What’s It Like to Wake Up From a Tea Party Binge? Just Ask Florida!
Obamacare is a particular target of tea party wrath in Florida, but it’s hardly the only one in a state where the movement’s ideology has permeated every layer of government. In just one year, Scott and his conservative allies slashed state spending by $4 billion even as they cut corporate taxes. They’ve rejected billions in federal funds in one of the states hardest hit by the recession. They’ve axed everything from health care and public transportation initiatives to mosquito control and water supply programs. “Florida is where the rhetoric becomes the reality. It’s kind of the tea party on steroids,” says state Rep. Mark Pafford, a Democrat. “We’ve lost all navigation in terms of finding that middle ground.”
Similar shifts have occurred in other states where the tea party has amassed political power, including Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin. But no state has gone as far as Florida, where small-government advocates have seized the economic crisis and fiscal downturn to reshape the state, often sacrificing benefits for residents to make a broader political point.
Now, the Sunshine State may be a harbinger of another realignment: Support for Scott and the GOP is plummeting as Floridians see anti-government governance at work. But it may be too late for buyer’s remorse. After two years at the helm, the tea party’s legacy is likely to far outlast the movement.
WHEN HE RAN FOR governor as a political neophyte in 2010, Rick Scott’s main credential was his vast wealth, much of which he accumulated running Hospital Corporation of America. During Scott’s tenure, HCA was caught systematically defrauding federal health programs of millions of dollars through elaborate schemes to overbill the government for various services, including care it never provided. In 2000, the company pleaded guilty to 14 federal felony charges and paid $1.7 billion in fines in what was the largest government fraud settlement in history. A few months after the federal investigation was announced, Scott was forced to resign, but not before snagging a $310 million golden parachute.