Editorial Roundup: Florida

South Florida Sun Sentinel. November 28, 2022.

Editorial: An outraged judge suspends mind control in Florida

Florida is living proof of George Santayana’s famous warning that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Here, the forgetfulness is deliberate.

At the initiative of University of Florida students, UF’s history department dedicated a conference room on April 7 to the long-forgotten memory of Enoch Marvin Banks, a professor forced to resign in 1911 for debunking the Big Lie of his time that secession and the Civil War was a noble cause.

In Tallahassee, around the same time, the Legislature was willfully condemning Florida to repeat what happened to Banks.

That day, House Bill 7 went on the bill calendar of the Senate, which would pass it three days later in obedience to Ron DeSantis, Florida’s authoritarian governor. Dubbed by DeSantis the “Stop W.O.K.E.” Act, dedicated in Orwellian doublespeak as the Individual Freedom Act, it intimidates teachers and professors from teaching race-related history as it is, rather than as certain politicians pretend it to be.

It applies to employers as well, discouraging them from requiring racial sensitivity training, as many do.

Cynical censorship

It is the grossest assault on truth in Florida since the figurative lynching of Enoch Marvin Banks. Fortunately, a federal judge’s preliminary injunctions are protecting employers and colleges, for now, from Tallahassee’s cynical censorship.

In February 1911, it had been 50 years since the formation of the Confederacy. Banks, a 34-year-old Georgia-born history professor, marked the anniversary with an article concluding “that the North was relatively in the right, while the South was relatively in the wrong.”

Banks ventured that Southerners were “becoming more tolerant of a free discussion, but his faith was naïve. The Daughters of the Confederacy, the United Confederate Veterans and other torch-bearers of the “Lost Cause” were enraged and called for Banks’ firing. The state’s leading newspaper at the time, the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, warned that Banks would “grow anarchists by wholesale” and “give moral consent to the subversion of government.”

A month after Banks’s article was published, he yielded to the mob, resigned and went home to Georgia, where he succumbed to failing health and died before the year was out.

The South’s mythology provided cover for the Jim Crow laws that perpetuated the poverties, prejudices and cruelties of slavery. Ironically, Banks favored disenfranchising Blacks. As Florida historian Fred Arthur Bailey has explained, Banks thought it would make Southern whites, who were overwhelmingly Democrats, receptive to a two-party system. His criticism of slavery and secession reflected his belief in nationhood rather than sympathy for civil rights.

The South of today is overwhelmingly Republican, a reaction to the Democratic party’s embrace of civil rights. To retain the loyalty and market it to whites nationwide, Republican doctrine maintains that racism is an issue of the past, that citizens today are not responsible for its consequences, and anyone who teaches otherwise is misleading our youth as Banks was accused of doing.

That’s the foundation of HB 7, which U.S. District Judge Mark Walker properly found to be “positively dystopian.” Its key provisions are so convoluted as to expose any teacher, or employer, by the way, to be sued, fired or both, simply for making someone feel self-conscious about race. The colleges could be punished financially.

A direct threat

It is a direct threat to the workplace sensitivity training many employers require, as well as to the intelligence of an entire generation of young Floridians. In separate lawsuits, Walker has blocked its enforcement against both employers and academics.

“One thing is crystal clear — both robust intellectual inquiry and democracy require light to thrive,” Walker wrote in his order. “Our professors are critical to a healthy democracy, and the State of Florida’s decision to choose which viewpoints are worthy of illumination and which must remain in the shadows has implications for us all. If our ‘priests of democracy’ are not allowed to shed light on challenging ideas, then democracy will die in darkness. But the First Amendment does not permit the State of Florida to muzzle its university professors, impose its own orthodoxy of viewpoints, and cast us all into the dark.”

DeSantis’ campaign of mind control has parallels in Virginia, site of an uproar over standards proposed by the administration of Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a potential rival for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024. Compared to existing standards, they notably deemphasize the history of Blacks and Native Americans. They adopt the fiction that slavery was not the only cause of the Civil War and omit Juneteenth and The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from an elementary school section on holidays.

