ORLANDO, Fla. -- Republican Gov. Rick Scott was one of those tea party stars whom voters believed had the courage of his convictions when he promised, as recently as last summer, to block The Affordable Care Act in his state. But last week, writes the Orlando Sentinel, "Scott made an abrupt about-face, embracing a three-year expansion of Medicaid coverage for about 1 million low-income Floridians that will be paid for by the health care law."
Mr. Scott said, "I think this is a common-sense solution to dealing with this for the next three years where it will give us the time to think about how we can improve the system." Sounding like a Democrat, he added that the state is obligated to help "the poorest and weakest among us." No, governor, charities and religious bodies are obligated to help the weak and poor. State and federal governments have no such obligation. To claim they do empowers bureaucrats and politicians who are having a difficult enough time fulfilling their constitutional responsibilities. It also undermines the work ethic.
After (borrowed) federal money runs out in three years, Florida will be expected to kick in some cash and carry on with the funding. Mr. Scott says his commitment is only for those three years, but as Ronald Reagan once wryly observed, "a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!"
Mr. Scott, whose favorability rating was 36 percent in a December Quinnipiac University poll, is clearly looking at his vulnerability in next year's election. Apparently, he thinks sounding more like a Democrat will convince voters to give him another term in office. Perhaps he thinks the tea party votes he is likely to lose will be made up for with purchased votes from those who will line up at the federal ATM.
Mr. Scott is a former health care executive. The health care industry has spent millions lobbying to influence health care reform legislation, including Medicaid. It also is the largest employer in many states. Should Mr. Scott lose next year's election, taking federal Medicaid money won't hurt his chances of a high-paying position in his former profession.
The Orlando Sentinel examined Mr. Scott's rapid turnaround on other issues dear to conservative hearts. It said he "has barely looked like the same guy who ran for governor in 2010," and cited examples. After large initial budget cuts, Mr. Scott "proposed the largest budget in state history and said his top priority was a $2,500 raise for teachers, whom he infuriated during his first year in office by passing a merit-pay law while cutting education spending by $1.3 billion."
Mr. Scott has also said nothing in several months about illegal immigration. He once pledged to back an Arizona-style immigration law that would require police to check the legal status of people they suspected were in the country illegally. He has since backed away from this pledge.
Slade O'Brien, the Florida director of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, told the Sentinel he was "flabbergasted" by Mr. Scott's decision, saying it went beyond even his budget proposal. "For the governor to reverse that position, I felt incredibly shocked, and so did many of his base," he said.
A few Republican governors have turned down federal money to expand Medicaid in their states. So far, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas is one of them. Last week he made his intentions clear when he said, "We're not going to be expanding Medicaid in Texas. The reason is because it's a broken system. It's moving our state -- and I'll just speak to our state -- towards bankruptcy if we expand the current program."
As for Governor Scott's turnabout, a paraphrase of the wisdom Forrest Gump's momma gave him might fit: Politicians are like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're going to get until after they're elected.
Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist. Readers may email him at email@example.com.