A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:
Tampa Bay Times — Benghazi hearings aimed at politics, not policy
The Republican show trial over Benghazi lived up to the worst fears this week as House conservatives pummeled former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a naked effort to damage her campaign for president. Nine hours of nasty questioning produced virtually no new information, beyond a stark picture of how low the political process has sunk and the lengths that Republicans will go to twist the truth and demean opponents for partisan political gain. There is plenty to mourn about the 2012 attacks and to criticize about the administration’s inadequate security of the compound, but the issues already have been well vetted and there is no reason to continue this political theater.
Of course, the expectations were low going into Thursday’s marathon hearing, given that the attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012, which killed U.S. ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, had already been the target of seven previous investigations. But Republicans on the House select committee signaled at the outset that they were more interested in roughing up the Democratic frontrunner than exploring the events that led to the seizure of the diplomatic outpost.
Committee Democrats were little better, using their time not to objectively question Clinton but to denounce Republicans for the Benghazi inquiry and to praise the former secretary as a tireless stateswoman whose actions were above reproach. It was a scripted event on all sides: Republicans scored political points back home, Democrats defended their presumptive 2016 nominee, and Clinton appeared more in control and presidential than in a testy exchange with the Senate over Benghazi in 2013.
There was no bipartisan effort to advance the truth, as Congress did in the past in investigating Watergate and the Iran-Contra scandal. And there are plenty of legitimate questions that have been previously asked and answered. This was a tragedy that exposed the dangerousness of foreign service. But even Clinton did not dismiss the findings of a review board that declared security at the site was “grossly inadequate.” Congress shortchanged funding for diplomatic security, and the State Department did not follow through on the requests by U.S. personnel in Libya for additional security. The intelligence lapses also call into question America’s ability to develop sources in hot spots around the world.
The Bradenton Herald — New issues in indigent health care funding for Manatee County
Add another wrinkle to Manatee County’s ongoing challenge with partially funding health care for the working poor. As county officials, the medical community and other stakeholders wrestle up a strategy to lower costs and improve outcomes, federal dollars are shrinking just as Manatee’s trust fund is evaporating. The new county budget backfills that gap with almost $7 million out of reserves.
Last year, the federal government handed Florida more than $2 billion to help hospitals with unpaid bills for indigent health care. This year the Low Income Pool program fell to $1 billion, and the Legislature came up with $400 million to plug part of the hole.
The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid announced last week the agency would hold firm to a cap of $608 million next year, an amount causing angst among safety-net hospitals statewide. The Tampa Bay Times reported this week that state lawmakers are balking at once again buttressing LIP, but the next state budget is a long way from being written.
Should the Legislature reject funding, Manatee County’s share of LIP dollars would surely fall. That would exacerbate a dire situation.
Florida could easily solve this vexing problem by accepting the federal offer of billions in aid if the state accepts an expansion of Medicaid to more working poor as part of the Affordable Care Act. LIP is being phased out under the assumption that all states would expand the program but some haven’t.
Many working poor reside in the gap between ACA policies and old Medicaid income guidelines. Florida’s House has been blocking Medicaid expansion on purely political terms that hold no water. Manatee County, as elsewhere in Florida, is paying the price. Shame on the House, especially if lawmakers do slash funding for LIP.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Building a new stadium policy
Having a football stadium at each high school in Volusia County instead of making teams play in off-campus facilities makes sense from a standpoint of inculcating community spirit. Ultimately, though, the winners have to be local taxpayers.
Longstanding district policy has prohibited stadiums on new school sites. Many area schools play their games at municipal stadiums, while others have erected bleachers on practice fields. But that may change after the School Board recently authorized Superintendent Tom Russell to work with community members to raise funds to build a stadium at University High School in Orange City. Board member John Hill, a DeLand physician, helped launch the efforts by writing a $4,000 personal check to the school.
University High is a test case for local governments, businesses, parents and other parties: Can they organize a fundraising campaign sufficient to cover construction and design costs? That’s a tall order in an age when school athletic booster clubs hold car washes, bake sales and other events to scrape together enough cash to pay for uniforms, equipment, travel and other costs for teams that aren’t covered by the district.
Nevertheless, it’s an intriguing strategy that localizes — and partly privatizes — most of the costs of building a stadium while testing the theory that such facilities bolster community identity and pride. Basically, it says: Put your money where your mouth is.
The Florida Times-Union — Infant mortality has moved back to the shadows
Big improvements have been made in infant mortality in Jacksonville. But new risks have appeared at the same time.
Northeast Florida’s infant mortality rate is stable, meaning it’s still too high.
All of this comes to mind after a disappointing recent meeting to review the latest infant mortality data from the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition.
There were no local government officials attending.
There wasn’t even a quorum of the coalition’s board members.
Many are doing impressive work in several key areas, but they are working in the shadows without enough engagement from the rest of the community.
The rate of infant mortality locally, which dropped in recent years, has plateaued.
A total of 143 babies died before their first birthday in the region last year. This computes to an infant mortality rate of 8 deaths per 1,000 live births, the same rate as last year. The state’s rate is 6 per 1,000; the national rate is 6.1 per 1,000.
One reason for the higher rate in Northeast Florida is largely due to the fact that black babies are more than 2.5 times more likely to die before their first birthday than white babies.
Florida Today – The untold story of Brevard’s black leadership
We thought twice about reporting this and almost didn’t. But each day it hasn’t made news only makes it bigger news.
Check it out: In 2015, all of the biggest government agencies in Brevard are led by African-Americans.
They are our NASA administrator, schools superintendent, county commission chairman and county manager.
Look a level deeper, and they are the mayor of Palm Bay, the vice chairman of the Eastern Florida State College board of trustees, and the chairman of Brevard County’s Charter Review Commission.
So what, you say?
You’re far more likely to have heard about the Confederate flag dispute in Melbourne or the FBI investigating vandalism to a black church in Eau Gallie — potential turnoffs to minority job applicants considering Brevard.
Yet these gentlemen provide daily proof that fiscally and politically savvy leaders of color can have great careers in a conservative county that is only 11 percent black. Even their political enemies concede they’re effective.
“It speaks to the capacity of our community and who we really are,” said Kendall Moore, a Rockledge attorney who leads the charter commission.
The Gainesville Sun – Cheers and jeers
As Gainesville celebrates the Pride Parade and Festival today, new legislation shows the fight for full equality is far from over in Florida.
Jeer: State. Rep. Julio Gonzalez, R-Venice, for this week filing a wide-ranging “right to discriminate” bill.
As the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported, gay rights leaders say the legislation would be one of the most discriminatory anti-LGBT measures in the nation. It would allow businesses with five or fewer owners, religious institutions and businesses operated by religious institutions to deny products or services to same-sex couples for religious or moral reasons.
It would also allow adoption agencies to turn away these couples. Health-care agencies could also refuse to treat someone for religious or moral reasons, except when it would endanger the person’s life or possibly lead to serious injury.
It’s no wonder that Carlos Guillermo Smith, a lobbyist for Florida’s largest gay rights group, told the Herald-Tribune that the bill is “extreme event for extremists.
“Bills like this threaten Florida’s tourism-based economy and could provoke an Indiana-style backlash,” Smith said. “It would be a disaster for Florida.”
Smith is referring to the boycotts and condemnation that greeted similar legislation in Indiana. Florida lawmakers should reject the measure well before things get to that point. The proposal is a reminder that the legalization of same-sex marriage this year is progress, but not the end of ensuring equality for all people.
The Lakeland Ledger — Reducing consultant’s role was wise
It’s unclear whether Tony Delgado will one day shed the adjective “interim” in front of his city manager title, but what is clear is that Delgado, while he has the helm, seeks to conduct business differently than his predecessor.
That was evident earlier this week when it was announced that the city of Lakeland had reached a new deal with Bill Tinsley, its former parks director who of late has served as a consultant to the city’s most renowned tenant, the Detroit Tigers.
In February 2012 Tinsley left his post overseeing the city’s parks and recreation programs after more than 40 years on the staff. He didn’t exactly ride off into the sunset, since then-City Manager Doug Thomas hired Tinsley for a part-time gig as the city’s special liaison to the Tigers.
Tinsley’s deal paid him $80,000 a year, and provided a monthly allowances of $450 for a car and $80 for a cellphone. The city seemed to come out ahead since Tinsley was being paid almost $126,000 annually to manage the parks department, and his new job would allow him to focus solely on keeping the Tigers happy.
That was an important consideration. As of this year the relationship between Lakeland and the Tigers spans 79 years, Major League Baseball’s longest-running partnership between a big league team and its spring-training host city. Besides history, the Tigers’ preseason stay in Lakeland is a rainmaker for tourist spending. This year, the Tigers posted the third-best attendance figures among the 15 teams who train in Florida, attracting nearly 135,000 fans, and trailing only the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.
The Miami Herald — Herald choices for Miami Beach dais
It’s an open secret on Miami Beach that some candidates are running as a loosely connected slate tied to Mayor Philip Levine and political consultant and lobbyist David Custin. Both men had ties to the Relentless for Progress PAC that aroused a political stink on the Beach and was recently dismantled.
It’s important for voters to know this, and to know which candidates are on which side of the Beach’s political divide. That does not disqualify anyone on the ballot, however, nor should it be the only consideration for voters picking a candidate.
What matters is ensuring that independent voices remain an effective force in the Beach’s governance structure. The Herald made its recommendations for mayor and the City Commission seat for Group 4. Here are our choices for the remaining commission seats.
The candidates are Mark Weithorn, 58, a web site developer and lawyer, and businessman Ricky Arriola, 47. The two share broad agreement that transportation/parking, flooding and building a modern convention center are priorities, though they disagree on important aspects.
Our choice is Ricky Arriola, whose extensive civic involvement demonstrates that he can make the tough decisions he will face as a commissioner — particularly his work as chairman of the board of the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. Mr. Weithorn says his opponent is part of the Levine-supported slate trying to create a super-majority on the board, but Mr. Arriola has proven himself to be an independent voice in his civic activities and hopefully will remain his own man if elected to the commission.
For Miami Beach commissioner, Group 5, The Herald recommends RICKY ARRIOLA.
Candidates John Elizabeth Aleman, 47, and Mark Samuelian, 51, are making their first bid for elected office. Mr. Samuelian is a relative newcomer, having lived on the Beach only a few years. Ms. Aleman has been a Miami Beach resident for 21 years.
In a close decision, we give the nod to Mr. Samuelian, whose skepticism about the way business is conducted at City Hall could make him the kind of genuine independent the commission needs at a time when the city faces significant challenges.
For Miami Beach Commissioner, Group 6, The Herald recommends MARK SAMUELIAN.
The Orlando Sentinel — Make UCF pay equitable, transparent
University of Central Florida President John Hitt has overseen his institution’s growth into the nation’s second-largest university. More important, national surveys have rated UCF one of the most innovative universities and best values for students.
Beyond UCF’s borders, Hitt has been a consistent leader in successful efforts to strengthen Central Florida’s economy. We agree with one of the trustees who oversee the university, John Sprouls, that UCF has been fortunate to have Hitt at the helm.
So why would we question the president and other UCF leaders receiving a total of $364,000 in “performance pay” on top of their salaries?
Well, additional compensation for faculty members at UCF has been a pittance by comparison. Their last raise, in 2014, was 3 percent, along with additional merit increases of about 2 percent.
The president of the faculty union told the Sentinel that some full-time faculty make just $31,500 a year. Possible faculty raises for this year are still under negotiation.
Meanwhile, raises for the taxpayers who support UCF and other public universities in Florida also have been hard to come by in recent years.
And while the UCF dividends would be performance pay, not a raise, we doubt taxpayers would see a big distinction. It’s more money, bottom line.
The Ocala StarBanner — A Social Security CPI for seniors
Last week the Social Security Administration announced that 65 million Social Security recipients were denied a bump in their benefits for 2016. It was just the third time that had happened since annual cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs, were written into federal law more than 40 years ago. The other two occasions occurred in 2010 and 2011.
U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson has sought to rectify this situation. The Orlando Democrat has proposed a simple yet critical change in how those benefits are calculated. The plan will likely garner eager support from other Democrats, and perhaps Republicans from districts heavy with Social Security beneficiaries, such as all of them from Florida. But wider acceptance is uncertain.
Our hope is that all of Congress will heed Grayson’s proposal.
In 1972 President Richard Nixon enacted a bill establishing a yearly COLA, thus connecting Social Security payments to shifts in inflation, and ending a system whereby benefit increases had to be wrenched from Congress annually.
During Nixon’s first term, inflation averaged 4.7 percent a year. But the plan proved helpful to the elderly when inflation spiked under President Jimmy Carter and into President Ronald Reagan’s first term. The cost of living between 1979 and 1981, for example, jumped by almost 12 percent a year on average.
Inflation has since moderated averaged just 1.6 percent a year for the past six years.
The government’s formula for determining higher Social Security benefits landed on zero this year largely because of plummeting gas prices, which fell 30 percent during the period the government used to measure the potential 2016 increase.
The Pensacola News-Journal — Historic opportunity in bed tax
The proposal from the University of West Florida’s Historic Trust — to turn downtown Pensacola intoHistoric Pensacola — is our city’s chance to step up its game. The community should help execute the plan as quickly as possible and we believe the tourism development tax is an immediate source of money to fuel the exciting series of projects.
This will be transformative. Officials from UWF unveiled the stunning master plan in a presentation Tuesday. Essentially, it’s a dramatic reimagining of the stretch of Zarragossa Street between Plaza Ferdinand and Seville Square — the two tree-canopied parks that are underused jewels of Pensacola’s historic district.
Dr. Brendan Kelly, UWF’s president of advancement, explained that the crux of the plan is to make the gifts that we already have work harder for us. “The priority of the interpretive master plan is to make good on the assets we already have, to bolster the assets we already have,” Kelly said. “We have a rich archaeological history. It’s just underground in Pensacola.”
This plan will bring our buried history alive on the street’s surface for all to see.
The Palm Beach Post — Legislators capitol that would be wise to bury their hatchets in 2016
One political party, the GOP, had total control of the executive and legislative branches of state government this year, and look what happened. Gridlock on so many important items: The budget. Health care access for the poor. Congressional districts.
Republican leaders’ inability to find compromise meant taxpayers paid for not one special session. Not two. But three, all to carry out the budget-setting and redistricting work that should have been completed properly the first time, but wasn’t. The third session, to deal with redistricting state Senate seats, is set to begin on Monday.
Worse, anger over the handling of do-or-die issues like Medicaid and support for safety-net hospitals spilled over so that ego-bruised members of both houses torpedoed each others’ priorities, and the House declared an early end to the regular session. It was an unstatesmanlike response that left Floridians coping with mental illness, disabilities and lack of health care access as the casualties of war. It was ugly and unacceptable.
After the governing train wreck that has been 2015, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner have set expectations for the early January 2016 legislative session fairly low. Speaking at the annual Associated Press Legislative Preview Day in Tallahassee last week, there was none of the chummy repartee and camaraderie seen a year earlier, only a sort of weary acknowledgment of limitations, and encouragingly, a peace offering.
More peace and less posturing is precisely what’s needed.
The Panama City News-Herald — Football and gaming, what could possibly go wrong?
They worship at the high altar of football. They’re everywhere. I don’t give a fig about football, but the cult surrounds me. In the offseason, the devotees were stomping the floor over Tom Brady and a football’s air pressure. They demanded to know my opinion on the matter. That I had none amazed them.
The season is in full frenzy, and with it, a new controversy: the explosive growth of gambling on fantasy football. Run by such corporate giants as FanDuel and DraftKings, daily fantasy sports are Internet-based games where one assembles a virtual team of real players and bets on how well it will perform.
Football and gambling — two great American addictions working together. What could possibly go wrong?
Lots, mainly because of the supreme confidence of the zealots. They claim to know all the players and coaches, their weaknesses, their strengths, their girlfriends, their concussions. They know exactly which part of his hamstrings LeSean McCoy of the Buffalo Bills pulled and what that means for the game. So if anyone can get rich betting on football outcomes, they can, so many think.
A 2006 federal law banned online games of chance but left a loophole for fantasy sports betting, viewing it as a game of skill. My friends who’ve played say they are competing with so many people and there are so many unknowns in the sport that winning is basically, excuse the expression, “a crapshoot.”
In any case, few anticipated the boom in online sports betting and enormous profits to be made (for the “house,” as always). For the month ended Sept. 15, the fantasy sports industry spent more on commercials during the games than pizza and beer companies.
Whether such online fantasy sports are about skill or chance, they are most certainly about competition for the gambling dollar. Many states have banned the game, including, to no one’s surprise, Nevada.
The South Florida Sun Sentinel – South Florida’s week that was: Guns, Bush and Pitbull
Dear South Florida,
What a week, right?
Joe Biden pulls out (officially). Hillary Clinton does Benghazi (hearing). And Pitbull plays hard-to-get politics (seriously).
