TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Republican Rick Scott was to be sworn in as Florida's 45th governor Tuesday with promises to streamline government, make the state more attractive to businesses and to gradually phase out the corporate income tax.
Scott was unknown to Floridians when he entered the governor's race last spring, frustrating the Republican establishment who had already decided longtime politician and Attorney General Bill McCollum would be their candidate. But other than his repeated calls of "Let's get to work," voters and Tallahassee insiders still are wondering what kind of governor Scott will be.
Scott says it's simple.
"I'm not going to surprise anybody. I told people what I was going to do, that's what I'm going to do," Scott, 58, said in a recent interview.
His message, also simple, hasn't changed since day one of the campaign. Job creation is the top goal. He repeatedly says Florida already has many of the tools it needs to attract business - good weather, great beaches, no income tax and it's a right-to-work state.
He wants to make it more attractive by gradually phasing out the state's corporate income tax, which provides Florida with about $2 billion a year. He also wants to have his administration review every state regulation and ask the question what would happen if it didn't exist. He wants to further protect businesses from lawsuits and said he will look at every government agency cost and ask if the state is getting a return on the investment.
And don't talk about it being a four-year project.
"I'm planning on eight," said Scott, already looking ahead to his second term before his first has even started.
He replaces Gov. Charlie Crist, who lost a bid for Senate instead of seeking a second term.
While state government is bracing itself for the change Scott says he'll bring, many are taking a hopeful look at the new governor.
"There will be a difference in what you had and what you've got. He is not a cheerleading kind of guy. Charlie had a different style as governor," lobbyist Ron Book said. "He was an eternal optimist. This guy is more of a realist to what he's facing ... He's going to move things."
Never having run for office before, Scott ran his campaign like a business. He hired a large staff of professionals that helped him craft his strategy. He plastered his message on television with well-produced ads and was willing to invest tens of millions of dollars of his own money to make sure he succeeded.
It wasn't easy. McCollum's campaign went brutally negative, questioning Scott's ethics because of massive Medicaid fraud at Columbia/HCA when Scott was CEO of the hospital chain. Republicans questioned whether he was fit to serve, and when he won the primary, Democrats picked up where they left off as GOP leaders suddenly boasted of Scott's business skills.
Crist planned to attend Scott's inauguration as his last official act before leaving office. He said he has been in touch with his successor a few times a week since the election.
"I'm very impressed, I've got to tell you. He's a very earnest man and certainly he has proven to be that and a lot more and I think he has a genuine concern about the future of our state," Crist said. "There will certainly be changes, everyone has their own style and puts their own stamp on the administration."
One thing Scott said won't change is continuing efforts Crist made to make government more open and accessible to the public.
"I think we should see more transparency," said Scott, who plans to keep the Office of Open Government Crist established as his first official act. "I told people I believe in transparency, I'm going to be transparent."
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)