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Capital Press Corps Ponders Relations with Governor-Elect

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Lucy Morgan, St. Petersburg Times

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-937310.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – Governor-elect Rick Scott was able to skirt the traditional route to office, which includes answering a lot of questions from reporters. Not only did Scott answer relatively few, he also ignored the state's 14 editorial boards - every one of which endorsed his opponent. But now, as Margie Menzel reports, members of the capital press corps say the rules will change when Scott takes office.

Lucy Morgan of the St. Petersburg Times, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning former capital bureau chief, has covered nine Florida governors in all; Scott will be her tenth. She says their reactions to the amplified press scrutiny have varied.

"The first time they're trying to keep a secret and it gets shot out from under 'em, some of them get very angry, stage an inquisition in their own offices and accuse everybody of leaking."

Gov. Bob Martinez took it pretty well, she recalls.

"The night before he appointed a couple of Supreme Court justices, we blew it out from under him and got it in the morning paper. We did it by calling the hotels in town, and finding who was staying here among the potential possibilities. And I don't know if he ever knew how we did it, but at the press conference the next morning, all he did was grin at us."

But other governors have bridled. And at a rare press conference, in August, Scott grew testy.

"[Reporter: The deposition...] I told you: I'm not releasing it. It's a private matter. [Reporter: But you're running for governor, though.] I'm running for governor. [Reporter: And you're running on your business record, and this...] I told you right now: I'm not releasing it. [Reporter: Would you release a transcript of the deposition, though? If there's nothing wrong...] No, it's a private matter. I'm not doing it. [Reporter: But is it a private matter anymore?] You can ask the same question 100 times; I'll give you the same answer: It's a private matter."

Rick Flagg, capital bureau chief of Florida News Networks, has covered state government since 1978 and says Scott's campaign was unusually unresponsive to the press.

"This is the most closed-mouthed campaign that I had ever covered," he said. "I mean, we saw him up here, what, twice. Once when he qualified for the position and once when he held a press conference to try to do some damage control. But other than that, he completely avoided us. Well, once you're governor, you can't really avoid us, so you can't indulge in the same sort of douche-baggery that they used so much during the campaign."

Reporters may be persistent...nosy...even annoying, but Jim Rhea, director of Florida's First Amendment Foundation, says they provide the transparency vital to government oversight.

"And the press is historically the group of people in our society that collects information and disseminates it to the public," Rhea said, "because the public can't go to all these meetings. The public can't observe everything. So the press is there for a reason and the press encourages transparency, which then provides the public with oversight."

Scott will publish his daily schedule and meet regularly with reporters, says Brian Burgess of Scott's communications team in an email. He wrote, "The Governor-elect almost always is available to talk to media when traveling and doing events, and we will also develop a regular media briefing in Tallahassee once he is sworn in." Miami Herald reporter Marc Caputo is ready.

"While Charlie Crist was physically available, he was intellectually not necessarily available," Caputo said. "He would seldom engage in any meaningful policy discussions with us over a prolonged period of time, and when I say a prolonged period of time,' I'm talking, like, two minutes. Gov. Bush was much more inclined to have a policy discussion. Well, Governor, you're proposing this. Opponents of your policy say that. What say you?' And then he'd be able to explain things. Gov. Crist would have none of that."

An aggressive reporter, Caputo says he has no clue how his relationship with Scott will unfold.

"There have been times when I've had kind of tense conversations with the Governor-elect, and there have been times when I've had very friendly ones with him. He's a very engaging, intelligent man. So hopefully, we're engaging, intelligent people, so we can find some common ground."

Flagg, who anticipates four years of hot news, says it could all work out.

"Other governors who started out with a very negative attitude to the press, they realized that once you learn to work with us, we're not that bad. We're not evil incarnate. We're trying to do a job. And in fact, if he's good at what he does, he'll try to use us to do his job better. I think he's smart enough to figure that out."

To see video of Scott's August 2010 press conference in Tallahassee: http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2010/08/video-rick-scott-gets-testy-over-deposition-fraud-questions.html