By KEITH LAING
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Feb. 15, 2011……….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 govern.'”
“Our job over the next four years 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 he hadn’t 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.”