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felon voting rights (Large)

Susan Frederick-Gray: Our opportunity to support Florida’s modern-day suffragists

There is a direct link from the work of my namesake and relative Susan B. Anthony, who fought for a woman’s right to vote in the mid-1800s, and the modern-day suffragists urging us to pass Amendment 4 on the ballot this November in Florida.

Growing up, I was told the stories of Anthony and Lucy Stone, as well as Ida B. Wells and Frederick Douglass; people who fought for the right to vote for women and people of color. It always left me wondering what I would do if I were alive at a time when a whole class of people were denied the ability to have a say in our democracy.

For the Sunshine State, this is not a rhetorical question.

Florida is one of three states that indefinitely bans former felons from voting, even after they have fully served their sentences. Amendment 4, the Second Chances Amendment, would repeal this Jim Crow era ban and re-enfranchise more than a million Floridians — one in 10 of the state’s adults — who have served their time but are still sentenced to a civil death. This would be the largest expansion of voting rights since women earned the right to vote in 1920.

Alongside those childhood stories of our family’s connection to voting rights, I was also raised a Unitarian Universalist, a faith where I now serve as national President.

At the core of our faith is a belief that no one is ever cast out of the circle of love. One can make mistakes, lose one’s way, but that never separates us from God’s love. As Universalists, we are taught that love, community, and forgiveness — the possibility of redemption — is essential for humanity and a healthy society.

That is why to learn of people who have permanently lost their citizenship rights because they have come into contact with a criminal justice system that we know is uneven at best and discriminatory at worst rings so wrong to me.

A parable I often draw on when I preach about forgiveness and redemption is that of the Prodigal Son. In the story, a younger son takes his inheritance early, leaves his family and squanders it all in wild living. Penniless and starving, the son returns home hoping to at least work as a servant for his father. Instead, when the father sees his son, he is filled with compassion, and rather than punishing him, he welcomes him home, offering a new beginning. Yes, we may all struggle to live this unconditional love as fully as the father, but all of us, at different times in our lives, are in need of forgiveness and second chances. And just like in a family, society and community begin to fall apart without practices of restoration and redemption.

In Florida, like in many states, too many people do not receive such a welcome. A criminal justice system that is not focused on successful re-entry can neither be considered just nor a service to our common good. Barriers to housing, employment, and the pride and ownership that comes with civic engagement erode our society rather than protect it.

I myself have spent a short time in jail as a result of religious acts of conscience. I have witnessed firsthand how our criminal justice system dehumanizes and punishes. I’ve known people beaten in jail and I carried scars on my wrists for years after, even though as a faith leader, I was handled with ‘relative’ care.

I am coming to Florida to support Amendment 4, because I do not want us to become a society where we so harden our hearts that one’s citizenship, and democracy itself, is withheld as a lifelong punishment with no chance for redemption.

Even when politics frustrates me and I feel disheartened by leadership, I keep voting. I do it because I remember that someone fought hard for me to have this right. I remember the women who organized, who marched, who went to jail and faced torture so that I would have the right to vote. The 15th Amendment which gave voting rights to African-Americans wasn’t passed until 1870, after the Civil War. The rights it enshrined weren’t extended to women until 1920. Native Americans didn’t gain the right to participate in elections until 1924. And it took the civil rights movement and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to overcome the legal barriers that prevented black Americans from fully participating in citizenship and democracy.

Now in 2018, Floridians, more than a million of them, are fighting hard for their voting rights. And I will be there to support them.

As an American, we can see this moment as a chance to bring our laws closer in line with our highest values and proclamations. As a faith leader, I see this as a moment to bring the values of redemption more fully to our society for all citizens. Through the lens of criminal justice, Amendment 4 is a step forward toward a system with greater emphasis on rehabilitation, restoration, and reintegration.

And as a relative of Susan B. Anthony, I see Amendment 4 as a crucial contribution to the democratic promise of this country, one that has never been achieved without people organizing and pushing for it.

I will be in Florida because I do not believe that anyone should be permanently cast out. I will be there because the purpose of the 13th, 14th, 15th and 19th amendments was to prevent us from becoming the two Americas we’ve witnessed ourselves becoming. Amendment 4 will end disenfranchisement and strengthen democracy not just in Florida but nationwide.

I ask that all those who can vote, vote yes on Amendment 4, so others too will have that right to vote again.


Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray is the President of the Unitarian Universalist Association based in Boston Massachusetts. She is a first cousin, five generations removed, of Susan B. Anthony, a leader of the women’s suffrage movement.

Rabbis Steven Engel, Jack Romberg: Take anti-Semitism out of Florida politics

Are politics in Florida truly descending to the lowest level?

We ask that because of articles appearing around Florida in which the Ron DeSantis campaign accuses Mayor Andrew Gillum of being anti-Israel, and Chris King along with Gillum of being anti-Semitic.

As the rabbis of two major Jewish communities in Florida, we object to any campaign using the politics of fear to influence our people.

The accusations of Gillum being anti-Israel and anti-Semitic are based on his endorsement by the Dream Defenders, a group connected to Black Lives Matter, which has taken an anti-Israel position.

Their endorsement of Gillum has nothing to do with Israel, and everything to do with his concern for racial and bigotry issues in our country. If we were to stoop to that level of politics, we could accuse DeSantis of being a white nationalist, possibly a racist and maybe even anti-Semitic. Why? Because DeSantis is a former co-manager of a Facebook page that contained racist remarks. In addition, there are white nationalists supporting his candidacy.

Does that actually make him a racist?  We would say no because neither of us personally knows Mr. DeSantis; so, to judge him on that level would be totally unfair.

However, between the two of us, we know Mayor Gillum and Chris King.

I, Rabbi Romberg, have served as the rabbi of Temple Israel in Tallahassee since July 2001. Temple Israel is the largest Jewish congregation along the North Florida I-10 corridor outside of Jacksonville.

I met Andrew Gillum 15 years ago through a congregant serving on the Tallahassee City Commission with him. In 2006, our Jewish community lobbied to have Tallahassee become a sister city to Ramat Hasharon in Israel. Then-Commissioner Gillum was extremely supportive of that project and, when it became official, traveled to Israel.

I accompanied him and our Mayor at that time on their tour of Israel. I witnessed Gillum’s positive impression of Israel’s great success as a country, answered questions about the country’s history and joined him in exploring Israel’s culture.

In later years, Gillum made two more trips to Israel, which taught him the difficulties Israel faces and deepened his appreciation for having strong economic ties between Israel and Florida. It also solidified his opposition to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Just as important as supporting policies regarding Israel, Gillum’s has shown strong support for Tallahassee’s Jewish community. Here is one example — Temple Israel’s largest fundraising event is our annual Jewish Food and Cultural Festival. As both a Commissioner and Mayor, Gillum has volunteered numerous times to work at the festival. He never wanted to be the center of publicity or attention, but simply worked alongside a group of our congregants, making and serving sandwiches.

I, Rabbi Engel, have been the rabbi of Congregation of Reform Judaism for 21 years.

It is Orlando’s and Central Florida’s largest congregation. I am also a co-host of a weekly radio show called “Friends Talking Faith” along with a Reverend and an Imam.

Through my interfaith work, and on a personal level, I know Chris King. He and I also have many mutual friends who we are both very close to. It is antithetical to everything I have heard Chris say and do, in public and private, to think that he is anti-Semitic.

In fact, he is one of the most open, embracing and empathic religious people I know. After the Pulse massacre here in Orlando, he quickly reached out to support the LGBTQ community as a religious person.

He has many close friends who are my synagogue members who he confides in as if they were his own family.

The incident that is being used to smear Chris was simply a young adult misspeaking. He has taken responsibility for his words and apologized in a repentant way. This was ignorance and not anti-Semitism.

To not admit the difference and use it to smear someone is dishonest. The irony is that at the same time this happened, Chris was being targeted for being a Christian. He knew what it felt like to be targeted and also had a brother who was targeted. I know that as a person of faith, Chris would never do the same thing to others that was done to him. It is simply not in his character, nor in the family that raised him.

