Editorial Roundup: Florida

Orlando Sentinel. November 11, 2022.

Editorial: As Florida’s veteran population changes, meet new needs

Ask most Floridians to envision a typical military veteran and they’ll probably describe an older man, possibly wearing a ball cap embroidered with the details of his service. Ask them what that veteran needs, and the answer will likely involve access to health, disability, retirement and educational benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, along with mental health care and protection against homelessness for a small number of veterans who have “fallen through the cracks.”

Then ask them if those veterans deserve the support they’re getting — not just the government benefits, but the discounts, the recognition and the thanks of their fellow Americans — and the answer will be a resounding yes. Survey after survey reflects long-standing American sentiment: Service is a choice veterans made, sacrificing significant personal liberty and living with the ever-present threat of being sent halfway across the world to travel booby-trapped roads and the possibility that they might not make it home.

But Florida’s veteran population is far more diverse than many imagine. And it’s changing fast. In recent years, the nation largely focused on bidding farewell to nearly all the veterans who served during World War II , known as the “greatest generation.” Less attention has been paid to the fact that Korean and Vietnam War-era veterans are now their 70s, 80s and 90s. And while veterans of the Vietnam War make up the single largest group in Florida (at 35% of the state’s total population of veterans) more than half of Florida vets enlisted after Sept. 11, 2001.

There are other significant differences: Compared to their predecessors, post-9/11 veterans are twice as likely to have served in a combat zone. A comprehensive 2017 study by the Pew Research Institute found that more than one-third report symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, another significant increase from those whose service ended prior to 9/11. Half said they had difficulty adjusting to civilian life. Here’s the most staggering statistic: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2018, 41% of the total population of post-9/11 veterans had reported a service-connected disability.

Beyond disability, other needs have changed as well. The number of women veterans has surged, though it’s still less than 12%. And in Florida, one in three veterans live in a household with at least one child — including Gov. Ron DeSantis,, who has three, and Rep. Michael Waltz of St. Augustine, who announced the birth of his son Armie in January.

“Childcare remains a big issue for some of the more remote bases ― especially in the Panhandle,” Waltz said through a spokesman Thursday. “For special operations and naval bases , service members are regularly deployed which can cause additional strain.” If Republicans take a majority in the House, Waltz said, he expects to be chairman of the Military Readiness Subcommittee, which has oversight of private run base housing ― and might give him some ideas for addressing housing needs of service members once their term is up.

Even if Democrats hang on to the House, Waltz ― a Green Beret who served multiple combat tours in Afghanistan, the Middle East and Africa before shifting to high-ranking policy positions in the George W. Bush administratin ― is in a good position to remind national and state leaders of what working-age veterans need. Certainly, mental health care remains a priority, especially for those at risk of addiction, family violence and suicide. Most advocates agree that veterans are well-supported in regard to job training, but many struggle to access child care and affordable housing. Targeting more help toward these working-age veterans should take into account that many of them are forgoing home ownership (and some may never be able to afford it, even with VA home-loan advantages).

Expanding services to younger veterans could produce a massive dividend: As more veterans work toward their full potential, they boost the nation’s economic bottom line. They will be more likely to pursue further education, or explore entrepreneurship.

DeSantis and other state leaders should take this as a challenge: Make Florida the friendliest state for younger veterans, with a bank of benefits that meets their needs. And then use the lessons learned from them to explore ways to boost all Floridians toward greater prosperity.

Today, we owe all veterans our thanks. But the challenge of shifting to meet their needs should be a year-round priority for state and national leaders.

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Palm Beach Post. November 13, 2022.

Editorial: Political pivot needed as DeSantis seeks bigger stage

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis looks to be the Republican Party’s biggest winner in this year’s midterm elections. He won re-election to the governor’s mansion convincingly, riding a red-wave and fueling speculation of frontrunner status for higher office. How far he goes politically depends on how well he addresses some of Florida’s pressing problems.

The Governor may be seeking a bigger stage, but Florida isn’t exactly a backwater spot. It’s the nation’s third largest state with many of the laundry list of challenges facing the country as a whole. Any governor seeking higher office couldn’t ask for a better platform. The challenge for Gov. DeSantis is to show he can appeal to a broader audience.

At the moment, the signs of adjustment simply aren’t there. “Florida was a refuge of sanity when the world went mad,” Gov. DeSantis said in a fiery victory speech. “We stood as a citadel of freedom for people across this country and, indeed, across the world.” Those words might reverberate in Florida but, judging from the current congressional results, might ring hollow elsewhere.

The idea of a prospective presidential candidate crossing the political aisle to resolve problems may sound absurd to those who believe there’s a big bloc of center-right voters waiting for the right Republican to capture their imagination and rid the nation of their “leftist” opposition. Nov. 8 showed the folly of such thinking. Again, the big “Red Wave” never materialized, and voters seemed to reject candidates deemed too “authoritarian” or a threat to democracy.

The majority of voters want a government that works — one that will ensure, not infringe upon, individual rights, one where elected officials respect the democratic process, come together and reach compromises when necessary to work for the public good.

In that sense, Gov. DeSantis is fortunate. He has several opportunities to address serious challenges confronting Florida and show persons outside of the state that he has the ability to confront longstanding problems as easily as his political opponents.

Hurricane Nicole, which produced severe beach erosion and coastal flooding, pounded a state already reeling from Hurricane Ian. The situation finds Gov. DeSantis in a familiar role of assuring those Floridians who suffered loss. But, that’s to be expected of any Florida governor. People outside the state who are tired of seeing their tax dollars repeatedly used to rebuild in vulnerable, low-lying areas will want to see ideas from the Governor that go beyond short-term response of debris removal and relief aid.

Florida’s high-priced housing, particularly in popular urban and suburban areas that continue to attract new growth, is another issue that should resonate outside of our state. Someone in the DeSantis administration should be able to come up with better housing, growth and development strategies beyond tax cuts in the form of more homestead exemptions or perks to real estate developers. Restoring the Sadowski Trust Funds to 100 percent use for developing more workforce housing would be a good place to start.

Property insurance is another issue the Governor could potentially use on the campaign trail outside of Florida, by taking more of a leadership role in addressing it. He has called for a second special session of the Florida Legislature to grapple with the crisis. Imagine if the Governor found a way to attract and retain private insurers to offer coverage in Florida.

Early on Gov. DeSantis showed some promise in governing. His work to protect Florida’s environment, in particular vetoing legislation that initially contained language that would have weakened efforts to curb polluted discharges from Lake Okeechobee and undermined key parts of ongoing efforts to restore the Everglades, showed merit.

The political fanfare following Nov. 8 has been dominated by Gov. DeSantis’ decisive victory and his party’s hold on the state. The past four years not only turned the Governor into a viable option as a 2024 GOP candidate for president but also transformed his state. Florida is now, as one political observer put it, “Alabama with palm trees.”

But using an ample amount of hubris, Gov. DeSantis successfully undermined efforts to protect Floridians against COVID-19, punished private business and public schools for encouraging racial and gender diversity, restricted voting rights and stripped African Americans of political representation. It’s a record of base politics at its finest.

The reality, however, is that outside of the ruby red bubble that is Florida, a majority of the voters aren’t necessarily buying much of what the Governor is selling. The bigger stage awaits. Gov. DeSantis’ challenge remains his willingness to change to meet it?

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Miami Herald. November 14, 2022.

Editorial: Florida’s purple reign is over. After midterm elections, it’s solidly MAGA red

To understand what Republicans pulled off — and Democrats allowed to happen — in the midterm elections, let’s let the numbers tell the story.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton carried Miami-Dade, Florida’s largest county, by 29 points.

In 2018, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis lost the county by 21 points.

In 2020, Joe Biden won it by a mere 7 points.

DeSantis flipped Miami-Dade and made gains in other Democratic strongholds on Tuesday, including deep-blue Broward County.

The last Republican to win Miami-Dade was former Gov. Jeb Bush in the early 2000s. If Democrats cannot win it back in future elections, they can kiss goodbye ever winning statewide elections again.

Back in 2016, Clinton lost the Sunshine State to Donald Trump by a razor-thin margin typical of a “swing,” or “battleground” or “purple” state. DeSantis beat Democrat Charlie Crist by nearly 20 points. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio won reelection almost as easily.

