Nixon had Checkers. Reagan had Rex. Rick Scott? Well, he had Reagan—“had” being the operative word. Reagan the disposable dog.
In April 2010, Rick Scott announced his run for the Florida governor’s mansion. Scott spent between 60-80 million dollars of his own money along the way, but his dog came free. Scott adopted a shelter dog, perhaps to smooth over his image as the former captain of HCA/Columbia hospitals, which paid nearly 2 billion dollars in fines and pled guilty to more than a dozen fraud-related felonies, many of which were committed under Scott’s watch. Accused by his opponents of fraud, mismanagement, and incompetence, Scott added fuel to the political fires by refusing in August 2010 to disclose lawsuit testimony in which he pled the 5th Amendment some 75 times (the 5th Amendment is the one that says a person cannot be compelled to testify against himself if he fears his answers will implicate him in criminal activity).
On September 7, 2010, with the election nearing, Scott announced on his Facebook page the results of a “fun contest” he held to have his Facebook friends name his “newly adopted pup,” featuring a photo of the dog. The winning name: Reagan.
Scott managed to eke out a plurality win in November 2010, besting Democrat Alex Sink by 1.3 percentage points. As for Reagan, well, it turns out no one had seen much of “Reagan” since Scott took office. Reporters pressed Scott’s staff about Reagan’s whereabouts, but got no answers. After some shuffling about, Scott finally admitted that Reagan had been returned to his previous owner. The governor’s staff followed up, indicating the dog had been returned to All Pets Grooming & Boarding in Naples, Florida.
For the past two years, Scott’s approval ratings have bobbed around between 30 and 40 percent, while his disapproval ratings have averaged near 50 percent. Scott did nothing to help by recently announcing a Department of Health hotline number, but accidently reciting instead the number for a phone sex hotline. One must wonder what “Reagan’s Return” will do to Scott’s numbers.
If the reactions of Facebook members are any indication, Scott is in for it. Back in 2010, the comments included: “God bless you, Mr. Scott,” “Rick, so very pleased you chose a shelter dog! It’s such a GREAT example to others,” and “Hopefully Florida will have a ‘Reagan’ in the house!” Current comments tend to express justifiable outrage: “You have shown you are not trustworthy…even to the most defenseless creatures” and “Hopefully people will remember this when you are up for re-election. I know I certainly will.” Perhaps voters need not remember, as we are sure to see Reagan again when the political ads crank up next year.
Matt Schultz is a shareholder with the Levin Papantonio Law Firm in Pensacola, Florida. He is a member of the Florida Bar and a former member of the Florida Bar’s Federal Court Practice Committee. He is a Senior Writer for the national publication The Trial Lawyer Magazine.