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Are 'Great Floridian' awards just a PR move for Gov. Rick Scott?

10:36 PM, Jun 14, 2013   |    comments
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WTSP) -- Before Governor Rick Scott came along, there's a good chance you'd never heard of the Great Floridian award. But with sports stars like Tim Tebow, Derrick Brooks, Tony Dungy and Steve Spurrier all being recognized recently with the honor, the Governor has figured out how to generate some pretty good attention.

But have the awards simply become a public relations stunt designed to benefit Scott and help his image?

"If these are just taxpayer-funded photo ops and that's it, then I think a lot of Floridians would have an issue with it," said Executive Director of Integrity Florida Dan Krassner.

This week Krassner said it may also be time to re-examine who is getting the award.

"Integrity Florida has found several individuals who have received this award from the Scott Administration who have contributed to the governor's campaigns."

Between 1981 -- when the first award was handed out to former Florida Gov. Thomas LeRoy Collins -- and the end of 2010, 49 people were honored with the Great Floridian award. That's less than two awards given out each year. During that time only two people with sports ties were recognized: Alonzo Gaither, the legendary Florida A&M head football coach, and NASCAR founder Bill France.

But since Scott took office in 2011, 40 different people have been recognized as a Great Floridian. That's an average of more than 13 people each year.

This year, 23 individuals are being given the honor.

Scott was not available to answer questions Wednesday about why the proliferation in Great Floridian awards handed out and the cost to taxpayers. But USF Professor of Political Science Dr. Susan MacManus says Scott is certainly not the first politician to try and use the system to his advantage.

MacManus says times have also changed.

"You have to put things in perspective and look at what is true of society as a whole and we tend to give out more and more awards, multiple high school valedictorian awards multiple team sports awards, no surprise that it's reached the world of politics."

The criteria listed on the state website for the Great Floridian award is fairly loose. It says the award is "given to people who have made significant contributions to the progress and welfare of this state."

Among those getting the award this year are Don Shula, Emmitt Smith and Golfer Bubba Watson.

Preston Rudie, WTSP

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