Does it bother me that Gov. Rick Scott is a mumbling autocrat who constantly undermines Florida’s public institutions to better serve deep-pocket private interests?
Sure. But not as much as his Navy ball cap.
Scott has already dusted off his cap, the blue one with the letters N-A-V-Y spelled out in yellow, big enough to be seen and read by TV cameras. It’s his defining campaign-costume accessory.
And he didn’t waste any time wearing the cap this week on the very day he announced he’d be running against U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson for his Senate seat in November.
Scott’s not-too-subtle cap is there to highlight a part of his checkered past that suggests service to the common good.
But there’s a lot less there than meets the eye.
Scott spent a grand total of 29 months in the Navy — getting an early exit from his first enlistment.
It was during the Vietnam War, but he never got closer than Bermuda on the Navy frigate U.S.S. Glover, which spent most of the time in dry dock in Boston.
After becoming governor, Scott was given a model of the Glover by the The Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association. It’s one of the rare times Scott actually talked about his time in the Navy.
“I made more money selling soft drinks on the ship than I did getting my pay,” he told The Tampa Bay Times.
Scott explained that he was able to double his income by buying sodas before the ship pulled out of port. After a few days at sea, his soda-deprived shipmates were willing to pay an inflated price for the soft drinks.
So Naval service taught Scott how to price gouge in a captive market. How inspiring.
I have some experience with these seagoing soda operations. In the late 1970s and early 1980s I made three Pacific and Indian Ocean deployments on an aircraft carrier as a Naval officer. These shipboard soft-drink concessions, called a “Coke mess,” were run by departments as fundraisers for a common good, such as an end-of-cruise party or athletic equipment.
But they weren’t allowed for an individual crew member to operate as a way to profit off his shipmates. That was against the ethos of the service. The idea was that you and your shipmates were brothers, so you treat them like family, not like vulnerable consumers ripe for exploitation.
I had an enterprising roommate on the ship who figured out he could make money doing a tax preparation service from our stateroom. But it was shut down by his senior officer because it betrayed that ethos. Same thing went for another crew member who was told to stop helping his wife sell Amway on the ship.
So to recap, Scott spent less-than-a-full enlistment in the service and what little time he did spend, he figured out how to make more money running a side business.
It’s too bad all that can’t be embroidered on his Navy cap.
Instead, we’re left with this image of the proud thank-you-for-your-service warrior. Barf.
He’s even shameless enough to have a brick inscribed with his own name in the Veterans Walk of Honor in Tallahassee.
If I were him, I’d be too embarrassed. I’d dig it up, saying, “Jeez, I just learned how to gouge people in the Navy. I don’t think that requires a whole brick. Maybe just give me a pebble.”
Scott’s wearing the Navy ball cap to give him some street cred with the 1.3 million military veterans living in Florida. But if you had to pick a ball cap that most accurately describes his past, Scott should be campaigning in a Columbia/HCA hospital ball cap.
Scott started Columbia in 1987, merged it with HCA chain seven years later, and stepped down as chief executive officer in 1997.
That’s 10 years of hospital management verses 29 months as a swabbie. Seems like the hospital hat would be more biographically sound.
But we know why he’s not wearing a hospital cap.
Scott’s departure was concurrent with a federal investigation that fined his hospital chain $1.7 billion for Medicare fraud. That’s a lot of gouging.
Scott denied culpability, but when compelled to make sworn statements about his role in his company’s fraud, he chose to take the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination 75 times rather than answering questions.
So that’s why he’s wearing the Navy hat instead of a hospital hat.
He must think the Navy cap makes him look more honorable.
But it just turns my stomach.