TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott dodged a reporter's question about controversial Arizona legislation multiple times Wednesday before he was forced to change his answer to limit potential damage to his re-election prospects.
Three times on MSNBC's The Daily Rundown, Scott sidestepped questions of whether he supports or opposes a law passed by the Arizona Legislature that would have allowed business owners to deny service to gay customers on religious grounds. Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill Wednesday night.
"Chuck, I've not seen that bill," Scott told MSNBC's Chuck Todd, changing the subject to wanting to persuade baseball teams to relocate spring training headquarters from Arizona to Florida. Asked twice more, Scott did not directly answer.
Seven hours later, after a backlash on social media and criticism from his likely rival for re-election, Democrat Charlie Crist, Scott issued a statement saying he would veto such a bill in Florida because "it seems unnecessary."
"We are for freedom here in Florida," Scott said, "and that includes religious liberty. . . . Of course, I'm very much opposed to discrimination."
Scott is governor of a state with a sizable gay population, and he trails Crist in polls in a race where the outcome could be decided by independents who have socially moderate views.
By waffling before a nationwide audience, Scott once again demonstrated an unwillingness to deliver a direct response to questions and perhaps played into Crist's strategy to appeal to middle-of-the-road voters by portraying the Republican governor as leader of a party of intolerance.
The Arizona bill passed that state's Legislature on two close votes this week. Three Republican lawmakers who voted for it now oppose it, business groups condemned it, and the NFL hinted it would reconsider plans to host a future Super Bowl in Phoenix if it became law.
Sitting in a Tampa TV studio, Scott was live on MSNBC for nine minutes, longer than many of his TV appearances. His initial refusal to answer fit a pattern of not responding to questions in many public appearances.
The exchange hit the Talking Points Memo blog, along with a blast from Crist, who called Scott's answer "stunning."
"This should be the ultimate no-brainer. Veto the law," Crist said.
Scott's later statement brought a second retort from Crist: "After the justifiable outrage," he said, "he came around to the right decision."
Nadine Smith of Equality Florida, an LGBT advocacy group, said Scott sent "an important message to extremists in his party not to push Florida in the disastrous direction Arizona has taken."
"The simple fact is that discrimination is morally wrong and economically reckless," Smith said.
Steve Bousquet an be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.