Advertisement
  1. Opinion

Daniel Ruth: The Florida Legislature tells voters it knows best

The Florida Capitol, where it all happens. [Times photo by Scott Keeler]
Published May 10

There's an old political joke, which has been cleaned up a bit for a family newspaper. It's election night and the losing candidate forlornly goes before his supporters to grudgingly concede by noting, "Well, the people have spoken – the dirty, rotten, lousy, stinking half-wits!"

And that, quite naturally, brings us to the Florida Legislature, the Pyongyang of the Panhandle.

For two months the money changers of Tallahassee took time out from stuffing their pockets with legalized lobbyist baksheesh to essentially send a message to the great unwashed of the state that all this inane blabbering about democracy, freedom and civic engagement isn't worth a bucket of warm gruel.

Oh sure, the quaint notion of the will of the people is all well and good, unless the will of the people conflicts with the political agendas of those lemmings of the Legislature who would sell out their first born if the bouncing bundle of joy threatened their ambitions.

Last year, a clear, concise, unambiguous ballot measure that would restore the voting rights of most felons upon the completion of their sentences won 65 percent of the vote. The ballot language was approved by the Florida Supreme Court. The issue was widely debated across the state and in the end the people - Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives – spoke loud and clear.

All Tallahassee had to do was sit down and shut up and honor the outcome of the vote. But where is the fun in that? What's the point of wielding power if you can't abuse it? This is the Florida Legislature, after all, which has never met a vote it didn't want to suppress.

Fear abounded. Conventional wisdom held that most of the 1.4 million former felons might register as Democrats, thereby holding out the potential of a seismic challenge to Republican control of state government. The very idea of losing power because of felons heading to the ballot box might be the cause of getting tossed from office went over with about as much enthusiasm as proposing a statue honoring Jane Fonda at The Villages. Oh dear.

So in short order Rep. Jamie Grant, R- Tallahassee's Tammany Hall Poster Child, leaped into action to make sure Florida's felons would continue to be disenfranchised. Grant championed a bill to require felons to also settle all fines, fees and restitution before they would be permitted to cast a ballot. Spoiler alert: It passed. The measure was politically craven. And it smacked of a not too subtle return to the Florida's sordid, racist era of laws aimed at preventing blacks from casting a vote.

A question. If there was quantitative evidence that suggested all these felons would vote Republican, does anyone doubt Grant would have been storming the barricades defending the God-given right of these fine, upstanding folks to be fully engaged in democracy – fees and fines and restitution be damned?

The Jamie Grants of this world and his fellow poltroons in the Legislature don't give a rat's patootie about the will of the people. They don't count. And their votes most certainly must not be counted.

Just to make sure those uppity peons don't get carried away with any more of this democracy fiddle-faddle nonsense, lawmakers made it more difficult for future citizen-driven constitutional amendments to make it onto the ballot. That was particularly important to accomplish as amendments that would raise the minimum wage and allow "energy choice" to expand solar energy options are being promoted for the 2020 ballot.

The Florida Legislature also passed a corporate welfare measure that would divert public money away from public schools and give it to largely unaccountable private schools. All of this sleight-of-hand was pitched with a wink and nod as simply offering parents more "choice" to educate their tots.

But when it comes to making it easier to Floridians to exercise "choice" in opting for solar energy over traditional power utilities, the Legislature said "No, no, no." Sorry to be cynical, but do you think this has anything remotely to do with the state's powerful (and generous) utility companies opposing the expansion of solar energy into the Sunshine State by anyone but themselves?

The reigning legislative junta ruling over the lives of Floridians is annoyed with citizens advocating for change. It is dismissive of attempts to give citizens a voice, a choice.

Somewhere Mr. Jim Crow is smiling down on Tallahassee for a job well done.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1.  LISA BENSON  |  Lisa Benson -- Washington Post Writers Group
  2. Exhaust rises from smokestacks in front of piles of coal in Thompsons, Texas. [Associated Press]
    A proposed rule masquerades as transparency when it actually is a favor to polluters.
  3. Using a tool provided by NOAA, this map shows what parts of the Tampa Bay region would be underwater if sea levels rose 8 feet, which could happen by 2100. NOAA
    The real-world impacts of climate change are accelerating for us in Tampa Bay.
  4. An architect's rendering of a foster care village proposed for Lake Magdalene. Ross Chapin Architects
    Here’s what readers had to say in Saturday’s letters to the editor.
  5. Campbell Park Elementary School is one of the seven schools included in St. Petersburg City Council member Steve Kornell's plan to help homeless students in the school system. SHADD, DIRK  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The City Council appears poised to help homeless families find places to live more quickly.
  6. Kimberly Clemons, 41, a resident of the Kenwood Inn, St. Petersburg receives a free Hepatitis A vaccination from Fannie Vaughn, a nurse with the Florida Department of Health Pinellas County, Tuesday, October 22, 2019. The health department has issued a state of emergency over the hepatitis A outbreak in Florida.  SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The strategy regarding vaccinations is working and benefits all residents.
  7. Fiberglass planters remain in place at Lykes Gaslight Square Park on Friday, July 5, 2019, five months after city workers removed all of its benches for refurbishing. There is still no sign of them returning. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times
    Quit clogging up precious downtown green space.
  8. Florida's unemployment rate was unchanged in October at 3.2 percent, according to numbers released Friday. LYNNE SLADKY  |  AP
    The latest numbers were released Friday morning.
  9.  Jim Morin -- Morin Toons Syndicate
  10. Career Foreign Service officer George Kent and top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine William Taylor, right, are sworn in to testify during the first public impeachment hearing of the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill, Wednesday Nov. 13, 2019, in Washington. JOSHUA ROBERTS  |  AP
    Here’s what readers had to say in Friday’s letters to the editor.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement