Guest Author, Author at Florida Politics

Guest Author

Sarah Catalanotto, Laura Hampson: After hurricane, air medical services was rural lifesaver

When Hurricane Michael ripped through our state last month as the third most powerful hurricane to ever make landfall in the United States, it left a trail of destruction and devastation in its path. Unlike Hurricane Irma last year, this storm hit predominantly rural areas, leaving already resource-strained communities in a state of even greater need.

While the process of rebuilding will take months and many hands, we must recognize those who helped lessen the hurricane’s deadly impact and assist those who needed it most. Often overlooked, air medical providers and the flight crews who operate each aircraft are exactly those people.

During the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Michael, many hospitals in the Panhandle were forced to quickly evacuate hundreds of patients because of catastrophic damage to facilities caused by this devastating natural disaster. When roads were blocked and traveling via ground ambulance was unsafe or uncertain, air medical teams were deployed to rapidly transport patients to safety. In one instance, air medical teams were used to transport patients from a hospital that literally had its roof torn off.

These flying ICUs are equipped with state-of-the-art technology and provide patients with critical care during each flight, including services like blood transfusions, ventilators, cardiac defibrillators, and even night vision capabilities to safely land when facilities are on generator power and have minimal electricity to power lighting.

While recovery from a Category 4 hurricane is certainly an all-hands-on-deck situation, the unfortunate reality is that many rural communities are facing an ongoing crisis when it comes to timely access to emergency health care. According to a recent analysis from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, 64 rural hospitals across the country closed between 2013 and 2017 — more than twice the number of closures during the previous five-year period.

Approximately 90 percent of patients transported by air medical services are flown because of a serious cardiac event, trauma, or stroke. In those instances, minutes can mean the difference between life and death and the long distances often associated with rural areas can cause dangerous delays if ground ambulances are the only option.

As co-managers of the Florida Rural Health Association, it is our job to advocate for solutions that meet the health care needs of the more than 1 million Floridians who live in rural communities — but we need help. While the benefits of air medical services are clear, they are increasingly threatened due to funding challenges and inadequate reimbursement issues.

Even though none of us ever wants to experience a critical health emergency, there is a comfort that comes from knowing these services are available if you or I ever need it. We are confident that the Panhandle will rebuild and be even stronger than before, but in the interim, while hospitals are damaged and infrastructure is in ruins, we cannot forget about our Northwest Florida neighbors.

The bottom line is that air medical services are an increasingly important part of providing high-quality and timely access to health care for many rural residents, but the ultimate responsibility falls on every Floridian to recognize the benefits of these services and ensure that they remain available for the patients who need them.

___

Laura Hampson and Sarah Catalanotto serve as co-managers of the Florida Rural Health Association, an organization that works to safeguard and improve the health of rural Floridians.

Dan Backer: Americans spend more on Thanksgiving than Election 2018

When it’s all said and done, America will spend roughly $3 billion on Thanksgiving dinners this year — 50 percent of it on turkeys alone.

That’s a whole lot of white meat and cranberry sauce — not to mention food comas.

The $3 billion doesn’t even account for the billions more spent on Thanksgiving-themed advertising or the many billions spent on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. All in all, we’re talking well over $20 billion spent by advertisers and their customers in a sliver of late November.

Despite the occasional outcry against the commercialization of a sentimental family holiday, no one seriously speaks out against corporate ads about the turkey sale at the Piggly Wiggly, Kmart’s Black Friday specials, or Dallas Cowboys promos for Thanksgiving football.

As Americans, we accept corporate advertising as a way of life in a free-market economy. Why? Because we know there’s a choice: No matter how slickly produced the commercial, we ultimately buy what we want. That Tofurky ad isn’t forcing you to toss your turducken, is it?

But when it comes to our elections, we spend far less to advertise political messages, and yet the anti-speech movement to censor political ads grows shriller by the day. The U.S. electoral system is considerably less flush with cash than your typical holiday season. Election 2016’s final price tag — the most expensive of all time — came out to no more than $7 billion.

Election 2018 was even cheaper. The 2017-2018 election cycle — the most expensive midterm ever — cost a mere $5 billion over two years, a drop in the ocean compared to America’s Turkey Day shopping sprees.

But you wouldn’t know it listening to the Left. Leading up to Election Day, anti-Trump Democrats made it a mission to criticize our campaign finance system, screaming and shouting to “get money out of politics.” Jason Crow, Colorado’s newest Democratic congressman, recently blamed excessive political spending for “everything that’s wrong with our politics right now.” Recently re-elected Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, routinely claims the current system “hurts our democracy badly” — without going into specifics.

The likely Speaker of the House, California’s Nancy Pelosi, long ago made campaign finance reform a top priority for the new Congress. In her words: “People believe you that if you want to reduce the goal of money in politics, then they trust you to do the right thing.”

But is “money in politics” really so evil? Ads for Jeeps, Big Macs and Harry Potter spin-offs flood our airwaves to a much, much larger extent, with nary a peep from the Left. Only when the content has to do with border security or tax cuts — and not end-of-year lease deals — do liberal Democrats throw a hissy fit.

In reality, corporate spending and political spending are not so different. Both are simply tools to promote ideas — ideas we can either like or dislike, accept or reject. In the end, it’s up to us — as freethinking citizens — to decide which ideas we agree with and which products we want. There is no gun to your head or my head, forcing us to support an idea — or a political candidate, for that matter. Unless, of course, we adopt the Left’s increasing efforts to criminalize political speech they dislike, and use the power of Big Government to compel private individuals to act according to left-wing ideas.

Let’s be clear: When Democrats complain about our “broken” campaign finance system, they’re really just complaining about the ideas they happen to oppose — conservative ideas contrary to their own, from those who don’t buy into their left-wing ideology. Unless you accept the entirety of their ideological mashed-potato serving — whether you’re hungry for it or not — you’re just too stupid to be trusted to make your own decisions.

You might even be exposed to the “wrong” ideas! If not, why would it matter how many ads we all saw?

Our strength lies in our ideological diversity, which political spending puts on full display through robust political discourse and all the advertising people want to contribute to it. Without lots and lots of money, it is impossible to circulate ideas — liberal and conservative — to the general public. Ridding our campaign finance system of the resources to disseminate ideas is antithetical to the very concept of free speech.

Whether the 2018 midterms cost $5 billion or $50 billion, it’s still up to us to consider what information we want, and how we will vote accordingly. No amount of money can force you or me to vote against our self-interest.

To those who claim otherwise, I say gobble, gobble.

___

Dan Backer is founding attorney of political.law, a campaign finance and political law firm in Alexandria, Virginia.

Ted Deutch: Every vote should count.

Count every vote. Why is that such a troubling goal for Gov. Rick Scott, Sen. Marco Rubio, and President Donald Trump?

As the margins narrowed in the U.S. Senate, Florida Governor, and Florida Commissioner of Agriculture races, Republicans responded to a close election by trying to erode confidence in our democratic institutions and prevent Florida voters’ voices from being heard.

Since Election Day, Rubio and Scott have spouted conspiracy theories, requested law enforcement investigations to harass elections officials, and filed lawsuits to cloud the vote counting process in suspicion.

These are acts of desperation and show that Republicans are afraid of what will happen if every Florida vote is counted.

Marco Rubio should remember that he is our U.S. Senator and is supposed to be representing every Floridian. His post-election tweets were irresponsible and are intended to slowly erode confidence in the results.

He baselessly claimed that Democrats “are here to change the results of election,” and that lawyers will “try to steal a seat in the U.S. Senate and Florida Cabinet.”

Sen. Rubio is not telling the truth and offered zero evidence for his conspiracy theories. He portrayed post-election night vote counting as a troubling anomaly. It wasn’t. After the 2016 election, 10 million ballots were counted over the course of 10 days after polls closed nationwide.

This year, five million ballots across the country had yet to be counted by Friday.

In many races, overseas, mail-in, and provisional ballots that are counted and verified after Election Day won’t change the outcome. But in Florida, we have six very close races that deserve to have every vote counted without interference from our Senator.

Sen. Rubio was joined by Gov. Scott who claimed “unethical liberals” are trying to steal the election. He unsuccessfully ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate. In response, an FDLE spokesperson said that they would be willing to investigate credible allegations of fraud, but they hadn’t seen any.

That’s because our own Gov.’s allegations are a farce.

As Sen. Rubio and Gov. Scott could have guessed, President Trump took the bait and joined the fray on Twitter. He tweeted about “Election Fraud in #Broward and Palm Beach” and claimed Florida already chose Rick Scott for Senate. He even closed a Friday afternoon Twitter tirade by thanking Sen. Rubio for “exposing the potential corruption going on.”

But Sen. Rubio hasn’t exposed anything. He’s made baseless conspiracy theories that he knew would be fodder for a president that has used similar false allegations in the past to attack election results.

In 2018, Sen. Rubio amplified a President Trump tactic from 2016. After he lost the popular vote by a historic margin of 3 million votes, President Trump used unfounded voter fraud claims to waste taxpayer resources on a so-called the.

The commission was shut down after states refused to provide it with information that violated voters’ privacy and could have been used in erroneous voter purges like we’ve seen multiple times in Florida.

Sen. Rubio often portrays himself as a responsible and reasonable actor in a political world that has gone mad. Friday afternoon, he tried to dial back his false allegations of fraud by claiming that he just wants information on the state-mandated schedule.

But it’s too late.

Sen. Rubio fueled the president’s conspiracy engine this week in an effort to drive Florida’s election off the rails. We can all hope that the damage he’s caused won’t stop the work Florida’s elections officials are doing as three very close races proceed to automatic recounts that will ensure that every vote is counted.

___

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch represents Florida’s 22nd Congressional District.

Jason Altmire: Floridians must lead on open primaries

Contrary to Florida’s infamous reputation for election snafus, the voters in the Sunshine State have in many ways led the nation on issues of electoral reform.

Floridians have voted many times to improve the rules, level the playing field, and remove barriers to participation. In the 1900s, voters approved ballot measures to enact term limits and remove burdensome petitioning requirements for independent and third-party candidates. More recently, they approved gerrymandering reform. On Tuesday, voters approved a restoration of voting rights for felons and an expansion of limits on lobbying.

Voters in Florida have stood up to opposition from both political parties and insisted that the rules of elections should benefit the people, not the special interests.

Now that the midterm elections are over, now is an important moment to ask, “what’s next?” when it comes to improving Florida’s political process.

The editorial board of the Naples Daily News recently expressed concern that “Washington-style politics where one party repeatedly butts heads with leaders in the other” is coming to Florida. Is this inevitable? It doesn’t have to be. A solution that growing numbers of Florida Democrats, Republicans and Independents are supporting is top two primaries for state and federal contests, and open primaries for presidential races.

In a top-two system, now in place in Nebraska, California and the state of Washington, all voters receive the same primary ballot and can vote for whichever candidate they prefer, regardless of party affiliation, with the two most popular candidates advancing to the general election.

The discussion gained momentum after the 2016 election, when more than 3 million Floridians were shut out of the primaries. The topic was debated at every public hearing held throughout 2017 and 2018 by the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC). Hundreds of supporters of election reform, representing all walks of life and political affiliations, attended the CRC hearings across the state.

Thousands of public comments came from voters opposed to the status quo, calling for reforms to allow the voices of all Florida voters to be heard in primaries.

One young man drove from Key West to Miami to describe his experience of being turned away from the primary polls where he intended to vote for Bernie Sanders. A lifelong Republican who had recently moved to Florida from Alabama expressed shock at being forced to join a party in order to vote.

Steve Hough, leader of Florida Fair and Open Primaries, summed it up this way: “I expected the CRC hearings to be boring. Instead, Floridians from all walks of life wanted to talk about being denied the right to vote. The testimony for ending Florida’s outdated closed primary system was very passionate.”

Support continues to grow.

Our polling shows that supermajorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents support open primaries. The effort recently gained a key ally when, as reported in the Miami Herald, business leader Mike Fernandez announced his intention to focus his efforts on primary reform. We hope more business leaders will join the cause and put a referendum on the ballot in 2020 to let all voters vote!

At the presidential level, efforts are underway to pressure both parties to allow independents to “pick a ballot” in 2020. There is no need to change the law when it comes to the presidential primaries. The Supreme Court has ruled that the parties only need to change their rules and inform the Secretary of State that the 3.5 million independents (up from 3.1 million in 2016) will be allowed to cast a ballot.

Democratic and Republican state party organizations have done this throughout the country. Given Florida’s crucial role in presidential contests, it’s time for both parties in Florida to allow independents to vote in the 2020 presidential primaries.

Some pundits assert that the country is hopelessly divided and the dysfunction in Washington is a reflection of the American people. We disagree.

The American people have many differences, but the majority are not divided.

The problem lies in Florida’s closed election process, which prevents moderate and unaffiliated voters from participating in primaries, thereby leaving the decision of nominating candidates to the most partisan voters our state has to offer.

This has to change.

The 2020 election promises to be one of the most hotly contested in our nation’s history. This is no time for Florida to continue to exclude from the process more than 3 million voters who are not currently allowed to participate in primaries.

The time has come to let all voters vote.

___

Jason Altmire lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, served three terms in Congress, and is the author of “Dead Center, How Political Polarization Divided America, and What We Can Do About It.” John Opdycke is the president of the national election reform group Open Primaries.

For local officials, there is no offseason

Sports coaches are fond of saying, “championships are won in the offseason.” It pays homage to the hard work and dedication that goes into preparing for the season ahead. It also means that for winning teams, there really is no offseason.

The same is true for Florida’s mayors, council members, commissioners and local elected officials. Year-round, we’re working to deliver results — collecting trash, keeping the power on, filling potholes, and developing innovative solutions to local economic, environmental and public health challenges.

Yet every year in Tallahassee, as the state legislative session begins, a new season kicks off — the state legislative session. And instead of referees calling pass interference, it’s state lawmakers passing interference over local communities.

That interference, in the form of pre-emption bills that block local governments from passing common-sense local laws, prevents us from doing our jobs and improving our communities. It silences local citizens and puts local democracy at risk.

Florida lawmakers have grown fond of proposing dozens of one-size-fits-all solutions. The list of shortsighted schemes to rein in local communities is as long as it is ridiculous.

In just the past two years, Florida’s legislators have tried to interfere with: short-term rentals, local hiring laws, 5G wireless technology, ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft, community redevelopment agencies, immigration policies, towing and storage fees, stormwater management, dogs in vehicles, back in parking in parking garages, tree-trimming, anti-discrimination laws, development impact fees, affordable housing, red light cameras and debris from storms.

It would be one thing if genuine differences of opinion drove these heavy-handed pre-emption laws. But the truth is this: big-money special interests are behind this trend toward replacing citizens’ rights with corporate rights. Lobbyists and corporations know it’s easier to turn state legislatures into one-stop shops for thwarting local authority, than to work with 67 counties and 400 municipalities to advance their agenda.

We’re fed up. We’re fighting back. And that action begins in the offseason, before the Legislative Session.

Local officials have an obligation to keep our residents safe. That’s why earlier this year, more than 30 cities and counties joined a lawsuit challenging the state’s super-preemption law on firearms — a law that allows special interests to sue mayors and commissioners, have them fined and even removed from office, just for voting for common-sense local gun safety measures.

And just this month, the Florida Supreme Court announced it would take up the City of Miami Beach’s challenge to the state’s minimum wage pre-emption law. $8.25 goes further in some of our communities than others, and local residents deserve the right to enact a fair wage for a fair day’s work.

Your local elected officials are raising awareness through public education, informing our citizens about the threat state interference poses to their voices and their rights. We need our residents to understand that their wages, jobs, paid sick leave, clean air and water, diversity, and public health and safety are at risk — and we need them to fight back with us.

Numerous organizations, like the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions, are working to help communities stand up, speak out and make themselves heard. They’re sharing tools to organize, educate, and inform our neighbors about preemption’s threat to their quality of life.

But the most important tool? Your voice — and using it now, before state lawmakers head into the special interest-fueled frenzy of the legislative session.

Elections have consequences. Just like us — your local mayors and commissioners — your state legislators work for you. It’s crucial that we speak up now. Contact your state senator and representative. Tell them you believe in local solutions to local problems. Ask them to protect local democracy.

For sports teams, the hard work done in the offseason can be the difference between a good season and a great season. What we all do now together in the offseason can be the difference between healthy, vibrant local communities and communities with less opportunity, less vitality and less freedom.

Let’s put in the hard work together and win.

