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Chris Hudson: Transit hounds are barking up the wrong tree

It’s back, and it’s worse than ever.

A coalition of local activists and big businessmen in Hillsborough County just got a $280 million sales tax hike placed on November’s ballot to fund transportation projects.

If that sounds familiar, there’s a reason.

Voters already made their feelings perfectly clear on sales tax hikes years ago. In 2010, Tampa residents voted down a similar sales tax hike by 58 to 42 percent.

That should have been the end of it. But tax-and-spend advocates weren’t interested in what taxpayers had to say. They were already making plans to get the transportation tax hike back on the ballot the day after the election, and they’ve been trying to do so ever since, including a failed attempt in 2016. Maybe they think that if they reintroduce the idea often enough they’ll just wear residents down.

Making the ill-conceived tax hike worse is the fact there are no detailed plans as to how the money would be spent. Supporters are essentially asking voters to hand the county a blank check and hope the money is spent responsibly.

Transit tax advocates seem to have forgotten the biggest reason for the Sunshine State’s recent economic success — low taxes. Thanks to a friendly tax climate, Florida is booming. Our state’s unemployment rate is at a nearly two-decade low, and Florida’s economy is expected to hit $1 trillion this year. Our state ranks fourth in the Tax Foundation’s State Business Tax Climate Index, making it a great place for businesses big and small to open up shop.

But the team behind this half-baked ballot initiative acts like undercutting all of this progress with a tax hike is the only option for funding our region’s transportation needs.

It isn’t.

Before trying to take money out of families’ pockets, they should take a good hard look at how taxpayer dollars are currently being used. They probably won’t like what they find.

Take, for example, the county’s spending on sports teams. In 2014, Hillsborough County lawmakers spent nearly $29 million so the Buccaneers could improve things like their luxury boxes and jumbotrons. Earlier this year, they signed off on over $60 million in taxpayer-funded upgrades to the Lightning’s arena. And now they’re considering spending at least $600 million on a new stadium for the Rays.

Instead of trying to get yet another referendum on the ballot, transit-loving activists should be asking why sports team owners are getting taxpayer funding over transportation projects.

Americans for Prosperity-Florida and our thousands of activists in the Tampa area and across the state believe responsible budgeting should come first. Florida families have to live within their means, so it shouldn’t be too much for them to expect their local governments to do the same.

Making up for irresponsible spending by hiking taxes on hardworking Tampa residents isn’t the solution to our region’s transportation needs.

The sales tax hike was a bad idea in 2010, it was a bad idea in 2016, and it’s still a bad idea today.


Chris Hudson is Florida state director of Americans for Prosperity.

Thomas Kennedy: The real extremist running for Florida Governor

Politics in America has become quite the spectacle recently. Florida, of course, has never been known for boring elections. Consider our last gubernatorial election, where former Republican Governor Charlie Crist ran as a Democrat against Republican Rick Scott, a millionaire who oversaw the largest Medicare fraud in the history of Florida (and is currently running for Senate).

Need I say more?

Yet Florida has not seen anything like the epic race pitting Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum against Rep. Ron DeSantis, both aspiring to become Governor. Gillum made history by becoming the first black nominee for Governor in the history of the state after beating four other candidates, all millionaires, while running a bold and progressive campaign. DeSantis defeated Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam after receiving Donald Trump’s endorsement in what was considered an upset by political observers.

Since the onset of the general election, Gillum has faced a barrage of smears from the Florida Republican Party and its allies claiming that he is a candidate too radical for the people of Florida. Republicans say that Gillum is out of step with the average Floridian.

That’s funny coming from a party that has held political power in Florida for two decades, with disastrous consequences for working-class families. Currently 45 percent of households in the state qualifying as working poor and struggle to afford basic necessities like health care, transportation and housing despite being employed. Meanwhile, Republicans in the state have underfunded public education, refused to expand Medicaid for as many as 1 million Floridians, and set up corporate slush funds that divert millions in taxpayer dollars to the same wealthy corporations who help fund their campaigns

In the current race for Governor, it is DeSantis who is the clear extremist. His reactionary political agenda is plain for all Floridians to see.

— He has not taken a stand on raising the abysmal $8.25 minimum wage in the state.

— He opposes gun policies that would prevent tragedies like the Parkland shooting and is proud of his NRA endorsement and the money that comes with it.

