Florida Governor Rick Scott is not a professional politician, and he sure showed it yesterday.
He took his time in deciding whether to sign a bill passed by the Florida legislature to penalize foreign companies that do business with Cuba and Syria. He finally decided in favor of signing a bill that bars Florida’s state pension funds from investing in those companies, and it bars them from awards of government contracts in Florida worth more than $1 million.
Similar state legislation has been found unconstitutional. If this new Florida law should stand, it is an invitation to other countries, say Brazil, to pass legislation that picks a bone with some aspect of U.S. foreign policy and, based on that, to exclude U.S. firms from competition for government contracts in Brazil at the local, state, and national levels.
The case against the measure was summarized by Anthony Villamil, interviewed by Andres Oppenheimer today:
Villamil, who also served as Florida director of economic development under former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, did not mince words: he told me that the new law is “a black eye on Florida.”
“First, this law is unconstitutional, because it violates the federal power to conduct foreign policy,” he said. “Second, it violates World Trade Organization rules that say that you cannot discriminate against a foreign company, and create second-class companies.”
“Third, it hurts Florida’s business climate,” Villamil said. After all these “trade missions that Florida and the governor have taken around the world, including to Brazil, telling foreign companies that we welcome them in Florida, we are excluding them from meaningful state and local contracts.”
“And it doesn’t do anything to help the freedom of Cuba,” he said. “It allows Castro to have a propaganda point and say, ‘Look how hostile Cuban exiles are against our country.’”
But it was a wonderful opportunity to pander, so the governor arranged a signing ceremony in Miami’s Freedom Tower, right there on Jorge Mas Canosa Boulevard.
The ceremony went swimmingly. After the Governor left Miami-Dade, his office released an odd signing statement, saying he was happy to sign the bill but he surmised that its “restrictions are inoperative if they would conflict with federal law.”
Those who had celebrated the signing and praised the Governor were not pleased, and who can blame them? (One example here at Babalu.) Syrian-Americans weren’t happy either; Dr. Bashar Lutfi of Coral Springs told the Herald, “This was not nice of him.”
The idea must have been to please Cuban Americans by signing the bill, and then to please the Florida business community, which opposed the bill, with the signing statement. The governor ended up insulting Cuban Americans’ intelligence, and his signing statement surely did little to assuage business community concerns because he did, after all, sign the bill into law.
He tried to have it both ways, and he got neither.
Maybe a professional politician would have done better.