TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Gov. Rick Scott had a contentious meeting Tuesday with black lawmakers in which he parried their requests to move forward with the Affordable Care Act, restore civil rights to ex-felons and recommend more African-American judges.
He stuck to his message of jobs and education while denying responsibility for the 2011 election bill that cut early voting days, a measure that at the time angered many advocates for minority voters. Scott signed the bill into law.
The caucus members gathered around a table with Scott and Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll at its head. Carroll had been the only Republican member of the Legislature's black caucus before she left the House to become Scott's lieutenant governor.
House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston brought up Scott's role in making it harder for former criminals to vote. Early in Scott's tenure as governor, he led the all-Republican Cabinet in imposing a five-year waiting period before ex-felons can regain their rights, including voting.
Thurston said Florida is one of just four states that "disenfranchise people" and reminded Scott that when the caucus met with him last year, the governor had said he'd look into it.
"Between that time and now, nothing has been done," Thurston said. "We haven't even had a meeting with you about it…We left over 1,000 people who had completed their process on the table."
Scott responded that he's "only one of the clemency board members" and suggested the caucus contact the others – Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
Scott also said he wanted to focus on maintaining Florida's low crime rate.
"We're now at a 41-year low on our crime rate, so we're doing the right thing," he said. "When you get out and you're a felon, you should take the time to pay your debt to society."
Asked to tap more blacks as judges, Scott said he doesn't have unlimited choice on judicial appointments.
"I believe in three branches of government," Scott said. "I don't believe in judicial activism. If somebody believes in judicial activism, I'm not going to appoint them."
When Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, criticized Scott for signing the 2011 election law cutting the number of days of early voting, Scott said he "didn't have anything to do with passing it."
As the discussion ranged from health care to education to a pay raise for state workers, the governor managed to lighten the mood several times with jokes.
"We disagree on a lot of things," said Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, leading Scott to interrupt: "You're kidding."
But afterward Joyner wasn't laughing.
"He wants to run Florida like it's Florida, Inc." she said. "And this is not a corporation. This is state government."
Thurston, too, was dissatisfied.
"We'll hold his feet to the fire," he said, "There's always another election."
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