Opinions Archives - Page 4 of 295 - Florida Politics

Joe Henderson: John McCain set example too few lawmakers follow

Florida leaders and lawmakers from both parties were quite properly lauding John McCain’s, decency, public service, bravery and integrity following his death Saturday after battling brain cancer.

You would expect no less. The show of respect was good and proper for someone of McCain’s stature.

It would be even better if all of them actually followed his example and put country over party.

McCain knew that someone wasn’t evil just because they saw politics differently than he did.

There was a basic decency about him that incredibly was mocked as weakness by far too many people. Take Arizona Republican Kelli Ward, for instance.

Ward is running for the Senate seat being vacated by Jeff Flake, and she was no fan of John McCain. But when his wife announced Friday that he was suspending treatment for brain cancer, Ward and a campaign staffer engaged in a most disgusting conspiracy theory.

According to The Arizona Republic, when the staffer asked if the announcement by McCain’s wife was “just a coincidence,” timed to take away publicity from a planned campaign bus tour by Ward, she responded on her Facebook page, “”I think they wanted to have a particular narrative that they hope is negative to me.”

She took it down later and replaced it with a statement of condolence following McCain’s death on Saturday, but the damage was done. Screenshots of the initial exchange boomeranged around the country.

Ward, of course, blamed the media.

What does this have to do with Florida?

Maybe more than we realize as voters head to the polls for Tuesday’s primary elections.

Florida’s politics can be just as whacked as what’s going on in Arizona. Republicans in the Legislature have basically abandoned any pretense of working with Democrats for a balanced agenda. They wouldn’t consider statewide Medicaid expansion, no matter if it hurt the neediest among us. They have tried to tell us we need to be terrified if someone doesn’t look like us.

They stripped public-school budgets. They attacked the teachers union.

It’s worth recalling that McCain cast the decisive vote that kept his party from repealing the Affordable Care Act.

We used to think that wacko conspiracy theorists lived in their mother’s basement or in a cave somewhere, but now one of the foremost spreaders of conspiracy sits in the Oval Office, and Donald Trump’s approval rating in Florida is better than in most places.

After the slaughter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, it was suggested that some of the student survivors were actually paid actors.

The Hillsborough County GOP organization posted a link to the mysterious “QAnon” social media site, which promotes Trump as a soldier in the battle against the “Deep State” trying to run him out of office. The link was later taken down, but why give that stuff any credence at all?

In Okaloosa County, Republican County Commissioner Graham Fountain routinely spreads anti-Muslim sentiments on social media, warning that if we elect any of them than Sharia law will follow.

Too many people actually believe that.

For too long, this kind of bile has been celebrated as “straight talk” by people who probably look back lovingly on the days of Sen. Joe McCarthy. That’s how we wind up with a serious candidate to become one of just 100 U.S. Senators suggesting the original “straight talker” John McCain timed his death to hurt her campaign.

Our social media feeds are filled with lies and distortions.

Our candidates think it’s enough to wrap themselves in the flag and platitudes, and if a media outlet comes up with a damaging story, well, you know the answer to that. Just shout “fake news” at the top of your lungs and go on about your day.

The question isn’t whether you’re red or blue. Most of us live in the middle anyway, but the pandering by candidates, at least in the primaries, is always to the extreme edge.

I don’t vote strictly red.

I don’t vote strictly blue.

I don’t expect to agree with every position a candidate holds.

I vote for common sense.

Alas, it is getting harder to find.

Joe Henderson: The “real” Adam Putnam shows up, but too late?

In the final days of his campaign for the Republican nomination for Governor, Adam Putnam has come across as the person a lot of people always thought he was.

It’s too bad he kept that person hidden for so long.

His ads now are low-key and sincere, a departure from the strident tone he set at the start and stayed with for far too long.

He is back to being the kind of person you’d like to have live next door: Friendly, smart, can dominate a room without being overbearing.

But, somewhere early in the campaign, that guy got put on the shelf. The reasoned, principled conservative was replaced by a shrill imposter who left people shaking their heads and wondering what happened to the man they knew.

Maybe Florida’s wacky primary system convinced Putnam he had to show that he, too, could be just as loud as the next guy to appeal to the hardcore Republican voters, those most likely to turn out for a primary election.

