Guns and the governor



After the horrific murders of 20 first graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary, Gov. Rick Scott said he wanted to have a conversation with Floridians about guns. That was more than a month ago and we’re still waiting for the governor to take part in the conversation — beyond saying that he “continues to believe in the Second Amendment and doesn’t propose any changes in (Florida) gun laws.”

In other words, Rick Scott thinks our gun laws are hunky-dory just the way they are. Nothing needs to change. No need to reinstate an assault weapons ban or require background checks on the thousands of people who buy handguns at gun shows, from individuals or on the Internet. Forty percent of all guns are sold that way and you’d have to be an idiot not to think some of the weapons wind up in the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.

The governor seemed annoyed when I asked during an event at Port Everglades to explain what it means for him to “continue supporting the Second Amendment.” What part of him believing in the Second Amendment didn’t I understand, was pretty much his answer. So I asked if there’s any part of the president’s gun control plan — like universal background checks — that he could support? “I haven’t had a chance to look at the president’s plan,” Scott said.

The governor still hadn’t looked at Obama’s plan when we sat down the following day for a lengthy (by Scott’s standards) interview at Booker T. Washington Senior High in Overtown. The school, we should note, is a spic-and-span sanctuary of safety and learning in a tough and often violent neighborhood.

Recently, a Booker T. student with a spotless record, 15-year-old Aaron Willis, was shot as he rode his bike; he’s paralyzed from the waist down. Bryan Herrera, a 16-year-old straight A student at Miami Jackson, was shot and killed as he rode his bike through Wynwood in December. Bryan and Aaron are just two of many young victims of vicious gun violence.

School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho says he’s buried 44 Miami-Dade students in the last four years, nearly all of them shot to death. We have an epidemic of gun violence, but it doesn’t seem to have come up on the governor’s radar.

Booker T. is an inspirational place thanks to principal William Aristide and his staff, with help lately from 15 City Year volunteers who mentor, tutor and assist teachers. It was the impressive City Year young people, recent college grads who are assigned to at-risk schools, whom the governor had gone to visit.

The best moment of that visit came when Ann Scott, a warm and gracious lady, walked down a school hallway with her arm around City Year volunteer Dina Lewis, who also had her arm around the first lady. Actions, especially in politics, often speak louder than words and that spontaneous moment says many good things about Mrs. Scott. Ms. Lewis, too.

Gov. Scott had no such moments. He’s friendly and engaging in private conservations, but cool, guarded and opaque when the subject turns to public policy. He seems incapable of answering any question simply and directly. Scott begins most of his replies — answer would be too strong — with, “As you know . . . ” In fact, we don’t know, and trying to find out from him is nearly impossible.

An example. Here’s his answer, verbatim, when I asked him if he would support universal background checks for gun purchases: “It’s always easy to say do something when no one understands what it is. Anything like that, let’s be sure we understand what we’re doing, what type of things it’s going to cover.” Sounds like No, but you try to figure it out.

I also asked the governor why he’d done a total about-face on election reform and got a similar non-response. After the November election, Scott said Florida had “done the right thing” and that 4.4 million voters had cast ballots, even if some had to wait for hours to do so. Suddenly last week Scott, who refused to extend early voting hours, voiced support for extending them, for more voting sites, shorter ballots and once again allowing people to vote on the Sunday before the election.

Why the change of heart? Scott wouldn’t admit that it was. He said the problem with the November election was inefficient local election supervisors, not him or the Legislature.

So how are you going to get re-elected, I asked, when your approval rating stands at 33 percent, the lowest of any governor in the country? His boilerplate reply: “The only poll that counts is the one on election day.” Yada yada.

Scott spent more than $70 million of his own money to get elected in 2010. It paid for a brilliant TV ad campaign that humanized him and offered hope about jobs. He also had the advantage of the tea party surge and a weak Democratic opponent.

I don’t think money will play nearly as big a role in 2014 as it did last time. Florida voters have an impression of Rick Scott and it’s not favorable. Big business likes him and should. He’s been their governor. But for regular folks who struggle to pay their mortgage or rent, put food on the table and send their kids to college, Rick Scott is from another planet.

And when he fails to acknowledge issues that deeply matter to his constituents — like gun violence — he becomes the worst thing a politician can be: irrelevant.

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