Opinions Archives - Florida Politics

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.

Florence Snyder: In memory of Roxcy Bolton, #EndTheBacklog

In 1960s Dade County, men who were privileged to be newspaper columnists could — and did — mock “women’s libbers” like Roxcy Bolton in the pages of the Miami Herald. Department stores could — and did — have fancy private dining rooms open only to men. Banks could — and did — deny credit cards and loans to women who did not have a husband or father willing to co-sign. If police and prosecutors thought about rape at all, they thought of it as a property crime against the man to whom the victim “belonged.”

That’s just how it was, and how it might still be, but for Bolton, who died last week in Coral Gables at age 90.

Bolton was Florida’s First Feminist and a one-woman consciousness-raising group. She managed to stay happily married to her lawyer husband and raised four children while raising hell about indignities and injustices that others ignored. In a land before drive-thru burger joints, Bolton cooked up food for the family and her special firebrand of advocacy in the kitchen that doubled as her Situation Room.

Bolton outlasted the Herald guy who dismissed her as a “doll” with “silly ideas.” It took three Herald reporters to catalogue her long list of lifetime achievements in an obituary that made the front page.

Before Bolton, Florida had no battered women’s shelters, and there was no rape crisis center in the entire country. After years of personally assisting women in distress, Bolton founded Women in Distress, which continues to operate in Broward County. The rape crisis center she founded at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital was christened in 1993 as the Roxcy Bolton Rape Treatment Center, and has treated thousands of victims spanning an age range from two weeks to 98 years.

Bolton’s passing reminds us that Florida continues to have a disgraceful backlog of untested rape kits. It would be a fitting memorial and tribute, at long last, to #EndTheBacklog.

Christopher Huff: Changing times demand a retreat from enduring fallacies of war between the states

Dr. Christopher A. Huff

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer‘s announcement this week that the city’s Confederate statue will be moved from Lake Eola Park to Greenwood Cemetery represents a positive step in recognizing the changing nature of Southern culture and the diverse set of voices that deserve a say in the ongoing process of commemorating a complex and troublesome past.

The popular memory of the Civil War that dominated the South when the city’s Confederate statue was erected in 1911 was based on white supremacy and the mythology of the Lost Cause. The early 20th century represented the low point for Southern race relations. Following the removal of federal troops that marked the end of Reconstruction, Southern state governments and white supremacists worked intently and often violently to reverse any gains made by African-Americans after the end of slavery. To this end, they orchestrated the rise of “Jim Crow,” a system that created an inferior social status for African-Americans by segregating them from whites whenever possible and denying them political power.

Florida, despite its current cosmopolitan nature, was a full participant in the South’s attempt to control African-Americans through fear and intimidation. During the wave of lynching that occurred in the decades around the turn of the 20th century which helped define the Jim Crow South, white Floridians killed more African-Americans per capita than those of any other Southern state.

As African-Americans experienced brutal subjugation in the Jim Crow South, several organizations attempted to recast the cause of the Civil War. The mythology of the “Lost Cause,” as it became known removed slavery as the war’s chief instigator and instead blamed the conflict on The North, which was hellbent on destroying the Southern way of life and left Southern states with no choice but to secede. According to Lost Cause thinking, Southern soldiers did not die defending slavery but fought to protect their home and honor — a cause that deserved remembrance.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy played a major role in spreading the Lost Cause mythology through its efforts to have Confederate soldiers reburied, shape the content of school history textbooks, and oversee the erection of Confederate monuments — including the one that currently stands in Lake Eola Park.

The efforts of the UDC proved quite successful based on the large number of Confederate monuments still standing in towns and cities across the South and the ongoing popularity of Lost Cause beliefs held by many Southerners. The phrase “Heritage Not Hate,” seen on T-shirts, bumper stickers and baseball hats across the South, is a simplified distillation of the Lost Cause mythology.

Orlando in 2017 is a much different city than the one that erected The Confederate monument at Lake Eola Park in 1911. At the time, the statue represented the belief of many white Floridians in a misinterpretation of the past that helped justify the systematic mistreatment of black Floridians. Those are beliefs that do not generally represent Orlando today.

Moving the statue does not erase Southern history or its Confederate past. Nor does it dishonor those who died in its defense. Moving the statue from its current position, however, does recognize that memorials are not empty of meaning but are instead physical representations of the values and beliefs held by the community that erected them. It is time to place a new memorial in Lake Eola Park that embodies Orlando’s current commitment to diversity and toleration.