This charge of Chris King being anti-Semitic is a despicable tactic being used to scare Jews away from him. Jewish Floridians should not fall for this, because our history exemplifies the many times people have branded us and hurt us, without knowing us.

For us to do the same to anyone else is inconceivable.

Both of us ask that rather than engage in character denigration, all political candidates and those supporting their campaigns, show respect for Florida Jews by sharing their policy plans regarding economics, the environment, education, health care and yes, continuing to improve our relationship with Israel.

The Jews of Florida care about what is best for all people of our great state.

You will not impress our community through the low-level politics of personal degradation.


Rabbi Steven Engel is from Orlando. Rabbi Jack Romberg is from Tallahassee.

Michael Sittig: If Amendment 1 passes, most of us lose

When you go to the polls in November, there is more at stake than the general election. You’ll also be voting on Amendment 1 to the state constitution, and a no vote will help ensure that we won’t be hit right in the wallet.

Florida’s property tax system is a complicated mess. Amendment 1 won’t fix it. Instead, it would make it worse and more complicated.

Don’t be misled by the description of the amendment as a “homestead exemption increase.” Amendment 1 is not fair. Some pay less, but millions pay more. The state politicians call it a tax break, but it’s actually a tax SHIFT.

Most of the tax breaks go to a handful of homeowners. Less than one-fourth of Florida’s properties fall into that narrow category. This means that more than three-fourths of the properties owned by small-business owners, manufacturers and working families will carry a heavier load. Shouldn’t Florida’s tax system work across the board for all of us who own property, not just a select few? Renters also are expected to carry an increased share of the property tax burden, passed on from their landlords.

If you own a small business, then Amendment 1 is a double-whammy. First, it shifts taxes onto small businesses. Second, Amendment 1 exposes small businesses to bigger tax hikes later because a business’ taxable value grows faster than that of a home. That means business owners will shoulder a larger share of the tax burden. That’s bad for our small businesses, and it’s bad for our economy.

Amendment 1 is a one-size-fits-all scheme concocted by state politicians. But what’s good for some of our communities isn’t always good for others. What should be done with local property taxes should be decided locally, not by a group at the capital.

I have 45 years of service to the Florida League of Cities, with 20 years as executive director, which gives me a good perspective on what works and doesn’t work for our cities and our citizens. Looking back, we see that in the two previous homestead exemptions, counties were forced to increase their millage rates. While it’s not inevitable, you could make a good argument that the same thing could happen again. Regardless of whether taxes are increased, if you’re not in that narrow $100,000 to $125,000 slot, you’ll get hit with a larger, unfair tax burden.

We believe in citizen-centered local self-government. Our local communities should be trusted to decide their priorities and determine how they’re going to pay for them.

Amendment 1 is opposed by the Florida League of Cities, the Florida Association of Counties, the Florida Policy Institute and Florida TaxWatch.

We must link arms with our neighbors and stand together. Vote No on Amendment 1.


Michael Sittig is executive director of the Florida League of Cities.

Charles Steele Jr.: Marsy’s Law Amendment 6 takes on inequality in justice system

Charles Steele Jr.

Our founder, Dr. Martin Luther King, famously said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Dr. King made it his life’s mission to shine a bright light on the injustices he saw in this world and called for us all to work together to make right what is wrong. Since his time on this Earth, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference has carried on his mission and raised our voices up for those who need to be heard.

Right now, victims of crimes are among those whose voices are falling on deaf ears.

Too many crime victims feel ignored and left out of the justice process. Many victims feel the person who committed the crime against them has more rights than they do. Crime victims, many of whom are at the most vulnerable points of their lives, should be treated with equality and fairness. They should be appropriately protected and recognized.

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference stands for equity. Protecting and strengthening crime victims’ rights falls in line with our pursuit of equality and justice.

That is why I am proud to support Florida’s Amendment 6, also known as Marsy’s Law for Florida.