 ___

Shevrin Jones represents House District 101; Daniella Levine Cava is County Commissioner of Miami Dade County; James D. Simmons is Mayor of Melbourne Beach; Dan Daley is Vice Mayor of the City of Coral Springs; Helen Warren and Adrian Hayes-Santos are City Commissioners of Gainesville.

Rick Asnani: A voter’s guide to the 2018 Florida Amendments

As Tuesday, Nov. 6 quickly approaches, Floridians will set out to place their votes and partake in one of the most pivotal recurring events in United States history.

This year, in particular, the number of ballots for state and local proposed constitutional amendments may seem daunting for Floridians as the list has exponentially grown since previous years. Commonly, citizens are overwhelmed by the voting process because of the sheer amount of voting options and the complicated jargon used to explain the crucial proposals.

Floridians will vote on 12 proposed constitutional amendments varying in topics, from property taxes to victim’s rights and gambling across the state. Each amendment requires 60 percent of voters to approve it in order for the amendment to pass and become part of the constitution.

Well-versed in ballot issues and referendums across the country for more than 25 years, I’d like to offer the people of Florida insight ahead of the upcoming 2018 election on constitutional amendments and how to approach them before voting.

First, we need to consider how a constitutional amendment reaches the ballot. Traditionally, there are three different processes wherein an amendment can go to ballot; through a citizen initiative, placed on the ballot by the legislature or through the Constitution Revision Committee (CRC).

This year’s proposed constitutional amendments include:

Amendment 1 “Increased Homestead Property Tax Exemption,” Amendment 2 “Limitations on Property Tax Assessments,” and Amendment 5, “Supermajority Vote Required to Impose, Authorize, or Raise State Taxes or Fees” which were included by lawmakers.

While Amendment 3, “Voter Control of Gambling in Florida” and Amendment 4, “Voting Restoration Amendment,” were citizen-initiated amendments.

The seven other ballots were included by the Constitution Revision Committee who originally placed eight amendments on the ballot. Initially, the commission chose about 20 proposals for this year’s ballot but determined to group distinct proposals together forming eight amendments.

This means that voters must approve or reject disparate proposals that have been batched together. For example, one bundled ballot question Floridians will need to decide on is to ban both offshore oil and gas drilling as well as vaping indoors — reason being, clean air, clean water. One of the eight amendments was removed from the ballot by the state Supreme Court’s ruling on Sept. 7.

Another consideration voters should ask is if the proposed issue actually belongs in the constitution. Or is this something the legislature should do or can already do? Ask yourself if this has a negative impact on the economy, society or your future?

Finally, it’s important to consider who does the amendment empower? Is the amendment taking away power from local government and shifting it to Tallahassee or taking power away from the individual voter and placing it in the hands of the legislature?

With your research done and the above considerations in mind, I strongly encourage everyone to go vote on or before Tuesday, Nov. 6 and do not skip the amendments — the extra few minutes are worth it for you, your family and the future of our state’s well-being.

Amendments and local issues matter as much as the candidates. Vote your entire ballot.

___

Rick Asnani is President of Cornerstone Solutions and is a political consultant based in Florida who specializes in ballot initiative campaigns across the United States.

FAPA: Yes on Amendment 2 will avert tax crisis

The Florida Association of Property Appraisers (FAPA) recommends Floridians vote YES on Amendment 2.

The amendment asks voters whether to make permanent a 10 percent limit on the annual increase in assessed value of a non-homestead property. A “yes” vote will avert a sudden and largely unexpected tax crisis for more than 5 million residential and business property owners throughout Florida.

Most homeowners in Florida enjoy the tax savings afforded by two $25,000 homestead exemptions. Business owners, rental property owners, second homeowners and part-time retirees, whose permanent residence may be in another state, are not eligible for those exemptions.

For them, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2008 that placed a 10 percent limit on the annual increase in assessed value of a non-homestead property, commonly referred to as the 10 percent cap.

Over the past 10 years, these property owners have enjoyed significant tax savings as a result of this assessment limitation.

What many people do not know is that the 10 percent cap on non-homestead property is set to expire at the end of 2018. If Amendment 2 does not pass, those non-homestead property owners will have to pay more than

$700 million additional property taxes next year according to the state Revenue Estimating Conference.

