Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers

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A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:

Tampa Bay Times — Let investigation play out before setting Hillsborough transit referendum

If the Go Hillsborough transit initiative goes anywhere, city and county leaders have to quickly focus on the right priorities. They should concentrate on creating a robust, detailed plan they could sell to voters, not on meeting an artificial deadline next month for deciding whether to place a referendum on the 2016 ballot. To force a decision on scheduling the referendum now when a cloud hangs over the effort would be a sure way to prematurely kill it and further delay any answer to the region’s transportation needs.

County commissioners finally have quit wringing their hands over allegations that the Go Hillsborough project violated state law by awarding no-bid public contracts to well-connected consultants in the private sector. Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee is investigating those claims. Commissioners need to let the sheriff conduct his review, refocus on crafting a viable transit plan and be prepared to move forward if the investigation finds no laws or county purchasing rules were broken.

Concentrating on developing the transit plan has been impossible in recent weeks as critics have hurled every conspiracy theory possible, causing already skittish commissioners to start hedging their support for a plan that has not even been nailed down. One thing is clear: Critics have jumped on the contracting process behind Go Hillsborough, which should have been more open. But their unfounded allegations are a strategy for attacking what they really oppose — higher taxes, mass transit, an eventual rail line and smarter growth throughout Tampa Bay.

Commissioners need to let the investigation play out and move beyond their fear of angering suburban conservatives. They should use this time to craft a meaningful, saleable plan for improving the region’s transportation system.

The Bradenton Herald — Clinton takes control in first Democratic presidential debate

Hillary had to show that she could throw a punch, and take one — and, somehow, that she was a “people person.” Bernie had to show up as something more than a genius radical with rumpled clothes and unkempt curls. The other three guys needed a Carly Fiorina moment to stay in the game.

The first Democratic presidential debate pitted front-runner Hillary Clinton against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose poll numbers are nipping at her heels in some primary states; former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley; former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee.

Did it put us to sleep, as Donald Trump predicted? Nope. Good thing, because that would have meant missing the best line of the night, courtesy of Sanders, offering Clinton some scandal relief: “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails!” In fact, it was a relief to see five politicians slug it out on policy issues without the whole thing devolving into a slugfest a la the Republicans.

In addition, unlike the unruly and shifting Republican field in which the front-runners have never held elected office, there’s no outsider in this race, unless one counts Sanders, who labels himself a “democratic socialist.”

All five candidates have records as elected officials on which to run, or run from. That kept the evening somewhat freer of bluster and speculative bloviating — though most showed themselves to be inartful dodgers when answering the most straightforward of questions.

Throughout the evening, each was forced to justify changing, flip-flopping or evolving positions; they illuminated why they voted how they did in Congress or defended questionable policies enacted as municipal or state leaders.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Inject reality into sentencing laws

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, giddy with budgets that were sometimes more than a billion dollars into the black, Florida lawmakers went all-in on the easiest of targets: Harsh, long sentences for criminals.

But over the years, state lawmakers have realized that the get-tough-on-crime spree has a massive price tag — and unintended consequences. Lawmakers are considering tweaks that would keep Florida’s sentencing laws tough, but allow for flexibility and proportionality. That’s smarter justice.

The current target is a law then-Gov. Jeb Bush pushed for, with the snappy title of “10-20-Life.” It required a 10-year minimum mandatory prison term for anyone using a gun in the commission of a long list of felonies. The minimum increased to 20 years for anyone who discharged the firearm during the crime, and at least 25 if someone was injured or killed in the commission of the felony.

The 1999 law faced new scrutiny in 2013, after Marissa Alexander of Jacksonville was convicted and sentenced to 20 years minimum for firing what she told police was a “warning shot.” Alexander, who had no criminal history prior to her arrest, claimed self-defense, saying she was trying to run away from her estranged husband, who was attacking her. The case was later overturned on appeal. After prosecutors threatened to retry her on three separate charges, each of which would have carried a 20-year-sentence, Alexander agreed to a plea deal that allowed her to be released with time served.

The legislation approved Oct. 5 by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee would address that kind of case, removing aggravated assault from the list of crimes covered under the law. A prior version would have erased the high minimum sentences for aggravated assault if the court finds the defendant had a good-faith belief that they were acting in self-defense — a protection that should be restored to cover other offenses listed in the 10-20-Life law. Judges should always have the ability to consider the “totality of the circumstances” to determine whether a long sentence is truly warranted.

The Florida Times-Union — Cheers: UNF grad program wins No. 1 ranking

“Well done” to the University of North Florida’s Physical Therapy Graduate Program, which has again snagged a No. 1 national ranking.

Just as in 2014, UNF’s program has been rated by GraduatePrograms.com as the best in the nation for physical therapy graduate students.

GraduatePrograms.com is a website that provides information to help prospective graduate students pick the best schools to meet their educational goals,

JAGS FANS DESERVE PRAISE

Being a Jaguars fan isn’t always easy on the nerves.

But there’s no doubt that we as a city love our football team, and ESPN Magazine has come out with some rankings that prove our affection and loyalty runs deep.

In its latest annual “Ultimate Standings” feature, the magazine ranked 122 professional sports franchises on several categories, including the fans’ relationships with their clubs, the overall stadium experience and how affordable it is to follow each team.

The Jaguars ranked No. 64 overall, ahead of legendary, long-established sports franchises like the Chicago Bulls, New York Giants, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Toronto Maple Leafs.

The ranking shows how Jacksonville has become a mature professional sports town with a huge base of fans who consistently show up to support their team even when it’s struggling.

You hate to lose, but this loyalty is a sign of a great pro football town.

Florida Today – Corruption bill must beat politics as usual

“Schoolhouse Rock” taught us that if you want to change the law to solve a problem, go see your elected representative. Someday, a bill might climb all the way up Capitol Hill.

So there I was, after a five-hour drive to Tallahassee and a hike up Monroe Street, meeting my state representative from House District 52. I had just promised a few hundred thousand readers that FLORIDA TODAY and Gannett news sites would try to change the law so that state attorneys could punish and deter more public corruption.

Who could oppose that?

Turns out, politics and policymaking are more complicated than “Schoolhouse Rock” let on during Saturday morning cartoons. My cell phone buzzed. A colleague had just emailed me a Harvard University study that ranked the Florida Legislature No. 1 for corruption based on a national survey of capital correspondents.

Maybe not this time, I thought.

Inside the Capitol, Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, welcomed me into his suite of wood-paneled offices, digs reserved for the chairman of the House Rules, Calendar & Ethics Committee. While political blogs chirped about Workman’s moonlighting as an Uber driver, he had quietly become one of the most effective and senior leaders in the House.

“No one likes to vote against an ethics bill,” Workman said. “So you have to make sure you write it right the first time. Don’t create more problems by trying to fix the existing problems.”

The Gainesville Sun – Cheers and jeers

Debates involving religion can be particularly divisive, so it’s refreshing to see some common ground found in Gainesville.

Cheer: Officials from the University of Florida and a church-state watchdog group, for a reasonable compromise involving a Bible verse carved into a campus structure.

The Old Testament verse, Micah 6:8, is etched into the archway leading to Heavener Hall. The verse is a favorite of James W. “Bill” Heavener, the deep-pocketed donor who gave money for the undergraduate business building.

A national watchdog group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, argued the verse violated the Constitution and should be removed. In a compromise between UF and the group, an “ethics portal” will be created that adds three secular quotes and a statement about the importance of ethics in business to go along with the verse.

The quotes are from Aristotle, Thomas Paine and this one from Adam Smith: “To restrain our selfish(ness), and to indulge our benevolent affections, constitutes the perfection of human nature.” The quote seems particularly fitting for business students about to embark into a working world where the accumulation of wealth is too often valued above all else.

Jeer: Florida housing officials, for failing to distribute help to homeowners facing foreclosure.

As the Associated Press reported, Florida has only drawn on half of the $1 billion available in federal mortgage assistance money. A report issued last week found just 22,400 homeowners have been helped by the fund, even though nearly 110,000 homeowners have applied.

The Lakeland Ledger — Gov. Rick Scott’s transparency charade

There’s nothing wrong with Gov. Rick Scott’s call for more transparency on hospital costs. It’s the way he called for it — and his record on health care — that makes his motives suspect.

Scott said recently he would seek legislation requiring Florida’s hospitals to post their prices and average procedure costs on their websites. He also wants nonprofit hospitals to post their annual reports to the IRS online.

“We must address the high costs hospitals pass on to patients if we are going to make health care more affordable and accessible in Florida,” Scott said in a news release.

“That means we must empower patients through more public information and transparency about hospital spending and pricing.”

No argument there.

The need for transparency is well established.

As Scott pointed out, a recent national study found that 20 of the 50 U.S. hospitals that charge the most for their services are in Florida. The study’s authors urged state and federal lawmakers to require hospitals to publish cost data to help curb rising health care spending.

Three years ago, the Obama administration began publishing such data, including hospital expenses and the costs of popular procedures, to encourage consumers to compare prices.

The Florida Hospital Association says it’s already working on proposed legislation that would improve transparency in the health care industry.

But Scott didn’t stop at making a reasonable and justifiable call for more transparency.

In his release, the governor also threw in some pejorative terms, unwarranted threats and unfounded accusations — with the apparent intent to intimidate rather than seek common ground.

The Miami Herald — My dad killed a man, but there’s more to it

If you watched the Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday night, you probably heard the closing comment by my father, Jim Webb. Without hesitation he answered that the enemy he was “most proud of’” was the Vietnamese soldier who wounded him with a hand grenade. He then added that “… he isn’t around anymore.”

While there were those in the media and around the country who were a bit stunned and, perhaps, even put off by this answer, my fellow veterans and I were not. If anything, his blunt (and perhaps a bit brutal) honesty was much appreciated and further endeared him to us as a candidate. We veterans are also more likely to have a fuller picture of my father’s record. He’s the man who gave us the post-9/11 GI Bill. We also know him as a highly decorated combat veteran who earned the Navy Cross for the entire episode surrounding that grenade, not just the snippet that has been focused on.

As a Marine infantryman myself, I have experienced the complex emotions of combat. On the one hand you may not even see the face of an individual who fires a round so close to your head that your ears ring, or blows up the improvised explosive device next to your vehicle that potentially kills or maims your friends. On the other, there’s an intensely personal reaction. After all, this isn’t a person who is besting you in a debate about gun control or some other social policy over a beer. This is a person whose intent is to end your life, and that is as clear-cut an enemy as you can think of. Additionally, many, if not most, of the veterans I have talked to have read the Navy Cross citation that chronicles the incident surrounding my father. For those unfamiliar, it states:

Observing the grenade land dangerously close to his companion, First Lieutenant Webb simultaneously fired his weapon at the enemy, pushed the Marine away from the grenade, and shielded him from the explosion with his own body.

We who know the complexities of combat understand the character displayed in the above sentence. When put into the proper context, it is clearly far more than the sound bite being dissected by political pundits.

The Orlando Sentinel — Apopka doesn’t need 2 John Land statues

The late Apopka Mayor John Land led his city for more than six decades. He’s a legend.

So it’s certainly understandable that city leaders — even the man who defeated him, current Mayor Joe Kilsheimer — would want to create a lasting tribute to him.

But their idea, not one but two publicly funded statues, is excessive — even for someone of Land’s stature in Apopka.

It’s a particularly ill-suited tribute to Land, who prided himself on running a lean government and keeping taxes low. Land didn’t even accept a salary during his final years in office.

Land died almost a year ago, at 94, seven months after losing his bid for a 20th term.

City leaders have ordered a $107,000 pair of statues: One would stand outside City Hall, and one would be seated on a bench at Kit Land Nelson Park.

At least 80 percent of the tab would be picked up by taxpayers. City commissioners voted in September to draw the money from a budget surplus.

But just because public funds are available doesn’t mean it’s an appropriate expense for taxpayers. Even Apopka Commissioner Bill Arrowsmith, a close friend and political ally of Land’s, expressed reservations about commissioning two statues, and not seeking competitive bids for the project.

Land accumulated an enormous reservoir of good will during his decades in office. A private drive to raise enough funds for a tribute — or tributes — to him would stand a good chance of succeeding. It would be a more fitting way to honor the mayor’s life and leadership.

The Ocala StarBanner — He showed Silver Springs to the world

When anyone talks about Ocala’s past, it invariably leads to the subject of Silver Springs. After all, Silver Springs was Florida’s first major tourist attraction, and tens of thousands of people visited our city every year for a chance to get a peek of the “real” Florida with its crystal clear waters, its alligators and Ross Allen’s spectacular reptile shows.

While Mother Nature was certainly the star of the show, few people did more to open the world’s eyes to the magnificence of Silver Springs than Bruce Mozert.

Mozert was a photographic pioneer and the official photographer for Silver Springs for more than three decades starting in 1938.

Mozert died Wednesday at age 98 in Ocala.

It was by happenstance that Mozert ended up at Silver Springs. Born in Ohio, Mozert moved to New York City after graduating high school where, through his sister, he met famed Life magazine photographer Victor DePalma. DePalma gave him a $3-an-hour job developing film, but it wasn’t long before Mozert was shooting his own pictures.

It was while en route to a photography shoot in Miami that fate intervened. Mozert was in St. Augustine and read that a Tarzan movie was being shot at Silver Springs. He made a beeline to Ocala and ended up getting a job at the attraction.

The rest, as they say, is history — and a rich history it is.

Not only was Mozert the official photographer of Silver Springs, but he also was an innovator.

Mozert needed a way to shoot underwater photos. So with a metal box and some Plexiglass, he developed the most advanced underwater camera up until that time.

And he seized every chance he could to use the breathtakingly clear waters of Silver Springs to both promote the park and sell products for various advertisers.

The Pensacola News-Journal — A CIA agent for Senate?

Earlier this week, Northwest Florida got a visit from the guy POLITICO’s Marc Caputo recently dubbed “the most interesting man in Florida’s Senate race” to replace Sen. Marco Rubio. Pensacola, meet Todd Wilcox.

He was a rifle platoon leader in Desert Storm and later, a Green Beret. He was a CIA operative, trained in Arabic and dropped into some of the most treacherous places on the globe. He’s an entrepreneur and founder of a multi-million dollar defense contracting company. And he’s the proud father of three girls, who he says are the combined reason that he’s now trying to fix a broken Washington.

I met Wilcox on Tuesday down yonder at So Gourmet on Palafox. I’m pretty sure he drank his coffee black. An athletic 48-year-old with a solid smile, he had a handshake that could crush a Taliban fighter’s esophagus. Woe be to the dumb boyfriend who behaves less than gentlemanly around this guy’s daughters!

It took Wilcox a minute to get comfortable talking about himself. He’s never been a politician before. He’s never had to sell his story or pitch to the voting public. “I tell you man, this is like standing naked on a street corner.” He explained how his entire life and the core of his professional training called for just “blending in and getting a job done.”

“Talking about yourself might come naturally to a narcissist,” he said. “But I’m still having trouble with it.”

Eventually though, he spoke casually about growing up as a poor kid in Tampa on the free lunch program. He earned an Army ROTC Scholarship to the University of Tampa before starting his military career. We talked about Central Florida’s mega-growth compared to the relative serenity and sanity of life here in the Panhandle.

The Palm Beach Post — Washington stands still despite drumbeat on high drug prices

On the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton is proposing to force pharmaceutical companies to spend more on research. In California, the push is on for a law to contain government spending on drugs. And on the front pages of national newspapers, stories keep appearing about high medicine prices.

And in Washington, there’s little sign that Congress is ready to advance any of the initiatives sprouting up to address the cost of medicine:

Susan Mannes with her husband, Bruce who must take the drug Cuprimine, which quadrupled in price overnight, outside their home in … Read More

Health insurers are advocating proposals such as requiring drugmakers to disclose how they set their prices and shortening the 12-year period in which makers of biologic medicine can keep their data secret.

A bill introduced last month in the Senate, co-sponsored by presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, would allow Medicare to negotiate with drugmakers and would let pharmacies import drugs from Canada.

A health department official floated the idea earlier this month of coming up with ways to pay for a medication based on how well it works.

At a separate event last week, Jason Furman, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, said prescription drug spending has been accelerating with the arrival of “costly, though often effective, new therapies.” While drug spending continues to represent about 10 percent of total health-care spending, “trends in this area have raised concerns about access and affordability,” he said.

Clinton and Sanders both said at Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential debate that they would set themselves apart from the Obama administration by challenging drug companies. Neither expanded on their plans.

The Panama City News-Herald — Blame Libertarians for drop in teen sex

The CDC reported a sharp drop in the number of teenagers having sex. About 44 percent of teenage girls admitted to it, down from 51 percent in 1988, the good ol’ Clinton years.

Those who are having sex are using protection; teen births have plummeted 57 percent in the last 30 years. The popularity of the “morning-after pill” among women has doubled. They are also working on a morning-after pill for men — it changes your cell number the next morning.

Like most boys my age, I learned about sex the traditional way: trial and error. More credible information on the Internet and sex education in schools must be the reason for this good news. We Libertarians split with the social conservatives on this, and on their “abstinence only” approach. Consensual, educated and safe is the best way to go about sex, not ignorant and scared with hormones raging. Kids need facts from parents, educators and physicians, not judgment, scare tactics or guilt. An educated consumer of anything makes the product better; sex is no different.

In reverse Darwinism, smart kids are using birth control; the dumb ones are not. The result, too many kids are being born out of wedlock and in poverty who become government dependent. Democrats depend on this; it’s called their core voting block. That’s why they have no interest in making things better. Self-sufficient and smart folks do not vote for Democrats. Government perpetuates this by providing lavish social services and making the old “safety net,” into a safety hammock.

Tying the two together, I would think sexual appetites of men really plummets the more Democrat leader Debbie Wasserman Schultz is seen.

Kids are less likely today to be dating someone than our generation. Boys today watch unfiltered Internet clips and have a warped sense of sexual expectations. Ubiquitous porn also has created unrealistic views on the expected form of payment for a pizza delivery boy.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel – Will new Senate map create new direction?

Starting today, the Florida Legislature has a chance to accomplish two important things.

First, the House and Senate can demonstrate that — at last — they acknowledge the power of the people. They can use the three-week special session to produce a Senate map that adheres to the Fair Districts Amendments, which voters passed in 2010. They can produce a map that does not intentionally favor a party or any incumbents, provides reasonable minority access and splits as few cities and counties as possible.

Second, by producing the map — one map — they can show that Tallahassee might be able to get past this year’s dysfunction.

A dispute over Medicaid expansion ended the regular session early. It took a special session to pass the budget. Key bills died.

In another special session, the House and Senate failed to agree on a map for congressional districts. The House passed one; the Senate passed two. The session became necessary when the Florida Supreme Court ruled in July that the Legislature’s congressional map violated the Fair Districts Amendments.

The challenge is higher this time. The congressional map affects few, if any, legislators. The Senate map affects every senator not term-limited in 2016 — 30 of the 40 — and House members who are approaching term limits and want to run for the Senate. Almost every member of the current Senate served previously in the House.

Another complicating factor is the fight over who will become Senate president in 2017-18 — Jack Latvala of Pinellas County or Joe Negron of Martin County. In August, Negron produced pledges from 14 of the 26 Republicans. Latvala countered that because of the new map, some senators might not be in office after next year.

Latvala wants the vote for president to take place after the 2016 elections, not this December. Though Latvala and Negron are not on the Reapportionment Committee, expect each to push for a map that helps his supporters.

All the inside politics might make Floridians wonder if this special session means anything to them. Actually, it means a lot.

The Tallahassee Democrat – Thank Pink!

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When lemonade gives you $21,679.35, say thank you and give it to those in need.

On Oct. 1, #GoPinkLemonade did more than raise an incredible amount of money for Joanna Francis Living Well, a foundation dedicated to providing financial assistance for families facing unforeseen living expenses while living with terminal breast cancer. It brought out the best in our community.

Simply saying “thank you” to everyone does not express the true gratitude felt by everyone at the Democrat and Joanna Francis Living Well, but those two little words pack a big punch when talking about the effect #GoPinkLemonade had on everyone.

First, thank you to Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare for being the Democrat’s annual Go Pink sponsor. TMH is a resource for the latest research in breast cancer treatment and a community partner that sees the value in keeping breast cancer awareness high and mammograms top of mind.

Second, thank you to the 101 businesses, schools and individuals who took the time to set up lemonade stands and collect donations. Whether a stand brought in $12 or $1,200, your participation and willingness to go out of your way on a random Thursday made this event a success.

Money is still being dropped off, but the five lemonade stands that raised the most money are: Coldwell Banker Hartung and Noblin, Inc. Realtors ($2,124.75), Sachs Media Group ($2,000), MuniCode ($1,760.06), FSU Administration ($1,274.28) and the city of Tallahassee ($1,122.26).

Coming in sixth place for monies collected are the Miller Girls: Olivia, 14, Gracie, 13, Britton, 11, and Avery, 9. Gracie saw the #GoPinkLemonade article in the Democrat and without hesitation asked her mom if she and her sisters could set up a lemonade stand to help raise money. After a little brainstorming, the girls decided the best place for their stand would be in front of the heavily trafficked Tallahassee Dance Academy. Through a lot of clever marketing on the girls’ part they got their schools, the dance academy, local businesses, neighbors and friends to help promote their stand. What the Miller Girls thought was just going to be one small stand took in $1,061.48 in four hours.

The Tampa Tribune — Turning back the page

In a refreshing change for a president who rarely admits error, President Obama listened to his military advisers and his congressional critics and reversed his plan to withdraw virtually all American troops in Afghanistan by 2016.

He deserves credit for the decision, but after his experience in Iraq he should have known the dangers of announcing a time frame for pulling troops out of Afghanistan.

The president confidently said “It’s time to turn the page” on the conflict when he announced a staged troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in May 2014.

Military authorities and congressional critics warned about the dangers of what Sen. John McCain called a “calendar-based” exit. McCain predicted the move would open the door for the Taliban, which is exactly what happened.

The Taliban mounted aggressive attacks, taking advantage of the weak Afghan forces. Now the Taliban, as The New York Times reports, is spread through more parts of the country than at any time since 2001. The Islamic radicals scored their biggest victory of the war last month by conquering the city of Kunduz, though they pulled out after two weeks.

Notably, American troops assisted the Afghan military in forcing that retreat.

Clearly the president began to see, as his congressional critics had stressed, military policy should be based on conditions on the ground, not on calendar dates.

That was made clear in Iraq, where a troop withdrawal in 2011 led to the barbaric Islamic State ultimately taking over much of the country.

The United States has reassigned some troops to Iraq, but the country remains, as Obama says of Afghanistan, “fragile.”

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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