Amendment 6 would provide Florida’s crime victims with a stronger set of rights than what is currently afforded to them and it would place these rights in the state constitution. Victims would be kept informed of developments in their case, including upcoming hearings and trial dates. It would ensure they are notified about the custody status of the accused — if they are out on bail, released from prison and if they escaped. Amendment 6/Marsy’s Law for Florida would provide victims the opportunity to be present — and heard — at court proceedings.

In terms of equity, it is important to note this amendment will not take away any of the guaranteed constitutional rights already provided to criminals and criminal defendants. They will still have all their U.S. Constitutional rights, as well as the rights provided to them under the Florida Constitution. They will still have due process and fair trials. The amendment would simply elevate the rights of victims to the same, equal constitutional level as the rights of the accused and convicted.

Crime does not discriminate. Anyone can become a victim of crime at any time. Crime happens across all genders, ages, races and socioeconomic levels. Becoming a victim of crime changes your life forever. The trauma, pain and fear associated with that life-altering event lasts long after the justice process is concluded. However, while they are navigating that justice process, victims of crimes — no matter who they are or where they live — should be able to take comfort in knowing they are guaranteed certain rights and protections.

Above all, they should be treated with dignity and respect.

A society is measured by its values and priorities. As a society, one of our core values should be to help those among us who need protecting, including crime victims. The people of Florida are facing a pivotal moment. Do you demand justice by calling for fair treatment of crime victims in the justice system?

Or, do you allow the inequities to remain?

Floridians have the opportunity to give a greater voice to a group of people who deserve it — crime victims. I have been honored to lend my voice to victims and I encourage all Floridians to stand in support of crime victims by voting yes on Amendment 6/Marsy’s Law for Florida on November 6.


Charles Steele Jr. is an American businessman, politician and civil rights leader. Dr. Steele was one of the first African-Americans elected to the City Council of Tuscaloosa and one of the first African-Americans elected to the Alabama State Senate. He is the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Steve Crisafulli: Dorothy Hukill leaves legacy in space and lower taxes

This week, we lost a true public servant in state Sen. Dorothy Hukill.

Dorothy cared deeply for her constituents, and she leaves behind an impressive legacy of expanding economic and educational opportunities for all Floridians.

She was a shrewd and effective legislator who served Brevard and Volusia County families well in the Senate. I had the good fortune of knowing Sen. Hukill for the past 10 years. I first met her while serving together in the Florida House. I quickly came to respect Dorothy for her outstanding negotiating skills, sharp wit and passion for service. Dorothy was a friend and a trusted leader in both the House and Senate.

Dorothy began her political career as a councilwoman for Ponce Inlet and later served as mayor of Port Orange in Volusia County. By the time she got to Tallahassee in 2004, she already intimately understood the legislative process and how to effectively advocate for her constituents. She was proud of the communities she represented. She relished the opportunity to see constituents in Tallahassee, welcoming groups with new inventive signs outside her office every day.

When I arrived in Tallahassee in late 2008, Florida was firmly in the midst of the Great Recession. Dorothy Hukill was one of the House members leading the charge to turn our economy around.

Although Dorothy did not represent Brevard County at the time, she strongly supported the aerospace industry and eagerly helped me pass legislation to attract commercial space opportunities to our area. With Dorothy’s help, we strengthened the economic toolkit of Space Florida, reorganized Space Florida’s board of directors to better position the agency for success, and made it easier to develop facilities at the Kennedy Space Center for commercial space purposes. Dorothy also worked to expand economic incentives for aerospace companies, which were critical in reviving Brevard’s economy.

We should all be grateful for Dorothy’s commitment to the space industry. Her efforts helped lead us where we are today, with a booming commercial aerospace sector that has replaced the space shuttle program with thousands of high-paying, skilled jobs.

In addition to her advocacy for economic development, Dorothy also believed strongly in lowering taxes. Her legacy on tax issues will appear on the ballot this November as Amendment 2, which seeks to extend the annual cap on property tax increases for non-homestead properties, such as businesses and rental units.

