Editorial Roundup: Florida

South Florida Sun Sentinel. January 17, 2023.

Editorial: A century later, not all remember Rosewood ' Editorial

A historical marker on the road to the historic island community of Cedar Key memorializes the once-thriving Florida settlement of Rosewood. It had 300 residents, most of them Black, three churches, a Masonic lodge, school, train station and post office.

Now, it doesn’t even have a zip code. A white mob burned it down during a week-long rampage in January 1923 — a century ago this month.

The mob killed six Black people whose deaths historians have confirmed, and likely many more. Two whites died in the attack, which was incited by the usual pretext for lynchings: a white woman’s claim, in this case highly dubious, that a Black man had beaten her. Survivors fled into the woods, never to return. They carried their terror with them, refusing even to talk about it for two generations. Rosewood faded from public consciousness for nearly seven decades.

Of the many white-on-Black massacres in the U.S. since the Civil War, Rosewood was not the largest nor deadliest. Among the better known: A white insurrection overthrew the elected biracial government of Wilmington, N.C., in 1898, and as many as 60 Blacks died. Perhaps 200 were lynched in a rampage at Tulsa, Okla., that wiped out an entire section of the city in 1923.

In Florida, whites incensed by a Black man’s attempt to vote in November 1920 killed at least five Blacks and destroyed 25 homes, two churches and a Masonic lodge at Ocoee. Three weeks before Rosewood, a mob at Perry burned a Black man at the stake and destroyed four buildings.

But Rosewood has a singular distinction.

Rosewood reparations

In 1994, Gov. Lawton Chiles sought and signed bipartisan legislation awarding $150,000 to each of nine living survivors and establishing college scholarships for their descendants, some 200 of whom have benefited so far. It was the first time a state government acknowledged financial responsibility for racial injustice. Only two other states have done anything similar.

The Rosewood reparations recognized how racism has denied Blacks the opportunity to accumulate wealth and pass it on to their children, a right that whites take for granted.

In 2021, then-state Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, created scholarships for descendants of the Ocoee victims and other Black children living there. It passed with little notice in that year’s budget and again in 2022. Gov. Ron DeSantis spared it from his line-item vetoes.

Descendants and friends marked the Rosewood centennial with a wreath-laying ceremony at the site Jan. 8 and a week of programs at the University of Florida College of Law.

Martha Barnett and Stephen Hanlon, the Holland & Knight attorneys who had lobbied the Legislature pro bono to bring Rosewood out of history’s shadow, recalled that the bill was “very, very hard to pass,” did so only narrowly, and would have failed without Chiles’ active support.

A missed opportunity

DeSantis was invited to send a “short video” to be shown at a gala dinner Saturday. He didn’t. An email expressed regret that he would be unable to attend “due to a scheduling conflict.” He had been asked only to send a message.

In 2004, Gov. Jeb Bush dedicated a commemorative roadside plaque at Rosewood.

In 2008, when Charlie Crist was governor, the Legislature formally apologized for the state’s “shameful” history of slavery.

But now, DeSantis is attempting to erase racism from Florida’s collective memory. His “Stop WOKE Act,” which has been partially enjoined by a federal judge, suppresses the history of racism and its persistent, pervasive effects.

It conflicts with a 2002 statute still on the books that requires state universities to “continue the research of the Rosewood incident and the history of race relations in Florida and develop materials for the educational instruction of those events.”

Among other things, the “Stop WOKE Act” would punish teachers, professors and even private employers who even inadvertently make students or employees “feel guilt, anguish or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the individual played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex or national origin.”

Self-censorship in Florida

Teachers and professors throughout Florida say they are self-censoring their courses.

Despite U.S. District Judge Mark Walker’s order, the DeSantis administration has demanded that colleges and universities provide “a comprehensive list of all staff, programs and campus activities related to diversity, equity and inclusion and critical race theory.”

The plaintiffs asked Walker to block the pretextual witch hunt, but he denied their motion. While that was pending, House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, circulated a similar demand for information.

