Editorial Roundup: Florida

South Florida Sun Sentinel. March 7, 2022.

Editorial: DeSantis sacrifices Floridians for his personal ambition

As author Bob Woodward tells the story, the new virus in China didn’t yet have a name in early 2020, but Donald Trump’s national security advisor, Robert O’Brien, warned him of “the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency.” The warning proved accurate.

Nearly 1 million U.S. deaths later, COVID-19 may be waning, but the question of the next viral pandemic is not if but when. In barely a century, there have been the misnamed Spanish flu, HIV/AIDS and now COVID-19.

When the next pandemic strikes, America will need a president who acts wisely, based on science and not politics. That president should prefer to err on the side of safety rather than popularity.

Gov. Ron DeSantis would not be that president.

Although he doesn’t admit it, DeSantis’ craving for the White House is the most transparent ambition since Julius Caesar theatrically declined a crown, and it’s already dreadfully clear what kind of public health president he would be.

Consider what happened Monday. DeSantis’ surgeon general, Joseph Ladapo, announced that the Department of Health will not recommend healthy children get COVID-19 vaccinations and will in fact recommend against it. That was another irresponsible act in DeSantis’ full-bore campaign to undercut common-sense health measures as invasions of “freedom.”

As governor, DeSantis has dealt with the coronavirus with less responsibility than Trump did at the White House. But Florida’s fringe surgeon general would likely become the nation’s fringe surgeon general if President DeSantis could promote him.

Doubling down on a reckless, radical agenda, Ladapo now says that healthy Florida children age 5 to 11 should not continue to get a CDC-approved vaccines, making Florida the first state to actively discourage kids from being protected.

Children are far less likely than adults to die from COVID-19, but they do die from it — 42 in Florida so far, according to the Department of Health. Even if mildly ill or asymptomatic, they could infect vulnerable grandparents. But thanks to DeSantis and the unquestioning Florida Legislature, Florida schools cannot require masks, even in high-risk counties.

Red meat for the masses

The zealotry of DeSantis and Ladapo for the “freedom” to go maskless — and now unvaccinated — in the face of a still-lethal virus is red meat for the governor’s right-wing followers, and it’s rocket fuel for his lucrative national fundraising.

He exposed the sheer hypocrisy during a notorious photo op where he bullied a group of Tampa high school students into removing masks, scoffing at “COVID theater.” Is it a matter of personal choice and parental control, as he keeps saying, or not?

Even as the Centers for Disease Control was relaxing its face-mask protocols to account for improving local conditions, DeSantis and Ladapo urged Floridians to “buck the CDC.” They also appeared to encourage physicians to prescribe remedies not approved by the FDA for antivirus therapy and to file complaints against hospitals that forbid questionable therapies.

Just the other day, Ladapo denounced as “a lie” that masks have saved any lives from COVID-19. That is as great a falsehood as Trump’s claim to have won the election. He labeled as “zombies” doctors who disagree with him.

DeSantis previewed a dystopian future as he took his campaign for the White House to the 2022 Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando.

Arriving with a rock star’s welcome, he continued demonizing Dr. Anthony Fauci, president Biden’s chief medical adviser, for his tireless efforts to protect Americans from COVID-19. He denounced Australia and Canada as threats to freedom for their efforts to control the pandemic. He was too busy demonizing medical science that day to say a word about Russia’s diabolical invasion of Ukraine.

A divider, not a uniter

DeSantis is running like Trump did in 2016, as a divider rather than a uniter, writing off moderate and liberal voters whom he has no more intention of representing in Washington than he has in Tallahassee.

With COVID-19, DeSantis dragged Florida deeper into harm’s way. He signed legislation to prohibit private employers, schools and other public agencies from imposing vaccine or mask mandates. He abdicated his duty as a leader by refusing to say whether he’d had a booster shot. He encouraged lax practices by nursing homes and other health care providers by signing and extending a law generally barring COVID-related lawsuits. He continues to disparage best practices.

In all those ways, DeSantis was more irresponsible than Trump. The former president failed in his duty by minimizing the virus in his public statements and by undercutting his government’s own safety pronouncements with White House and campaign events that did not enforce social distancing or face-masking. But his Operation Warp Speed did make available a vaccine in record time, and he did not actively oppose federal, state or local prevention efforts like DeSantis has.

He’s a ruthless politician who will knowingly sacrifice anything, especially truth, to his incandescent personal ambition.

Simply put, if you liked having Trump in the White House, you’ll love DeSantis.

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Orlando Sentinel. March 5, 2022.

Editorial: Foreign-born kids here alone need help, not DeSantis’ heartlessness

Social media erupted Wednesday after Gov. Ron DeSantis reprimanded high school students for wearing masks at the governor’s photo opportunity in Tampa.

However tacky DeSantis’ behavior, those kids are lucky. Imagine the children who could suffer so much from another of the governor’s political tantrums.

They are the unaccompanied children who entered the country across the border with Mexico. Most are seeking asylum from conditions in Central America. The federal government is placing them with sponsors until their hearings.

Enter DeSantis, who bases every policy decision not on how it can help Florida but on how he believes that it can help him become the Republican presidential nominee in 2024. The governor wants to close off state-licensed shelters and foster homes to some of these children as part of his campaign to falsely claim that President Biden supports “open borders.”

The governor has imposed a new rule on those agencies, and they must show “evidence of need” to get a license. Under his proposal, resettling those children would not qualify as “evidence of need” unless an agreement to house them existed between the federal and state governments. DeSantis will not approve such an agreement.

The governor has tried to create cover stories for this heartlessness. As usual, one came from press secretary Christina Pushaw.

The rule, Pushaw told the Miami Herald, will “ensure Florida children can be served by state-licensed facilities without unfair competition from the federal government.” Because the feds pay more than the state, she argued, agencies have a financial incentive to accept unaccompanied minors than Florida-born children.

We disagree with this cynical conclusion that child welfare agencies are only in it for the money.

But there’s another problem with the governor’s defense.

DeSantis said last month the Biden administration’s process “smuggles in illegal immigrants from many different countries with no vetting, no transparency and no consideration for child and public safety.” The governor claimed that Biden is enabling human smuggling.

Credible fact-checking website debunked the governor’s claim. Federal officials check to see whether children have been trafficked or have criminal records. Those with records can’t come in, though that number amounted to just 2% of all unaccompanied children during the last budget year.

The governor’s border obsession backfired recently when he called any comparison between the current refugee flights and the early-1960s Pedro Pan flights from Cuba “disgusting.” As he did as a candidate in 2018, DeSantis is courting Cuban-American voters in South Florida, some of whom came through the Pedro Pan program.

But Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski (who oversaw the Diocese of Orlando until 2010) said, “Children are children, and no child should be deemed ‘disgusting,’ especially by a public servant.” The diocese was heavily involved in those Pedro Pan flights and has involved itself ever since in refugee resettlement, notably during the Mariel Boatlift of 1980.

Pushaw struck back quickly and self-righteously. “Lying is a sin,” she tweeted, alleging that Wenski had wrongly accused DeSantis of calling refugee children “disgusting.” But her slur confused no one who has followed the governor and his demagoguery.

A Spanish-language ad campaign followed, financed by the American Business Immigration Coalition. Its chairman is Mike Fernandez, a Miami health care entrepreneur and lifelong Republican who left the party over Donald Trump and his anti-immigrant policies.

In the ad, a narrator says, “Disgusting? Disgusting is that Gov. DeSantis is trying to benefit himself politically by attacking innocent immigrant children who are only seeking refuge.” The ad criticizes DeSantis for valuing Pedro Pan children more than their current counterparts.

“Children are children,” Fernandez said, “whether they are escaping the oppressive Castro regime or violence, socialism and dictatorship in Venezuela, Haiti and Central America. None of these children are disgusting, and caring for them is an act of humanity.”

For a different view from a different Republican, consider U. S Rep. Maria Elena Salazar of Miami. She has sponsored legislation that would create a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants. Many of them contribute to Florida’s economy.

Though it runs to nearly 500 pages, Salazar’s legislation isn’t as sweeping or as helpful as the comprehensive reform bill that passed the Senate in 2013 with 68 votes, among them Lindsey Graham and John McCain. It would have passed the House — and addressed many current problems — if the GOP leadership hadn’t killed it.

Unlike DeSantis, though, Salazar at least seeks solutions rather than “theater” on immigration. There’s a word for politicians who seek to exploit children — disgusting.

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Miami Herald. March 4, 2022.

Editorial: Florida senator shared her rape story before abortion vote. Republican lawmakers didn’t care

It was in vain that Sen. Lauren Book shared her painful experience of being drugged and raped by several men as a young teen. Her powerful testimony on the Florida Senate floor — the first time she shared it publicly — fell on deaf ears.

But it’s obvious what we already knew: the callousness of Republicans who refused at least five times to add exemptions for rape, incest and human trafficking to the 15-week abortion ban that the Legislature passed Thursday night. The bill heads to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who’s certain to sign it into law.

There’s no better symbol of the lawmakers’ lack of humanity than the photo posted on Twitter of a devastated Book, D-Plantation, being consoled by a fellow senator outside chambers after her amendment to provide such exceptions was rejected.