The Virginia Education Association has charged that they are “full of overt political bias” with “coded racist overtures throughout.” Even Youngkin admits they’re flawed.

DeSantis is appealing, at public expense, Walker’s order to a federal appeals court, where he seems confident that its Federalist-infused majority will uphold him, not the Constitution. In so doing, the court would be as dangerously indifferent to history as the Florida Legislature was last April.

May better minds prevail.

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Miami Herald. November 23, 2022.

Editorial: Hurricanes Ian, Nicole warn Florida to take climate change impacts more seriously

Fourteen days and counting — that’s the time between now and the end of the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season. For many Floridians, Wednesday, Nov. 30, can’t come soon enough.

The question still unanswered is whether state leaders will do anything differently to address what is becoming a more destructive result of climate change. Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature will get their chance next month to address property insurance. A more comprehensive approach to climate change should be added to the agenda.

Hurricanes Ian and Nicole put enormous stress on Florida’s resiliency efforts to address the impacts of climate change and the fragile property insurance market. Ian’s losses based on insurance claims, to date, are estimated at $8.7 billion, according to state Office of Insurance Regulation figures. Losses from Nicole, a less powerful storm than Ian, were put at $790 million, according to CoreLogic, a property information and analytics firm.

It may be hard to imagine, but Florida dodged a bullet. If Hurricane Ian had continued on its initial path toward Tampa or if Nicole had shifted further south before making landfall in, say, Fort Lauderdale, the damage to two of Florida’s most populous communities could have eradicated an already rickety property insurance market.

Florida property owners already pay three times more for home insurance than the national average, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Three times! Six insurers in Florida have declared insolvency, before the two storms hit the state. Billions of dollars in losses from the recent storms are expected to add to the existing problem, and it could get worse under future worst-case storm scenarios made possible thanks to a warming global climate.

Fortunately, Florida’s largest property insurer, Citizens Property Insurance Corp., and the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund that provides reinsurance to private carriers have enough cash to meet their obligations from both storms. The danger is in the potential longer-term effects caused by the likelihood of stronger and more frequent storms.

Give DeSantis credit. In his first term, he created the position of chief resilience officer and backed legislation that created grants to help gird coastal communities against sea level rise. Unfortunately, his first chief resilience officer left after six months — not before telling the public that the state lacked a coherent statewide strategy to deal with climate change. The grants designed to improve sea walls, sewage pump stations and wastewater treatment did little to help low-level communities flooded by Hurricane Ian or structures toppled onto eroded beaches courtesy of Nicole. And while they might hold up against storms like Nicole, there’s no guarantee that those improvements will last over time without costly enhancements and upgrades.

True property insurance reform remains a priority. The Legislature’s first special session this year regarding property insurance produced $2 billion for re-insurance to help struggling private insurers, along with restrictions to curb fraud — results that many in the insurance industry say fell short of real needs. And that was before the hurricanes.

The special session scheduled for next month should produce programs that benefit both the industry and the consumer. The governor and legislators should also pump more resources into a resilience program that has had a rocky start and needs a more comprehensive approach than what’s now being offered.

It’s easy to see why state leaders are focusing on the coasts. Florida’s 35 coastal counties contain 76% of the state’s population, and those communities contribute $584 billion dollars in economic activity, a significant part of the state’s total economy, according to the Florida Adaptation Planning Guidebook.

Coastal communities, however, aren’t the only areas in Florida that are at risk. Both hurricanes also sparked ongoing flooding in Central Florida. The cost to repair and rebuild will be high, leading many to wonder if it’s worth it.

Florida’s leaders have come a long way from the days when former Gov. Rick Scott eschewed the term “climate change.” While DeSantis recognizes that rising seas are problematic, he has yet to publicly acknowledge climate change or show much interest in renewable energy alternatives to fossil fuels helping to warm our climate.

If there was ever an ideal time for a change in course, next month’s special session is it.

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Palm Beach Post. November 23, 2022.

Editorial: Florida Senators out of step on same-sex marriage

The U.S. Senate last week took an important vote toward fortifying same-sex marriage rights but Florida’s two Senators stood firmly on the wrong side of history.

Echoing a 267-157 vote by the House in July, the Senate on Nov. 16 voted 62-37 for the procedural measure advancing the Respect for Marriage Act, with 12 Republicans joining all Democrats in support.

The measure would repeal provisions that define marriage as between a man and a woman and would recognize any marriage valid under one state’s law as valid in another, along with applicable legal benefits, such as Medicare and Social Security.

The impetus for the bill came from the June U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, as same-sex marriage rights rely upon the same privacy underpinnings as the abortion caselaw did, and since some, including conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, have indicated the decision might tip the legal dominoes against gay marriage.

Sen. Marco Rubio’s opposition has been particularly despicable.

This summer he responded to Pete Buttigieg, the openly gay U.S. Transportation Secretary, that same-sex provisions were “a stupid waste of time” and that he, Rubio, would focus “on federal problems that matter to real people.” Gas prices, for example — not a Democratic agenda “dictated by a bunch of affluent, elite liberals” and “a bunch of Marxist misfits....”

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) promotes his “Plan to Rescue America” at an event at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, on Thursday, March 31, 2022. The divisive plan among the Republican party calls to impose income taxes on more than half of Americans who pay none now, and to sunset all legislation after five years, presumably including Social Security and Medicare. (T.J. Kirkpatrick/The New York Times)

Sen. Rick Scott, for his part, vowed in a press release “to aggressively fight any attempt to take away the ability for same-sex couples to marry” but said the bill didn’t adequately protect religious rights.

He endorsed an amendment by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, to address those concerns. Lee, conjuring “same-sex marriage extremists,” has stirred fear that “Americans who believe in a traditional definition of marriage are now in danger of having their business licenses revoked....” Never mind that the measure already included language to assuage those financial concerns, ensuring that no church, university or other nonprofit would lose its tax-exempt status because of the legislation.

Rand Hoch, president and founder of The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, pointed to the broader issue at stake.

“The population of our country has grown to understand and accept (gay marriage) because almost everyone in our country knows gay couples and knows they should share the same rights of marriage as everyone else,” Hoch said.

The bill warrants no religious exceptions, he stressed. “That’s like wanting to enshrine discrimination within the law,” Hoch said.

“We are a secular nation. It’s disappointing that people of one segment of the religious community are trying to impose their values on the rest of the nation. That is so un-American. But that could be direction courts are taking us.”

Another senator with close ties to Florida also did not vote for the bill. To be fair, Nebraska Republican Ben Sasse, recently selected as incoming president of the University of Florida but still in office as a senator, cast no vote, as he was home with his wife, who’d suffered a seizure. But those concerned about inclusivity at Florida’s premier institution of higher learning might consider his website’s “Nebraska values” section, with the toot of a dog whistle to “the sanctity of marriage.”

Sasse lamented the Supreme Court ruling that opened the door to same-sex marriage: “Marriage brings a wife and husband together so their children can have a mom and a dad,” he said. More recently UF’s The Independent Florida Alligator pointed out that he dismissed this year’s same-sex bill as a “bullshit” attempt by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi “to divide America with culture wars.”

There’s always room for men and women of honor to disagree, and of course for religious conviction. But that’s not what this is. There is no honor in outdated values clung to and insisted upon at the expense of our friends’ and families’ rights.

The arc of civilization has led most of us to understand the proposition that all Americans are equal. That’s true no matter how squeamish some of us feel about questions of gender and are tempted to twist meanings of Bible and Constitution to suit. It’s true no matter how many of us brush aside for political gain human rights that should by now be self-evident.

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