Sunday, May 20, 2018
Politics

Hillsborough County: the land that progress forgot

In Hillsborough County, commissioners recently refused to approve a small but decent act to protect unmarried couples.

In Hillsborough County, commissioners recently fended off a no-brainer of a gun buyback to let residents willingly — repeat, willingly — turn in unwanted guns.

So do you suppose in Hills­borough County progress will ever mean anything more than a new Publix on the corner?

For both votes, conservative, religious and/or tea party types — even the same self-appointed morality spokesman — wagged a warning finger at the board. It felt like the bad old days when now-Congresswoman Kathy Castor and now-out-of-office Ronda Storms waged a continuous battle over progress versus intolerance.

What wasn't to like about a gun buyback proposed by Commissioner Kevin Beckner? What's objectionable in offering citizens cash or gift cards for guns they don't want: guns left around, forgotten, guns that can end up in suicides, domestic violence and tragedy when a child picks one up?

But activist Terry Kemple from his God Told Me To Tell You What To Do Society was there to say, no, too expensive. (In truth, cost can be minimal, with gift cards and other tokens donated.)

And in the discussion that followed, we also got to hear that familiar NRA talking point intimating gun violence is about mental health and mental health alone, apparently having nothing to do with too-easy access by the wrong people as well. And it died on the vine.

How effective are buybacks? The Hillsborough Sheriff's Office recently took in 2,665 unwanted weapons including — I'm not making this up — two rocket launchers.

The domestic partner registry was an obvious adopt-it-and-move-on vote for other counties and cities in Tampa Bay and across Florida, but those places are not Hillsborough County. Proposed by Commissioner Mark Sharpe, the registry would let unmarried couples gay and straight make official that they want their partners to have access to them in case of emergency or death. Basic and decent, right? Some 67 percent of Hills­borough voters thought so, according to a poll presented by Commissioner Beckner.

Les Miller, a commissioner apparently aware of where he was sitting, urged colleagues to "forget those phone calls, forget those emails, forget the partisan threats you may have been receiving, and do the right thing." But activist Kemple, among others, told the board how a registry would undermine "the spirit of the marriage amendment."

Me, I'm not sure what kind of religion says anyone but the two people involved gets a say in who sits beside your hospital bed to hold your hand.

Kemple also hit that tea party note on the evils of "expanding government," and, with a voluntary program? No-voting Commissioners Sandy Murman and Victor Crist helpfully suggested couples invest in legal documents instead. Al Higginbotham told everyone his Christian faith teaches him "to treat others as I would want to be treated," then voted against treating others decently anyway. Chairman Ken Hagan, perhaps preoccupied by thoughts of luring that big fishing store to town, voted no without comment.

And this is how they do it (still) in Hillsborough County, a place progress apparently forgot.

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