Rick Scott is a 57-year-old resident of Naples who has dropped approximately $6 million into the Republican race for governor since entering the race less than seven weeks ago, and is already running a competitive race against long time front-runner Bill McCollum. He's a health care executive best known nationally for opposing health care reform in the 1990's, and again over the past year. He's also well known for his unceremonious departure as chairman of Columbia/HCA in 1997, a decade after he helped create HCA.
Last night in downtown Tampa in his first campaign appearance as a political candidate - ever - Scott spoke to a packed room filled with members of the Tampa Bay Young Republicans high atop the Bank of America building. He spoke for only about 11 minutes in his formal speech, and at the end, addressed the elephant in the room - his ouster from Columbia/HCA's board of directors in 1999 in the middle of the country's biggest health care fraud scandal ( the company later plead guilty to Medicaid and Medicare fraud, paying a record fine of $1.7 billion).
"I tell people you know, people make mistakes," he began. "That's what happens at companies. So, clearly employees made mistakes. As CEO, whether you like it or not, you take responsibility when you're a CEO. You can't give excuses." A moment later he said "we should have put more money into internal auditors , external auditors, and I wish we had. But you learn lessons. You're held accountable. In government, you're not held accountable."
But during the question and answer session that immediately followed, one person in the back clearly wasn't satisfied with that response.
"How could you be aware of a billion dollars in Medicaid fraud?" one man asked (after the speech, he refused to let CL know his name). "As the CEO of the state, which is what you'd be if you win, would you not be responsible for what happens with those employees?," he asked.
Scott replied that "you create measurement systems and you do the best you can.....and sometimes it's not perfect...I feel as governor, I'll apply all the lessons I learned and I'll create measurement systems to try to make sure that I'm the best governor and all the right things happen," he said.
There was definitely a sense of skepticism in the room. One man asked Scott how many campaigns he had been involved with. Scott said most of his participation has been in giving financial contributions to candidates he supports.