On the eve of the opening of the Florida Legislature, activists from Democratic-allied organizations rallied Monday at the state Capitol to challenge Gov. Rick Scott and Republican leaders over health care, voting changes and their support for a controversial self-defense gun law.
Dubbed “Moral Monday,” the effort brought together 500 demonstrators, mostly from NAACP chapters around the state. Public employee unions and health care organizations also sent activists to the rally, where speakers condemned Republican leadership for policies they said hurt lower-income Floridians and minorities.
“We have come today with the power of our voices,” said Bishop A.J. Richardson of the African-Methodist Episcopal Church in Florida. “In November, we will use the power of our vote.”
The Moral Monday theme mirrors similar efforts undertaken last year in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. The Capitol rally singled out issues certain to be flashpoints during the legislative session, while also casting them against the backdrop of the civil rights movement.
Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale said Florida no longer has whites’ only hospitals — but it does have a disparity in health care coverage, made worse by the Legislature’s refusal last year to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
He also said that minorities are no longer forced to take a test before voting — but blacks with felony records are still barred from casting ballots in Florida.
“Sometimes things don’t change, they just change the way things are done,” Smith told the crowd gathered near the steps of the Old State Capitol.
L.D. Wilcox, a retired educator from Haines City in Polk County, was among those who left home for a long, pre-dawn trip to Tallahassee. He said Scott was “out of touch” with the needs of working Floridians.
“We need better leadership,” Wilcox said. “You can’t lead from behind.”
John Tupps, a Scott spokesman, disputed the characterization of the governor, saying he has tried to keep tuition low, create better-paying jobs and cut taxes.
“Gov. Scott welcomes Floridians participating in the democratic process and voicing their concerns to build a better Florida,” Tupps said. “He is happy to work with anyone who shares his focus on building a better future for Florida.