HOLLYWOOD (CBSMiami/AP) — Florida Democrats gathered in Hollywood Saturday evening for their annual Jefferson Jackson dinner.
During the fundraiser, Sen. Bill Nelson, congresswoman and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and state party Chairwoman Allison Tant criticized Gov. Rick Scott for his changing positions on Medicaid expansion, cutting education spending his first year in office, cutting early voting days two years ago before restoring them this year, vetoing a bill that would have allowed drivers licenses for immigrants who were brought to the country as children and who are not citizens and more.
“That’s not leadership, that’s failure — or incompetence,” Nelson said. “Compared to his GOP predecessors like Jeb Bush and Bob Martinez, he would score very low in the Republican Party. Perhaps he’s fit for a tea party, but our state simply cannot afford another four years of his brand of extremism.”
Unlike four years ago, when the dinner gave gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink a huge spotlight, and featured Senate candidate Kendrick Meek, Democrats decided to keep the program short and set a speakers list that only included Nelson, Wasserman Schultz, Tant and keynote speaker San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro.
Not that there are many candidates to invite. Former Sen. Nan Rich is the only credible statewide candidate that’s announced election plans.
“This is not a candidates forum. This is a fundraising event to celebrate the victories of 2012 and to fundraise so that we can go forward,” Tant said before the dinner.
She said, however, people are so unhappy with Republican Gov. Rick Scott they didn’t need a candidate to highlight.
“People are so anxious for a change they almost don’t care who the person is. They’re just ready for the candidates to identify themselves and come out. The enthusiasm is incredible,” Tant said.
Former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist is thinking of running for his former seat as a Democrat and 2010 nominee Alex Sink is considering another run, but neither has announced plans. Crist left the GOP in 2010 after running for Senate as an independent. He registered as a Democrat last December. He looked like a candidate as he mobbed by party activists, shaking hands and posing for photos and barely able to get across the room.
“The welcome by the Democratic Party and Democrats generally has been overwhelming,” Crist said. “I do feel at home, without a doubt. I’ve never felt more comfortable politically ever.”
The dinner’s four speakers gave a preview of their talking points during an afternoon press conference.
“Rick Scott has decimated the quality of life for working families,” said Wasserman Schultz. “Rick Scott has continuously demonstrated how out of touch he is. That’s why our event is successful tonight. That’s why we’re going to beat him in November (2014). It’s why he’s the most unpopular governor in the country.”
Tant said the event raised $850,000 for the party and 1,300 tickets were sold.
Castro criticized Scott’s veto of the immigrant drivers license bill.
“This is just one more example of the divisiveness that’s too much a part of the Florida Republican Party today,” said Castro.
Nelson, who is being asked by some Democrats to run for governor, said Scott has a “narrow, extremist political ideology.”
“That’s why people are upset and they’re looking for someone that can take him on and win. That’s the backdrop to all of this,” said Nelson. He said, though, he has no plans to run.
Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry defended Scott in a statement.
“Gov. Rick Scott’s strong leadership has led Florida to have the second largest drop in unemployment in the nation, some of the best schools and teachers in America, and job creators flocking to the state to invest,” he said. “Democrats have to choose between a former governor who oversaw the second highest jump in unemployment in the nation, an extreme liberal former state senator who doesn’t see a tax hike she doesn’t like, or a former CFO who’s already lost to Gov. Scott.”
Rich said she was disappointed she wasn’t allowed to speak. Sink also said Rich should have been given the opportunity. She prepared a speech anyway and tweeted a link to it.
In it, she not only criticized Scott, but she also pointed out a difference she has with potential primary opponent Crist.
“I’m a lifelong Democrat. I’m a Democrat because of our party’s values and priorities,” she wrote.
A man with a “LET NAN RICH SPEAK” sign was told to leave the convention center by hotel security.
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