Gov. Rick Scott was demure recently when he signed a controversial bill extending in-state college tuition to the children of undocumented immigrants.
Politically, he was walking a wobbly tightrope.
The Republican governor, who is running for a second term, is bound to take heat from conservative/tea party members who want nothing to do with any legislation that seemingly coddles law-breakers. “Illegal aliens,” and their children, fall squarely into that category.
After opposing the in-state tuition measure, Scott swung around this session and mobilized the support of former Republican governors to get the bill past balky conservative senators.
Last week, he signed the bill in private. No ceremony. No hoopla. No more reason to incite the ire of conservative voters.
Fine with us.
We don’t blame Scott for covering his flank on this legislation. It was dicey politically. And the wisdom of his closet signing was only confirmed by subsequent electoral shellacking of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor at the hands of a tea party challenger whose central issue was Cantor’s lack of backbone on immigration reform.
Ceremonial fanfare aside, though, the very fact that Scott supported the in state-tuition bill could soften his image in the Hispanic community and with middle-of-the-road Florida voters. It withdraws one of the Democrat’s favorite talking points. And who else will tea party Republicans support in November? The Obama-hugging, Republican-turned-Democrat?
Instead of speaking about the “dreamers” who will have access to more-affordable tuitions at state colleges and universities, thanks to the new law, Scott started talking up another component of the legislation during campaign stops: The measure that freezes college tuition increases at current rates.
However this plays out politically, we’re pleased with the policy result. Scott deserves credit for not toeing a rigid ideological line. He did the right thing.
The bottom line is, any student who works hard enough to graduate from high school in Florida should have the same college opportunity as the student who sits at the next desk. And at the same in-state rate.