Editorial Roundup: Florida

South Florida Sun Sentinel. August 7, 2022.

Editorial: DeSantis’ tyrannical suspension of state attorney, over words

Gov. Ron DeSantis’s abrupt sacking of Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren was the deed of a tyrant drunk with power, inflamed with presidential ambition and accustomed to ruthlessness as the first resort rather than the last in having his way.

Charlie Crist, the congressman and former governor who’s competing for the Democratic nomination to oppose him in November, understated the crisis when he accused DeSantis Thursday of being a “wannabe dictator.” The governor crossed the line from potential to actuality long ago.

His bill to punish Disney — and possibly the two Democratic counties that might have to assume its debts — was unvarnished dictatorship. He controls the Legislature as totally as Fidel Castro ruled the Cuban Communist Party. It gives him whatever he wants, no matter how wrong it is.

There’s more to it than the unconstitutional 15-week abortion law or the not-yet-enacted ban on gender dysphoria treatment for minors that Warren said he wouldn’t prosecute. The cops in Hillsborough County have been after Warren for declining to prosecute petty charges — such as mouthing off to them — that would not likely deserve or result in jail time. Tampa city police, the right-wing sheriffs of neighboring Pasco and Polk counties and Attorney General Ashley Moody eagerly participated in the Warren-bashing event at which DeSantis announced he would suspend the state attorney from office.

The Republican governor’s announcement — with no warning to the twice-elected Democratic state attorney — took place at the offices of Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister. That fact speaks volumes about the conspiracy and prearrangement that went into it.

Don’t bait a rabid bear

Warren was imprudent, no doubt, in announcing beforehand that he wouldn’t prosecute doctors under the new abortion law or for performing gender-affirming care. (The latter isn’t even illegal in Florida, although the DeSantis administration is proposing to deal with it by executive fiat.) You don’t wisely bait a rabid bear like Florida’s governor.

But prosecutors are no less entitled to the First Amendment than any citizen is. Warren had not actually done anything to merit suspension, even arguably.

Moreover, it was monumental hypocrisy for DeSantis to carry on about this being a government of laws, not men. His own education commissioner has told Florida school boards to ignore the Biden administration’s new rules on extending protection from sex discrimination to LBGTQ individuals. In DeSantis-land, it would seem, the only laws meriting enforcement are his.

In suspending Warren, DeSantis took the most radical means rather than the least to ensure prosecution of disputed cases. When Aramis Ayala, the former state attorney in the Orange-Osceola circuit, announced that she wouldn’t ask for the death penalty in any murder cases, then-Gov. Rick Scott reassigned all the pending ones to another state attorney. He didn’t suspend Ayala and throw her out of her office.

Liberal and humanistic

The people of Hillsborough County elected Warren twice, in 2016 and 2020, knowing that he would bring a liberal, humanistic approach to the chief prosecutor’s job.

There are other prosecutors who are declining or say they will decline to prosecute simple marijuana possession cases. Broward’s state attorney, Harold Pryor, made that announcement last year, saying they would be handled in a “non-criminal way.” Possession associated with other, more serious charges would be prosecuted on a case-by-case basis, he said.

As Warren told the media, DeSantis’s despotism “sends a message not just to all state attorneys, but to all other officers and all the people of Florida.” It ought, he said, “to terrorize everyone.”

Indeed it should.

In making abortion such a pretext for removing Warren, DeSantis obviously ignores the message that deeply conservative Kansas sent to the nation Tuesday. By 59 to 41 percent, that red state’s voters rejected a constitutional amendment aimed at abolishing abortion rights. But for now, obviously, DeSantis’ concern is only about capturing the Republican nomination for president in 2024. That means being more authoritarian than Donald Trump and more anti-abortion than Greg Abbott.

As he has done since becoming governor only by the skin of his teeth four years ago, DeSantis governs as far to the right as he can get.

Unsurprisingly, the acting state attorney he put in Warren’s place is a county judge, another Federalist Society member whom he had appointed to a judgeship.

The prospects for getting DeSantis’ captive state Senate to reinstate Warren aren’t good.

However, the governor’s defeat in November would replace him with a Democratic governor who could withdraw the suspension, reinstate Warren and send the Federalist judge packing.

It’s another of the many reasons to elect a new governor.

___

Tampa Bay Times. August 5, 2022.

Editorial: The Florida sheriffs behind Gov. Ron DeSantis

Choosing the governor over the communities they serve

Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister should be ashamed for standing alongside Thursday as Gov. Ron DeSantis removed the county’s elected prosecutor from office. DeSantis’ suspension of State Attorney Andrew Warren was disgraceful enough. But Chronister and other uniformed members of law enforcement impugned their badges and damaged their mission by giving DeSantis cover for abusing his authority.

