Opinions Archives - Page 4 of 241 - Florida Politics

Joe Henderson: While Rick Scott goes on tour to plead his case, Richard Corcoran keeps piling up wins

While it’s clear what Gov. Rick Scott hopes to accomplish with his barnstorming tour of the state over the next few days, it almost certainly won’t make any difference.

He calls it the “Fighting For Florida’s Future” tour because he wants to fully fund Enterprise Florida so it can continue providing $85 million in taxpayer “incentives” for out-of-state businesses to bring jobs here.

Businesses will come to Florida if they believe they can make money. They don’t need what House Speaker Richard Corcoran has mocked as “corporate welfare” to do that.

Simultaneously, Scott wants to make sure VISIT Florida gets $100 million to promote tourism. Corcoran has offered about a quarter of that. While no one argues that tourists aren’t vital to the state’s economy, Scott would have a better argument for full funding if the agency was more judicious in its spending.

VISIT Florida spent $11.6 million to sponsor a cooking show hosted by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse and $1 million so rapper Pitbull could look cool and hip to potential visitors in the cold frozen north.

Scott’s hope for his speaking tour is that people will get riled up enough to call their legislators and demand they approve his agenda.

Yeah. That’ll happen.

He also wants the Legislature to spend $200 million to help fix the Herbert Hoover Dike at Lake Okeechobee. That dam was considered a culprit in last summer’s polluted water runoff that led to the disastrous algae bloom.

Pushing for that money makes the governor look like he cares for the environment. A better time to show that might have been before that runoff and while his administration was gutting environmental laws left and right, but I digress.

The bigger picture is that Scott was essentially neutered during this Legislative Session by Corcoran. The governor is now the lamest of ducks, and that won’t help him as he casts a longing eye toward Bill Nelson’s U.S. Senate seat in 2018.

Corcoran outfoxed the governor at every budgetary turn this year and was very public about it. It goes to Corcoran’s core belief that Tallahassee spends too much money and needs to go on a fiscal diet.

It has been assumed the Speaker has considered running for Scott’s soon-to-be vacant governor’s chair, but what if there is something bigger afoot?

While Corcoran would have a tough time breaking through against fellow Republican Adam Putnam to win the Republican nomination for governor, he could draw a strong contrast between himself and Scott if he decided to go for the Senate seat instead.


In a lengthy profile on the Speaker, the Tampa Bay Times reported he has already met with the billionaire Koch brothers and appears to have their support for his economic agenda. I’m guessing that would help close the fundraising gap with Nelson and/or Scott if this hypothetical showdown ever happens.

Obviously, this is speculation — the mother’s milk of politics.

But while the governor embarks on what would be better described as a self-immolation tour for a doomed agenda, Corcoran keeps piling up the wins.

Jason Pye, Sal Nuzzo: Mandatory minimum reform needed in overdose epidemic

Facing yet another drug overdose epidemic, the Florida Legislature has an opportunity to move the needle in the right policy direction — finally.

As members of the Florida House and Senate are poised to pass new criminal violations, this time for trafficking in fentanyl and synthetic drugs, the heat is on to include policies that have failed Florida – every single time they’ve been tried.

Once again, the usual suspects play Lucy to the legislature’s Charlie Brown, assuring members that this time is different, that this time mandatory minimums will work.

But we know how this ends, and the legislature will have no excuse when it lands flat on its back.

At 50 times stronger than heroin, fentanyl is terrifying. Some say the danger alone justifies mandatory minimums, claiming such sentences will deter drug trafficking. What they don’t do is offer a shred of evidence for that claim. Indeed, all available evidence shows the opposite: not only will mandatory minimums fail, they could make the problem worse.

Current law already provides harsh mandatory sentences for trafficking in heroin laced with fentanyl. According to the DEA, most fentanyl is added to heroin in Mexico before it enters the U.S. If so, trafficking in this form of heroin would already be subject to mandatory minimums in Florida.

This should trouble anyone who believes mandatory minimums will deter fentanyl trafficking. If that’s true, what are they waiting on?

The truth is mandatory minimums don’t reduce drug trafficking. After Florida adopted mandatory minimums for opioid trafficking in 1999, arrests for trafficking in those drugs increased sharply. So did prison admissions: between FY 2000-01 and FY 2010-11, prison admissions for low-level opioid trafficking increased fourteenfold, a fact consistent with a Florida Senate report that found no evidence of a general deterrent effect from Florida’s mandatory minimum drug laws.

Mandatory minimums have also failed to reduce drug abuse.

In the decade after Florida adopted mandatory minimums for trafficking in cocaine and heroin, Florida’s cocaine-related death rate increased 68 percent. It remained higher in 2015 than in 1999. Heroin-related deaths are at record levels; the 2015 heroin-related death rate was nearly twice the 1999 rate. Oxycodone deaths increased, too, including a 264 percent increase between 2003 and 2009.

In fact, since adopting mandatory minimums to reduce overdose deaths, Florida’s overall drug-induced death rate has increased nearly 150 percent.

If this is success, what would failure look like?

Florida is also not using mandatory minimums to lock up only major drug traffickers, as some suggest. A 2012 report by Florida’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) studied inmates serving mandatory sentences for opioid trafficking.

OPPAGA found 74 percent of these inmates had never been to prison previously. Half had either never been on probation or had been on probation solely for drug possession, and 84 percent had no current or past violent offenses. The report concluded the majority of such inmates “had minimal prior criminal involvement and substance abuse problems” and were at “low risk for recidivism.”

Incarcerating thousands of low-level addicts who don’t pose a risk to public safety is expensive.

Florida spends more than $100 million annually incarcerating drug offenders serving mandatory minimums. That money could go to expanding drug courts, increasing access to drug treatment, or giving first responders naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses.

Continuing to waste tax dollars on ineffective, tough-sounding “solutions” instead of investing in what works will make Florida’s opioid problem worse.

Because mandatory minimums have failed to achieve their intended purposes, and because they created massive negative unintended consequences, more than a dozen conservative groups – including Americans for Tax Reform, FreedomWorks, the American Conservative Union Foundation, Justice Fellowship, Right on Crime, The James Madison Institute, and Florida TaxWatch – recently encouraged the legislature to reform mandatory minimum drug laws. Yet some in the legislature want more of the same – perhaps failure is addictive, too.

One such reform – a practical, reasonable and moderate one – would give judges, under compelling circumstances, a degree of flexibility to sentence drug offenders appropriately.

For instance, under legislation currently being considered, a person who buys a bottle of counterfeit fentanyl pills would face a 25-year mandatory minimum prison sentence. A “safety valve” would allow judges to determine whether that person is indeed a trafficker for whom prison is appropriate, or an addict who needs treatment, drug court, or another sanction to break the cycle of drug use and incarceration. Several states, including Georgia and Mississippi, already have safety valves for drug trafficking, and they’ve worked to reduce crime and unnecessary incarceration.

The opioid epidemic is too important to allow politically motivated misinformation to guide Florida’s policy response. Public policy should be guided by evidence, experience and advice from actual experts.

A robust commitment to those principles, and not political convenience, might actually help fix Florida’s drug problem.


Jason Pye is director of Public Policy and Legislative Affairs for FreedomWorks; Sal Nuzzo is vice president of policy for the James Madison Institute.

Lucas Lindsey: Private, public partnership necessary to make ‘smart cities’ possible

Lucas Lindsey

Florida must invest in smart cities that support entrepreneurs. We are the third largest state in the United States, yet rank 34th in innovation according to a 2016 Bloomberg study. Simply put, that is not what leadership looks like. It is not enough to just prepare for the next wave of technology. We need to be the ones building it, funding it and distributing it.

Our state has the capacity, but now we must decide if we have the vision, leadership, and willpower to do what needs to be done.

We can future-proof our economy by making smart city investments in innovation infrastructure, just as we already do with traditional infrastructure. We’ve created systems and mechanisms to finance capital expenditures. We’ve built streets and sewers based on the realities of population increase and urban growth. And we’ve efficient public-private partnerships to make creative things happen. The methods and frameworks exist. It is time we expanded their mission to include the development of an innovation economy.

Luckily, the grassroots momentum is real.

Our state is home to hundreds of information technology companies and thousands of technology-related jobs. More and more, we see tech incubators and co-working spaces designed to give entrepreneurs a place to find resources and test inventions. It is encouraging to see the landscape grow. But, without doubling down on sustainable economic development efforts to support this emerging sector, many of the big ideas and even bigger benefits we could experience may never have happened, or may leave and happen somewhere else.

