Editorial Roundup: Florida

South Florida Sun Sentinel. June 30, 2022.

Editorial: Chasing reporters will just put them on high alert

Nate Monroe, a political columnist at the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, has a few things in common with the Orlando Sentinel’s Scott Maxwell, and with other top-notch members of their tribe across the country.

First, he knows his stuff — many North Florida skeletons have been rooted up by Monroe’s sniffing around. Second, when he unleashes his scorn on self-dealing local and state politicians and business leaders, they know they’ve been stung. Last, any attempt to bully or intimidate him only fuels his determination to get at the truth.

And yet, last week, Monroe found out he’d been the target of secret surveillance ordered up by Matrix LLC, a political consulting firm with former ties to Florida’s biggest electric utility, Florida Power & Light. The dossier Matrix assembled on Monroe (which has been verified by Matrix founder Joe Perkins) reveals information that is clearly not in the public domain, including photos of Monroe and his wife-to-be walking their dog and deep-dive personal and financial data. On the list: His Social Security number, and names of relatives the journalist says he “hasn’t seen since I was a toddler.”

We doubt Matrix was looking to surprise him with a festive family reunion.

There is one three-text exchange from late 2019, however, that does illuminate a potential motive. The first, from an as-yet-unidentified Matrix number, shows a screenshot of Monroe’s Twitter feed with his post reading “Time to get drunk.” Within a minute came a response: “Awesome,” swiftly followed by the Matrix employee reporting that Monroe took an Uber, with a crying-face emoji.

It looks as if someone wanted to play gotcha. And while the Matrix employee hasn’t been identified, the Times-Union and the Sentinel have both reported that the person who replied “Awesome” was FPL’s vice president of state legislative affairs, Daniel Martell.

Why would an FPL executive say “awesome” about a journalist’s potential DUI? For years, Monroe has written about FPL’s attempt to take over JEA, the city-owned utility. The story is intricate and spans years, but here’s one example of a story Monroe helped uncover: In 2019, a Matrix-backed political committee called Grow United was involved in a job offer to a Jacksonville City Council member who was opposed to letting FPL buy the utility.

If the Grow United name sounds familiar, it’s because the same committee was implicated in the so-called “ghost candidate” scandal of 2020, in which independent candidates in three close state Senate races ran in an apparent attempt to confuse Democratic voters or syphon off votes from Democratic candidates. All along, FPL has denied any involvement with attempted influence peddling — despite evidence of big-dollar payments from the utility.

Reporters from the Sentinel, the Times-Union and other Florida newspapers have been swarming over various elements of this simmering scandal for years. We wonder how many dossiers are out there detailing intimate details of their lives — and what the compilers hoped to gain with their ill-gotten data. Will we wake up to an email blast decrying the Orlando Sentinel’s Annie Martin, who’s posted pictures on social media in which she blatantly poses with at least one known terrier? What about Sun Sentinel investigations editor Brittany Wallman and her penchant for tweeting pics of native flora? The mind reels.

The reality, of course, is that journalists tend to be the kind of people who don’t back down when targeted for exposure or ridicule. The Sunshine State has a long, spicy tradition of reporters cast in this mold. They don’t make excuses for people who should know better. If they see pressure building to warp the course of Florida politics, they’ll try to find out where it’s coming from. And if they catch someone’s fingers in the taxpayers’ cookie jar, they will work tirelessly to catalog and label every crumb.

Anyone in a position of leadership in Florida should have figured this out by now. But there will always be people who believe power, wealth and influence can bargain away truth. They’re wrong about that — and now they’ve given Florida’s press a little more reason to dig.

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Palm Beach Post. July 3, 2022.

Editorial: Roe decision puts focus on social services

Is Florida ready for the post-Roe experience? If the state’s health and social services network is any indication, the answer is a definite “no.” Child welfare and women’s health programs have fallen short of the needs of a growing and diverse state. What makes anyone think it’ll be ready to handle a wave of forced births?

The question too few ask is, will Florida’s hodgepodge of government agencies and nonprofits that provide health and social services for pregnant women, newborn babies and youngsters put up for adoption and/or foster care be up to the challenge that will come as more women are forced to carry fetuses to term? The answer is discouraging, although the assumption is that these services are somehow available.

“Our child-welfare services has been in crisis for decades, and it’s still there,” Karen Woodall, a longtime advocate and director of the Tallahassee-based Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy told the Post Editorial Board. “The reality is, the reality doesn’t match the rhetoric. We dabble around the edges. It’s nothing new.”

According to a recent Associated Press analysis, states with the most restrictive laws generally provide less support to parents and children, which typically leads to poverty and poor health outcomes.

So, how bad is it in Florida?

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2021 Kids Count Data Book ranks Florida 35th of the 50 states in overall child well-being, the composite ranking of economic well-being, education, health and family and community data. Florida did worse in the economic well-being category, ranking 42nd.

Another indication: In 2020, USA Today reporters produced an investigation of the state’s foster care system entitled, “Florida took thousands of kids from families, then failed to keep them safe.” The series described a system that buckled under rising caseloads, in which caseworkers lied and omitted information from their reports and in which children got hurt.

The probe produced some changes, but with more than 79,000 women undergoing abortions in 2021,according to Agency for Health Care Administration data, one can only imagine what may occur with the possibility of more children ending up in the state’s care. While it’s unclear how the new abortion restrictions will impact Florida’s health and social services, there’s a consensus that more resources will be needed if many of what were to be abortions become babies of unwanted pregnancies.