For property owners running their own small business, property taxes are one of, if not the largest, expense. For example, a business owner operating a local diner has been enjoying the benefits of a $200,000 non-homestead cap for the past 10 years. Without the cap, this property’s taxable value will increase by $200,000 January 1, 2019, which may represent an additional $2,400 in property taxes.

What is perhaps most concerning about the cap’s looming deadline is that many of the people whom it will directly affect are unaware of the cap and/or its expiration date. We encourage all voters to talk to friends, family, and local business owners in your neighborhood about the importance of this amendment. If you are the owner of a non-homestead property, we urge you to call your local property appraiser to find out how the repeal of the 10 percent cap will affect your property.

___

The Florida Association of Property Appraisers (FAPA) is a statewide professional organization comprised of locally elected, constitutionally authorized property appraisers.

Mike Prendergast: Duty, honor and country

America’s veterans understand the meaning of those hallowed words like no other group of citizens in this country.

Now more than ever, it is every Floridian’s responsibility to ensure that our state’s returning veterans and their family members know that we have their back, and we thank them for their personal sacrifices and their selfless service.

We are less than a week away from one of the most important elections in a generation. Early voting is in full swing and absentee ballots are flowing back into the offices of every Supervisor of Elections in our great state.

On this ballot, voters across the state of Florida will have an epic opportunity to ensure that they protect our veterans and thank them for their service in a way that has never been done before in our state’s history.

A “yes” vote on Amendment 10 will ensure that the needs of our military members are always supported and that the priceless service of our veterans is never forgotten.

Florida is home to the nation’s third largest population of veterans, with more than one-half of our veterans having served in combat. I write today to stress the importance of Amendment 10, the “Protection Amendment.”

No matter when they served and no matter where they served, Florida’s veterans return home to the most welcoming state in our nation. That status could be in jeopardy if we don’t protect them by voting in favor of Amendment 10.

As it stands right now, there is no statute requiring the legislature to retain our Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs. So, on Nov. 6, we need to overwhelmingly pass Amendment 10 to show our support and thanks to our veterans.

Passage of Amendment 10 will ensure that our state’s Department of Veterans’ Affairs (FDVA) will be a permanent part of our state government’s structure. This agency (FDVA) is the essential conduit for every veteran in Florida to get access to their earned services and benefits.

These benefits range from transition back to civilian life, to health care, to education, to employment and many others. In sum, by having a nationally recognized and award-winning agency known as the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs, this vital link between our veterans and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs can be preserved and protected.

I urge you to vote “Yes” on Amendment 10 to protect our veterans.

___

Colonel Mike Prendergast served on active duty for more than 31 years as a United States Army Military Policeman and U.S. Paratrooper, to include multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also served for five years as the Executive Director of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs. He continues his service today as the Sheriff of Citrus County.

Andy Pelosi, Igor Volsky: Guns have no place at the polls

Nov. 6 is one of the most important midterm elections in recent memory and hundreds of thousands of Americans across the country and across Florida have registered to vote for the very first time.

Following the shooting in Parkland, a growing number of young people have committed themselves to participate in our democratic process. Data show that in the first eight months of 2018, 450,000 Floridians registered to vote — a quarter of whom are between the ages of 18 and 24.

Regardless of where we stand on the issues, we can all agree that every U.S. citizen deserves to have their voice heard. Anyone who wants to do their civic duty can and is able to access the polls without any kind of intimidation.

Voter intimidation is any concerted effort to coerce the voting behavior of a group of voters and it’s a federal crime. Intimidating someone with a firearm at a polling place is illegal.

In 2016, we saw numerous instances of people bringing firearms to the polls and given our divisive political climate, it’s not improbable that we may experience similar acts of intimidation come November. The president’s characterization of his political opponents as “an angry left-wing mob” who “oppose law and order, fairness, freedom and justice” only heightens the threat.

The problem is, states around the country have different rules and regulations when it comes to bringing firearms to the polling place. According to the nonprofit Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, only six states — Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas — have clear laws that generally prohibit guns in polling places. Florida also prohibits people from openly carrying firearms in public.

But in light of the focus on gun issues in Florida this election season, the intensity the issue generates among some who carry firearms, and the growing hostility in our political discussion, a group of nonpartisan organizations, including the two we lead, are launching an educational campaign called Guns Down at the Polls to ensure everyone can safely exercise their right to vote.

As part of our effort, we’re running Facebook and Instagram ads in key areas of the country, including Florida, to educate voters about their rights and empower them to take action.

If you see someone at your local polling place attempting to suppress voter turnout with a firearm, find somewhere safe and text GUNSDOWN to 91990. Your information will be passed on to the Lawyer’s Committee on Civil Rights, who will be able to take further action.

By working together to keep voting safe, we can make sure that everyone can participate in our great democracy.

___

Andy Pelosi is the co-chair of the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence. Igor Volsky is the executive director of Guns Down America, an organization dedicated to building a future with fewer guns.

Nadine Smith: ‘Rainbow Wave’ may decide key Florida races

At a time of renewed political attacks on LGBT Americans, the pro-equality vote — the ‘Rainbow Wave’ — may prove decisive in Florida’s midterm election.

Candidates ignore this growing voting bloc at their peril.

Equality Florida has invested deeply in connecting with voters for whom LGBT rights are the motivating issue.

We have identified 1.3 million voters in Florida for whom a candidate’s positions on marriage equality, gay and transgender workplace protections, and LGBT youth are definitive. We represent a game-changing voting bloc in a state where fewer than 65,000 votes decided the last two races for Governor.

This cycle, we’ve run our largest ever campaign to turn out pro-equality voters with mail and phone programs targeting hundreds of thousands of voters in support of more than 110 endorsed candidates, including Andrew Gillum.

There are so many reasons for LGBT people and our allies to vote: The Trump administration’s relentless attacks on the transgender community, businesses refusing to serve LGBT individuals, and Gov. Rick Scott’s broken promise to protect LGBT state workers after the massacre at Pulse Nightclub are all top of mind.

And in the race for Florida Governor, a longtime pro-LGBT champion, Mayor Gillum, faces Ron DeSantis a former congressman with one of the worst records on LGBT rights in the U.S. Congress.

For the past 12 months, Equality Florida Action PAC, the only statewide political committee working to elect pro-equality candidates at the state and local level, has been testing and fine-tuning our strategies. Through local and special elections, we’ve proven that pro-equality voters can shift the electoral landscape and provide the margin of difference.

No clearer example of this can be found than this year’s primary election in Florida Senate District 38.

Embattled anti-equality incumbent Sen. Daphne Campbell faced off against political newcomer Jason Pizzo. Equality Florida Action PAC committed $25,000 and the full force of our political apparatus to elect Pizzo. We turned out volunteers to knock on doors, funded mail pieces contrasting the candidates’ positions on LGBT issues, and ran digital ads supporting our endorsed champion.

Campbell’s anti-LGBT record became a defining, headline-grabbing issue in the lead up to primary Election Day, including a memorable moment during a televised debate where while clutching a copy of our mailer she said: “The gays have their rights and I have mine.”

Pizzo won by 9 points.

Whether it’s the Senate District 38 primary, the 2018 St. Petersburg Mayor’s race, or the race for Governor of Florida, the battle for LGBT rights puts defining markers on the playing field.

Will we build a Florida of inclusion and prosperity or a Florida mired in the Trump era politics of division and exclusion? For a growing and bipartisan coalition of voters, a candidate’s positions on LGBT rights tells them all they need to know about which side of this divide a candidate stands on.

The days of using LGBT issues as a wedge are waning.

Failure to support basic LGBT protections is a liability. Some candidates, including DeSantis, try to have it both ways. They mute their public attacks, while voting to please the dwindling but fervent extremist base.

But the candidates who fully embrace equality are the ones thriving in this emerging electorate.

Gillum, who has been an unflinching advocate of equality for decades leads, unites and speaks to the values of equality and fairness, while DeSantis has no platform beyond slavish devotion to Trump. Even Donald Trump waved the rainbow flag and claimed support on LGBT issues during the campaign. Of course, it was one of many lies, but the political calculus that led him to lie proves the current place of LGBT equality in the electorate.

The rainbow wave of 2018 has been decades in the making. In the remaining days, we’ll work to unleash the power of the LGBT and pro-equality allies’ vote, to hold accountable elected leaders like DeSantis who place a target on us and our families, and to elect champions like Gillum who represent the future of Florida and the South.

___

Nadine Smith is the executive director of Equality Florida/Equality Florida Institute.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons