Opinions Archives - Page 3 of 302 - Florida Politics

David Donahue: Misinformation about contractor-managed correctional facilities prevalent during election cycle

This election cycle has been wrought with misinformation regarding Florida’s correctional institutions which are managed by private-sector service providers, specifically The GEO Group (GEO).

For some politicians, these attacks have become nothing more than oft-repeated talking points without merit, truth or facts to back it up.

While it may score political points with some voters to attack a private-sector service provider, the fact is, GEO is proud to be a three-decade partner to the State of Florida in delivering private-sector solutions to our state’s correctional needs.

Contrary to the false narratives, we believe our organization is most effective when preparing individuals entrusted to our care to re-enter society with the tools and skills they need to be productive. And, we are proud that the work we are doing is changing lives for the better and reducing recidivism through the enhanced programming services we deliver in comparison to state government-operated facilities.

For context, today, of the 56 prisons in Florida, only seven are operated by private contractors — five by GEO. These contractor managed institutions account for approximately 10 percent of the total state prison population. Moreover, each of these contracted facilities is subject to extensive regulation and oversight by state officials.

Additionally, contracted correctional institutions must provide, at minimum, a 7 percent cost-savings while delivering innovative programs designed to reduce recidivism, including educational courses, vocational training and substance abuse programming.

The Florida Department of Corrections is also solely responsible for assigning individuals to contracted facilities and the judicial system exclusively determines the length of criminal sentences. Furthermore, GEO does not lobby or advocate — for or against — any criminal justice policies such as criminalizing certain behaviors, mandatory minimum sentencing, etc.

In Florida, GEO is proud to be leading the way through of our innovative Continuum of Care (CoC) program that has already established a track record of measurably reducing recidivism. To demonstrate its initial effectiveness, data collected as part of a 12-month recidivism reduction report, showed that CoC participants have a reduced return to prison rate that is 40 percent lower than before these enhanced programming services were initiated.

This initiative began in 2015 when GEO launched, at no cost to the state, the CoC program at the Graceville Correctional Facility. Designed by a diverse team of experts, CoC offers enhanced in-custody offender rehabilitation programming that includes cognitive behavioral treatment, integrated with intensive case management and unparalleled post-release support services.

CoC is also tailored to meet the individual needs of those returning citizens, which allows our dedicated caseworkers to identify specific re-entry needs and then provide these individuals with post-release support services, including access to a 24/7 call center, as well as direct resources and assistance to help fulfill their essential local community needs, such as food, clothing, housing and transportation.

Since launching the CoC initiative at Graceville, GEO has self-funded more than $2 million above contractual requirements at the facility by investing in additional programming, technology enhancements and rigorous staff training. And, because of the program’s success, the state is now funding the CoC program at the other four GEO-operated institutions on a direct cost reimbursement basis.

And in recognition of GEO’s leadership in addressing the challenges of recidivism, earlier this year, GEO received the “Innovation in Corrections Award” from the American Correctional Association for the CoC program at Graceville Correctional Facility.

Politicians looking to use GEO as a political talking point should first know the facts.

We welcome any public official or candidate seeking political office in Florida to visit one of our facilities and learn more about how we’re making a difference in the lives of those entrusted to our care and reducing recidivism for those returning to Florida’s communities.


David Donahue is President of GEO U.S. Corrections and Detention. He has 40 years of correctional management experience and previously served as Commissioner of the Indiana Department of Correction.

Joe Henderson: Marco Rubio tweet about anger misses the point

Marco Rubio uses Twitter in the opposite way of the Twit Master himself, President Donald Trump.

Florida’s junior U.S. Senator tends to quote Bible verses and tries to offer reasoned slants on current events – although, I guess, anything looks “reasoned” when weighed against the non-stop jabbering that emanates from the White House.

But I have to call foul on one of Rubio’s latest tweets.

In an apparent response to the atrocious events over the weekend in Pittsburgh, Rubio wrote: “Our core problem isn’t Incendiary rhetoric. It’s the anger it taps into & stokes. Anger moves people to donate & vote. And outrage is good for media ratings & online traffic. Because anger is one of our most powerful emotions. But it is also one of our most destructive.”

If I’m reading the Senator’s point correctly, he seems to be saying that if the media wasn’t transmitting anger 24/7, we might not have to deal with so much tragedy.

With all respect Senator, you are wrong on that point.

First off, the accused shooter in the Pittsburgh massacre sounds like one sick individual. He clearly was filled with irrational hate for Jewish people.

The media had nothing to do with that. Neither did President Trump, for what that’s worth. The accused shooter apparently was no fan of the President.

But what we saw in the case of the alleged bomb-builder in Miami is a different story.

If anger is the dynamite, incendiary rhetoric is the fuse.

And President Trump is the burning match.

He is doing it deliberately.

It was a brilliant strategy; if all he cared about was being elected over the damage it would do to the nation. All he had to do was keep repeating to a targeted group of voters that they’re being screwed and that illegals are coming to take their jobs and harm their spouses.

It didn’t matter if what he was saying had not one scintilla of truth.

When the media called him out for those statements, it fed into his game plan because he had long convinced supporters that when he was being attacked, so were they.

The genius behind the move is that it put the media into a quandary that continues today. He is the President of the United States and what he says ripples around the globe.

When he says something outrageous, or lies, or conducts an inquisition by Twitter on members of his administration, should the media not cover that, even if it perpetuates the cycle of disinformation?

You have to report what he says and what it means. That’s how the game has been played for every U.S. President since I’ve been alive. No one ever came across a President as manipulative as this one, though.

Rubio is right that anger is destructive and dangerous, but it starts with the cynicism coming from the Oval Office. That’s the direction Rubio should have pointed his finger because the person in that chair sets the tone.

Republicans generally won’t do that, though.

It’s up to voters to send that message – if they want to.

Maybe they don’t.

I guess we’ll find out.

Plenty of people in Pittsburgh have sent their message. About 35,000 people signed a petition asking the President to stay away from a planned trip to their city in the aftermath of the slaughter. It’s a reaction to his penchant to demonize minorities and his refusal to denounce white nationalists.

Whatever he does, the media will report that, too. It might make some people mad.

Joe Henderson: Jeff Vinik’s support key to Tampa transportation issue

When Jeff Vinik decided in 2010 to buy the Tampa Bay Lightning, it changed a lot more than just the city’s sports fortunes.

Vinik has become one of Tampa’s leading philanthropists, and his massive $3 billion Water Street real estate and entertainment project is taking shape to give life to the moribund Channel District. The Lightning is regarded as one of the top franchises in the National Hockey League.

None of that was easy, but now Vinik has taken on perhaps his greatest challenge — persuading taxpayers of Hillsborough County to approve a referendum that will take money out of their pockets to improve the county’s shabby transportation system.

He has been a major driving force behind the All For Transportation initiative, which seeks approval of a 1-cent-per-dollar sales tax increase for 30 years to pay for myriad projects.

Vinik has lent more than his voice to the push. As Florida Politics reported, he has contributed more than $600,000 to help counter arguments from longtime opponents to this issue. That has helped attract other significant contributors, and the money has helped All For Transportation get out its message that it’s time to deal with the county’s choking congestion seriously.

For that, Vinik and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn were mocked in a negative mailer by the citizens’ group No Tax For Tracks that referred to Jeff “Vision” Vinik and Bob “Billions” Buckhorn. 

Opponents have scoffed that, sure, Vinik supports this because a better transportation system will benefit Water Street.

Well, just my opinion, but better transportation benefits everyone. Actually, that’s a widely held opinion.

Hillsborough has tried to address this over the years but hasn’t come close to keeping up with the county’s exponentially expanding needs. Numerous studies have shown traffic congestion is the biggest detriment to the area, potentially stifling economic growth and well-being.

But opponents remain unconvinced that handing over the proceeds from a 30-year tax expected to generate at least $280 million a year is the answer. They don’t trust officials to use the money wisely, and that is not necessarily misguided.

For me, though, Jeff Vinik’s support is the difference.

In the eight years since he has been here, having moved from Boston after he bought the Lightning, Vinik has established a reputation for excellence and action. He hasn’t been an absentee sports owner. He has thrown himself into the community in a variety of positive ways and established himself as one of Tampa’s leading citizens.

I can’t imagine he would risk all that by being associated with something that he didn’t believe was going to benefit his adopted city in ways that opponents don’t realize or don’t to care to know.

They see the word “tax” and start to hiss and spit. They have even tried to argue that the proposed tax is a Trojan horse to pay for a new Tampa Bay Rays baseball stadium. They just made that up because the referendum specifically prohibits such usage.

Although the money Vinik has donated to this cause is significant, it can be argued that his presence in this push has been more valuable than the cash he has given.

Is that enough to get the referendum passed?

Look at this way: People didn’t believe Tampa could become a hockey town, but Vinik did — and now look. The Lightning has played to sellout crowds for every home game since the 2014-15 season.

People didn’t believe anything could be done to resurrect the Channel District after multiple attempts to bring life to a lifeless area had failed. Water Street holds great promise to change that.

Vinik doesn’t like to be on the losing side.

Samantha Sexton: Drive by example during National Teen Driver Safety Week

The excitement that comes with newfound freedom and that first set of car keys is still memorable for many former teenagers. But eager new drivers need to understand the many distractions that increase their risk for an accident.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the greatest dangers for teen drivers are alcohol consumption, lack of seat belt use, distracted and drowsy driving, speeding and driving with passengers in the vehicle.

Adult drivers in Florida, your example matters. During this National Teen Driver Safety Week, we hope parents and guardians will help make a difference by starting and continuing conversations with teen drivers to keep them and all Floridians safer on our roadways.

If you are a passenger with a teenager, offer positive feedback and help your teen safely navigate the road. Discuss the importance of slowing down in school zones, where most drivers reportedly exceed speed limits, putting themselves at risk for a ticket, and worse, risking the lives of students. And when you’re driving together, put down your phone to set an example. The text can wait.

Remind teens of the dangers of driving or riding with a driver under the influence. These are often hard conversations to have. Parents may not want to imagine their teen even considering an alcoholic beverage. But honest conversations can help build a foundation for trust and better decisions.

According to Florida’s DHSMV 2016 Annual Report, in 2016, there were more than 6,000 alcohol and drug-related crashes in Florida — 37 of the state’s 15-17-year-old drivers were cited with an alcohol or drug impairment. Teens need to be aware of the deadly consequences of impaired driving. Marijuana use also affects a driver’s alertness, concentration, coordination and reaction time. Reports show that in 2017, 10.3 percent of 12th graders reported driving after using marijuana.

Drowsy driving is also risky for teens exhausted from studying, after-school jobs and extracurricular activities. Teens are busier than ever. They are not superheroes, and the lack of sleep will take its toll. Drowsy driving is a dangerous habit teens — and adults, by example — need to avoid. Get the rest you need to drive safely.

When a teen is not distracted, they may also be able to spot a distracted driver better, enabling them to avoid dangerous situations better. According to the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, there were almost 50,000 crashes involving distracted driving in Florida, in 2016, which is more than five crashes every hour. These distracted driving crashes accounted for more than 3,500 serious injuries and 233 deaths.

Whether your family or your teen is paying for his or her own auto insurance, explain how good driving habits, good grades, and a clean driving record may individually and collectively reduce the premium for teen drivers. Speeding and traffic violations can quickly increase a teen’s insurance rate, potentially making driving an unattainable privilege.

Talking to your teen means potentially less risky driving behaviors and fewer crashes. Please start the conversation. You can also discuss Florida’s nighttime driving restrictions. For Florida, 16-year-old drivers must stay off roads from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. For 17-year-old drivers, that time frame is 1 a.m., to 5 a.m.

The next time you are going someplace together, hop in with your teen driver. It is a great chance to see how they’re doing on the road. Stay safe!


Samantha Sexton is VP of Legislative and Regulatory Affairs for the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida, a property and casualty trade association based in Tallahassee.

Joe Henderson: Wow, was that a Florida Governor debate or Hamilton duel?

Remember the good old days of 2014 when the biggest dispute in the Florida Governor debate was whether Charlie Crist should be able to use a fan?

Now, after two debates between current candidates Andrew Gillum and Ron DeSantis, it’s clear that the gulf between Florida’s major parties has never been wider and about half the state is going to be gigantically depressed by the outcome on Nov. 6.

In keeping with the theme of the week, the controversy surrounding Gillum’s use of a ticket to “Hamilton” on Broadway, it’s a good thing that a duel like Alexander Hamilton had with Aaron Burr is against the law.

At a distance of just a few paces Wednesday night though, Gillum and DeSantis fired plenty of verbal shots at each other, including Gillum’s spelling out n-i-g-g-e-r when making a point that one of DeSantis’ supporters referred to Barack Obama by that term.

“Now I’m not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist,” Gillum said. “I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist.”

DeSantis, it should be noted, came as close as he has yet in this campaign to losing his cool in public. The exchange was about an appearance the candidate made at the David Horowitz Freedom Center conference, where DeSantis praised Horowitz and said he admired the organization.

Horowitz has made racially charged about Obama.

Confronted with this, DeSantis lashed out, “How the hell am I supposed to know every single statement somebody makes?”

Well sir, in the same way Gillum was supposed to have made sure there was no question that he paid for his ticket to Hamilton – a story that blew up earlier this week after the Tampa Bay Times reported that it came from an undercover FBI agent.

Early in Wednesday’s debate, Gillum acknowledged, “I should have asked more questions to make sure everything was above board” instead of assuming his brother had exchanged a ticket to a Beyonce concert for the Hamilton seat.

Gillum said, “I take responsibility for not having asked more questions but let me tell you – I’m running for Governor. In the state of Florida, we’ve got a lot of issues. In fact, we’ve got 99 issues and Hamilton ain’t one of them.”

The whole night was like that.

Back and forth, forth and back.

The person I felt sorriest for was moderator Todd McDermott, who tried his best to keep the candidates and the crowd in line with the antiquated format. The debate disintegrated into a stopwatch issue when both candidates went over their allotted times to speak and McDermott tried without success to interrupt.

Going forward, I wouldn’t let crowds into the event location. The outbursts of applause for both candidates weren’t appropriate, but it’s what you expect when partisanship is interjected into a debate.

The format of the question, 30-second response, 30-second rebuttal … yawn, has outlived its usefulness. We don’t watch these debates to see the moderator keep control. It would be better to put the questions in the hands of the candidates and let them ask each other what about this, or what about that?

It would be messy, but I think we’d learn more.

What have we learned after two Florida Governor debates between these two gentlemen?

We learned they disagree on everything. They don’t like each other. Their supporters think the other side is filled with vipers.

One of them is going to be Florida’s next Governor.

Martin Horn: Amendment 4 is good criminal justice policy

Florida is one of just four states that bans individuals with past felony convictions from voting for life.

This has resulted in 1.4 million Floridians, roughly 10 percent of the state’s voting-age population, being unable to vote. An estimated 27 percent of all disenfranchised formerly incarcerated people in the country reside in Florida. Amendment 4 could change that by restoring the eligibility to vote to people who have completed their sentence, including probation and parole.

I believe strongly in the rule of law, having served in corrections for more than 40 years, as Executive Director of the New York State Paroling Authority, as Commissioner of the New York City Departments of Correction and of Probation, and as Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Corrections. The rule of law means there must be consequences for our actions, and in our justice system, incarceration plays a role in carrying out those consequences. But what happens after incarceration? Should the consequences of a person’s mistakes follow them for life, even after they’ve served their sentence and paid their debts to society?

I believe the answer is no, which is why I’m urging a yes vote on Amendment 4, Florida’s voting restoration amendment.

As a prison administrator who has seen hundreds of thousands of people go through our criminal justice system, I know that a large part of successfully re-entering society is allowing individuals to take responsibility for themselves, their families and their communities. Returning citizens are expected to work, pay taxes and be productive members of society — and to identify themselves as part of the community. How can they if they aren’t allowed to vote? Americans reject the notion of ‘taxation without representation,’ but that’s effectively what’s happening to the 1.4 million Floridians with felony convictions who have no voice in deciding their elected representatives.

We all have a stake in the fate of those who have committed crimes. The public’s best interest is served by making sure people leaving prison don’t return to crime. Evidence shows that formerly incarcerated people who are engaged in civic duties, like voting, are less likely to commit new crimes and return to prison.

According to the Florida Parole Commission, individuals with felony convictions who have had their civil rights restored are three times less likely to re-offend. I know this to be true — those who rejoin the community, get a job and vote, have lower arrest rates, and less criminal than those who don’t.

We are better as a society when we live our values. Formerly incarcerated people are being disenfranchised in Florida under an outdated notion that punishing people for life for past mistakes is ‘tough on crime. Those who commit a crime should face the consequences, but if you’ve done your time and paid your debt to society, you have earned the opportunity for a second chance.

Redemption is at the core of the American experience every bit as much as ‘law and order.’ Vote yes on Amendment 4.


Martin F. Horn is Distinguished Lecturer in Corrections at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York. He owns homes in Sarasota and New York.

Joe Henderson: Andrew Gillum suddenly playing defense down the stretch

It’s too soon to say if Andrew Gillum will lose the election for Governor of Florida after Tuesday’s revelation that the coveted ticket to “Hamilton” he received may have come from an undercover FBI agent, but let’s put it this way.

Gillum appeared to have the wind at his back in his face against Republican Ron DeSantis, with multiple polls giving him a steady lead that, in some cases, was widening. It’s much the same situation Hillary Clinton faced at roughly this same time in the 2016 election when then-FBI Director James Comey dropped the bombshell that the bureau was reopening its investigation of her emails.

Clinton supporters scream that cost her the election. If Gillum falls short on Nov. 6, his backers will do the same.

The Tampa Bay Times broke the Gillum story Tuesday afternoon and it quickly echoed around the state, casting doubt on his version of events. The Times story was based on a large batch of records that are part of an ethics investigation into Gillum’s conduct as Tallahassee Mayor and his relationship with former lobbyist and now definitely former friend Adam Corey.

Corey and Gillum did a lot of traveling together, including the fateful trip to New York in 2016. According to the documents, Corey texted Gillum: “Mike Miller and the crew have tickets for us for Hamilton tonight at 8 p.m.”

Mike Miller, it turned out, was an undercover FBI agent posing as a developer.

Now, everyone knows tickets to “Hamilton” on Broadway aren’t easy to get and don’t come cheap. Gillum has said from the start that his brother, who was along on the trip, got the ticket in exchange for a ticket to a concert. Gillum has been a little fuzzy about whether he paid for the ticket though.

He dodged the question when DeSantis asked him directly during Sunday’s debate if he had paid for the ticket.

Corey’s lawyer, Chris Kise, released the documents because the state ethics commission issued a subpoena for them and said they would have been public record. Gillum’s supporters will scream that it’s a political hit job, and that could be true – politics is a contact sport.

But here’s the thing: From a political standpoint, it may not matter even if he paid quadruple the going rate. All that matters in this 24-hour news cycle is that the words “Gillum” and “FBI” are in headlines across the state at a time when early voting is ramping up.

I’m sure DeSantis’ camp will hammer that point home relentlessly for the next two weeks, both in TV spots and campaign appearances.

It’s basically the same thing Clinton faced in the 2016 home stretch.

So, what Gillum needs now is for the FBI to say publicly that he is not the target of its investigation – as Gillum maintains he has been told. If that happens, he has to hope people are willing to go deeper than the headlines.

And he has to hope enough people buy his statement printed in the Times.

“These records vindicate and add more evidence that at every turn I was paying my own way or was with my family, for all trips, including picking up tickets from my brother, Marcus, who was with a group of his own friends,” Gillum said.

“But this isn’t about a Broadway show, it’s about a sideshow, because Ron DeSantis and his associates have no vision, no healthcare plan, and are running the most false, negative campaign in Florida history. Floridians deserve better.”

Actually, on this day it is about a Broadway show because that’s the news of the day. Andrew Gillum’s problem is that even if his version of events is true, this has him playing defense. It knocks him off message and gives a boost to DeSantis.

That’s a bad position to be in this close to the finish.

Blake Dowling: Reflections on the storm

This time last week, power returned to our house in Tallahassee.

A lot of communities in North Florida weren’t so lucky after Hurricane Michael.

Normally, I crank out a column pretty fast about the news of the day, but I had no desire whatsoever to write about what went down last week.

As I sat at our tailgate the weekend before, someone mentioned that I should take our generator back home. I recall saying, nope. Tropical storm? We are good.

Then things changed.

By midweek, we were hunkering down for the storm of the century. The in-laws were taking up shelter at our house and we waited for what Mother Nature would throw at us.

After 24 hours of Weather Channel coverage, we decided to try Fox News coverage; mom said it was great coverage.

For those triggered by the mention of the network, get over it. Shepard Smith did a great job with coverage.

I do not normally watch the network and was very surprised how on-point it was, and around noon the day of storm, when he announced that Tallahassee was about to get very lucky. For a second, I was thrilled. Then I thought of our neighbors to the west. They got rocked.

Why is the national news not covering this issue like they have superstorms in years past?

There are people who have run out of money, died in the storm, looting is happening, and in our community, it seems as if everyone I know helped in some way.

But it doesn’t feel like that from the outside. And when I say outside, I mean the media.

If you want to see what help looks like, come to Tallahassee. It’s ground zero for the recovery effort.