Florida’s cities have an opportunity to be leaders in entrepreneurship, technology, and smart city development, but capitalizing on that opportunity will take several things. First, local governments and the private sector need to talk to each other. They must build reciprocal, collaborative relationships based on trust and shared goals, and out of that will emerge smart city technologies with a viable path forward.

Second, we must break down barriers preventing the deployment of new technologies. In the case of smart cities, this means allowing mobile and internet providers to build more robust network connectivity. Innovation infrastructure depends on reliable, lightning-fast networks, especially when it comes to critical services like public safety, transportation, and health care or data heavy technology powering the next great startup. By investing in next-generation networks, communities throughout Florida can take hold of their future and set themselves up for success.

Contrary to popular belief, innovation is not simply about new ideas. It is about developing ecosystems that take risks on new ideas. It is about investing in infrastructure, both physical and programmatic, that empowers cutting-edge entrepreneurs — not at the margins, with a lucky win here and there, but at scale.

Technology will not slow down. It will not favor incumbents. And it will not move to Florida for the sunshine. We must invest in systems of training, funding, and procurement that allow, for example, a startup in one of Tampa’s incubators to take their smart city technology, pilot it, prove it works and expand it citywide.

We must position Florida’s communities as places where innovation and entrepreneurship-driven economic development are welcome. It’s not about looking ahead to the 21st-century economy. The 21st-century economy is already here, roaring toward the future. Are we going to participate, or not?


Lucas Lindsey is the co-chair of Launch Florida, a coalition representing tech organizations, co-working spaces, startup communities, educational institutions and entrepreneurs across the state. Launch Florida’s mission is to foster collaboration between entrepreneurs, policymakers, business leaders, venture capitalists, and other stakeholders in order to catalyze the innovation economy throughout the Sunshine State.

Joe Henderson: Stock up on popcorn because the governor’s race is getting real

Set controls for the Wayback Machine to 2013, when the race (such as it was) to be Florida’s governor was taking shape.

Incumbent Republican Rick Scott was still battling the perception that he was one of the least popular governors in the country. And Republican-turned-Independent-turned Democrat Charlie Crist was, to put it discreetly, an uninspiring choice to oppose him.

Barely half of registered voters bothered to cast a ballot. Yes, that was an off-year election when turnout is always lower; it was 75 percent in last November’s presidential election. But if the last governor’s race was bland vs. bland, the one shaping up for 2018 should get voters worked up a lot more.

This is getting real.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam just made official what everyone already knew, namely that he is running for the Republican nomination. He is smart, great on the stump, popular, well known, and, as my wife noted this morning when his picture flashed on the TV, “He looks so young.”

In past elections, that combination would likely have guaranteed about 60 percent of the vote. But as has been noted here in recent weeks, this is not the Democratic party that gave us Recycled Charlie.

Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham officially joins the Democratic field today, and that changes everything. The panhandle has been the exclusive property of Republicans in recent elections, but Graham puts it back in play for her party.

As a member of Congress, she did a 14-county farm tour in northern Florida back in 2016, listening to issues and building alliances with community leaders.

Compared to Putnam, Graham is a fiery liberal. Her voting record in Congress, though, shows an independent streak and a willingness to go against her party bosses when she believed it was the right thing to do.

That will play well on the trail.

This might be the biggest thing she has going though (other than the fact she is Bob Graham’s daughter) – she really wants this job. I always suspected Charlie Crist campaigned partly out of revenge for the way Republicans treated him, but mostly because it’s a sweet gig and Charlie craves the spotlight.

I think Graham is running because she is on a mission and being governor is the best way she can accomplish that. She is a ferocious advocate for the environment, strongly opposing fracking and off-shore oil drilling.

She has been building support with state seniors on issues like Medicare and Social Security.

Graham will have a fight on her hands for the nomination. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Orlando businessman Christopher King have already declared, and Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine might jump in too. It’s too soon to predict an outcome, given variables that include President Trump’s popularity (or lack) on the next election day.

Here is one safe prediction, though. Compared to recent governor’s races, this one is going to be entertaining. Better stock up on popcorn.

Michael J. Bowen: For epilepsy, Senate medical marijuana bill is ‘step in right direction’

Michael J. Bowen

You may have heard about a man having a grand mal seizure on the Florida Senate floor two weeks ago.

That was me.

