Letter from Tallahassee: Shifting political fortunes in the Sunshine State

by Christian R. Camara on May 2, 2012 · View Comments

There’s good news in Florida these days, and certainly something that gives Gov. Rick Scott some bragging rights. The state’s unemployment rate has dipped to 9%, which is a drop of 0.4 percentage points, the largest monthly decrease in almost twenty years. When Gov. Scott took office, the unemployment rate was nearly 12%. This is a major boost to Gov. Scott, who has been suffering from poor approval ratings essentially since he first took office. Scott has made job creation his top priority and even his campaign slogan was “Let’s Get To Work.”

Of course, 9% is still above the national average of roughly 8.2%, but Florida’s rate of decline in unemployment largely outpaces the nation’s. Many have dismissed Scott as a one-term governor due to his poor poll numbers, but I have always pointed to Charlie Crist’s sky high approval numbers this time four years ago as proof that political winds change on a whim. Four years ago, it was totally inconceivable that Crist would lose any race in 2010, and yet in less than a year his political fortunes made a drastic 180 degree turn. If Florida’s economic and unemployment figures continue to improve, Scott will be nearly impossible to defeat in 2014.


Speaking of elections, the Florida Senate race had a bit of a hiccup recently when it was revealed that Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater was considering making a late entrance into the GOP Primary. The race for the GOP nomination currently pits Rep. Connie Mack IV (son of Florida’s popular former Sen. Connie Mack III and great-grandson of the legendary baseball manager Connie Mack) against former Sen. George LeMieux and retired Army Col. Mike McCalister running a distant third.

Polls show Mack handily winning the GOP nomination, but not fairing as well against incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in the general election. Despite his decent poll numbers in the primary, however, it would appear that Mack has not been able to consolidate grassroots support or generate much energy for his campaign. George LeMieux, on the other hand, has been traveling the state and meeting with just about every Republican organization he possibly can. Despite his close ties to Republican pariah Charlie Crist, many in the grassroots and Tea Party circles are giving LeMieux a second look due to his strong ability to articulate conservative principles. Those against LeMieux, however, point to his years-long association with Charlie Crist, during which time he advised him on policy, politics, and later touted much of the governor’s liberal record. Those critical of Mack argue that he spends more time in California with his wife, Rep. Mary Bono, than he does in Florida.

Due to the apparent enthusiasm void for both these candidates, CFO Atwater toyed with the idea of jumping into the race, especially due to Florida law that does not require officeholders to resign if they run for a federal position. Tallahassee insiders all felt he would run, but he announced via Facebook several days later that he was going to focus on the job he was elected to do.


On a more serious note, Florida made a bit of history this week when its state-run property insurer, Citizens Property Insurance Corp., issued $750 million in catastrophe bonds. Nearly three times larger than originally planned, the purchase is said to be the largest of its kind and an important change in how Florida chooses to protect itself from damages that exceed its ability to pay.

If losses in Citizens’ coastal account exceed $6.35 billion at any point during the next two years, the bonds kick in. Proceeds not spent during the 2012 hurricane season would be available for the losses in 2013. This is certainly a step in the right direction because it shifts much of Florida’s hurricane risk away from taxpayers. Absent private reinsurance coverage and these other types of transactions, Floridians would be forced to pay massive assessments on their policies to cover any deficits Citizens Property Insurance Corp. or the state-run reinsurer known as the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund might run following a bad hurricane season. The Citizens board deserves props for its decision to shift risk away from taxpayers and onto the private market, and legislators and others who say the private market does not have the will or ability to step in should take note.

Until next time!

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