Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Politics

Watching flowers and politicians grow

If you follow local politics, maybe like me you have found yourself wondering over the years:

What is going on over at the Hillsborough County Commission?

Mostly this was due to the latest political monkeyshines, people giving themselves raises, preaching morality from the dais, getting accused of sexual harassment, that sort of thing.

Rarely did it have to do with flowers. Possibly not ever.

But things have changed at County Center.

And Commissioner Al Higginbotham wants to make your world a little prettier with a program to grow native Florida wildflowers along our generally ugly roads and highways.

No prejudiced policies, no religious zealotry, not even a little controversial spending of taxpayer millions to bring a big-box outdoor store here. Just … flowers.

Who's against flowers? Who's against using grant monies available from the Wildflower Foundation from those wildflower specialty license plates to beautify our highways? A lovely such project is in bloom (so to speak) on the Suncoast Parkway.

Higginbotham says when he and his wife stopped mowing certain spots at home to see what might sprout, the wildflowers came. "Beautiful in the spring," he reports.

It sounds so … nice. Which, given other recent county happenings, has me wondering:

What is going on over there?

In last week's stunning and unanimous vote to undo an ugly eight-year ban on county government even acknowledging gay pride, Higginbotham's was the most surprising vote. Why?

Remember when they considered a domestic partner registry to give unmarried couples, gay or straight, a say in each other's lives in times of health crisis? This basic-decency move passed easily around Tampa Bay and the state. In Hillsborough, it died in a 4-3 vote.

While he empathizes with people wanting the "privileges and responsibilities" of marriage, Higginbotham said at that meeting, "my Christian faith, my recognition of thousands of years of societal precedent and my understanding of our nation's laws prevent me from supporting an expansion of that unique and special status."

Fast forward to his gay pride vote last week. He was the only commissioner who did not utter a peep at the emotional hearing. So. Exactly how did he come around?

He told me he doesn't like government restricting the rights of assembly and free speech. He said he did not talk because his vote "would speak strongly for itself."

So what happens when the domestic partnership registry he was so against comes up again, as fellow commissioners have vowed it will?

For the record, next year the Republican Higginbotham runs for a countywide seat instead of his east county seat, and against veteran Democratic politicians Mary Mulhern of the City Council and April Griffin of the School Board. These are things that maybe help a man look at the world at large.

Again, a surprise from Higginbotham:

"It'd be naive to think we're not always evolving and changing — not flip-flopping, not because of the political winds," he said. "It's a process I am working through."

So there you have it: flowers and change, and evidence that even government can, so to speak, grow.

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