The 2014 Florida gubernatorial election—which pits incumbent Gov. Rick Scott (R) against former Gov. Charlie Crist (D)—is one of the most competitive races in the country. Florida has traditionally been a bellwether for national elections, and in the 2012 presidential election, the Millennial vote was key to tipping the state in favor of President Barack Obama.
The outcome of Florida’s gubernatorial race is particularly important for the state’s Millennials. Based on his past actions, Gov. Scott will continue to pursue policies that harm the future prospects of millions of young people in the state. Specifically, Gov. Scott’s stance on seven critical issues—the minimum wage, health care, immigration, women’s health and rights, guns, climate change, and marriage equality—have significance for Millennials in Florida.
Gov. Scott is opposed to increasing Florida’s minimum wage despite the fact that many Florida families are struggling to make ends meet even as the economy improves. The minimum wage has remained stagnant for the past 12 years, while Florida families have seen their cost of living increase by more than $10,000.
Although Florida’s current minimum wage of $7.93 per hour is slightly higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25—thanks to a 2004 state law that ties the minimum wage to inflation—it is not nearly enough. Florida’s minimum wage is still well below what families need to stay above the federal poverty line. A young person working full time in Florida at a minimum-wage job can expect to earn up to $16,500 per year. However, a recent study found that families in Orlando, Florida, need $51,854 to meet minimum standards of living.
In a recent debate, Gov. Scott said he opposed increasing the minimum wage, arguing that it would reduce the overall number of jobs. He commented, “When I hear a politician say that we have to raise the minimum wage so working families can make ends meet, I cringe, because I know that statement is a lie.”
Gov. Scott, however, is wrong. Florida has the second-highest number of minimum-wage earners in the country, most of them young people, and raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would have huge economic benefits. An increase in the minimum wage would provide more than 1.7 million Floridians with the opportunity to get ahead, not just get by. More money going into the pockets of workers means more money going back into the economy, leading to more customers for businesses, more jobs, and a stronger overall economy. Estimates point to a potential increase of more than $1.3 billion in economic activity if the state were to adopt the minimum $10.10 per hour.
Floridians across political and demographic groups overwhelmingly favor raising the state’s minimum wage, with 73 percent of voters supporting the increase.
Gov. Scott has been a longtime critic of the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, despite the fact that close to 1 million Floridians bought insurance through a marketplace plan. Prior to becoming governor, Scott spent $5 million of his own money to create an organization to oppose the law. As governor, Scott has taken steps to undermine the ACA. Florida was also the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit brought by 26 states seeking to declare parts of federal health reform unconstitutional.
Gov. Scott has declined to set up a state-run health insurance exchange, a central component of the ACA that would allow Floridians the opportunity to enroll in health care plans. In late December 2012, Florida missed the deadline to notify the Department of Health and Human Services that it wants to run its own health insurance exchange, meaning that the federal government will have to step in and run the exchange itself. The Congressional Budget Office warned that relying on the federal government to set up exchanges could lead to confusion among people seeking health coverage.
Additionally, Scott has flip-flopped on his decision to expand Medicaid, leaving 764,000 Floridians without affordable health care coverage. In mid-2012, Gov. Scott remained adamantly opposed to expanding Medicaid, saying that it “just doesn’t make any sense.” However, in early 2013, he withdrew his opposition, and he now says that he supports expanding the program. Despite this newfound support, Gov. Scott has not made the expansion a legislative priority, and hundreds of thousands of low-income Floridians continue to lack access to affordable health insurance options. Gov. Scott’s pushback against key provisions of the ACA has left many Florida residents without the full coverage options they deserve.
Gov. Scott’s views on immigration have been extremely inconsistent during his time in office, while his political history belies an opposition to pro-immigrant reforms. In 2014, Gov. Scott finally signed legislation that would allow some undocumented students to access in-state tuition rates at the state’s public colleges and universities. This came, however, after years of publically opposing such measures, and it is an about-face from what he said in 2011: “… [W]ith regard to in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, I completely oppose it.” Only fear of a growing Latino electorate finally pushed Gov. Scott to support the legislation.
Despite his support for in-state tuition rates, Gov. Scott still opposes other laws that would benefit hundreds of thousands of undocumented residents. In 2013, Gov. Scott vetoed a bill that would have offered temporary driver’s licenses to some young immigrants who passed background checks. In his veto, he also publically criticized the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. The program, which President Obama announced two years ago, has helped close to 30,000 undocumented young people live without fear of deportation.
Women’s health and rights
Gov. Scott has consistently shown that he supports policies that threaten the health and economic security of Florida women. In June 2014, he signed H.B. 1047, a bill that makes it more difficult for women in Florida to access later-term abortions. At the same time, women see reproductive rights as fundamentally economic concerns; according to polling this spring, nearly 7 in 10 Millennials do not want to see the government involved in abortion decisions.
In 2012, Gov. Scott also vetoed $1.5 million to fund 30 rape crisis centers during Sexual Assault Awareness Month. State lawmakers had originally allotted the money to offset an increase in need and a lack of sufficient funding for survivor services. Gov. Scott justified his veto by pointing to funding that already goes to some rape crisis centers. Advocates, however, have pointed out that much of the existing funding only goes to education programs and not to actual services for rape survivors. These actions show that Gov. Scott has not served as an advocate for women.
These laws have made Florida the focus of the national conversation around high rates of gun violence. One of the more contentious bills signed by Gov. Scott, the so-called Docs vs. Glocks law, makes it a crime for doctors to ask patients if they own guns, though they are allowed to ask patients about other health risk factors such as smoking and drinking. In practice, the law prevents doctors from sharing safety tips to keep guns out of the hands of children or others unqualified to use them.
In 2014, Gov. Scott signed an extension of the state’s Stand Your Ground law, which gives people the right to use deadly force if they feel threatened. The law has been challenged by thousands of young black and Latino advocates in Florida who point out that too often, lax gun legislation combined with racial profiling leads to violence against young people of color.
By a 55 percent to 36 percent margin, Millennials nationwide favor taking steps to control gun ownership over protecting the right to own guns. However, Gov. Scott, with the unwavering support of the NRA, has refused to push back against legislation that contributes to gun violence in the state.
More than 80 percent of Floridians ages 18 to 34 see climate change in Florida as a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem. Moreover, about 65 percent of Florida Millennials think that the state should be “doing more” to get ready for climate change.
Gov. Scott, however, will not say whether he thinks man-made climate change is real and significant. He has ignored issues related to climate change despite a recent national report that indicates Florida is especially vulnerable to sea-level rises, increases in extreme heat, and decreased water availability. His refusal to act will leave millions of Floridians vulnerable and result in huge consequences for the economic security of young people.
Gov. Scott has repeatedly sidestepped questions related to marriage equality. Whenever he has been asked to comment on Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s recently filed appeal to a federal judge’s ruling last month that overturned Florida’s 2008 ban on marriage equality, Gov. Scott has deftly changed the subject. Former Gov. Crist recently sent a letter to the governor, urging him not to defend the state ban on marriage equality. Despite this call, the attorney general has continued to defend the state’s ban on marriage equality.
Marriage equality is not a controversial topic for the more than 7 in 10 people ages 18 to 29 who support it. Support among young people in Florida is the highest of any age group and reflects the shifting views on the issue. It’s time for Gov. Scott to decide where he stands—with the millions of young people who already support marriage equality, or on the wrong side of history.
Since the last gubernatorial election, Florida has gained more than 600,000 new voters, most of them unaffiliated with a party. Like the nation as a whole, young people in Florida are more likely to be politically independent. Millennials, both nationally and in Florida, constitute the largest and most progressive generation in American history. They need representatives who promote changes in line with their values.
Gov. Scott has acted in opposition to the views of young Florida voters on a litany of critical issues and has been noncommittal on others. Throughout his term as governor, he has claimed that he has increased jobs and improved the economy. Instead, he has advanced a political agenda that undermines the health, safety, and individual rights of all Floridians, particularly the state’s Millennials. With a clear unwillingness to alter his policy stances, Gov. Scott is not a smart choice for young voters in Florida.
Elizabeth Sohns is a Policy Fellow for Generation Progress Action, the youth division of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Zenen Jaimes Pérez is a Policy Advocate for Generation Progress Action.
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Zenen Jaimes Pérez
Senior Policy Analyst