These results seem like they could have just as easily happened in a deep-red bastion and that’s what Florida might as well be called at least for now.

In the following days, pundits, political consultants and journalists will ponder: Is Florida still a swing state? Which way Florida leans can change in a couple of election cycles. Miami-Dade still has more registered Democrats than Republicans. But it will be hard to keep the state colored in purple in the next presidential election electoral map. Florida stands as an outlier of Republican strength when a predicted red wave didn’t materialize in other states.

National Democratic donors all but abandoned the state this year, spending their money in states where they could get more bang for their buck, like Georgia or Arizona. The math to win presidential elections becomes harder for Democrats without Florida’s 30 electoral votes, and easier for Republicans.

“Florida tonight becomes the MAGA red center of the political universe, sadly,” Miami-based Democratic pollster Fernand Amandi told the Herald Editorial Board.

For a governor who squeezed in a victory in 2018, DeSantis has proven that his confrontational style of politics, his obsession with culture wars about race, gender and sexual orientation and his approach to the COVID-19 pandemic are a winning formula. Expect more of it in his next term, as he’s expected to run for president in 2024. Expect the GOP to export this model to other states with a large Hispanic voting base.

NO SURPRISES

It can be hard to draw conclusions based on the results of a midterm election. The party holding the White House traditionally loses seats, Biden is facing low approval ratings and inflation is at a historic high. But the GOP’s expansion of its dominance and Democrats’ shrinking footprint in a state so crucial to national elections is no surprise to anyone who’s been following state and local politics.

“This is like Mike Tyson boxing with a 90 year old man in a nursing home. The outcome is not unexpected,” tweeted Rick Wilson, a former GOP consultant and co-founder of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project.

The Democratic Party infrastructure is a skeleton of what it used to be when Barack Obama won the state in 2008 and 2012. Back then, Democrats thought they had figured out how to crack the code with Hispanic voters in Miami-Dade. The common complaint from Democratic consultants and candidates is that instead of building on that success, the party picked up and left, returning only when it needed votes and often too late. They dismissed, instead of disproved, the “socialist” label Republicans attached to every candidate with a “D” next to their name. Democrats lost ground with Hispanics, not only among conservative-leaning Cubans, but Latinos of other backgrounds.

Republicans played the long game. They closed the Democratic advantage in voter registration, and then surpassed it. They remained engaged in communities important to them year-round. They built infrastructure like a Hispanic center in Miami-Dade that hosts a U.S. citizenship exam prep clinic for soon-to-be voters. Those efforts paid off on Tuesday when DeSantis won roughly 65% of the vote in majority Hispanic precincts in Miami-Dade, the Herald reported.

Republicans have a unified message and follow the script, unlike Democrats who struggle conveying their vision in a succinct, direct way, like “Make America Great Again” did. Republicans quickly rallied behind Trump and then DeSantis — there’s no room for dissent in the GOP, as Republicans who went head-to-head with Trump and DeSantis have learned. Such muzzling is not healthy for democracy, but it sure can pull in the votes.

The moral of the story is that no party should take Florida for granted. If Democrats can teach us anything, it’s that you snooze, you lose.

“Do I think (Florida) is lost forever? No, but we need a game-changer of a candidate,” Democratic consultant Evan Ross told the Editorial Board.

Andrew Gillum could’ve been that candidate in 2018, but his political baggage, thanks to an FBI investigation into Tallahassee City Hall, sank him. He lost to DeSantis by 32,000 votes. Gillum was arrested this year on charges of conspiracy and fraud.

Crist, a former Republican governor turned independent and then Democrat, who lost in 2014, was anything but exciting. To be fair, not even the second coming of Obama could’ve likely beaten the popular DeSantis.

If Democrats are going to wait for the next charismatic leader to save them from doom, that’s a big gamble. But politics is driven by hype. If donors don’t think Florida Democrats have the right candidates, they will take their money elsewhere. Without money, Democrats cannot have basic infrastructure to groom and support candidates.

It’s a self-fulling prophecy that will likely continue to haunt them in the Sunshine State.

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Sun Sentinel. November 11, 2022.

Editorial: Florida Republicans: They’re still in denial

If any statewide races in Florida had been close, we would be Arizona.