It wasn’t enough to say he supported the Second Amendment and leave it at that, he had to shout that he was a “proud NRA sellout.”

Likeability was always a major strength for Putnam by people from both political parties. But for months, he routinely blathered on about the “liberal media” and came across as a divider, not someone interested in uniting.

He couldn’t just shrug and say he still supports the policies of Donald Trump even after the president endorsed Fox News darling Ron DeSantis.

He had to keep tilting at that windmill with ill-advised Twitter messages like the one where he welcomed the president to a recent rally in Tampa – only to have Trump refer to DeSantis that night as “a true leader, a proud veteran, my great friend, a tough, brilliant cookie.”

He looked desperate.

Now, DeSantis has a 23-point lead in the final St. Pete Polls survey, and Putnam is facing the possible end of his political career after Tuesday’s primary.

Yes, it’s legitimate to say it might not have made any difference what kind of campaign Putnam ran, given Trump’s support of DeSantis. Trump likes DeSantis because, as a member of the U.S. House, he was critical of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation of the president.

As Putnam learned, that’s all a lot of voters needed to hear.

The harder Putnam chased those voters, the farther away he seemed to be from the person that people thought they knew. Did that scare off undecided voters?


Add the outcry over donations his campaign received from Publix in the wake of the Parkland slaughter, followed by revelations that the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which Putnam currently leads, mishandled thousands of concealed weapons permit applications.

All the while, DeSantis was doing his best Aaron Burr impression from the musical “Hamilton”: Not saying much, smiling a lot, and riding that Trump endorsement to build what looks like an insurmountable lead for the nomination – potentially turning the general election into a statewide referendum on the president and his policies.

Trump does have strong support in many pockets of Florida. But in many ways, Adam Putnam is Florida.

He’s a small-town guy from Bartow.

He is a Gator.

He represented his district in Congress.

He knows how state government works.

And I really do think that if a miracle happens and he wins the primary, we would see a much different candidate in the general election.

I’ll bet on some level, many Democrats would concede that they are happy to take their chances against DeSantis because Putnam would have been formidable.

We’re getting a glimpse of that candidate now. He is working the room, so to speak – shaking every hand, making every person he meets feel like they’re important and he understands their needs and concerns. He is not surrendering; give him that much.

Did that candidate show up too late? Even if he had, would it have made a difference against the Tweeter-in-Chief?

Maybe not. But at least it would have been the real Adam Putnam.

Rick Scott: I refuse to apologize for my success

[Ed. note: Gov. Rick Scott is responding to the Times/Herald article: “Rick Scott and wife invested in parent company bidding on Tampa high-speed rail.”]

Democrats like Bill Nelson want to talk a lot about my blind trust and the investments within it, but there’s one thing they never mention: How I got here.

I grew up poor. I lived in public housing. I never met my natural father and he never helped our family. I remember the pain on my adopted dad’s face when our family car was repossessed, and how hard my mother worked at multiple jobs to feed us kids.

It was my mother who pushed me to focus on my education and to get a job, and with that support, hard work, and the grace of God, I had success in business.

I’ve been blessed to live the American Dream and to have owned businesses that created jobs for so many people.

I will not apologize for having success in business.

Unlike many politicians in Washington, I have never made a single decision as Governor with any thought or consideration of my personal finances. I have refused to take a salary as Governor, I travel the state at my own expense, which has saved the state $2.4 million each year since 2011, and I work hard every day as governor to create jobs and opportunities so kids who grow up the way I did can someday achieve their dreams.

Part of that work means protecting taxpayer dollars. So, when it became clear to me seven years ago that the proposed high-speed rail project funded by federal taxpayer dollars would ultimately end up costing families in our state, I turned it down.

States like California and Connecticut who did take the funding — with their over-budget, over-delayed projects — have proved this was the right call. Unfortunately, if Bill Nelson had his way, Florida would be right there with them.

Bill Nelson has been in Washington so long he doesn’t understand the basics of how the economy works — much less the difference between a project that will cost Florida taxpayers money and a project that won’t.

That’s not something you learn in Washington; it’s something you learn through hard work.


Rick Scott is the 45th and current Governor of Florida.

A guide to whether a poll of the Fla. Governor’s race should be taken with a grain of salt

Andrew Gillum may indeed be in the lead.