— He opposes a woman’s right to choose what happens to their bodies.

— He wants to criminalize undocumented immigrant families who contribute to the economy of Florida in an effort to make their lives as difficult as possible.

— He supports the privatization of prisons and has taken big sums of money from GEO Group, the largest for-profit prison company in Florida.

— He opposed imposing meaningful regulations on industries that are destroying our environment and questions if climate change is caused by humans despite overwhelming scientific evidence.

In stark contrast stands Gillum and his progressive agenda, yet his policy positions are hardly radical or extreme. In fact, they are in lockstep with a majority of Americans.

— Medicare for all? Supported by 70 percent of Americans.

— Assault weapons ban? Supported by 67 percent of Americans.

— Comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship? Supported by 63 percent of Americans.

— Legalizing marijuana? Supported by 61 percent of Americans.

— Raising the minimum wage? Supported by 51 percent of Americans.

— Restoring voting rights to people with prior felony convictions? Supported by 74 percent of Floridians.

I can keep going if I’d wanted to, but I think I’ve made my point.

Despite what political consultants and mainstream media outlets will tell you, people are hungry for change and support policies that will materially make their lives better. They are tired of having to work two or three jobs to make ends meet, and fearing that a health issue could potentially lead to financial ruin or even death due to lack of health care.

DeSantis is a radical who has tied his political fortunes to Donald Trump, one of the most corrupt and unpopular Presidents in modern American history.

I believe that come Nov. 6, Floridians will choose Gillum as the candidate that stands with them on a majority of the issues.


Thomas Kennedy is the Political Director for FLIC Votes and a communications fellow for the Center for Community Change Action. He tweets from @Tomaskenn.

Carey Theil: Dog racers gaslight while greyhounds continue to die

In light of a recent industry guest column regarding state gambling data, voters should ask themselves whether they can believe anything the greyhound industry says.

Earlier this week, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation released new data on gambling at Florida racetracks. According to this report, betting at Florida dog tracks fell by 6.4 percent in the most recent fiscal year, compared to the previous year. Gambling on live races fell even more, by a precipitous 7.1 percent.

In part, this decline is due to significant drops at key dog tracks. For example, racetrack betting fell by a catastrophic 11.2 percent at Palm Beach Kennel Club, arguably the flagship facility for the entire industry. Similar drops occurred at Sanford Orlando Kennel Club (8.8 percent), Sarasota Kennel Club (10 percent and Pensacola Greyhound Track (27.3 percent).

These are signs of an industry in its death throes. According to state records, Florida dog tracks lost a combined $34.8 million on racing in 2016, the most recent year for which the data is available.

Everyone knows that greyhound racing only continues today because of the state dog racing mandate, which requires that gambling facilities hold races in order to offer more profitable forms of betting. This mandate has effectively become a subsidy program for greyhound breeders, who are profiting from a product the market no longer wants.

The aforementioned guest column is designed to mislead and confuse. It wrongly attributes this state data to our campaign. It also attacks the state data, referring to an “incomplete financial analysis” and “propaganda.” Finally, it links to a spreadsheet created by a Massachusetts gambler, who claims the amount bet on races originating at Florida dog tracks is more than the state reports.

If the industry wishes to dispute this state data, it can take up its cause with the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering. As a policy matter, there is certainly some money bet in other states, via simulcasting, on races that originate at Florida tracks. Those bets originate in other states and are taxed in other states.

The Division is specifically responsible for accounting for and protecting state revenues related to taxable pari-mutuel activities conducted in Florida. As you may be aware, government agencies are not exactly in the habit of letting tax revenue owed to them under state law slip away. For that reason, the state’s numbers remain more credible than those of an out-of-state professional gambler.

The industry uses these out of state bets to fabricate an imaginary monster, the “Advanced Deposit Wagering” internet gambling bogeyman. The industry uses this rhetorical trick because it needs a platform to argue that greyhound racing isn’t dying. It’s a tough task, because every single shred of actual data shows a consistent and perpetual decline. In fact, according to state data, gambling on dog races at Florida tracks has fallen in 25 of the last 26 years.

However, facts are stubborn things.

In reality, just 9.3 percent of all greyhound racing bets were made over the internet in 2015, according to actual records from the states themselves. While we are responding to this point primarily due to the series of false allegations made by the other side, it remains the case that the alleged preferences of bettors in other states have no bearing on the choices of Florida voters.

This is an intentional strategy dog race promoters are using to try to save their cruel industry. If possible, they deny the facts about the way greyhounds live. If that doesn’t work, they invent their own facts and rationalize their behavior. Let me provide a few examples:

— When the state releases data that shows a further decline of the industry, industry promoters release an unsourced spreadsheet from an out-of-state gambler and misrepresent the state data.

— When it becomes clear voters oppose greyhound confinement, industry promoters say that greyhounds are “only” confined for 18 to 20 hours per day, and that’s acceptable because dogs sleep a lot. Apparently they believe dogs like to live in cages.

— When news organizations report on the 483 greyhound deaths that have been reported to the state since 2013, industry promoters deflect by saying that other dogs die too, so apparently these deaths are acceptable.

In a little more than fifty days, Florida voters will head to the polls to decide the future of greyhound racing. I believe they will no longer tolerate this cruelty, or the trickeration being used to enable it. I’m convinced they will vote Yes for the dogs on Amendment 13.


Carey Theil is Senior Advisor to the Protect Dogs-Yes on 13 campaign.

Committee to Support Greyhounds: The real racing handle numbers

The anti-racing activists led by the Humane Society of the United States, under the guise of “Protect Dogs — Yes on 13,” continue their barrage of deliberately deceptive propaganda aimed at Florida’s voters.

Once again, they are hiding the ball by intentionally omitting monies wagered via Advanced Deposit Wagering (ADW), recently submitting a misleading and incomplete financial analysis to the media.

Below is an example of true handle and the TRUE financial impact of greyhound racing, taken from three Florida facilities.

Every track has a results sheet after each performance, which lists the results of every race for that session along with the attendance and handle at the bottom.

The author of the spreadsheet in question — Mr. Dick Ciampa — has reviewed the results sheets for three tracks to gauge the amount of advanced wagering money that is not reflected in the State report that the “Protect Dogs” group referenced.

What was found was a staggering difference in the news release sent out by Protect Dogs and the actual amounts wagered.

In the DBPR annual report, Derby Lane (operating as Derby Lane and Tampa Greyhound Track) reported $38,919,143. When the reported handle on the results sheets were added up for that year, they totaled $90,902,125 – a difference of $51,982,982.

The same analysis was done for Palm Beach (i.e., Palm Beach Kennel Club & License Acquisitions). In the DBPR Annual Report, they reported $49,976,741. The analysis of the results sheet showed the actual handle reported of $155,671,152 — another staggering difference of $105,694,411.

A third track was analyzed, Jacksonville (Jacksonville Kennel Club, Orange Park Kennel Club and St. Johns Greyhound Park), and produced similar results. The handle reported on the DBPR Annual Report was $39,829,574. The analysis of the results sheets was $90,530,670, another whopping difference of $50,701,096.

On three of the larger tracks alone, the total difference was $208,378,489. This hardly speaks of a dying sport as opponents would have you believe. One must ask why they ignore the ADW numbers.

This was a time-consuming endeavor, exactingly researched with clearly supported numbers and totals that are available to the public. It is not a “random spreadsheet” as anti-racing activists have now claimed since our committee first published it.

The numbers do not lie: The anti-racing group’s “report” omitted $200 million in wagering from three tracks alone.

As we have done in the past, The Committee to Support Greyhounds urges the public to come learn the truth for themselves. There are tours being arranged, via the National Greyhound Association, to meet trainers, meet current and ex-racers, watch a few races, visit with adoption group volunteers, get photos with the greyhounds, and ask questions about their care, racing careers, and life after the track.

There are also several kennels who have been putting up live feeds on Facebook each morning, so the public can check out ‘kennel life.’

The full data for handles at several FL tracks is available here. For more information, write to

Photo credit: Van Abernethy

Sean Pittman: Far-left labels don’t apply to Andrew Gillum

If you believe the conventional wisdom of the Florida Governor’s race, voters have a stark choice between a Bernie Sanders Democrat and a Donald Trump Republican.

Andrew Gillum, who recently chose his primary opponent Chris King as his running mate, is indeed running against Republican Congressman and presidential acolyte, Ron DeSantis, with Jeanette Nunez for Lieutenant Governor.

It is indeed a glaring political contrast, but not in the way the DeSantis camp would have you believe.

