A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:
Tampa Bay Times — Stacked deck on Florida water policy
Florida’s Republican leaders have said little about their secret trips to Big Sugar’s leased hunting ranch in Texas, but their record of selling out the public interest says plenty about the impact this incestuous relationship could have on state water policy. Their low regard for clean water, cozy dealings with the agriculture industry and consistent refusal to hold polluters accountable makes it difficult to envision a fair debate over how to manage the state’s precious natural resource. If the Legislature really plans to focus on water policy next year, the deck should not be stacked in favor of big agricultural interests and against everyone else.
A Tampa Bay Times examination of secret trips by Republican lawmakers to King Ranch in Texas that were orchestrated and at least partially financed by U.S. Sugar shows everything that’s wrong with the money-laundering that passes for legal campaign financing today. Gov. Rick Scott, state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, House Speaker Will Weatherford and the incoming speaker, Steve Crisafulli, have all confirmed they visited the ranch. None would say who joined them on the trips or what topics were discussed, claiming amnesia or refusing outright to answer.
The problem isn’t merely that the law allows big donors to give unlimited sums to political parties and political committees, which the parties can on the flimsiest of rationales lavish on politicians who need not tell taxpayers what they received or who paid for it. A bigger problem is that elected leaders ignore the ethical conflicts and take these junkets, then expect Floridians to believe they are getting a fair shake when it’s time for public policy debates.
The Bradenton Herald — An illuminating forum on medical cannabis and Florida’s Amendment 2 vote
Voters’ questions about the medical marijuana constitutional amendment on Florida’s November ballot abound. Answers remain elusive.
The summary on the ballot that the electorate will see only provides a broad overview of the complete amendment language. Even in its entirety, the proposal lacks the specifics that inquiring minds want to know.
That became readily apparent at last week’s Bradenton Herald-State College of Florida’s “Community Conversation” when our panelists could not speculate on the particulars should the amendment pass.
Still, the standing-room-only crowd left better informed, as many expressed upon the conclusion of the 90-minute discussion. That hunger for information became apparent when applause erupted after many panelists’ remarks — widespread clapping for both sides of the issue.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Port Orange must remain open and transparent
A year ago, Port Orange created an Audit and Budget Advisory Board as a citizen watchdog to monitor city spending and finances.
In recent months, the panel has been more of an attack dog, with city administrators and staff, as well as council members, accusing the board of biting the hand that feeds it.
Last week, the council decided to find the board a new home: limbo.
When the council Tuesday voted to indefinitely suspend the Audit and Budget Advisory Board, elected officials indicated it would be a temporary hiatus designed to calm the roiled waters, allowing the city to recover from a series of administrative resignations that critics have blamed on a “hostile work environment” created by the advisory board. Since late June, six top officials have departed, including City Manager Greg Kisela.
The council’s move might make for a quieter City Hall, but officials and the public they serve should not lose sight of why the advisory board existed in the first place.
It was a response to an audit that found the city from 2009 to 2012 had undercharged water and sewer customers by $1.2 million. City leaders then vowed to increase oversight to guard against similar problems occurring again in the finance, public utilities and customer service departments.
The Florida Times-Union — Mayo wins national recognition
Cheers to the Jacksonville Mayo Clinic’s renowned stroke center for becoming the first in Florida to earn national Comprehensive Stroke Center certification.
The recognition means the Mayo Clinic’s medical peers view the stroke center as one of the nation’s leaders for providing care to stroke victims, particularly those suffering from complex or advanced conditions.
The Mayo Clinic stroke center is among the handful across the United States to receive the national certification honor over the past two years.
Congratulations to the Mayo Clinic’s physicians and staff!
RIVER GARDEN’S STATE HONOR
The River Garden Hebrew Home for the Aged in Mandarin has won numerous honors for the quality of its nursing home and senior community. While River Garden is supported and sponsored by Jacksonville’s Jewish community, it serves local clients of all backgrounds and beliefs.
And now River Garden can add a state honor to its high stack of plaques: It recently earned the Florida Governor’s Gold Seal Award for excellence in long-term care for the seventh time. No other nursing home in Florida has earned the Gold Seal Award seven times, and River Garden is the only Duval County agency to win it at all.
The Gainesville Sun – Think local flights
For all the strides that the Gainesville Regional Airport has made in recent years, it is still used by a stubbornly low percentage of local residents.
Only about 25 percent of the area’s 2,018 daily fliers use the airport, according to a study by Sixel Consulting.
Greater public awareness of the airport’s flight options is key to further boosting local air travel. Area residents should be sure to check the cost of its flights as compared to airports in Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa. When accounting for the cost of driving and parking, the Gainesville rates are often competitive or better.