___

Dr. Christopher A. Huff is an assistant professor of history at Beacon College, the first higher education institution to award bachelor’s degrees primarily to students with learning disabilities, ADHD and other learning differences, where he specializes in 20th American political and social history, focusing primarily on the protest movements of the late 1960s, the civil rights movement, and southern history.

Martin Dyckman: It’s always about the money

The Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts wrote a powerful case for Donald Trump‘s impeachment, in the style of an open letter to the “Dear Republicans in Congress,” that I was reading to my wife as she prepared breakfast the other morning.

At the part where Pitts asked, “Have you no loyalties deeper than party?” Ivy broke in.

“The money,” she exclaimed.

That nailed it. It is always about the money.

It’s about the campaign money they expect to continue bagging from the Kochs and other oligarchs who embrace the Trump agenda even as they despise the man.

It’s about the money, the great gobs of money that would befall the wealthier classes, the true constituency for most of them, from the sort of tax “reform” they are counting on Trump to sign.

It’s about the money they would gain for themselves from the Trump tax scheme. While the outlines he proposed are strikingly thin, they are enough to show that Congress members themselves would make out better than bank robbers.

The middle class and poor would get essentially nothing. The foregone revenue would take America back to where the oligarchs want it — a sociopolitical stone age, with the new robber barons doing what they want and getting what they want, with only minimal interference, if any, from taxes, regulations or labor unions.

The Congress does not simply represent the Republican Party’s true constituency. It is part of it.

The most recent available figures estimated the average Congressional net worth at around $1 million. To be one of the richest 50 members required a minimum of $7.28 million in net worth. Of those 50, 32 were Republicans.

There are Democrats, no doubt, who would vote for the outrageous Trump tax scheme if they thought their voters would forgive them. Most of the Republicans act as if they don’t have that particular worry.

For the Democrats and the few Republicans who do care to put their country first, the question may well be whether it would be best to be rid of the guttersnipe in the White House sooner or later.

From an exclusively partisan standpoint, it would suit the Democrats to have him still twisting in the ill winds of own making as the 2018 midterm elections approach. This would be better for policy as well, since every Republican Congress member who isn’t totally insulated by gerrymandering would have to worry about casting his or her vote with the extremely unpopular president. And the fact that Trump still refuses to release his tax returns, despite all the promises, raises profound suspicions about any tax legislation bearing his label.

If Trump were dethroned now, whether by his Cabinet or by a late-awakening congressional conscience, the Democrats would be confronting in President Mike Pence someone who has a long-standing and genuine commitment to all the hideously anti-social policies that Trump never shared until he saw them as keys to the Republican nomination. Lacking Trump’s offensive personality, Pence could take America backward even faster and farther than Trump.

The more important issues, though, are the clear and present danger of keeping an uneducated, uneducable and wildly impetuous man-child in proximity to the nuclear codes, the forfeiting of American influence and prestige for which he is responsible, and the disgust that sickens most of us with every new disclosure of his abuses of power and of the foreign influences in his campaign.

Whatever happens in the short term, both political parties should be planning how to never again nominate someone so singularly unfit and dangerous as Trump.

The electoral system was supposed to prevent that — “a moral certainty,” as Alexander Hamilton put it, “that the office of President will seldom fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”

When Hamilton wrote “seldom,” he was not thinking “forever.”

But the Founders provided for a day when their precautions would fail.

At the outset, the party factions in Congress caucused to nominate their candidates for president. There was never a doubt as to their qualifications. No outsider cracked the system until Andrew Jackson came along, and he was much like Trump, who admires him, in being ill-informed, reckless and ruthless.

Congress, for all its enormous faults, could be an inherently better judge of presidential timber than the present primary election system. But to try to give Congress control of who runs would be a fool’s errand, not to mention unwise.

What Congress should do — what it must do — is to accept the constitutional responsibility the Founders assigned to it in the event of a rogue presidency. It is the fail-safe they wrote into the Constitution.

As Pitts described it to the Republicans, “Your course of action, if you have even a molecule of courage, integrity or country love, should be obvious. Impeach him now.”

___

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

Blake Dowling: Who knows what innovation will bring next?

Have you checked out the latest version of the digital personal assistant, Alexa, that is specially designed for Senior Citizens? It’s called Alexa Silver.

It’s super loud and you can only order it by check.

It also has an “uh huh” function that it says when you are telling rambling stories.

Fake news alert, it’s actually from an SNL skit. Awesome to see Lorne Michaels and his team still cranking out gold after all these years, watch it here. (Shoutout to Normie for sharing this with me.)

Speaking of new ideas and innovation, in business and politics, the past decade has been piled with new ways of doing things. How we campaign, work, lobby, organize, motivate, influence all has a digital twist to it.

So many devices; all working together seamlessly, most days.

I now have reached device overload with my tech: Desktop PC (multiple monitors), iPad, 2-in-1 tablet/laptop, and phone. Plus keyboard, speaker, and lots and lots of wires.

The functionality and mobility of all of this makes me extremely productive (on a good day) but, man, I could use some innovation in lowering my device count.

(from left, Denise Bilbow, Mrs. Dowling, some yahoo, and Leon County Commissioner Kristen Dozier)

Speaking of innovation, I had an opportunity this week to judge a regional SharkTank-like competition in North Florida. The competition is called the Innovation Park Tech Grant Program,

Applicants brought amazing ideas to the table regarding weather forecasting, video production, engine management and health care.

The local community really rallied around the event and the everyone got a chance to engage with the innovators before the actual judging began. This specific program has been around since 2005 and they have given out over $400,000 in grants to date benefiting the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Leon County.

I first met the Leon County Research & Development Authority when I spoke to one of their events on artificial intelligence.

They read one of my columns on this badass, award-winning political website called, FloridaPolitics.com (perhaps you have heard of it?)

When they mentioned the competition and asked me to judge, I agreed as they said the magic words: “Free beer.”

In all seriousness, though, it was an honor to review these companies (check them out here).

I asked the Director of Programs and Communications about her thoughts on the event; she said: “The Innovation Park TechGrant Program is open to all Leon County residents and offers a change to help local startups and early stage companies transform their ideas and hard work into commercialized products.  Funding is one of the largest battles these companies face and we enjoy helping companies in our community move forward.”

Pretty cool.

Where would we be without the innovators of today and yesterday, no Lobby Tools, no iPad, no Alexa Silver, no cloud, no WatchESPN app on my phone?

The world has certainly changed since I kicked off my career in the rock ‘n’ roll business — back in the Dark Ages of the pre-smartphone world of 1998.

Who knows what this local and global community of innovators will bring us next.

I can’t wait to find out, and hopefully, I won’t need the Alexa Silver any time soon.

Enjoy the weekend.

___

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

Darryl Paulson: The Founders were right — democracy is flawed

I expect the title of this op-ed will generate enough hate mail to keep me busy for a month. How can anyone oppose democracy?  If the Founders hated democracy, who am I to disagree?

The Founders recognized the inherent dangers of democratic government. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, called democracy “one of the greatest evils.”

Alexander Hamilton, better known for being a Broadway phenomena that one of the most significant individuals in the establishment of the United States of America, wrote that ancient democracies “never possessed one feature of good Government. Their very character was tyranny.”

James Madison, one of the authors of the Federalist Papers, along with Hamilton, argued that there was nothing in a democracy “to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual.” Over 200 years ago, Madison envisioned a future leader like Donald Trump.

Madison, in Federalist # 10, wrote that democracies “have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short-lived as they have been violent in their deaths.”

Madison and most of the Founders believed republics were preferable to democracies because they protected against the tyranny of the majority. They created a system of indirect election of the president and checks and balances between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.

Most Americans know that we pledge allegiance “to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands,” and not to the “democracy for which it stands.”

Critics of democracy claim that it is unstable and subject to frequent change. As a result, in 2017, 159 of the 206 sovereign states use “republic” as part of their name.

20th-century Italian political thinkers Vilfredo Pareto and Gaetano Mosca viewed democracies as an illusion. According to Pareto and Mosca, democracies portray themselves to be dominated by the rule of the people when, in reality, they are dominated by political elites due to the apathy of the masses.

As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote a century ago, “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

The 2016 election illustrates the limits of democracy. The normally sedate masses can be aroused by a leader who offers simple solutions to complex problems. Trump convinced enough voters that unless he was elected, America was at its end as a world power.

Trump was also able to convince enough voters that he was the leader to transform America from its downward spiral and that he would “Make America Great Again.” As America’s political savior, Trump promised his political supporters that “I alone can fix it. I alone am your voice.”

Many Americans are convinced that Trump is a new kind of leader who will restore America to greatness. I am more inclined to believe we have selected a false prophet who will lead America down a path of danger and destruction.

___

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

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons