Saturday, April 21, 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.

Comments
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Nature’s Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. • The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Anyone looking to make Hillsborough County government bigger, costlier, more dysfunctional and less of a regional force should love the idea that Commissioner Sandy Murman rolled out this week. She proposes enlarging the seven-member board to nine, e...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

A new foster care provider in Hillsborough County is poised to take over operations in May, only months after its predecessor was fired for what was alleged to be a pattern of failing to supervise at-risk children in its care. Many of the case manage...
Published: 04/18/18

Another voice: Back to postal reform

President Donald Trump is angry at Amazon for, in his tweeted words, "costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy." Yet in more recent days, Trump has at least channeled his feelings in what could prove...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18
Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

A bipartisan Senate bill clarifying that only the attorney general or a high-ranking designee could remove a special prosecutor would send an important message amid President Donald Trump’s attacks on the investigation into Russia’s inter...
Published: 04/16/18
Updated: 04/17/18
Editorial: Don’t fall for Constitution Revision Commission’s tricks

Editorial: Don’t fall for Constitution Revision Commission’s tricks

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission has wasted months as a politically motivated scam masquerading as a high-minded effort to ask voters to improve the state’s fundamental document. The commission on Monday added amendments to the Nove...
Published: 04/16/18
Editorial: Redner’s court win on medical marijuana sends message

Editorial: Redner’s court win on medical marijuana sends message

Florida regulators have done far too little to make voter-approved medical marijuana widely available for patients suffering from chronic illnesses. A circuit court judge in Tallahassee ruled last week there is a price for that obstruction, finding t...
Published: 04/15/18
Updated: 04/16/18