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Fla. Gov. Scott Starts Second Term With Markedly Different Tone


As Congress started in Washington, Florida held a swearing-in for the second term of Governor Rick Scott. He was a Tea Party favorite when first elected four years ago. He won re-election by shifting to a more moderate tone, as NPR's Greg Allen reports.


GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: It was a beautiful day outside Florida's old, historic Capitol building. A military band played. There were sunny skies - the temperature in the mid-50s. Rick Scott appeared more relaxed and confident than when he first took office as a political newcomer four years ago. After a first term marred by a chronically low approval rate, Scott won re-election by edging out former governor Democrat Charlie Crist. Yesterday, Scott took a conciliatory tone, saying the election is over.


GOVERNOR RICK SCOTT: Now we need to turn to governing. We need to turn to doing exactly the right thing for all the families of Florida. That's all the families - Republicans, Democrats, Independents and the nearly 20 million people that live in our great state.

ALLEN: Also on stage yesterday were two Republican governors from other states - New Jersey's Chris Christie and former Texas Governor Rick Perry - a reminder of the role Scott and Florida may play in the upcoming presidential election. Scott made no mention of another big story in Florida this week - court decisions that, for the first time, allow gay couples to legally marry in the state. But even so, it was a tone markedly different from four years ago when Scott pledged to shake up Tallahassee and transform state government. Democrat Mark Pafford is minority leader in the Florida House.

REPRESENTATIVE MARK PAFFORD: He said he was going to slash and burn. And he did that. And it hasn't, in my opinion, been very helpful to this state.

ALLEN: Scott balanced Florida's budget by making big cuts in spending on education and the environment. And he turned away billions of dollars in federal money for a high-speed rail system. As the economy improved and the election approached, though, Scott restored some education spending. And even said he'd support Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, a program he once railed against. Republican Andy Gardiner, majority leader in the Senate, says like all governors, Scott has grown in office.

REPRESENTATIVE ANDY GARDINER: You know, there is a learning process as you move forward - what you think you're going to come into and what you're ultimately given. You understand the role of government, and you do your best to balance all those as you move forward.

ALLEN: When he first ran for office, Scott promised to help Florida businesses create 700,000 jobs over seven years. He told reporters the new jobs would be in addition to the million positions economists said Florida would already get from its expected growth. But counting jobs can be controversial and messy. As of now, Florida hasn't added anything close to 1.7 million jobs. Yesterday, Scott disregarded the controversy. To loud applause, he said in just four years, he'd already made good on his pledge.


SCOTT: Florida's economy was losing jobs. Housing prices were dropping. Many predicted it'd take way more than seven years to get out of the downward spiral of job loss and increased debt, but we proved them wrong.

ALLEN: There is little question that over the last four years, Florida's economy has made a remarkable comeback. Its economy is now growing faster than that of the nation as a whole. At yesterday's inauguration, though, there was still a glimpse of the ideas that made Scott a favorite with the Tea Party. He said Florida would continue to fight against, quote, "the silent growth of government."


SCOTT: In fact, this national battle against growing governments so intensely affects Florida that we recently surpassed New York as the third-largest state.

ALLEN: Scott attributes the state growth to its low taxes and business-friendly climate. Others point to Florida's mild weather. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.

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