TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Gov. Rick Scott's administration has hit a rough stretch with resignations of top leaders and a continuing, vocal protest at the Capitol over state policies.
Democrats are trying to take advantage of the turmoil, saying it shows ineffective leadership. They're blasting Scott as "asleep at the switch" and describing state government as rudderless.
But Gov. Scott insists Florida is on the right track, citing the improving economy and student achievement gains.
Scott's Education Commissioner Tony Bennett resigned last week following reports that when he led Indiana's school system, he took action to raise the grade of a charter school operated by a Republican contributor.
Scott also lost his leader at the Department of Children and Families last month. David Wilkins resigned following the deaths of five children who had previous contact with the agency.
Plus, Scott has been without a lieutenant governor since Jennifer Carroll resigned in March because of her connection to an Internet café under criminal investigation.
And he's been under fire from protesters, who have staged a sit-in outside his office for three weeks, urging him to call a special session on self defense and criminal justice laws.
Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant believes Florida is on a downward spiral.
"An executive is judged on the people that he places around him and he's clearly misstepped on many of the hires that he's made and we can't keep good people in the state because things are a mess. On the vulnerable people in our state, we have no one looking out for them. We have abused, neglected, abandoned and disabled children. There is no one there to make sure those children are being cared for the right way."
Gov. Scott responds to the question of whether he has control of his administration by highlighting the economy.
He said a recent study shows more people are moving here, an estimated 500 a day, tourism is at record levels, with 91 million visitors vacationing in the state last year and the economy is creating hundreds of thousands of new private sector jobs.
"Over 330,000 private sector jobs. Education, our fourth graders are number two in the world in reading, fourth and eighth graders, highest student achievement gains of any large state in the country. Hispanic students' graduation rate is the highest in the country. National Council for Teacher Quality, most effective teachers. Gosh, we got so many good things going on in our state. It's exciting."
DCF is being led right now by interim Secretary Esther Jacobo. Scott said he has a lot of confidence in her because she cares about children and is doing "a great job."
He feels the same about his interim secretary at the Department of Education. Pam Stewart has now filled in twice as the interim leader at the department, which has seen a revolving door of commissioners during Scott's tenure.