On a sunny and very warm Saturday afternoon, Florida’s Republican gubernatorial candidate, Rick Scott, stepped out of an SUV. His wife of 37 years was with him. Fourteen Tea Party groups had gathered to welcome Rick Scott, Marco Rubio and Pam Bondi to St. Augustine. Rubio and Bondi, both Republicans, are candidates for U.S. Senator and State Attorney General, respectively.
Had the political banners not been present, one could have easily mistaken this Saturday’s enormous crowd for a rock concert. The stage from where Scott, Rubio and Bondi would speak was designed in the form of a ship, the Dartmouth, reminiscent of the Boston Tea Party ship, with a huge American flag for a backdrop.
Thousands of people waited at Francis Field, very close to the historic site of Castillo de San Marcos, where Spaniards once stood defending the city of St. Augustine. Not far away is what remains of the old walls which surrounded this city, founded by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, on the eighth of September, 1565—carrying a cross and intoning the Te Deum Laudamus (“We Praise Thee, O God”) with banners waving in the sultry air, much like banners waved today to welcome these political aspirants, to the oldest city in the United States of America.
The 16th century Spaniards who founded this city defended their faith and their beliefs. Likewise, Rick Scott was here this afternoon to defend what he believes are the principles that made America great.
While my presence in St. Augustine was unrelated to the Tea Party gathering, the opportunity to speak to Rick Scott was indeed, a unique one. Scott is an enigma in the world of politics, and there are many issues that need to be addressed— issues that require a commitment beyond Scott’s slogan of “Let’s get to work.”
One such issue is a scandal that continues to unfold in Collier County, in the heart of Naples, where Rick Scott resides. This scandal has erupted as a result of the Jackson lab proposal, which could involve millions in taxpayer dollars.
The Jackson lab is a genetic facility hoping to open a new branch in Ave Maria, a town in Eastern Collier County, founded in 2007, under a controversial “Special District” government. The Jackson Lab proposal of using tax payer dollars is of great concern to Collier County taxpayers, and has angered many Collier County citizens. Meetings, polls, conversations, media interviews, and many, many heated arguments have taken place as a result of the Board of Collier County Commissioners refusing to allow Collier County citizens to vote on the use of taxpayer funding for the Jackson Lab. The Letters to the Editor section of the Naples Daily News is a living testament of the indignation felt by so many. The Naples Daily News poll continues to show that 84 percent of responders are against any taxpayer funding of the Jackson Lab.
The battle over the Jackson Lab “deal” has raged in Collier County for several months. On August 22, 2010 the Naples Daily News published a story titled “Naples' Rick Scott, candidate for Florida governor, speaks out against Jackson Lab deal at hometown meet up.” The following are excerpts from the Naples story:
Rick Scott entered a Naples restaurant and pub filled predominantly with his supporters and took a stance against Jackson Labs. Previously the candidate was somewhat unclear about his views on the proposal.
The Jackson Labs deal doesn't look to be the answer, he said on Sunday night.
It was standing room only at Mulligan's Sports Grille in Naples near the Coastland Center mall as Scott, who began with his somewhat vague and noncommittal stance on the Jackson Labs proposal in Collier County finished his sentence saying it looked to be a bad deal for taxpayers.
Regarding similar deals across the state, including U.S. Sugar and the Tri-Rail project, Scott began on Sunday as he had throughout the campaign: “Spend capital where you're going to get a return on investment.”
“Would we do this with our own money?” he asked the crowd.
After a resounding “no” from many of the hundreds of partakers in the meet and greet, Scott then said:
“The way I look at all these projects, is that there is not a good return, so I wouldn't support it,” he said.
Scott also doesn’t support the use of stimulus money, on which Jackson Labs is contingent.
On August 23rd, following the NDN article, I spoke with Rick Scott’s campaign spokeswoman, Jennifer Baker, regarding Mr. Scott’s stance on The Jackson Lab proposal—having been described by NDN as “previously…. somewhat unclear.” Ms. Baker offered the following statement, which was published on August 24, 2010 in TheRomanCatholicWorld.com and Spero News.
“This was the first time he [Rick Scott] was asked [about The Jackson Lab proposal]. His comments last night speak to what he thinks about the Jackson lab deal. This has not been a major issue in the campaign, so we do not talk about it every day. The Naples Daily News quote, I think, very clearly articulates his position on the deal. I think that Rick’s statement is very clear as to where he stands on the issue. It’s very clear what he thinks about the deal.”
I asked Ms. Baker how Rick Scott feels about the fact that Collier County citizens are not being given the right to vote on the Jackson lab proposal. Ms. Baker responded that Rick Scott was on an airplane and could not be reached for specific comments.
So, during Mr. Scott’s visit to St. Augustine, I began by asking the following:
MMdeR: My name is Marielena Montesino de Stuart, from Ave Maria. I am a writer.
RS: Oh, that’s really nice. We’ve been out there [Ave Maria] once.
MMdeR: I understand that you are against taxpayer funding for the Jackson Lab.
RS: I have not taken a position on that. [He repeated this three times].
After my initial question Rick Scott was expected on stage, so his Communications Representative was very courteous in allowing me to resume my questions after his speech was over.
So, I continued by asking Mr. Scott where he stands on the fact that Collier County citizens are being denied the right to vote regarding the use of taxpayer funds in the Jackson Lab proposal. Mr. Scott responded that he does not support projects that “do not bring a good return to the people” but that the Jackson Lab proposal involves an issue of “representative government,” --and again, Mr. Scott affirmed that he has not taken a position on the Jackson Lab deal.
My questions to Mr. Scott were strictly limited to the Jackson Lab matter. Yet, in parting, Mr. Scott commented again that he had visited Ave Maria once, and liked “the big cathedral.” Then, Mr. Scott added some interesting information: that he is “good friends” with a senior official at Ave Maria University, and that he is “trading phone calls” with the Tom Monaghan camp. Tom Monaghan is the controversial pizza tycoon, Chancellor of Ave Maria University—and partner with Barron Collier Companies in the Ave Maria real estate venture.
Monaghan has been reported as giving the “Go ahead with it” to the Jackson Lab’s move to Ave Maria.
Mr. Scott’s responses regarding the Jackson Lab deal are inconsistent with what appeared in the Naples Daily News (Aug. 22, 2010) and with the statement quoted above during my interview with his campaign spokeswoman (Aug. 23, 2010); consequently, I have offered Mr. Scott and Ms. Baker the opportunity to make comments and clarifications.
Let’s get to work-- now
Given Rick Scott’s campaign slogan, “Let’s get to work” -- coupled with the fact that Mr. Scott is a resident of Collier County, it would be most appropriate that he put his slogan in action, by taking a clear stand on the Jackson Lab proposal. Mr. Scott’s failure to define himself on the issue of The Jackson Lab could cost him many votes right in his own home county. And surely, the thousands of Taxed Enough Already (TEA) Party members that welcomed him here today, did so because they believe that Mr. Scott stands behind their philosophy against government spending, excessive taxation, and suffocation of the economy through regulatory bureaucracies.
The urgency for Mr. Scott to define his stance on the Jackson lab deal cannot be stressed enough.
Rick Scott wants to be held accountable
Conservatives have taken Rick Scott at his word, even though, as I’ve said earlier in this article—he is an enigma as a politician, since he has not held political office before.
One way for Mr. Scott to show his gratitude to those who have believed in him is by putting into action the “accountability” factor, which is so passionately stressed in his campaign. By taking a stand on the Jackson Lab taxation proposal, Scott would allow voters in Collier County and elsewhere, to hold him accountable-- if he becomes governor of Florida. Scott’s campaign, after all, is based on transparency, and the Jackson Lab issue cannot wait until election day.
What Rick Scott is saying
Excerpts of Mr. Scott’s speech in St. Augustine:
We have a specific detailed plan. Seven steps… it’s exactly the way you run your households, and exactly the way you have to run your businesses. The first thing is—there is no free money. There is no so-called government money. We are going to watch how we spend every penny, just like you have to. If your income goes down, what do you do? You watch how you spend your money. What does the government do? Raise your taxes. We are not doing that. We are going to watch how we spend every dollar. We are going to downsize the size of state government.
We are going to drive down the size of state government, we are going to put all of our focus on how you grow the private sector. We are going to put a freeze on all regulations, and we are going to get rid of all the regulations that don’t make sense. We are going to quit earmarks.
How many of you like your property taxes?
We are going to drive down property tax rates by 19%. The only way we can do it is by driving down the size of state government. We are going to drive… we are going to actually reduce the dollars we spend.
We are going to phase out the business tax, so that everybody in business in the world says, if you are going to do business in America, the first place, absolutely the first place you think about doing business is the great State of Florida, because we are open for business.
Rick Scott says that he is pro-life. The following statements appear on his website:
Rick believes in the sanctity of human life.
Rick is pro-life. He is opposed to abortion and believes that Roe v. Wade should be overturned.
Scott Applauds Court Decision to Halt Funding of Embryonic Stem Cell Research
August 24, 2010 Fort Lauderdale, FL – A Federal judge today issued a temporary ban on the Obama Administration’s executive order aimed at the expansion of federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research.
