A Tale of Two Governors and Their Dogs

The way Govs. Jerry Brown and Rick Scott have treated their dogs tellls you everything you need to know about each man’s character
Left: Sutter coaches Gov. Brown, 74, doing push-ups; right, Reagan used as a prop intended to humanize Gov. Scott

You can tell a lot about a person’s character by the way they treat animals. For millions of dog lovers, for example, learning that Mitt Romney had once decided to force his Irish setter Seamus to ride in a kennel strapped to the roof of his car on a 12-hour family vacation, even after Seamus got sick in the kennel, exposed a man whose life of privilege had left him with a deficit of compassion and common decency.

The revelations this week that Gov. Rick Scott, Florida’s Republican governor, got rid of a dog that appears to have been acquired in 2010 as a prop for his campaign for governor is similarly a window into Scott’s character. And it stands in stark contrast with the the story of another big-state governor elected in 2010, Jerry Brown, and his dog, Sutter, who has become an unofficial mascot in California since the governor took office.

In 2009, the year before Brown was elected governor of California, Dharma, his and his wife Anne Gust’s dog, passed away. After the campaign, the Browns adopted Sutter, a Corgi, who had been raised by Brown’s sister (and former California treasurer) Kathleen. After the election, Sutter became the state’s top dog, accompanying the governor to his office, where he makes daily rounds visiting with staff and reporters in the capitol. Sutter also goes on field trips to news conferences and other off-site events, where he can be seen out of camera range, snuffling the bushes or grabbing a quick snooze.

In the case of Rick Scott, you don’t really need to know how he treats his dog in order to gauge the kind of guy he is. In 1997, he was CEO of Columbia/HCA when it was forced to pay the largest Medicare fraud fine in U.S. history. In spite of this, Scott walked away with $350 million, free and clear. A decent person would have done what, say, junk-bond swindler Michael Milken did after he was disgraced — turn to philanthropy and start a foundation. Instead, Scott chose to run for governor.

During the 2010 campaign, Scott’s handlers were so concerned that voters were getting wise to the fact that he was a sociopath that, in hopes of humanizing him, they acquired a rescued Labrador to use as a photo-op prop. They even gave it a focus-grouped sounding name: Reagan. But after Scott won election in a squeaker, Reagan proved to be too energetic and unruly for the millionaire governor’s staff to handle. Now that Reagan was no longer useful and had become an inconvenience, Scott’s staff quietly got rid of him. Reagan was sent to live on a farm — not the euphemistic “farm upstate,” thankfully, but a real farm where he was renamed Pluto.

When Brown and Scott came into office, both their states were strapped down financially, mostly because of the right-wing voodoo economic policies of their Republican predecessors, the Bush administration and its GOP rubberstamp Congress.

Gov. Brown — who had served two terms as governor previously, starting in 1975, as well as one term each as secretary of state and attorney general — developed a balanced plan to resolve California’s fiscal mess, making surgical cuts that did as little harm as possible to education, social programs and infrastructure. He also opted to let voters decide whether to raise taxes on the wealthy. His tax-hike ballot initiative passed last November with an 11 percent margin. Brown announced last week that California’s budget will be in the black for the first time since the Enron scandal put the state’s fragile finances in a tailspin over a decade ago. And while the unemployment rate is still too high, California’s eternal leading indicator, residential real-estate, is showing solid signs of rebounding, especially in the most desirable zip codes.

The recovery could have happened sooner, but a Republican rogue minority in the legislature in 2011 refused to allow putting the tax-hike initiative before voters. During that debate, Brown offered to send Sutter out to debate the anti-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist. At the same time voters passed Brown’s tax initiative last November, they also sent a Democratic super-majority to Sacramento.

To resolve Florida’s fiscal crisis, Gov. Scott deployed the standard Republican meat-axe, austerity-driven approach that has wreaked havoc in Europe — and that tea partyists in Congress want to impose on the United States. With help from his own Republican rubberstamp super-majority in Tallahassee, Scott slashed the budget so that the cuts targeted the middle class and poor disproportionately. He gutted funding for education, public hospitals, health services, and services for children, the disabled and senior citizens, as well as libraries and parks. He also laid off public employees and hiked fees on automobile and driver’s licenses and raised taxes on cigarettes.

There is a small irony here in that Scott’s spinmeisters named their prop dog after Ronald Reagan, whose “trickle-down” economic policies have been wreaking economic havoc in the United States for three decades. Gov. Reagan was Brown’s predecessor in his first two terms, of course, and Brown made headlines immediately after taking office back then by getting rid of Reagan’s private jet and limousine and refusing to live in the fancy modernist governor’s mansion Nancy Reagan built. Brown’s dog was named after John Sutter, the Swiss immigrant whose mill was the site of the discovery of gold in 1848 that triggered the Gold Rush and led to California’s first boom economy.

Dog lovers should be grateful that Reagan/Pluto found a good home. Most people who get rid of their dogs do not have the contacts and resources to send them to a better place.

Scott is already one of the least popular governor’s in the nation — a new poll out today finds him underwater with a 33 to 57 percent approval/disapproval rating — apparently only die-hard Republicans and satanists support him. This could bode well for the prospect that enough votes can be mustered in 2014 to find Gov. Scott’s political career a good home on a farm upstate.

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