The Republican governor suspended Warren on the pretext that the Democratic prosecutor failed to enforce certain criminal cases. Of the two examples the governor gave, one isn’t a crime in Florida and the other hasn’t landed on Warren’s desk.

To those two strikes add a third — the terrible judgment Chronister showed in fueling this partisan circus. Chronister joined the governor’s announcement at the sheriff’s office and stood on stage with other conservative props, including two of Florida’s showboating sheriffs, Polk’s Grady Judd and Pasco’s Chris Nocco, to paint Warren as soft on crime.

Nobody in Hillsborough cares what Judd or Nocco think. Voters here elected Warren, and Chronister, too, and expect them to work together under the checks-and-balances system to bring criminals to justice. Police and prosecutors have different jobs, and tension between them is natural and healthy. Besides, Chronister and former Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan — who also appeared at DeSantis’ event — have found common ground with Warren before; both worked with Warren to expand second-chance programs for young offenders. It’s an example of the compassionate thing being the right thing.

That’s why the sheriffs damaged far more than Warren with their show of force Thursday. Only two years after the George Floyd riots sparked a wakening for police reform across the country, the sheriffs lent their credibility to a governor with a terrible record on speech and justice for the purposes of ousting a progressive prosecutor whom the voters twice elected. It was an arrogant display of contempt for prosecutorial discretion and the sheriffs’ role in local law enforcement.

But what it said about their relationship with average people was actually worse.

Aren’t these the same sheriffs who plead with Black and brown residents to cooperate with police, to help end the no-snitch culture in their communities and to see law enforcement officers as there to help rather than to threaten them? Aren’t these the same sheriffs who lecture that justice is blind and that the legal system has backstops to prevent abuse?

What are residents of especially minority neighborhoods supposed to think watching these top cops contribute to the governor’s political crusade? These officers looked crisp and dutiful before the cameras with their collar pins, shoulder patches and guns. But the uniform they wear and the authority it conveys belong to the public — not a party, not a governor, not an election campaign. The entire picture Thursday was of law enforcement siding with a governor hostile to Warren’s more moderate approach and his record in the post-Floyd era of holding officers accountable.

Warren’s removal was ugly, and we hope it’s reversed. But the politicization of law enforcement on raw display Thursday is the slow drip under the house. Chronister contributed to this worsening state, and so did other area law enforcement heads who refused to say a peep about this attack. Either the shock has an impact or Floridians normalize the rot to their own peril.

___

Miami Herald. August 4, 2022.

Editorial: Jon Stewart ripped Rick Scott’s hypocrisy, and it worked. Too bad that’s what it took

Jon Stewart’s fury toward Florida Sen. Rick Scott was palpable — and deserved.

Last week, Republican senators, in apparent retaliation against Democrats for reaching a deal on an unrelated massive climate and economic bill, flipped their votes and blocked passage of legislation to help veterans exposed to toxins from burn pits during military service, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There were 25 Republican senators who changed sides on the PACT Act, Scott among them. All of them had voted for the same bill the previous month. And they changed sides less than an hour after the Democratic deal on climate and taxes was announced.

It was the kind of move that, rightfully, earns politicians people’s contempt.

But it was Scott and a comment he tweeted that drew some of the greatest scorn from Stewart.

Just prior to the vote, Scott tweeted out a photo of himself making care packages for service members, along with words of gratitude for the military’s “sacrifice and service to our nation” — and then voted against the bill designed to aid veterans fighting diseases they believe are linked to their service.

IT’S ‘COWARDICE’

During a nine-minute rant that went viral online, Stewart, an entertainer and activist, ripped him for it.

“And there’s a beautiful picture — I wish you could see it — he’s standing with a little package,” Stewart said to reporters, in a voice dripping with scorn as he stood before the Capitol after the vote.

He turned to the bill’s supporters behind him: “Did you get the package? I think it has M&Ms in it, and some cookies, and some moist towelettes. I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t know what to say, I’ve been coming down here 10-15 years... I’m used to the lies. I’m used to the hypocrisy... I’m used to the cowardice.”

Then he added: “I’m used to all of it, but I am not used to the cruelty.”

Republicans tried to say that blocking the bill was about a dispute over which portion of the federal budget would fund $280 billion in spending over 10 years on veterans health programs, and that Democrats were trying to slip something over on the people.

In the end, that didn’t hold up to reality. Republicans folded. On Tuesday, the bill passed, 86-11. Nothing in it was changed. Scott voted for it.

Florida’s other Republican senator, Marco Rubio — who is up for reelection in November — voted for the bill every time. The PACT Act includes key portions of a veterans healthcare bill he and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, introduced last year on burn pits and toxins.

ANOTHER TWEET

We reached out to Scott’s office to ask him about his flip-flopping votes — for and against and then for the bill — but we were directed to, yes, one of the senator’s tweets: “Our veterans sacrifice so much to protect our freedoms and keep us safe. I was proud to vote for the PACT Act today which provides critical funding & support for those exposed to toxic environments, like burn pits, during service.”

Not an explanation, just a glossing over.

Scott is a veteran himself. He joined the Navy in 1970. Absent his actual explanation, we’ll give him the benefit of assuming he genuinely believes that military veterans deserve the care this bill will offer. But Stewart’s broadside was justified. It exposed the kind of sanctimonious double-dealing that could make anyone question an elected official’s values.

The Senate finally passed the bill. That’s great. Veterans who put their lives on the line for all of us shouldn’t have to wonder if they’ll get the healthcare they need.

But, Sen. Scott, you shouldn’t have made it this hard.

___

Palm Beach Post. August 6, 2022.

Editorial: Kansas abortion vote should alarm Florida Republican leaders

The message on abortion has been loud and clear for decades. The polls show it. Protest marchers proclaim it. Even if most Republican politicians and their ideologically tilted U.S. Supreme Court justices won’t acknowledge it, Americans believe women have the right to make their own decisions in such an intensely private matter.

And this past week, voters in Kansas, that most conservative of heartland states, showed that belief translates into action at the ballot box. They hit back at the high court’s June rejection of Roe v. Wade in landslide proportions, turning out from farm country to city precincts, not just Democrats but even Republican voters, supporting choice to an extent that stunned supporters and opponents.

So, now, what about you, Florida?

In its ruling, the Supreme Court released states from any federal mandate on abortion rights, so it’s up to Florida to make its own rules. Will the state’s GOP-weighted Legislature and Governor dare to challenge what national polls tell them and Kansas voters confirm, and make it still harder or impossible for women to obtain legal abortions?

We don’t expect Gov. Ron DeSantis or the Legislature to execute a turn-around on abortion. But political pragmatism alone should tell them to ease off the throttle when so many constituents scream that they’re driving in the wrong direction.

DeSantis this week suspended a Tampa-area state attorney who pledged not to prosecute anyone under the state’s new, more restrictive law that is under a court challenge, that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. That made all the right noises to satisfy his arch-conservative base. DeSantis is all anti-mandate and pro-personal freedom, except when he doesn’t want to be. But he’s been notably quiet on whether he would take advantage of the Supreme Court decision to further tighten that timeframe.

That’s a political calculus he’d be foolish to ignore, with his re-election campaign bumping up against November. Florida has been shifting more deeply into red territory in recent years, but as Kansas showed, even Republican voters don’t want important personal freedoms wrested from them by an intrusive government. And we don’t think that three months is far-enough away that voter passions over this issue will fade out. There’s a reckoning on the horizon.

Abortion isn’t the only issue testing Tallahassee’s regressive instincts.

This governor and his minions have made book on the gender bigotry of their so-called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation and on the Old South racism of their political redistricting maps, drawn blatantly to diminish the sway of Black voters. But we believe Florida voters have moved past the point where those strategies will gain the DeSantis crew as much political capital as it will cost them. Similarly, all the election fraud dissembling, the court-packing, the appeals to white victimization, the tacit support of Jan. 6 sedition – we’re over it.

The Kansas ballot initiative would have removed the right of access to abortion from that state’s constitution and put abortion restrictions in the hands of state lawmakers. Total ban? No exception for incest and rape victims? Life starts at conception? — Any extreme would have been possible.

The message we project from Kansas’ vote is that Americans are losing patience. Regardless of where they are on the political spectrum, Americans are angry about the tactics and posturing holding this country back, about the undoing of advances in civil rights and personal rights.

Here in Florida, it appears increasingly likely that the blend of bigotry and bravado that Trump and DeSantis rode to power appeals to an ever-smaller base. And if abortion is no longer a red meat issue that they could rely upon, then they may be on shakier ground.

The political divide in Florida, where 33% of voters aren’t affiliated with a party, is narrow enough that voter turnout makes a difference. And anger is a potent ingredient in stirring up that turnout. If voters in a state as red as Kansas showed up in such vast numbers to support abortion rights, imagine what might happen this fall in a purple state like ours.

END