Uneasy Alliance for Bush, Minority African-Americans Evaluate Governor
Pendleton, Randolph, The Florida Times Union
TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Jeb Bush sat down with Rep. Willie Logan and three other Black Caucus members on the second day of this month's special session and gave them the bad news: He would not support their amendment to the death penalty appeals bill.
Later that day, Logan, a Democrat from Opa-locka, gave Bush the bad news: He would not vote for the bill.
Only one of the 15 Black Caucus members, Rep. Rudy Bradley, R-St. Petersburg, voted for the legislation when it passed 80-35 the next day.
Although African-Americans typically vote for Democrats, Bush courted them in his 1998 campaign for governor and won the support of some, such as Logan and Bradley.
But he and the African-American legislators have proved to be uncertain allies.
Bush has appointed African-Americans to important positions, promised to increase diversity in university enroll- ments and state contracts without using racial preferences through his One Florida initiative, and rejected lists of judicial candidates that did not include enough African-Americans and women.
On the other hand, he opposed the amendment letting appeals courts consider the influence of racism in reviewing death sentences, and his decision to replace affirmative action with his own plan for increasing diversity alarmed many in the African-American community.
African-Americans have had mixed reactions to the new Republican governor.
Bradley, who switched parties to become the Legislature's only African-American Republican, says a better question than what has Bush done for African-Americans would be what did other governors do in the past 100 years.
With more African-Americans in prison than in college, AIDS running rampant and infrastructure crumbling in the core cities, Bradley said, Bush inherited a mess and is doing what he can to fix the situation.
"He has done a tremendous job," Bradley said.
Logan, who broke with his fellow Democrats when they dumped him as their leader two years ago, has followed an independent course -- sometimes supporting Bush, sometimes not.
"We're still friends," Logan said after opposing the governor on the bill to speed up death penalty appeals.
Others are not so cordial, at least publicly.
Committed African-American Democrats like Sen. Betty Holzendorf of Jacksonville have scorned Bush's efforts to seek African-American support.
"He's done it like a master on a plantation," Holzendorf said. "He's got his house Negroes and his field Negroes. His policy seems to be divide and conquer."
The Rev. Rudolph McKissick Jr., pastor of Bethel Baptist Institutional Church, thinks Bush is trying to do the right thing but could go about it more effectively.
McKissick, who was with a group of African-American ministers who met with Bush in Tallahassee a week ago to discuss his affirmative action proposal, said he told the governor it would be wise to seek the views of those who are skeptical as well as those who support him.
"You have to bring in those who the community holds as the guardians of the gate," McKissick said. "That may be the missing piece in the community-at-large believing he is sincere."
McKissick added that the consultation with such groups must be before the policy is formed, not after.
Logan said that Bush needs a close adviser who has a finger on the pulse of the African-American community and can anticipate problems, like those that arose when he announced his proposal to curtail affirmative action.
Logan said Bush has talented African-Americans in high positions, but no one in his inner circle with close ties to the grass roots.
"He is lacking an insider staff person who can be his ears and eyes within the black community," Logan said.
Logan admitted it might be difficult to find such a person, many fear they would be accused of selling out by other African-Americans. …