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The Man Beneath Charlie Crist's Wings

The Sun-Sentinel's report on Charlie Crist's air travel (along with a parallel investigation by the Times/Herald Tally bureau) supports my image of the man who is our governor. He's a politician who wants to hobnob with the elite while trying keep his own hands clean. A man who believes his destiny is to be a benevolent king. A fellow who wants to (apparently literally) fly above it all.

The problem for Crist is that we don't have kings in Florida, but governors. And just about everything Good-Time Charlie has touched so far has only revealed how truly out of touch he really is. The Big Sugar buyout, the Seminole compact, the Alligator Alley selloff -- all of these are big ideas with potentially devastating results for Florida and its economy. The man clearly needs to get back on the ground and do some real work.

The newspapers' investigations are valuable and it's not over. But it has strangely neglected to mention the long and controversial local history of Steven M. Scott, who supplied the planes for much of Crist's travel. The report didn't even mention that Scott's companies have for years provided emergency room doctors and pediatric care to the North Broward Hospital District, the giant public health system and Crist's key fiefdom in the county. The governor appoints members to the district's board and ultimately controls it and the roughly $200 million in tax dollars it collects each year from Broward's property owners. Scott's role in those companies today is unclear, but the man has made huge profits off the district.   

Scott has always known how to play the game. When Ken Jenne served as general counsel for NBHD -- now called Broward Health (why draw any attention at all that it's a taxing district, huh?) -- Scott poured tens of thousands into his campaign coffers. When Bill Scherer served as general counsel at the district and was ultimately responsible for all the district's legal affairs, Scott hired Scherer as an attorney for his company at the same time. It was part of a large investigation I conducted at the distict that prompted then-Gov. Jeb Bush to get rid of Scherer, along with CEO Wil Trower and just about the entire board.

(Scott's HMO, Vista Health, also recently secured a contract to provide health insurance to Broward County workers and that didn't come without controversy either. Vista hired the lobbying firm Dutko, Poole, and McKinley to lobby the county. At the time, lobbyist Russ Klenet was working for the firm and his wife, Broward County Mayor Stacy Ritter, voted for Vista. Oh, he also contributed a cool $5,000 to county commission campaign for good measure.)   

Scott has been sued for fraud and accused of looting a company and other wrongdoing, prompting this reporter to dub him the "Ken Lay of health care" back in 2005. Make no mistake, Scott represents everything that has gone wrong with the economy and, for that matter, America during the past decade and, just like the crooked Wall Street bankers, he has managed to skate.

And he loves to pour huge amounts of money into the political process -- a trait Gov. Crist apparently finds irresistable (see: Mendelsohn, Alan).  

Scott's history at the health district is key to understanding why he's supplying planes for the governor's travel, along with the fact that Scott has a $230 million contract to provide health insurance to state workers, which was mentioned in the Sentinel report. With the district, though, Crist has direct control. If the governor is accepting anything of value from Scott, it's clearly a violation of the state's ethics laws. And if Crist has used his office to benefit Scott, well, we're headed toward criminal territory under the state's unlawful compensation statute. On the Crist-to-Scott favor ledger, we already have the fact that the governor appointed Scott to the University of Florida's board of trustees (which was noted in the Sentinel's report).

That's why it is so important for Crist to show that he paid for all his personal travel on Scott's campaigns out of his own pocket. Crist is now claiming that's the case, but he's so far not supplying the documentation to back it up and is indicating he doesn't know where it is.

Better find those checks and start putting your defense together, Charlie. It's sort of important.

-- In other news, the Society of Professional Journalists is holding its first "support group" meeting for laid-off journos this evening at 7 p.m. It will be held at the Starbucks at 3305 Sheridan Street in Hollywood. Also, Stacey Singer's dream of starting a non-profit group to help out-of-work journalists has landed an attorney, Judy Goodman, who is volunteering her services free of charge. Singer relates that Goodman, the former editorial director at WPEC-TV in West Palm Beach, offered her expertise after reading the Pulp post on the effort, which is great to hear. A little something positive in this sea of newspaper despair is just what the doctor ordered. 

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman

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