For rail watchers, this is a suspense-filled week. Will Rick Scott keep or kill SunRail?
Obviously if Scott were a man of his word, he would kill it.
He promised to ax costly government spending. And this is about as costly as it gets.
Fortunately for train supporters, the governor has repeatedly proven that he doesn't take promises too seriously.
More important, with his approval ratings in the toilet, Scott has essentially launched the Re-inventing Rick Tour — where we suddenly see him doing things he vowed he wouldn't … and why we may just get rail after all.
See, if Scott was a man of his word, we wouldn't even be having this will-he-or-won't-he debate. He wouldn't have dragged out the debate for months. He simply would have killed SunRail and moved on.
That's what he did with high-speed rail between Tampa and Orlando. There were no months of hand-wringing. Scott simply declared it too much of a taxpayer burden, labeled it "ObamaRail" (even though Florida Republicans touted it long before Obama ever entered the White House) and struck it down.
Which brings us to RickRail.
See, if Scott signs off on SunRail, it will be his project as well.
So why is Scott even considering this project?
Not on behalf of weary Interstate 4 commuters, but rather because Rick Scott's about as popular as a bunion.
He has an approval rating of 29 percent, making him one of the least popular governors in America and in Florida's recent history.
Suddenly, the governor is learning that Tea Partiers alone do not make for a meaningful coalition.
And that an unpopular leader is an impotent leader.
A governor, after all, can issue only so many executive orders. He needs legislators and other leaders help him pass laws.
Yet right now, many politicians would rather be photographed in a compromising photo with a farm animal than shaking hands with Rick Scott.
That's why we're seeing the Reinventing Rick Tour.
First, there was his turn-around on public schools. After proposing a $3 billion cut to Florida schools (breaking his promise to "keep school budgets the same"), Scott did a 180 and called for more money for schools.
To help cultivate his new image, the Republican Party of Florida placed robo-calls to voters around the state, trying to convince them that education was now Scott's top priority.
The governor even penned a piece for this very newspaper, touting his dedication to "world class schools."
It was a strange act for a guy who had just proposed the biggest cuts to public education in Florida history.
Even stranger for someone who had repeatedly blustered that he didn't care what people thought about him. Poll results and popularity were for weaklings. So were newspapers, which Scott claimed he didn't even read.
Yet suddenly Scott was not only dying to write for the papers, he asked his supporters to do the same. His campaign even pre-wrote a letter to the editor in which Scott called himself "refreshing." Supporters simply filled in some boxes, picked the newspaper and clicked on "Send Message."
Which brings us back to SunRail.
Scott could earn a lot of chits by letting this project go forward.
It has been touted by most all of the region's GOP politicians.
It would win rare accolades from Democrats and independents who crave a transportation alternative.
And it would certainly sate the business community, which craves prestige and the big-time contracts that would come with it.
Oh, it will certainly tick off the Tea Partiers. But where are they going to go? To Alex Sink?
They may stomp their feet. But they'll come running back as soon as Rick starts talking more about illegal immigration and drug-testing welfare recipients.
Scott only has to stare at his 29 percent for so long before realizing that those who object to spending one nickel on anything government related — be it schools, museums, parks or rail — aren't the majority.
There are certainly two sides to the SunRail debate: big price tags and limited ridership vs. needed transportation alternatives and a system that may one day lead to something greater.
And obviously Scott is giving more consideration to the benefits — and his own political fortunes.
Otherwise, he would have killed SunRail long ago.
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