And so may Adam Putnam.

Is it possible that after Donald Trump’s endorsement and the dramatic rise in Ron DeSantis’ numbers, GOP voters are having buyer’s remorse and are reverting back to the more familiar comfort of Putnam?

Maybe. And if so, good for both of them.

But for readers of this website — political junkies, all of you! — please try to ignore many of the recent clickbait polls. Why? Because when you get past the headlines, even those readers without advanced degrees in statistics or polling methodology can and should quickly see that many of these polls are really not worth their (ahem) salt.

To help each of you get through the next few days, use the following guidelines to help you apply your own saltshaker test and decide if a poll is worthy of sharing on social media.

These are a few items that should make you question the validity of a poll:

— Small sample sizes: If you see a statewide poll of fewer than 500 respondents be wary. If it is less than 300, take out your Men In Black neuralizer and block it from your mind.

— Polls of “adults”: Several recent polls actually surveyed “adults.” As if they matter. Well yes, they matter in the grand scheme of things, but not in elections, as only 75 percent of them are even registered to vote, and only about half of those who are registered will cast a ballot in the general election. Of course, for primaries, surveying “adults” is even more of an absurdity.  

— Polls of “registered voters”: Better, but still a problem. Polls — especially primary polls — should be taken only of likely voters as determined by the readily available voting history. Past is prologue, and a good pollster will ensure that a large percentage of the survey sample will contain those who have a proven track record of actually voting. And while it is true that about a third of the electorate will be infrequent and newer voters, having a sample of “registered voters” is not a good sign.  

— Self-described “likely voters”: Everyone who reads Florida Politics flosses every day, balances their checkbooks every month, calls home to mom at least once a week and never – ever – misses an election. Of course, we know that only about half of registered voters will vote in the upcoming general election — and far less will vote in the primaries. Yet in poll after poll that we have taken, about 80 percent of respondents claim they vote in every election. (Sure you do.) There is a voter history and every pollster should always use it! If a pollster is relying on letting the respondent tell their voting history, this is a clue that the poll also has other problems.  

— Online polls: These can be excellent if done right. But in this growing field, getting a valid and reliable online poll (especially of primary voters) is tough. But here’s a clue. If it’s an online poll and has one of the common problems listed above, it probably was not done well.

— IVR or robopolls: Also, potentially good and frankly they are proving to be reasonably reliable if the vendor knows how to manage the voter files (and we do them all the time.) But, as with online polls, they can be tricky, and they have their limitations. Also, consider this; many cannot be taken on cellphones. Do you trust a poll that does not include at least 30 percent of calls taken on cellphones? As a rule of thumb, if a robopoll also has one of the above problems, it likely is not valid.

— Is it an outlier?: Without some dramatic event (A POTUS endorsement, a criminal conviction, etc.) voters’ minds don’t change that quickly. In fact, voters are a stubborn lot, and it takes a lot to change their minds — especially this late in an election. If a poll is very different from the others and defies trends by a large margin, it is probably flawed. (Sorry to use this example because he seems like such a decent guy, but if one showed Chris King surging to the lead, we just have to assume something is wrong with how the poll was conducted.)

Over the past few weeks, we have been asked literally dozens of times to evaluate the validity and reliability of numerous published polls. Use these simple guidelines and decide for yourself.

We hope this helps.

Joe Henderson: Susan Valdes forced to play defense again

Since Susan Valdes entered the race for the HD 62 seat being vacated by House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, well, let’s just say the campaign hasn’t exactly been a well-oiled machine.

The decision Monday by Cruz, a longtime friend, to rescind her endorsement of Valdes over the issue of charter school money might raise a few more eyebrows in a race where she was the instant front-runner the moment she decided to run.

Cruz, who is challenging Republican Dana Young for SD 18, shored up a potential vulnerability to her campaign by distancing herself from any association with charter schools.

“At a time when we’re learning Hillsborough schools have broken ACs, leaky roofs and lead in their pipes, I must put the needs of our students, parents and teachers first. I stand with candidates who, like me, put our public schools first over for-profit private education corps,” she tweeted.

It’s bare-knuckles politics for Cruz and a potential problem for Valdes.