I can’t speak for the Republicans — and won’t. However, the far-out description doesn’t fit Gillum, and it shouldn’t fly as campaign fodder in the November election.

Yes, Sanders did come to Florida and endorse Gillum. But, Gillum was a Hillary Clinton surrogate during the 2016 campaign and made her short list for running mate. Gillum was part of a four-member effort in Tallahassee that raised $500,000 for Obama’s first run as president in 2008.

Now, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is with Gillum as brother-in-arms; his primary opponent, Gwen Graham, the daughter of former Governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, told Gillum to “go out and win the d— thing” as part of her endorsement. State Sen. Lauren Book, the daughter of one of the capitol’s most influential lawyer/lobbyists, also made the shortlist for Gillum’s running mate.

If you know Florida politics, this is not exactly the makings of a leftist cabal.

Besides those who support him, Gillum’s record as Tallahassee Mayor doesn’t suggest a socialist ideology either. In fact, the mayor-turned-gubernatorial candidate has pushed sensible policies that have fostered growth and development in the state’s capital city.

As Mayor, Gillum got rid of business license fees, revised the permitting process to make it more timely and refunded utility deposits to businesses in good standing. The changes made Tallahassee a better place for business and home to Florida’s fastest growing economy.

But, what about all that support from George Soros and Tom Steyer, the two billionaires most identified with progressive causes? Gillum may share political beliefs with the two, but he also appreciates the support from them and the full range of Floridians backing his campaign.

The reality is that many of these so-called progressive issues are becoming more mainstream by the day. Poll after poll shows a majority of Americans favor “Medicare-for-All.” People actually want affordable and accessible health care, including many Republicans who see the value in Medicare and Medicaid expansion as a way to improve medical services and lower drug prices.

Raising the minimum wage in Florida fails the radical-left standard, too.

You don’t need a poll, although several do show Floridians think the current state minimum wage of $8.25 needs to be raised, given our low-wage economy makes it difficult to make ends meet with only one job.

So, while it may be easy to mischaracterize Gillum as a member of the radical fringe, it’s just not true. Facts suggest otherwise.

As the campaign goes on, more and more Floridians will see Gillum for who for who use he is — a pragmatic candidate whose common-sense ideas are welcome by the voters and much more mainstream than many pundits think.


Sean Pittman is the senior partner of the Pittman Law Group, a Tallahassee-based law firm and co-host of Sunday morning television talk show “The Usual Suspects.”

John Stemberger: Andrew Gillum in two words: impressive and radical

Florida Democrats have nominated Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum to be their choice for Governor who will run against Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis on Nov. 6.

No doubt, Gillum is impressive. He is smart and attractive. He is a winsome communicator, has a beautiful family and has a certain youthful excitement about him.

His personal story is moving. He was born poor in Miami. His mother was a school bus driver and his father, a construction worker. He was the fifth of seven children and the first to graduate from high school. Gillum was elected to Tallahassee’s City Council in 2003 while he was still a student at Florida A&M University. He stayed on the City Council until his election as Mayor in 2014. A pastor friend of mine in Tallahassee who has personally known Gillum for years said Gillum is “Obama 2.0” and could easily be a future President of the United States.

In terms of political currency, Andrew Gillum is the package. He could be the most impressive Democrat candidate for Governor in modern Florida political history.

But he is also the most radical.

He self-identified in the primary as the “true progressive in this race,” and the USA Herald called Gillum the “far-left choice” in the Democratic field. CNN reported, “Gillum was, without question, the choice of liberals in this race” and said the lesson of the primary election was, “you can’t be too liberal.”

Gillum was backed early by radical activist and billionaire political funders, George Soros and Tom Steyer. Soros of New York is worth around $8 billion. Steyer of California is worth around $1.6 billion. If you have never heard of these men, do a couple of Google searches and you will realize how politically dangerous and far to the left these major out-of-state players are. They will eventually pump millions into Gillum’s campaign to silently manipulate the future of our state. Gillum said he is “deeply appreciative of Mr. Soros, as well as Mr. Steyer….”

Gillum was also endorsed by socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. The Bernie endorsement was made in person and came complete with a big public hug with State Rep. Carlos Smith, Florida’s openly gay-identified activist legislator standing by with a co-endorsement.

