Sunday, January 21, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: A Republican who did his job

In recent days Pasco County school superintendent Kurt Browning has been vilified, accused of being anti-Christian and even un-American. His seditious crime? Browning fulfilled his oath of office.

Oh, the Agenda 21 of it all!

We all know athletes praying before a game is a deeply entrenched tradition in America's sports culture, although it does seem a bit odd to implore God's forbearance shortly before taking to the gridiron in the hopes of beating the living daylights out of the other team. But since it worked so well during the Crusades, why not for the Pasco High School fighting and praying Pirates?

But there was a problem. While there is nothing legally preventing the players themselves from indulging in pre-game invocations and postgame vespers, coaches are prohibited from organizing and leading them in either. Browning fired off a memo to the district's football coaches reminding them it was illegal to organize and conduct the pigskin supplications. And that was when the halo hit the fan.

Soon Browning was being hammered on social media outlets for intervening in the will of the Lord. He was reminded that prayer is a wonderful thing and accused of intimidating people of faith. Even Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford managed to pry himself away from blocking Medicaid benefits to about a million uninsured Floridians to channel his inner Joe McCarthy by suggesting the ban on coaches leading hosannas was "un-American."

Then the speaker wondered aloud that maybe Tallahassee ought to change the law.

Browning could have pulled a Weatherford. He could have pandered. He could have looked the other way, avoided all the hysterical grief, the attacks on his integrity and spirituality. It would have been easy to simply let the coaches lead the prayers. This was Pasco County. Who would care?

He couldn't do that. He would know.

"I am superintendent of schools. I took an oath that I was going to support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, the laws of the United States and the laws of Florida," Browning explained. "Oftentimes those laws and personal beliefs are in conflict."

How radical. How beyond the pale — an elected official fulfilling his oath of office even at the risk of alienating the people who elected him.

It's worth noting Browning never said the athletes couldn't do all the Tebowing they want — just as long as the coaches weren't presiding over the services.

There's a lesson to be learned here for the pols way up there in Washington, the land of bilk and money, where a contrived government shutdown slouches toward fiscal perdition in part because a feckless junior senator from Texas aspires to be adopted by a Koch brother.

Conventional wisdom holds that there are many Republicans who believe putting hundreds of thousands of federal workers out on the street and locking the doors to government agencies is sheer stupidity. But these same Republicans have gone along with transforming the nation into the United States of Dogpatch because they have been bullied into fearing they'll lose their cushy jobs in a primary election challenge when they are confronted by a tea party-backed opponent.

Instead of cowering, they should follow the example of Kurt Browning, a good man, a loyal Republican, a dedicated public servant who is willing to risk the wrath of the body politic for doing the right thing. Browning has enjoyed a well-earned reputation for being an able, honest public servant, first as Pasco's supervisor of elections and later Florida secretary of state.

Elected Pasco superintendent in 2012, Browning doesn't have to face the voters until 2016, giving him time to more fully explain to his constituents arcane stuff like the Constitution.

But that still doesn't mean that when re-election time rolls around Browning still won't face an opportunistic opponent who will dredge up "Prayer-gate" in an attempt to inaccurately cast him as the infidel of Pasco County only because he enforced the law and honored his oath of office.

It's the same basic oath members of Congress take, too. They ought to re-read it now and then — and think of fellow Republican Kurt Browning.

Comments
Editorial: Beware of social media targeting kids

Editorial: Beware of social media targeting kids

Ignoring all available evidence that screen time and social media exposure can be harmful to kids, Facebook recently unveiled a new messaging app targeting children under 13. It’s yet another battlefront for parents who have to constantly combat the ...
Published: 01/21/18
Editorial: Too soon for Tampa Bay to settle for buses over light rail

Editorial: Too soon for Tampa Bay to settle for buses over light rail

The good news on the transportation front is that Tampa Bay’s government and business leaders are working together like never before to connect the region’s largest cities, attractions and employment centers with a more robust mass transit system. Th...
Published: 01/20/18
Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

The smiles, applause and at least one hug belied the grim impetus for a gathering last week at a neighborhood center in Tampa — the Seminole Heights killings.The Tampa Police Department held a ceremony to thank those who helped in the investigation t...
Published: 01/19/18
Updated: 01/21/18
Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

The death last fall of a 20-year-old Florida State University fraternity pledge revealed pervasive dangerous behavior within the school’s Greek system. Andrew Coffey, a Pi Kappa Phi pledge, died from alcohol poisoning after an off-campus party, and a...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: Confronting racial distrust in St. Petersburg, one conversation at a time

The St. Petersburg Police Department’s heavy presence in Midtown on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the community animosity it stirred have raised a familiar, troubling question: Can St. Petersburg’s racial divisions ever be reconciled?That big ideal ...
Published: 01/19/18
William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

A surge of Democrats seeking local legislative offices and hoping for a "blue wave" in the 2018 election continued last week, led by Bob Buesing filing to run again versus state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa.In addition:• Heather Kenyon Stahl of Tampa has...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: State’s warning shot should get attention of Hillsborough schools

The state Board of Education hopefully sent the message this week with its warning shot about the slow pace of the turnaround at Hillsborough County’s low-performing schools.The board criticized the school system for failing to replace administrators...
Published: 01/18/18
Updated: 01/19/18
Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

The Florida Legislature’s abrupt move to strip the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of its hard-earned separate accreditation and transform it back into a satellite of the major research university lacks detail and an appreciation for histo...
Published: 01/18/18

Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18