Opinions Archives - Page 5 of 246 - Florida Politics

Joe Henderson: Frank Deford’s passing deserves a moment of pause and reflection

There are important things going on in the state today; I probably should pay more attention to them.

Will Gov. Rick Scott wield his veto pen? The nation’s policy on Cuba is attracting attention; 55 U.S. senators signed a letter urging travel restrictions on visits to that island nation be lifted.

That stuff, and more, will still be there tomorrow.

Right now, though, I want to talk about Frank Deford. He died Sunday at his winter home in Key West.

People have rightly praised him as a consummate story-teller, wordsmith, and a giant in the world of sports writing – although, for Frank, a more appropriate description would be writer, period. Never mind the subject.

In the introduction to a book called “The World’s Tallest Midget” — a compilation of his best long-form stories from Sports Illustrated — he said of sports writing: “It is, surely, the only form of literature wherein the worst of the genre is accepted as representative of the whole.”

I was a sports writer, primarily at the Tampa Tribune, for nearly four decades, and I don’t think as a group we ever escaped that shadow. In newsrooms across the country, sports was mockingly called the toy department. Still is, I would imagine.

Even after I moved from sports to become metro news columnist, occasionally I would get an angry email from a reader with the suggestion I should go back to sports. They probably thought that was witty because a sports writer couldn’t possibly understand politics and government. The “serious” work of gathering “important” news was done by professional journalists. The rest of us were just hacking out copy about ball games.

Frank Deford didn’t hack.

I was a young pup in the business in the 1970s and 80s when Deford was, as he described tennis star Jimmy Connors in one profile, “champion of all he surveyed, Alexander astride Bucephalus astride the globe.”

He was that good.

Like wannabe’s everywhere, I poured over each line of a Deford story in Sports Illustrated. He routinely did things with words that I could only imagine. The magazine wisely granted him time and space to dig deep into a subject, and he repaid by producing lasting literature.

He wrote a profile of a junior college football coach in Mississippi named Robert “Bull Cyclone” Sullivan called “The Toughest Coach There Ever Was.” In the story, he described the team’s top rival — a school called Pearl River.

Years later, on a road trip to watch the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play New Orleans, I might have (maybe) manufactured an excuse to drive up from there to Pearl River for a story just because Frank Deford made traveling to an obscure small college in Mississippi sound like something interesting to do.

It was, too.

Later, he produced commentary for NPR. I am sure it amused him on some level that listeners went, “Wow. Not bad for a sports writer.”

A few years ago, the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg held a private reception for Deford after he gave a talk there. As a reward for teaching a class at Poynter, I was invited. I sat with five or six other sports writers as we gathered ‘round the legend to soak it all in. It was riveting. I wish I had a picture, but I’ll never forget what that evening was like.

Deford and columnists like Jim Murray and Red Smith elevated sports writing and inspired a generation to take its craft, and itself, seriously.

Young boys grew up wanting to be like Mickey Mantle or Johnny Bench.

I grew up wanting to be like Jim Murray or Frank Deford.

One of the beautiful things about literature is that it survives eternally. These men wrote prose that happened to be about sports. They turned words into pictures and reminded everyone that when done properly, telling the story is an art. They made that matter. Godspeed, Frank Deford.

Oh, and one more thing.

Thank you.

Blake Dowling: Ransomware, the Mob catching up with the times

Attending a Florida Public Relations Association professional development session, seeing many of the state’s best PR pros in the room was thrilling.

Nanette Schimpf from Moore Communications Group; my man Rick Oppenheim (from RB Oppenheim Associates) and the main sponsor of the event, the rock-solid team at Sachs Media Group represented by Ryan Cohn and Jon Peck.

The event began with a breakfast that featured the most spectacular bacon, so I was ready for anything – bacon is power, bacon is motivation. (#BaconIsLife)

Speaking was Sandra Fathi, president of the public relations, social media and marketing firm Affect.

She is a Pro, who has been featured all over the news – CNN, Forbes, etc.

Fathi dove into a presentation on hacking, discussing the response should be from a PR perspective. Your client could be an elected official, airline, restaurant etc.

What happens when you are breached?

Fathi discussed the basics of cybercrime at first offering clear definitions of spear phishing, ransomware, DDOS attacks etc. and what they were.

