I received two of the best Christmas gifts ever: My daughter gave birth to twin boys several days ago. The boys are healthy, and my daughter is doing fine. She says the little ones have great appetites. I couldn't be happier.
As I thought about my grandsons, I envisioned their futures, as any proud grandfather would. Because my daughter is a homebody who's averse to cold weather and not a vagabond like her father, who's lived in all climes, I assume she will remain in Florida and rear the boys here.
So, what kind of Florida do I want for my grandsons? In the broadest sense, I want them to live in a Florida that is governed by honest men and women, those who always act for the public good and not out of loyalty to a political party or an industry or a religious denomination. I want them to have leaders who are rational and compassionate.
Education will be at the core of the boys' lives. As their mother and I did, I want them to attend public schools. Although my schools were all-black, I had excellent teachers and an all-round positive experience. School was a fun place to learn. I, the child of migrant farmworkers, rubbed shoulders with other kids from all socioeconomic groups and backgrounds and IQs. Even under Jim Crow, we had our own version of democracy — an inherent quality and a major contribution of public schools.
We had real recess and physical education and music. We had real schools. They were not test-taking factories. They made room for mistakes because mistakes were natural parts of our lives. Our teachers made time for the simple enjoyment of reading.
I read Ben-Hur in fourth grade over several periods of free reading. I wrote an atrocious report on the novel, and my teacher, Miss Calhoun, patted my shoulder and said that it was a "brave effort." I vividly recall her forgiving smile. I want my grandsons to have this kind of genuine interaction with their teachers.
Our schools were led by educators. They weren't led by retired military officers, mean-spirited politicians contemptuous of public school teachers and principals, ethically challenged former CEOs and business owners seeking tax breaks.
I don't want my grandsons to live in a state where the leaders, lacking school management experience, are hellbent on dismantling public education even without having done solid research.
Florida's natural environment is its lifeline. I want my grandsons to enjoy ocean waters and lakes, rivers, streams and ponds that are free of pollution. I want them to see crystal clear springs. I don't want them to worry that giant oil rigs will dump millions of gallons of toxic crude to the sea floor and onto our shorelines.
The Sunshine State has many of the nation's unique plants and animals. For my grandsons to enjoy our natural wonders, we need leaders who will not permit developers to backfill our swamps, bulldoze our trees, butcher our mangroves and pave over our grasslands. We need leaders who will act to prevent the import of more invasive species that kill our native species. I want my grandsons to experience the joys of camping, kayaking, swimming, fishing, bird-watching and hiking in what's left of paradise.
I want the boys to have rational leaders, ones who see the wisdom of establishing a European-styled train system that connects all the regions of our geographically and ethnically vast peninsula. We've had one myopic governor who killed high-speed rail between Tampa Bay and Orlando. Now, we have a governor-in-waiting who's sending out loopy signals about high-speed rail. I want my grandsons to have leaders who know that the rail is inevitable in a state with 18.8 million residents — and growing. Only damned fools continue to block high-speed rail.
I want my boys to grow up in a Florida that remains home to space exploration. Like their old granddad, I want them to go to Cape Canaveral to see the launch of space ships on missions to rendezvous with the International Space Station or to explore another planet. I want them to know that our astronauts don't have to depend on a Russian-government-owned craft to travel from Earth and back.
I'm going to do all I can to help my grandsons attend college. If they choose to stay in Florida, I want them to have some of the best choices in the nation. In recent years, Florida lawmakers have been shortchanging our public universities. This trend must be reversed. If we invest in anything as taxpayers, we should invest in our institutions of higher learning. After all, they are our best means of keeping us competitive internationally.
My grandsons are my best Christmas gifts ever. They deserve wise and generous leaders with the vision and the commitment to effectively serve all Floridians.