The airport has certainly made improvements in recent years with terminal renovations that coincided with a growth in travel. Sixel found that the airport increased passengers 36 percent from 2009 to last year. That defied national trends for air travel, which was down 8 percent in the 48 contiguous states over that period.
The airport’s growth is key to getting businesses to locate in Alachua County. Reserveage Organics, a natural supplement company, moved in the spring from Gainesville to Boca Raton to have access to more direct flights from nearby airports.
The Lakeland Ledger — Get Out And Vote
Have you voted already? We know the primary election is not until Tuesday, but many people have already voted, either in person since this past Saturday or via mail. The deadline to vote in person at an early polling site in the 2014 primary election is today. If you’ve received an absentee ballot in the mail, you have until 7 p.m. Election Day to return your ballot.
In many cases — such as nonpartisan elections with two candidates or partisan races with no opposition from the other party — the primaries will determine which candidates are elected to office.
For example, two people are battling for the southeast Polk County School Board seat: Lynn Wilson and Debra Smith Wright. And two men are running for a judge’s seat: Larry Helms and Taylor Davidson. The winner in both races on Tuesday will take office.
In other races, such as the fight for Florida House District 40 between Republicans Colleen Burton and John Shannon, one will move on to the next round to face Democrat Ricky Shirah and Franklin “Ed” Shoemaker of America’s Party of Florida in the November election.
Keeping up with all the candidates in our county, the state and the nation is a challenge. To that end, The Ledger has compiled information about as many candidates as possible.
The Miami Herald — The Herald recommendations for Tuesday’s primary
Early voting ends Sunday. In advance of Tuesday’s elections, here are our recommendations:
MIAMI-DADE CIRCUIT COURT
Group 16: Stephen Millan
Group 26: Rodney “Rod” Smith
Group 27: Mary Gomez
Group 58: Martin Zilber
Group 67: Fleur Jeannine Lobree
Group 70: Renier Diaz De La Portilla
MIAMI-DADE COUNTY COURT
Group 19: Jacqueline Schwartz
Group 36: Nuria Saenz
MIAMI-DADE PROPERTY APPRAISER
MIAMI-DADE SCHOOL BOARD
District 4: Perla Tabares Hantman
District 8: Marta Pérez
MIAMI-DADE COUNTY COMMISSION
Group 2: Jean Monestime
Group 8: Daniella Levine Cava
Group 10: Javier Souto
District 12: Jose “Pepe” Diaz
Democratic primary: Charlie Crist
Republican primary: Rick Scott
District 36: Oscar Braynon II
District 100: Joe Geller
District 107: Barbara Watson
District 108: Taj J. Echoles
District 111: Bryan Avila
Democratic primary: George Sheldon
House District 23: Juan Garcia
House District 26: Carlos Curbelo
House District 24: Frederica Wilson
The Orlando Sentinel — Recap on primary picks
Voter turnout tends to be light in Florida for primary elections. But that’s not a good excuse for Central Floridians to skip casting ballots in this month’s primary.
Voting is both a privilege and a responsibility for citizens in a democracy. And if this principle isn’t enough to move you, there are plenty of practical reasons to cast a ballot.
In numerous nonpartisan county and judicial races involving just two candidates, the winners will be decided this month, not in November. Even in those races with more than two candidates, one could still win by drawing more than 50 percent of the vote.
In a few partisan contests, only one side has fielded candidates, which means the top vote-getter on Aug. 26 will take office following a primary open to all voters regardless of party affiliation. In some races where both Democratic and Republican hopefuls are on the ballot, one party has such an advantage in the district that this month’s results will be pivotal. In others, only write-ins or third-party candidates await the nominees, so this month’s winner will be an overwhelming favorite to take office.
The bottom line is, if you haven’t already taken advantage of absentee balloting or early voting to exercise your franchise, don’t miss your last chance on Tuesday.
In periodic endorsement editorials over the past few weeks, we’ve offered our recommendations in select races for voters, based on our assessment of the most competitive or important contests. Today we’re recapping those picks, and spotlighting with photographs three of our choices we consider especially important.
Remember, a proposed extension in Orange County’s half-penny sales tax for school construction and renovation also will be on Tuesday’s ballot. We recommend a yes vote.
The Ocala StarBanner — Hunger leads to a multitude of woes
Communities with hungry children have hungry adults, too.
A new nationwide study shows that hunger and “food insecurity” affect entire households and multiple generations.
Results of the nationwide study, Hunger in America 2014, were recently released and showed that 46 million people in the United States rely on food banks and similar forms of assistance. About 20 percent of the households that receive food aid have at least one member who has served in the U.S. military — a striking, and troubling, statistic.
