Three Republican leaders, two of them designated to be House speakers, dined on mesquite grilled swordfish, corn macque choux, and Florida strawberry shortcake at a two-hour private dinner at the mansion with Gov. Rick Scott Thursday.
The meeting "really was a social visit,'' said House Majority Leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami, who joined Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who is designated to become House speaker in 2012 and Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, who is scheduled to take over in 2014.
Although the governor was not required by law to open the meeting to the public, the legislators were on their honor to refrain from discussing any pending legislation or they would violate Florida government in the sunshine laws. The governor did not include the meeting on his public schedule.
"It was a very light discussion about how he's going to deliver his budget but, just generalities -- the timing and logistics of it,'' Lopez Cantera said.
This was the second private dinner meeting Scott has had with lawmakers since he was inaugurated. Two weeks ago, he met with six state representatives and one senator, all of whom were early supporters to his maverick campaign.
"I thought it was a good opportunity in a relaxed atmosphere to have a social gathering with the governor,'' said Weatherford. "To have a chance to sit down at the table over a meal and have a nice conversation with just him and his family, the excitement we all have for the state, I thought it was great.''
Unlike Scott's predecessor, Gov. Charlie Crist who invited reporters to attend social meetings at the mansion, Scott's communications office agreed to allow the media to attend only if it could choose which reporters covered the event. That condition was rejected by a vote of the press corps.
Lopez Cantera said "we didn't talk about session. We didn't talk about any bills that would come up."
He noted that there was a reporter in the room, conservative columnist for Sunshine State News, Nancy Smith.
Smith said she had originally agreed with other members of the press corps not to accept a pool arrangement in which the governor's office demanded to hand-pick the reporter. But she said she felt she had "been betrayed" when an email was accidentally released to the governor's office that included comments from other reporters. Although the misfired email did not include her comments, she said the governor's office somehow obtained another email and quoted her comments back to her.
During two days of discussions with the governor's office about setting a precedent for poll reports, the Capital Press Corps suggested that pool reporters be chosen from a randomized list, following the pattern used for White House correspondents. The governor's office rejected that approach and invited Smith.
As guests arrived, reporters from five other news organizations, including the Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times, asked to be included to observe the dinner. They were kept behind the locked mansion gates, most of them sending a continuous stream of Twitter feeds.
As the Republican leaders exited the front gates after the two-hour meeting, they apologized to the stranded members of the press. "Sorry you were sitting out here in the cold,'' said Weatherford, a former member of Crist's Commission on Open Government Reform. Among the recommendations, the commission urged the Legislature to pass a law to require that lawmakers follow the same open government rules that local government officials follow.
Weatherford said he agreed neither the House nor the governor's office had any obligation to open the meeting.