Valdes is popular in that district, though, well-known as a member of the Hillsborough County School Board since 2004. It was Valdes, in her role as chairwoman of the Board, who offered the motion that led to the firing of controversial Superintendent MaryEllen Elia in 2015.

Elia’s supporters vowed revenge at the ballot box, but Valdes was re-elected in 2016 and had two years to go on her term when she surprised many by declaring her candidacy for Cruz’s seat.

There were problems right off the bat.

Valdes had to submit an irrevocable letter of resignation from the School Board before she could campaign for the State House. Opponent Mike Alvarez complained Valdes missed the filing deadline because the notice wasn’t submitted to the Supervisor of Elections until 2 ½ hours after the close of business on June 15.

It was ruled that Valdes had complied because she had sent the letter before midnight.

Recently, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa sent out a sharply worded rebuke about Valdes, complaining a campaign mailer implied she was endorsing Valdes.

She is not.

She is solidly in Alvarez’s corner.

“I am disappointed that the latest communication from Susan Valdes is inconsistent with Florida law and implies my endorsement of her campaign,” Castor said. “It is imperative that candidates follow the law to ensure fairness and transparency. Florida law leaves no room for doubt or confusion — it is unlawful to represent that you have a person’s support unless you have their permission in writing.

“Let me be clear, the candidate in this race who has my endorsement and support is Mike Alvarez. If you support public schools, if you share our Democratic values, and if you want honesty from your elected officials, vote for Mike Alvarez,”

Valdes also was caught on video dodging a question about whether she would accept money from charter schools — a major issue for Democrats, who have fought Republican efforts to funnel more public money to the for-profit schools.

She later put out a news release saying she wouldn’t accept charter money, except Cruz is saying that’s exactly what she did. A recent mailer supporting her was paid for by the Florida Federation for Children, which is affiliated with the charter industry.

With the primary just a week away, will any of this matter?

Valdes has high name recognition in her district and still has the backing of the well-read La Gaceta newspaper, which said, “Valdes also has heart. She loves the district and its people. She will be a strong and vocal advocate for the poor and the powerless.”

The Tampa Bay Times also endorsed Valdes. Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez was an early supporter.

He told me he is sticking with Valdes.

“My loyalty is for Susan and not against Mike Alvarez,” he said. “But Susan is a friend, it’s my district, it’s where I love, and my word is my bond. I’m not going to change.”

She has been working hard, meeting with local groups and trying to shore up support from the school district she helped lead.

But the rift with Cruz is a huge X-factor when Susan Valdes should be projecting what she plans to do if elected. This is not a time any candidate wants to be playing defense.

Ed Burke: Florida lawmakers should act now to protect the state’s most vulnerable patients

Ed Burke

Many efforts are underway to improve America’s health care system, but there is one issue affecting Florida’s most vulnerable patients that has yet to receive the attention it deserves. Floridians living with chronic and rare diseases are being denied lifesaving care simply because they benefit from charity aid — and this is all the result of a faulty government policy.

When my knees bruised from crawling, my parents knew there was a problem. I was diagnosed with hemophilia, a rare disease that causes excessive internal and external bleeding after even a minor injury. A genetic disorder, hemophilia also afflicted my two brothers and my maternal grandfather.

As if living with one life-threatening condition weren’t enough, both of my brothers and I contracted HIV and hepatitis C during a routine blood transfusion to manage our hemophilia. In the early 1980s, the hemophilia clotting factor medication was accidentally contaminated with HIV and hepatitis C from blood donations and about 10,000 hemophiliacs in the U.S. were infected with these deadly blood-borne viruses.

My two brothers were among the thousands of patients who lost their lives because of this fatal mix-up. And my parents, who did everything they were told to do to appropriately care for their chronically ill children, were left to bury two sons in a perverse fate no parent should have to bear. The weight of it all was too heavy for my father, who died just a few years later from a broken heart.

Despite all of this, I consider myself lucky. In 2014, I began receiving premium assistance from Patient Services, Inc. (PSI), a nonprofit charity assistance program dedicated to providing financial, legal, and emotional support for patients living with chronic conditions. Being diagnosed with one chronic condition can be enough to drive a person into bankruptcy; I have three. Thankfully, the assistance I received from PSI helped keep me financially and physically afloat amid a $644 monthly insurance premium, nine ankle surgeries, and a cerebral hemorrhage.