On economic policy, Gillum wants to turn Florida in an entirely new direction. He wants to raise the minimum wage from $8.25 to $15 an hour. He is also on record for raising the corporate tax rate to more than 40 percent — which is about a billion dollars. A Forbes magazine article described it by saying “Gillum’s proposal would make Florida the high tax capital of the South for businesses.” If you understand anything about economic policy, you know why these are really bad ideas for small businesses, for middle-class wage earners and for our overall economic growth as a state.

On education policy, he is an open enemy to school choice and vouchers and is “strongly opposed” to charter schools. He also wants to socialize and adopt Bernie Sanders’ free college education policy by “making college debt free.”

On social policy, having medical marijuana in Florida for certain medical conditions is not enough. Like personal injury lawyer John Morgan, Gillum now also wants to legalize pot for recreational purposes throughout our state, which is the family-friendly vacation capital of the world.

Gillum is backed by two of the most radically liberal groups in our state, Equality Florida and Planned Parenthood. These were supporting groups of the recent “die in” where activists and Democratic candidates lay down in “mass protest” inside Publix grocery stores across the state blocking moms from shopping on a Saturday morning this summer.

Gillum is one of the strongest advocates for the creation of new LGBTQ rights and “transgender rights.” He supports the so-called “Competitive Workforce Act” (CWA) bill that would allow men who subjectively express themselves as women to use women’s showers, dressing rooms and bathrooms in public schools, gyms, domestic violence shelters, scout camps, YMCA camps, and all other “public accommodations.” This is a blatant violation of the privacy, dignity, and safety of women and children. Mr. Gillum is apparently more sensitive to the “needs” of the biological males who act out as females than the thousands of real women who have suffered rape, abuse, and violence at the hands of men who would have to undress and shower with other men in close and intimate personal spaces if the CWA passes.

He has been described as a “sanctuary sympathizer” and directly called for abolishing the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE).

On health care, Gillum is on record wanting “Medicare for All,” saying he would “work through with anyone … to make health care more universal in Florida.”

He is pro-abortion and wants to use our tax dollars in Florida to reinstate funding to Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in America.

He is opposed to robust 2nd Amendment rights and has sued the National Rifle Association as Mayor of Tallahassee to prevent ordinary citizens from defending themselves in city parks. Gillum’s website lists extensive new gun control laws he wants and proudly advertises he “led marches” for new gun control laws.

Finally, Gillum has been dogged by and is embroiled in scandal and controversy over various ethics charges and other shady transactions.

As Mayor, he purchased an online email system with hard-earned taxpayer’s money and then used that for Democratic political campaigns and not city business. Since then he has been embroiled in a political firestorm. Brazenly, he said that he does not regret purchasing the email software, only that a political campaign email was “accidentally” sent. He did reimburse the city but as of 2017, the matter was being investigated by Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil.

Additionally, and more significantly, there is an ongoing federal investigation into public corruption in Tallahassee that looms over Gillum. The scandal involves out-of-town developers who were able to influence city development projects. The federal probe is related to unreported gifts of Broadway tickets, boat rides, food and hotel rooms received during a New York City trip with a Tallahassee lobbyist and at least two undercover FBI agents posing as businessmen.

Two things are clear about Andrew Gillum. He is very impressive. But he also is very radical. Florida deserves better. Much better.

John Stemberger is a conservative leader who practices law in Orlando and leads the Florida Family Policy Council.

Len Cabrera: Democratic socialism puts lipstick on a pig

The recent surge in popularity for “democratic socialism” is the latest evidence of the failures of our national education system, especially when it comes to economics and our nation’s founding.

While the party leaders probably know exactly what they intend (the centralization of government power with the camouflage of popular will), a simple YouTube search demonstrates that the followers can’t even define the terms that make up the name.

When opponents point out the obvious historic failures of socialism — which always results in tyranny and poverty — the party leaders are quick to claim they’re not socialist in the sense of the Soviet Union, Cuba or Venezuela. They claim they don’t want government ownership of the means of production, but simply seek to redistribute the wealth created by capitalism to make it more “fair,” like the “socialist” Scandinavian countries. This retort is classic bait-and-switch since these countries are not socialist, but have free market economies with heavy redistribution. When you read their formal party platform, it becomes clear that this response is an outright lie.

