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There’s no back door to leadership

The red tide outbreak that has been plaguing the area for months wasn’t caused by Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

His administration’s policies may have played a role in it, and they appear to have a pretty direct connection to the blue-green algae pouring out of Lake Okeechobee, but there are other fingerprints on those problems besides Scott’s.

That’s not our topic today, however. This is about Scott’s brief visit to the Venice area last Monday.

The governor was scheduled to bring his campaign for the U.S. Senate to Mojos Real Cuban on U.S. 41 at noon. Such “whistlestop-style” appearances generally follow a pattern: The candidate arrives late, often entering through a back or side door, mingles for a brief time with supporters and then is whisked away to do it again elsewhere.

That’s what Scott did Monday, and it likely was all he was planning to do.

But news of his visit had circulated among local Democratic groups and environmental organizations, and their members were waiting with picket signs and megaphones to show Scott their opposition and anger about red tide.

When they learned he had entered the restaurant through the back door, some chanted, “This is what democracy looks like.”

Inside the restaurant, Scott was surrounded by supporters. He didn’t give a speech or answer questions, opting for small talk and autograph signing before ducking out after a few minutes into a SUV parked at the rear door.

Some news outlets reported that he was chased out of the restaurant. That seems like an exaggeration to us. He was probably just trying to stay relatively on schedule.

Still, at no point did he engage with his critics, and we think that was a failure of leadership on his part.

Scott is precluded by terms limits from running for governor again, but he will be governor until January. And he has been and will continue to be the governor of all Floridians, not just the ones who support him.

A few hundred of his constituents had gathered trying to get his attention about a number of matters important to them, but mostly about the devastating impact red tide has had on the area.

They didn’t think Scott could wave a magic wand and make the problem go away, but they did expect to be heard. They were boisterous, but there was ample security present, if Scott had deigned to talk with them.

If the idea of engagement crossed his mind, it was never translated into action.

No one enjoys criticism but for many people it comes with the job. That’s certainly the case for politicians, especially the state’s top elected official.

“If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen,” President Harry S. Truman is credited with saying. The obvious corollary is that if you want to be in the kitchen, you have to be willing to take the heat.

Scott not only dodged the heat here, but he also did it in Naples, canceling an event there Tuesday morning and heading to Orlando instead. He was met by protesters there, too.

His only response to the protesters was an announcement later in the day that the Department of Environmental Protection would be providing an additional $4 million in grants to communities affected by red tide.

The money will do some good and is appreciated. It’s just too bad Scott wasn’t willing to invest some political capital in a dialogue with his critics.

How they treat their opponents says much more about politicians than the way they treat their supporters.

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