TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Rick Scott was urged Tuesday by the Florida Legislative Black Caucus to appoint fewer “Scott clones” and more African-Americans to judicial openings.
Only two of the 36 judges Scott has appointed since January are African-American, a record Rep. Darryl Rouson called “bleak.”
“They might not always think like you, but they respect the rule of law,” said Rouson, D-St. Petersburg.
During the hour-long meeting in which Scott wore reading glasses and scribbled notes on the back of a file folder, the Republican governor gave the group of 20 Democrats hope that he would support some of their issues.
Most notable was Scott’s promise to review Florida’s process to restore civil rights to ex-felons. It’s one of the toughest in the nation after changes he pushed earlier this year.
After the meeting, Scott insisted he was open to changes.
“This is one of those things where you asked about whether I listen to people,” Scott told reporters. “So I’m going to listen. ... If there is a better way of doing it, I’ll look at it.”
Scott’s meeting with the caucus was his first since February, when he irked some by saying, “I grew up probably in the same situation as you guys. I started school in public housing. My dad had a sixth-grade education.”
There was another tense moment Tuesday when, during the debate over appointments, Scott said, “Look, I took a risk with Jennifer.” He quickly added, “I’m just joking.”
Jennifer Carroll, a Jacksonville Republican, is the state’s first black lieutenant governor.
“Hey, you’re about to get in big trouble,” added Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee.
“I know,” Scott said. “She’ll let me know later on.”
“No,” Williams said. “I’m talking with all of us.”
But Scott laughed it off: “I’m more worried about Jennifer. I see her every day.”
Carroll laughed it off, too, crossing her fingers to show how close she is with Scott.
Williams said Scott should be more sensitive in “a professional setting.”
“The way it came out, it caught everybody off guard,” he said.
Caucus members also had some choice words for Scott.
Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, said Scott put the state in the “backwoods of American society” with his changes to civil rights restoration. Rouson said Scott’s choices for judicial nominees were “bleached.”
Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, accused the governor of picking judges who are “Scott clones.”
She said Scott’s nominees showed “monolithic thinking and there’s no room for a diversity of thought and then we all become Scott clones.”
Scott provided statistics showing 30 percent of his appointees and hires are African-American.
He urged the caucus, the Florida Bar and judicial nominating commissions to help recruit more diverse judicial candidates.
“This is not completely in my control,” Scott said.