When Florida Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll gives a compliment, expect the unexpected. In this case, the black second in command of the sunshine state says Gov. Rick Scott “epitomizes Martin Luther King Jr.” … Seriously.
“On Monday, we’re going to be celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday and I can’t think of anybody currently in my life right now that more epitomizes the values and the vision of Dr. King than Gov. Rick Scott,” said Carroll.
“When the governor selected me to be his running mate, he did not look at the color of my skin, he looked at the content of my character and my integrity and work ethic, and what I brought to the table. This is the dream of Dr. King that was realized for me.”
Carroll made the remark at a meeting of the Florida Republican Party on Saturday.
When Scott selected her to be his running-mate in 2010, Carroll was the lone black Republican in the state legislature, and her candidacy was promoted by a small group of black Republicans, several of whom had been supporting Scott’s opponent in the GOP primary, then Attorney General Bill McCollum.
While Florida no longer keeps voter registration statistics by race, it’s estimated that 3-4 percent of Florida Republicans are black, and despite the historic selection of Carroll, who is of Trinidadian descent, Scott got only about 3 percent of the black vote when he was elected with a bare majority of about 60,000 votes in 2010.
Scott has been an unpopular, and many Floridians would say, divisive, governor, almost from the beginning of his term, roiling Republicans and Democrats alike by turning down billions of federal dollars for high speed rail, and ordering state employees and recipients of food assistance to be drug tested (even though he owned a chain of clinics that provided, among other things, drug testing — Scott has divested himself of those assets, by transferring them to his wife.)
All of that has made Scott consistently one of the two or three most unpopular governors in the country, with an approval rating that has struggled to reach even 40 percent since he’s been in office.
As for his relationship with black Floridians, there’s little evidence that Scott has had much success in reaching out.
His proposal to cut funding for the state’s two private historically black colleges has raised questions about whether Carroll wields much influence with the governor on policy matters.
Scott called for the suspension of Florida A&M University’s president late last year over the brutal hazing-related death of marching band member Robert Champion, only to be rebuffed by FAMU’s board of trustees. When students protested his call to push Dr. James Ammons out at FAMU, Scott responded to the students by telling them he grew up in public housing, as if by default, the students at the predominantly black college grew up poor.
It was the second time Scott committed that particular gaffe. The first time, the multimillionaire governor said the same thing to a group of black state legislators, telling them in February: “I grew up probably in the same situation as you guys … ‘I started school in public housing. My dad had a sixth-grade education.”
Not surprisingly, the remark drew a chilly reception from his audience.
And last year, Scott signed a voter “reform” law that returned Florida to the Reconstruction-era practice of denying former felons who served their sentences a speedy restoration of their voting rights.
Florida is currently being sued over a law Scott signed last year that cuts the early voting period in half — which voting rights advocates believe will negatively impact black voters (who disproportionately utilize early voting) and which makes voter registration more difficult in the state. The ACLU, Rock the Vote and other plaintiffs say laws like Florida’s, pushed by conservative Republicans like Scott, are aimed at reducing the numbers of young and black voters — who tend to support Democrats — at the polls. Needless to say, Dr. King fought to expand voting rights, not to restrict them.
Meanwhile, the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 that was a culmination of the work of King and his colleagues in the Civil Rights Movement, is currently keeping Scott’s voter law from going into effect in the Florida counties still covered by the Act’s requirement for federal preclearance before implementing any law that could restrict minority voting.
So no, Rick Scott is not exactly a guy who brings to mind the great struggle for equality and brotherhood epitomized by Dr. King. And while Carroll’s selection as lieutenant governor clearly had a strong, positive impact on her, Scott’s tenure hasn’t had that kind of resonance with other black Floridians.
But Jennifer Carroll certainly is entitled to dream.