When some 20 members of the Florida Conference of Black State Legislators met Gov. Rick Scott on Nov. 1 in Tallahassee, they had a lot to discuss with the state’s chief executive. The issues included education, restoring civil rights for ex-offenders, the Florida Parole Commission, health disparities, judicial and gubernatorial appointments, business and culture.
The closest note of optimism struck afterwards by the caucus was expressed by its chairwoman, state Rep. Mia Jones of Jacksonville: “I recognize that no leader goes into office with the expectation of leaving the communities they represent worse off than they found them. And today we challenge the governor to leave the state better off than he found it, and not just for the rich but for all Floridians.”
Rep. Jones was being kind. To suggest that Mr. Scott came into office to improve the state and make it better for all Floridians is really a big stretch, though the diplomatic language is understandable.
Mr. Scott’s arrival in the governor’s mansion was part of a broader electoral sweep by the Republican Party in 2010, propelled by an intense campaign of members of the so-called “tea party” that was born out of the vicious anti-Obama diatribes that surrounded the debate on the Affordable Care Act, the so-called Obamacare health reform law. That campaign, financed by super-rich corporate interests, was ostensibly aimed at installing elected officials into office who could tackle the nation’s grim economic situation, particularly unemployment. If fulfilled, that Republican agenda would have significantly helped all Americans.
But, as events have confirmed since then, those who took office as members of Congress, governors and state legislators as a result of that campaign have done little in the way of job-creation. Instead, they have been using their high offices to intensify and widen the ongoing cultural war. Mr. Scott is a leader in that movement. Alleviating the financial hardship of black people is not an agenda item.
Florida’s black legislators and the millions of Floridians whom they represent can therefore expect little by way of what the caucus calls “our fair share of the pie.” It just won’t happen. It is not a priority of this governor and this Legislature where unashamedly partisan Republicans have an absolute majority.
But, at the same time, blacks have every right to expect that the umbrella of state government is wide enough to cover all Floridians. Their elected representatives must shift their tactic from one of expecting the governor to do the right thing to one of demanding that he does the right thing. They must form coalitions that will counter the negative exercise of legislative power by this harsh brand of Republicans, which is possible, judging from the outcome of some elections in other states this week.
We do not have to take just anything being shoved down our throats by the legislative powers-that-be. We, too, are Floridians and we don’t hope for our fair share of the pie; we demand it.