There are three reasons why Florida should re-elect U.S. Sen. .
He’s earned it.
And this is no time to send another Republican to ’s see-no-evil claque in Congress.
Nelson, 75, who had weak opposition for his second and third terms, is now in the fight of his life. That shouldn’t be, considering his solid, dependable support for the causes most vital to the people of this state: Protecting the air and water from pollution and near-shore oil drilling. Expanding health care and ensuring coverage for pre-existing conditions. Working often with his Republican colleague, Sen. , for Florida’s common good. Nelson’s moderation perfectly reflects the spirit of his state.
Nelson has been a workhorse, not a show horse, while Scott has spent the last eight years reaping headlines on a near-daily basis. Look closely, though, and those headlines tell the story of a governor who wouldn’t deserve re-election. Nothing in his record suggests he would do better as a senator.
The angry citizens along Florida’s southwest coast, gagging over the stink of dead fish and marine mammals, have a point when they call him “Red Tide Rick.” He and his colleagues on the Florida Cabinet have been a disaster for the environment. Early on, they persuaded the to back off regulations that limited runoff from sewage, manure and fertilizer in Florida. The EPA let the state make its own rules, even as the state cut water management budgets and shed experienced scientists. We can see — and smell — how well that went.
Under Scott, state agencies dare not mention climate change, leaving South Florida to look out for its own fate. And if there weren’t enough damage to do here, Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi joined litigation to block the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay, nearly 800 miles from Tallahassee. The only thing worse for the environment than Scott in the Senate would be Scott as head of the EPA.
There are stark differences between Nelson and Scott on access to health care — an issue upon which the lives of Floridians literally depend. Nelson voted for and has resolutely supported ’s , which guarantees coverage to people with pre-existing conditions — that’s most of us — and expanded to millions of Americans who earn a little too much to qualify for Obamacare.
There are nearly 400,000 Floridians in that coverage gap, almost half of them in working families. Scott has consistently opposed Obamacare and rejected the Medicaid expansion, even when the state Senate voted for it. There was a moment when he changed his mind — though he did nothing about it — but then he changed his mind again. So we are paying for expanded Medicaid in 33 other states without any benefit to ourselves.
Nelson backed President Obama’s economic stimulus, which helped put a quick end to the 2008 recession, but led to his party losing control of Congress. Reaping the benefit of Obama’s leadership, Scott touts Florida’s healthy job growth. There is a downside: Too many are service jobs and too few are high-paying. One of his first acts as governor was to throw away good jobs by rejecting a stimulus-funded, ready-to-go high speed rail line between Orlando and Tampa.
Meanwhile, Scott and his wife have invested in companies indirectly related to a passenger-rail project he does support. Scott’s “blind” trust — not so blind, it seems, to Mrs. Scott — would have concealed that bit of scandal, but he had to reveal it to run for federal office.
No other governor has been so secretive about his finances or about his conduct in office, even withholding his daily schedules and campaign itineraries. No other governor has been sued so often to disgorge public records.
No other governor has been so hostile to the estimated 1.5 million Floridians who have paid their debts to society and deserve to have their voting rights restored. Meanwhile, the governor has overseen endless tragic failures in his Departments of Corrections and Children and Families under a parade of appointees. He pushed prison privatization so aggressively that the Legislature balked.
Scott took pride in his hurricane crisis management, but never answered the frantic calls to his cellphone from the Hollywood Hills nursing home where 12 elderly patients died of heat. Three days after the hurricane, he awarded oversized debris-pickup contracts to two companies, causing costs elsewhere to balloon. This year, he put his former travel aide in charge of the state’s emergency management agency.
Though Scott talks a good game about the public schools, he’s been too partial to charter schools, half of which are run by for-profit corporations. Meanwhile, because of insufficient state support, some 20 counties are now asking their voters to raise local taxes to make schools safe and give teachers pay raises. Gains for the universities have come at the expense of the state colleges, upon which Florida relies for workforce development.
Before the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Scott signed everything demanded of him by the , including an infamous stand-your-ground revision that is virtually a license to kill. To his credit, post-Parkland, he finally broke with the gun lobby to make 21 the minimum age for buying rifles. But it’s Nelson who has the more sensible record, including support for a ban on the sale of military-style assault rifles.
Throughout his career Nelson has strongly advocated an independent judiciary. He supported merit selection as a state legislator. In the Senate, he and Rubio maintain a bipartisan commission to recommend candidates for the federal district courts. Scott has shown no equivalent respect toward the Florida judiciary. His nominating commissions are de facto party-patronage committees with a marked preference for Republican prosecutors and corporate lawyers. And he is currently striving to make three state Supreme Court appointments that properly belong to his successor.
Virtually all of Nelson’s life has been devoted to public service. He’s a native Floridian with degrees from Yale and the University of Virginia Law School. While practicing law in Melbourne, he was elected to three terms in the state House. He went on to six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. He flew as a crew member on the Space Shuttle Columbia. After losing the 1990 Democratic gubernatorial primary, he was elected treasurer and insurance commissioner in 1994 and worked with Republican Comptroller Robert Milligan to have their offices combined by constitutional revision. In 2000, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he is senior Democrat on the committees on Finance; Commerce, Science and Transportation; Armed Services; and the Special Committee on Aging.
Scott, 65, born in Illinois and raised in Missouri, earned a law degree from Southern Methodist University and remained in Texas where he specialized in health care mergers and started a hospital company, Columbia, that eventually merged with HCA. He left the company as CEO in 1997 shortly before it agreed to pay a then-record $1.7 billion in fines and penalties for overcharging . Scott disclaims any knowledge of the violations and took the Fifth Amendment 75 times to avoid testifying about them. He used a golden parachute and accumulated wealth to win the governor’s office eight years ago in his first campaign for public office. His investment in a company that performs drug tests stirred controversy after he ordered state employees and welfare recipients to be drug-tested. The federal courts overturned the program, leaving Florida taxpayers to bear more than $1.5 million in legal fees.
Given the sharply contrasting records of Scott and Nelson, the Senate campaign poses these questions:
Which man can be trusted to stand up for the environment and for Medicare against budget-cutters and special interests?
Which man can be trusted to look out for the people, more than for himself?
Which man is more likely to assert the constitutional duty of Congress — so wantonly abandoned under Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan — to rein in a reckless presidency?
It’s not just the people of Florida who need Bill Nelson back in the Senate. It’s all of the people of the United States of America.
Editorials are the opinion of the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board and written by one of its members or a designee. The Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Rosemary O‘Hara, Andy Reid and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson.