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Ruth: It's news to some, but Florida really is in the South

Published Dec. 10, 2014

If you were following the professional punditry in recent days, you might have come away with the impression that Florida has somehow been transformed into a suburb of Vermont.

In the wake of Louisiana Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu's defeat for re-election last Saturday, a bizarre narrative evolved that asserted her departure now meant there was not a single statewide Democratic officeholder to be found anywhere within the Deep South.

"For the first time in 50 years there won't be a single Democratic U.S. senator or governor from Texas all the way east to the Carolinas," NBC News anchorman Brian Williams gravely intoned on a recent evening.

Oh, Mr. Williams? Yoo-hoo? Yeah, over here! Apparently as Williams was running his finger from Texas to the Carolinas he apparently missed that big blob of land extending from the deepest part of the Deep South. It's called Florida. And its senior U.S. senator is Bill Nelson, a Democrat now in his third term.

Can't NBC News afford a map?

But Williams was hardly alone. Other national news organizations jumped on the "Florida? What Florida?" bandwagon, including National Public Radio commentator Cokie Roberts, who also treated Nelson as if he was a penny waiting for change and the state he represents in the U.S. Senate as actually Canadian.

To be sure Florida, is immensely diverse. But to dismiss the fourth largest state in the union as not Deep South enough is patently ridiculous, historically inaccurate and naive, too.

For starters, let us note that the seven original Confederate states included South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and (wait for it) Florida, which no one ever confused with Boston's Beacon Hill.

Indeed, one the best descriptions of the state once came from a veteran Tallahassee lobbyist who observed that while Florida confronts many of the same complex issues as California in terms of immigration, the environment, drought, crime and education, it remains governed by a Mississippi legislature.

Log onto the Florida Department of Agriculture website and what's the first thing you see? Tips on cultivating oranges? Nope. Statistics on the cattle industry? Hardly. Instead, viewers receive guidance on how to apply for a concealed weapons permit, of which 1.2 million have been issued in the state.

It was the rubes in the Florida Legislature, which is little more than a National Rifle Association franchise, who approved the state's notorious Stand Your Ground law enabling just about anyone with a Steven Seagal complex to start blasting away whenever their feelings get hurt.

And Florida is not Deep South enough? Really?

Not that this is a particular point of pride for the state, but as Gilbert King noted in Devil In The Grove, his Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the corrupt, racist late Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall, Florida led the nation in post-Reconstruction lynchings. So do Williams, Roberts, et. al still want to pretend Florida is merely a subdivision of Stratford-on-Avon?

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Has anyone not noticed that from 1935 until 2008 a lyric in Florida's official state song, Old Folks At Home, included the line: "Oh, darkeys how my heart grows weary," until it was finally changed to "Oh dear ones, my heart. . . ."

And let us not overlook the fact it was only a year ago that Jacksonville finally got around to removing the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest, one of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan, from one of its high schools, ending 54 years a knave.

In what might better qualify Florida as the Deep Stupid state, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, we rank Number One in the Deep South for the most known redneck, goober hate groups drooling across the state, not to mention the silly and scary massive Confederate flag fluttering at the I-4/I-75 intersection. Put that in your dueling banjo, Mr. Williams, and strum it.

The perception of Florida as Deep South-challenged certainly has something to do with the vast numbers of transplants from other northern climes. But other Deep South states from Texas to the Carolinas along Brian Williams' Trail of Errors also have plenty of residents who once lived above or west of the Mason-Dixon Line and no one is challenging their Foghorn Leghorn bona fides.

Still, Florida remains very much rooted in the Deep South, from Wausau's annual Possum Festival, to Wauchula's dibs as the cucumber capital of the world, to Two Egg's claim to being home to the Stump Jumper, a sort of Florida swamp ape-lite.

And that is the Deep South state Democrat Bill Nelson represents in the U.S. Senate. Doo-dah, doo-dah.