Opinions Archives - Florida Politics

Blake Dowling: Reflections on the storm

This time last week, power returned to our house in Tallahassee.

A lot of communities in North Florida weren’t so lucky after Hurricane Michael.

Normally, I crank out a column pretty fast about the news of the day, but I had no desire whatsoever to write about what went down last week.

As I sat at our tailgate the weekend before, someone mentioned that I should take our generator back home. I recall saying, nope. Tropical storm? We are good.

Then things changed.

By midweek, we were hunkering down for the storm of the century. The in-laws were taking up shelter at our house and we waited for what Mother Nature would throw at us.

After 24 hours of Weather Channel coverage, we decided to try Fox News coverage; mom said it was great coverage.

For those triggered by the mention of the network, get over it. Shepard Smith did a great job with coverage.

I do not normally watch the network and was very surprised how on-point it was, and around noon the day of storm, when he announced that Tallahassee was about to get very lucky. For a second, I was thrilled. Then I thought of our neighbors to the west. They got rocked.

Why is the national news not covering this issue like they have superstorms in years past?

There are people who have run out of money, died in the storm, looting is happening, and in our community, it seems as if everyone I know helped in some way.

But it doesn’t feel like that from the outside. And when I say outside, I mean the media.

If you want to see what help looks like, come to Tallahassee. It’s ground zero for the recovery effort.

There is a tent city at the airport housing relief and line workers from across the country helped restore our power. Day of the storm, Tallahassee was 100 percent without power — and we only got sideswiped. 100 percent.

Pretty unbelievable, and a week later, it is just about back to 100 percent restored. Tremendous effort.

After Hurricane Hermine, our local government was severely criticized for not accepting outside assistance. Offers were accepted this time around. There are countless stories of good deeds going around — as well as awful stories of scamming tree companies and looters.

This one from Chambers County Sheriff in Texas offering some payback to the Franklin County Sherriff’s office was pretty spectacular.

Since elections are coming up, what are these counties going to do?

Elections officials have a plan, but do you think voting is top of mind when people are sitting in the dark worried about looters, or they don’t have a dime in their account — wondering how the hell they are going to get the next meal?

Or where do you vote if the elections office has power?

Most sites have notices, but what if you don’t have internet access? It would seem logical to push the vote back or give an extension to these areas. But what do I know?

There is a detailed breakdown by county from our friends at KTLA/California (at least they are sharing the story).

You can see a notice like this on some of the counties that were affected.

It was a terrible storm. Lives have been lost; homes and businesses destroyed. If you want to help, consider giving to the Red Cross (www.redcross.org) or contact your local elected official or law enforcement office as there are massive recovery efforts underway and North Florida needs a helping hand.

Prayers to all affected and to all those who have answered the call to help.

___

Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. He is going to Mexico as soon as he finishes writing this — to get out of dodge for a few days.

P.S.: It wasn’t a good time to dump on our community Mr. President; while your comment (I assume) was directed at our local government, your words insulted to our entire community. Boooo.

Joe Henderson: Lively Florida gubernatorial debate probably didn’t change minds

If the goal of either side in the Florida Governor’s debate Sunday night between Andrew Gillum and Ron DeSantis was to change minds, that probably didn’t happen.

During a spirited hour-long debate on CNN in which no punches were pulled, both candidates to be Florida’s governor kept their respective cool, got in their talking points and attacks, and dodged issues they didn’t want to directly address.

DeSantis kept up the line of attack he has used throughout the campaign, namely that Gillum is a corrupted socialist who wants to ruin the state with massive tax hikes while dodging a corruption investigation by the FBI.

Gillum countered that DeSantis is a corrupted Donald Trump acolyte who is controlled by the National Rifle Association.

That’s what they have been saying about each other since the August primary, and with the election now about two weeks away they didn’t deviate. Both men were prepared, they didn’t commit a grievous blunder during the spicy back-and-forth that could have led to a disastrous headline.