DeSantis didn’t start out this way. One of the first things he and the Cabinet did four years ago was to grant posthumous pardons to four Black men who had been falsely accused of raping a white woman at Groveland in 1949. And he did sign budget bills with the Ocoee scholarships.

But now, as an undeclared candidate for president, he has gone into full-bore denial of American history.

Like former president Trump, DeSantis is pandering to the fears of many white Republican voters that minorities will overtake them economically and politically. Such fear is a tacit admission that white privilege is real.

The paradox of the situation is that DeSantis strongly supports Holocaust education in the schools, as Florida law requires. But racism denial is as racist as Holocaust denial is antisemitic.

Marvin Dunn, a professor emeritus of psychology at Florida International University, owns the five acres where the Rosewood wreaths were laid Jan. 8. At the site last year, Dunn, who is Black, was attacked by a white neighbor who faces trial on assault and hate crime charges.

Confederate flags fly on some nearby properties. The historical marker is pockmarked by bullets. As William Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”


Tampa Bay Times. January 12, 2023.

Editorial: How do Florida Democrats win again?

Start by doing almost everything different.

Florida Democrats lost another officeholder last week after Manny Diaz announced his retirement “effective immediately” as state party chairperson. The news wasn’t surprising given the party’s shellacking in November’s midterm elections. But Diaz’s departure reflects how far Democrats have to go to become competitive again in America’s third-largest state.

Democrats lost every statewide election in November, marking the first time since the late 1800s that Republicans hold all Florida-wide positions. What’s more, the GOP’s solid victories at the top of the ballot — Gov. Ron DeSantis won reelection over Democrat Charlie Crist by 19 percentage points, while Sen. Marco Rubio defeated Democratic challenger Val Demings by almost 17 points — cemented in the national psyche that Florida had transitioned from a closely-watched “swing state” to solidly red.

In a five-page letter to Democratic leaders last Monday, Diaz was unsparing in reflecting on these losses. He said the party has “been rendered practically irrelevant to the election of Democrats” because of a lack of financial backing, too few committed volunteers, poor messaging, an inert bureaucracy and other factors.

“We cannot win elections if we continue to rely on voter registration to drive turnout, build field operations only around elections, and expect to get our vote out without engaging voters where they live,” Diaz wrote. And though he tried to address those issues as party chairperson, Diaz said he instead found obstacles within “a long-standing, systemic and deeply entrenched culture resistant to change; one where individual agendas are more important than team.”

We’ll let party insiders play the blame game. After all, Diaz, a former Miami mayor, knew what he was taking on; he ran on the belief that state Democrats needed a stronger party infrastructure and closer engagement with Florida voters. Diaz was in charge in late 2021 when Florida Republicans overtook Democrats in party registration for the first time in Florida history. As Jared Moskowitz, a newly elected Democratic member of the U.S. House from Broward County, tweeted: “I like Manny. But you can’t lose by 19 points and get to stay to talk about it.”

Florida Democrats are not the only ones invested in their relevance. The state’s democratic institutions are stronger when both major parties contribute to the public debate, minimizing the chance to marginalize minorities and adding to checks and balances to the system. On that score, Diaz’s parting memo underscored three points that Democrats must address.

Ideas. Democrats still have appealing messages. In recent years alone, Florida voters have adopted constitutional amendments to promote the environment, medical marijuana, felon voting rights and a higher minimum wage, all issues Democrats have championed. And while Republicans have made inroads by appealing to moderates on school choice, Democrats still can compete by highlighting their support for traditional public schools. As Republicans move to the right on abortion, free speech, LGBTQ rights and other issues, Democrats need to draw sharper distinctions on real-life impacts.

Candidates. The loss for Democrats in a state that Barack Obama carried twice is both wide and deep. Aside from Republican sweeps at the top of the ticket, first-time Republican candidates ousted incumbent Democratic officeholders in the Tampa Bay area and elsewhere, aided by DeSantis’ popularity, Republican campaign cash and Democratic voters’ indifference. Florida Democrats have a thin bench of fresh blood to move through the electoral ranks, and big-city Democratic mayors continue to stay home and pursue other opportunities besides higher office. That’s hardly a recipe for growth.

