As you may or may not know, Points’ HQ is nestled in the sticky, swampy collegiate backwater of Gainesville, Florida. Located just a few hours from the state capital of Tallahassee, we here at the University of Florida get a regular chance to see Governor Rick Scott at work. While Scott’s archconservative policies don’t tend to play well within Gainesville’s baby blue confines, even the Governor’s most ardent critics must acknowledge Scott’s chutzpa. The Governor is conservative in mindset, but certainly not in method, as to watch him work Congress is to watch a man very much on the vanguard of reactionary politics. Without sounding overly grandiloquent, I consider Mr. Scott nothing less than the Arnold Schoenberg of the Tea Party scene.
The first fortnight of March has seen Rick Scott pushing an agenda that, as is so often the case, finds Florida’s chief executive blazing a new trail for the right. Florida, like many other states, remains ensnared in recession and that has the head of the Sunshine State feverishly searching the 99% for scapegoats. Having already put in place drug and alcohol tests for welfare recipients, Mr. Scott just recently passed a measure instituting drug testing for the state’s public employees, a move that will, by no means, address the economic issues he claims are his top priority. The Florida legislature passed the measure on March 9 and, pending legal challenges, government agencies will soon have the power to, once every three months, randomly test up to 10% of their workforce for drugs (illegal and prescription) and alcohol.
Scott and his supporters claim that the measure is not politically driven, but is rather an earnest attempt to protect the public from impaired public employees. Moreover, it will provide an opportunity for – or, perhaps more accurately, will foist the opportunity upon – civil servants with drug problems to “get clean.” Despite the professed good intentions of the measures, the proposal has raised objections from both the right and left, bringing together an unlikely coalition of labour unionists, lawyers, and libertarians. While the groups do not necessarily share the same concerns – conservatives have more often expressed worry over the costs of the program; liberals frequently seem to see the central issue as being one of personal rights to privacy – the opposition is very real, though unlikely to derail Scott’s plans. At this point, the only real barrier to drug testing Florida’s public employees is the U.S. Supreme Court, which will hear upcoming legal challenges on whether the program violates the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, specifically those measures barring illegal search and seizure.
Given that public drug testing is experiencing opposition from both sides of the aisle, and the program will be burdened with real challenges regarding both expense and legality, why is the Scott government so insistent on pursuing this policy? As Mr. Patrik Jonsson of The Christian Science Monitor points out, it’s not really about drugs. Rather, the Scott government is trying to make political hay out of insinuating that the economy is bad because of waste, inefficiency, and theft. Jonsson spoke to Colin Gordon, a labor historian at the University of Iowa, who notes that, “despite our constitutional legal traditions, there’s always a lot to be reaped from the argument that if you haven’t done anything wrong, you don’t have anything to worry about.” Gordon laments “how little weight the civil liberties argument has – an implication that has become exaggerated in the war-on-terror era, and which says we can and should suspend liberties for people who don’t deserve them.”