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One Florida foes call for another talk with Bush

Foes of the governor's plan say they'll be at the Capitol to meet Gov. Bush to discuss One Florida, whether he agrees to see them or not.

By WILLIAM YARDLEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- Two black lawmakers opposed to Gov. Jeb Bush's plan to overhaul affirmative action on Friday demanded a meeting with the governor and suggested that state universities are implementing the plan despite a legal challenge.

Sen. Kendrick Meek of Miami and Rep. Tony Hill of Jacksonville called the governor's chief of staff late Friday morning and told her they would arrive at the governor's office at noon Monday.

They want Bush to back down from his One Florida plan to eliminate considerations of race and gender in university admissions and in some state hiring and contracting. They did not wait on the phone to learn whether the governor, who was in Miami, would agree to the meeting.

Late Friday, Bush responded, saying, "At this point it is appropriate to meet with the entire Black Legislative Caucus, rather than schedule repeated meetings with individual members."

Bush has had several individual meetings recently with black lawmakers who support him.

After the morning call from Meek and Hill, Bush's staff called caucus chairman Daryl Jones and invited him, Meek, Hill and the rest of the 20-member caucus to his office at 4:30 p.m. Monday. Jones said later in the day he was not sure how he would respond to the invitation.

"I don't like the way this is shaping up," he said. "We have had some civil disobedience in the form of the sit-in. We had a civil protest in the form of a march. And now I think it's time we had some civility -- on both sides."

Jones also said many lawmakers would have scheduling conflicts with the meeting time Bush proposed.

Meek and Hill held a sit-in in the governor's offices Jan. 18-19 to protest One Florida. They also helped organize a march against the plan that drew more than 10,000 people to the Capitol earlier this week. The lawmakers were among 15 black legislators who did not attend a black caucus luncheon at the Governor's Mansion two weeks ago.

After learning of the invitation from Bush and of the comments by Jones, Meek said he and Hill would not back down.

"We're just going to be there at 12 o'clock," Meek said. "That's all I can say."

He would not say whether they planned to begin another sit-in Monday or whether anyone else would join them.

Meek said he and Hill had not asked for the Monday meeting on behalf of the black caucus, but on behalf of women and all minorities. He accused the governor of simplifying One Florida into a "black-white" issue for political expediency, because polls show a majority of Floridians support the plan.

"He is trying to play to what polls have shown him," Meek said. "As black as he can make this helps him in the polls. It is much bigger than that."

In a Friday letter to Bush and state university system Chancellor Adam Herbert, Meek and Hill questioned whether state universities were implementing components of One Florida despite a legal challenge they say prevents the universities from doing so.

University system spokesman Keith Goldschmidt said educators have not implemented the portion of the plan that was challenged -- the Talented 20 plan, which guarantees admission to students who finish in the top 20 percent of their high school class.

Goldschmidt said the new program cannot begin until universities receive a list of students eligible under the plan. That list, compiled by the Department of Education, is incomplete.

"We're in the process now of having the (individual school) districts verify the data," said Department of Education spokeswoman JoAnn Carrin.

Goldschmidt said the attorney advising Herbert and the university Board of Regents thinks that the Talented 20 program can proceed.

Two weeks ago, the NAACP filed a legal petition challenging the regents' authority to adopt the program.

The challenge is under review by an administrative law judge, who could take two months to rule. Similar challenges usually halt implementation of new policies until the case is resolved.

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