The Democratic Socialists of America‘s website is an incoherent hodgepodge of utopian progressive fantasies and nineteenth-century Marxist theology mixed with modern intersectional social justice rhetoric to pander to female, minority and LGBTQ voters. If you can stomach sifting through the website, you’ll eventually find their definition of “economic democracy,” which includes “direct ownership and/or control of much of the economic resources of society,” including “control over private resources… land, raw materials, and manufacturing infrastructure.” Direct ownership would be textbook socialism. If DSA prefers to control the private resources, that would be fascism.

For all their supposed forward-thinking, the DSA’s economic policies are just a restatement of John Dewey‘s economic determinism from the 1930s, which is itself a restatement of Karl Marx‘s misunderstanding of free markets. Like all socialists before them, DSA policies will fail because they ignore basic economics, especially the incentives created by market prices, private property, and profit-seeking behavior. Socialist academics like to assert that they know how to run society when most haven’t even run a business. Visit or and ask yourself if any politician or bureaucrat you’ve ever met is capable of producing and distributing “simple” products like bread and pencils.

If we ignore DSA’s lie and accept that they simply want to redistribute income, history still shows this does not work. California is arguably the most progressive state in the nation, with heavy redistributive policies that provide benefits to people with incomes 200% above the poverty line. According to the Census Bureau, California has only 12% of the nation’s population, but is home to about one-third of the nation’s welfare recipients. Despite all this government assistance, the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure ranks California as the worst state in the union, with more than one in five residents living in poverty.

The new ideas of the DSA include pandering to identity groups (other than simply the proletariat) and adding “democratic” to their title. They use the term to imply there is popular will to centralize government power. They will be kinder, gentler tyrants.

This insistence on popular will sounds nice, but it’s just a ploy to convert envy into political power. It’s easy to get majorities to vote for more government when they don’t have to pay for it. (The top 50% of tax filers paid 97% of all income taxes in 2015.) If the Constitution didn’t prohibit seizure of private property, it’s not hard to imagine DSA getting 51% of the people to vote to take everything from the other 49%. “Democracy is not freedom,” wrote Marvin Simkin in the Los Angeles Times. “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to eat for lunch. Freedom comes from the recognition of certain rights which may not be taken, not even by a 99% vote.”

In addition to being economically illiterate, the DSA’s policies ignore the principles in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. With Constitution Day coming up on September 17, maybe budding democratic socialists should read the Constitution so they can learn that we are a constitutional republic, based on the sovereignty of the individual and subject to the rule of law, not the rule of the mob.

Giancarlo Sopo: Debunking six myths about democratic socialism for Floridians

The Florida Governor’s race kicked off last week with a tweet and a race to the bottom. The morning after the primary, President Donald Trump slammed democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum as the “failed socialist mayor” of Tallahassee. Then, GOP nominee Ron DeSantis went on national television and warned that, if elected, his opponent could “monkey” up the state, which immediately elicited accusations of racism.

Bigotry and ideological extremism should have no place in Florida. The former is patently vile, and the latter is especially troubling in a state inhabited by millions of victims of Karl Marx’s gospel of envy. Such serious imputations should be based on facts. It’s understandable why Congressman DeSantis’ comment rubbed many the wrong way, but was it irrefutable evidence of racial bias? Also, one can see why Mayor Gillum’s campaigning with Sen. Bernie Sanders raises red flags (no pun intended), but does it mean that he, too, is a democratic socialist?

I suspect these charges would not hold up in court. Despite both candidates taking steps to discredit these attacks, we’re likely to continue hearing them through Election Day.

This leaves Florida voters with the unenviable task of discerning fact from fiction. Racism is usually self-evident, but identifying socialism requires a grasp of its ideological contours. Thus, it’s important for Floridians to understand what this ideology means and what it does not, so we can determine the credibility of claims routinely made by the right and the left.

Myth: Democratic socialism is unlike real socialism.

Fact: One of the most pervasive falsehoods surrounding “democratic socialism” is that it’s fundamentally different than Cold War-style socialism — it isn’t. It’s true that the two diverge on matters of governing processes but on economics, democratic socialism and the socialist policies of Havana are nearly indistinguishable. In a recent interview, the head of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), the country’s largest socialist organization with several chapters across the state, identified the elimination of privately owned companies and the nationalization of major industries as the group’s primary objectives. To be clear, these are not isolated views among democratic socialists. They’re as integral to that ideology as Jesus’ divinity is to Christianity — and also largely consistent with Cuban law.

