Gov. Rick Scott on Monday turned down an invitation to attend a historically significant ceremony on June 30 that will recognize Jorge Labarga as the first Cuban-American chief justice in the state's history.
"Thank you for inviting Governor Scott to attend the Passing of the Gavel event. Unfortunately, the Governor will be unable to do so, but we hope that you will keep us informed of future invitations. Until then, if our office can be of any assistance, please feel free to contact us," read the letter from Demetrius Burse in Scott's scheduling office.
Labarga and his family fled Cuba in 1963 when he was 10 years old, and they settled in farm country in Pahokee. He was appointed to the high court in 2009 by former Gov. Charlie Crist, who is likely to be Scott's November re-election opponent. Labarga will become chief justice on July 1.
But the story doesn't end there. To the surprise of the Supreme Court, Scott did not offer to send his Cuban-American lieutenant governor, Carlos Lopez-Cantera, in his place. Court spokesman Craig Waters said Labarga's ascension is so significant to the Cuban-American community that it plans to hold a separate event in Miami on another date.
In a statement to the Times/Herald, Waters said: "We were surprised that the governor did not offer to send the lieutenant governor to represent him at the ceremony, which will be held in the Supreme Court building across Duval Street from the Capitol. Gov. (Jeb) Bush himself attended the passing of the gavel ceremony for Justice Barbara Pariente, along with his wife Columba Bush."
Republicans in Florida and nationally have struggled with widely-publicized problems with Hispanic voters on immigration and other issues. Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who like Labarga has roots in Palm Beach County, told the court Monday he will attend the ceremony.