[UPDATE] 2-17 Noon
Members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus chided Gov. Rick Scott again on Wednesday for failing to hire black administrators and not providing dollars for most historically black colleges. Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, said Scott has hired only two black division directors for his administration. No blacks have been included in the ranks of agency heads or other high-level staff brought on by the governor in his first six weeks in office, Siplin said. “This is not something that we are proud of, nor reflects the composition of this state,” Siplin said. The 24-member caucus said it has established an e-mail address to solicit resumes of black candidates seeking posts within the administration, along with contact information for individuals and minority companies interested in seeking state contracts. The address: IMQualified@live.com. Siplin said unemployment within the minority community is far outstripping the state’s 12 percent level, and that Scott should display sensitivity to jobless Floridians even as he is seeking to overhaul Medicaid, state pensions, and other programs. While caucus members praised Scott for selecting Jennifer Carroll as the state’s first black lieutenant governor, Siplin said the governor had “catching up to do.” “He’s behind, way behind” in minority hiring, Siplin said. Scott also has drawn criticism for recommending elimination of traditional state funding for private colleges and universities. Struggling historically black schools such as Bethune-Cookman University and Florida Memorial College were zeroed out of Scott’s spending plan, although one institution – Edward Waters College – would draw $1.8 million. The Jacksonville college is near the legislative district formerly represented by Carroll, although caucus members said the lieutenant governor had lobbied for full-funding of black colleges. Scott spokesman Brian Burgess said, “The governor will hire the best qualified applicants, period.”
Tallahassee, FL - Despite a cordial meeting with Gov. Rick Scott at the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee, members of the legislative black caucus said Tuesday they were not optimistic they would be able to find much common ground with the new governor they all campaigned against.
And that’s despite him having a former member of their group as his lieutenant governor.
“The governor is real set in his ways. He has a very, very pro-corporate conservative view of how life should be and he’s very entrenched,” Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, told the News Service of Florida as he walked out of the Mansion. “We talked about appointments, education spending, health care, all the major issues and his response was always ‘I was raised this way and this is what I believe and how I’m going to be governor.’”
“Our job over the next four year is to educate him that everybody is not the same in Florida and not everyone has the same opportunities,” Smith said.
Asked if the presence of Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, Florida’s first black second-in-command, helped any, Smith said only “I pray that it helps to have her in there.”
Those seemed to be the sentiments of many of the 20-plus members of the Florida Conference of Black State Lawmakers as they left an hour-long lunch with Scott Tuesday. Days before Scott and Carroll’s inauguration, members of the mostly-Democratic black caucus attended a reception at the state’s largest historically black university to honor Carroll's election.
Tuesday, they were saying that even with Carroll on Scott’s team, the governor didn’t appear eager to take up their concerns.
“Nothing new,” said state Rep. Oscar Braynon, who is running for a vacant state Senate seat, when asked what he heard from the governor Tuesday. “He told us what he believed; we told him what we believed. We told him about our concerns with the budget, he continued to say what I call the company line ‘that we don’t have unlimited resources.’”
Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, said the caucus members and the governor had a “spirited conversation” Tuesday, but he did not expect it to foster better relations. However, the presence of Carroll, who had been the lone Republican black lawmaker, could still be an ice breaker, he said.
“Jennifer Carroll will know a lot of our issues,” Braynon said. “It’s early to tell what that will manifest into, but a big issue we had was with the (proposed) elimination of the Office of Supplier Diversity. With Jennifer in the room, he told us that the plan was to roll that over into another agency. That may not have had happened had she not been there.”
The chairman of the Conference of Black State Lawmakers, Sen. Gary Siplin, said Scott told members he had not named any black state agency heads in part because received any suggestions on qualified people for those jobs, or for that matter for state contractors.
So the caucus is going to give him some.
“It was a beginning, our first opportunity to meet with a governor who has very little experience in public office,” Siplin, D-Orlando, said of the meeting. “He did offer to allow us to make recommendations on secretaries and other boards and black businesses to compete for some of these suspended contracts, so we’re going to hold a press conference (Wednesday) at noon in front of his office.”
The black lawmakers plan to announce a recruiting effort – seeking to get some suggestions for possible agency heads from the minority community.
The caucus will also press Scott to restore funding for the state’s historically black colleges, Siplin said. The only one included in Scott’s $65.9 billion plan was Edward Waters College, which is located near Carroll’s old House district. Otherwise, Scott’s budget request eliminates funding for most private universities, including HBCUs, and reduces spending on most public schools, too.
Siplin added that he would press for job creation efforts targeted at black residents because “when the economy is down for Florida in general, it’s even more down for us.”
He credited Carroll with coordinating Tuesday’s meeting between the black caucus and Scott and said she planned to meet with the lawmakers to discuss their budget concerns next week.
“It’s very important,” to have Carroll in the Scott administration, Siplin said. “She’s very sensitive to our needs.”
He added that he is less pessimistic than some of his colleagues appeared about Scott, at least when it came to increasing the amount of diversity in his hires.
“I’m hoping he’ll follow in the example of Bush, Crist and even the Senate president, who appointed me as a black (committee) chairman and (that Scott will) step in line,” said Siplin, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, one of only two posts to go to Democrats in the overwhelmingly Republican chamber. “I’m looking forward to submitting the names.”
A spokesman for Scott said the governor was looking forward to hearing from the caucus, though no promises were made on anything they discussed Tuesday.
“The governor enjoyed the meeting and appreciated the open dialogue,” said Scott spokesman Brian Burgess. “Both he and the members of the caucus share the same goal to turn Florida’s economy around and create jobs.”