Myth: Democratic socialists are today’s New Deal liberals.

Fact: Democratic socialists view FDR’s New Deal as insufficient. As Meagan Day, a DSA member and writer at the socialist magazine Jacobin, explained last month, democratic socialists want to go much farther than the New Deal, which largely focused on aiding the elderly, poor, and unemployed. As she noted, “here’s the truth: in the long run, democratic socialists want to end capitalism. And we want to do that by pursuing a reform agenda today … to revive a politics focused on class hierarchy and inequality in the United States.”

Myth: Government programs = Socialism

Fact: Socialism is the collective ownership of the means of production — not all government-led initiatives meet this definition. Also, not all progressives, and certainly not all Democrats, are hostile to free enterprise. Moreover, there is scant evidence that expanding health care inevitably leads to a government take-over of the economy. Of the 25 freest countries in the world in the libertarian Cato Institute’s most recent Freedom Index, almost all have national health care initiatives via public, private or hybrid models.

Myth: It’s what they have in Scandinavia.

Fact: The Nordic region has some of the world’s freest economies. Perhaps the most common misconception is to equate democratic socialism with Nordic social democracy. This is false. Democratic socialists like the welfare state aspects of Scandinavia, but they are ultimately committed to dismantling the free enterprise system. Conversely, Nordic social democrats are at peace with capitalism and focus their energy on strengthening social services. In fact, according to a 2018 World Bank report, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway surpass the U.S. in ease of starting a business and trading across borders. They also beat us when it comes to property rights in at least one study. This is precisely why democratic socialists often argue the Nordic Model is “not good enough” because, as they say, “capitalist control persists over the large majority of workplaces.”

Myth: Raising taxes is socialism

Fact: The merits of tax hikes are  debatable, but they are not inherently socialist. It’s true that in some countries, socialist leaders have pursued high tax regimens to weaken private sector activity, but their marginal rates were usually at confiscatory levels. In addition, Florida’s constitution specifically prohibits state income taxes. And though uncertainty over taxes has been shown to affect the economy, once rates are clearly defined, other considerations — such as human capital, supply chains, and infrastructure — are likelier to dictate corporate growth strategies.

Myth: We‘re overly sensitive to socialism because America is a right-wing country

Fact: Democratic socialists’ economic proposals are extreme — even by European standards. During my research, I presented a dozen Norwegian economists with a write-up of DSA’s economic ideas that were summarized by Vox, a liberal news website, and asked them to rate where the policies would fall along their country’s political spectrum. Eleven classified them as “far-left/fringe.”

Even after dispelling myths regarding socialism, some will continue to misuse the term as a slur to describe garden-variety liberals or delude themselves that today’s socialists are not what they claim to be. The rest of us should demand intellectual honesty and a better kind of politics.

Our next Governor will have to address numerous challenges. From toxic algae that are decimating our shores and wildlife to regulatory capture and occupational licensing requirements that rig our economy, we simply have too many real problems to be distracted by fallacies for the next 60 days.

It’s time to get to the issues.

Giancarlo Sopo is a Miami-based public affairs consultant and writer. His commentary has been featured in The New York Times, Univision, Fox News, CNN, Politico, and The Miami Herald. Follow him on Twitter at @giancarlosopo.

Emmett Reed: As Irma anniversary nears, safety remains FHCA members’ top priority

As we reflect on what we’ve learned since Hurricane Irma blasted Florida one year ago, Florida’s nursing centers are continuing their work of improving preparations, education, and training – to be ready for a storm of comparable power and impact.

We cannot forget the lessons of the tragedy that struck a South Florida nursing center last year. Even though that center was not a member of Florida Health Care Association, the loss of life there was felt deeply throughout the long-term care profession. The episode has served as an immeasurable motivator for our member nursing centers and assisted living facilities to remain prepared to keep our more than 70,000 residents safe throughout the storm season.

Following Florida’s brush with Tropical Storm Gordon this week and three powerful systems brewing in the Atlantic as this is written, these dedicated caregivers continue to demonstrate strong leadership to be ready for whatever comes their way.

