When Cara Jennings looked up to see Gov. Rick Scott standing in front of her at a Starbucks in Gainesville Tuesday morning, she felt … lucky.
“He walked in and I had just been reading up about the recent bill that Gov. Rick Scott passed, it’s an incredibly restrictive bill regarding abortion access,” Jennings said. “I felt lucky to be in a position to engage this person whose actions had been on my mind recently and I felt like this was a great opportunity.”
You’ve all seen the video. Jennings is sitting at a hightop working on her computer when she lets loose on Gov. Scott, who is standing at the counter about to order. What you didn’t see is the encounter leading up to the viral video clip.
“What’s not on the video is the full interaction, which is me very calmly saying ‘Gov. Scott,’” Jennings said.
She then says she asked the governor why he passed a bill that defunded abortion clinics throughout the state. She was referring to HB 1411, which Scott signed on March 25, that removes state funding from any clinic that offers abortions. It goes into effect July 1.
The interaction slowly escalated, with Jennings eventually yelling “shame on you Rick Scott. You’re an embarrassment to our state” as Scott walked out sans latte.
Was a mid-morning Starbucks break the best time to vent her frustrations? Jennings thinks there was no other way to have her voice heard.
And Rebecca Wakefield, the Communications Director at SEIU Local 1991, a local branch of a statewide union that represents healthcare practitioners around South Florida, has felt similar frustrations.
“Gov. Scott is not noted for his willingness to speak to constituents who are upset about how his decisions affect them, or even media who insist on asking uncomfortable questions,” she wrote in an e-mail. “I think Ms. Jennings’ outburst reflected the frustration of thousands of Floridians who’ve had similar experiences over the years.”
The governor’s office has a contact form on its website — with an email and a phone number where his administration might be reached. This goes to the governor’s staff who then will respond to the inquiry.
But they are often inundated with such requests. The better path, says Arthur Simon, a senior lecturer at University of Miami and former elected official for West Kendall, is to contact state representatives, who are going to be much more responsive.
This is because state representatives are usually a bit more accessible and closer to constituents. “If there’s something that’s important, try to go through the elected officials who are closer to you and see if you can convince them,” he suggested.
Jennings is no stranger to civil disobedience. In 2009, while a Lake Worth city commissioner, she was arrested on a charge of resisting an officer without violence during a Miami protest, the Sun Sentinel reports.
Later, as a Palm Beach County immigrant rights campaign member, Jennings said she tried to meet with Scott many times.
“He always refused. This governor has a reputation for not being open to public input and not being open to people, I didn’t really think there was another avenue to have dialogue with Gov. Scott,” she said.
So when Jennings saw Scott standing at the counter, she seized the opportunity to confront the governor on the recent defunding of Planned Parenthood and other clinics offering abortions and his refusal to expand Medicaid, two things that directly impacted her access to healthcare.
“You stripped women of access to public health care,” she yelled. “You cut Medicaid so I couldn’t get Obamacare … you don’t care about working people, you should be ashamed to show yourself around here”
Since the incident, Jennings has been getting calls left and right, endless emails, and more than 300 new facebook friend requests. But there’s one person who hasn’t reached out: Gov. Rick Scott.
Scott’s administration released the following comment after the incident: “People with radical views tend to not like civil debate. A self-proclaimed anarchist rudely yelled and cursed at the Governor. She also refused to Pledge Allegiance to the flag. It’s a free country, but it’s not at all surprising that an anarchist prefers shouting over conversation.”
But Jennings has still got more on her mind, and would like to have a conversation with the governor.
“There’s a long list of things,” she said.
She’s already sent him an invite to have a coffee later this month — her treat.