Among the country’s lower 48, Florida was a land of almost unequaled promise. Surrounded by navigable waters, the peninsula’s unique geography and pristine natural beauty beckoned all to visit and emigrate–and thrive.
Mother Nature shined on the state, along with women like Marjory Stoneman Douglas (who saved the Everglades) and Barbara Capitman (who saved South Beach) — but to no pervasive avail. Too many others (mostly men) trampled it. If only there had been enough mosquitoes and alligators — and no air conditioning — to scare the most noxious human invaders off!
Today, by any objective standard, Florida has become a man-made disaster — a monument to greed, unquenched lust for power, pervasive bad taste and stupidity.
The obvious solution is to make all Florida roads one-way going north, to clean out the place and start all over. Instead, we’ve got to work to reform what we’ve got.
Here are 17 doable initiatives to remake Florida for the infinitely better:
1. Pass a recall provision in the state Constitution. Elected officials know that, once in office, they can do anything they want, no matter what they promised voters when campaigning. They need to fear being booted out of office to keep them honest and accountable.
2. Create open primaries in which Democrats, Republicans, and Independents are allowed to vote for any candidate. That way, small, energized, (often out-of-state funded) fringe groups can’t hijack primaries, electing extremist, unrepresentative candidates.
3. Increase the number of Florida state senators (a tiny 40) and House members (too few at 120). As the state population (now more than 20 million) grows, so should the Legislature to better represent “the people.”
4. Limit the power of the governor to appoint judges. Since Jeb Bush rigged the judicial nominating process, the governor has too much power to appoint members of the bench (aka pack the court with ideologues).
5. Revise the state Constitution. What should be a “clean” governing document has turned into a dumping ground for amendments from the quirky (protecting pregnant pigs) to the mean-spirited (banning same-sex marriage). It’s time to vote on them again one by one.
6. Get real about climate change. Florida’s environment is at risk because of global warming. Sane experts know it, but the state is cursed with leaders — Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio –who are science-deniers. The Legislature should fund a major consortium of state, national, and international experts and organizations to mitigate the harm of climate change.
7. Get Tallahassee politicians out of making education policy. Generations of school kids are never more at risk than when the Legislature is in session. Elected officials pass bills so their cronies can rake in big bucks and advance conservative ideas using education “reform” as a come-on. They couldn’t care less about sound teaching and learning.
8. Limit development for the next five years, especially in South Florida. Now that the worst effects of the recession are over, cranes are starting to sprout. In other words, Florida’s usual boom-and-bust cycle is again in full swing, certain to bring us to another downturn.
9. Establish state and local architectural design standards. As long as we’re going to continue to litter the landscape with buildings, their design ought to rise above the level of kitsch.
10. Diversify our economic base beyond its too-heavy reliance on tourism. We talk about it, but never do it.
11. Require a minimum level of solar power in every building. The Sunshine State lures tourists with the promise of a tan. But it turns a blind eye to energy independence from the sun.
12. Establish a local and statewide public transportation network that moves people and goods economically and efficiently from Key West to Pensacola.
13. Pass a state Constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to quality health care for every Floridian.
14. Overturn the hodge-podge of NRA-backed gun laws, like “Stand Your Ground.” Pass others to protect the right of citizens to own guns and the general public to be safe from crazies.
15. Severely limit lobbyists to sending one-page position papers to elected officials and state policy-makers. It is a tragedy that we accept as a given that the only way to be “heard” in Tallahassee is by making some “public servant’s” cash register ring.
16. Pass an Equal Rights Amendment to the state Constitution. To its shame, Florida never ratified the federal one. It’s time to make Florida’s women first-class citizens.
17. Outlaw all gambling, especially the state-sponsored lottery. It is morally corrupt for lawmakers to refuse to raise taxes, but to swell the state treasury by gypping people out of their money.
If even one of these ideas were to be implemented, Florida would once again become “a land of almost unequaled promise.” But what are the odds? Slimmer than those of winning the Florida Lottery, for which you can thank the governor, the Legislature — and air conditioning.
Stephen L. Goldstein is the author of “The Dictionary of American Political Bullshit” and “Atlas Drugged: Ayn Rand Be Damned.” He lives in Fort Lauderdale. Column courtesy of Context Florida.