She talked about the WannaCry ransomware from earlier in the month.

Then she lost me.

Fathi said something like, it is OK to pay the ransom from terrorists if infected.

Disagree.

In my opinion, you should never pay the ransom from these criminals. It only encourages them, encourages more people to get involved, (think organized crime in our state).

Hypothetically, the Genovese Crime Family launches a cyberattack using ransomware, they collect 50k in bitcoin and use the money to buy a couple of kilos of cocaine resale.

You get the picture; the domino effect of paying these types of things ravages our communities eventually.

The alternative is to invest in your technology. Dictate strict policies to your team in regard to password management, install antivirus/antispam products, set your firewall to geo-block rogue nations, you know who, the “Stans” (Pakistan or anything with “stan” in it), Russia, China etc.

And if all that fails, have a redundant backup protocol (on-premise and cloud), so that if you are infected, you can make a clean start with a wipe and reload of all things.

Sandra’s message was to individuals in the PR game, and her message about crisis management was on point. But make no mistake about it, paying criminals only encourages them.

Also, Fathi mentioned that criminals generally give you the means to get your data back, after you pay them.

After seeing several local examples where the ransom was paid – and they got nada.

These are criminals, after all. That’s kind of what they do.

Am I right?

The Mob caught up with the times, and it’s no longer like what Tony Soprano said in 2002 about surfing the net: “Log off. That ‘cookies’ s**t makes me nervous.” Classic.

I hope everyone has a fantastic day, and your week is crisis free.

But if one pops up, you can let me know. I’ll point you in the right direction.

___

Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies and can be reached at Dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com

Ted Deutch, Mark Hetfield: Six-month extension for Haitian TPS is not enough

Department of Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly has made the right decision to extend temporary protected status (TPS) for Haitians living in the United States. Deporting Haitians right now would have been disastrous for them and for Haiti, which is currently in no condition to accept them. At the same time, by promising them only six months of reprieve, and not providing any level of certainty as to whether their situation will be reconsidered in six months, the Haitian community in the United States will now live in fear that they only have until January before they face deportation.

A decision to end TPS for Haitians would have abruptly ended legal status for more than 50,000 Haitians who are working in this country and contributing to American communities. It would have cut off a lifeline of private support sent in the form of remittances, which is particularly important for Haiti, where money from family members living abroad accounts for 25 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Most dramatically, it would have caused tens of thousands of people to face deportation back to a country still recovering from numerous crises. This will remain true six months from now.

The DHS announcement this week stated that Kelly expects Haitian TPS-holders to use the next six months to “prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States,” with the implication that TPS will not continue for this population after Jan. 22, 2018. This leaves Haitian TPS-holders living in uncertainty about whether they will be separated from their families and communities.

This is not how the United States should conduct humanitarian policy.

A form of humanitarian relief, TPS is a temporary immigration status the U.S. government can grant to foreign nationals in the United States who are unable to return safely to their home countries. This could be because of a natural disaster, such as the 2015 earthquake in Nepal; disease, as we saw with the Ebola outbreak in East Africa; or violence, like the civil war in Yemen. Extending TPS to people who can’t safely return home — and providing safe haven to them here in the United States — is one of the hallmarks of America’s humanitarian values.

TPS was first granted to eligible Haitians who were in the United States when a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck their home country in 2010. In the seven years since, Haitian TPS-holders have been living safely — and thriving — in this country. They have become our neighbors, classmates, colleagues and friends. Many of them are nursing, psychiatric and home health aides. One out of five has a child who is a U.S. citizen.

During these same seven years, Haiti’s recovery has been undermined by drought, prolonged economic instability, public health crises and natural disasters. Today, 1.65 million people in Haiti are at risk of cholera infection. The United Nations has been struggling to address the country’s humanitarian needs with incredibly limited funding. In October 2016, Hurricane Matthew killed hundreds and affected the daily lives of almost 20 percent of the country’s population. The storm brought flooding and widespread destruction, and wiped out entire sectors of the agriculture, fishing and livestock industries. Recovery is ongoing and fragile, and we have no reason to believe that will fundamentally change in the foreseeable future. Threatening to send people back to a country so plagued with disaster and crisis would set a dangerous precedent.

