Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican who is running for re-election, seemed to be scoring points with the state House passage last week of a measure that would let qualified Florida students pay in-state college tuition rates even if they are in the country illegally.
At least 15 other states have passed such laws, with other states considering them this year. Many Republicans have backed such bills in recognition of the growing influence of Latino voters.
But barely a day after the Florida House passed the tuition bill, Scott’s re-election campaign found itself in the line of fire. The Miami Herald reported that the governor’s ranking campaign finance co-chairman, Mike Fernandez, had expressed concern in an email about campaign staffers who were joking around in exaggerated Mexican accents while on the way to a Mexican restaurant in Coral Gables.
Scott’s campaign manager, Melissa Sellers, dismissed the significance of the report, according to The Miami Herald, saying that “Mike was not in the van.”
“I spoke to every staffer in the van,” Sellers said, according to The Herald. “If something was said in an accent, no one remembers what it was. We are a diverse organization and we do not tolerate inappropriate comments.”
The Herald also said that Fernandez had been frustrated over the re-election campaign, and drove him to resign.
The Herald said that Fernandez, who the paper describes as a “self-made billionaire healthcare CEO,” would not comment on the campaign or the email he was said to have written. The paper said that Sellers would not confirm whether she had received Fernandez’s email.
The Herald said that Fernandez gave as his reason for resigning the desire to spend more time with his family, and that he said he was confident that Scott would be re-elected.
Democrats, meanwhile, have seized on the buzz about the email, The Herald said, pointing to it as evidence of GOP disrespect for Latinos.
Miami Dade Democrats posted on their website: “Rick Scott's Finance Chair Resigns Citing Frustration with Racist Comments.”
Addressing the alleged ridiculing of Mexicans in Fernandez’s email, the Democratic organization said that heads should roll.
"Rick Scott should call for the immediate resignation of the campaign staffers involved. It would be shameful if Scott were to condone such behavior," said Miami-Dade Democratic Party Executive Director, Juan Cuba. "These insensitive remarks perpetuate a pattern of continued disrespect Rick Scott and the Republican Party have shown toward Hispanics in Florida."
Scott, who is struggling in the polls, has a Hispanic running mate, former Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Carlos Lopez-Cantera.
And the RNC set up a Florida Hispanic Advisory Council on Friday.
“The Republican Party is working to build genuine and permanent relationships with Hispanics across Florida,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said in a written statement, “and our state advisory council will help make that a reality.”