POMPANO BEACH — Governor Rick Scott did something recently that hasn’t always been successful: He reached out to black pastors while campaigning for re-election in November.
Scott, a Republican, addressed a nearly all-male crowd that was warm and receptive. But whether a typically progressive group will vote Republican is anyone’s guess.
Scott delivered 20-minute remarks last Thursday to more than 70 guests during a breakfast that included salmon patties, scrambled eggs and grits at The Worldwide Christian Center Church. Scott’s opening remarks spoke to his humble beginnings, and underscored his experience with social issues like poverty and addiction.
He was born amidst divorce in Bloomington, Ill. and grew up in public housing, he said. His stepfather was a truck driver, who faced regular stints of unemployment, and his mother worked several jobs to support her five children. Scott said he learned the value of hard work. He served in the Navy, earned a law degree and became a successful businessman.
“I’ve lived the American dream,” he said.
He drew parallels between himself and the audience.
“If you think about your families, and my family, they’re similar,” he said. “What do parents care about? They want jobs. Everybody needs a job; whether you grew up rich or poor, you need a job, and you also need a purpose in life.”
Reverend Dr. O’Neal Dozier, the church’s senior pastor and breakfast host, called Scott sincere and relatable.
“His background is so similar to most black people,” Dozier said. “Because most black people came up the way he came up: In poverty. Perhaps without a father, and if they had a dad, the dad wasn’t working; the dad wasn’t providing. So it is so identical.”
Scott drew more parallels.
“Second, you’re scared to death of how your kids are going to turn out,” he added. “Are our kids going to get the right education? Are they going to stay off drugs? Are they going to have alcoholism issues?”
“Pretty much every male relative I had was an alcoholic,” he continued, pointing to his 57-year-old brother, who he also described as a drug addict and manic-depressive. “I’ve dealt with a lot of the social issues that are out there.”
Scott lobbed criticism after criticism against his Democratic opponent and predecessor Charlie Crist. He said Crist, who was a Republican governor before switching parties, increased Florida’s debt to $8.7 billion, but Scott has paid off $7.1 billion. He said that 832,000 people had a job when Crist took office, but were unemployed by the time he left. He said that under Crist, unemployment increased from 3.5 to 11.1 percent, state housing prices dropped 48 percent, tuition increased 15 percent per year, and Crist left him with a $3.6 billion budget deficit. Scott didn’t reference the source of the numbers.
Pastor Dean Williams of First Presbyterian Church of Coral Springs, applauded Scott’s work to improve Florida’s economy. But he didn’t expect Scott’s remarks to affect the audience.
“We as a nation are so polarized we’re not even willing to see that the other side may have something constructive to say,” Williams said.
That didn’t stop Scott from trying.
“My parents were Democrats,” he said. “My dad was a Teamster; he loved Jimmy Hoffa. I still love my parents.”
Pastor Richard L. Macon of Jesus Christ Miracle Church of the Living God in Pompano, was impressed.
“I think they’re going to pay more attention to people like me,” Macon said of the Republican Party.
Macon, 85, says he’s one of the oldest Republicans in Pompano. It’s a distinction he’s proud of, but careful to promote.
“You’ve got to be careful when you’re a Republican because the majority of blacks will boycott you, but I still remain a loyal Republican,” said Macon, who also runs a Pompano funeral home.
Haiti Minister Pierre Michel Lubin and Pastor Todo Julien said they wanted to see Scott re-elected, and increase Haitian representation in government.
“We have a lot of Haitian people who are well educated and participating in government, but they are not involved in the decision making,” Julien said.
Scott didn’t make any promises that would specifically benefit the black community – and no one asked. Instead, audience questions focused on same-sex marriage, Scott’s opposition to raising the minimum wage and criticisms of Scott’s Personal Injury Protection (PIP) law.
Some prefaced their remarks by noting their political affiliation.
“I’m a registered Democrat,” began one pastor.
“You’re young, you’ve got a chance.” Scott quipped.
Scott reassured the pastor that he supported “traditional marriage,” but warned him that the courts would decide whether to legalize same-sex marriage. He reminded him that as governor, he has the right to choose judges to the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court when there’s an opening.
The topic of same-sex marriage came up again during a nearly three-hour service Sunday at Worldwide Christian Center Church, where Rev. Dozier encouraged congregants to get politically active.
“We love the homosexual people, don’t get me wrong,” Rev. Dozier said. “God loves them, they’re beautiful people, but God doesn’t want any same-sex marriage.”
Although Rev. Dozier mentioned Scott’s visit to the congregation, and a handout for new members underscores that the church isn’t afraid to be “politically incorrect” or take a “biblical stand” on issues like abortion, the “war on terror” and a “stand against socialism,” several congregants declined to assign their name to any political commentary. One woman said she wasn’t registered to vote. Another said she didn’t vote for Scott and didn’t agree with him on all issues. A third shook her head and walked away. Prior to Scott’s remarks, Bishop Thomas Douglas with the Holy Temple Church in Lauderhill, said he was concerned about funding for education, which he says fails to reach needy students, especially in western Broward County. “I believe we have enough resources, but it has not been used equally and efficiently in the community,” he said.
Bishop John Wayne with The Omega Church International Ministries in Ft. Lauderdale, said his congregants were struggling economically.
“There are a lot of hungry people in South Florida,” Wayne said. “A lot of people are losing their homes. What can we do to help? Every day, people are calling my church. There are no resources. What can be done?”