Organization. Florida Democrats have been in such disarray for years it will take time for Floridians to trust they have their own house in order. The Democrats’ historical constituencies in minority communities also have shown growing distrust with a party that shows up mostly at election time. Democrats need to unify their messaging. They need to push back harder at the labels (”socialist,” “anti-police”) that Republicans use to discredit them. And they need to learn from how Florida Republicans win races — build the grassroots, stay disciplined and strike at the political jugular.

There are still strong voices in Florida’s Democratic Party, and if Diaz’s memo becomes a cause for action when the party meets to vote on its new leadership this month, so much the better. The Democrats’ diminished presence has only worsened the polarization in Florida to the detriment of all its residents.


Orlando Sentinel. January 11, 2023.

Editorial: Don’t roll the dice in the dark on Reedy Creek and Disney

In five months, the special district that supports the No. 1 tourist destination in the world will cease to exist. What will take its place? That appears to be a secret known only to a handful of people. Among those still in the dark: Local residents and Orange and Osceola county governments, who have the most to lose if the district isn’t carefully designed to continue the level of services needed to support the massive Walt Disney World resort complex) with its 70,000-strong workforce and millions of visitors each year.

A few details have trickled out: According to a notice posted on the website for Osceola County government, Gov. Ron DeSantis apparently intends for the state to take control of the Reedy Creek Improvement District’s five-member Board of Supervisors, and to preserve the district’s authority “related to indebtedness and taxation.” That would keep a significant burden off local taxpayers. But many local officials still wonder how that will fit into the framework of local government spelled out in the Florida Constitution and state law — or if it’s even possible. With the district’s June 1 drop-dead date rapidly approaching, that is unconscionable.

There’s a lot at stake. The Reedy Creek Improvement District has nearly 400 employees, is home to two municipalities — the towns of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, both also controlled by Disney — and oversees a full array of governmental services including water and wastewater treatment plants; garbage services; roads and parking facilities and more. There’s a unionized fire department, and the district also oversees planning and zoning.

There are so many questions. Under this shift, what will happen to the two town governments? How will the debt be structured, and do creditors have to sign off on the transfer? Will the new district have a full-fledged police department? (Right now, Disney employs a private security force but calls in sheriff’s deputies from both counties to handle official law-enforcement duties).

The biggest question of all is this: Where is the Sunshine? The governor signed the first Reedy Creek bill into law in April. By now, there should have been at least a few public hearings in Central Florida, where local leaders and residents could debate alternatives, offer suggestions and potentially root out legal pitfalls. DeSantis’ office has been unresponsive to repeated requests for updates.

In a statement to the Sentinel, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, described the Osceola County website notice as a procedural step that “starts the legally required timeframe necessary to move forward with developing a local bill to end the self-governance of The Walt Disney World Co., while protecting local taxpayers from Disney’s debts.” Who’s “developing” that legislation? When and where will the public be able to view and comment on this supposedly local bill?

Defuse the time bomb

We’ve said all along that, after 50 years, it makes sense to take a second look at the extraordinary range of power the Legislature granted Disney so long ago. But it’s wrong to allow the governor to cook up a plan in secret and unveil it at the last minute, especially since last year’s legislation was sparked by DeSantis’ fit of pique after Disney executives criticized one of his legislative priorities.

DeSantis can’t follow his tantrum with a “trust me” on Reedy Creek’s successor. And it’s hard to have much faith with lawmakers who don’t show taxpayers their plans until the last minute, as they did with the first Reedy Creek bill and also during their recent special session on property insurance. Sooner or later, the continued rush of major legislation into law, with no time for debate or dissection, will result in a major mistake.

There’s one more thing to consider. After 50 years of corporate control, it’s highly likely that the operations of the Reedy Creek district have become entangled in Disney’s business structure. If company officials haven’t been privy to the plans for the new district, it creates a high probability of unintended consequences. And if they have — well, that’s just as bad as the deal Florida cut Disney in 1967.


Miami Herald. January 17, 2023.

Editorial: In DeSantis’ Florida, ‘reverse racism’ has morphed into a new boogeyman: diversity

“Reverse racism” once seemed like a fringe idea not to be taken seriously. Even the most basic understanding of this country’s history will quickly quell any fears that white Americans are the target of widespread discrimination that denies them peace and opportunities.

And yet that concept now has gone mainstream in Florida. The fight against so-called “reverse racism” has been enshrined into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Legislature as if it were the next frontier of the civil rights movement. They have turned what we traditionally considered discrimination on its head.

Discrimination 2.0 comes dressed as “diversity, equity and inclusion,” commonly known as DEI, at state universities and private companies, according to Florida’s new logic. Racists are now are those who seek to make our institutions look more like our country and address the effects of slavery and segregation on African Americans.

Public higher education is now under the gun to root out DEI programs and critical race theory, a 40-year-old academic area of study that looks into how racism has been embedded into our legal system and policies. The Florida House last week requested data from 40 institutions to “access the cost and benefit” of DEI initiatives. Speaker Paul Renner has even requested text messages, social media posts and email regarding curriculum, faculty hiring and proposed discipline.

Renner and fellow lawmakers control the budget of state colleges and universities, so the consequences of trying to diversify academia could be costly. Lawmakers have also set up a mechanism to retaliate against university professors who don’t fall in line. Last year, they made it harder for faculty members to maintain tenure, which protects them from the kind of political interference in education that DeSantis has ushered in.

The fight against DEI is more than a concern about our university system. Florida Republicans have given affirmation and credence to those who once felt ashamed to assert some version of the idea that “white men are the most discriminated group of people in America these days.”

DeSantis’ critics might hate to admit this, but he also has exposed how fraught diversity initiatives can be if not done right. He recently blasted a National Hockey League job fair taking place in Fort Lauderdale in February. The event description on LinkedIn said it was open to participants who “identify as female, Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latino, Indigenous, LGBTQIA+, and/or a person with a disability,” Fox News Digital reported. The NHL said the post was “not accurate” and revised it after backlash. DeSantis’ office called the fair discriminatory for selecting the type of people who should attend.

We don’t believe that DeSantis’ intention is to improve how companies and institutions diversify their workforce. There’s zero recognition on his part — at least publicly — that not all Americans start life on an equal footing. Nor does he seem to care that some companies and entities are still largely run by white men, even though the country is looking increasingly diverse.

The knowledge that the median white household net worth is 10 times that of the median Black household, according to the Brookings Institution, should provide enough evidence that race impacts the types of opportunities one can access. And saying that we elected a Black president doesn’t change that.

When DeSantis disavows DEI, he’s defending the sensibilities of a group of people who feel threatened by it. Lost in the conversation is that nearly 84% of the NHL’s employees are white and almost 62% are men, according to a report the league itself released in October.

Is the solution to only allow minorities to attend a job fair? No. Incidents like these are what make white people think that diversity is a zero-sum game, that opportunities to one group come at a cost to another. That’s a misconception that many politicians perpetuate for their own gain. The NHL job fair will be seen in conservative circles as proof that businesses engaging in diversity, equity and inclusion are — as far from the truth as that may be — essentially saying “white people need not apply.”

At the same time, good intentions alone won’t diversify a workforce. We know by now it’s not enough to simply invite everyone to apply or lament that “we couldn’t find any qualified women.” Diversity cannot be such an elusive goal that it becomes an afterthought. The point isn’t to have “diversity hires” but to hire people who are a good fit for a workplace, have the proper experience and skills — and that are also diverse.

Diversity, equity and inclusion are not easy topics to discuss, much less achieve. DeSantis seeks to simplify them into a new, more palatable iteration of “reverse racism.”


