It's the spring of 2014 and Gov. Rick Scott is trailing in his re-election effort against Charlie Crist. The Scott campaign decides to run TV ads characterizing Charlie Crist as a flipflopper while Charlie is still playing money catch-up.
The inability of these ads to “move the needle” in Scott's direction caused concern for the campaign. A full campaign staff meeting was called with a “new ideas” theme.
Curt Seigmeister, Scott's campaign director for Palm Beach County, offered: “Sid has a Haitian pastor. Why don't we go visit him?” And they did.
Scott and Campaign Director Melissa Sellers showed up at the United Haitian Baptist Church in West Palm Beach shortly thereafter. The first 45 minutes were spent around the conference table at the little house next door.
There were about 25 of us: Scott, Pastor Mathieu Jean Baptiste, 20 other Haitian pastors, Republican Party of Palm Beach County Vice Chairman Michael Barnett, me and my friend Kenny.
Scott turned to Mathieu and asked: “How can I help?” Mathieu replied: “We want access. We want a seat at the table.” Scott gave the best answer you will ever hear: “Take down my cell number.” And everyone in the room scrambled for pen and paper.
What followed was a very friendly and healthy discussion about respect, jobs (Scott gave them the Florida Jobs Bank number and website), zoning, coming to the crusade (more on that later) and ways to get state legislators to help.
When we got up one pastor approached the governor, extended his hand, and said, “Governor, I will do everything in my power to help you get re-elected.” And then we went to the parking lot.
We purposefully chose a Wednesday to visit because the church is a food distribution center and Wednesdays are food distribution days. So now we had a parking lot full of Haitian ladies coming for food packages.
Scott was an instant rock star. They all wanted to hug him. The thought of a sitting governor honoring them by showing up at their church made their day, week and year. Another 45 minutes of handshaking, photos and mostly good cheer left a great feeling for everyone. Next up would be the annual Haitian crusade.
Every August the Haitian Evangelical Church runs a crusade in Palm Beach County. For eight straight nights over 1,000 Haitians occupy a high school auditorium. In 2014 it was at the John I. Leonard High School in Greenacres. But 2014, the 29 crusade year, was special.
Scott was coming. For the prior 28 years the biggest “celebrity” was me. The night started with Scott, Pastor Mathieu, Michael Barnett, me and numerous Pastors in a separate classroom. The governor did one hour of Q and A; all respectful, no negativity.
We then walked down from the second floor balcony. It was standing room only. Scott and Mathieu led. Barnett and I followed. The pastors followed us.
Pastor Mathieu went up on stage to preside. He called up Scott who spoke mostly about his own faith and how central these convictions are to his life. The governor spoke for about 15 minutes. And then, at a logical break, we filed out.
The media coverage was fabulous; Haitian, Spanish and even a very friendly Palm Beach Post. All pluses and no negatives; a great night for the Haitian community and the Republican Party. Equal time for Charlie Crist, you ask? They never responded to their invite.
And it didn't stop there. One week later the Scott campaign put out a radio ad in Creole. They followed that with Scott interviews on Haitian radio. And just when you thought the election was over and all was well with the world, there was more. Pastor Mathieu (with 35 Pastors supporting him) gave the Benediction at the Prayer Breakfast immediately preceding the inaugural.
Then the Scott administration's human resource director asked Pastor Mathieu for resumes to help fill openings in the new administration. And to top it all off, Scott appointed Haitian born Nirlaine Tallandier Smart to be a circuit court judge.
Scott and his campaign manager (and now chief of staff) Melissa Sellers threw away the outdated Republican playbook and fully embraced a large and growing community that had been mostly ignored by both parties.
Everyone won. Republicans got many new voters. The Haitian community truly got access and recognition. And our political consultants hopefully got an education.
Sid Dinerstein is a former chairman of the Palm Beach County Republican Party. He founded JBS Associates, a 600-person financial service company, and currently combines politics and business with Niger Innis in Inclusive Elections LLC, a firm that brings urban electorate voters to the GOP. He is the author of "Adults Only: For Those Who Love Their Country More Than Their Party." For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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