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Guest Author

Francisco Gonzalez: #ComingTogether, the movement to make America united again

Make no mistake. Our country is divided. There is anger. It is palpable. No one side is fully to blame. The anger exists on all sides. Sadly, the most divisive areas of American life today are now in politics and religion. But it doesn’t stop there. We now live in an age where we can choose almost everything — the neighborhood we want to live in, the television shows & cable news shows we watch, who we follow on Twitter and what news we want to (or don’t want to) see in our Facebook newsfeed. When we divide along these lines, we are culturally segregating ourselves, often by choice.

Many times, even the thought or sight of seeing or hearing from someone with an opinion we don’t share, perhaps one we vehemently oppose, makes us so sick we can’t be in their presence. So, we isolate ourselves. We congregate among those we feel “safe” with. Many of us laugh at those who need “safe spaces,” but let’s face it: most of us cling to our safe spaces these days.

The battle lines were formed decades ago and have only gotten worse. We have become tribal. When “our guy” is in office, we’ll defend whatever he or she does. When a person on the “other” side is in office, we’re quicker to attack whatever he or she does. And then we fight with our friends, family and neighbors about it. We can’t even stand to be near one another. And what’s worse? If we dare to sit down or be friends with someone who we disagree with, some of our friends, family, or neighbors question what we are doing: How dare you associate with that person?

On some college campuses, some speakers are not invited, shouted down, protested against, or in some cases violence has even broken out. Just for having another opinion. This madness seems to be getting worse. Recently I read an article by my colleague at National Review Institute, David French, that details all that I am getting at here. His article, “We’re Not in a Civil War, but We Are Drifting Toward Cultural Divorce,” demonstrates how we are sorting ourselves apart, rather than tolerating the differences we might have.

Since reading this article a few months ago (and having the privilege to hear David talk about this issue many times over) I have been thinking a lot about this. As he points out, the very idea of America is built on free speech and free association. We have the First Amendment to protect speech we don’t agree with. And the government can protect that speech all day long (as the courts pretty much always do). But what happens when social pressure makes people conform to stay quiet? What happens when we just avoid people we disagree with? Or avoid uncomfortable conversations because we just don’t want to start an argument?

What happens is this: we interact with people with other viewpoints less and thus, over time, we lose an understanding of one another. And I believe that’s what’s happened in this country. It’s easy to demonize someone you don’t actually know. Or to put down an opinion when you don’t actually understand why someone might hold it.

In his 2012 book, Coming Apart, Charles Murray details a similar phenomenon of America’s coming apart in a different way: more along economic lines. His book details the recent formation of American classes that are different from anything we’ve ever known in this country and specifically documents the creation of a very narrow elite that has diverged so far from the rest of the American mainstream, they rarely have any shared values or understanding of one another. And because that elite is typically wealthier, more educated and yes, more liberal (but not always so), they tend to look down on the rest of America, like snobs. But they have no reason to do so. They don’t even have any interaction with where most people live and work and the cultural activities they take part in. And, on the flip side, sometimes the poor and economically impoverished participate in a “group think” mentality as well.

So … with all this being said, I think it’s time that we, as Americans, take up a movement that finally says: we can all get along. We don’t have to agree with one another, but we can tolerate one another.

Recently, I got together with someone I disagree with. I’m a conservative. She’s a progressive. We are both very passionate about what we believe. I’m pro-life. She works for Planned Parenthood. We actually met through a leadership program we were both a part of this year called Connect Florida (a program of Leadership Florida). It brings people of all different backgrounds together. Our class represents a very diverse group of Floridians among many ethnicities, geographic regions, political opinions and professions. It’s not a blue-collar group. It’s a group of under-40 leaders of companies, nonprofits, and people who work in government, public policy, and engage in other entrepreneurial and philanthropic activities. Through a highly contentious election year, we were able to have fruitful conversations to advance ideas and networks with a shared passion to make the future of our state better.

