Not so very long ago, Madison Avenue hastened to assure us that “when E.F. Hutton talks people listen” and by all outward indications at the time that seemed to be the case. Old Hutton’s shortcoming, however, was that when people talked E.F. Hutton failed to listen. The result was that the people are still in business, but Hutton is not. Some vestige of it became vested in Citibank, but it no longer has the ear of investors.
When The American Spectator talks people listen as well, but TAS is careful to return the favor by listening to the people who make the news. Periodically the editors invite significant players on the political scene to share their views with us over a gourmet meal in a discreet corner of a fine Washington eatery. In this convivial atmosphere, we find out what’s cooking while enjoying fine cooking. Sometimes parts of these sessions are taken “off the record,” allowing us to educate ourselves about movements behind the scenes – information that informs our reporting even when we cannot inform the readers directly.
Our most recent guest, Governor Rick Scott of the great State of Florida, imposed no such restriction. We hosted him at The Monocle, where we kept one eye on the ball at all times. He laid out his record in great detail, all of it on the record. As the only Florida resident present – who voted for Scott twice – it falls to me to share the wealth of insight we gleaned from our encounter.
The initial impression of Governor Scott and his team set our sensitized political antennae tingling. We know what a political executive’s entourage is supposed to look like. Flinty eyes, locked jaws, imperious voices, and the ability to say nominally friendly things while laser-beaming a hard stare into your eyes. The thought that these may be actual feeling humans who play with their kids and their pets seems too remote to contemplate. You sense that you are being sized up for the slice of the utilitarian knife; are you good for a vote or a donation or are you just another plebe?
Scott and his team were shockingly different. The men were polite and friendly and the women were genuinely warm and sweet. How a man could manage in high office while surrounded by people with actual hearts and souls was a mystery to us; we thought we had seen it all, but this took us aback. As we got to know the Governor and his staff over the course of the evening, and an even number of courses, we saw that our observation was right – these were genuinely nice people – and that somehow we were witnessing a new model for success in politics.
The opening round naturally centered on the “how” of becoming elected, this being the national primary season and all. Admittedly we wound up playing straight men to the Governor when we asked: “Which particular form of campaigning is the most effective?”
His response: “Boy, if I knew the answer to that I sure could have saved myself a bunch of money. My first race cost 95 million and my second race 100 million, and we tried everything from knocking on doors to robocalls to mailers to TV and radio commercials… in Spanish!” One last trick he had up his sleeve: he shook millions of hands. He did add that his second race utilized social media more effectively.
In terms of governance, he gave us a glimpse into the businessman’s approach to government, what we once longed for in Perot and now are attracted to in Trump. He described a system of spending and priority-setting based largely on proven results. If it works, let’s do more of it. If it doesn’t work, let’s stop doing it. That seems to be the fault line between business and politics: in each you have to make a sale, but only in business is there someone on the case checking the outcomes over time. In politics when you ask why a program is not working, the usual answer is we are not doing enough and failure is a basis for ADDING money. In Governor Scott’s world, as in the boardrooms of our great enterprises, if it ain’t fixed don’t go broke doing it.
As a means of enforcement, he initiated the creative concept of not renewing appointees who have refused to perform as advertised. In most government structures, if the guy tells you he is a conservative to get the job, and then performs like a liberal, he still gets renewed. Why rock the boat? Scott has done the politically incorrect thing of calling appointees on broken promises. The next guy on the job knows he is expected to live up to his commitments.
With real control of the various departments, the boards, and the subcommittees, he can put his policies into place. The result? Taxes are down but the state is better off. More companies move there every day and the state’s population increases constantly. Indeed, Florida in 2015 had the highest rate in the country of migration from other states. Yet out of a population of 20 million the total amount of people collecting unemployment benefits is… 57 thousand!!!
He takes particular pride in the fact that he has held college tuition rates steady in the state while improving the colleges themselves in significant ways. When he came into office, none of the eleven universities in the state tracked the rate at which their students succeeded in finding jobs. His response was to institute financial incentives for schools with higher job placement rates.
Now the schools are repurposing their curricula and aggressively helping their graduates find niches in their chosen professions. The results are carefully tracked and the incentive money is parceled out accordingly. It should come as little surprise that Florida graduates are segueing into employment at a spectacular rate.
All in all, a nice guy surrounded by nice people, and doing a nice job. Maybe his life story of up-from-poverty explains it. Or maybe, just maybe, conservative governance is a way for nice people to help ordinary people find success and dignity in their own lives.