In the coming months, TPS is also set to expire for over 186,000 Salvadorans and over 70,000 Hondurans. The Immigrant Legal Resource Center estimates that ending TPS for Haiti, El Salvador and Honduras would lead to a $45.2 billion reduction in United States’ gross domestic product over a decade. Deporting TPS-holders from these three countries would cost U.S. taxpayers $3.1 billion.

In the past few weeks, faith leaders, physicians, humanitarian organizations, unions, members of Congress, mayors, governors, and the ambassador of Haiti to the U.S. all urged Kelly to continue TPS for Haiti. We are acutely aware of the stakes. Haiti is in no position to reintegrate tens of thousands of Haitian TPS-holders, and we are glad that DHS made the right decision in the short term.

Now, Kelly must demonstrate that the U.S. government develops policies based on humanitarian considerations — not arbitrary deadlines. In the meantime, we will continue to support policies that promote human rights, protect those who seek safety, and ensure that the United States does not send people back in harm’s way.

___

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch represents Florida’s 22nd Congressional District. Mark Hetfield is president and CEO of HIAS, the global Jewish nonprofit that protects refugees.

Gary Croke: Past hurricanes help prepare for tomorrow

Gary Croke

When disasters happen, whether natural or man-made, emergency responders work in unison to protect the public.

In the case of a hurricane, even before the heavy winds bear down on communities, emergency responders are already implementing plans to help residents get out of areas at risk, safely and swiftly.

Behind the scenes utility companies, government agencies, the National Guard and many other first responders are working together to ensure the safety of Floridians and tourists alike.

As a hurricane builds, so does the need to communicate. Police departments need to coordinate with fire and rescue to ensure the most vulnerable have a route out of the path of destruction, and to provide emergency care to those unable to get to safety in time.

Many Floridians will never forget the unprecedented 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons that caused loss of life and billions of dollars of damage in Florida. In those years, no part of the state was spared. Since that time Florida communities and their leaders have taken advantage of the relatively quiet hurricane seasons to reinvest in a more robust and state-of-the-art public communications infrastructure.

More than 10 years later, microwave technology, provided to local organizations such as the Florida State Department of Transportation, the City of Ft. Lauderdale, the City of Miami Beach, and counties including Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach, has enhanced communication between first responders. It has also helped reduce costs, and improve local networks’ reliability and performance. As the microwave provider to these local organizations, Aviat is proud to play a part in helping these communities be prepared with additional network capacity in future weather emergencies.

However, natural and man-made disasters will continue to test the limits of this technology. As demonstrated by recent public safety incidents in Florida, during times of immediate crisis, lines of communication are often flooded by the number of individuals on the ground trying to help. The addition of more technology, such as body cameras on law enforcement officials, will only add to the onslaught of vital data that needs to shared. It’s also impossible to predict how intense future hurricanes may be. The emergency responders that have prioritized communications are entering hurricane season as well prepared as possible.

More recently, in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy churned through the East Coast, Aviat was helping to provide support for monitoring in real time. One of the AviatCare support services that we offer customers is a comprehensive Network Monitoring and Support service from our security certified North American Network Operations Center (NOC) located far from the threat of hurricanes in San Antonio, Texas. From that location, we can monitor, manage and dispatch resources to address customer issues with their networks. Even before the storm hit the Northeast U.S., our NOC was getting ready to ensure our customers would be prepared for this coming disturbance. With our ability to monitor weather events in real time, we can see immediately what is affecting a customer’s network from a weather perspective.

While preparing for hurricane season, we’ve recently seen municipalities, emergency responders, and utility companies test their communications systems — going through these table top exercises is key and lifesaving. It also means identifying the gaps and making investments to ensure that the bandwidth exists to ensure that our first responders can continue and coordinate, even in the most dire of circumstances.

Emergency communications systems need to be developed from the ground up with reliability in mind — hardened with reinforced infrastructure, redundant equipment, sturdy and robust installations, and battery backup. As technology advances, so do its demands, and communities across the state of Florida need to work to ensure they have access to the technology that supports the realities of local data demands and potential risks to the public — the health and safety of our residents depends on it.

With hurricane season starting June 1, Aviat is poised to work with local emergency responders and utility responders who have made effective communications a top priority.

 ___

Gary Croke is Senior Director of Marketing & Strategy at Aviat Networks, a global provider of microwave networking solutions, providing public and private operators with communications networks to accommodate the exploding growth of IP-centric, multigigabit data services.

Joe Henderson: If some Democrats don’t care about ‘issues’ maybe that’s leaders’ fault

Um, Sally Boynton Brown?

If you’re trying to explain why Democratic voters didn’t turn out in sufficient numbers last November to deliver Florida to Hillary Clinton, I suggest a different approach than saying basically “they don’t get it.”

That’s not a direct quote from the newly hired executive director of the Florida Democratic Party, but it is the essence of her intemperate remarks at a progressive caucus gathering in Broward County.

The Miami New Times, on the scene at the event, quoted Brown saying, “This is not going to be popular, but this is my belief of the time and place we’re in now: I believe that we’re in a place where it’s very hard to get voters excited about ‘issues,’ the type of voters that are not voting.”

She was right about one thing: that isn’t popular. In fact, that’s just plain dumb.

First, let’s just say what everyone knows: She is effectively blaming lower-income people and minorities for her party’s problems, as if it’s their civic duty to vote for Democrats.

These are people profoundly affected by the issues of the day, and you can be damn sure they care about those things. If they aren’t voting, it’s because there is a disconnect between them and party leaders.

Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by more than 330,000 voters in Florida, according to state elections data. There also are about 3.5 million voters unaffiliated to either major party.

With numbers like that, how do Democrats keep losing?

Start with their message — or lack thereof.

Republicans have been consistent about how they want to shape state government: fewer regulations, pro-business, lower taxes, squash any attempt at gun control, charter school expansion.

Republicans repeat those talking points until they’re ingrained in voters’ minds, particularly the independents. It worked well enough to give the GOP and Donald Trump wins in 58 of Florida’s 67 counties last November.

Issues obviously matter to Republicans. Is Brown saying they’re more passionate and responsive than those of her party? If that’s the case, point the finger at the person looking back in the mirror.

Part of the problem, in my opinion, is that Democrats approached the last election with a cocksure smugness. They didn’t explain themselves to voters because their attitude seemed to be that no one would be dumb enough to vote for Trump.

Guess what, Dems? There are millions of people right here in Florida who believe all you want to do is take their guns and give their money to someone else. Democrats used to be the party of working people, but now are painted as the playground of Hollywood elite. It’s their own fault.

In the battle for the hearts and minds of the people, Democrats seem to have lost the zest for battling in the trenches.

One stray word from a Democrat about gun control can send the National Rifle Association into rapid response. Democrats have allowed themselves to be pushed, shoved, bullied and ultimately defeated, and yet their response always seems to be “How could you?”

That, Sally Boynton Brown, is the problem that you don’t get. If you want more people to turn out on Election Day for your candidates, they need a better reason than, “It’s your duty to vote for us because we’re not them.”

Gil Langley: Post-Session reflection on tourism marketing

Last week, Gov. Rick Scott announced record-breaking tourism numbers in the Sunshine State. It may be the last time for a while. Ignoring extensive research, case studies and pleas from travel industry constituents across the state, the Florida Legislature slashed funding for VISIT Florida by a crippling 67 percent — recklessly jeopardizing the tourism industry’s leading role as a generator of jobs and government revenues.

A $25 million budget to market Florida, one of the world’s top travel destinations, is not conducive to success on any front – job creation, revenue increases or lower taxes for Florida residents. By cutting off funds for advertising, marketing, and promotion, Florida will essentially surrender the gains made over the past several years while global competitors steal market share.

Contrary to assertions made by some elected officials, vacation destinations do not sell themselves. Every great product needs to make potential customers aware of the benefits their product offers – and why it is a better choice than the alternative. That is why California spends more than $100 million every year to market their state, even with well-known major attractions such as Disneyland, Hollywood, the Golden Gate Bridge and great beaches.

Tourism is an incredibly competitive industry. Not only are we competing against 49 other states (some with eight-figure marketing budgets), we are battling destinations across the globe to get the attention of potential visitors. Mexico, the Bahamas and Cuba are thrilled Florida’s travel marketing budget has been reduced, allowing them to gain market share while VISIT Florida goes silent in the marketplace.

