For a moment last year, they were Florida's favorite political underdogs.
If not hip, Libertarians were at least funky. They sided with conservatives on shrinking the government and owning guns, and stood with liberals on marriage equality and ending the war on drugs.
Palm Harbor's Adrian Wyllie went on to have the most successful third-party finish anyone could recall in a Florida governor's race, and Clearwater's Lucas Overby had the second-best showing of any Libertarian candidate for Congress in the nation in 2014....
10/05/15 Local Government
We have reached the end of baseball's regular season, which means it is opening day for baseball's stadium season.
Like it or not, it's a more important discussion than Evan Longoria's dwindling power or Kevin Kiermaier's growing stature. It is the one time of the year when the Tampa Bay Rays are amenable to exploring the where, when and how of their future home.
Or, to put it another way, the St. Petersburg City Council is now on deck....
For the longest time, it seemed educational reformers could do no wrong. They had the theories, they had the platform and, most importantly, they had the power.
So George W. Bush's Texas Miracle begat the nation's No Child Left Behind law, which was around the same time Jeb Bush's accountability crusade took hold in Florida.
They were our models for education. They were going to revolutionize schools and rescue generations of students from despair....
09/30/15 Local Government
She could live without the money. It wasn't that big of a deal.
What made Lilyan Dayton angry was the cost to her pride.
She had not been robbed, but she felt like she had been duped. And in some ways, that was far worse.
The 86-year-old New Port Richey resident is one of a growing number of people who have paid nearly double the cost of their vehicle registration fees because they have unknowingly used a third-party vendor to order their tags online....
She had a house full of adopted children, and a heart full of hope.
So in 2005, Rita Gorenflo was eager to join a lawsuit accusing Florida of failing to provide children on Medicaid with proper medical care.
For nearly 10 years, the state denied, finagled and fought. Yet when the ruling finally came down last December, the judge was emphatic: Florida's neediest children were in danger, and the state was in violation of federal laws....
09/26/15 Human Interest
He was undercover long before he put on a holster and a badge.
A wayward kid in cheap, dime-store sneakers trying desperately to pass himself off as a typical middle-class student in a suburban New Jersey town near Princeton.
He avoided cafeteria lines at school so his friends wouldn't notice the state-issued, free-lunch card that laid bare his family's financial struggles. He dug through Goodwill-style clothing bins in parking lots, looking for something that might fit, and praying to God that it wasn't a shirt classmates might recognize once belonged to them....
09/23/15 Local Government
Once, the argument was that we were running out of time on the Tropicana Field lease.
Today, you can add we're running out of locations.
And money, too.
If it is the desire of the St. Petersburg City Council that the Tampa Bay Rays remain in this market — and specifically in Pinellas County — the window of opportunity is growing smaller and smaller.
I don't say that to be an alarmist. There is little danger that the Rays are going anywhere in the next half-dozen years, and that probably includes across the bay....
My property taxes are apparently going up, and for that I'm grateful.
It means more money is going to be devoted to education throughout Florida, and I can think of few investments more worthwhile.
Some of you might agree. You might think it's shameful that the latest Census figures put Florida 41st in the nation in per-pupil spending.
Some of you might disagree. You might think the school system is already bloated and inefficient, and not worthy of additional money....
Let's say you're a loan shark.
You're tough, you're ruthless, but you're also shrewd. So, you never dole out any punishment that interferes with a borrower's ability to pay.
Which leads me to this conclusion:
Florida lawmakers would make lousy loan sharks.
For the longest time, this state has waged an ill-advised war on low-income people facing traffic or court fines. What started as a threat has turned into a disaster....
09/14/15 Local Government
Let's begin with this premise:
The Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is a great deal for the city.
Not good. Not worthwhile.
Combine the tourists and money the race brings in, add the exposure and prestige it provides, and then divide by the city's relatively meager cost, and you have a return on investment that's difficult to beat.
So, no, it's not a good idea for any City Council member to act as if the city has outgrown the race. If IndyCar racing is desirable enough for Boston and Toronto, then it's probably got a smidge of value among the skyscraper(s?) of St. Pete....
It was called reform but, let's be honest, it resembled a threat.
Back in his first term as governor, Jeb Bush made an overhaul of Florida's education system a priority. He designed a school grading system that wielded new consequences, theorizing that increased accountability would lead to greater results.
After all, back in 2000, there was certainly room for improvement. Among the 10 most populous states that typically used the SAT as a benchmark for college readiness, Florida's average SAT score ranked sixth....
I'm in the market for an apology.
Something short. Something sincere. Something that tells me the person isn't dancing past responsibility with a faux show of regret.
Because, it seems to me, the heartfelt mea culpa is in danger of extinction. At least it seems that way for those in public life, where apologies are more often designed to benefit the sender rather than the receiver....
No offense to the folks who recently completed a $600,000 review of Florida's standardized tests. I'm sure it was a comprehensive look at these critical assessments.
But here's the problem:
They were not asked to measure the one thing that has become central to the entire conversation.
Namely, the lack of trust we have in our lawmakers and educational leaders.
This is no small matter. That mistrust is deep and is deserved. And, accordingly, it colors every debate and decision involving the state's Department of Education....
It is surely odd that presidential candidates today are arguing that religious beliefs should somehow supersede an elected official's constitutional oath.
For 55 years ago this week, another presidential candidate had to swear the exact opposite to appease a group of skeptical Protestant ministers.
In 1960, the nation was gripped by the idea that a Catholic president might willfully ignore U.S. laws and instead follow the Vatican's doctrines....
In normal circumstances, this would be handled at the state level.
But since the Florida Legislature is ruled by self-serving, ideological blowhards, it is being left up to individual municipalities to have grown-up discussions about marijuana.
And in recent months, two of the state's largest metropolitan areas have decided to all but decriminalize minor marijuana possession offenses....