Writer, international scholar, FSU English professor, opinion columnist and environmentalist Diane Roberts entertained a crowd of North Florida Democrats Tuesday evening with her incisive wit and pointed observations about the state of Florida and its leaders.
Referring to herself as “that professor conservatives warn you about,” Roberts let fly a quiverful of bon mots as she skewered the Legislature, “they argue like kindergartners”; Rick Scott, “Could you screw up any worse? Oh yeah, the governor”; and global warming deniers, “If you live in South Florida you can’t joke about climate change … you’re flooded.”
The author of Dream State: Eight Generations of Swamp Lawyers, Conquistadors, Confederate Daughters, Banana Republicans, and Other Florida Wildlife spoke to about 75 at the Democratic Club of North Florida’s annual social event and fundraiser at the Leroy Collins Leon County Public Library.
Roberts blames much of the Legislature’s current penchant for impasse on term limits. Under those constraints, she said, the temporary lawmakers “don’t know anything. They’re looking to that job after the legislative term.” Mourning the days when “Republicans were allowed to be progressive,” she observed that legislators now have “no sense of doing good for the people.”
Instead of governing intelligently, she said, lawmakers now turn to lobbyists to provide the institutional knowledge of state government and even to write the bills that are passed during Session. “The whole thing has been turned over to them.”
And lobbyists, Roberts said, are “very good at making them feel good: ‘We have this bill …’”
So don’t hold the illusion that Florida is a democracy, she said. “Florida is a feudal state.”
That reality is institutionalized by a redistricting process — a “travesty” — designed to stifle competition at the polls and preserve the powers that be who are financed by “Big Sugar,” “Big Ag,” “Big Power,” and other big-moneyed interests, Roberts observed.
“We don’t have competitive districts,” she said, and lambasted the Legislature’s recent Special Session effort to redraw the state’s congressional districts. The House and Senate remain at loggerheads in a scrap for dominance and called the past two weeks “a testing session to see would cave in the Senate redistricting Session” coming up in October. “That’s all they care about.”
Legislators, Robert said, spent their time “whining about the court stepping across constitutional boundaries. They wouldn’t know a constitutional boundary if it kicked them in the knee.”
As an example, she described the 5th Congressional District, which winds from Jacksonville down to Sanford, as “a snake in a knife fight” in a process that’s designed to dilute the Democratic vote as much as possible.
As a result, she said, the electorate — particularly young people — are disillusioned and don’t participate by getting involved in the process or even by voting.
Of her students at Florida State University, Roberts said, “They’re all terrified” and that they’re “all environmentalists. They think we’re screwing it all up, and we are.”
To the Democratic Party faithful, she urged using scare tactics when they hear young people complain about their vote not counting or that the candidates are all the same. “Agree with them and then talk about the (U.S.) Supreme Court.” There’s where real power lies, she said.
The high court interprets laws passed by Congress on issues relating to the Clean Air Act, clean water, reproductive rights, and civil rights, all hot-button concerns with the coming generation, she said. Make the connection that the president and Congress pick and approve who sits on the bench.
That, Roberts said, is our hope for the future.