Gov. Rick Scott’s call for a day of prayer last week in pursuit of racial harmony among Floridians outraged/elated/rattled by the George Zimmerman verdict and the vociferous aftermath was a deft touch. Perhaps thousands of people across the state followed his counsel.
But many residents, especially those who have gotten the short end of Mr. Scott’s policy stick during his tenure, have a right to question whether his suggestion to pray for harmony was sincere or politics as usual. The call for unity aside, the governor himself has been too content to sow the seeds of divisiveness. The price has been high — costing Florida money, prestige, progress, the quality of people’s lives and, perhaps, their very lives. Mr. Scott’s refusal to revisit Stand Your Ground laws, for instance, guarantees more bloodshed.
Perhaps the most blatant instance of Mr. Scott’s willingness to pound a wedge between Floridians lies in the painful memory of last year’s presidential elections. Mr. Scott did his level best to ensure that some, “those people” — be they black, liberal-leaning Hispanic, urban dweller or college student — had to clear a higher hurdle to exercise their right to vote. The Legislature curtailed the number of days that early voting was permitted, even making sure that the polls were shut on the Sunday before Election Day, when African-American churchgoers traditionally vote after services.
It was an un-American act of dividing in hopes of conquering. But its only success was in rendering Florida’s vote useless and making the state, once again, look ridiculous, inept. It was a disgrace to democracy.
So was the governor’s refusal to allow the teenage or adult children of undocumented immigrants to get temporary driver’s licenses after an Obama administration policy allowed them to stay in this country and work. Even lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Legislature saw the wisdom of this bill, which passed almost unanimously. But Mr. Scott spurned compassion and common sense and got out his veto pen. It was one more mean-spirited move that undercut the aspirations of young people who want to succeed here. They did not violate this nation’s laws by coming here, or staying here, illegally. That was their parents’ doing. But Mr. Scott blithely squandered what Florida needs most — the talent of smart, hard-working residents — by making it harder for them to contribute to society. Again, fostering an us-vs.-them mentality.
And despite his well-timed, if not necessarily well-intentioned, U-turn — for he now supports Medicaid expansion — Mr. Scott wasted precious time and energy refusing millions in federal funds to make it happen.
The governor initially stood steadfast against covering up to 1 million low-income uninsured people in the state. The expanded coverage would have been paid for, mind you, by federal tax dollars and delivered healthcare to many who need it most. However, the governor had no problem sending Floridians’ money to states that knew a good — and principled — deal.
This year, Mr. Scott said that he would support a three-year trial run for Medicaid expansion. Too little, too late. Lawmakers failed to come through with legislation, and Mr. Scott hasn’t boldly stepped up call a special session.
The governor’s call for unity had a nice ring to it. But instead of relying on a higher authority to provide it, he, too, must take seriously his own ability to close the gap. Otherwise, too many Floridians just don’t have a prayer.