I am a die-hard conservative activist.

I support Floridians’ now-constitutional right to access medical marijuana.

And I’m a patient.

I was diagnosed with epilepsy at age 13 and like most went through the brutal process of trying numerous barbiturates until finding the right ‘cocktail’ that worked. Every epileptic case is unique and requires a custom treatment. In my case, it took 600 mg of downers per day to control my seizures; affecting my motor skills, thinking and lifestyle.

Needless to say, it was a life changing event.

Thirty-four years later, my epilepsy is intractable. That means big pharma drugs no longer work to prevent my seizures. After a year of research, my wife convinced me to try CBD oil, which has virtually no THC. It works.

After months of testing dosages, we have reduced the severity and quantity of my seizures dramatically. CBD oil also works as a “rescue” medication that can stop a seizure within seconds, and it is the only medicine that helps my epilepsy.

One in 26 people have epilepsy; more than Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Autism and Cerebral Palsy combined. Every year over 54,000 people will die as a result of epileptic seizures — the fourth leading killer in Florida alone. Epileptics like myself literally wake up and thank God for another day.

Medical marijuana is helping ensure that I get the chance to wake up every day.

It is hard to adequately explain what having a seizure is like.  For me, I get an “aura” seconds before going into full convulsions.  When I come out of it, I can’t tell you my name, my wife’s name, where I am, or even what year it is.  All of this comes back over the next hour or so.  I do, however, recognize people.

The pain is extraordinary. Imagine your hardest workout and multiply that by 10.

After a seizure, sheer exhaustion puts me to sleep for days. After the last time — at the Senate committee — I bit my tongue so hard I could barely talk for a week.

Three weeks ago, as a member of the board of directors for the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida, we held a “walk the talk” awareness event. There were dozens of kids walking who suffered from epilepsy.

Four families walked in-memoriam of children who had died.

It was truly emotional and steeled my resolve to fight for those kids.

I tell you this so you will understand the true medical need for cannabis.  It is incomprehensible to think we make opiate painkillers more accessible that a natural healthy alternative.

House Bill 1397 — even in its amended form — is an awful attempt to make medical marijuana legal in name only.

HB 1397 is the equivalent of Obamacare:  many have health insurance, but outrageous deductibles prevent most from getting actual health care.

It’s a disaster for patients.

I support Senate Bill 406, aka the Bradley bill. It’s not perfect, but a step in the right direction.

In the final legislation, I would like to see more competition and the decriminalization of public application by caregivers.  It should never be a crime to save a life. Period.

I was a senior adviser for Donald Trump’s campaign in Florida, and proud of the result. We won with 49 percent of the vote in November. In comparison, a whopping 71 percent of the voters told our legislature to legalize medical cannabis.

I am very disturbed that the will of the people is largely being ignored.

I can assure lawmakers that, regardless of party affiliation, if you vote against the will of the people, we will work get you out of office.

My wife and I, along with numerous other patients and caregivers will be back in Tallahassee this week to continue to fight for this lifesaving medicine.

I would urge anyone reading this to go to identify your representative and senator and remind them of their duty.

Hurry up! Session ends this Friday.


Michael J. Bowen is CEO of Coalition For a Strong America  (www.coalitionforastrongamerica.com) and a board member of the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida. He is a patient, not a criminal.

Martin Dyckman: Elian Gonzalez, a painful chapter in Cuban-American history

Some things in life ought to be above politics, none more so than a parent’s relationship to a child. How this truth was sorely tested in Florida not so long ago is the subject of a new documentary that we should all want to see. CNN reportedly will air it sometime after it begins to appear in theaters later this month.

As described in the Miami Herald Sunday, it relates the “painful chapter in Cuban-American history” that began early on Thanksgiving morning 1999 when two South Florida fishermen found 5-year Elian Gonzalez tied to an inner tube in the ocean.

His mother and 10 others who were trying to flee Cuba had drowned two days before when their boat swamped. His father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, was still in Cuba, where Elian had frequently stayed with him after his parents’ divorce. He had not consented to his ex-wife removing the boy from the island.

Relatives in Miami took custody of the child and refused the demands of his father and the Cuban government to send him home, turning a human saga of death and survival into an international incident.

