Friday, February 23, 2018
Opinion

Nickens: Long, hot summer of wasted chances

This has been one unsatisfying summer.

It's been hot, rainy and uncomfortable. Housing prices are up but jobs are too scarce. The only thing more frustrating than the weather and the economy is the lack of political leadership at every level.

In Tallahassee, Republicans remain the Party of No regardless of the consequences and Democrats are powerless to do anything about it.

Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz won't repeal the "stand your ground" law even after the George Zimmerman trial, even after the protests and even after prosecutors say the law is flawed. Appeals based on emotion or morality don't work. Neither do appeals based on facts. The Tampa Bay Times reviewed about 200 "stand your ground'' cases last year and found the victim was unarmed in more than half of the cases where the killer went free.

It doesn't matter to the governor or the legislators that drug dealers, gang members and other criminals use the law to avoid being held accountable for killing someone.

It also doesn't matter to these guys that Duke Energy customers will pay more than $3 billion for nuclear plants that are shut down or never will be built. Even after Duke pulled the plug on the proposed Levy County nuclear plant, the governor and the legislators didn't say a word about repealing the 2006 law that lets utilities rip off ratepayers and force them to pay for phantom nuclear projects.

It also doesn't matter to Republicans in Tallahassee that 1 million low-income Floridians won't have health care because they won't expand Medicaid to cover them. The federal government will cover the entire cost of that coverage for several years under the Affordable Care Act, but Scott and the gang would rather make a political point and tell Washington to keep those billions. Here's how our governor operates: He gets the Obama administration to grant Florida permission to privatize Medicaid, endorses Obama's Medicaid expansion hours later — and sits quietly while Weatherford refuses to let the expansion be approved by the Legislature.

The governor and Republican lawmakers don't just oppose President Barack Obama's signature achievement. They are working against it, no matter how much it hurts Floridians. The state has turned down millions in federal money to implement health care reform, and legislators even defend a new state law that prevents the state from regulating health insurance rates for two years. Now as the Obama administration and grass-roots efforts gear up to explain how the new insurance exchanges will work, Scott and other Republicans are resorting to scare tactics about the privacy of individual health information.

This is a governor who refuses to bend, regardless of the damage he inflicts. Never mind how his heavy-handed effort to purge the voter files turned into a disaster last year and was rejected by county elections supervisors. Scott is determined to start the purge again now that the U.S. Supreme Court has gutted a key provision of that pesky Voting Rights Act.

In a state where nearly 40 percent of the 19 million residents are Hispanic or African-American, the Republicans embrace policies that disproportionately hurt minorities and low-income residents. That callousness is going to catch up with them.

Or maybe not.

The Democrats are as impotent as the Republicans are arrogant. They don't have the numbers in the Legislature to make an impact or the personalities to effectively present another view. Their only real possibilities for challenging Scott next year are Alex Sink, who lost to Scott three years ago; former Gov. Charlie Crist, who became a Democrat an hour ago; and Sen. Bill Nelson, who is 70 years old and is unlikely to leave Washington. A Democratic Party that embraces a candidate for chief financial officer who drops out days later because of personal bankruptcies is a party still in trouble.

Don't look to Congress for hope. House Republicans refuse to take up the Senate's immigration bill and keep voting to repeal health care reform like it's Groundhog Day. Sen. Marco Rubio and his tea party pals want to block a necessary spending bill if it includes money for the Affordable Care Act, which even mainstream Republicans think is foolish. But you can bet on another manufactured fiscal crisis next month.

The president hasn't been particularly inspiring, either. He postponed key components of health care reform. He is paralyzed by the evolving mess in Egypt and Syria. His proposals to overhaul mortgage lending and pressure colleges to lower costs are not fully baked and lack congressional support even if they are conservative.

The St. Petersburg mayoral election? Bland and predictable. Perhaps the campaign will sharpen after Tuesday's primary and the choices are clearer.

From Washington to Tallahassee to St. Petersburg, this has been a summer of wasted opportunities. Let's hope for a better fall.

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