TALLAHASSEE — In the latest sign of a contentious election year, the Legislature's 28-member black caucus scrapped a meeting with Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday, saying talks would be "fruitless" because he does not support their priorities.
The caucus requested the meeting weeks ago, but members said that upon reflection, it would be a waste of time to meet Scott, especially on Wednesday, the anniversary of the birth of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
"We believe you can and should do more … (to) reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of Florida," the caucus chairman, Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, said in a letter hand-delivered to Scott.
The letter cited caucus priorities such as expanding affordable health care with more federal money, appointing more black judges, easing restoration of civil rights for ex-felons and ending the "purging" of suspected noncitizens from the voter rolls "for apparent partisan gain."
Scott is a Republican and every caucus member but one is a Democrat, but Williams said the cancellation was not politically motivated.
"It's not meant to be disrespectful," Williams said. "It's meant to show our frustration."
Some black lawmakers remain upset with Scott for vetoing items in this year's budget. Rep. Joe Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach, cited Scott's veto of $500,000 for a Holocaust education center in Broward County.
Scott has vetoed that project twice, saying it bypassed an established competitive review process.
The governor said through a spokeswoman that he was "disappointed" that the meeting had been canceled and offered to meet one-on-one with lawmakers. None showed up, Scott's office said.
"Gov. Scott believes the best way to serve Floridians is for the Legislature and the governor's office to work together to find solutions," spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said.
Two previous sessions between the black caucus and Scott have gone poorly. In 2011, Scott told black lawmakers of his childhood in public housing, "in the same situation as you guys," and last year lawmakers dressed him down in public for naming few black appointees to high-level positions.
Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, said not one of the 43 judges Scott appointed in 2013 is African-American, based on data received from Scott's office.
"Why give him a platform that makes it look like everything is okay?" Rouson said.
Information from the News Service of Florida was used in this report. Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.