To the Miami relatives and much if not most of the Cuban exile community there, it was a struggle between the democracy where they thought he should live and the dictatorship where his sole surviving parent lived. A father’s rights to his son seemed no part of it. Little thought was given, not in public anyhow, to how Americans might feel if it were a case of an American father trying to retrieve a child from Cuba.

The relatives filed asylum applications on Elian’s behalf, but the Immigration and Naturalization Service rejected them. After interviewing both the boy and his father, the agency found that the father had not been coerced by the Cuban government and that 6-year-olds “lack the capacity to file personally for asylum against the wishes of their parents.” The case went to court. A district court sided with the government, and the relatives appealed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the INS June 1, 2000.

That court said that although it was “troubled” by the fact that Cuba was a dictatorship, the INS was “reasonable” in concluding that the father’s wishes trumped political concerns.

By then, armed federal agents acting under Attorney General Janet Reno‘s command had rescued Elian, or kidnapped him, depending on one’s point of view, to reunite him with his father in Washington. The April 21 raid was incendiary news, especially at Miami, where Reno had been the state attorney before becoming Bill Clinton‘s longest-serving Cabinet member.

Father and son remained in the United States while the Miami relatives appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. On June 28, the high court refused to hear the case. Elian and his father returned to Cuba a few hours later. They live there still; Elian is now an industrial engineering graduate, a member of the Young Communists Union, and an admirer of the late dictator Fidel Castro.

I had known Reno for years, considered her a friend, and wasn’t surprised by the courage she displayed in doing what she knew would be greatly unpopular back home.

It was the last of her significant controversial decisions she made at the Justice Department, one of which was to authorize the independent counsel’s investigation that led to Clinton’s impeachment by the House.

But there was the ex-president, speaking at her memorial service December in Miami, praising her as the person whom he knew would always do what she thought was right, no matter the consequences.

The Gonzalez story was underplayed on that occasion. The Cuban community was still celebrating Fidel Castro’s recent death, and Reno’s family thought it best not to reopen old wounds by revealing the telephone call they had received after she had lost her long struggle with Parkinson’s disease. I had been told, but in confidence.

This week, upon news of the documentary, they decided the time had come.

The week after Reno died, her surviving sibling, Maggy Hurchalla, answered the phone at the Reno homestead in Kendall.

“This is the Cuban embassy in Washington, D.C.,” the caller said. “We have a message for the family of Janet Reno …

“The family of Elian Gonzalez would like to convey their love and gratitude for sending their boy home.”

Yes, there are still some things that are more important than politics.


Martin Dyckman is a retired editor of the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.


Brian Robare: Proposed nursing home payment system raises serious concern

Brian L. Robare

I wanted to take a moment to alert Floridians to The Estates’, a Lakeland-based nursing home, significant concerns with the Florida Health Care Association’s (FHCA) plan, which would change the way nursing homes are paid, under consideration in the Florida Legislature.

The FHCA is asserting that this prospective payment system (PPS) plan will incentivize nursing homes to make renovations and improvements that will improve and enhance the resident’s quality of life. As a longtime member of FHCA, we are disappointed that they would place a higher priority on the building than on resident care.

At the Estates, we have long prided ourselves on our high staffing ratios, and with the care provided to the residents and families, we are privileged to serve. A “modernized dining room” does not improve that quality of care, and I consider it shameful that they would propose the redistribution of money from communities that have continually invested the money needed to make renovations and improvements to communities that have shirked this responsibility.

If passed, this plan will financially hurt our nursing home and Florida Presbyterian Homes.

To illustrate, our nursing home stands to lose $166,000 under this proposed plan. Frankly, I am stunned that the Florida House or Senate would even consider a plan that provides an additional $26 million to a nursing home chain that just had a $374 million judgment for Medicare and Medicaid fraud. Consulate Healthcare’s 79 nursing homes in the state have an average star rating of 2.3 out of 5, and yet the plan is to reward their efforts with an additional $26 million to modernize dining rooms and improve the look of their buildings.

It’s imperative that any changes to the payment model for nursing homes are accomplished when all of the stakeholders are offered a seat at the table to develop a plan that advances the goal of providing quality care. At The Estates, we believe in the adage of slow and right versus fast and wrong.

This plan is the epitome of fast, and wrong.

On behalf of residents, families and staff at The Estates, I am asking that lawmakers reject the plan proposed by the FHCA and remain resolute that any PPS plan for nursing homes must include an open discussion by all of the stakeholders and must require that any additional funds to go improving the quality of care for the residents.