The local music phenom typically raps about partying with the ladies, pimps and Ballers. But Mr. 305 recently boasted of hangin’ with Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush. His claim instantly boosted the presidential candidates’ street cred, but not for long. Pitbull made it clear the budding bromance ends at the polling booth.
The police-involved fatal shooting of a stranded black driver in Palm Beach County made national news. Nobody knows yet what went down early last Sunday morning, but it involves a plainclothes officer pulling up to a person of color in need of help and ended in tragedy. Other than that, the police are mum. Florida’s caucus of black lawmakers wants a thorough, outside investigation. The Sun Sentinel Editorial Board says more details should be quickly released before community confusion turns to community combustion.
Police brass just doesn’t get it, whether it’s New York City or Ferguson or Palm Beach Gardens. The public understands police have the toughest job in the world. It knows cops deal with some of the worst people. And sometimes cops make mistakes, justifiable mistakes. But instead of sharing key details from the onset, too many agencies stall, hide and dilute the facts, which is why the public lacks trust these days.
The death of Corey Jones proves that when it comes to gun violence, Jeb Bush was right, “stuff happens.” And cameras on cops would give everyone a better view of what that “stuff” is when it happens to kill a civilian.
Speaking of Jeb … someone please teach the former Florida governor a little self-defense. Bad boy Donald Trump has insulted JEB!’s energy level, wife and now big bro, blaming George W. for letting 9/11 happen. Jeb’s response? Nuh-uh. Was he really born in Texas?
The Tallahassee Democrat – Ensley: See you around
The Tallahassee Democrat saved my life.
It was the mid-1970s. I had dropped out of FSU and was wading through a series of boring manual labor jobs. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.
Then I got a job driving a taxi in Tallahassee, and between rides I began reading the Tallahassee Democrat. Every day, cover to cover.
Soon, I realized, I was falling in love with Tallahassee because of the newspaper. It was introducing me to local history, politics, people, places and events. I began to feel, “Hey, this is my town.”
Soon, I also began thinking: I could write for a newspaper. I like to write, I played sports growing up. I could be a sportswriter.
So I went back to FSU, got a degree and became sports editor of the Florida Flambeau, the student newspaper.
Two weeks after I graduated in August 1980, I was hired at the Democrat – and I never left.
Until today. This is my last column for the paper, as I have taken an early retirement offer. It is a bit of kismet that shortly after I accepted the offer, I underwent back surgery that has left me unable to walk, which means the first months of retirement will give me time to rehabilitate.
But because of the Democrat, a young man with no direction found a career. I will be forever grateful.
The Tampa Tribune — Another shortsighted vote by St. Pete City Council on Rays stadium stalemate
Maybe the best thing that can be said about the unrealistic Tampa Bay Rays stadium proposal the St. Petersburg City Council passed on Thursday is that the council now understands that time is running out. Beyond that, the vote is more of a setback than a step forward.
Led by Councilman Jim Kennedy, the council voted 5-3 to offer the Rays a deal that would allow them to look for new stadium sites in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. But the cost to the franchise would be twice as much as the deal the team struck last year with Mayor Rick Kriseman — which the council rejected.
Two avenues are now left for getting a deal: Hope the Rays are willing to use the Kennedy deal as a starting point to renegotiate and that the council’s more obstinate members are willing to back way off the current offer; or wait for the results of the Nov. 3 city council elections to see whether a majority can be aligned in favor Kriseman’s original deal.
The Rays’ contract with the city to play at Tropicana Field until 2027 prohibits the team from looking for stadium sites in Pinellas and Hillsborough. Kriseman’s deal would have allowed the team to look at a cost of between $4 million and $2 million for each year remaining on the contract had they found another site and left Tropicana Field before 2027. The deal restricted the search to Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.
It was the result of months of back-and-forth negotiations between Kriseman and the team and represented a reasonable way to end the years-long stalemate over a new stadium site.
But it wasn’t good enough for four of the eight council members — Kennedy, Wengay Newton, Steve Kornell and Bill Dudley — who have unnecessarily put the future of Major League Baseball in this market in jeopardy. Not coincidentally, all four voted Thursday in favor of Kennedy’s proposal to double the amount the Rays would have to pay for leaving early. Perhaps they think this signals they aren’t unreasonable.
But there is little chance the Rays will agree to pay the millions more Kennedy is demanding, and they surely know that.