Governor Rick Scott got lots of applause after an appearance before a group of American chambers of commerce based in Latin America, meeting at the Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Miami Thursday night.
"So I look forward to working with all of you to make sure this is the number one state for job creation," Scott said.
Creating jobs and making Florida friendly to businesses is one of the governor’s top priorities in repealing regulations. But Scott's immigration plan is to make Florida very un-friendly to immigrants here illegally - whether it's a technical violation or a serious criminal enterprise.
It’s Governor Scott’s "Arizona-style" law.
"So, if you are in our country," he told reporters after the speech, "and you’re stopped – just like if I get stopped for speeding – you’re stopped, uh, for violating the law, you should be asked whether you’re legal or not."
But Cheryl Little, a renowned champion of immigration rights, says police would not ask Governor Scott or anyone who looks like him for his papers. They'd ask only those who look Hispanic or Latin.
"And folks who support this say they can do it without racial profiling,” Little said. “That’s like me saying I’m going to go to the ocean and not get wet. That’s virtually impossible."
Governor Scott has been a frequent visitor at South Florida Latin and Hispanic events and appearing before such groups. Yet critics say opposition to his Arizona-style immigration plan is building, and building among Republicans and business groups who foresee a huge backlash politically and economically.
"And we’re very concerned,” said Little. “I mean, if a law like this were to pass in Florida, our economy I think would take a terrible hit. Our agriculture business, our tourism business – just the amount of money we’d spend defending this law."
The Governor was asked when he intends to help legislators draft his immigration reform and whether he's sensed opposition from Latin or Hispanic leaders like those with whom he met tonight.
He wouldn't answer either question.
That he didn't answer those questions raises another issue. He's been governor just 30 days or so and already he's developed a reputation for closely guarding access to him and trying to tightly manage the press so that the public can, in fact, get answers to those important questions.
Thursday night’s interactions were no different.
He took no questions from the business leaders, made a quick exit, finished 30 minutes before reporters were told he would start to speak, then, during an informal “gaggle” as his media person Amy Graham calls the brief, on-the-fly gathering of reporters, the Governor seemed to make a concerted effort to avoid direct answers or robust, back and forth with reporters.
Here is the verbatim of one exchange with a reporter who asked about Governor Scott’s recent plan to scale back pension contributions to state employees:
Scott: “...It’s fair to taxpayers.”
Reporter: “Yeah, but they say they can’t afford it.”
Scott: “Next question, please.”
Reporter: “Governor? You don’t want to answer that question? Because the police union…”
Scott: “I’ve answered it.”
Reporter: “…is specifically making an allegations that they can’t afford this.”
Scott: “Go ahead (to the next reporter’s question).”
Or this verbatim asking when he would introduce his immigration reform:
Reporter: “When you ran for Governor, you had a pretty strong immigration reform plan. And I wanted to find out what your timeline was for that, and whether, in your interaction with some of the Latin groups here, you’ve met some opposition with your opinions.”
Scott: “Here’s what I’ve believed all along. One, we want to secure our borders. We need the federal government to do their job and secure our borders. Two, we need to have an immigration policy that works. We need a policy that, that we allow people – our country was built on legal immigration. We want people to come to our country. At the same time, we don’t want people violating our laws. So, if you are in our country, and you’re stopped – just like if I get stopped for speeding – you’re stopped, uh, for violating the law, you should be asked whether you’re legal or not.”
Reporter: “So, but, the question was have you run into some opposition from some of the Latin and Spanish-speaking groups you’ve met?”
Scott: “When I talk to people, they completely agree that we want to have a fair system, that people can legally immigrate to our country. But no one wants anyone violating our laws.”
And then the Governor was asked specifically about his strained interactions with reporters:
Reporter: “It seems that you are, uh, concerned about managing your interactions with the press. Even tonight, we’ve seen examples of her (press secretary Amy Graham) cutting off our questions early, you moving on to another question before reporters have fully had a chance to have a robust, back-and-forth with you. Can you respond to that?”
Scott: “Gosh, you know, uh, let’s see, I probably have done 15 interviews today. So I do interviews all across the state pretty much every place I go to. I do my best at answering questions. So I think I’ve got a very good relationship with the media. Thank you!”
Press Secretary Graham: “Thank you!”
Reporter: “Even now we’re trying to ask questions and he won’t let us finish.”
Scott: “Thank you (as Governor walks away and gets in waiting SUV).”