There’s an old Japanese proverb that says, "When the character of a man is not clear to you, look at his friends."
Applying this adage to Florida Gov. Rick Scott is somewhat difficult because he doesn’t seem to have many friends these days. A June poll from Public Policy Polling found that Scott’s approval rating was just 39 percent, making him one of the most unpopular governors in America.
Unfortunately for Scott, a number of the friends he does have are turning out to be corrupt criminals.
On Aug. 27, Scott Batterson, one of Scott’s appointees to the state’s Expressway Authority, was convicted on charges of bribery and other corruption. Batterson faces up to 15 years in prison. The Orlando Sentinel reported that Batterson and his allies planned to take over the authority and use its $300 million in toll revenues to "win contracts for friends and further their own careers."
Batterson is far from the first Scott ally to engage in corrupt and illegal practices. Last year, Scott’s current chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, admitted that he repeatedly lied on his 2011 membership application to Enterprise Florida, a public-private economic development agency.
Hollingsworth’s predecessor, Steve MacNamara, resigned in 2012 following revelations of a scandal in which MacNamara helped secure lucrative no-bid contracts for his associates.
In February, Manny Maroño, former mayor of Sweetwater and a close ally of Scott, began serving a prison sentence for his own corruption scandal.
It’s also worth remembering that Scott himself has a criminal past. Before his election to the Florida House of Representatives, Scott was the CEO of Columbia/HCA, a health care conglomerate. During Scott’s time at Columbia/HCA, the company was involved in a $1.7 billion Medicare fraud settlement, the largest such settlement in Medicare history.
In 2000, Scott gave a deposition in which he invoked the Fifth Amendment, which protects American citizens from self-incrimination in criminal investigations, a remarkable 75 times.
Even if Scott wasn’t directly responsible for his company’s illegal activity — and that’s a generous assumption — the corrupt behavior of his friends and associates is a clear demonstration of his own character.
At this point, the best defense one could present for Scott is that he is an aloof and incompetent executive unaware of the rampant corruption taking place on his watch.
Leaving aside Scott’s numerous policy failures during his time as governor, his penchant for appointing and associating with corrupt individuals is a shameful mark on our state.
Scott is far from the first corrupt Florida politician, but there’s no doubt that he’s mastered the art.
In November, Florida voters will get the chance to reject four more years of the corruption that Scott has allowed to run rampant in our state. The people of Florida deserve better than what Scott has to offer.
[A version of this story ran on page 6 on 9/4/2014 under the headline "Corrupt behavior of Scott’s allies speaks volumes"]