Thursday, July 18, 2013

An Open Letter to Governor Rick Scott -- The Florida Boycott, It's Bigger than You Think

Dear Governor Rick Scott,

Since the not-guilty verdict for George Zimmerman in the shooting death of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin, a Florida boycott movement has started to rev up. I've read that you're hopeful that it doesn't gain momentum. Here's the thing. I've been looking at a few interesting sets of numbers, and they point to the fact that the boycott started a long time ago and it's bigger than you think. I'm not talking about Florida oranges and tourism. I'm talking about something more systemic. And, right now, you're the one revving up this boycott the most. 

So first I took a look at the median household incomes ranked by state. Florida doesn't fare so well on this list. Out of fifty states, Florida's rank is thirty-seven. I know that it's on your agenda to attract technology and new businesses and industries to the state and rightly so. Despite being a tourist destination, however, this seems harder than it should be.

The second set of numbers I looked at was the list of states with Stand Your Ground Laws on the books. I wanted to see what company you keep with this kind of legislation, state-ranking-wise. Are these the kinds of laws that go on the books of the go-getter states that seem to be dedicated to attracting boatloads of industry and business -- a popular law of the reigning Top Ten?

The quick answer? No. 

Here are the median household income ranks of states with Stand Your Ground Laws: #46 (Alabama), #30 (Arizona), #33 (Georgia), #40 (Idaho), #31 (Indiana), #26 (Kansas), #47 (Kentucky), #44 (Louisiana), #34 (Michigan. I was surprised they outranked Florida in median household incomes), #38 (Montana), #27 (Nevada), #39 (North Carolina), #41 (Oklahoma), #29 (Oregon), #42 (South Carolina), #28 (South Dakota), #45 (Tennessee), #25 (Texas), #49 (West Virginia), and #50 (Mississippi). There's only one state that's in the top ten, New Hampshire, #6, and only three in the teens #14 (Utah), #18 (Illinois), and #12 (Washington state).

So the median household income ranking for states with Stand Your Ground Laws when averaged together is 33.24, which isn't much to aspire to.

I'm not saying that innovative leaders and businesses have watched the legislation of Stand Your Ground Laws and made corporate headquarter decisions based on that information. I'm not even really saying that states with a pro-gun-toting culture, supported by government, might not be as conducive to, I don't know, enticing a hive of young new tech hires to start up a new business. Before the verdict, it might have been -- loosely and vaguely -- part of a larger branding problem.

But the law in Florida has led to a huge problem for corporations and institutions who want to entice that hive of young new hires -- because of the Trayvon Martin case, which exposed the deep, cutting racism inherent in the current Florida laws and judicial system.

Your steadfast support of the Stand Your Ground Law is, right now, one of the most damning things for the state -- damaging that image of Florida as leaders in business that you hope to create. In fact, your stance sends a message to people throughout the country that you seem to uphold and celebrate the racism inherent in the tragedy and the trial. You've said that you don't want people to make the Trayvon Martin death political. Too late. You stated in a Fox News interview about the group you commissioned to look into the Stand Your Ground law that "their recommendation is we not make any changes [to the law], that it's working the way it was intended."

Let's state that one more time. "'s working the way it was intended."

Maybe you heard about what happened to Paula Dean's corporate sponsorship? (Racism is unpopular across the board and in the boardroom.)

Here's the thing. I think you underestimate how much people -- of all colors, including white people  -- dislike living in a racist place. And many Florida-based companies and institutions are dedicated to hiring a diverse workforce. This puts them all at a real disadvantage in hiring and retention. (I can just hear the conversation on a hiring committee. "What happened to our top pick?" "Yeah, um, he took the job in Minneapolis because he's raising two sons and, well, obviously...")

But, wait. There was one more set of numbers I wanted to throw into the mix while we're thinking about the economic company that a state can choose to keep.

I decided to look at the kind of legislation that the states that ranked high seem to be passing, and I came to Same-Sex Marriage.

And, my, my, what a flip.

Instead of Mississippi weighing in dead last in the Stand Your Ground Law category, the Same Sex Marriage category includes #1 ranked Maryland. In fact, of the twelve states (plus Washington DC) that have legalized same-sex marriage laws, about half are ranked in the top ten. Here's how it breaks down: #5 (Massachusetts), tied at #4 (Connecticutt and Washington DC), #19 (Vermont), #6 (New Hampshire), #16 (New York), #10 (California), #17 (Rhode Island), #9 (Delaware), #11 (Minnesota), #24 (Iowa), and #1 (Maryland).  The outlier was #32 (Maine).

The median household income ranking for states that have legalized same-sex marriage when averaged together is a sweet ranking of 12.15. If this were a college basketball team, they'd be making their way to the Sweet Sixteen. (And what was the Stand Your Ground Law's averaged median household income state ranking again? Oh, right. 33.24.)

Again, if I were a big corporation, I would want to hire the best and the brightest -- regardless of sexual orientation -- and I'd be more likely to attract a broader range if I didn't choose to situate my corporate headquarters in a state that didn't actually acknowledge all of the marriages of my employees. (Again, I hear the boardroom conversation. "What happened to our top pick?" "Ah, well, she decided to take the job in Massachusetts because, well, she thought it was important for her children to be in a family where the parents' marriage is, you know, recognized.")

And, once again, it's not just the minority who doesn't like bigotry. There are a lot of straight people out here who actually like to live in states where all marriages -- including those of brothers and sisters and children and friends and coworkers -- are equal to their own.

Florida needs to pull in the best and brightest from 100% of the options. The boycott that has already started is one that's made day in and day out by individuals and corporations and business with lots of opportunities who don't want to land in a state that can't attract the workforce they want and need to be competitive. 

Look, if you're pro-business, you need to stop being a barrier to corporations who want the best talent. You need to work to build a state that's so welcoming that it lures the best and the brightest -- and those with the highest incomes -- to it.

Of course I wish I could appeal to you as a leader with a great heart, one who sees that his state is suffering and causing anguish throughout the nation, a leader able to say to those who are raising  children and who sharply remember the Civil Rights Movement and who are simply heartbroken over a tragic loss and a system failure, that we can change, we can make progress, there is hope. 

But, frankly, I don't care what your motivation is -- whether you want to help ease the bashing of the image of Florida nationwide or try to hold onto some corporate ties or to model some legislation after states that are hugely more successful. I just hope you work to change the law.
Change the law.