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Nancy Smith

Rick Scott Quietly Showing Hispanics He Will Fight for Their Vote

November 7, 2013 - 6:00pm

Three years ago newspapers were full of Charlie Crist's minorities mischief.

Taking heat from both blacks and Hispanics, Crist was branded an egotist whose efforts to undermine Kendrick Meek and Marco Rubio smacked of racial insensitivity.

If Crist had raised the tiniest finger in aid of either minority group during his term in the Florida governor's office, it certainly was lost to the public consciousness in October 2010.

The blow was Politico's report that Crist was involved in getting Bill Clinton to persuade Democratic nominee Meek to drop his own bid and endorse Crist so he could deny Republican Rubio the Senate seat.

Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings remarked at the time, "This is going to cause African-Americans and Hispanics to be mad and vote in greater numbers than they were likely to before this incident."

That was then.

Shortly after, Crist was out of the limelight, outsider Rick Scott was elected governor and the measure of resentment Scott endured following a close primary and general election was palpable and lingering. It wasn't just the Democrats. Establishment Republicans, strong supporters of Bill McCollum, Scott's opponent in the primary, were slow to come around. Scott was like the lonely boy at the head of the class in a new inner-city school.

During much of 2011, the comparisons drawn between his actions in office and Crist's were often unfairly and brutally unfavorable to the new governor.

Perhaps the issue that got the most out of hand was minority hiring.

After Scott had served less than nine months in office, the Times-Herald declared in a large headline, "Gov. Rick Scott has hired fewer minority staffers than Charlie Crist, Florida Cabinet officials."

Not really.

In the story's 21st paragraph, the reporter wrote, "The governor's office is required by state law to set diversity goals" -- and that was followed by, "Scott missed nine of the 18 goals for top staff positions, according to a June 30 survey. Crist missed eight of the 18 goals his last full year in office."

Scott missed nine of 18 goals, and the newspaper only gave him nine months to prove himself; Crist missed eight of 18 and he had all year. The story was a bust, the reporter had debunked it after the 21st paragraph.

In 2010, fueled by a robust Spanish-language television campaign, Scott hit an enviable benchmark for a GOP candidate, with 50 percent of the Hispanic vote. But ever since, his popularity in the Hispanic community has sagged like an old clothesline. Scott has been bedeviled by his own hard-line stance against a path for citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Between the 2010 and 2012 elections, more Hispanics registered as independents, 538,708, than as Republicans, 476,488.And about 645,000 Hispanics were registered as Democrats last year. None of these numbers have escaped the Democrats' notice.

We havent stopped our efforts since 2012, the Florida Democratic Partys political director, Christian Ulvert, has been quoted as saying. He estimates the party has out-registered Republicans with Hispanics 3-to-1.

Ulvert said, We havent seen where the Republicans have been (signing up Hispanics) in a coordinated way or effective way.

Now along comes Charlie Crist. The same day he announced he will challenge Scott, his supporters began ramping up the runaway Hispanic-numbers comparisons.

Felix Majores, Central Florida businessman and a contributor to Democratic candidates most of his life, told Sunshine State News, "Charlie's going to be an easy sell to the Latino community, especially in South Florida. Scott looks right past Latinos and appoints Anglo after Anglo. He just did it again when there was a vacancy in the 3rd DCA.

"I think all you have to do is look at how many more Latino appointments Charlie Crist made when he was governor to see why Latinos feel more appreciated with Charlie back."

Actually, Majores is wrong. During his period in office, Scott has been matching, or bettering, Crist's record for appointing Hispanics to government jobs, including judicial appointments:

-- In Crist's four years, of the 180 judicial appointments he made, 16 are Hispanic. That's 8.8 percent. In less than three years, Scott made 123 judicial appointments, 13 of which are Hispanic. That's 10.57 percent.

-- Of Crist's 2,427 nonjudicial appointments in four years, 206 are Hispanic. That's 8.49 percent. In less than three years, Scott made 1,534 nonjudicial appointments. That's 8.47 percent.

Certainly Scott missed an opportunity when he had two solid Hispanic candidates in Jorge Cueto and Jose Rodriguez, butreplaced retiring Judge Angel A. Cortinas with Edwin A. Scales III on the 3rdDistrict Court of Appeal. In fact, it was the second time in a row Scott passed over a qualified Hispanic on the DCA.

But Scales' appointment is difficult to argue with. The governor's decision was determined by geography and timing: Scalesis the first Monroe County lawyer appointed to the 3rd DCA bench since its creation in 1957.

Scott spokesman John Tupps told SSN, "Governor Scott appoints people who will best serve Florida families. For judicial appointments, he selects the most qualified candidate from nominees provided by the Judicial Nominating Commissions who will serve with humility and follow the rule of law."

Scott has always maintained with conviction that he is proud of Florida's Hispanic community, admires its spirit and sense of loyalty, and values its contribution.

"He's not flashy, he's quiet about it," said an aide to a Hispanic House member, "but when you're around Rick Scott enough you know he's pro-Hispanic all the way. He listens to us and he gets a lot of his ideas from us. I think his term has been like a partnership with the Hispanic community."

But with Crist and the rest of the Democrats sharpening their knives and preparing to skew the numbers, quiet may not work. Scott may have to do a lot more showing than telling. It's unlikely that three and four years later, Alcee Hastings' prediction will still ring true -- that African-Americans and Hispanics will remember and stay mad at Charlie Crist.

As Scott's pollster, Tony Fabrizio, explained it tothe Miami-Dade Republican Women's Club, minority outreach -- especially outreach to Florida's 4.354 million Hispanics -- is key. It's everything. Minority outreach can make the difference in the 2014 election.

Otherwise, were going to be the party of whites in an electorate, in a shrinking electoral pool, that we cant win, Fabrizio said. Yeah, so we get 65 percent of the white vote. But if theyre only 65 percent of the vote, guess what? You cant win.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423.

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