CARTER: Gray Swoope playing risky political card in Florida

September 13, 2012

Economic Development, Politics

Gray Swoope, the former head of the Mississippi Development Authority who left for a similar role in Florida in early 2011, has inserted himself into a political blame game in the Sunshine State.

Swoope has been assigned the role of a blocking back of sorts for Rick Scott, Florida’s hugely unpopular Republican governor and the man who appointed him head of Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development entity. Swoope’s role: Ensure that the political fallout for the state’s loss of $20 million in economic development incentives with the bankruptcy of movie animator Digital Domain does not land on Scott. He instead must make sure any and all recriminations fall on Charlie Crist, a former GOP governor who is flirting with becoming a Democrat and challenging Scott in 2014.

Swoope’s task is not really that difficult: Crist, after all, as governor in 2009 joined with legislative leaders to do an end run around economic development procedures to make the ill-fated Digital Domain investment. The Hollywood animator had been making it rain around Tallahassee before it landed the state cash for setting up shop in Port St. Lucie, according to the Tampa Bay Times, which reports the animation company, headed by acclaimed director James Cameron, donated at least $70,000 to various politicians and committees.

Here’s what Swoope told the Tampa Bay Times:

“When the Digital Domain funding was awarded, there already were processes in place to ensure a thorough review of a company’s proposal for job creation and if incentives were recommended, what would be the return on the state’s investment.

“Unfortunately, in the case of Digital Domain incentive funding, the processes were circumvented.”

Swoope’s jobs creation agency had had a long tradition of staying out of politics and sticking to the business of creating business. He seems to be changing that by going after Crist (most certainly at Scott’s urging).

For employment purposes, Swoope’s move could backfire. Crist seems to want to be governor again – that, of course, would make him Swoope’s boss in a couple years.

Crist lost a U.S. Senate bid in 2010 running as an Independent against Marco Rubio, having been exiled from the GOP for not showing the proper disdain for President Obama. But the former governor is well liked across Florida and could draw strong support from both Democrats and Republicans in a challenge to Scott. A poll done last May by Florida Opinion Research shows Crist whipping Scott 48.1 percent to 34.5 percent.

The poll hardly surprises Floridians. Scott’s likeability has been tanking since the early days of an administration in which he took $1 billion out of the public schools’ budget. He simultaneously created a ton of ill will by turning down billions of federal dollars for a fast-rail project between Orlando and Tampa that had been projected to create 20,000 jobs in a state with unemployment at 12 percent at the time.

More recently, Scott has angered tens of thousands of homeowners in the state by trying to put the state’s windpool insurance organization out of business.

Here’s the Tampa Bay Times story on the Digital Domain fiasco:

 

 

 

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