Rick Scott challenged on his past at Columbia/HCA during first campaign appearance

When asked why he thinks he can run the state like he ran his business, he said the same principles applied.  He talked about being committed to making things happen, and he stressed that one has to get along with people. In his speech, he emphasized one of the best things he has going this year, as Americans continue to say they hate politicians.  That is, that he isn't one.

'It's time to bring in outsiders,"he said, hitting one of his favorite themes  "One of the first rules in business is, don't run out of money, and the federal govt. and the state don't get that."

He talked about his ads, and how they emphasize that he's not a career politician, that he believes in accountability ("we're going to have measurable goals that we can all as taxpayers...and hold them accountable.")

On Immigration, where his tough stance on illegals has no doubt touched a chord in the Florida GOP electorate: "I believe in the rule of law.  I believe the federal government has let us down as a country.  I believe we need to secure our borders.  ..If people aren't here legally, I think they should leave.  It's common sense," he said to his first round of applause.  Saying "you just can't say we're not going to do offshore drilling," earned him his second round of applause.

He said he's just now putting  a campaign team together, and will soon release an economic plan.

During his speech, Scott displayed virtually no stage presence whatsoever.  Initially speaking with his arms behind his back, he began by giving a brief biographical tour of his life, including how enlisted in the Navy and got married at the age of 19.  He has two daughters in their 20's.  He said that in 1987 he had saved up $125,000 and then borrowed $61(!) million to begin his hospital company, and ended up building the biggest hospital company in the world.

CL spoke afterwards with Tampa State Senator Victor Crist, who is being term limited out of office after 18 years.  He was extremely skeptical that Scott could swiftly convert from being a businessman to the governor of Florida in such a rapid fashion.

"Government is about relationships.  It's different than businesses," Crist said. "In business you either own it and call the shots yourself, or you're a COO who answers to a board of directors which is relatively small.  In government, you have three branches.  And for a governor to be effective you have to develop a relationship and win the support of the legislature.  And both have to depend on an independent judiciary, so it's like a three point triangle, and I didn't hear a whole lot of working knowledge of how that triangle works.  And that troubles me, because as governor they need to hit the road running right out of the get go and they need to understand the process and how to work it in order to facilitate their agenda."

Others CL spoke with weren't so harsh, but also weren't willing to commit to supporting Scott.

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. 

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