There is a tent city at the airport housing relief and line workers from across the country helped restore our power. Day of the storm, Tallahassee was 100 percent without power — and we only got sideswiped. 100 percent.

Pretty unbelievable, and a week later, it is just about back to 100 percent restored. Tremendous effort.

After Hurricane Hermine, our local government was severely criticized for not accepting outside assistance. Offers were accepted this time around. There are countless stories of good deeds going around — as well as awful stories of scamming tree companies and looters.

This one from Chambers County Sheriff in Texas offering some payback to the Franklin County Sherriff’s office was pretty spectacular.

Since elections are coming up, what are these counties going to do?

Elections officials have a plan, but do you think voting is top of mind when people are sitting in the dark worried about looters, or they don’t have a dime in their account — wondering how the hell they are going to get the next meal?

Or where do you vote if the elections office has power?

Most sites have notices, but what if you don’t have internet access? It would seem logical to push the vote back or give an extension to these areas. But what do I know?

There is a detailed breakdown by county from our friends at KTLA/California (at least they are sharing the story).

You can see a notice like this on some of the counties that were affected.

It was a terrible storm. Lives have been lost; homes and businesses destroyed. If you want to help, consider giving to the Red Cross (www.redcross.org) or contact your local elected official or law enforcement office as there are massive recovery efforts underway and North Florida needs a helping hand.

Prayers to all affected and to all those who have answered the call to help.


Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. He is going to Mexico as soon as he finishes writing this — to get out of dodge for a few days.

P.S.: It wasn’t a good time to dump on our community Mr. President; while your comment (I assume) was directed at our local government, your words insulted to our entire community. Boooo.

Joe Henderson: Lively Florida gubernatorial debate probably didn’t change minds

If the goal of either side in the Florida Governor’s debate Sunday night between Andrew Gillum and Ron DeSantis was to change minds, that probably didn’t happen.

During a spirited hour-long debate on CNN in which no punches were pulled, both candidates to be Florida’s governor kept their respective cool, got in their talking points and attacks, and dodged issues they didn’t want to directly address.

DeSantis kept up the line of attack he has used throughout the campaign, namely that Gillum is a corrupted socialist who wants to ruin the state with massive tax hikes while dodging a corruption investigation by the FBI.

Gillum countered that DeSantis is a corrupted Donald Trump acolyte who is controlled by the National Rifle Association.

That’s what they have been saying about each other since the August primary, and with the election now about two weeks away they didn’t deviate. Both men were prepared, they didn’t commit a grievous blunder during the spicy back-and-forth that could have led to a disastrous headline.

Each man was well-coached to deflect attacks and ready to sprinkle in a snappy one-liner that just might appear in a TV commercial in the closing days of the campaign.

So, here’s a random sampling of things that jumped out:

Favorite zingers

From Gillum: “If the congressman is elected, which he won’t be, he will worship at the feet of Donald Trump.”

From DeSantis: “If you believe with that record that he (Gillum) ain’t gonna raise your taxes, then I’ve got some oceanfront property in Arizona I’d like to sell you.”

Monkey business

DeSantis was asked by moderator Jake Tapper, who did a good job of keeping things on track, to explain his “monkey it up” comment about Gillum and the state’s economy on the day after the primary election. It was widely panned as a racist dog whistle.

“Here’s the deal. You look at my record. When you’re down-range in Iraq, it didn’t matter your race. We all wore the same uniform. We all had that American flag patch on our arm. And that was the end of story. You look at me as a prosecutor working with law enforcement. It didn’t matter the race of the victim. We were there to support the race of the victim. So, Floridians can know that I will be a governor for all Floridians.”

Gillum’s counter: “The congressman let us know exactly where he was going to take this race the day after he won the nomination. The monkey up comment said it all. He has continued throughout the course of this campaign to draw all the attention he can to the color of my skin. … The only color the people of the state of Florida care about is the blue-green algae that is flowing out of the state.”

Was the original question answered?

Not really.


DeSantis is loved by the NRA.

Gillum is not.

That’s an issue.

After the slaughter of 17 innocents at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the state adopted modest gun control restrictions – opposed, strongly, by the NRA. DeSantis said as governor, he would have vetoed the law.


After invoking the shooting at the congressional softball game, DeSantis dodged the question, saying the shooter who “should have been convicted of a crime” and “he should have been Baker-Acted.”

