The Checkered Past of a Wannabe Governor

I can’t say I’ve known Bill McCollum for the past 30 years, but I’ve known about him. Maybe not for quite 30 years, but it seems that long. He comes from a town called Brooksville, which reminds me of the Old South – you know, dogwoods and azaleas blooming in the spring, antebellum homes, that kind of thing.

It’s not really Old South, of course, because it’s in Florida, and that’s not what I call “the South.”

Florida is actually a mish-mash, where South meets North, and East meets West – sometimes with less that felicitous results.

The populace is made up of the descendants of Crackers from the Carolinas and Georgia … retirees and “snowbirds” from Canada and other places “up North” … immigrants – legal and illegal – from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras and the rest of Latin America … left-over “guest workers” and others of us from the Caribbean … In effect, we’re a motley crew from all over, including Europe and Asia, and who knows where elese?.

But the people who run Florida – the part of Florida where I live, anyway – are still the Good Ol’ Boys. They’re white, inbred, not too smart, and they wouldn’t know an ethic if it bit them on the leg. And, especially around here, they’re Republican. True, a few Democrats get elected occasionally. And, once in a while, the Democratic establishment lets a token black politician into the corridors of power. I guess they wouldn’t want to look as if they’re hogging the show.

The situation wasn’t much different when I lived in Miami, except that a lot of political bosses hailed from Cuba.

McCollum is one of the Good Ol’ Boys – Floridian by birth and a Gator by the grace of God (as some University of Florida graduates are wont to brag). And I see him as the prototype of an establishment toady. At UF he participated in all the “right” extracurricular stuff, and throughout his career he has taken care of the “right people.”

But compared to someone like Rick Scott (photo above), the guy is a knight in shining armor.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Scott is not in prison.

When Scott was its CEO, Columbia/HCA pleaded guilty to the nation’s largest Medicaid and Medicare fraud and ended up paying a record fine of $1.7 billion dollars.

Why wasn’t he tried as an accessory to fraud? Or even as the main perpetrator of the fraud? I guess he knew someone – or knew someone who knew someone. That’s often the way things work in Florida.

After McCollum pointed out the crime during the primary campaign, he didn’t bat an eye. He coolly “accepted responsibility” and continued to spend more than $50 million to blanket the state with ads.

Scott wasn’t even banned from the health care business. A former partner in the Texas Rangers with George W. Bush, he now runs an investment firm and owns, among other things, a chain of walk-in urgent-care clinics in Florida called Solantic (which is reportedly also being investigated for Medicare “irregularities”),

He lists his net worth at $219 million. I guess when you have that kind of money, and every expectation of making more, spending 50 million to get nominated as the Republican candidate for governor is a perfectly normal thing to do. What seems odd is that Florida’s Republicans actually let themselves be persuaded by his ad blitz. They nominated Scott over McCollum by a wide margin yestrday..

And, if he defeats Democrat Alex Sink in November, Scott will be in a position to steer a lot of cash to his business interests.

I don’t think he’s making any bones about that. As soon as he heard he had won the nomination, he started flooding the airwaves with ads blasting the new federal health care legislation. And the ads are as trashy as you would expect them to be.

They feature “horror stories” from Canada and the United Kingdom, telling of patients who supposedly suffered long waits for surgeries, couldn’t get the drugs they needed, or had to come to the United States for treatment.

Now, I lived in Ontario for 20 years, and I have a son, brother, sister and numerous other relatives living in that province. And we all have received great health care from the Canadian system. I doubt that any of the stories in the ads are true and I suspect the “patients” are actually paid actors.

But you wouldn’t expect a guy like Scott to let the facts spoil a good campaign, would you?

He is using $5 million of his own money and up to $15 million more from supporters to try to build resistance to any government-run program. And he has picked the infamous group that masterminded the “Swift boat” attacks against 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry to run the show.

Surely, you know what he’s up to. He is trying to get rid of inconvenient regulations that would hamper his ability to rake in profits as a health care provider. And he doesn’t care who knows it.

Even before the primary campaign, he was funding a group called Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, which spent about $600,000 a month on ads in March and April and ratcheted up its buy for May to more than $1 million,

He also gave $11.3 million to Let’s Get to Work through his wife, Annette.

In a CNN interview, Rick Sanchez summed up Scott’s resume this way:

Some would argue, and it would be hard to say they’re wrong, that you would be the poster child for everything that’s wrong with the greed that has hurt our current health care system…. How much more wrong can you be than what you just said? Not only is your company screwed up – and you just admitted to it – and you’re saying, look at all the other companies, they did the same thing! That doesn’t sound to me like a sterling system that we have, does it?

Scott’s only defense was that “no one went to jail.”

No, if Floridians generally are as tolerant of blatant disregard for ethics and the law as the republican primary voters are, this unabashed blackguard won’t go to jail; he’ll end up in the governor’s mansion.