Finally, we ask that lawmakers advocate for slow and right versus fast and wrong and insist that any additional money advances the quality of care and does not further inflate the bottom line of companies that seem to focus on what is best for them and not on what is best for the residents and families they serve.


Brian L. Robare is CEO and Executive Director at the Estates at Carpenters, located in Lakeland.

Florence Snyder: Florida’s opioid crisis, Part 6; Opioid Kabuki Theater opens today in West Palm Beach

This afternoon, The Rick Scott and Pam Bondi Opioid Listening Tour opens in West Palm Beach. Scott and Bondi won’t be there, but People with Big Titles and No Power will.

Scott, who used to run hospitals for a living, thinks that mosquitoes carrying Zika are a public health emergency, even as Floridians and medical tourists who VISIT Florida’s criminal enterprises masquerading as “sober homes” are dropping like flies.

When Scott and Bondi’s designated listeners roll into town, they’ll be greeted by citizens and taxpayers bearing photographs of loved ones lost to heroin and its kindred killer drugs. Grieving parents, grandparents and siblings take this epidemic very personally, and they are very sick of public officials who don’t.

“We need urgency. We are tired of talking. We need action…particularly from the Department of Health and the surgeon general,” protest organizer Maureen Mulroy Kielian told The Palm Beach Post.

That’s not happening. As Surgeon General Celeste Philip said last week in her Senate confirmations hearings, it is the Department of Children & Families that will be “taking the lead” in handling this steaming souffle of hot potatoes.

Opioid overdoses claimed 600 lives in Palm Beach County last year. The statewide death toll in 2015 was 2500. If that isn’t a surgeon general issue, what is?


Joe Henderson: Homestead exemption increase would be great politics, lousy governing

Increasing the state’s homestead exemption by $25,000, which is a priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran and his merry band of tax-slayers, would no doubt be popular with voters.

If the measure gets past the legislative hoops and on the 2018 ballot as a constitutional amendment, I imagine it would easily break the 60 percent threshold required for passage. Corcoran and like-minded Republicans would celebrate. Homeowners would have more cash.

And local governments, where the real heavy-lifting is done to provide needed services to the home folks, would have a meltdown. One estimate said it could reduce property tax proceeds by about $700 million overall. Bigger cities would likely affected more. Something would have to give.

In Hillsborough County, property taxes help pay for things like public libraries, water management, special lightning districts, storm water drainage, and basic services like fire fighters.

One of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s favorite sayings is that big-city mayors love infrastructure. For instance, Tampa has opened several new fire stations on Buckhorn’s watch. Local officials in Tampa warn that there might not be as many options like that in the future if this becomes law.

Perhaps a homeowner trying to put out a blaze could just call their local legislator to come over with a hose.

Yes. That’s an exaggeration – but this isn’t. Tallahassee lawmakers routinely complain when Washington tacks on expensive requirements without providing a way to pay for them. Those same lawmakers do the same thing to cities, though.

Property taxes are a critical piece of funding for public schools in each of Florida’s 67 counties. A new exemption likely would chip away at funding for education at a time when Corcoran and other lawmakers keep diverting larger and larger chunks of public education cash to private charter schools.

Clever, aren’t they?

That’s one way to put it.

As Jim Rosica of FloridaPolitics.com reported Sunday night, the House made sure the proposed increase in the exemption has been tied to some of the Senate’s priorities, and the message is clear – approve putting the exemption on the ballot, or else.

In case you haven’t noticed, Florida is growing by like, well, a lot. This probably would be a good time to be planning for growth like that by building the infrastructure Buckhorn has talked about.

Instead, Tallahassee responds with something that, if passed, could make it harder for local leaders to provide the services people expect. But hey, Republicans would celebrate the fact that they cut taxes.

It’s great politics, but lousy governing.

Darryl Paulson: Groveland — Florida’s legacy of hate

On July 16, 1949, seventeen-year-old Norma Padgett claimed that her husband Willie was assaulted and she was raped by four black males near Groveland, Florida. Groveland is located in Lake County in central Florida.

In July 1986, I co-authored the first scholarly article on the Groveland case in the Florida Historical Quarterly, along with historians David Colburn and Steven Lawson. It wasn’t until 2013, when Gilbert King‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Devil in the Grove, focused national attention on Groveland.