Palm Beach Post. January 15, 2023.

Editorial: Florida has a lot of ugliness in its racial history. Deal with it.

State ‘Stop Woke’ law and new education regulations thwart teaching and true education in Florida

On Jan. 1, 1923, an angry white mob nearly wiped Rosewood, Fla. out of existence, burning and razing homes and sending residents fleeing into the nearby swamp for safety. Seven persons were killed during an evening of atrocities that included the lynching of a local blacksmith, the gang-rape of a woman and the death of one man who was forced to dig his own grave before being executed by the mob. Local newspapers called it a “race riot.” This ugly bit of Florida history was anything but.

If the Rosewood Massacre rings no bells, it’s not surprising. When it comes to recounting Florida’s racial history, ignorance seems to be bliss. That must change, despite the current rhetoric undermining public education in our state.

The massacre — like the first recorded arrival of American slaves to colonial St. Augustine in 1687, the 1956 Tallahassee Bus Boycott and the 1951 Christmas Day bombing of civil rights leaders Harry T. and Harriet Moore — are parts of Florida history that remain overlooked and ignored. Neither Gov. Ron DeSantis, nor the two state lawmakers who represent Levy County in the Florida Legislature acknowledged the event’s centennial this month. Again no shock, in a state that has gone out of its way to limit what’s taught in its schools, colleges and universities. Thanks to the “Individual Freedom” law, dubbed by many as “The Stop WOKE Act,” classroom discussions regarding the contributions and controversies surrounding African Americans in Florida and the nation have been legally restricted for political gain.

Perhaps Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “content of their character” quote might suffice but only if it wouldn’t produce misguided complaints of anxiety and indoctrination. Such restrictions by state government only foster ignorance and undermine a quality education that promotes greater understanding of an increasingly diverse community.

No matter. Gov. DeSantis, the Florida Legislature and the State Board of Education have made it clear that any curricula, classroom discussions or guest lectures involving race and gender identity deemed too “woke” will not be tolerated, despite an earlier state law that encouraged teaching African-American history.

Somehow, the balance of teaching historic facts regarding race in Florida must be restored. Such instruction remains essential in preparing the next generation of Floridians to thrive in an increasingly diverse state, nation and world.

Florida Statute 1003.42 is still on the books. It encourages ” ... students to develop an understanding of the ramifications of prejudice, racism, and stereotyping on individual freedoms, examine what it means to be a responsible and respectful person, for the purpose of encouraging tolerance of diversity in a pluralistic society and for nurturing and protecting democratic values and institutions.” The text continues with: “Instructional personnel may facilitate discussions and use curricula to address, in an age-appropriate manner, how the individual freedoms of persons have been infringed by slavery, racial oppression, racial segregation, and racial discrimination, as well as topics relating to the enactment and enforcement of laws resulting in racial oppression, racial segregation, and racial discrimination and how recognition of these freedoms has overturned these unjust laws.”

Lofty words that come with a caveat befitting Florida’s stature as a state, in DeSantis’ words, “where woke goes to die.” In an attempt to weaponize education, state lawmakers amended the law to ensure no classroom instruction and curriculum would be used to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view that was inconsistent with recent “anti-woke” laws and state academic standards.

Given the law’s change and how “parental rights” has transformed nonpartisan school board districts into partisan watchtowers; the education department’s scrutiny of math and social science textbooks for references to Critical Race Theory, Social Emotional Learning and social justices issues; the Governor’s “review” of state college and university diversity, equity and inclusion activities; the attempt to transform New South College of Florida in Sarasota into a conservative, Christian “Hillsdale College of the South” — and it’s no wonder teachers and even tenured university faculty might be leery of broaching topics of race and gender in their classrooms.

Sweeping history under the rug benefits no one. It’s time for state education officials to back off of the politics of fear that inform the right-wing, anti-woke rhetoric, and emphasize education that includes Florida’s racial achievements as well as its setbacks.