“Let’s Keep Working” was the chant when Governor Rick Scott held a campaign stop on June 12 at the American Legion Post 240 on Gulf Beach Highway. The rally was part of his weeklong “College Affordability” tour across the state that highlighted his successful efforts to provide in-state tuition to military veterans and reverse automatic tuition increases he attributed to his predecessor Charlie Crist, who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor.
“It is ridiculous how high college tuition is,” Scott said, flanked by State Rep. Jimmy Patronis, (R-Panama City), Sheriff David Morgan, Mayor Ashton Hayward and County Commissioner Wilson Robertson. “This is a week about college affordability. Charlie Crist passed legislation that said tuition could go up 15 percent every year.”
The American Legion hall was chosen because Scott, who served in the Navy as radar technician on the USS Glover, wanted to make the point that military veterans are important to his administration.
“We want Florida to be the most military-friendly state,” he said before a crowd of about 80 faithful Republicans, “and the most veteran-friendly state. I want to help our veterans live their version of the American dream.”
The Florida Legislature passed this year the “Florida G.I. Bill” that not only offered military veterans in-state tuition, but also waived fees for professional licenses for 60 months after honorable discharge, up from the current 24 months. The governor said the legislation made it easier for veterans to get their Florida licenses for jobs they performed while in the military.
“With this G.I. bill if you are honorably discharged, in the state of Florida you’re going to get in-state tuition,” he explained in an impromptu press conference after the campaign rally. “If you look at prepaid tuition, it’s about $53,000. It’s going to go down by about $20,000. The monthly payment will go from about $350 to $250, so we’re headed in the right direction.”
Governor Scott wants military veterans to move to Florida. “I want all the veterans to move to our state,” he told the media after the rally. “We have 1.5 million veterans. I want to make sure that they get great healthcare, that they get in-state tuition.”
The governor talked about his concerns with the quality of care in the VA facilities located in Florida. “It was really disappointing when I began to hear about veterans dying and being injured in our VA facilities,” he said. “The first thing I did was say we will send in our state inspectors that inspect other hospitals. They will help them with accountability and transparency. Unfortunately they were turned away, which shocked me. Shouldn’t they want our help?”
In May, three officials with the Gainesville, Fla. VA’s mental health department were put on administrative leave after the VA’s Inspector General’s Office found a secret waiting list with over 200 patients.
“When we heard about the secret wait list in Gainesville, I sent them back. Our inspectors were turned away again,” Scott said. These are the same inspectors that worry about the care of all Florida citizens, including veterans. So now what I have done is we’ve sued the federal government and said we’re going to establish our right to help our VA facilities get better. We want accountability. We want transparency. Our veterans need high quality healthcare. They’ve defended our freedom. They should get high quality healthcare.”
On June 9, Governor Scott signed a bill into that would allow Florida students living in the country illegally to qualify for in-state college tuition rates.
“Our federal government has failed us,” he said. “They don’t have an immigration policy that works, but in our state we’re going to do the right thing. If you grow up in our state, you are going to get the same in-state tuition as your peers. I want to make sure every child has the most affordable education possible.”
Scott ended the questions with his standard stump speech:
“We’ve done a variety of things. We’ve made sure our universities are not going to raise the tuition like the 15 percent under Charlie Crist, plus inflation. We have performance funding for our universities. Primarily what it cost for a degree and do you get a job once you’re out and how much money do you make. Our universities are now focused on where the jobs are.
“What is positive for our state is we have not only added 600,000 jobs, but we also have about 270,000 jobs openings in our state. You know if you graduate in our state, you will be able to get a great job. I want people to continue to move to our state. We’re going to have a significant number of people move here this year and they are going to continue to get jobs. Our unemployment rate has gone down from 11.1 to 6.2 percent. And hopefully it will continue to go down.”
Before the governor headed off to his next campaign stop, The Independent News had few minutes to ask him about the attention he has given Northwest Florida this year.
“We had a lot of flooding in the panhandle,” Scott said. “We’re going to make sure the state does the right thing, which we are. The county and city have done the right thing. We need to make FEMA does the right thing.”
He was proud of the job creation in Escambia County.
“This part of the state is doing well,” he said. “Navy Federal Credit Union, just in the past three years, has added about 2,000 jobs. Your mayor does a great job, we get to travel the world sometimes together, calling on companies to get more jobs here. It’s clearly working.”