FELLSMERE — Gov. Rick Scott tossed a red sack over his shoulder, hopped on a ladder and started plucking oranges at a 1,200-acre citrus grove Wednesday morning.
Even on a breezy day with some cloud coverage, it didn’t take long for sweat to start beading on his forehead.
Scott started his “work day” at IMG Citrus Phoenix Grove, where he picked valencia oranges and tried out a tractor for about an hour and a half. Then he called shotgun on a tractor trailer that’ll take him to IMG’s packinghouse in Gifford, where he’ll be put to work again packing for the afternoon.
He was fresh from an evening in Vero Beach Tuesday, where he cracked jokes, showed off his gator emblem-emblazoned boots, and updated more than 100 residents at Pointe West. He updated those in attendance about where he thinks Florida stands almost two years into his tenure and just months away from election time.
The Naples Republican's meet-and-greet Tuesday at Pointe West was after he signed a bill in Miami banning Florida from doing business with Cuba or Syria, and traveling up the coast all day.
Sporting a black suit and white button-down with no tie, Scott said, quite frankly, he's gotten "way better" with experience since he first got into office. He listed his conservative accomplishments — ending teacher tenure, cutting business taxes, reform Medicaid into managed care program, and more — and said he's held true to his campaign claims.
"Now some people said, 'Gosh, he really did it, and I didn't want him to do that," Scott said. "But they can't say I'm not doing what I said I was going to do."
John Kim, a 19-year-old Vero Beach resident, worked on Republican Bill McCollum's campaign in Indian River when he ran against Scott in 2010. But Kim said he doesn't hold any old McCollum-versus-Scott hard feelings.
"He kept all his promises he made when he was running for governor," Kim said. "I used to have bad feelings for the governor, but now I respect him a lot. He's done a lot for the state."
Scott also laid out his strong feelings for supporting charter schools, which Deborah Seeley particularly appreciated.
"I'm very, very happy with his support for charter schools," said Seeley, a governing board member of Imagine South Vero charter school. "We've never had support like this."
Scott also traced his journey starting school in public housing, and now ending up in a different type of public housing — the Governor's Mansion. "It is better public housing," he joked.
Scott also made the rounds in the room, showing off his black cowboy boots embroidered with a gator and Florida's flags to 31-year-old Melanie Guetter and 34-year-old Katrina Rank, both of Vero Beach.
"I was talking about art with him, and he said his two daughters were very involved in art," Rank said.
Scott also stirred up emotions for his Republican base to get out and vote in the 2012 cycle — in the state Legislature where GOP members hold supermajorities, in the U.S. House and Senate candidates and in the White House.
"You have the opportunity to make sure everyone gets elected that believes in limited government. ...This is a country of opportunity," Scott said. "It's not a country where we guarantee success. Everyone has the same opportunity to succeed."
THE GOVERNOR’S VIEW
Here’s a glimpse of some topics the governor covered at the Pointe West event on Tuesday evening:
On U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., as a vice presidential candidate: “I think Sen. Rubio would be a very good vice president. I think he’d be good for the country and he’d be good for Florida.”
On recent drops in unemployment, and what that will mean for the future of the state’s construction industry: “I think that what we’ve done, what the Legislature has done, has clearly changed the direction of the state and made it a much better place to do business. I think you’re seeing that with more jobs. With regard to construction ... the housing marketing is changing. There is still a lot of work to do, but you see articles about Orlando, the number of houses on the market is the lowest since 2006 or 2007. Prices are going up in Tampa, prices are expected to go up in Naples. As we get through the inventory of homes on the market, then we’ll see more construction.”
On the possibility of the state helping keep spring training baseball teams on the east coast of Florida: “What I’ve got to do is make sure we get a return on our investment, what that investment might be at the state level, to keep the teams, but we’ve got to make sure we get a return for the taxpayers of the state.”
On ending teacher tenure in pre-K-12 public schools: “Have you been guaranteed your job for any period of time? No. This is the first time in my life I’ve had a job that I’ve been guaranteed for four years. If you know that every day you need to show up and perform, you’re better at it. We’re better if somebody’s questioning.”
On meeting President Obama while he did a “work day” at an airport in Tampa in April, and joking