These cuts were approved despite warnings from experts in government and the private sector. Detailed case studies about states like Colorado and Washington (who cut tourism marketing, only to lose jobs, revenues and market share) provided a cautionary tale ignored. Prestigious organizations such as Florida TaxWatch conducted economic studies demonstrating VISIT Florida’s return on investment, proving investing in tourism is good public policy.

Our elected officials have demonstrated they know the importance of consistent messaging. Legislators raised $73 million for election campaigns in 2016 – even though 57 seats were uncontested. They spent money to keep the voters informed of the job they do, and explained why they should continue to serve. Reminding vacationers of why Florida is a great choice for their family follows the same principle.

The decision to slash tourism marketing funding and create barriers to VISIT Florida’s success negatively impacts every single Floridian. Less marketing means fewer visitors and fewer visitors means less tax revenue to fund necessary public projects such as schools, beaches, parks, roads and other infrastructure. Even if the entire $61 million cut were dedicated to other programs, the impact would be minimal. For example, according to FDOT, $61 million would construct only 4 miles of urban interstate – in a state with nearly 1,500 miles of interstate. On a larger scale, the $61 million cut from VISIT Florida’s budget would fund state government operations for just five hours out of the year. Invested in marketing the state, however, those same funds would generate over $160 million in new state and local tax revenue that could support transportation, education and senior services. It is also important to note VISIT Florida represents a minuscule portion of the state’s budget, yet any decrease in funding will result in significant ramifications. Even if VISIT Florida were funded at Governor Scott’s recommendation of $100 million, 98.7 percent of the state’s budget would be left for other priorities.

I live and work in the small coastal community of Amelia Island, a community that is twice as dependent on tourism as the average Florida county. We are especially concerned about the budget cuts’ impact to rural communities. To a degree, large urban destinations, mega resorts and world-famous theme parks can rely on global brand recognition, but many of Florida’s hidden gems will be left without the resources to market themselves. For Nassau County, the potential impacts are frightening.

Tourist spending generates 37 percent of the sales taxes generated here. Over 25 percent of the workforce have jobs in the hospitality business. Tourist spending provides a net gain of $40 million to County government, saving every household in the County $2,748 in state and local taxes. If tourism declines, it means fewer jobs, fewer services and potentially increased taxes on residents.

Just as in Nassau County, other hardworking Floridian families will suffer, too. A TaxWatch study analyzed the economic impact of the new tourism promotion budget, and found that reducing funding to $25 million means a loss of at least 5 million tourists. With a 5 percent tourism downturn, every household in Florida would have to be taxed an additional $1,535 a year to replace the lost state and local taxes generated from visitor activity. Perhaps even more disheartening are the 70,000 jobs that will be lost due to fewer visitors.

Our hope is that before tourism losses mount in 2018, legislators will reverse course and fully fund a marketing effort that maintains our status as the Earth’s most popular family destination. If not, jobs will be lost, small businesses will be harmed and tax revenue will be diminished. Objectively evaluating the return on investment clearly proves tourism works for Florida – and supporting it financially is a wise move for all our citizens.

 ___

Gil Langley is chair of the Florida Association of Destination Marketing Organizations, the statewide association representing county tourism promotion agencies.

 

Steve Schale: Dear Dems, one 2018 project — Caribbean voters

In my earliest days on the Barack Obama campaign in 2008, one of our first statewide polls showed a weakness with Black voters, at least compared to other states.

It wasn’t necessarily that John McCain was doing better than elsewhere, just that there were more voters on the sidelines. It didn’t take long to figure out the initial weakness was among Caribbean voters, which over time, we were able to address.

A couple of days ago, an old Obamaland friend who was a big part of those 2008 Caribbean conversations, texted me a quick question about the Haitian vote in Florida, and specifically if there was any truth to the chatter, and/or anecdotal evidence that Hillary Clinton underperformed among Haitians.

I had sensed some of the same but honestly hadn’t taken a look at the data yet.

Before starting, it is important to consider there are three significant challenges when thinking about the Haitian, and in a larger sense, Caribbean Black vote in Florida.

First, unlike the vast majority of other states, the Black vote in Florida is not monolithically African-American. Here, a significant share is either Caribbean and/or Hispanic.

The same challenge exists when analyzing the Hispanic vote. On other battleground states, Hispanics tend to be nearly universally Mexican, while here in Florida, both Hispanic and Black voters come from a large mosaic of nationalities.