To force a woman or girl to carry the child of her own abusive father, brother or uncle — or a “friend” or stranger — isn’t “pro life.” It isn’t protecting the life of the unborn, as Republicans like to say from their high horses. It’s treating women as “host bodies”, as former House Speaker Jose Oliva called them in 2019. It was only after backlash that he apologized.

This is not to say that conservatives who oppose abortion rights are against women, as some pro-choice activists say. We can understand the desire to impose limits on the practice for religious or moral reasons. This debate isn’t as clear-cut as some like to think: freedom versus life; good versus evil.

But on Thursday, Republican state lawmakers looked like extremists when they denied dignity to victims of horrendous crimes. They made it hard to believe in the good moral conscience in which they claim to be acting, that they are anything but impervious to human suffering.

How else would you couch this explanation from Sen. Kelli Stargel, one of the sponsors of House Bill 5, for why she’s against exemptions?

“If one of the only opportunities to have an abortion is if the woman was raped, I fear for the men who are going to be accused of a rape so that the woman can have an abortion.”

She fears for men, but not the women who would be forced to carry a pregnancy that happened against their will.

Luckily, only 6% of abortions in Florida are performed after the third trimester, so this bill wouldn’t affect many women. But we would be foolish to assume Republicans will be done after this. With Roe v. Wade at risk in the U.S. Supreme Court, abortion-rights advocates fear that, eventually, lawmakers will try a Texas-style ban, which begins after about six weeks of pregnancy.

If, and when, that happens, we don’t expect anything short of more extremism. Florida Republicans already have shown their true colors.

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Tampa Bay Times. March 7, 2022.

Editorial: A promising new vision for Wimauma

Revitalizing a farming community with a small-town feel.

The largely Hispanic community of Wimauma in southern Hillsborough County has plenty of everything — in terms of challenges, that is. Poverty, language barriers, poor education, bad roads, a lack of job opportunities — these are only a few of the hurdles Wimauma faces in becoming more alive and self-sufficient. But a new plan that county government and local activists have made into reality offers ample reason for hope, provided local leaders work together on even the smallest incremental steps.

Officials gathered last month to celebrate the Wimauma Village Neighborhood Plan, a sweeping initiative the Hillsborough County commission approved unanimously in October to remake this south county region east of Sun City Center. As the Tampa Bay Times’ Juan Carlos Chavez reported, the plan cleared the way for Tarcila Pimentel to open the laundromat she has long imagined on land she owns along Wimauma’s main drag, State Road 674. Pimentel, a 55-year-old Guatemalan immigrant and mother of three children, plans to employ three or more people. “It has not been easy,” she said, “but now I am very hopeful of moving my project forward.”

Pimentel’s announcement is exactly what the Wimauma plan envisions — small-business startups that churn more money through the local economy, building a stronger and more sustainable community.

Farming continues to be the largest land use category in Wimauma, a largely rural area. But big tracts of native and agricultural land in south county have fallen to suburban development. That has hollowed out job opportunities and investment; over the last two decades, for example, the Wimauma area outpaced the county’s growth rate overall, but suffered huge job losses in agriculture that never translated to other industries. Residents here spend disproportionately more on housing and transportation, and retail spending by Wimauma households is about two-thirds the county average. Nearly one in four people here live in poverty and 44% of those 25 and older lack a high school degree. One-fourth the workforce is over 55 years old. And with 76% of the population identifying as Hispanic (compared to about 30% countywide), language barriers compound the search for new economic opportunities.

The county plan envisions “an affordable, walkable community connected by a network of trails with thriving local businesses and farmers markets along a porch-like main street.” To that end, it calls for expanding water and sewer service for commercial development. Broader internet service. New sidewalks, parks and bike trails. Improved bus service and streetscaping. Live/work units in the central business district to create lively destinations. And new efforts to broadly improve the area’s quality of life, from expanding housing rehab programs to reducing the number of dead-end streets.

The plan would also foster cooperation between government agencies, private industry and nonprofits. It calls for co-locating schools, parks, libraries and fire stations and opening up school resources such as libraries and recreation fields to broader public use. To foster greater integration, gated subdivisions would be banned, and developments of 50 units or more would be required to set aside open space and consult with the school district about potential campus sites. The plan would also bring together a range of child care, after school, Spanish-language and other social programs under a more workable umbrella, giving taxpayers and service providers a bigger bang for the buck.

The plan, for sure, is aspirational, and it will require sustained commitment. But what’s wrong with that? Its comprehensive scope and attention to detail will help entrepreneurs plan their business. And the effort has a particularly strong advocate in Commissioner Mariella Smith, who appreciates Wimauma’s desire to maintain its character. This is an admirable exercise in community-building that sets a foundation for progress.

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