Um, Congressman? While there were warnings about the mental state of confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz, he hadn’t done anything that would have led to a conviction before entering the school. And the state’s Baker Act law would have allowed him to be held only 72 hours for observation.

Gillum’s counter: “He is wholly owned by the NRA.”

What now?

No doubt, both sides believe they won this debate, but I really think the people of Florida did.

Both men were pointed in their barbs, but it didn’t get out of control. They made their points, and it’s up to the viewer to agree or not. It was lively, and I don’t think either man got rattled by the other.

It was healthy. It was informative.

I probably would have given a slight edge to Gillum because he was less evasive on tough questions than DeSantis, like when he was asked if Trump is a good role model for the children of Florida and answered with something about moving the embassy of Israel to Jerusalem.


But, with the finish line near, we were given a good look at both men and what they stand for. That’s what debates are for.

Will Weatherford: Let voters decide on expanded gambling

I am writing today to deal with unfinished business.

After spending eight years in the Florida Legislature, the last two serving as speaker of the House, I came to a conclusion about the future of casino gambling in Florida.

Some decisions are better put into the hands of the people.

So, in 2014, I proposed a constitutional amendment giving voters control over gambling. The idea never made it through the Legislature and on to the ballot, but the need for it has not diminished. So, Florida voters took matters into their own hands.

More than 1 million Floridians signed petitions to put Amendment 3 on the ballot. It puts the voters in charge of gambling decisions.

I would like to claim I was ahead of the curve in promoting this idea four years ago.

But back in 1968, my predecessors in the Florida Legislature had the same idea. They recognized that gambling wasn’t just another issue. The impact casinos could have on communities and the state warranted a higher authority than the Legislature to sign off on gambling expansion decisions.

And so they deferred to the people, putting a provision in the Florida Constitution that prohibited most forms of gambling, unless voters passed an amendment to allow them.

Five times, from 1978 to 2004, voters weighed in on gambling initiatives. They rejected three proposals to build Las Vegas-style casinos, but they also approved the Florida Lottery as well as slot machines in Broward and Miami-Dade pari-mutuels.

The conclusion might be voters were open-minded, yet understandably cautious.

If only Florida lawmakers left well enough alone. But instead, in more recent years, state legislators went in the opposite direction of their predecessors from 1968. Faced with conflicting legal opinions, the Legislature considered dozens of proposals that would greatly expand casino gambling in Florida without voter signoff.

From my personal experience, I can tell you this was a mistake. Casino interests have become one of the most powerful special interest groups in Tallahassee. The pressure they apply to the political process is nonstop. It is why, almost every legislative session, we see casino expansion on the agenda.

The Legislature only meets for 60 days every year, so there is much to do and little time to do it. The time, energy and resources spent on gambling bills have made them an ongoing diversion. It is frustrating to see the priorities of Floridians — such as jobs, education, health care and the environment — take a back seat to the priorities of casinos.

I have heard many times the call for Tallahassee to come up with a “comprehensive solution’’ to gambling — that we can allow a resort casino here or there, open the door to more slot machines outside South Florida and then call it a day. It is a mythical concept. No matter how many casinos are approved, no matter how many forms of gambling are allowed, the demand for more will come as quickly as the next legislative session. It is what I once called the drip, drip, drip of gambling expansion.

In watching this process play out, I began to appreciate the wisdom of our predecessors in 1968. Tallahassee is not the place for gambling decisions.

If nothing more, taking gambling off the political agenda will allow lawmakers to focus on the issues that matter most to their constituents.

Florida certainly wouldn’t be alone in allowing voter control over gambling. About half of the states have a similar requirement.

In the past few years, voters in states such as New York, New Jersey, Maine, Ohio and Maryland have weighed in on gambling expansion. If there is a trend in how they decide, it is that they weigh each proposal on its individual merits, approving some and rejecting others.

Consider New Jersey. In 1978, voters there became the first in the country to approve a major expansion of gambling, allowing casinos in Atlantic City. After multiple casinos there went bankrupt in 2014, gambling interests and their political supporters pushed for more casinos in northern New Jersey.

Almost 80 percent of voters rejected the idea, the most lopsided referendum result in the state’s history.

Voters know when to say when. They serve as a check and balance on the political process.

Voter control works. That is why I proposed restoring it in 2014 and why I support Amendment 3 now.


Will Weatherford served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2006-2014 and was House speaker from 2012-14.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons