The Florida Legislative Black Caucus on Wednesday abruptly canceled its annual meeting with Gov. Rick Scott, a move the group said was meant to underscore its frustration with the governor.
The incident highlighted Scott’s at-times complicated interactions with African-Americans less than 10 months before he faces voters in the November election, though the leader of the black caucus insisted the cancellation was not politically motivated.
“We’ve got the whole summer and fall to focus on politics,” Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, said in an interview. “The governor’s had the past three years to focus on priorities.”
Williams said the caucus respected Scott’s role as governor.
“It’s not meant to be disrespectful,” he said. “It’s meant to show our frustration.”
After the caucus agreed Tuesday to cancel, Williams sent a letter to Scott on Wednesday telling him the meeting was off. As late as Wednesday morning, Scott’s schedule still included the noon get-together, though it didn’t give a location for the meeting.
“Based on your lack of action on matters of importance to this caucus that we have brought to your attention at prior meetings, we believe another meeting at this time would be fruitless,” Williams wrote.
The letter specifically mentioned, among other complaints, Scott’s stance on the restoration of civil rights for former felons, a sweeping effort to remove suspected non-citizens from the voting rolls, Scott’s appointments and the governor’s budget vetoes.
Scott’s press secretary, Jackie Schutz, said in a written statement that Scott was “disappointed” to hear that the meeting had been canceled. He offered to meet one-on-one with black lawmakers during the hour he was scheduled to speak with the caucus, though it wasn’t clear if any legislators took him up on it.
“Governor Scott believes the best way to serve Floridians is for the Legislature and the governor’s office to work together to find solutions,” Schutz said.
The black caucus meets annually with the governor, though Scott’s tenure got off to a rocky start when, in his first meeting with the group, he suggested that he could sympathize with black lawmakers because he lived in public housing as a child. Some members of the group later said they were offended by the remark.
Scott also faced protests from Florida A&M University students after he pressured the board of the historically black school to temporarily suspend President James Ammons in the wake of a hazing death. Ammons eventually resigned after months of scrutiny that grew to include other management issues at FAMU.
–Brandon Larrabee, News Service of Florida