Inconvenient Truths

All the news of jobs last week was no doubt a relief to Florida Gov. Rick Scott — the Jobs Bill, job losses, protesters demanding jobs, the death of Steve Jobs. The flood of keyword clutter in the headlines provided Google cover for the governor’s own jobs story, the one in which it was revealed that his campaign-era jobs pledge was a fiction.

You may remember Scott’s 7-7-7 slogan, a promise to bring 700,000 jobs to the state in seven years. That vow was built on a somewhat unsteady set of assumptions, including the idea that slashing business and environmental regs is the surest path to growth, and that the 5 percent of state workers he also promised to fire upon taking office “didn’t count” in that calculation (this governor only values private sector jobs).

Whether or not you credited Scott’s reasoning, his campaign slogan was anything but ambiguous: Seven years, 700,000 jobs. Fairly hard to fudge.

Still, reporters on the campaign trail pressed Scott for details. Did he mean 700,000 jobs on top of the 1 million projected to come to the state anyway through anticipated growth patterns?

Yes, he assured them, that’s exactly what he meant. “That plan is on top of what normal growth would be,” he told a moderator at an Oct. 10, 2010 debate.

The boldness of the guarantee prompted the moderator to follow up. After all, he noted, Florida itself had only 1 million unemployed people. Scott’s promise to create 700,000 more jobs beyond that seemed, well, audacious. Scott refused to yield. “My whole goal is we’re going to grow the state,” he insisted.

The simplicity of the 7-7-7 plan appealed to voters, and coupled with his “Let’s Get to Work” slogan, proved essential in his narrow, 1-percent-margin victory. Scott acknowledged as much in February. “That was my whole campaign.”

It was also a total ruse. Last week, the governor did what the truth-in-politics website PolitiFact Florida dubbed a “full flop” on his campaign pledge (bit.ly/pwpKrD), now claiming that he’d never promised to create 700,000 jobs on top of the 1 million projected. “No, that’s not true,” Scott said when a reporter reminded him of the specifics of the 7-7-7 pledge. “I don’t know who said that. I have no idea.”

Pressed last Wednesday, he again denied ever saying that he’d promised a net 1.7 million jobs, even when one reporter gently chided him, “Of course, they’ve got you on tape saying that.” The governor shrugged (video at bit.ly/qT5UDV).

It’s no mystery why Scott might want to revise his estimates. The state’s economic picture has dimmed significantly, even since last year’s election. Projected job growth in Florida has dropped from an estimated 175,000 next year to 64,000, and the state’s recession rebound is now expected to take at least a decade. But a big part of the mass appeal of Scott’s 7-7-7 plan was its rigid, even foolish consistency (why seven years?). If the 700,000 jobs figure is unfairly unfungible, it’s his own fault.

The idea that he might actually have been promising a net 700,000 jobs, as he now says, is implausible, given that economists were predicting the state would see 1 million new jobs by 2017 — no matter who the governor might be. A pledge to do less than that — to deliver 300,000 fewer jobs than were already predicted — would not have won him (or anyone) election. And obviously that’s not what Scott promised. The videos prove as much.

What’s surprising about the governor’s backtracking is not so much that he’s failing to do what he promised as a candidate — a lot of politicians do that. It’s that he’s lying about what he promised — and pretending not to fail. For a politician who’s managed to get far more wrong than right since taking office (see p. 14), Gov. Rick Scott’s mendacity on the most fact-checkable of campaign promises speaks not of politics but pathology.

Anne Schind

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