For years, abortion opponents have called for greater rights of the unborn, while offering lip service or outright opposition to initiatives that would help vulnerable mothers and their children. The child tax credit, Medicaid, Obamacare — are just the prominent federal government programs to draw heated opposition from conservative Republicans and many right-to-lifers. Life after Roe, however, is putting them in a corner.

It’s ironic that Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who once considered expanding Medicaid here as governor before backpedaling, is now using his position as head of the Senate Republican campaign committee to urge Republicans to “do everything in our power to meet the needs of struggling women and their families so they can choose life.”

Sen. Marco Rubio is chiming in, too, announcing an idea on Twitter that would “support mothers and their babies so that every child has a real opportunity to pursue the promise of America.” The proposal includes a limited expansion of payments from the child tax credit and would allow for paid family leave, if those participants use their Social Security benefits and delay retirement. Such is life in the post-Roe world.

It’s now up to the states to set the rules regarding abortions. Several states have already severely restricted abortions. Florida is one of six states where the state courts have become the new battleground to either preserve or eliminate the procedure.

Women who assumed the medical procedure would always be available to them face a world of risks many thought were long gone. The pro-life community would do well to better understand and push for additional resources to healthcare and welfare services they are so quick to presume are readily available.

Improved social services are no substitute for what had been a fundamental right guaranteed under Roe v. Wade and subsequent Supreme Court rulings. But abortion restrictions being reinstated, boosting social services can’t be slighted.

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Miami Herald. July 5, 2022.

Editorial: GOP’s ideological wars begin in Florida’s classrooms, and DeSantis, so far, is winning

A Republican running for reelection to Congress in Colorado recently told a Christian congregation: “I’m tired of this separation of church and state junk.”

The words of Rep. Lauren Boebert, who beat back a primary challenge last week, may appear inconsequential in Florida. But foolish are those who dismiss her as just a right-wing fanatic.

There is a concerted effort to blur the line between religion and state and interpret the history of the United States through a conservative Christian lens that whitewashes our past of slavery and segregation.

That effort begins with public education. It ends with the conservative reshaping of the nation’s highest court.

Florida, thanks for Gov. Ron DeSantis, is Ground Zero for such experimentation. As Richard Corcoran, former state education commissioner and DeSantis appointee, prophesied, “Education is our sword.” Or a scalpel Republicans are carefully manipulating in Republican-led states. They claim to be fighting indoctrination by “leftist academics” while giving their own spin — yep, indoctrination — on the nation’s founding.

It’s no coincidence that Corcoran uttered those words at a seminar last spring organized by Hillsdale College, a 1,500-student private Christian college in a small town in Michigan. The school has strong connections to Republicans and an outsized influence in efforts to reshape K-12 education.

The college’s “1776 Curriculum” — apparently, a spin-off of Donald Trump’s 1776 Commission, chaired by the college’s president — has been criticized for minimizing slavery and climate change.

Hillsdale College is among the organizations partnering with Florida to train teachers on how to administer a new state civics initiative. Some of the teachers who attended a three-day training session in Broward County told Miami Herald reporters they were alarmed at how “skewed” it was toward “a very strong Christian fundamentalist way toward analyzing different quotes and different documents,” as a 12th-grade government teacher described.

The push to insert Christianity into government isn’t new. But as the nation becomes more racially and culturally diverse, and less religious that push is in overdrive — in 2011, about 18% of Americans were not affiliated with any religion, according to the Pew Research Center. That number grew to 29% last year. As Confederate monuments are taken down and names of slave owners are taken off buildings, there’s a counter effort to brush over the bad parts of our history.

The point isn’t to deny slavery, but to make it sound like it wasn’t so bad or as widespread. For example, teachers told the Herald the state’s trainers emphasized that most enslaved people in the country were born into slavery, and not trafficked through the trans-Atlantic slave trade. One of the slides used in the training shows quotes from Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson saying they wanted to outlaw slavery but doesn’t mention both were slave owners, the Herald reported.

The catch is that no one can accuse the state trainers of lying. Their strategy lives in the nuances of history, where data and facts can be interpreted, or obscured, to support a point of view — as all sides of this debate do. The problem is the state of Florida is sanctioning one side. It is trying to coerce teachers — lured to training sessions by a $700 stipend — that there is only one right way to look at history. That point of view ignores the perspectives of the millions of Americans who aren’t Christian or white.

SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE

Another training slide called it a “misconception” that the Founding Fathers “desired strict separation of church and state.”

The reality is more complicated. The Founders didn’t necessarily have a monolithic view on this topic, said David Hudson, a First Amendment fellow with the Freedom Forum Institute, a group that works to raise awareness of First Amendment rights.

“At least certain Founders cared deeply about the separation of church and state,” Hudson told the Herald Editorial Board.

In a 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, Thomas Jefferson wrote the First Amendment’s religion clauses built a “a wall between church and State.” The U.S. Supreme Court cited his writing in key cases, including a 1947 ruling that applied that clause to the states. But ever since then, there’s been debate over whether the wall of separation metaphor accurately reflects the meaning of the First Amendment, according to Middle Tennessee State University’s First Amendment Encyclopedia.

The now conservative Supreme Court has chipped away at that wall of separation in recent rulings, including a decision to allow taxpayer dollars to pay for students to attend religious schools in Maine.

The remaking of the judiciary and public education is all part of the Republican plan to reshape the nation into one that is less pluralistic or tolerant of different ideas.

At the state level, Florida has taken the lead, unfortunately.

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