Since Governor Rick Scott implemented new generator requirements for long-term care centers, our members have been working tirelessly on their emergency power plans, including strengthening steps for both evacuation and shelter-in-place scenarios. They’re enhancing their systems for communicating with family members and enhancing relationships with emergency managers so those authorities have a better understanding of the centers’ residents and the complexities of their medical needs. They’re also putting those plans to the test, running disaster drills and training seminars so both staff and residents are familiar with the steps that will be taken during an emergency.

Centers are also working to install their permanent generators to keep residents safe, cool, and comfortable if they experience a loss of power. The generator installation process can take an average of 38 weeks to complete – these are not like a portable generator to cool your home, they are massive and custom-fit for buildings that, on average, house 120 residents. While centers are navigating through the logistics of permitting, zoning, engineering, construction, and inspection of these massive generators and the fuel to accompany them, they’re bringing in mobile generators or making plans to evacuate should the power go out.

Compliance with regulations to keep residents safe is a responsibility our member centers have and always will take seriously. At the same time, these centers are demonstrating that there’s more to their mission than just compliance – it’s about providing quality care and enriching the lives of elders who can no longer care for themselves at home.  

Every day – whether in the midst of hurricane season or not – FHCA members remain dedicated to improving health outcomes for our residents. Their care and safety remain our first priorities, and we are steadfast in our commitment to do everything we can to ensure their well-being no matter what nature throws our way.

One year after Irma, Florida’s long-term care residents should feel a greater sense of comfort knowing their caretakers are prepared for any situation that comes their way. And family members should feel at ease with the reassurance that their loved ones are in good hands.

Families with loved ones in a care center can see how facilities in that county are complying by visiting the Emergency Preparedness section of FHCA’s “Elder Care Florida” website.

Emmett Reed is the executive director of the Florida Health Care Association.

Seth Miller, Michelle Feldman: Preventing the next Biscayne Park scandal

Former police officers in Biscayne Park, a small suburb north of Miami, are charged with framing innocent people in an effort to boost the department’s crime-solving record. Raimundo Atesiano, the police chief who resigned in 2014, allegedly directed his force to pin unsolved crimes on random black people in the community.

False confessions played a major role in the scheme. Guillermo Ravelo, who was fired from the department this year, admitted to fabricating confessions from two innocent men who Chief Atesiano allegedly ordered him to arrest without evidence. Ravelo falsely claimed in an arrest affidavit that one man admitted to committing two home break-ins in 2013, and that another confessed to stealing items in five unsolved car burglaries in 2014. Charges against both men were eventually dropped.

Florida has a history of problems with false confessions, which contributed to six wrongful convictions in the state since 1989. The innocent Floridians in these cases collectively spent 66 years behind bars and taxpayers were forced to cover $38 million in civil awards and settlements stemming from the wrongful convictions.

There is a common-sense way to help prevent what happened to innocent people in Biscayne Park and around the state from happening again. The Florida Legislature should pass a law requiring police to record suspect interrogations in their entirety.

Had a law been in place, it would have been a lot more difficult for Guillermo Ravelo to make up confessions that never occurred. A law might have also protected Anthony Caravella, who spent 26 years in prison for a rape and murder in Broward County, until DNA testing exonerated him in 2010. Caravella, an intellectually disabled teenager, admitted to the crimes after five days of physical and mental coercion by his interrogators. Detectives taped only his confession, so the judge and jury did not hear critical context about the abuse that preceded it.

Nationally, 24 states and all federal law enforcement agencies require recording of suspect interrogations. In Florida, many jurisdictions have implemented the practice on their own. Broward County began recording interrogations over a decade ago, in the wake of several false confession cases. The Miami-Dade Police Department announced in 2014 that it would videotape interviews in homicide investigations.

However, without a state law, individual agencies and officers can choose whether or not to record. The result is a hodgepodge of practices across the state, and protections that vary based on where a Floridian is arrested. Even if a department does have a policy in place, there is no legal consequence if an officer decides to tape only part, or none, of an interview.

Over the years, legislation has been introduced to require recording of interrogations. Most recently, Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, and Democratic Rep. Sharon Prichett of Miami-Dade introduced a bill that passed three Senate committees but was never scheduled for a committee hearing in the House.

The next Biscayne Park scandal and the next wrongful conviction in Florida can be stopped, and you can help. Tell your state Senator and Representative that you support a law requiring police to record suspect interrogations.


Seth Miller is the Executive Director of the Innocence Project of Florida; Michelle Feldman is the Legislative Strategist at the national Innocence Project.

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