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  1. Florida Politics

William March: Renewed effort to ratify Equal Rights Amendment in Florida

Rep. Fentrice Driskell is one of at least two Tampa legislators renewing a move to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. [Photo courtesy of Driskell campaign]
Rep. Fentrice Driskell is one of at least two Tampa legislators renewing a move to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. [Photo courtesy of Driskell campaign]
Published Mar. 7, 2019

In what might seem like a return to the '70s, a Tampa professional women's group and at least two Tampa legislators are among those renewing a move to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment for women, saying Florida could be the state that finally puts it into the Constitution.

"To be able to advocate for it means a great deal for me personally. I don't think equality for women should be a partisan issue," said freshman Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, who wasn't even born when Congress first approved the amendment in 1972.

Twenty-two state legislatures quickly ratified it, but then opposition from conservatives opposed to the women's movement virtually halted ratifications. Three quarters of the states are required, or 38, and Illinois became the 37th last May.

Driskell and Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, are among the Florida legislation's sponsors.

This week, Tampa's Athena Society heard a presentation by Illinois Rep. Steve Andersson, a Republican who led the effort to pass it there.

"I believe in equality for women and we don't have it right now," he said in an interview.

The Athena Society was formed in 1976 to push for ratification of the ERA, said Athena president Betty Castor.

Andersson offered some advice to them. Opponents, he said, will portray the amendment as a pro-abortion rights measure.

"I'm pro-life, and it has nothing to do with that," he said. "You have to defuse that issue."

To get Republican legislators' support, Andersson said they must be convinced they won't be harmed politically. "You need to recruit Republican women who will tell them, 'I've got your back.' "

Some states have rescinded their ratifications and two deadlines set by Congress for state ratification have passed. But Andersson argued that under Supreme Court case law, the deadlines and rescissions are moot, because they aren't specifically authorized in the Constitution.

Passage in Florida's GOP-dominated Legislature isn't likely. It's been introduced every year since 2003, often by former Tampa Sen. Arthenia Joyner, and died in committee each time.

"It may be an uphill battle," said Driskell, "but we have these positions to push for the rights of all people. We can't abdicate that just because it's an uphill battle."

GOP ups efforts in city races

The Hillsborough County Republican Party upped its game in this year's Tampa elections.

"It's the first time in years I've seen the party put boots on the ground in a city council race," said April Schiff, political consultant for Lee Lowry, who was perhaps the party's best hope for a winner in Tuesday's election. She lost to Bill Carlson.

"They offered that help to all the Republican candidates running," and walked precincts in Lowry's District 4 and in District 5, she said.

Unfortunately for the Republicans, it didn't help — all their candidates lost in the Tuesday election.

City Council races are non-partisan — the candidates aren't allowed to run representing parties, and parties can't endorse or contribute to them.

Still, both local parties find ways to back "their" candidates.

This year, the local GOP did "a major strategy effort … to get more heavily involved in the city races," including social media ads, communications to party members and canvassing, said Chairman Jim Waurishuk.

In emails and social media, it identified GOP candidates and disseminated candidate questionnaires focusing on conservative issues. It has also encouraged party members to volunteer for the campaigns.

"I'm hopeful they've decided it's time to start working on building their bench," said Schiff.

Facing Tampa's Democratic electorate, no Republican ran for mayor, although Jane Castor and David Straz changed registration to Democrat for the race. A last-minute attack mailer from an outside group smeared David Straz, a former Republican, for his previous support of Donald Trump, whom he now rejects.

There were four GOP council candidates, including David Loos, who didn't make the runoff in District 1. Wendy Pepe lost to incumbent Guido Maniscalco in District 6. And in District 4, the only council district with more Republicans than Democrats, Democrat Bill Carlson nonetheless defeated Republicans Lowry and Sal Guagliardo.

Lee, Galvano back toll road expansion

Two legislators representing Hillsborough County, Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, and Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, will be pushing an initiative in the Legislature to expand Florida's toll road system, including extending the Suncoast Parkway to Georgia and building the Heartland Parkway from Polk to Collier counties.

Galvano has appointed political ally Lee chairman of a new Senate Infrastructure Committee to shepherd the legislation.

But how does that square with dealing with Florida's water pollution crisis, caused in part by development and sprawl?

In comments to reporters Tuesday, Galvano noted his own district was plagued by red tide, and denied former Senate President Joe Negron's pro-environment stances. He said the transportation corridors he's pushing could help.

"The corridors … have an environmental component by providing additional access to water and sewer systems, and moving away from septic (which is) at the heart of some of the problems we have," he said.

Lee couldn't be reached for comment.

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