Dorothy was one of the legislators responsible for spearheading the effort to put the original tax limitation for non-homestead properties in the state Constitution in 2010. She recognized that, just like homeowners, business owners, renters, and snowbirds could not afford to be hit with punishing property tax increases year after year.

During her last term in the Senate, Sen. Hukill chaired the Education Committee, overseeing policy decisions affecting students from pre-K through college. Education was a true passion of hers, especially in terms of empowering young people to make good decisions.

Dorothy tirelessly advocated for improving financial literacy education. She wanted our state education standards to include more emphasis on money management in high school so students knew how to balance their checkbooks, pay their bills, and understand financial documents when they graduated.

And she was instrumental in expanding educational opportunities for students by restoring full funding for the Bright Futures Scholarship program and offering more school choice options to parents and students in elementary, middle and high school.

While Dorothy only served Brevard County for two years, I can assure you she was strongly focused on another issue important to us: our water. Dorothy had a solid environmental record. She supported efforts to restore the Everglades, protect sensitive lands and beaches, and fund projects to clean up the Indian River Lagoon.

Dorothy Hukill courageously battled cancer while serving Florida families with integrity, determination and commitment. She loved our state, and she loved helping to improve the lives of her constituents. Dorothy led a life well-lived and leaves behind an impressive legacy of service. Our next state senator will have big shoes to fill, indeed.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Senator Dorothy Hukill and her family. May she rest in peace.


Republican Steve Crisafulli is a Merritt Island agri-businessman and former speaker of the Florida House.

Thomas Kennedy: The most important election of your life

Every election it seems like we are told that it’s the most important election of our lifetime. We as voters hear this line so much, it’s become a bit of a cliche, something to shrug off as we head to the polls.

Taking that into account, I’m here to tell you that this is indeed, the most important election of your life. Especially if you live in Florida!

If you want to shrug this off, just think about what’s at stake.

Our waterways are currently a mess, largely thanks to Gov. Rick Scott, with toxic green algae and red tide making our beaches a health hazard to the public and killing marine wildlife.

Our minimum wage is currently at an abysmal $8.25.

Republicans in the state Legislature continue to reject Medicaid expansion, leaving around 660,000 Floridians who would qualify uninsured.

Public education is increasingly defunded as charter schools continue to raid taxpayer funds with the aid of Tallahassee lawmakers.

No meaningful action has been taken to prevent more senseless gun violence, even though the state has had fifty-one shootings since the tragedy at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando.

Millions of Floridians are disenfranchised through various methods of voter suppression.

I could keep listing the many ways in which working-class families in Florida badly need a change of leadership in Tallahassee, but I think you get the point.

The historical implications of these midterm elections on everyday Floridians are huge. We have the opportunity to elect the first black governor in the history of the state in Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and pass Amendment 4, which would restore the vote to over 1.4 million Floridians who have served their time yet are currently disenfranchised due to prior felony convictions. People who have paid their debt to society should not be punished for a lifetime.

One out of five black citizens can’t vote because of this form of voter suppression and ensuring its passage would be a blow to the legacy of Jim Crow in the South.

That’s all without addressing what’s going at the federal level. Immigrant children are still being put in cages, in fact, hundreds of them have been moved under the cover of nighttime from detention centers to a tent city in what could accurately be described as a concentration camp in Tornillo, Texas.

The Kavanaugh hearings have been a national disgrace, with Republicans in Washington refusing to take seriously sexual assault allegations leveled against a man whose entire political career has been a war on women, and working-class people for that matter.

The Trump administration continues to be corrupt and lawless, with five presidential aides convicted of breaking the law.

Luckily there is a way for you to address all these injustices and hold accountable those who refuse to stand up for you and your loved ones.

You can vote.

In Florida, the voter registration deadline is Oct. 9. That means that you only have a few days to get it done if you are planning on voting. Once you do get registered, early voting across the state is Oct. 27 to Nov. 4, although you should check with your supervisor of elections office since they can provide additional early voting days if they choose to.

Election Day is Nov. 6. Get out there and make your voice heard.