In that battleground state, election denial runs high among key Republicans. Kari Lake, the former local TV news anchor running for governor, believes that President Joe Biden did not win the 2020 election fairly. Now she’s using conspiracy theories to explain her possible defeat.

Lake seized on technical problems in Maricopa County — where 60% of the state’s voters live — to suggest that fraud was going on. The right-wing amplification system spread the lie across social media.

In fact, as the Republican lawyer who runs the county’s election board said, all ballots are being counted properly — just more slowly. He asked Lake to cool the rhetoric. Senate candidate Blake Masters, currently trailing Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly, is another denier.

Gov. Ron DeSantis had no worries about a close race. He’s been quite clever about remaining election-denier adjacent, campaigning for the most strident of Republican election conspiracy theorists while cautiously and broadly talking about election integrity himself. Even as he’s done so, he’s stumped for Lake; Doug Mastriano, who lost his race for governor of Pennsylvania; and J.D. Vance, who will be the next senator from Ohio, all of whom have asserted, against overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, in Florida

Closer to home, DeSantis named Cord Byrd secretary of state. Byrd has refused to say whether he believes Biden won fairly. Because DeSantis defeated Charlie Crist by nearly 20 points, Floridians never got to see whether Byrd would be more loyal to his boss or the public.

And, of course, Florida has a history. During the Bush-Gore recount in 2000, every key decision by Secretary of State Katherine Harris — then elected independently — helped Bush, her fellow Republican. GOP operatives also banged on windows at the Miami-Dade County elections office to stop ballot counting.

Rick Scott made baseless suggestions of “rampant fraud” in Broward and Palm Beach counties when his 2018 Senate race against incumbent Bill Nelson went to a recount. “I will not sit idly by,” Scott said, “while unethical liberals try to steal this election.”

This from the man whose hospital company defrauded the government. As a senator, Scott voted to challenge results from the 2020 election.

Happily, across the country, many deniers fared badly. Notably, all members of the America First Secretary of State Coalition lost or appear set to lose. Coalition members — all Republicans — believe that state elections officials can overturn the will of the voters in presidential elections.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger, who resisted Donald Trump’s attempt to steal that state’s electoral votes, didn’t just survive Trump’s attempt to defeat him. He won by a larger margin than any other statewide candidate.

Despite what pre-election polls suggested, many voters did believe that democracy was on the ballot. The issue helped Democrats avoid predictions of a “red wave,” and control of the House and Senate remains up in the air, with the Senate majority seeming more and more as though it will be decided in a Georgia runoff election, just as it was in 2020.

There were exceptions. Denier Ted Budd won a Senate seat in North Carolina. Wisconsin elected to Congress a former Navy SEAL who was at the Jan. 6 insurrection.

But many Democrats benefited more. The issue helped the party sweep three competitive House seats in Ohio, despite statewide Republican wins.

The Florida red wave

Unhappily, Florida is an exception.

Before the election, the Washington Post listed all the election deniers nationwide who were seeking federal or statewide office. Based on that list, 17 of the state’s 22 Republican members of Congress have questioned — or worse — the 2020 result.

Two of those — Bill Posey and Daniel Webster — had been conservative but level-headed members of the Florida Legislature. GOP redistricting, however, has turned swing districts into right-wing fortresses.

Consider Anna Paulina Luna, who continues to spread the democracy-destroying poison that Trump won in 2020. She just won the St. Petersburg-area seat from which Charlie Crist resigned to run for governor. Before Crist beat him in 2016, moderate Republican David Jolly — who left his party in 2018 over its fealty to Trump — represented the district.

Then there’s Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, who also cruised to a second term. Moody signed on to the crackpot lawsuit by her Texas counterpart, Ken Paxton, alleging fraud in the 2020 election.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Republican Laurel Lee, Byrd’s predecessor, won a Tampa-area congressional seat this year without being an election denier.

But the lie about a “rigged” election persists at all levels in this state. A denier just won a seat on the Palm Beach County Commission. Most Republicans running for the Legislature perpetuate Trump’s lie, sometimes under DeSantis’ cover of “election integrity.”

Trump faces strong criticism after Republicans outside Florida underperformed. The GOP won’t be rid of Trump, however, until the party admits that Biden won fairly. Democracy does depend on it.

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