Secondly, along these same lines, Florida’s voter registration data is woefully overly-generic about the population. When it comes to Caribbean and African-American voters, the voter registration form provides actually just three options: Black, Multiracial or Other. Therefore, it is impossible to solely pull out voters of Caribbean descent. There are some analytic tools, but that is generally built on a model, and as such, isn’t exact (nor available to the public as a whole).

Third, and finally, the census data isn’t a ton better.

The generic census form does not drill down for information on “Black or African-American” residents (it does with certain Hispanics and Asian populations). There are census tools that dig into a nation of origin, but again are sampled and not individual specific.

So, in answering my friend’s query, I came up with what was a (granted, inexact) performance model, yet one I think provides some insight — and in this case, caution for Democrats — or at least cause for more research.

The model: Florida House District 108, the home of “Little Haiti.”

The question — how did Clinton/Donald Trump play both in this district and specifically in the Little Haiti precincts, versus Obama/Romney? For the sake of adding more data, I also looked at Rick Scott in 2010 and 2014.

Understanding the limitations laid out above, here is what the data says.

Obama won the district in 2012 by 90-10, and Clinton won it 87-11 (Interestingly, this shift matches the 2-point margin shift from Obama to Clinton). Also, voter turnout in the seat at large was about the same, at least among Black voters (70 percent in 2012, 70.5 percent in 2016).

On the surface, these are not insignificant changes, but in no way, are the kind of massive shifts we saw in places like Pasco County, north of Tampa, where the change among Republican support was almost 10 points.

But looking deeper, there is more than the story.

First, there were actually 6,000 fewer registered voters in the district in 16 than 12, which a combination of two things: purges of “inactive voters” and at a certain level, some voters not being interested enough to care to keep registration up to date.

As a result, Clinton got 6,000 fewer votes than Obama in the district — while Trump got about the same as Mitt Romney. In other words, Clinton carried the district by 6,000 fewer votes than Obama’s 2012 margin.

The total shift in the vote margin statewide was roughly 180K votes — so just over 3 percent of the full shift from Obama to Trump happened just in this one state House seat — a seat that by comparison only made up 0.6 percent of the entire statewide vote in the presidential election.

Secondly, it gets even more interesting in just the Little Haiti precincts.

So, inside House District 108, during the Obama re-election, voters in the Little Haiti precincts made up just over 17 percent of registered voters, and in the election, just over 16 percent of the actual 2012 voters.

Looking at it another way, turnout among all Black voters in the district was roughly 70 percent in 2012, but within the Little Haiti precincts, was about 63 percent.

My guy won Little Haiti by 92 percent (96-4). Clinton won it by 85 percent (91-6 percent). Honestly, this data point actually surprised me. My hunch going in was Trump might have done better in these precincts than he did districtwide (10 percent).

But here is where the huge red flag shows up. Little Haiti residents in 2016 actually made up a bigger share of registered voters than 2016 — almost 19 percent but saw their share of the district’s actual vote drop to 16 percent. Why? Black turnout was right at 71 percent in the district in 2016, but inside Little Haiti, it fell to 58 percent.

As a result, Clinton carried these 10 precincts by 1,300 votes less than Obama did, or roughly 0.7 percent of the total shift from Obama to Trump — 10 precincts that by the way, make up less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the 2016 statewide vote. Why? Simply, Little Haiti voter participation was 13 percent lower than Black turnout districtwide.

While Trump got better margins than Romney did four years earlier, but it had almost nothing to do with more support for him, and almost everything to do with lower participation from people who in 2012 voted for Barack Obama.

It is interesting when comparing Democratic performance in Little Haiti between 2010 and 2014, Charlie Crist did better than Alex Sink, both regarding turnout and performance.

But I suspect, just as we saw overall Black turnout prove to be robust in 14, a lot of that was a factor of voters showing up to protect President Obama. Interestingly enough, Rick Scott put a lot more emphasis on Caribbean voters in 2014 than 2010 so it would be useful to look outside of this one neighborhood to see if the 2014 results hold up elsewhere.

Moreover, Crist’s 2014 strength in Little Haiti doesn’t mean, as 2016 shows, that one can expect 2018 to be the same without work.

