate — gave us Rick Scott. Thanks a bunch.

Now, after morphing from Republican to Independent to Democrat, Crist wants his old job back. He has unapologetically reversed himself on big issues such as abortion, gay marriage and the Cuban trade embargo. This was done to better jibe with the Democrats’ position, and also public-opinion polls.

What Crist truly believes is anybody’s guess. Unlike Scott, he seemed to enjoy the debates, but then he has always enjoyed having cameras pointed in his direction.

As of this writing, the governor’s race is polling dead even. Numbed by all the attack ads, disheartened by lackluster choices, lots of people are in a mood not to vote.

Bad idea.

Obviously this election isn’t about picking the best and the brightest. It’s about picking the candidate who is the least dangerous to Florida’s quality of life. Scott won’t accept the concept that, unlike the job of a corporate CEO, the job of governor is supposed to be conducted in the open. He remains at ease only behind closed doors, which is how he runs his administration.

He flies around in his private jet, sharing only chosen parts of his weekly schedule with the public he was elected to serve. His allegiance is strictly to business, which is the world he comes from.

Initially he opposed the prescription-monitoring data base that ultimately shut down many of the state’s pill mills. The governor called the computerized tracking system “an invasion of privacy,” which is exactly what the crooked pill-peddlers were saying.

During his last campaign he berated his Republican primary rival for being “bought” with donations from Big Sugar. This time around, Scott has taken more than $700,000 from the sugar companies and, as a guest of U.S. Sugar, flew to the King Ranch in Texas for a secret hunting trip.

On environmental issues, Scott pretends to be a friend of the Everglades while packing water-management boards with shills for polluting industries. He has defanged and demoralized the state Department of Environmental Protection, which now does so little to protect our air and water that it might as well be renamed the Department of Environmental Permissiveness.

And the governor was totally on board when Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi despicably joined efforts to block a court-ordered cleanup of Chesapeake Bay, because developers and agricultural interests here feared it would set a precedent for stricter pollution rules.

With such a record, it’s no wonder Scott’s re-election campaign is focused elsewhere. However, his claim of singlehandedly of bringing 650,000 new jobs to the state is sheer fantasy. Most of those added jobs are the result of a rebounding national economy, and they would have come back to Florida if Pee-wee Herman were governor.

An investigation last December by the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times revealed the chasm between Scott’s words and reality. He promised $266 million in tax breaks to attract 45,258 new jobs, yet only about 4 percent of those jobs had materialized.

Meanwhile, between January 2011 and November 2013, there were 49,163 layoffs statewide at companies with more than 100 employees. Today Scott crows about Florida’s unemployment rate, which at 6.1 percent is actually higher than the current U.S. unemployment figure of 5.9 percent.

So enough fiction about job creation.

For voters, the Nov. 4 gubernatorial election boils down to one question: Who’s the least slippery, and the least secretive? Philosophically Crist might be all over the map, but he’s not a sneak. He loves the public eye too much to slink from it.

For better or for worse, we’d always know where Charlie was, and what he was doing. In these sorry times, that counts as a selling point.

We could use a governor who leaves a trail.

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

Photo: Gov. Rick Scott, right, and Charlie Crist face off in the second of three Florida gubernatorial debates, on Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014, at Broward College in Davie, Fla. (Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel/MCT)

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