Gov. Rick Scott welcomed black legislators to lunch Tuesday at the Governor’s Mansion, but his choice of words left some feeling more alienated than ever.
In discussing his own humble origins, Scott implied that all black lawmakers grew up poor.
“I grew up probably in the same situation as you guys,” Scott said to the group of 20 Democrats. “I started school in public housing. My dad had a sixth-grade education.”
Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa, said she was offended by the remark, but did not protest at the time because she said it was more important to have a productive dialogue with the new governor.
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Afterward, she said, “He assumed that everyone [in the room] was poor and that can only be because you’re black.”
Rep. Joe Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach, said Scott’s choice of words was unfortunate even if he was trying to “empathize” with the black caucus.
“Some of us might be from the projects, but we come from all spectrums of life,” Gibbons said.
“I grew up in the projects, too,” said Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando. “I would hope he would be sensitive to his own background. We don’t want a handout, but some jobs.”
For an hour over lunch, the lawmakers voiced opposition to Scott’s plans to end state support for two historically black colleges, to abolish a state office that helps minority-owned businesses get state contracts and to lower unemployment benefits and health care funding for the poor. They also expressed concern that Scott so far has not appointed any black agency heads and asked him to stop using the term “Obamacare.”
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