The Padgett’s told Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall that they had left a dance and their car stalled. The four blacks — Walter Irvin, Sam Shepherd, Charles Greenlee and Ernest Thomas — supposedly offered to help, but then assaulted Willie Padgett and kidnapped and raped his wife, Norma.

Sheriff McCall boasted that he was educated at the “University of Hard Knocks.” After winning office in 1944, McCall made a name for himself by attacking labor unions and civil rights groups. He accused communists of stirring up trouble among Lake County’s black citizens.

Within hours of the alleged rape, Greenlee, Shepherd and Irvin were arrested and beaten in order to extract confessions. Thomas fled the area but was killed “in a hail of gunfire” by a 1,000 man posse in Taylor County.

The fate of the three survivors seemed apparent. The day after the alleged rape, a 200 car caravan of 500-600 men descended on Groveland and demanded that Sheriff McCall turn over the three blacks to the mob. McCall lied and said the three had been transferred to Raiford State Prison. In reality, the three were hidden away in the county jail in Tavares.

Local newspapers called for revenge. The editor of the Mount Dora Topic demanded that the honor of the rape victim “be avenged in a court of law …” Another paper wrote: “We’ll wait and see what the law does, and if the law doesn’t do right, we’ll do it.” The Orlando Morning Sentinel, the largest newspaper in central Florida, ran a front-page cartoon depicting four electric chairs with the headline, “The Supreme Penalty” and the caption “No Compromise.”

The Groveland case quickly drew parallels to the Scottsboro Boys. In 1931, nine black men were accused of raping two white women aboard a train passing through Scottsboro, Alabama. In a hysterical and circuslike atmosphere, all of the defendants were quickly convicted, and eight were given death sentences.

The Scottsboro case attracted both national and international attention. The Communist Party and the NAACP intervened and won several significant victories before the U. S. Supreme Court. In May 1950, some 20 years after the original arrests, the last of the Scottsboro boys walked out of jail.

In Groveland, there were doubts that Norma Padgett had been raped. Only 17, she had fled to her parents after several beatings by her husband, Willie.

On the morning after the rape, Norma was seen outside a restaurant near Groveland. The restaurant owner’s son drove her into town and said she did not seem upset and never mentioned being raped.

It was not until Norma encountered her husband and a deputy sheriff that she spoke of being raped. Defense attorneys speculated that the Padgett’s concocted the story to protect her husband who had beat Norma after she refused him his “matrimonial rights.”

After a show trial where no evidence was presented that Mrs. Padgett had been raped, the jury deliberated for 90 minutes before returning a guilty verdict and death sentence for Irvin and Shepherd. Greenlee, only 16, was given a life sentence.

In April 1950, the St. Petersburg Times published an investigative report concluding that it was physically impossible for Greenlee to have been at the crime scene. Witnesses testified that Greenlee was 19 miles away at the time the crime allegedly occurred. They also concluded that much if the evidence to convict the defendants was manufactured by the prosecution.

The U. S. Supreme Court overturned the convictions in 1950. Justice Jackson said the pretrial publicity was “one of the best examples of one of the worst menaces to American justice.” The circus atmosphere prevented a fair trial, and there was evidence that the confessions were coerced.

In 1951, Sheriff McCall went to Raiford Prison to transport Irvin and Shepherd back to Tavares for a new trial. McCall claimed he had a flat tire and was attacked by the prisoners in the process. Shepherd died, but Irvin, despite being shot three times at point-blank range, survived his injuries. Irvin claimed that he and Shepherd did not attack McCall, but were killed in cold blood by the Sheriff.

In a 1952 retrial of Irvin, he was once again convicted and given a death sentence. Governor Leroy Collins, in 1955, commuted the sentence to life in prison. Irvin was paroled in 1968 and died the following year. Greenlee was released in 1960 and died in 2012.

Four innocent black men suffered grievously for a crime they never committed. Thomas was killed by a vigilante posse, and Shepherd was killed by Sheriff McCall. Greenlee also spent a decade in prison, and Irvin also spent two decades in prison for a crime they did not commit.

On April 27, the Florida Senate passed a resolution apologizing to the families of the four black men who the Senate said were “victims of racial hatred.” I am sure they are comforted in their graves.


Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg specializing in Florida and southern politics.


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