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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) — Progressives are responding to Florida Governor Rick Scott’s “State of the State” and they appear to be ready to tangle with him.
Governor Scott promised to fight for economic-incentive money, business tax cuts and conservative education reforms but despite a lack of influence in Republican-dominated Tallahassee, progressives and Democratic lawmakers we’re having it.
A coalition of labor, environmental, LGBT-rights, and other left-leaning groups under the banner “Awake the State” organized more than a dozen rallies across Florida to coincide with the first day of the 2017 legislative session, including an event at the Capitol.
Their message: Scott and Republican leaders are not fighting for us.
“The governor, and frankly the Speaker (Richard Corcoran), are living in an alternative reality,” said Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, following Scott’s speech.
“It’s like the foxes are in the henhouse when it comes to this administration,” said longtime liberal activist Barbara DeVane, who lobbies for the National Organization for Women.
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democrat running for governor in 2018, was raising money off the State of the State address even before Scott took the rostrum.
“Empty claims and promises about Florida’s economic future, the same kind he’s been making for years while he continues to pursue policies that favor the wealthy and leave the rest of us behind,” was Gillum’s appraisal in an email appeal.
Scott drew upon his experiences as a child growing up in poverty to bolster his arguments against cutting funding for the economic-development agency Enterprise Florida and tourism-marketer Visit Florida, funding that has been derided by critics on the left and right as “corporate welfare.”
“I will admit that it is probably more difficult for people who have never gone hungry, or gone through foreclosure, or seen their family car repossessed to understand this. If you never lived through these experiences, it may be harder to understand the urgency here,” Scott said. “I will just leave it like this: I am fighting for our state’s job programs because I am fighting for the families just like mine growing up.”
But advocates for labor, immigrants’ rights and other groups were clearly not buying it.
“In this year’s legislative session, Gov. Scott and his allies are planning yet another big giveaway to corporate special interests while the priorities of everyday Floridians are sidelined,” said Mark Ferrulo, executive director of Progress Florida, which helped organize the statewide rallies.
Democratic lawmakers sounded equally skeptical of Scott’s economic-development plans.
“From conservative think tanks to top economists, there’s widespread agreement that the way to lure the top companies with the top-paying jobs isn’t just dangling tax dollars in front of them,” said Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, delivering a formal response to Scott’s address.
Hannah Willard of the gay-rights group Equality Florida also panned Scott for discussing last summer’s Orlando Pulse nightclub massacre at length — Scott praised the heroism of local police and SWAT team officers — without making mention of the fact that most of the 49 victims were LGBT.
“Thoughts and prayers are not enough,” Willard said. “Our leaders need to take action to defend our community.”
Francesca Menes of the Florida Immigrant Coalition counted nine bills she said aimed to restrict the rights of undocumented immigrants and their children.
“We’ve got a lot of fights this year,” said Menes, who ran for the state House last year, narrowly losing to Democrat Roy Hardemon in a seven-way primary. “We’re not going to let them take us and our communities apart.”
(The News Service of Florida’s Ryan Ray contributed to this report.)