“We applaud the court’s decision to halt the Obama Administration’s attempt to expand federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research, this is a good result for those on side of life,” said Scott campaign spokesman Jennifer Baker. “Voters should consider that just a few years ago, Bill McCollum went on the record saying this kind of destruction of life is ‘a pro-life position.’ We look forward to taking on Alex Sink as she tries to push Obama’s liberal pro-abortion agenda on Florida.”
The Jackson Lab holds “workshops” and provides “resources” for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research. Charles Hewett, VP of the Jackson Lab stated to the Naples Daily News on April 10, 2010, “We certainly are very thoughtful about the subject, but not willing to rule out doing human embryonic stem cell research.”
The Most Reverend Frank J. Dewane, Bishop of the Diocese of Venice in Florida, issued the following statement concerning the Jackson Lab on July 23, 2010, through his spokesman:
“While the Catholic Diocese of Venice in Florida is aware of the potential economic benefits of any company coming to the region, there are other questions which have a profound moral and ethical impact that must also be considered. Indeed, moral and ethical questions are at the very core of what constitutes truly authentic human and economic development. Authentic human and economic development, in keeping with the Teachings of the Catholic Church, highlights not only the ‘wants’ of life, but more profoundly, the ‘oughts.’ This is also the case with regard to The Jackson Laboratory’s proposal to operate in Collier County.”
“Jackson Laboratory’s purported association with and openness to human embryonic stem cell research causes the Diocese of Venice concern. Of particular note is a public statement made by the company that they are “not willing to rule out doing human embryonic stem cell research” (Naples Daily News, April 10, 2010) “…as is well known, since work on human embryonic stem cells involves the destruction of innocent human life, the Church does not approve of such research.”
“While encouraging and supporting biomedical research which respects innocent human life and advances the common good and in keeping fully with the Teachings of the Catholic Church, the Diocese of Venice has ethical and moral concerns as regards the potential activities at the proposed Jackson Laboratory facility.”
“Economic growth and development are not only components which impact the life of a community. An organization which truly respects the rights of all human beings could and should “rule out” human embryonic stem cell research. This is precisely because it involves the destruction of innocent human life and consequently, affects the community. Without such an understanding, the plan of Jackson Laboratory, as it has been reported, presents difficulty for the Diocese of Venice in Florida.”
One would think that the issue of the Jackson Lab’s involvement in the world of Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research, would make Mr. Scott immediately stand up and give a resounding NO!-- to the Jackson Lab’s proposed move to Florida. And never mind having taxpayer dollars pay for such an enterprise.
Can Ave Maria and Barron Collier Companies create a conflict for Rick Scott’s campaign?
The fact that Rick Scott would bring up his friendship with a senior official at Ave Maria University, and the “trading of phone calls” with the Tom Monaghan camp is interesting, to say the least—since, from a moral standpoint, Mr. Monaghan, a Catholic, has been at the center of the moral controversy over the Jackson Lab being welcomed to Ave Maria.
In addition, Mr. Monaghan has been a great disappointment to many in the pro-life world, for erecting a building in honor of Tom Golisano, at Ave Maria University. Tom Golisano, a billionaire/politician who moved to Naples from New York in 2009 in part to avoid taxes, has a notorious history of financial support of pro-choice NARAL-endorsed politicians, including Barack Obama—while he claims to always having been pro-life. Indeed, the honoring of Golisano at Ave Maria University is considered by many as an offense to the sacred battle for the defense of human life.
It has also been reported that Mr. Monaghan provided the land for the proposed Jackson Lab site. But Mr. Monaghan appears, to this day, unpersuaded by Bishop Dewane’s assessment of the moral issues surrounding the Jackson Lab.
In addition, the Jackson Lab is seen by many as a “bail out” of the Ave Maria real estate venture between Mr. Monaghan and Barron Collier Companies. As such, using taxpayer dollars to bring the Jackson Lab to Ave Maria, may present a double-layer of corporate welfare—something which Rick Scott vehemently opposes.
Given the moral and financial controversies surrounding the Jackson Lab-Ave Maria proposal, and the moral controversy surrounding Mr. Monaghan’s decision on The Jackson Lab and the honoring of Golisano, it appears that associating with the Ave Maria-Barron Collier camp could negatively affect Mr. Scott’s campaign for governor of Florida.
The Jackson Lab “deal” involves issues that are at the very core of what Rick Scott opposes, both morally and financially.
And Mr. Scott, who professes to be a man of faith, should know that, “No one can serve two masters. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
Marielena Montesino de Stuart writes for TheRomanCatholicWorld.com.