Granted, there are lots of reasons to be cautious about reading much of anything into a 10-precinct sample of one state House seat in a state like Florida. However, I do think there is enough to take a longer look at this, overlaying census data with precinct maps throughout South Florida, and comparing the presidential election in precincts with a significant Caribbean population.

My hunch is we would see a lot of the same.

 

Craig Waters: Florida’s courts lead in use of social media

Long seen as the quietest branch of state government, Florida’s state courts have emerged in the last year as a national leader in social media use.

Craig Waters
Waters during the 2000 election challenge. (Wikimedia)

In fact, we are leading the nation with 20 out of 26 court divisions using Twitter to reach the public right now. That’s an astounding number.

In a report sent this week to Florida’s Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, our staff detailed the first year’s work in a state court communications plan adopted by the Florida Supreme Court in December 2015.

Labarga sent the plan for implementation to a professional association of Florida court staff called the Florida Court Public Information Officers, or FCPIO. I am the group’s founder and its current executive director.

The goal is simple. It’s not enough that courts do justice. They also must make sure people see justice being done.

It was a mission we quickly accepted. Originally set up by a post-9/11 crisis management plan in 2002, FCPIO has evolved into a group of court communications professionals unique in the nation.

No other state has anything approaching it – though many states now are studying FCPIO and the plan it is carrying out for Florida’s judiciary.

FCPIO incorporated itself as a federally recognized nonprofit in early 2007, right at the time events in Silicon Valley began shaking up the communications landscape. That was only a year after Twitter opened its doors and three years after the founding of Facebook.

But FCPIO also brings talent to the table. With representatives in every Florida state court, the group has been led by several media-skilled court officers that saw the need for statewide education and coordination with an emphasis on openness.

I am a lawyer and former Gannett newspaper reporter who has worked for the Florida Supreme Court for 30 years and started its public information office, its gavel-to-gavel oral argument broadcasts, and its website in the 1990s.

FCPIO’s current president, Eunice Sigler of the Miami courts, is a former Miami Herald reporter and winner of a Pulitzer Prize for team coverage of the Elian Gonzalez immigration case.

The report on implementing the plan addresses other issues that include:

Websites: Eighteen of Florida’s 20 circuit courts and all of the district courts of appeal currently are working toward redesigns of their websites because they are the judiciary’s most important communications tool.

Social media: The Florida state courts continue to debate the pros and cons of social media because of the strict ethical limits they must shoulder. While Twitter is now broadly used, Facebook has been more controversial – and only a minority of the state courts currently use it. However, FCPIO is studying ways to address concerns and identify best practices employed by courts now using Facebook.

Podcasts: Two courts in Orlando and Miami currently are using podcasts to communicate with the public, and the Florida Supreme Court soon will start its own podcasting program.

Media Relations: FCPIO will continue to educate courts personnel and judges in the methods needed to work in a cooperative and respectful way with news media. And Twitter has become an important tool for getting word out to the press and the public about breaking news.

Community outreach: Court outreach programs such as courthouse tours for schoolchildren, citizen forums, and public education programs remain important parts of the courts’ mission. They include outreach to elected officials, town hall meetings for residents, and innovative uses of Twitter to reach out to student groups and others.

Internal communications: Proper communications with internal court staff remain important so that everyone understands the overall mission, the need to speak with a unified voice, and the ways to address problems when they arise. One important example is crisis communications with staff during hurricanes or other emergencies.

The Florida state courts’ stress on good communications rests on a near-legendary history. It’s part of a longstanding commitment to transparency that began with Florida letting cameras into the courts in the 1970s.

It continues today thanks to several visionary judges leading the state system over the last half century. And despite doom-saying elsewhere in the nation, Florida’s courts really have had a very positive experience.

In other words: Openness works.


Attorney Craig Waters has been the public information officer and communications director for the Florida Supreme Court in Tallahassee since June 1996. He is best known as the public spokesman for the Court during the 2000 presidential election controversy, when he frequently appeared on worldwide newscasts announcing rulings in lawsuits over Florida’s decisive vote in the election.

Joe Henderson: FDOT’s Tampa Bay transit plan has new name, but really needs new ideas

Transportation issues in the Tampa Bay area have been well-documented and they will get worse before they get better — assuming, of course, “better” ever comes.

