The Florida bishops met with Governor Rick Scott this morning, obviously for the first time and I must say that I was impressed with him. Obviously somewhat nervous to be in front of seven men in black suits with crosses and chains, the Governor quickly warmed up to the audience and gave us about thirty-five minutes of time in his busy schedule. While I consider discussions such as this to be somewhat privileged, I would say that our first meeting went very well. Our talking points were these: sanctity of life concerns (nothing to worry about here with this Governor), the McKay and Florida Tax Credit scholarships for children in non-public schools (he is strongly in favor of choice in education), criminal justice reform (his administration has proposed some interesting concepts which just might lead to greater restorative justice in our jails and prisons), immigration concerns (here he tends to think somewhat in Arizona terms but acknowledges that until the border is sealed and the economy improves, there will be no shift in public perception and feelings about immigration reform), health reform and Medicaid changes (in this regard, he thinks health care can be improved and delivery of services more accessible than presently or even under the proposed federal health care reform act).
What impressed me most is that our session was a no-nonsense and straightforward discussion. This Governor does not equivocate if he holds a position on an issue. If it is something he can espouse but needs more information, he promises to see to it and I leave thinking that he will. There is a passion in the man that is not political but practical. I left our meeting today thinking that Governor Scott at this moment in his tenure doesn’t give a proverbial “hoot” about re-election but is dedicated to achieving the goals he laid down in his campaign to reform, streamline, and attempt to make every aspect of state government more effective while at the same time less costly. In other words, he seems intent on doing exactly those things he said he would do during the two campaigns.
On the matter of the death penalty, the Governor clearly does not like being the person who will sign the final warrants for death by lethal injection. He noted that out of the 392 persons on death row, 40 have exhausted all their appeals and decisions will have to be made case by case. We spoke to him with our own passion about the fact that Florida is now the only state in the union which allows juries to offer an advisory sentence with only seven of the twelve recommending death. It takes a unanimous jury to convict but fifty percent plus one to execute. I remain equally uncomfortable with the fact that Florida elects its judges, many of whom make capital punishment decisions while running for election or reelection.
We will surely disagree on issues of public policy in the years to come but he seemed to me to be respectful and a good listener. After the meeting I learned that he has removed all state aid to the homeless from his budget and that is troubling and I wonder if his approach to Medicaid reform will really improve or remove the access of the poor to medical care and service.
The Governor who is not a Catholic will be attending the Red Mass this evening, something his predecessor never did and promised that his Administration would be open to further dialogue with our Conference staff and the bishops. All in all, a good morning in Church-State relations and a good start to what I hope will be a useful and fruitful l relation with our new Governor.
Later in the morning we met up with the representatives from our respective dioceses who were here for the annual “Catholic Days at the Capitol.” These generous and dedicated volunteers come early in each legislative session to meet with the members of the Legislator and share our and their position on certain issues of public policy.
The afternoon was taken up with a meeting of the heads of the Catholic hospitals in the state to talk about the implementation of the Patient Protection Act (“Obama-care”) in Florida, its consequences for conscience protection and use of federal or state funds for abortion, etc. It was a ninety-minute walk through an alien land for most of us bishops as health care is almost a world unto its own. The CEO’s present from hospitals in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Tampa and St. Petersburg, Jacksonville and Pensacola were a very impressive group of women and men.
Now I am ready to fly back to Tampa after a long day and a packed twenty-four hours. On the way up last night, our flight was twenty minutes into the sixty minutes trip when our right propeller engine began to fail and we had to turn and limp back to Tampa, allow them to swap planes and arrive here an hour and thirty minutes late. I am hoping for better luck tonight.