Each man was well-coached to deflect attacks and ready to sprinkle in a snappy one-liner that just might appear in a TV commercial in the closing days of the campaign.

So, here’s a random sampling of things that jumped out:

Favorite zingers

From Gillum: “If the congressman is elected, which he won’t be, he will worship at the feet of Donald Trump.”

From DeSantis: “If you believe with that record that he (Gillum) ain’t gonna raise your taxes, then I’ve got some oceanfront property in Arizona I’d like to sell you.”

Monkey business

DeSantis was asked by moderator Jake Tapper, who did a good job of keeping things on track, to explain his “monkey it up” comment about Gillum and the state’s economy on the day after the primary election. It was widely panned as a racist dog whistle.

“Here’s the deal. You look at my record. When you’re down-range in Iraq, it didn’t matter your race. We all wore the same uniform. We all had that American flag patch on our arm. And that was the end of story. You look at me as a prosecutor working with law enforcement. It didn’t matter the race of the victim. We were there to support the race of the victim. So, Floridians can know that I will be a governor for all Floridians.”

Gillum’s counter: “The congressman let us know exactly where he was going to take this race the day after he won the nomination. The monkey up comment said it all. He has continued throughout the course of this campaign to draw all the attention he can to the color of my skin. … The only color the people of the state of Florida care about is the blue-green algae that is flowing out of the state.”

Was the original question answered?

Not really.

Parkland

DeSantis is loved by the NRA.

Gillum is not.

That’s an issue.

After the slaughter of 17 innocents at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the state adopted modest gun control restrictions – opposed, strongly, by the NRA. DeSantis said as governor, he would have vetoed the law.

Why?

After invoking the shooting at the congressional softball game, DeSantis dodged the question, saying the shooter who “should have been convicted of a crime” and “he should have been Baker-Acted.”

Um, Congressman? While there were warnings about the mental state of confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz, he hadn’t done anything that would have led to a conviction before entering the school. And the state’s Baker Act law would have allowed him to be held only 72 hours for observation.

Gillum’s counter: “He is wholly owned by the NRA.”

What now?

No doubt, both sides believe they won this debate, but I really think the people of Florida did.

Both men were pointed in their barbs, but it didn’t get out of control. They made their points, and it’s up to the viewer to agree or not. It was lively, and I don’t think either man got rattled by the other.

It was healthy. It was informative.

I probably would have given a slight edge to Gillum because he was less evasive on tough questions than DeSantis, like when he was asked if Trump is a good role model for the children of Florida and answered with something about moving the embassy of Israel to Jerusalem.

Huh?

But, with the finish line near, we were given a good look at both men and what they stand for. That’s what debates are for.

Will Weatherford: Let voters decide on expanded gambling

I am writing today to deal with unfinished business.

After spending eight years in the Florida Legislature, the last two serving as speaker of the House, I came to a conclusion about the future of casino gambling in Florida.

Some decisions are better put into the hands of the people.

So, in 2014, I proposed a constitutional amendment giving voters control over gambling. The idea never made it through the Legislature and on to the ballot, but the need for it has not diminished. So, Florida voters took matters into their own hands.

More than 1 million Floridians signed petitions to put Amendment 3 on the ballot. It puts the voters in charge of gambling decisions.

I would like to claim I was ahead of the curve in promoting this idea four years ago.

But back in 1968, my predecessors in the Florida Legislature had the same idea. They recognized that gambling wasn’t just another issue. The impact casinos could have on communities and the state warranted a higher authority than the Legislature to sign off on gambling expansion decisions.

And so they deferred to the people, putting a provision in the Florida Constitution that prohibited most forms of gambling, unless voters passed an amendment to allow them.

Five times, from 1978 to 2004, voters weighed in on gambling initiatives. They rejected three proposals to build Las Vegas-style casinos, but they also approved the Florida Lottery as well as slot machines in Broward and Miami-Dade pari-mutuels.

The conclusion might be voters were open-minded, yet understandably cautious.

If only Florida lawmakers left well enough alone. But instead, in more recent years, state legislators went in the opposite direction of their predecessors from 1968. Faced with conflicting legal opinions, the Legislature considered dozens of proposals that would greatly expand casino gambling in Florida without voter signoff.

From my personal experience, I can tell you this was a mistake. Casino interests have become one of the most powerful special interest groups in Tallahassee. The pressure they apply to the political process is nonstop. It is why, almost every legislative session, we see casino expansion on the agenda.

The Legislature only meets for 60 days every year, so there is much to do and little time to do it. The time, energy and resources spent on gambling bills have made them an ongoing diversion. It is frustrating to see the priorities of Floridians — such as jobs, education, health care and the environment — take a back seat to the priorities of casinos.

I have heard many times the call for Tallahassee to come up with a “comprehensive solution’’ to gambling — that we can allow a resort casino here or there, open the door to more slot machines outside South Florida and then call it a day. It is a mythical concept. No matter how many casinos are approved, no matter how many forms of gambling are allowed, the demand for more will come as quickly as the next legislative session. It is what I once called the drip, drip, drip of gambling expansion.

In watching this process play out, I began to appreciate the wisdom of our predecessors in 1968. Tallahassee is not the place for gambling decisions.

If nothing more, taking gambling off the political agenda will allow lawmakers to focus on the issues that matter most to their constituents.

Florida certainly wouldn’t be alone in allowing voter control over gambling. About half of the states have a similar requirement.

In the past few years, voters in states such as New York, New Jersey, Maine, Ohio and Maryland have weighed in on gambling expansion. If there is a trend in how they decide, it is that they weigh each proposal on its individual merits, approving some and rejecting others.

Consider New Jersey. In 1978, voters there became the first in the country to approve a major expansion of gambling, allowing casinos in Atlantic City. After multiple casinos there went bankrupt in 2014, gambling interests and their political supporters pushed for more casinos in northern New Jersey.

Almost 80 percent of voters rejected the idea, the most lopsided referendum result in the state’s history.

Voters know when to say when. They serve as a check and balance on the political process.

Voter control works. That is why I proposed restoring it in 2014 and why I support Amendment 3 now.

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Will Weatherford served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2006-2014 and was House speaker from 2012-14.

Greg Munson: Four nonpartisan principles on Florida water

It is often said that campaigning is easier than governing.

This is especially true concerning the environment, where Floridian’s love of the outdoors, our tourism, our farming, and our housing all intersect. These interests deserve thoughtful consideration beyond the platitudes required by today’s election and media cycle.

Whoever wins Florida’s upcoming elections will — or should — face difficult decisions on Florida’s water supply, water quality and environmental restoration.

After nearly two decades engaged in the controversial debates about Florida’s water and environment, and a substantial amount of time in the outdoors, I offer a few nonpartisan principles to those newly elected.

Collaboration is more effective than confrontation.

Florida has the legal tools available to protect the environment, and these can be used and implemented in the face of stiff opposition.

A forced solution is rarely effective, however.

Lawsuits often overturn new regulations or plans but even if not successful, litigation can lock things up for years.

A “pretty good” plan that has everyone’s support is going to be more effective than a “perfect” plan that’s alienated key stakeholders, and extra time in the beginning to find common ground can save years on the back end.

Finding common ground will be harder than anyone expects, and require a surprising amount of technical detail, but it’s worth it.

Collaboration is, of course, a two-way street. Stakeholders with unreasonable demands are forcing themselves to be discounted.

Beware of the “fix du jour.”

It’s tempting for each administration to put aside all the previous plans and demonstrate its leadership and responsiveness by going in an entirely new direction.

Remember, however, new plans or regulations require time to craft, establish, implement and become effective. Transitioning is often the biggest challenge, and large-scale redesigns require a lengthy multiyear pause in existing programs while the changes are accommodated. Your new plan will probably still be getting implemented when the next administration comes along.

