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Les Miller's statements went too far

Through the course of her political career, I've often found myself on the opposite end of Ronda Storms' political views.

I'm still disappointed that as a Hillsborough County commissioner, she led an effort in 2005 to have the county ban any recognition of gay and lesbian pride month.

It was a slap at equality.

I disagreed when as a state senator she tried to get a bill passed to stop food stamp recipients from purchasing "junk food."

Punishing the poor.

And I wasn't happy when in 2000 she made a comment about Tampa's bid to become the home of the new Florida A&M law school. She opposed tax dollars being used for the historically black university's law school and added, "We can get them (minorities) through law school, but we can't get them … to pass the Bar."

Later, after drawing a flurry of criticism, Storms refused to back down, telling a reporter, "It's guilt money. This is so white people can pat themselves on the back."

The statements offended a lot of people, including FAMU alumni and me, a man whose parents devoted their entire lives to teaching at FAMU.

But in revisiting her choice of words, we have to be careful about drawing conclusions.

The FAMU law school controversy arose anew this week in a commentary that County Commissioner Les Miller, an African-American, wrote for the Tampa Tribune about Storms' campaign to become the next Hillsborough property appraiser.

In lending support to Storms' opponent, former state Rep. Bob Henriquez, Miller described Storms as "someone who is no friend of the African-American community." Miller also wrote that Storms "single-handedly scuttled the entire project by her words."

I appreciate Miller using his position to speak. But in this case, he went too far.

First of all, Storms' comments did not scuttle the county's efforts. Led by Mayor Dick Greco and Fred McClure, then a partner with the Holland & Knight law firm, the county eventually offered a bid package that included $1 million in seed money that came out of a tax surplus.

Storms opposed the allocation of those tax dollars. When asked at the time if her comments impacted Tampa's bid, FAMU spokesman Eddie Jackson said that while it wasn't a determining factor, "it certainly doesn't help."

However, Tampa's bid was ultimately ranked behind Orlando and Lakeland because of environmental concerns about the old Tampa Police Department building where the law school would have been initially housed. Orlando eventually won out.

Furthermore, Miller's characterization of Storms as no friend to the black community is far too broad of an attack. As a state senator, Storms worked to help solve problems for her constituents, including blacks and Hispanics.

I've seen it firsthand.

Some might argue that what I witnessed was mere lip service, but the truth is that she has done much of this work out of the spotlight.

I can't confess to know what's in Storms' heart when it comes to racial attitudes, but the suggestion she doesn't care about the black community struck me as unfair. We have to be careful about using racially charged statements.

When we're not judicious, we desensitize a public that is already starting to believe — wrongly — that we live in a postracial America. When we're not thoughtful, we risk drawing attention away from the issues that really matter.

Storms learned that lesson in 2000.

Miller may learn it now.

That's all I'm saying.

Les Miller's statements went too far 11/01/12 [Last modified: Thursday, November 1, 2012 5:30am]

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