Through some of our experiences, we didn’t always agree. And that’s where one of my classmates and I decided to recently meet up over a morning beverage to discuss the very thing we disagreed about. We never debated. We had a conversation. I asked her why she believed the way she did on the issue. And when she was done, I explained why I felt the way I did. We disagree on many issues, you can be sure. But we came there together to discuss one issue. We left knowing that both of us actually had very good, thoughtful reasons to hold the opinion we had. I don’t think either of us came there trying to persuade the other on the issue.

After we were done, I told her: In such a divided country if someone from National Review Institute and Planned Parenthood can come together to have a peaceful, thoughtful, friendly discussion about a contentious issue like this that we are both very passionate about, there’s no reason everyone in the country can’t do the same. She agreed. I then said to her: I believe you and I are in a unique position to foster such a movement if we do so together. She then said something to me I won’t forget: “Sometimes even just admitting that you won’t agree on everything is very powerful.” I couldn’t agree more. It is. She’s not the first friend I disagree with that I’ve sat down with on an issue (as I do this more often than even I realize), but it was the first time I’ve had the ideas of David French and Charles Murray in my head. Six months into Trump’s America, there’s a lot of anger on all sides. And yet, here we were, coming together to have a civil conversation about something we disagree about.

So … I took to social media and posted a photo of she and I after we met. I posted the #ComingTogether with a bold statement: “I want to encourage everyone to start a trend. Have a civil conversation with someone you disagree with and post it with #ComingTogether tag.” Within 24 hours, I saw dozens of people use the tag after they sat down with someone they disagreed with.

But I want this to take off even more. So, below are my suggested guidelines. Wouldn’t it be cool if this reached the same level that the #IceBucketChallenge did a few years ago? If it did, I think we’d have a real movement and this country would really start #ComingTogether again, to show the world that in a free society, we can live peacefully with those we disagree with. No matter what you think about the Constitution, abortion, gay marriage, how high our taxes should be, who should provide health care, or which lives matter more than others, the truly unique thing about America is that we can tolerate those with other opinions. That’s part of our unalienable rights. And that’s the very thing we need to restore in this country: the ability to disagree and be OK with that.

#ComingTogether — Suggested Guidelines

— Invite someone you disagree with to have a civil conversation about something you disagree about. I suggest doing this over a beverage or meal.

— At the beginning of the conversation, come to an early understanding that you are not there to persuade or debate. Admitting that you won’t agree on everything is very powerful.

— Allow one person to ask the other why they feel the way they do on the issue at hand. Feel free to ask questions for further understanding. They can be challenging questions, but should be asked with a view toward understanding not toward being disagreeable. Once they have completed sharing their full viewpoint, the other person should then explain why they feel the way they do. And then the conversation should continue.

— You’ll know when the time is right to bring the conversation in for a landing. It’s important to not dive off into many different subjects, even though some issues might understandably involve multiple subjects, but try to stay focused on a singular topic as much as possible.

— When the conversation is over, take a photo together and share it on social media with the #ComingTogether tag and tag your conversation partner.

— Afterward, spend some time reflecting on your conversation. What did you learn? Do you have a different feeling or perspective toward that person? Toward their viewpoint? Maybe you do. Maybe you don’t. But the final question you should ask is: Can I live with the fact that they have a different view? And, do I value their freedom to have that view?

— Finally, after you take the challenge, tag at least 3 friends to take the challenge!


Francisco Gonzalez is Director of Philanthropy of the National Review Institute.


Ed Davis: Opting in to FirstNet is best choice for Florida. public safety professionals

Ed Davis

So far, seven states have opted-in to the FirstNet network. It is my hope that Governor Rick Scott will soon have Florida join them and give the members of the public safety community access to advanced tools available to protect our cities and towns.

FirstNet is the long overdue result of the communications barrier first responders experienced September 11, 2001. Following the attacks, Congress observed — as we all did — that public safety needed a network dedicated to their communications. This need continues today. For the past 16 years, public safety has continued to face the same communication issues as they did on 9/11.

