By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election campaign hit a snag this week—particularly with the Hispanic community.
The Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald got wind of an email from a Hispanic fundraiser on the Scott team that blasted campaign officials for how it’s handling Florida’s Hispanic community.
Before he abruptly resigned as a top fundraiser for Gov. Rick Scott, health care executive Mike Fernandez let loose with a litany of complaints in an email obtained by the Times/Herald. He described a “homogeneous” team of campaign advisers who are scared to disagree with Scott and don’t understand the culture of Hispanic voters whose support he needs to win re-election.
The aftershocks of Fernandez’s resignation remain a distraction for Scott’s campaign, and it underscores a key part of the Democrats’ opposition strategy, that Republicans can’t relate to Hispanic voters. The most explosive part of Fernandez’s Feb. 20 email was his claim, first reported in The Miami Herald, that two Scott campaign aides imitated a Mexican accent while driving to a Mexican restaurant. When Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera said Monday there was “no validity” to the Herald report, it prompted Republicans sympathetic to Fernandez to release a copy of the email, which in broader terms reveals Fernandez’s uneasiness with the direction of Scott’s campaign.
Fernandez’s email indicates that he never heard the comments he complained about. His business partner, identified in the email only as Luis, apparently did on the way to a Chipolte Grill, a Mexican restaurant.
“It’s culturally insensitive for him to hear a senior staff members [sic] mimicking a Mexican accent on the way to Chipotle. It shows that the team does not understand the culture YOU need to win,” Fernandez wrote on his iPad.
Dismissing the accusation, Lopez-Cantera said Monday: “There’s no validity that we can find to any of those comments, or what was written. This is a diverse organization. We don’t tolerate inappropriate comments and I don’t believe they even happened.
Scott has had a rocky past with the Hispanic community in the state, which makes this incident an unwelcome problem.
Last year, Scott vetoed a popular immigration bill that successfully made it through the Republican-led Florida House and Senate. It would have allowed many young undocumented immigrants to apply for a temporary drivers’ license. Scott wrote in his veto message at the time that he was against signing the bill into law because deferred action was a policy in the Obama administration, and not a rule written by Congress.
The bill would have given young undocumented immigrants greater opportunity to find work and go to school and had broad support from other Republicans. In the GOP-led Florida Senate, the bill passed unanimously. In the GOP-led Florida House, it passed 115-2.
Scott’s veto was considered a huge blow to the Hispanic community at the time.
Scott has also taken heat from Hispanics because of his ongoing purge of non-citizens from the voter rolls.
The state’s 2012 list of suspected non-citizen voters, which was then handed down to local election supervisors, was rife with errors. What greatly concerned Hispanic activists, though, were reports that the list included a disproportionate number of Hispanics and other minority voters.
A Hispanic voting rights group eventually sued the state and the purge was all but dead right before the presidential election last year.
Scott has since renewed his effort to purge non-citizens from the state’s voter rolls. Already this year, minority groups have held press conferences speaking out against the purge. Members of the Florida Democratic Hispanic Caucus have noted that 82 percent of the names pulled in the first voter purge were non-white and 60 percent were Hispanic.
But Scott has been also trying to change this image.
Recently, Scott appointed Florida’s very first Hispanic Lieutenant Governor, Carlos Lopez-Cantera. He also told a group of Hispanic lawmakers recently that he would “consider” signing an in-state tuition bill if it came to his desk, which is a big turn-around considering his past with immigration bills.
But, this latest campaign snafu could hinder some of that work.
Former Republican state Representative Ana Rivas Logan and Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chair Annette Taddeo joined in the party bashing of Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday and called on the governor to fire the staff whose anti-Hispanic slurs prompted his campaign finance chair to resign last week.
“Rick Scott’s campaign staff mocked Florida Hispanics like school children. That’s unacceptable from the people trying to elect a governor in one of the most diverse states in the nation,” said Rivas Logan, now a Miami Democrat, in a conference call with reporters. “These anti-Hispanic comments are exactly the kind of comments that made up my mind to leave the Republican Party.”
She criticized the governor for failing to apologize and move on and suggested that his passiveness “shows the culture of the campaign.”
Rivas Logan urged the governor to fire the staff who allegedly made the offensive remarks mocking Hispanics. “He needs to take a stand on this,” she said. “He needs to fire these people and hold them accountable and say that bigotry does not have a place in politics.”
A call with reporters this week came to an abrupt end when Lt. Gov. Lopez-Cantera got three straight questions about the incident.
Fernandez maintains he left the Scott campaign to spend more time with this family.