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

Mark Mileusnic: Three keys to world-class customer service

The beginning of October marks National Customer Service Week, which recognizes the important role that customer relationships play in virtually every industry. After all, customers are at the heart of every business’s success and their satisfaction must be a top priority.

Each year, the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) receives more than 500,000 phone calls and 60,000 emails into our call center from insurance agents and carriers around the nation who are looking to get information to complete their insurance transactions.

What we’ve learned is that achieving impressive results starts with great people. At NCCI, we pair our talented customer-focused team members — more than 100 employees based at our headquarters in Boca Raton — with technology and training in order to provide the very best customer service.

But it’s NCCI’s customers, and yours, who define what great service means to them.

To ensure that we’re delivering for our customers and addressing their needs, NCCI regularly collects anecdotal and numerical survey feedback to identify the specific performance attributes that translate into great customer service. Because of our focus and dedication to excellence, NCCI’s award-winning call center has earned satisfaction scores of 9.5 out of 10 in those customer surveys.

Our surveys have also identified three top attributes for success that are just as applicable to your company call center as they are to NCCI’s:

— Efficient, attentive service — Customers repeatedly identify responsiveness as one of their top priorities.

NCCI’s call center resolves approximately 75 percent of its calls without putting a customer on hold.

Just 11 seconds is the average wait time to speak with an NCCI specialist.

— Accomplishing the purpose of the call — Resolving a customer’s need on that first call not only makes for a happy customer, but also contributes to the overall efficiency of the call center, reducing the need for follow-up calls.

NCCI’s call center resolves 97 percent of its calls during the first phone call.

NCCI staff are focused on getting the right answer and achieving a successful outcome as opposed to moving on to the next call.

— Knowledgeable specialists — Customers expect the person they’re speaking with to know what they’re doing … and it’s all too obvious when this is not the case.

NCCI’s call center is located within its home office — this proximity creates a direct line of knowledge to subject-matter experts and facilitates growth and training opportunities for staff.

NCCI’s staff development includes six to eight weeks of initial training as well as ongoing development.

NCCI adds customer value by staying focused on these three attributes — and your company can too. When customers quickly get the answers they are looking for from a friendly and knowledgeable team, they are more likely to be satisfied with their experience and with the company they are doing business with.


Mark Mileusnic is Chief Customer Operations Officer of the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI).

Deborah Thompson: Elections have consequences, like boosting Tallahassee real estate

No matter your political beliefs or party registration, and regardless of who your favorite candidates are in this 2018 election season, you have an opportunity to be one of the biggest winners if you’re getting ready to put your home up for sale in the Tallahassee.

The reason is simple: we’re going to have a major turnover of top political figures in Florida’s statewide election for Governor, Attorney General, Commissioner of Agriculture and Chief Financial Officer. There will also be some new state legislators and staff hired to support their work. So, there will be a corresponding massive turnover of hundreds of key senior level employees in state government offices throughout the capital city.

It’s likely that many people will be recruited for important jobs from outside of Tallahassee — and when they’re set to move here to start work at the end of this year or early in 2019, they’ll need a place to live. For many, that could mean the purchase or long-term rental of a home.

This election-year real estate reality creates a special boost period to our local residential sales market — and a meaningful opportunity for homeowners who want to sell or rent their home to win in this election. But to earn that ‘victory,’ it’s smart to immediately undertake the kind of ‘campaign’ necessary to win.

Speak to a Realtor before you start preparing to sell your home. A Realtor can offer you helpful advice on preparing your home for sale as well as help determine the best sale price value of your home.

Consider having a pre-listing inspection to determine if repairs are necessary — and make the repairs, as appropriate. Curb appeal is so important for your home to go on the market and stand out. You want buyers to feel invited to come in — so they can imagine it as their home. Ask a friend to stand with you on the street outside your home, as if you are the buyers, and to share candid impressions from that angle and others about how your home looks.

Fresh mulch, edging, weeding, pruning and fresh flowers can work miracles for both front and backyards. Don’t forget to check your front door stain or paint as well as your exterior lights.

