Paula Dockery blasts her own party but will skip running again for governor

09/20/13 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: politics Alex Sink Florida Legislature Republicans Paula Dockery high speed rail Rick Scott Obamacare


Former Republican state senator Paula Dockery talks to members of the Tiger Bay Club of Tampa about why she thinks her party is failing.

photo by Janelle Irwin

Former state senator Paula Dockery won’t challenge Governor Rick Scott in the Republican Primary next year. During a Tiger Bay Club of Tampa meeting Friday, the former politician-turned syndicated columnist staked that choice largely on money.

Her decision not to run for Governor comes with some frame of reference. In 2010, Dockery ran a brief primary campaign against Bill McCollum, but backed out after Governor Scott told her he would contribute $20 million of his own money to a primary campaign alone.

"I was going against the party chosen Bill McCollum, who I knew would have a lot of money. When the party settles on a candidate not only is it hard for you to raise money without their help but they pretty much tell people not to give to you or there will be repercussions. So it was exceedingly hard for me to raise money and I was hoping to raise a couple of million. When he said he was going to spend 20 million and then the first ads popped up much earlier than you'd usually expect and they were so good. I mean they were brilliant, simplistic, he was likable, I thought 'he and I are going to split the anti-McCollum vote. He has, I don't."

Dockery also bashed her own party for being too partisan.

"When you start eliminating minorities, when you start eliminating Hispanics, when you start going after issues that are important to women, you're party is getting smaller. That lack of tolerance, I think, is really hurting the party."

Dockery spoke to a room full of about 50 members of the community – most of them Democrats. Her centrist remarks were met by nods and, at times, cheers and Amens. But a Republican in the lot, Tampa attorney Adam Bantner, disagreed with what Dockery described as expanding the tent.

"We need to get our ideas out there and by having our ideas in those other communities we'll naturally bring them in. But to cater to specific groups, whether it be women, immigrants, blacks, whatever. I think is the wrong way to go about it."

Dockery also spent some time bashing Governor Rick Scott for flip-flopping on issues. She shared insider stories about times when he said one thing and did another. In one instance, Dockery described Scott bemoaning the teacher performance bill as being “mean.” That bill was one of the first bills Scott signed as Governor. She also lamented his decision to reject two and a half billion dollars of federal money that would have paid for high speed rail connecting Tampa and Orlando.

"I made him a side by side, I showed him the money. I showed how much the state would have to pay for each on high speed rail, it was almost nothing on Sun Rail it was $1.2 billion and he looked at me and said you know he never wanted details, he always wanted me to hand him a sheet of paper so he said, 'you don't have to go any further, I've decided I'm going to take the high speed rail money.' And I said 'oh, that's great, because your comments to the media were just the opposite.' He said, 'well don't say anything to them, but I'm going to take the money.' "

Dockery said she suspects the Scott administration felt the heat after rejecting the funds.

"To add insult to injury, he did allow Sun Rail to go which not only cost the state taxpayers $1.2 billion but transferred any liability from an accident on tracks that we owned is CSX has an accident using our tracks."

But Dockery’s main message was simply that the Republican Party is a mess. She cited the 42nd vote in Congress today to de-fund the liberal-backed Affordable Care Act.

"Jeb Bush, when he makes statements like he has recently about immigration or about the Republicans in Washington shouldn't shut down the government over trying to defund Obamacare yet again, they call him a Rino. Jeb Bush, a Rino? When Jeb Bush is considered a Rino I feel a little uncomfortable in a party that that's being said."

While in the Florida House in the late 90’s, Dockery drafted Florida Forever, a land acquisition program intended to preserve environmentally sensitive lands. The program has been scrutinized recently because the state is considering hinging funding on selling land it already owns. Dockery bashed that plan in a recent column.

"Which also led to a little bit of my classification as moderate because anybody who seems to care about the environment seems to be branded moderate. I think that if you don't have an adequate drinking water supply, you die, and that that shouldn't be a conservative vs a liberal issue."

Dockery also blasted Republicans in the Florida legislature for attempts to privatize prisons, rejecting federal dollars to expand the state’s Medicaid system and spending money on unnecessary projects. Her criticism is often met with contention by those in her party, but Dockery claims she speaks for a silent minority who are also fed up with too-far right conservatism. Joe Citro, the former president of the Tiger Bay Club of Tampa and a Republican, responded to her berating of the party.

"If you're asking conservative Republicans, I think what she's said is for the most part, true. If you ask a Tea Party Republican, they're going to say that she's full of it. But no, I think the Republican party needs to grow a backbone, come to the table with some alternatives, and explain their positions. Like she said, the governor has said one thing, flip flopped and done another thing. Our party needs to also take in social issues."

One audience member asked Dockery if there were any viable Democratic challengers to Governor Rick Scott. Prior to Alex Sink’s announcement that she would not be running, Dockery said she thought it would be difficult for Sink to win against Scott because he would have significantly more money to spend on a campaign.

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