But this vital lifeline is now under threat. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a federal policy allowing health plans to deny coverage to chronic and rare disease patients just because they receive support from charity assistance programs like PSI. Health insurers in 42 states — including Florida — are using this faulty policy to pull the rug out from under the country’s most vulnerable patients in their greatest hour of need.

This isn’t just bad public health policy — it’s bad fiscal policy. Patient assistance charities depend on private donations to help the chronically ill access the care they need, often at a high cost, for years on end. Without this privately funded support, patients will be forced to enroll, if they even qualify, in government programs, thus relying on taxpayer dollars to help cover the costs of their rising premiums and other essential health care.

Fortunately, Florida lawmakers have the opportunity to help correct this misguided federal policy. The Access to Marketplace Insurance Act (H.R. 3976) is common-sense, bipartisan legislation introduced by Rep. Kevin Cramer, a Republican from North Dakota, that would allow charities to continue to provide premium and cost-sharing assistance to Americans — including Floridians — most in-need.

No one chooses to live with chronic illness; it’s just something we have to find a way to do. For many of us, that way is patient assistance. By co-sponsoring H.R. 3976, the Florida congressional delegation can help the state’s sickest patients lead lives worth living.


Ed Burke is a legislative health care consultant residing in Palm Harbor, and the former Consumer Chair of the Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability under President Barack Obama.

Joe Henderson: Gwen Graham focused on policies, not breaking ceilings

There was an interesting moment last Thursday when Gwen Graham, the presumed leader at this point for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, stopped by the historic Columbia restaurant in Tampa’s Ybor City to accept the endorsement of Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

During his introduction of Graham, Buckhorn noted that Graham would be the first female Governor in Florida’s history, “And as the father of two little girls, I’m about breaking that ceiling.”

Graham wouldn’t go there.

She kept her remarks focused on policy and what she has to offer the state on issues like schools and the environment. She wouldn’t take the bait, either, when asked how she felt about Buckhorn as a potential running mate.

“There is plenty of time to talk about that after we win the nomination,” she said.

The message from the candidate is clear. Don’t talk about breaking ceilings and certainly don’t get ahead of things. Staying focused on explaining your policies will make more of an impression on voters than anything else.

Democrats seemed to believe in 2016 that voters would go obediently along with the idea that it was Hillary Clinton‘s time to win because she would shatter a ceiling by becoming the first female president. Voters were expected to obediently confirm that.

They did not.

That’s particularly important because even though Gwen Graham has been ahead in the polls for several weeks, there are indications that plenty of voters haven’t decided who to support — even though there is barely a week before the Aug. 28 primary. And while Graham had a good visit to Tampa, so did rival Andrew Gillum.

It was there that he snagged the full-throated endorsement of Bernie Sanders, and that got a lot of headlines. And that’s not all.

He also has received high-profile celebrity endorsements from Jane Fonda, Alec Baldwin, and several others, although it’s questionable how much that would matter at this late date.

While it does show that Gillum has strong support from progressives, in the end, who endorsed you matters far less to voters than whether they agree with your vision for the state.

Say what you will about Donald Trump, but in 2016, while Clinton was projecting an air that no one would be dumb enough to vote for him, he pounded the points over and over about border security, tax cuts, shredding regulations, and so on.

That message flipped enough key states, including Florida, to put him in the White House.

So, when I asked Graham about the $1 billion backlog in facilities maintenance at Hillsborough County public schools, she had a ready answer.

“This is another example of the starvation at our schools after 20 years of Republican rule. They have not received the resources they need for the maintenance and upkeep of the schools, and as a result, we have seen lead in the water of other school districts as well,” she said.

“When I am Governor, I’m committed to restoring the promise to public education across the state of Florida from one end to the other and give the resources back to our public schools that are desperately needed for capital improvements as well as teacher pay.”

I followed up with a question about the growth of charter schools in the state. That has been a key push for Republican lawmakers in Tallahassee.

“My concern about charter schools is that they have morphed into something they weren’t intended to be. Charter schools initially were meant to be community-based that were supported by the families and were part of the of the school district,” she said.