The interior of your home requires a very critical eye. Your home needs to be very clean. What’s the appearance of your light fixtures, blinds, baseboards, the space around light switch plates, cabinet fronts, etc.? Consider having a professional cleaning company come in to buff from top to bottom — because what it costs is well worth what it may save.

Less is more. Declutter and depersonalize — until it hurts. Don’t forget closets, cabinets and walls. Consider removing wallpaper and neutralize strong wall paint colors. Neutralizing doesn’t mean white walls. Fresh interior paint is a great way to give your home a fresh look.

Consult your Realtor or ask for a recommendation for a staging professional to help with furniture and accessory placement. If you are changing interior colors, a staging professional can be a great asset.

Depending on the needs, it can take several weeks to get your home ready. Don’t wait until the last minute to meet with your agent — and to begin your ‘campaign’ to win. You and your Realtor should work as ‘running mates’ to win the victory that matters most in this election: the sale of your home, at the best and right price.


Deborah Thompson is a Certified Residential Specialist at Coldwell Banker Hartung & Noblin. She may be reached at

Anna Eskamani: Yes, I am a woman running for office, and yes, I curse

The Republican Party of Florida wants you to know that I curse.

So much so, that they’ve created television ads and sent three mailers into my district stating that I am “vulgar,” and that I am “everything wrong with politics today.” The mailer includes quotes from me at rallies and public events, where I spoke truth to power, and occasionally integrated words like “shit” and “damn” into my remarks for emphasis. Once at a public storytelling event I proclaimed “fuck the patriarchy” and at the 2017 Women’s March I said, “P*ssy Power” as I was reading it off an attendee’s sign.

Apparently, all of this is just too much for the Republican Party to handle, as the mailer reads: “Ask yourself, is this the example our leaders should be setting for our children?”, concluding, “Anna Eskamani: Extremely Partisan. Extremely Vulgar. Extremely Wrong for Central Florida.”

The irony is palpable, and the cognitive dissonance clear. The Party of Trump thinks I am vulgar? President Trump can grab women by the p*ssy, and use language that is demeaning towards women, people of color, immigrants, and the disabled. But when I reclaim terms that have historically been used to belittle women, than I am the one who is being vulgar?

Let’s be real: the Republican Party could care less about cursing. Party leaders only care because I’m a woman who curses, and they think that can be weaponized against me.

Despite achievements made by women in our country, we still face deep double standards in government, business, tech, sports, academics, and entertainment. Double standards are defined as a rule or principle that is unfairly applied in different ways to different people or groups. In the case of women, we are often evaluated against different harsher standards when compared to male counterparts. Examples exist in all fields, and especially in politics.

Recently I had my first ever debate with my Republican opponent. So far, it’s the only debate he has agreed to, and chances are since it was hosted by our local Chamber of Commerce, he assumed that this young woman of color and Democrat would not perform well in a business-focused space.

The attack mail calling me vulgar had begun that same week, and I knew it was an intentional effort to damage my character before I even walked into the room.

I was up till 6:00 a.m. preparing for this debate, crafting a thirty-page binder of policy notes, reviewing statistics, theories, and budget allocations. One double standard that women face — and especially women of color — is that you only get one chance to get it right. I knew this moment mattered, and refused to take it for granted.

With one hour of sleep, I walked into the debate and demonstrated a grasp of the issues, had the courage to hold my opponent accountable to his lies, and relayed a message of hope for our state that leaves no one behind.

Many had said I won the debate, and when the forum ended I felt like we had done our job in painting a brighter future for Florida. Later, when I looked at the Facebook live stream, and read the comments left by those watching, I could not help but notice people who oppose me comment on my “valley girl” voice, speak to my opponents lack of detailed responses as being his “strength”, and continue to call me “too vulgar” to support.

Later in the week, a former elected official would troll me on my personal Facebook page and say that he “observed me” at the debate, thought that I was “charming” but that I was “insincere, just playing to the audience.”

Tossing aside women you disagree with, commenting on superficial elements, and labeling them as liars is another double standard. Just ask President Trump and Brett Kavanaugh. They’re both very good at it.

Running for office takes being yourself. It takes remembering where you come from and who you are. It takes grit and grace. It takes asking for guidance, but also trusting your gut. The recent attacks that I have faced are insignificant when compared to the attacks faced by hardworking Florida families each and every day. These personal attacks mean nothing when I reflect upon the importance of protecting public education and our environment. In fact, it’s hard not to swear when I think about Florida politicians never expanding Medicaid, a decision that has left nearly 800,000 people in our state without access to health care.

I know all too well that more attacks by my opponent and Republican leadership are yet to come. Next will be my traffic citations plastered on mail, my past work at Planned Parenthood, and no doubt efforts to tie my cultural identity as an Iranian-American to terrorism. Each will be seen across our district, designed to hurt me and the movement we are building.

It won’t work. Our voters are too smart, our team too committed, and my track record too strong.

Because we are authentic to the members of our district we have inspired Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike to stand with us in demanding a collaborative and ethical approach to problem solving, one that celebrates diversity and operates free of special interests. Our campaign is less about winning an election and more about setting a new tone for the America we love, and fight for.

Yes, I am a woman who curses. But no, I am not what’s wrong with politics today. I am the sum of those around me, a facilitator for change, a challenger of the status quo, and someone who is damn ready to serve the great people of Florida State House District 47.

Anna V. Eskamani is an Orlando native and daughter of working class immigrants from Iran. She is pursuing a PhD at the University of Central Florida and is a first time candidate, running for Florida State House District 47. 

Emma Collum: With Brett Kavanagh, it’s time to end the ‘broken cycle’

Whenever a public figure faces charges of sexual assault, we follow the same broken cycle — an allegation is made, the accused person denies it, and the survivor is attacked. Then a chorus of voices amplified through cable news discounts the accusation and says, “even if it’s true, it’s not that bad.”

This is a familiar story for many women. It’s my story too.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford has lodged a credible allegation of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Since coming forward, she has faced criticism and threats. She and her family have been forced into hiding. If she chooses to testify before the Judiciary Committee, she’ll face a level of scrutiny unlike anything we have seen since the Anita Hill debacle in 1991.

In college, I was the victim of a sexual assault that I have not discussed publicly until today. I did not report the assault because while I cannot speak for all victims, my experience has taught me that to be assaulted is to be traumatized. It is to be left with lingering feelings of doubt, grief, fear and rage. It is to revisit the tragedy over and over and to constantly question if you’re to blame. It is to go months and years with pain buried deep in your consciousness and then to have a certain smell or sound bring it flooding back as if you were reliving it. To be sure, it is something that you cannot understand unless you’ve experienced it.

For Dr. Ford to have experienced an assault at the hands of Judge Kavanaugh, to speak up, then to face smears and unwarranted retaliation from people making no effort to understand her ordeal is a national travesty.

Her decision to come forward could not possibly have been easy. Even I, who represented abused women in court and founded the Florida Women’s March, have struggled with whether to tell my story. But we need to speak up if we want to make change.

When 73 of 75 Republicans in the Florida House signed a letter supporting Kavanaugh, they asked us to ignore the very serious allegations leveled against him. Their letter ends with “Recognize the truth, unify the country, confirm Judge Kavanaugh …” Florida Republicans aren’t just calling for the country to unify around Kavanaugh. They’re calling for extreme partisans to unify against all allegations of sexual assault. They think that if they stand together, no woman can get in their way.

It’s time to prove them wrong. Women need to be heard. We need to be believed. Most of all, we need a seat at the table so that we can lead the charge against a toxic culture of permissiveness. The “Me Too” movement shined a light on the stories held secretly by so many of us. It slowly began to destigmatize a subject we urgently need to address. Any attempts to undermine the credible claims of women who come forward to speak their truths fly in the face of the advances we have made. I refuse to turn back the clock on our progress.


Emma Collum is an attorney, activist and co-founder of the National Women’s March. She is also a Democratic candidate for Florida House District 83.

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