The Florida Department of Transportation wanted to attack the problem with a plan called Tampa Bay Express, or TBX. I’ll simplify: It called for building more roads, including 90 miles of highway people would have to pay tolls to use. A lot of people hated that idea and they raised such a ruckus that FDOT finally punted and came up with Plan B.

It still leaves open the idea of more toll roads, including express lanes across a rebuilt Howard Frankland Bridge. So, what’s different about this plan?

Er, um … it has a new name! Tampa Bay Next.

Other than that, it seems like basically the same ol’ sow’s ear, which, according to the Tampa Bay Times, is upsetting for FDOT officials to hear.

FDOT says a lot of things about this plan are different, starting with its claim the community will have much more input on what it does or doesn’t want. These meetings will take place over a couple of years.

“If the department didn’t really care about what these communities valued … why would I have even be having these meetings?” local DOT Secretary Paul Steinman told the Times. “If I was going to do what I planned on doing, I would have just gone and done it.”

I can save everyone some time by identifying one major issue. Most people don’t want to have to pay a toll every time they drive somewhere.

Especially bothersome is FDOT’s love affair with express lanes, where users pay a fee — which can be hefty, depending on the time of day — to get where they’re going quicker than the schleps stuck in the so-called free lanes.

Even FDOT has conceded the express lanes aren’t designed for everyday use by the common folk, so that’s a problem. A big problem. FDOT proposes a $6 billion attack on traffic congestion around lanes drivers need the income of a starting NFL quarterback to use.

How does that help?

I was in Texas recently and drove from Houston to Austin. Toll roads and express lanes are big there. It seemed like everywhere I went was a road that required a fee to use. By the time I got back, I had racked up about $60 in toll charges — and I was only there for three days.

In case you’re wondering, no — I didn’t use an express lane. I did notice while sitting bumper-to-bumper in evening rush hour that the express lane didn’t seem to be getting much use. Interestingly, a commuter train I saw near Rice University appeared to be nearly full.

Now, Houston is like Tampa Bay on a case of steroids. As bad as our sprawl is, I doubt we’ll ever see the kind of spread that Houston now has. What we have is bad enough, though, and if the anecdotal evidence I saw there is any indication, FDOT’s vision for Tampa Bay’s future is similar to what our friends in Texas now have as a large part of their lives.

That won’t solve the problem.

We to get more cars off the road. And a plan that rewards those with large incomes disproportionally over those with more modest means just isn’t right.

There has to be a better way.

Joe Henderson: We already term limits. They’re called ‘elections’

I am not a fan of term limits.

I understand the argument from those who say we need a law that limits the power of incumbency. They say the longer a politician stays in office, the more likely they are to accumulate so much recognition and money that it becomes almost impossible to beat them.

What they’re really saying is that voters need protection from themselves. I have a problem with that because it still comes down to this basic fact: We already have term limits. They’re called elections.

No matter how long a politician has been in office, voters still have the final say. If they decide that lawmaker is doing good work, there should be no reason that person can’t stay on the job.

I mention this because of what is happening with the Hillsborough County Commission. Three of the board’s seven members are in a game of musical chairs that on the surface seems a goofy way to stay in office.

There is a loophole the size of the Grand Canyon in the Hillsborough charter that allows a commissioner restart their term-limit clock if they are elected in a different district than the one they currently serve.

That’s how we get this: Sandy Murman and Victor Crist have announced intentions to run for two of the board’s three countywide seats because they are prohibited from running for a third consecutive stay in the single district each represents.

While that is going on, long-serving Commissioner Ken Hagan is mandated to leave the countywide seat he has held for two terms, so he will run in District 2. That’s the district Hagan represented when he was first elected to the Commission in 2002 before he had to run for the at-large chair in 2010 and, oh man … this makes my head ache.

State Sen. Tom Lee of Thonotosassa, who has mentioned once or 300 times that he might prefer a Commission seat to the one he currently occupies in Tallahassee, is considering a push to outlaw the chair-swapping that Crist, Murman and Hagan are using.

In theory, that means they could keep jumping from seat to seat and stay on the board until they are called to the Great Beyond. Lee has said the practice violates the spirit of the charter and he is considering a push for an amendment that would stop that.

There is some merit to Lee’s argument, but I think a better idea is doing away with mandated term limits. Voters would still be able to pass judgment at the ballot box and it would stop the kind of silliness we’re now seeing.

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