“They have become for-profit behemoths that are taking money away from our public schools. In many cases, we’re finding that the education they were providing is not of a quality we should expect at any school.”

Yep, it’s a campaign that’s all about the policy and not so much about the personality.

It’s an old-school notion from the daughter of an old-school politician, former Governor Bob Graham. Someone, it seems, has learned a lesson.

Ron Kezeske: Big economic gains fueled by tax cuts

Recent headlines demonstrate the strength of the U.S. economy.

Recently, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced the unemployment rate fell to 3.9 percent. And the week before that, the Bureau of Economic Analysis announced second-quarter economic growth was 4.1 percent.

The economy is on pace to grow at 3 percent this year for the first time in more than a decade.

What’s driving this strong economy? I believe it’s the federal tax cuts that took effect this year.

Florida has been at the center of our revitalized (and growing) economy. In the past six months, our own unemployment rate has dropped to just 3.8 percent, with some 180,000 jobs being created and brought back this year. In Naples, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act saved workers nearly $1,400 a year. For the first time ever, Florida is now a $1 trillion economy — bigger than Saudi Arabia or Switzerland.

It’s all proof of the simple economic premise behind today’s successful policies in Washington, led by the efforts of our President. Lower taxes mean a more competitive America, because businesses can afford to spend what they need to attract talent and customers — on Main Street and in worldwide markets alike.

As a small-business owner myself, I can attest that this tax policy has stimulated and encouraged growth and expansion in our business. Our small business is now rewarded for reinvesting in their businesses by adding locations and employees. Success always depends on hard work, but the tax cuts helped lift onerous and unfair tax burdens that placed a dispiriting drag on the excitement of growth and reinvestment.

Before, small firms paid taxes as high as 40 percent before state and local levies. Now, they’re using a new 20 percent federal small business tax deduction that passed as part of tax cuts to reinvest in jobs, pay, and facilities. These gains add up quickly: In Florida, 97 percent of all small businesses employ less than 20 people, but create three out of every four jobs in the state. With more than 2 million small businesses putting 3 million people to work, 40 percent of Florida’s private-sector workforce is small-firm driven. No wonder unemployment is so low, and productivity is so high.

Of course, Florida is hardly the only state in the union where small business makes such a big difference. In many states, small firms employ at least half of the private sector, and constitute 90 percent or more of all businesses.

Yet states also rely on the health of their top employers, which are often large firms and corporations that compete in international marketplaces. Here in Florida, those companies are centered in industries like aerospace and aviation and science and technology.

The tax cuts have directed major relief their way too.

With the corporate rate dropping from 35 percent to just 21 percent, globally active firms are winning business other countries used to gobble up. Over $300 billion in money tied up overseas has been repatriated this year. And big Florida employers like AT&T, Disney, Lowes, and Walmart have handed out tax cut bonuses, with many adding stronger employee benefits.

Economic activity like this gives Floridians and Americans a lot to be excited about — and more to rely on as they chart their own futures. Wages are growing and optimism is up. Most Americans say they’re pleased with our economic course and support our economic policies in Washington.

As the old saying goes: In business, you either have to innovate or perish. The same goes for the tax code. The innovations included this year are helping small businesses like mine flourish.


Ron Kezeske is one of the owners of Ruffgers, based in Naples.

Joe Henderson: Free press needed now more than ever

The job of the free press is to find out stuff the public needs to know, make sure it’s accurate, and then share that information with the people.

A lot of times the mission means upsetting the powerful and those who support them. These days, it means enduring taunts of “fake news” and people who believe reporters deliberately publish fiction designed to destroy, in this case, President Donald Trump and his administration.

To some, the “media” is even a faceless, soulless agent of the deep state out to ruin the country, but it is none of those things. It is the firewall that protects democracy from the scoundrels and con artists.

So, that’s why Florida Politics has joined with newspapers, online outlets, and other media around the country to denounce what The Boston Globe has called a ‘‘dirty war against the free press.’’

Trump started that war while still a candidate for the most powerful office in the world. As president, he has declared the press is the enemy of the American people. That’s not exactly upholding the oath of office he took, the one where he promised to “preserve, protect and defend” the U.S. Constitution.

The First Amendment to the Constitution clearly states “Congress shall make no law … “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press …”

The Founding Fathers understood that absolute power corrupts and that an unfettered press is a vital check on lawmakers who believe rules don’t apply to them.