The national numbers are relevant here in Ocala/Marion County, where “food insecurity ” — the fear of being unable to acquire nutritionally adequate and safe foods due to financial woes — is an everyday reality for thousands of families. Almost two out of three children in Marion County Public Schools qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches.
Financial hardships lead clients of food banks to difficult choices, the research shows. Fifty-seven percent of those households nationwide choose between paying for food or paying for housing at least once a year; 23 percent face that choice every month. Nearly 70 percent receiving food assistance choose between food and medicine at least once yearly; monthly, 30 percent. (It’s important to note that 61 percent of those households had at least one member who had been employed in the past year.)
The Pensacola News-Journal — Same-sex marriage could add jobs, $182M to economy
Extending marriage to same-sex couples in Florida would generate over $182 million in spending to the state economy, according to a new study authored by Williams Distinguished Scholar, M.V. Lee Badgett; Williams Public Policy Fellow, E.G. Fitzgerald; and me, Williams senior counsel.
“This study confirms that all Floridians benefit from marriage for same-sex couples, not just the LGBT community,” Badgett said.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the most recent data available, 48,496 same-sex couples live in Florida.
Of those couples, the Williams Institute estimates that 50 percent (24,248 couples) would choose to marry in the first three years, a pattern that has been observed in Massachusetts and elsewhere.
Over 15,000 marriages would occur in the first year alone, and bring over $116 million in revenue to the state of Florida that year.
The Palm Beach Post — Judge right to listen to put voters first
With the primary election coming on Tuesday, Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis decided late Friday to put Florida voters at ease.
Lewis, who has been refereeing the skirmish over redrawing the flawed 2012 congressional districts map, said that same map that he had earlier thrown out for being flawed could be used in the primary and November general election.
The Panama City News-Herald — For Tyndall, the water bill still looms
Recently, Tyndall Air Force Base poured a bucket of ice cold water over the Bay County Commission and announced it would appeal the U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruling against the base. The ruling ordered Tyndall to pay Bay County $450,516 in damages along with $303,589 in interest over unpaid water bills.
The judgment only covers the amount owed from 2007 through February of 2011 and Tyndall will also have to pay an additional amount for water it received from Bay County from February of 2011 until now.
Tyndall maintains the language in one of its county contracts provides a rate-increase exemption but for the most part they have stayed silent on the issue in public. The county’s position on this issue seems clear: All users of the system are subject to price increases.
Currently, Tyndall is still paying a wholesale rate lower than any other customer. The base chooses to pay about $1.72 per 1000 gallons of water. The wholesale rate set by the county is currently $1.86. As far as we know every other customer, including another military installation, pays the rate required by the county or a higher rate required by local cities who get their water from the county.
The Tallahassee Democrat – Gillum is clear choice for mayor
Since first being elected to the Tallahassee City Commission in 2003, while still a student at Florida A&M University, Andrew Gillum has built on the qualities that propelled him to his initial victory.
Mr. Gillum is energetic, a change agent and a consensus builder. Now with 11 years of experience on the City Commission, Mr. Gillum has developed into a seasoned public servant who has strong leadership skills, is popular with people with varying perspectives and is an enthusiastic supporter of Tallahassee’s potential.
These are important qualities in city leadership, and they have earned Mr. Gillum the Editorial Board’s endorsement in his candidacy for mayor.
Tallahassee is on the cusp of rebounding economically and preparing itself for what many see as a bright future. There are signs of an economic recovery in both housing and retail. Our universities and community college are recognized nationally for their achievements. Tallahassee is the home to the nation’s college football champions, with the Seminoles expected to be top contenders again this fall.
The Tampa Tribune — Treating higher education as political toy
Two recent events highlight the political mess Tallahassee has made of Florida’s higher education system.
In Polk County last weekend, Florida Polytechnic celebrated its grand opening, with Gov. Rick Scott and other notables on hand for the festivities.
More somber observers would find little to celebrate about launching a 12th public university while the state still struggles to adequately support 11.
In Tallahassee, Florida State University has gone nearly six months without a president and, as the Tribune’s James Rosica reports, students and alumni are expressing their fury about the situation on a website developed to take comments on the search.
Both situations are the direct result of the state showing more concern for political influence than academic excellence.
The state had no business establishing Florida Polytechnic as a separate university, which it did two years ago even as it slashed the state university system budget by $300 million.
Polytechnic was being developed as a branch of the University of South Florida. But former Polk Sen. JD Alexander was upset that USF did not bestow enough programs on his pet project and orchestrated its abrupt independence. This resulted in the creation of a new university without faculty or accreditation. It also ignored the wishes of students attending the branch campus.