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'Great Floridian' Award: High Honor Or Re-election Ploy?

Governor Rick Scott has given out 40 ‘Great Floridian’ Awards so far. It’s an award given to those who have made significant contributions to Florida, and normally, there’s been about seven at the most named each year.  Scott’s honorees now make up nearly half the awards given out since its inception more than 30 years ago. And, now some are questioning the motive behind the Governor’s move.

Former Governor Reubin Askew, Walt-Disney co-founder Walter Disney, and Educator and Civil Rights Activist Mary McLeod Bethune are just a few of the people who share the designation “Great Floridian.”

It’s for their significant contributions they’ve made “to the progress and welfare of the state, according to the Florida Department of State web site. And, the recognition’s been around since 1981.

The most recent person presented with the “Great Floridian” Award is Dr. Charlotte Maguire. She’s seen as the “Mother of Florida Medical Schools,” after the 93-year-old helped create two at both the University of Florida in Gainesville and Florida State University in Tallahassee. And, she’s also one of Florida’s first female doctors.

“I was in practice in Orlando. I was Orlando’s first girl Doctor," said Maguire to laughter.

"At least that’s what the newspaper said. My father was a little bit upset about that. He said ‘she’s a woman.'"

"It just has the appearance of a photo op that gets the Governor some publicity."

Just this year alone, Governor Rick Scott has given the “Great Floridian Award” to 23 people. In the past several months, Scott’s held ceremonies and award presentations for nine honorees…six of which were held in the last couple of weeks.

And, some wonder what these awards are really about. Since 1981, there’ve been 89 people given the “Great Floridian” distinction. Scott has contributed to almost half of that list in his three years as Governor—that leaves Ben Wilcox with government watchdog group, Integrity Florida, a bit puzzled.

“You know, since 1981, up to when Governor Rick Scott took office, 49 people received the honor under seven different Governors. And, by the end of 2013, Governor Rick Scott will have presented another 40 himself and that’s a big increase in ‘Great Floridians,'" said Wilcox.

Honorees normally include humanitarians, military heroes, and a legendary football coach, who was one of the first to receive the award in 1980s.

But, since Scott’s term as Governor, the list now includes several coaches and athletes, including former Florida Gator football star Tim Tebow. And, the only photos released so far by Scott’s office with the Governor and the honorees have been with one coach and Tebow.

Wilcox says while he’s sure all those designated as “Great Floridians” deserve recognition, he adds “it just has the appearance of a photo op that gets the Governor some publicity and it has the appearance that he may be doing it to help his re-election campaign."

University of South Florida Political Scientist Susan MacManus agrees that this could be part of Scott’s re-election strategy. She called it a form of “creative campaigning,” but, she says it’s not unusual for any politician, Republican or Democrat, to do something like this, including with Sports stars, like Tim Tebow.

“Look at President Obama hosting the NFL champions or college football champions, because we’re an era now where it’s hard to reach younger voters, except through celebrities, So, this is somewhat predictable that you’re seeing a Governor, in a diverse state where frankly younger voters are increasingly important, try to reach this younger demographic through the use of celebrities and after all, sports is a very big industry in Florida,” said MacManus.

Meanwhile, Governor Scott recently defended his decision for giving out the “Great Floridians” awards.

“When you look at individuals like Charlotte Maguire, we have so many great Floridians. But, I'm just honored to be here to give out a 'Great Floridian' award to Dr. Maguire because she’s a great person. We've done this around the state because we have so many Great Floridians here," said Scott.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.