News & Politics

GOP Governor Dodges His Own Campaign Event As Activists Protest Blocking of Public Beaches: 'Scared of A Bunch of Little Old Ladies'

Gov. Rick Scott continues to face fallout from unpopular legislation as he pursues the Senate.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (Flickr)

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is mounting a relentless, well-funded campaign against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. But Scott's bid for Senate is increasingly complicated by his controversial decisions in his current office.

On Sunday, the Tampa Bay Times reported that Scott abruptly failed to turn up at his own campaign stop in Santa Rosa Beach, as demonstrators gathered to protest his approval of a beach access law:

Scott planned to visit The Donut Hole on U.S. 98 in Santa Rosa Beach.

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But after the Times/Herald reported on the event, which Scott's campaign confirmed, Democrats cobbled together a small show of opposition against HB 631, a law that requires Walton County to take new steps to safeguard public access to beaches, including suing private landowners.

Scott's campaign did not respond to questions about why he suddenly changed his schedule.

At a later campaign stop in Panama City Sunday, Scott walked past a reporter and did not respond to a question about the protesters, as a campaign aide interjected: "He's not taking questions."

One protector told the Times, "I can't believe Rick Scott is scared of a bunch of little old ladies in tennis shoes ... We're here because we love our beaches."

HB 631, signed by Scott earlier this year, restricts the ability of local governments to pass ordinances protecting public beach access. The law is widely considered to be an attempt to preempt Walton County's generous beach access law, which private property owners have sought to block, sparking anger from residents of the Florida Panhandle who take advantage of "customary use". Nelson has called for the law to be repealed.

Between the beach access law and ongoing questions about Scott's failure to regulate polluted discharge that has contributed to Florida's epidemic of "red tide," the governor's record on managing the Sunshine State's coast is increasingly under fire.

The Florida Senate race is one of the most widely watched contests this fall, and polls show the candidates neck and neck.

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Matthew Chapman is a video game designer, science fiction author, and political reporter from Austin, TX. Follow him on Twitter @fawfulfan.