That’s not to say all change is bad.

Elections occur for a reason. Adaptive management — continually updating previous plans to be better — is an established environmental principle, however, and usually superior to throwing everything out and starting over.

Also, don’t imagine that the only reason such a fix hasn’t been tried before is because your predecessors lacked boldness or vision. The challenges with environmental regulation and restoration are real.

Don’t demonize the opposition.

Because of its vital importance, water concerns inspire fear and fear inspires anger that causes people to demonize those who disagree with them. Once demonized, the group’s views become invalid.

This issue is nonpartisan and bipartisan. The antidote is engagement.

I often tell my former government colleagues that listening to and engaging with every stakeholder is the most important and difficult part of their job. Even if agreement is elusive, understanding should not be.

Follow the science.

Environmental regulation and restoration are complicated and difficult to convey. It will be distorted by advocates for and against an issue.

Government is in a unique position to provide scientific information that is unvarnished and unspun. If this role is perverted to partisan ends because government is one of the advocates, its scientific credibility will be hard to restore.

In the workshops, public meetings and documents that you can control, be prepared to “show your work,” accept scientifically valid criticism, and make necessary changes.

Distinguish science, which should have broad consensus, from policy, for which you were elected.

Following these recommendations is the easy part. Actually, balancing the food, power, water, and goods we need with the environmental impacts is where the buck stops.

___

Greg Munson is an environmental lawyer at Gunster, where he has represented industrial and agricultural clients since 2013. Previously, he’s served as the General Counsel and the Deputy Secretary for Water Policy and Ecosystem Restoration at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Leo Longworth, Matthew Surrency: Don’t be misled — Amendment 1 is a tax shift, not a tax cut

Here they go again. Our state politicians are calling Amendment 1 a “tax cut,” but it’s actually a tax shift. A few property owners will benefit, but millions of us will pay for it.

We believe that our tax system should be fair and work for all of us, not just a few.

Amendment 1, which will be on the November ballot, would give a tax break to only one-fourth of those who own Florida properties. That means three-quarters of us would NOT benefit. We believe Florida’s tax system should work for all homeowners, across the board, not just a few. Why should the state politicians get to pick who wins and who loses?

As leaders of statewide organizations, we’re hearing from our peers, and they know this plan doesn’t work. Most of us would carry a bigger tax burden … perhaps even a property tax hike. If you rent, you’re not off the hook either. Landlords are likely to pass on their increased share of the property tax burden to their tenants.

The state politicians have put us in a bad place: Either cut vital services or raise property taxes. Who wants either of those choices? The sponsors of Amendment 1 know that they’re putting us in this position. In fact, they even suggested that local governments raise taxes to pay for Amendment 1. That’s like giving away free coffee but charging $5 for the cup. Even if the communities don’t raise tax rates, those who aren’t one of Amendment 1’s “chosen few” will carry a larger tax burden. That’s just not fair. Why don’t the state politicians cut their spending instead?

We already know that Florida’s tax system is a complicated mess. Amendment 1 isn’t going to fix that. In fact, it would make the tax system worse, because it would be more complicated and less fair for Florida’s families, small business owners and manufacturers.

Make no mistake about it: Amendment 1 hits small businesses in a big way. These are our restaurants, retailers, dry cleaners and pet stores. Instead of rewarding these businesses that create jobs, Amendment 1 would expose them to bigger tax hikes. The reason? A business’ taxable value rises faster than that of a home. That’s just not good business, and it’s not good for our economy.

The state politicians concocted Amendment 1 as a one-size-fits-all scheme. We say one size doesn’t fit us. We were elected by our citizens for a reason. We know what works in our own communities. Amendment 1 goes against everything we believe. We support Home Rule. We believe our local communities should be trusted to set our own priorities and determine how to pay for them.

Don’t be led astray by the false promise of Amendment 1. Vote No.

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Bartow Mayor Leo Longworth is president of the Florida League of Cities. Hawthorne Mayor Matthew Surrency is president of the Florida League of Mayors.

Joe Henderson: Soil and Water Conservation District candidates, um, who are they?

As you peruse your ballot, either on Election Day or if you vote by mail, there is a chance you’ll hit a stumbling block when you get to the section marked “Soil and Water Conservation District.”

On the Hillsborough County ballot, there are 11 candidates divided over three districts. You’re supposed to vote for some of them, but odds are pretty good you won’t know who any of them are. This is the place to go for a politician who needs to be in witness protection.

No matter. You’ll still be expected to choose between “Who’s That?” and “Never Heard of Him/Her” because these folks are trying to win election to a post where they’ll be expected to work hard and decide important issues for no pay.

I mean it. Absolutely no pay.

You might wonder why someone would agree to do that even if their best friend asked, let alone actually put their name on a ballot and (sort of) campaign for the job?

I wondered that too. But there is no question that a lot of people look at a seat on this board as something to be valued, and I applaud their service.

I also applaud voters who take the time to try and learn about the candidates, which isn’t easy and explains why I received an email this morning from a nice lady asking how she could go to do her homework on these people.

Why was she writing to me? Because everything lives forever on Google, and that’s where she found a column I wrote about the Soil board a couple of years ago for this fine website.

Apparently, a lot of other people found it too, because Board Chairman Mark Proctor told me that because of that column, there was a surge in people who wanted to win a coveted spot there. No need to thank me.

And because there are more people wanting information and they don’t know who else to contact, they reach out to Proctor because he was quoted extensively in the original piece and he told board members it was OK for people to call him.

“My phone is ringing off the hook. Thanks, Joe,” he said. “But I don’t really mind. All I can tell them is that I’ve met a few of the candidates and here are the ones I’m voting for. I don’t know all of them.”

It’s an important gig though.

The Soil and Water Conservation District concept was created by the Legislature to promote efficient use of the land and protect water resources; there are conservation districts throughout the state. Their mission, quoting directly from the soil handbook, is “ … to provide assistance, guidance, and education to landowners, land occupiers, the agricultural industry, and the general public in implementing land and water resource protection practices.”

With so much on the line, shouldn’t there be a way to find out more about the people who want your vote? After all, it would take an act by the Legislature to change these from elected to appointed, and that wouldn’t be such a good idea.

As awkward as the process of choosing members is now, it would be worse if the Governor of either party could stack these districts with buddies to push through an agenda.

But wouldn’t we like to know who we’re voting for? For all I know, someone’s idea of being qualified for this board would be the fact they mow their lawn. Or they could be like Kim O’Connor, who resigned from the board earlier this year over allegations she smoked a lot of pot while in an Okeechobee motel on official business.

She denied all that, by the way.

Proctor agreed it would be a good idea to have a central place to go for information about candidates.

Maybe candidates could submit background bios and answer a few form questions on things like “Why do you want to be on a board where you don’t get paid for doing lots of work?”

The information could be posted maybe on a central website or Facebook page.

It would be a start. If people want this badly enough to run for the job, we really ought to know more about them. Or, at least something about them.

That would be better than the current system of throwing a dart at the ballot when you get to the Soil and Water Conservation District, leaving that part blank, or calling Mark Proctor to ask if knows any of these people.

In the name of humanity and Mark’s eardrum, make it happen.

Dan Bongino: Andrew Gillum’s radical manifesto doesn’t belong in Florida — or America

America’s men and women in law enforcement have fallen under attack by a fringe movement that seems focused on radically reinventing our way of life. However, the threat of that new reality is no longer just a faraway possibility, it’s a choice facing voters in the state of Florida right now — a choice that, come Nov. 6, will be made one way or the other.

Back in August, Tallahassee’s Mayor Andrew Gillum did something that seems rather easy to do in Florida: he shocked the political establishment and the pundit-class by upsetting the anointed Democratic front-runner. Now, as the Democrats’ unlikely nominee for Governor, Gillum is doubling down on his support to a radical, anti-police manifesto that calls for defunding police and releasing tens-of-thousands of criminals.

