FIGHTIN' WORDS

WITHOUT PRINCIPLE

For all the heat Charlie Crist takes for his shameless shapeshifting, Rick Scott is hardly better

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The Florida governor's election is four months off, and already polls show that the race is, as Dan Rather would say, "tight like a too-small bathing suit on a too-long ride home from the beach" — within the margin of error, both Charlie Crist and Rick Scott trudging along in the low-40s nether region of political popularity.

This is not at all surprising. There are many more similarities than differences between Scott and Crist. For all the criticism Crist got about his Republican act — and subsequent repudiation thereof — Scott's play this election season is just as cynical. He's serving up some concessions to his party's wingnuts, then selling them out on other issues, with every move driven by political considerations rather than core beliefs.

One such gambit: extending in-state tuition at state colleges and universities to children of illegal immigrants, a complete reversal of his earlier position.

The governor's office has 
been mum on the philosophical evolution behind the shift — assuming one exists — with Scott and the other Republicans who flipped instead issuing bromides about affordable access to higher education, dodging the immigration debate altogether in their official statements.

But not everyone in the GOP, which has made so much hay these last few years hating on undocumented immigrants, is falling in line. State Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, had this to say in the debate leading up to the bill's passage: "I know it feels good giving benefits away. We are giving so many benefits to non-citizens. … Does it matter even being an American citizen anymore?"

It's quite likely that the Rick Scott of four years ago — the one who campaigned as a Tea Party champion — would, like Bean, have castigated a sitting governor for such a reversal. Especially the same sitting governor who pledged as a candidate to crack down on illegal immigration, and who just last June vetoed a bill that would've given drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants.

If Scott had faced a primary challenge like what Eric Cantor faced in Virginia, he wouldn't have had the room to "evolve." Luckily for him, he doesn't have to mollify the right vis-à-vis Hispanic outreach. Where else are the xenophobic yahoos going to go?

Scott can moderate on immigration to court South Florida, but he still has to prove his culture warrior bona fides somewhere, by taking at least one atavistic and odious position. And what better place to take that stand than in the wombs of Florida women, with a draconian new abortion law signed on Friday the 13th?

The state's previous third-trimester abortion ban wasn't enough for Republicans; they established a new criterion: if a doctor determines that the baby could survive outside the womb, the pregnancy must be carried to term. The new law goes into effect July 1, and it likely will accomplish little beyond complicating the lives of the women who become pregnant. It may curb the number of abortions, assuming doctors want to do Tallahassee's dirty work. (Though not many: Only about 1 percent of abortions are performed after the 20th week of pregnancy.) It will not, however, ensure that those children brought to term will be raised in loving environments, or will be given what they need to succeed when they become adults.

Then again, the postpartum welfare of these fetuses is not Scott's problem. His concern is keeping the loud voices on the right quiet during his re-election campaign by throwing them some red meat.

What is clear is that whatever commitment Governor Rick Scott has to any position is driven by whichever election he faces at the time, much more so than ideological considerations. Thus, anything this governor says (much like his opponent) should be considered a position open to evolution should events dictate. Rick Scott is not an ideologue. He's just another poll-driven politician — the kind Floridians love.

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