It’s probably not unreasonable to assume that Rick Scott won’t find a lot to like in the priorities of the legislative Black Caucus, but that’s not a good reason to cancel a meeting to talk about them.
The politics of the state appear more starkly bifurcated than they really are, thanks to a splendid job of scientific gerrymandering. Carefully manufactured districts assure that the majority of the House and conservative Republicans will occupy Senate seats, even if the reality is that Florida tends to be very centrist.
In a centrist world, concerns of groups like African-Americans tend to get a better hearing than they get in a world where the lines are sharply drawn and partisanship rules. If you are a governor with a like-minded majority, the concerns and desires of the minority tend to get swept under the nearest rug. From time to time a little polite lip service gets paid, but not much of substance happens.
Rep. Alan Williams, our local representative and chair of the Black Caucus, likely had that in mind when he cancelled a meeting set up with Governor Rick Scott this past week, essentially saying that he and the other members considered it a waste of time and effort.
He may be right, but that doesn’t excuse him from making the effort and trying. To arbitrarily assume that talking to somebody who disagrees with you will be a waste of time is bad politics and bad tactics. Williams’ predecessor, Curtis Richardson, seldom saw eye-to-eye with Rick Scott either, but Curtis Richardson would sit down and talk with anyone, on the off chance that something could be accomplished. Richardson was a man who always had a full command of the facts surrounding virtually any issue before the legislature and was able to argue his position on any of them.
The rap on Richardson, as a member of the House, was that he was too much a Democrat, but the point at which flexibility becomes selling out is always open to discussion. For his part, Curtis will tell you that, while he’s running for a seat on the Tallahassee City Commission, there is no way you could persuade him to run for the legislature again. The frustration over a growing inflexibility, the partisanship, the open rancor, left him unsure that anything could be accomplished.
One suspects that this is what drove Alan Williams and his fellow caucus members, but when you stop talking nothing much happens. It’s instructive that Senator Bill Montford and Curtis Richardson, when they ran against each other for that Senate seat, were like two peas in a pod where their positions on the important issues affecting this area were concerned. Montford won that election and has succeeded in that position as a Democrat in a heavily Republican body; not by selling out, but by his being prepared to listen and sell his viewpoint regardless. This comes naturally as breathing for Montford who was a lobbyist for years. Montford does something that Alan Williams could learn. He listens and he keeps talking, selling his viewpoint. In a highly partisan world it’s the only approach that produces results.