Dream Defenders is a group started after the Travon Martin shooting by an anti-America extremist. The group is now funded by George Soros and is recruiting and supporting wannabe-Socialist politicians like Gillum. The founder’s Twitter is peppered with statements like, “F— the police,” “F— the police until those cowards kill me,” and “I hope that I never have a buddy that becomes a Police Officer. I’ve realized I have a deep hate for all of them.”

And, this manifesto that Gillum pledged his allegiance to isn’t any more grounded than the tweets from the founder. It reads, “Police were never meant to protect and serve me and you … Police and prisons have no place in ‘justice’ … Police and prisons aren’t just racist, but they work to enforce the separations of rich and poor.”

To be blunt, this is exactly the kind of rhetoric that gets cops killed. A tragedy that Florida is well-too familiar with. Earlier this year, two Sheriff’s deputies were assassinated while eating lunch in Gilchrist County. Already this year, police deaths from shootings are up 13 percent, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

Now, it’s important to remember, Gillum isn’t just some irrelevant fringe candidate. He’s the Democrat’s nominee for Governor of the third largest state in the country. This is not normal and it’s not acceptable.

Unfortunately, while this pledge may be the most offensive part of this campaign, it’s not the only thing that should concern every red-blooded American. As the Mayor of Tallahassee, he put his beliefs into practice. Year-after-year, Gillum rejected pleas for help from the city’s police. Now, after four years of having the highest crime and murder rates in the state, Tallahassee is ranked as one of the least safe cities in the entire country.

Crime isn’t even limited to the communities around City Hall. Gillum’s own administration has been under a multiyear, undercover FBI investigation into suspected corruption, bribes, and kickbacks to some of the Mayor’s closest allies, friends and family.

Believe it or not, this isn’t a script for the next John Grisham novel, this is Florida’s 2018 race for Governor. Luckily for all Americans, but especially for voters in Florida, he’s not the only choice.

Ron DeSantis, the Republican nominee, is someone who worked his way through college, earned a law degree from Harvard, and then decided to put service in front of self and join the U.S. Navy to serve as a JAG officer. After being honorably discharged, he went on to serve as a federal prosecutor, putting criminals behind bars.

Then, as a member of Congress, he fought to hold government bureaucrats and politicians accountable. He rejected the congressional benefits and proposed the “No Budget, No Pay Act.” He also introduced Congressional Term Limits, because he understands there is nothing more corrupt than career politicians.

America may be in a tough time, facing challenges to the very fabric of our nation. However, just like the race for Governor of Florida, we have the choice to decide our future. We just need to go out, get involved and elect leaders like Ron DeSantis.

 ___

Dan Bongino, a conservative commentator and former agent of the U.S. Secret Service, who is supporting Ron DeSantis for Florida Governor. For more information on Bongino, please visit bongino.com/about-dan.

Diego Echeverri: Ron DeSantis is the clear choice for Florida’s veterans

I first met Ron DeSantis a couple of years ago in his Washington office during a meeting to discuss legislation to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs. Most of the meetings our group had that day were with staff members, but Rep. DeSantis took time out of his schedule to meet with us face to face.

He listened to each of the veterans in the room as they shared their personal stories. He understood, as only another veteran can, the issues faced by the veteran advocates he met that day, and he vowed to support efforts to bring much-needed accountability to an embattled VA system.

The military and veteran communities are vibrant and important parts of Florida’s economic and civic life. Our state has more than 20 military installations, including four unified commands and the nation’s third largest veteran population. As a member of this distinguished population, DeSantis has built a reputation as a proven leader and dedicated champion for veterans across the state. From how (and when) they get health care, to working to remove bad actors from the VA, DeSantis has been a strong voice for veterans in Washington.

As the representative of the 6th Congressional District, DeSantis consistently supported expanding health care options for veterans, to ensure they aren’t forced into or trapped in failing VA hospitals. Early on, he understood the Veterans Choice Program was failing veterans, and he outlined more viable alternatives.

To make sure veterans can get the care they deserve, when and where they need it, he supported the VA MISSION Act. This critical new law stabilizes the Veterans Choice Program so no veteran falls through the cracks, phases it out after a year, and replaces it with a more accessible community care program. Signed into law earlier this year, the measure includes provisions like those DeSantis championed years earlier.

Additionally, in light of scandals showing the VA routinely overprescribed medication, DeSantis embraced alternative forms of treatment designed to mitigate medication-dependency issues, including an innovative public-private partnership to test the use of service dogs to treat PTSD.

DeSantis also co-sponsored multiple measures designed to make it easier to hold VA employees accountable when they engage in misconduct, and to ensure bad actors aren’t able to provide substandard care to veterans. He voted for the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, signed into law by President Donald Trump in 2017, which brought a fundamental change to the VA — putting veterans first, not the bureaucracy.

Ron DeSantis understands firsthand the sacrifice and service of Florida’s 1.5 million veterans. He is an Iraq War veteran who honorably served in the U.S. Navy as a judge advocate at Guantánamo Bay and alongside Navy SEALs in Fallujah. He served six years on active duty and continues to serve as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve.

On Election Day, I urge my fellow Florida veterans and military families to support Ron DeSantis for governor. We will be well-served in Tallahassee, as we have been in Washington, by this proven leader and unwavering champion.

 ___

Diego Echeverri is a U.S. Army veteran who served in Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain Division. He is an adviser to Concerned Veterans for America Action in Florida.

Karen Cyphers: Breaking down the impact of Hurricane Michael on Panhandle voting

The entire state is focused appropriately on hurricane recovery, relief, and repair efforts. But with less than three weeks before Election Day, what does this mean for the hundreds of thousands of people in the affected regions?

Gov. Rick Scott, Mayor Andrew Gillum, CFO Jimmy Patronis, and many other elected officials have been actively working on recovery efforts in the state, and while many of them have (at least temporarily) suspended their campaigns, a big question that remains unanswered is whether Hurricane Michael will disenfranchise voters in the Florida Panhandle.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner — the state’s go-to official on elections issues — said this week that he is waiting to hear from local supervisors of elections before making proposed changes, but in some of the areas that were hit the hardest — like Bay County — many of the buildings and facilities used for precincts are either damaged or being used for emergency shelters.

According to the News Service of Florida, Okaloosa County Supervisor of Elections Paul Lux is asking the state to consider potential creative solutions like email vote-by-mail ballots or combining precincts. While those determinations will ultimately be made after careful consideration by various state and local officials, some data casts light on the upcoming elections. 

In the 11 counties FEMA has designated as needing Individual Assistance (as opposed to just Public Assistance), there are more than 270,000 registered voters. Looking solely at party registration numbers, these voters are fairly “purple” — 43 percent Republican, 40 percent Democrat, and 17 percent registered with minor parties or no party at all. 

Voters in these 11 counties typically have a higher turnout than the rest of the state, and a higher frequency of voting on Election Day rather than via mail or early voting. In 2016, 39 percent of voters who cast a ballot in these counties did so on Election Day, compared with 35 percent of voters in all other Florida counties. Another 41 percent voted early, compared with 40 percent elsewhere. This is important because nearly half of a million Floridians have already cast ballots — approximately 4 percent of voters statewide, but just 1 percent of voters in the counties hit hardest by Michael.

These differences may seem slim, but they represent tens of thousands of people, and in a state that is routinely decided by razor-thin margins, those votes can make a big difference. For example, in 2014, Scott beat Charlie Crist by just over 64,000 votes. In these 11 most impacted counties, Scott’s margin over Crist was 39,467 — equivalent to 62 percent of Scott’s entire margin. 

Regardless of your political preferences, a devastating hurricane shouldn’t hinder a voter’s ability to cast a ballot in any election. That’s especially true for the countless people whose homes are damaged or those who have been forced to relocate outside of their community, at least for now.

There’s only a few weeks to go, and while many areas like Mexico Beach and Panama City may not be the same for a long time, one thing is clear: The ability to exercise one’s constitutional right on Election Day should not be among Hurricane Michael’s extraordinary losses. 

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Karen Halperin Cyphers, Ph.D., is a partner and vice president of research with Sachs Media Group in Tallahassee. 

Joe Henderson: Supreme Court ruling brings out Mini-Me in Ron DeSantis

Ron DeSantis hasn’t mentioned President Donald Trump much now that the general election for Florida Governor is getting closer, but that might change after Monday’s stinging slap by the Florida Supreme Court at Gov. Rick Scott.

After lawsuits by the Florida League of Women Voters and Common Cause, the state’s highest court ruled that Scott cannot nominate replacements for three justices set to retire at midnight on Jan. 8, 2019 — the same day Scott vacates the Governor’s Mansion and the winner of the gubernatorial race between DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum moves in.

The new guy gets to choose.

Those are the rules, darn the luck.

When in doubt, break out the boogeyman. That’s straight out of Trump’s playbook and Ron DeSantis put on his best Mini-Me imitation after the ruling by quickly tweeting Gillum would be pressured by “out-of-state, radical groups” to appoint “activist judges” who would “legislate from the bench to fit their own ideology.”

First off, that ignores the Judicial Nominating Committee, which will present the new Governor a list of candidates from which he must choose. As the Tampa Bay Times reported Wednesday, the JNC — which is top-loaded with Scott appointees — stays on into the new year. That bunch is unlikely to care what Gillum or “out-of-state, radical groups” would want. Gillum would have little or no say in the matter.

For now, though, let’s roll with the idea of legislating from the bench — a pet phrase of Republicans, and one that DeSantis just invoked.

I assume  “radical” would be defined by any ruling with which he disagrees.

Or, does he mean the current Supreme Court ruling that declared, “Governor Scott exceeded his authority by directing the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission submit its nominations to fill these vacancies by November 10, 2018” was legislating from the bench?

By his logic, I guess so.

That is, of course, opposed to the good ol’ American conservative judges DeSantis would favor. He is implying they would be more inclined to see things through a Republican lens.

Would such judges have allowed Scott to pack the Court with conservatives just as he was leaving office? Is that what DeSantis is saying should have happened?

But … but … that violated state law. It would have been wrong.

The ruling sort of blows a hole in the theory that only conservative judges follow the law while those pesky liberals make it up as they go along while humming Taylor Swift tunes.

It’s the same fear-and-smear tactic Trump used to push the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, though. Anyone who opposed him, the president declared, and his supporters parroted, was part of a “liberal mob” — which, I guess, makes the National Council of Churches part of that vast left-wing rabble because that group opposed Kavanaugh.

Republican animosity against the Florida Supreme Court has been going on for many years.

In 2012, for instance, the state GOP launched an unprecedented campaign against justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince – the same three who are being forced into retirement at the end of this year because of age limits.

Why?

One reason they were so mad was that the court ruled against allowing a referendum against Obamacare to go on the statewide ballot because the language was misleading (it was later rewritten).

This was after Republicans tried, and failed, to expand the court to 10 so Scott could pick three additional members.

In 2016, the Court struck down Florida’s death penalty provision that said capital punishment could be imposed with only a majority of 12 jurors voted in favor. When the state reworked the law to make it 10 out 12 the Court said nope, it had to be unanimous.

The ruling party doesn’t like to be told no.

With Republicans controlling both houses of the Legislature and the Governor’s mansion for the last 20 years, the Supreme Court often is the firewall between a Republican lawmaking rampage that ignores the other half of the state that might think differently.

So, yeah, the Court is going to get a makeover, and it may not matter much who wins the Governor’s race.

But what the heck. Scare ’em anyway, right?

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