When a tragedy strikes, public networks are often overworked with the high volume of calls, texts and data from people trying to contact their loved ones or emergency services. This increase of traffic can overwhelm wireless networks and disrupt communications to and from emergency responders. In a worst-case scenario, this could result in a delay in emergency responders receiving important information from other public safety operatives.

FirstNet’s high-speed network will allow public safety responders to send and receive critical voice, text, data and video information during a crisis. It addresses the communications barrier our emergency responders face all too often and gives them a much-needed reliable, interoperable network that is dedicated to their use when they need it. And, public safety officials will be able to avoid bandwidth shortages on consumer wireless networks to more effectively and efficiently coordinate across different agencies and jurisdictions. This network will truly transform public safety communications across the state.

For 35 years, I served as a member of the law enforcement community. From 2006 until 2013, I was the Police Commissioner of the City of Boston, and during that time Boston suffered its most tragic incident in recent memory. In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, it was my duty to lead my department’s response to an attack that injured many and took lives. As a first responder, it is times like that when you make decisions knowing lives are at stake. You can only hope that you will have the tools you need at your disposal. This is why I believe that acceptance of the FirstNet state plan is the best decision for Florida and our public safety community. FirstNet will help our first responders be better prepared by giving them access to the necessary tools and the ability to connect with other emergency responders when needed.

If Governor Scott elects to opt-in, I am confident that FirstNet will be welcomed by first responders across Florida. With the FirstNet network, Florida can pave the way for our law enforcement, firefighters, EMS and other emergency responders to have the modern technology they need to effectively do their jobs and better protect our communities.


Ed Davis is the former Police Commissioner of the City of Boston. Ed. Note: Davis is a paid adviser to AT&T.


David Barnes: To lower college tuition; get the government out of the way

Few issues resonated more with young people during last year’s presidential election than the idea of “free college.” After all, with tuition costs at an all-time high and many recent college graduates saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, millennials are looking for a financial lifeline.

What to do? Well, according to some, the problem is stingy state governments. The less the state chips in, the more expensive college becomes. Known as “state disinvestment,” it’s a theory that has a number of high profile supporters and seems very logical at first glance.

Unfortunately for big government proponents, it’s not that simple.

New research from the American Enterprise Institute, a free market think tank, found scant evidence for the idea that in-state public colleges and universities give students a break on tuition when government increases their funding. The study explained, “colleges largely plow that money into higher spending rather than return it to students through lower tuition.”

When colleges and universities have confidence that the federal and state government will continue subsidizing tuition costs for cash-strapped college students, they have little incentive to reduce prices. Another study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that well-meaning but misguided plans to provide “low-interest” loans for students and parents to pay for higher education actually contributed to the rise in college tuition from 1987 to 2010.

Of course, when students take out hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans to finance higher education they leave school saddled with large monthly payments they will carry for a big chunk of their lifetimes. These debts make it difficult—and in some cases impossible—for young adults to save, invest, buy a home or start a family. Millennials are picked on for living with their parents after college, but for many, there is no other choice.

All of us at Generation Opportunity, a grassroots movement of young Americans promoting individual liberty and entrepreneurship, are alarmed by government’s outsized and damaging role in the cost of higher education.

If lawmakers truly want to help young Americans better afford higher education, they should start by introducing real choice and competition into the system, instead of more subsidies. Reforming the accreditation process, which discourages innovation and crowds out newer, smaller institutions that can’t afford the costly and burdensome process, will bring less costly alternatives that give better value than a four-year degree.

A better solution to the accreditation process would also include empowering state governments with more flexibility instead of allowing the Department of Education to call all the shots. Smooth talking politicians who continue promising lower costs for college students through more government intervention and higher taxes on working Americans are modern day traveling salesmen, selling powerful elixirs with dubious results. Their misguided and often empty promises are driving-up college costs and student debt.

Becoming an adult means learning to accept some hard truths. Pouring more money into the higher-ed system has not worked over the past decades, and it’s never going to work. The time has come for state colleges and universities and the politicians sounding the alarm about “state disinvestment” to take this lesson to heart.


David Barnes is the policy director for Generation Opportunity.

Jeremy Ring: Restore voting rights to those who’ve paid their debt

Can you imagine facing a debt that you could never pay off — one that never goes away, regardless of how many times you try to pay?

Well, unfortunately, for hundreds of thousands of nonviolent felons across Florida, this is their reality.

When nonviolent offenders break the law, they’re rightly forced to pay their debt to society through years in jail, countless dollars worth of fines and penalties, and the social burden of being labeled a felon for the rest of their lives.

They broke the law. They paid the price. That should be the end of it, right?

In our state, nonviolent offenders who have paid their debt to society are stripped of their voting rights, and it’s an onerous procedure to get those rights restored.

Here’s the worst part: Florida’s voter disenfranchisement isn’t just poor policy, it also disproportionately affects communities of color and the poor, many of whom received a felony just for minor offenses.

As a candidate for Florida chief financial officer, and as a Floridian and American concerned with the cause of economic equality and equity, I believe this is a disgrace — and it needs to stop.

If I have the honor of being elected as chief financial officer next year, I would have an active role as a member of the Cabinet in advocating for policy initiatives that would seek to correct this fundamental injustice in our current state laws. And if the Florida Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative [Initiative #14-01] also gets on the ballot in the November 2018 election, we will get a head start in bending that proverbial arc back toward justice.

Together, we can ensure that all Floridians who have paid their debt to society are treated fairly. We can ensure that our great state sets a positive example to the rest of the country — and to the world — in combating one of the most fundamental threats to the health of our democracy.


Former state Sen. Jeremy Ring from Parkland is a candidate for Florida chief financial officer.

Andrew Gillum: Florida must take reins on health care, opioid crises

As national controversies continue to swirl, most Floridians I meet are focused on the issues that matter most to their family’s well-being: health care, the economy and public education.

They’re concerned about whether they will still have access to health care as they struggle to make ends meet. They keep asking me: Why isn’t health care a right? I certainly believe it is, and I believe it is fundamental to improving the lives and futures of Floridians in every corner of our state.

But thanks to Congressional Republicans’ attempts to repeal Obamacare, our health and wellness have never been more at risk. Two million Floridians could be uninsured by 2026; women stand to lose access to no-cost contraception; hundreds of thousands of people could lose their jobs; older Americans could pay 70 percent more in premiums; and devastating cuts to Medicaid could cost thousands more lives in the opioid crisis. They’ve put forward a “health care” plan that’s really a tax cut for millionaires that does nothing to make us healthier or make it easier to make ends meet.

And the effect that it will have on Florida’s deadly opioid crisis is too catastrophic to ignore. Medicaid is currently the single largest payer for addiction services in our country, yet Republicans want to cut its funding by hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade. This is simply unacceptable. One estimate pegged last year’s death toll in Florida from this epidemic at more than 5,300, with 590 people losing their lives in Palm Beach County. And just last week we saw an unspeakable tragedy when a fifth-grader in Miami died with the potent painkiller fentanyl in his body.

Comprehensively attacking the opioid crisis is a key part of my four-part plan to improve and protect Floridians’ health care.

For example, we are going to create a statewide task force of law enforcement, first responders, and mental health and patient advocates to address opioids at the state level. We should restore the $11 million cut in state mental health funding, create opioid intervention courts, and work with our Congressional delegation to secure more federal funding. We cannot repeat the mistakes of the past in how we address this deadly drug crisis.

But that’s not the only way we must confront the challenge of health care. The Legislature should pass a law protecting people with pre-existing conditions from being denied coverage, being charged more for their care due to a pre-existing condition or because they’re a woman. They should also protect women’s access to no-cost contraception, and enshrine health care as a right in our state’s constitution.

As someone who grew up sometimes getting routine health care from the emergency room, I’ve often asked myself: if I don’t have my health, what do I have? I’ve heard from people in every corner of our state that they’re asking themselves the same thing, and now more than ever.


Andrew Gillum is mayor of Tallahassee and a 2018 Democratic candidate running for Florida governor.

Emma Gisclair: Everyone can enjoy reading — if given the right book

Emma Gisclair

When I was 4 years old, I demanded my mom teach me to read so I could read my own books instead of being read to.

At 9, my best friend introduced me to Harry Potter. I devoured the four released books, then wrote a letter to author J.K. Rowling informing her that I had decided to be a writer because of her. It was the beginning of a dream that has guided my life ever since.

Two years later, I discovered “The Two Princesses of Bamarre” by Gail Carson Levine at my school book sale. I had never related to a character more than shy, unadventurous Addie. Someone like me could be a hero!

Then the summer before eighth grade, my family moved yet again, to my sixth city and seventh school. Books were my companions when I knew no one, a conversation starter with new classmates, and a connection to the friends I left behind.

I know that I was (and still am) an outlier when it comes to reading. And that’s fine — I’m a library assistant and a writer, so reading is my job in every way. I don’t expect everyone to share my goal to read 100 books in 2017, but the fact does remain that readership has decreased over the past decade across all demographics.

Multiple polls and studies have shown that the time a child spends reading declines steadily throughout childhood and adolescence, including a National Education Association poll that found 70 percent of middle school students reading 10 books per year, compared to 49 percent of high school students.

Of course, there are many factors that contribute to this statistic: increased homework loads, technology usage, the social life that comes with a driver’s license, the reading atmosphere in the classroom and at home. I am neither an educator nor a parent, and banning all technology and returning to a pre-Industrial Revolution society sounds like a dystopian novel concept, so no, I don’t have a magical solution to increase reading among children and teens.

But I do have one suggestion, based on the experiences of myself and others, which we, as adults, can be better at: Give children and teens the power of choice in their reading.

Consider this story, which happens far too often: A 7-year-old boy enters a bookstore and picks out a book with a princess on the cover; his mother takes it from him. “Oh no, this is a girl book,” she says. “You won’t like it. Let’s go find a book about monsters instead.” The boy doesn’t like the book about monsters or the one about sports or the pirate adventure story. He becomes less interested in reading as time goes by.

Or this: Students in a high school English class are required to read one book outside of their assigned reading. One girl, for whom reading is difficult, chooses a graphic novel at the recommendation of a friend. The teacher tells her it doesn’t qualify, and instead suggests the coming-of-age drama “The Outsiders.” The girl struggles with the book, confirming her belief that she just isn’t a reader.

A personal experience: I was in second grade at a school that used the Accelerated Reader program. On a trip to the library, I picked out an age-appropriate book featuring dragons — my current obsession — but when I tried to check it out, the librarian told me it’s too far below my reading level. The next year, when it was time to take the AR test, I intentionally chose wrong answers so I would score lower for my reading level.

I’m currently re-reading Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” in preparation to watch the new movie. The great evil faced by the Murray children in the book is a being called IT, who steals the individuality and agency of its victims and turns them into mindless drones. In “Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix,” we meet a villain who is arguably worse than Lord Voldemort — Dolores Umbridge. Like L’Engle’s IT, Umbridge seeks conformity at Hogwarts, forcing the students to read the books she approves and punishing those who speak out. These are just two of many children’s books that revolve around the importance of choice and individualism.

Perhaps adults — especially those of us who are gatekeepers of children’s literacy — can learn a lesson from these books. I’ve long believed that everyone can enjoy reading, if given the right book. The problem comes when we deny a child the opportunity to find that book because we deem it unworthy. The right book for me may not be the right book for you or for the child down the street.

And that’s OK.

Because if there’s one thing children’s literature taught me, it’s that individuality is essential to humanity.


UCF Forum columnist Emma Gisclair is a senior library technical assistant in UCF’s Curriculum Materials Center. She can be reached at


David Silvers: State must rethink policy about minors, mental health

David Silvers

In September 2016, a 6-year-old child threw a temper tantrum at his elementary school in Jacksonville. Usually, the story would end with the child being sent to the principal’s office for discipline, but, sadly for Nicholas, the child from this story, his journey didn’t end there.

Not knowing how to handle an unruly child, the school counselor contacted the local sheriff to pick the child up and drop him off at a psychiatric facility. Nicholas was held for three days against the wishes of his parents and had to wait more than 24 hours to see a psychiatrist. When the facility finally allowed his parents to take him home, Nicholas had suffered a bloody nose, scraped-up shins, and was in an overtired and almost hysterical state.

Under the Florida Mental Health Act of 1971, commonly known as the Baker Act, this is legal. The law is a well-intentioned attempt to promote public safety by allowing medical professionals at a mental health facility to hold an individual for up to 72 hours to conduct an evaluation of whether the patient is mentally ill and at risk of causing harm to themselves or others.

However well-intentioned the law is, it can sometimes produce appalling, unintended consequences, such as permitting a 6-year-old child to be held against the will of the child’s parents and endure a traumatic and perhaps a life-altering experience.

That is why I filed House Bill 1183, which would require receiving facilities to initiate medical review for involuntary examination of minors within 12 hours of arrival. The bill would also create a task force to bring accountability and transparency to involuntary examinations of minors in Florida.

While the Senate companion for HB 1183 was not able to get any traction, I worked with several members of the Senate and got the language attached to HB 1121, which also seeks to improve mental health in Florida. Gov. Rick Scott signed that bill into law on June 26.

The task force created in HB 1183 is composed of stakeholders that include experienced experts from the mental health, education, and law enforcement industries, as well as a representative from a family whose child has been brought to a mental health facility for involuntary examination. The task force will analyze data on the initiation of involuntary examinations of children, looking for trends and potential solutions to improve the process and outcome of these situations. I truly believe using this data will improve safety, treatment and the experience of those receiving care through our mental health system.

Working toward solutions that will improve our mental health system and benefit all Floridians should be a priority for every legislator in Tallahassee. I am truly grateful to have the opportunity to work for my neighbors and for all Floridians to ensure that we have access to a health care system that reflects the importance of mental health for the future of our state.


Democrat David Silvers represents Florida House District 87.


Kate MacFall: Time to speak up for Florida panther

Kate McFall

Heads up, citizens: the federal government is about to review the endangered status of one of our state’s rarest species — the Florida panther — and now is the time for all of us to make our voices heard.

We Floridians clearly love our wild and mysterious panthers; in 1981, the state’s schoolchildren chose the panther as our official state animal over other animal contenders like alligators and manatees.

Biologists estimate that, at most, only 230 or fewer Florida panthers exist on Earth. Compare that to Florida’s human population, which has reached 20.6 million. Federal protections for Florida panthers are as essential as ever to prevent the big cats from going extinct. No scientific justification exists to strip panthers of their endangered species protection, and there is simply no pressing need to do so.

This U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service review comes at a time when panther deaths on Florida roads are outpacing the number of documented panther births. The statistics are alarming: Last year alone, an average of three panthers a month died on our roadways as they traveled in search of food and mates. So far, this year 13 panthers have been struck and killed on roads. These highway deaths come on top of other causes of mortality, including poaching, predation on kittens and disease.

The road toll alone is too high to be sustainable. Every year since 2012, Florida has set a new record for the number of panthers killed by vehicles. Our panther population will face continual threats because massive new developments are planned for the southwest Florida lands that are the panther’s last home. Strip malls, housing developments, and new roads will all greatly impair Florida panthers’ prospects for survival. Panthers are particularly vulnerable to human threats due to their already-low numbers and because they require large ranges. Biologists know that the leading cause of species extinction around the world is habitat loss and human persecution. With developers encroaching more dramatically in southwest Florida, the panthers need the protection the Endangered Species Act provides more than ever.

We know too well how fragile our Florida panther population is; the cats were put on the Endangered Species list in 1967. In the 1990s, the population dwindled to just 20 to 30 cats before intensive rescue efforts began to save the species from extinction. The progress made in reviving their population should not be prematurely dismantled now. Unlike all other mountain lion subspecies, Florida panthers are specially adapted to their Big Cypress Swamp and Everglades habitats.

How can you do something about this? The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is taking public comment about reviewing the Florida panthers’ endangered species protections until Aug. 29. We must let the federal government know we value Florida’s wild heritage and we want our panthers protected. Input should be sent to biologist David Shindle through one of the following methods:

— Regular mail: South Florida Ecological Services Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 12085 State Road 29 S, Immokalee, FL 34142

— Email:

— Fax: (772) 562—4288


Kate MacFall is Florida State Director of the Humane Society of the United States.

Vern Buchanan: Targeting police will not be tolerated – pass the Thin Blue Line Act

Officer Miosotis Familia, a mother of three and 12-year veteran of the New York Police Department, was ambushed and killed as she sat in her command vehicle last week. Familia never saw the assailant coming when he fired a shot through the passenger-side window striking her in the head. She was “assassinated in an unprovoked attack,” James O’Neill, the city police commissioner said.

On Tuesday, a sea of blue uniforms mourned Officer Familia’s senseless death in a ceremony at the World Changers Church in the Bronx. Officers from across the country traveled to the service, including representatives from at least 85 police departments. Quivering as he spoke, Commissioner O’Neill highlighted how Familia worked tirelessly to make the community “a better and safer place for everyone.”

Unfortunately, Officer Familia’s death is part of a disturbing spike in cop killings that continues today.

There have been 68 line-of-duty deaths so far this year, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

The U.S. House passed my Thin Blue Line Act, H.R. 115, earlier this year making the murder or attempted murder of a police officer, firefighter or other first responder an “aggravating” factor in death penalty determinations. The Senate needs to get the bill to the president’s desk as quickly as possible.

Ambush-style killings of law enforcement officers last year skyrocketed 167 percent compared to 2015, according to the National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO). These attacks on our brave men and women in blue include the multiple murders of five officers in Dallas and three officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The Thin Blue Line Act is supported by key national police advocacy groups, including NAPO and the National Fraternal Order of Police. They are understandably also concerned about the rising rate of attacks on police and agree that the growing violence toward police has to stop.

My bill sends a strong message that the heinous targeting of police officers or first responders will not be tolerated.

I strongly believe that our communities owe a great debt to law enforcement and first responders. No first responders should be targeted solely because of the uniform they wear.

The Thin Blue Line Act applies whether the first responder is murdered on duty or targeted simply for being a firefighter, police officer or emergency medical technician. The bill specifically applies to crimes that fall under federal jurisdiction.

Federal law already considers the murder of federal law enforcement officers an aggravating factor for capital punishment determinations. This bill extends the list of aggravating factors to include state and local police officers, firefighters, or other first responders when a jury is considering the death penalty in a federal case.

Each year, I host congressional awards for first responders in southwest Florida to recognize the outstanding contributions to our communities made by these dedicated public servants. Honoring these men and women is among the highlights of my year. These are mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who put their lives on the line to help their neighbors.

Our first responders don’t hide or waver in their commitment to public safety. Like Familia, these individuals run toward danger and take swift action to make our towns, communities and cities a safer place for kids to grow and families to prosper. These men and women in uniform make our lives safer and we’re lucky to have them.

Now we need to have their back.

Steve Webb: Run, John Morgan, run — no, not for that

Dear John Morgan:

All kinds of Florida Democrats are enthused that you will follow your successful campaign to expand legal medical marijuana with a 2018 campaign for governor.

You could self-finance, and the party sorely needs to concentrate its fundraising down ballot. You have name recognition, but it doesn’t carry the baggage of a government record. You aren’t timid, and at this point, we hunger for boldness to oppose a mess in Tallahassee, you could argue has been the template for the mess in Washington.

But stop, for a minute, and turn the question that justifies your running on its head. How are you any more qualified than Rick Scott or Donald Trump to run a government? In 2018, this question is important because Scott wasn’t qualified and still isn’t. Ditto Trump.

We lose the “amateur hour” argument if you are the candidate. It will be similar to waging the argument four years ago that the best way to turn the corner on four terms of Republican governors was to elect the third-term guy to a fifth.

However, Florida has a constitutional office you are highly qualified for, and frankly, the office begs even more for a change in direction. Florida has a bad governor, but it has an even worse attorney general. Pam Bondi should not be able to name her successor.

How did Bondi become the state’s chief lawyer? Not from a legal record. She functioned largely as a telegenic spokeswoman for the Hillsborough state attorney’s office, then parlayed a gig as one of Roger Ailes‘ blonde expert witnesses into her election campaign. She won, frankly, because losing is what we Democrats were doing in 2010.

Once in office, Bondi turned the Office of the Attorney General into a small-town law firm for mostly out-of-state interests. Clients who had put up a retainer when she was a candidate found her a less-than-energetic protector of consumers, investors or residents impacted by mistreatment of our natural resources. One client in particular — the Republican Attorney Generals Association — found her to be a much more enthusiastic co-plaintiff than a prosecutor. She led Florida into federal suits that on the surface stood outside or even in conflict with the state’s interests. The most famous involved the Affordable Care Act, and a 2012 image lingers of her and Scott confusedly having to abandon their victory lap news conference when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ACA.

But you and I both know that wasn’t Bondi’s most ridiculous co-plaintiff move. That would be one of the times when she signed the state of Florida on to stop other states from adopting standards Florida has itself adopted, sometimes introduced. I would love to see an accounting of how much taxpayer money she wasted pursuing various suits at the behest of the RAGA, how much she spent on outside attorneys to accomplish tasks she ignored while servicing her out-of-state clients, and how often the suits have ended poorly — losses, but also an increased acrimony among the states involved and a belief among large segments of Florida that Bondi is anyone’s lawyer but ours.

In addition, a state’s best government oversight is a strong attorney general, and Bondi has never challenged her party’s excesses. An attorney general who took the state and federal Constitutions seriously would have blocked the legislature from defying the Fair District amendments in the 2011 redistricting. The resulting litigation has ended up costing taxpayers more than $20 million. In 2015, Scott used taxpayer money to fly to and purchase radio advertising in Kentucky on the eve of their gubernatorial election, where he warned voters Democrat policies would allow Florida to steal all their jobs. The best you can say about her own ethical decisions is that she broke no criminal laws.

An attorney general who represented the people against the government would tell both Scott and the legislature that they were on their own passing HB 7059 the way they did. Such an AG might even act as plaintiff’s attorney if the government and legislature refused to fulfill voter-approved constitutional amendments.

I know it would be difficult to take what, on the surface, is a supporting role in changing Florida. It wouldn’t have to be. You would be a crusader, dragging Florida’s official legal presentation back into the sunshine.

In contrast, you might make a lousy governor. Your success has come doing a specific set of things, and they might not translate into a position that is administrative, collaborative. Baseball writer Bill James once said of a 70s Red Sox center fielder, that his doubles against Fenway’s wall became routine fly outs in Anaheim.

That might happen to you in the governor’s office.

But do you doubt for a minute that you would thrive as The People’s Lawyer? Please, think about it.


Steve Webb is a Lakeland resident and member of the Polk County Democratic Executive committee.


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