Gov. Rick Scott heard a litany of complaints Tuesday from the Legislative Black Caucus on matters ranging from judicial appointments to civil rights for ex-felons. Throughout an hour-long discussion, the Republican governor held his ground in the face of grievances from Democratic lawmakers.
Criticized for making only a handful of black appointments to the judiciary, Scott said he's limited to the choices given him by nominating panels, and won't appoint judges who believe in "judicial activism." He said 6.5 percent of his judges are African-American (Florida's black population is more than twice that). But Scott broke the tension by pointing out that he has appointed the wives of Reps. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, and Joe Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach, to state boards.
Faulted for signing a flawed election law that cut back the days of early voting, Scott said: "We've got to make changes, I agree. I didn't have anything to do with passing it." Scott's administration spent more than $500,000 in legal fees last year successfully defending the law against numerous legal challenges.
Black lawmakers make up about one-fifth of the Legislature's membership. They remain angry at Scott for one of his first decisions as governor: He and the three Republican Cabinet members imposed a five-year waiting period after ex-felons leave prison before they can apply for restoration of their civil rights.
"Once you're out as a felon, you should spend time making sure you're doing the right thing before you get your rights back," Scott told the group, seated around a large square table.
The meeting ended with a plea that Scott appoint a task force to look at disparities in sentencing that affect young black men. Scott did not directly respond to the request.
"It's deja vu all over again from last year," said Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, as the session ended. "He's still stuck on judicial activism. He wants everyone to think like him. He wants to run the state like a corporation, like it's Florida Inc. He's not flexible on a lot of things."
-- Steve Bousquet