While Bill McCollum and Rick Scott tussle daily on the airwaves over who will be meaner to immigrants, a diverse group of state leaders -- including Tallahassee's first Colombian-American politico and the GOP chair of the House's Hispanic caucus -- pledged this afternoon to fight Arizona-style laws in the Sunshine State.
State Rep. Juan Zapata of Kendall and Rep. Esteban Bovo of Hialeah both decried election-year jockeying at the expense of immigrants. "It's unfortunate that people have tried to take advantage of the emotional side of the issue to try to promote themselves by promoting this legislation in Florida," Zapata says. (That would be you guys, Señors McCollum and Scott.)
On a conference call that also included Sen. Gary Siplin, chair of the Florida Conference of Black State Legislators, and Sen. Tony Hill, Zapata said Florida had no need to discuss Arizona-style crackdowns because we don't share a border with a foreign nation such as Mexico.
"It's sad that Arizona took this action at all, but their motive behind it is because they have a border security issue," Zapata says. "They're facing violent drug gangs along the border with Mexico, and that's caused problems their legislature has reacted to. We don't have that problem here in Florida."
Bovo, who is a close ally of U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio (who has done his own delicate dance on the Arizona immigration issue), says he worries that talks about bringing Arizona's laws to Florida are a thin cover for stoking racism.
"If this debate is genuine with regards to security, I'm well versed to engage in that debate," the Republican says." But if it's a vile cover for bigotry and political purposes, then I must be honest and say I'd be greatly disappointed."
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After Scott, the upstart GOP candidate for governor, began hammering Attorney General McCollum over his initial wary approach to Arizona's reforms, McCollum took a jump off the wingnut deep end earlier this month and proposed even harsher crackdowns on immigrants.
Zapata and the other state legislators -- who were also joined in today's conference by retired Col. Mike Pheneger, president of Florida ACLU; Rev. Russell Meyer of the Florida Council of Churches; and Maria Rodriguez of the Florida Immigrant Coalition -- say the GOP governor wannabes have it all wrong.
"What kind of message would that send to all the Latin American tourists who come here?" Zapata says. "There's been an underlying group of folks who are using their bigotry to portray Hispanics in a negative way and to push back on the growth and successes of the Hispanic community."