But it’s not just about keeping Washington honest.

This past week, the Tampa Bay Times illustrated what the free press means to our local community.

The Times, with painstaking research and reporting, uncovered that top officials at the Hillsborough County School District knew about a widespread problem of lead in the drinking water at multiple schools for over a year, but didn’t share that information with the public.

They came clean only after reporters at the Times began nosing around and asking tough questions. Without the effort and skill of the local newspaper, no one might have ever known what was going on.

The recent attack at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md. resulting in six deaths illustrates that this can be a dangerous mission. The International Federation of Journalists reported that 62 journalists have been killed around the world thus far in 2018.

Several of those deaths occurred while reporters were trying to cover bloody conflicts in war-torn areas. At the Tampa Tribune where I worked for more than 40 years, we learned the cost that can come with reporting dangerous but important stories.

An ambitious young reporter named Todd C. Smith used vacation time in 1989 to travel to Peru so he could report on drug trafficking. He never got to finish the story. He was kidnapped by Shining Path guerrillas, tortured, and murdered.

Do journalists get it wrong sometimes?

Of course.

And for reputable publications, there are consequences for that — unlike some of the conspiracy sites out there masquerading as real news. Reputable sites admit their mistakes and correct them. They hold reporters to high standards of honesty and accuracy.

An editor at the Tampa Tribune once spoke of the “multiple layers of inspection” a story had to undergo before it reached your doorstep the next morning. Real editors challenge reporters to prove that what they submitted is the truth.

That’s really what it’s about.


That can be lost when many in the public get their news from Russian bots and Facebook memes. All the press can do to combat that is to stay in the game, keep uncovering facts and sharing it with its audience, follow the stories where they lead, and never allow itself to be intimidated.

Trump is not the first president hostile to the press and he won’t be the last. But the work reporters do and the valuable part they play in our democracy won’t change.

It can’t change.

The Founding Fathers understood that, and a free press is more important now than ever.

Carol Dover: Take action to protect Florida’s tourism industry

As every Floridian knows, tourism is critical to our state’s booming economy. This $111.7 billion industry represents 1.4 million employees, and one out of every four people in the Sunshine State works in hospitality. With more than 850 miles of beautiful coastline, seemingly endless options for entertainment and warm sunshine, it’s no wonder that millions of people come to Florida every year.

Our state’s largest industry is in danger as a result of the algal blooms caused when the federal government releases water from Lake Okeechobee into our rivers and estuaries. Gov. Scott has taken incredible steps in securing millions of dollars in state funding for repairs to the Herbert Hoover dike and billions for Everglades restoration projects.

The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) has worked tirelessly to expedite the EAA reservoir project, which is imperative for reducing the discharges from Lake Okeechobee.

Further, the SFWMD continues to study the situation and determine what other actions can be taken. But the bottom line is that Gov. Scott, the SFWMD and Floridians cannot stop the algal blooms or minimize the damage to our environment and economy on our own.

The federal government must take immediate and decisive action to help Florida.

The federal government should immediately fully fund their half of the state-federal partnership for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. To date, the state has contributed more than $2.3 billion, but the federal government has contributed only $1.3 billion.

Their failure to follow through on their commitment delays critical projects that will clean, store and move water south and thereby eliminate the need for the Lake Okeechobee releases.

Congress should quickly approve the EAA Reservoir Project. The SFWMD accelerated the planning and design for this project, and the White House Office of Management and Budget approved the plan last month.

However, the plan is still sitting in Congress, waiting on approval. Without Congressional approval, this key project is on hold, and the Lake Okeechobee discharges continue.

Finally, the Army Corps of Engineers should evaluate their plan for Lake Okeechobee. We are in the middle of the wet season. Funding for the Herbert Hoover dike rehabilitation is secured thanks to Gov. Scott. And yet, the Army Corps of Engineers has not updated the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule for a decade.

Florida’s leaders are doing all that they can to protect our environment, our people, our wildlife and our economy. We all understand that a long-term, lasting solution requires everyone working together, and Floridians are doing all we can.

We need our partners at the federal level to do the same.


Carol Dover is CEO/President of the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association. She can be reached at cdover@frla.org.

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