TALLAHASSEE — Attorney General Bill McCollum still had reservations about Rick Scott's character and honesty on Thursday, two days after losing a bruising Republican gubernatorial primary to the wealthy outsider.
McCollum refused to join most members of Florida's GOP establishment who have quickly thrown their support to the former hospital company CEO after they'd overwhelmingly backed McCollum in the primary.
"I still have serious questions, and I have had them throughout the time that I've had the very brief acquaintanceship with Rick Scott, about issues of his character, his integrity, his honesty, things that go back to Columbia/HCA," McCollum said after a Cabinet meeting.
Columbia/HCA was accused of committing one of the largest Medicare and Medicaid frauds in history while Scott was running the company. Scott was forced out in the midst of a government investigation in 1997, but he received a rich severance package. The company paid the government a record $1.7 billion to settle criminal fraud charges. Scott was not charged and said he was unaware of the wrongdoing.
Scott put at least $38 million of his own fortune into the primary campaign and easily outspent McCollum. He blanketed the state with television ads defending his tenure at Columbia/HCA and ravaging McCollum as a tax-raising "career politician."
The Scott ads also tried to link McCollum — unfairly Republican officials insisted — to Jim Greer, now charged with stealing from the Florida GOP while serving as Gov. Charlie Crist's hand-picked party chairman. Crist has since quit the party to run for the U.S. Senate as an independent.
McCollum said he spoke briefly on the telephone with Scott on Wednesday but has never had the chance to know him other than shaking hands across the table at debates.
"I await the opportunity if it occurs to get better acquainted with him," McCollum said. "As other voters will do, I will judge him throughout this campaign."
Asked to respond, Scott spokeswoman Jennifer Baker e-mailed a statement that didn't directly address McCollum's comments. It said the "Republican Party is coalescing behind Rick Scott's candidacy based on a shared set of principles — limited government, low taxes, personal responsibility and more freedom. Rick is committed to leading the entire Republican ticket to victory on November 2nd."
McCollum said he has received phone calls from the Democratic nominee, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, and independent Lawton "Bud" Chiles III, the son of the late Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, saying he "had a nice, pleasant chat with both of them."
McCollum didn't rule out endorsing either of Scott's opponents but noted he has serious policy differences with Sink.
"I'm particularly concerned with her position regarding the national health plan that's out there right now," McCollum said. "I really think that the lawsuit that I have filed is extremely important to declare Obamacare unconstitutional."
McCollum is leading a 20-state legal challenge to President Barack Obama's health care overhaul in federal court in Pensacola.
That should put him on common ground with Scott, a leading figure in failed efforts to defeat the legislation in Congress. McCollum, though, made it clear he's in no hurry to kiss and make up.
"I'm not endorsing anyone right now," McCollum told reporters. "When the time comes I'll cast my ballot. If anything changes in the interim with regard to someone persuading me to get involved with their campaign I'll certainly inform you."
2010 ELECTIONS - PRIMARY ELECTION COVERAGE
- Results: Collier County
- Results: Lee County
- EXIT POLLS: Exit poll results in Collier, GOP governor races
- VIDEO: Hiller wins primary for commission
- VIDEO: Coyle will keep his commission seat
- PHOTOS: Rick Scott beats McCollum
- PHOTOS: Kendrick Meek beats Doug Greene in Democratic U.S. Senate Primary
- PHOTOS: Fred Coyle defeats Lavigne Kirkpatrick
- PHOTOS: District 4 Commission race: Kirkpatrick loses to Coyle
- PHOTOS: Brian Bigelow leads Lee County District 2 commissioner's seat
- PHOTOS: Runoff for Collier School Board District 1
- PHOTOS: Rosanne Winter 2010
- PHOTOS: Georgia Hiller leads district two race
- PHOTOS: Rick Scott casts vote in Naples
- PHOTOS: Florida Elections
- STORY: One judicial race too close to call, Mann a clear winner in other
- STORY: PHOTOS: Rick Scott defeats Bill McCollum in Florida GOP governor primary
- STORY: David Rivera, Joe Garcia will face off in November election for Collier’s House District 25
- STORY: Coyle, Hiller win seats on Collier County Commission
- STORY: State Senate District 27 race: Benacquisto, Merchant locked in tight race
- STORY: Nuñez and Ruiz to face off in Florida House District 112
- STORY: Steven Teuber, Elinor Scricca out as new faces take majority on Lee School Board
- STORY: Incumbent Brian Bigelow wins Lee County Commissioner for District 2
- STORY: Alex Sink wins Democratic nomination for governor in Florida
- STORY: Former state House Speaker Marco Rubio wins Republican nomination for Senate in Florida
- STORY: Meek wins Fla. Democratic Senate nomination
- STORY: VIDEO/PHOTOS: Georgia Hiller wins Republican nomination for Collier commission
- STORY: Coyle beats Kirkpatrick for reelection to Collier commission
- STORY: Florida governor election: Rick Scott holds steady lead over Bill McCollum
- STORY: Collier School Board: Six candidates head to November runoff for three seats
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