If you follow national politics, you know Florida’s senior senator, Marco Rubio, as a man of innate mediagenic qualities and polished rhetorical skills. You may not know his junior colleague, Rick Scott, who was born without those qualities and never bothered to develop those skills. Scott’s no show horse. He’s a man of real accomplishments, two of them salient to the current crisis.
Scott is, relatively speaking, a political newbie. He has run statewide three times over the past nine years. He won the first time the old-school way: He bought the election, swamping his opponent in TV ads paid for from a self-made fortune. His next two elections were built on the gratitude of his constituents for bringing them through a flurry of once-in-a-century hurricanes.
Scott proved himself to be a crisis manager of surpassing skill. He gathered information quickly, cut through professional jargon, communicated unambiguously. (Scott does nouns and verbs. He leaves the adjectives and adverbs to Rubio.) Time and time again, with Florida under threat from Category 4 and 5 storms, Scott assessed threats, shook loose resources, and took action first to prepare and then to survive and finally to rebuild. The peripatetic Scott, dressed always in dungarees and a Navy ballcap, became a reassuringly familiar figure to storm-tossed Floridians of both parties.
Personal testimony. In the late summer of 2017, northeast Florida was under threat from a major Atlantic storm. Some of the projections had it making landfall on the island where I live. Scott came over and reviewed our readiness plans. He found them unsatisfactory. He told a group of islanders: “I think you should leave. The attorney general tells me I don’t have the authority to evacuate you by force, but I want you to know that when I leave I’ll be taking with me all fire, police, EMT and hospital personnel. And we’ll be closing the marina, the airport and the bridge to the mainland. But it’s your choice.” A persuasive man, Rick Scott. We all dashed for our cars to scoot across the bridge. Rick Scott doesn’t do bluff.
Scott’s other salient accomplishment is that he spent most of his career founding and building Columbia/HCA into the largest private health-care company in the country. He knows the issues of health-care policy, both micro and macro. He knows how to talk with docs and researchers. He knows how to shake the medical bureaucracies, and he knows his way around big institutional budgets.
Rick Scott is the man to lead America’s response to the coronavirus attack. Most politicians shrink in a crisis. (Mike Pence seems to be providing a contemporary example.) Rick Scott comes up large and in charge.
Would he accept the job? Would he be willing to give up a Senate seat if Chuck Schumer, that ol’ strict constructionist, found it intolerable to vest executive authority in a legislator? Yes. Scott’s a patriot. But he’s no fool. He’d probably say to the president, “I’ll do my best for you and the country, Mr. President, but I’d want you to refer all questions about the virus to me, sir. If you can’t do that, and I would understand completely if you couldn’t, then I’m not your man.” There’s no bluff in Rick Scott.