A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:
Tampa Bay Times — Florida needs better way for voters to be heard
Floridians ought to be able to force changes in public policy when elected officials refuse to act. But the only way for voters to do that now is to amend the Florida Constitution, which should be reserved for governance issues and cannot be easily tweaked. There has to be a better way that provides more flexibility. The Legislature should create a process by which voters can approve state laws that can be adjusted, not just constitutional amendments that are nearly etched in stone.
Two measures on the Nov. 4 ballot are traced directly to residents’ frustration with Tallahassee. Amendment 1 would dedicate a portion of the state’s real estate transaction tax revenue (called documentary stamps) to environmental land conservation and preservation for the next 20 years. Amendment 2 would legalize medical use of marijuana. But both those measures would be better subjects for state laws, not the Constitution, so they could be changed as necessary.
Nearly two dozens states already provide ways for voters to pass state laws. Some do so indirectly — a legislature must have a chance to act on petitions before they can go to the ballot. But other states allow proposed state laws to go straight to the ballot after a set number of signatures are gathered — not unlike the process for putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot in Florida. Several states prohibit lawmakers from immediately repealing voter-approved legislation for up to seven years, though some allow a two-thirds majority in both legislative chambers to override such a moratorium.
The Bradenton Herald — Bradenton Herald recommends Rick Scott for governor
The televised debate between current Gov. Rick Scott and past Gov. Charlie Crist on Wednesday captured the sour atmosphere surrounding Florida’s gubernatorial contest. Civility has been a stranger in the candidates’ campaigns as countless attacks and counterattacks appear online, in print and in speeches. The debates echo the twisted information coming from both sides.
This has become a case of which candidate carries the least amount of political baggage. Both have flaws, as borne out by polling data that shows deep voter dissatisfaction with both Scott and Crist.
Then there’s the Wednesday debate flap over Crist’s fan and Scott’s delayed appearance, fodder for comedians and pundits but nothing more than trivial nonsense.
Scott, a Republican and a political novice four years ago, captured the Governor’s Mansion by investing $75 million of his own money into an anti-government campaign that saturated the airwaves, overpowering the efforts of his Democratic opponent, Alex Sink. Yet Scott only eked out a narrow victory — with less than 50 percent of the vote.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Better communication would help road woes
Messy construction projects often contain apologetic signage, such as “Pardon Our Progress,” acknowledging the inconvenience to customers or the public.
The massive overhaul of Orange Avenue in Daytona Beach, though, has come with a far greater price to several businesses along the mile-and-half stretch of street.
As reported by The News-Journal’s Eileen Zaffiro-Kean, some business owners have complained their sales have plummeted as much as 50 percent since work began on Orange Avenue in June. They say customers have difficulty gaining access, and some wonder if the businesses are even open. Others say their water has been cut off without prior notice.
The scope of the two-year, $19 million project ensured that construction wouldn’t be neat and tidy. It goes far beyond patching potholes, and includes fixing drainage problems, replacing pipes that date back to World War II, installing new curbing and wider sidewalks, moving all overhead utilities underground and erecting new street lights.
The relatively short-term pain associated with those necessary improvements ultimately is worth the long-term benefits. Indeed, businesses eventually will enjoy having smoothly paved streets that are less prone to flooding, better illuminated and more walkable.
However, it’s legitimate to question whether those disruptions could have been better engineered and managed — on both ends.
The Florida Times-Union — Our view on the proposed constitutional amendments
Constitutional amendments should be rare. They should be saved for issues that the regular political process is unable or unwilling to handle.
That is the reason that 60 percent is needed for amending the Florida Constitution. Direct democracy ought to be the exception in this republic.
In this general election, voters will get a break. There are just three proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot as opposed to the 11 in 2012.
YES ON AMENDMENT 1
Protecting water in the Sunshine State is likely to be the natural resource issue of the next generation, not only drinking water but the water that intersects the state like a blood system.
The Floridan aquifer already is under stress in various parts of the state. The recharge areas must be protected, as should the state’s springs.
Therefore, Amendment 1 deserves support.
It would devote one-third of documentary stamp taxes on real estate sales to a fund that would be used for land and water conservation, management and restoration.
The funds would be used to acquire and protect lands needed for water sources, protect beaches, protect and restore degraded natural systems and waterways, manage wildlife habitat and provide funds to manage parks and trails for related uses.
Florida Today – Proud sweep of history
Pay attention to this moment. Last week alone stands as proud evidence of Western civilization’s inevitable march toward freedom and equality.
Collectively, we have resisted, fought, even slipped backward at times. But eventually, we are always shown that our faith in the rights of all men and women is not unfounded.
The New York Times reported that “an assembly of Roman Catholic bishops convened by Pope Francis at the Vatican released a preliminary document on Monday calling for the church to welcome and accept gay people.”
In addition to urging acceptance of unmarried couples and those who have been divorced, the document says gay people have “gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community,” and acknowledges that gay couples can give each other “mutual aid to the point of sacrifice” and “precious support in the life of the partners.”
This is a monumental indication that one of the most ancient, important and stalwart institutions in the world is moving in the philosophical course set forth by Pope Francis, which ultimately, is the foundational message of Jesus Christ.
The Gainesville Sun – Dangerous road
It shouldn’t have taken the death of a Gainesville woman to show there are problems with Southwest 34th Street.
Marion Rose Harvey, 51, was killed Oct. 8 when her scooter was rear-ended by a car. She was stopped just beyond the crest of a hill on northbound 34th Street when the crash happened.
The stretch of 34th Street between University Avenue and Radio Road is notorious for traffic problems. There have been at least 13 accidents in the area this year, according to the Gainesville Police Department.
Problems appear to have been worsened by a redesign of the street several years ago. A northbound lane that becomes a left-turn lane at Southwest Second Avenue forces motorists to quickly merge, leading to backups and crashes. The confusing configuration was created after opposition to turning some connecting roads into one-way streets caused the plan to be dropped.
Florida Department of Transportation spokeswoman Gina Busscher said lane configurations were designed to comply with the latest standards. While she said the department is analyzing crash data to determine if changes are needed, she suggested that the problem might simply be bad driving habits and a need for more police enforcement.
The Lakeland Ledger — Florida Governor: ‘The Worst Race in America’
Rick Scott doesn’t like Charlie Crist. Charlie Crist doesn’t like Rick Scott. And, if opinion polls are correct, about half of Florida voters strongly dislike Crist, and the other half hold the same view of Scott.
Political campaigns always have been about differences between candidates — and between voters who support those candidates. But the level of disdain that Floridians have for Crist or Scott — or perhaps both of them — is alarming.
In last month’s Quinnipiac Poll of likely Florida voters, 49 percent had an unfavorable view of Crist; 48 percent had the same negative view of Scott.
Worse than not liking the candidates, near- majorities of those polled said the Democratic and Republican nominees are dishonest and can’t be trusted. Forty-nine percent said Crist is not honest and trustworthy; 51 percent, a majority, said the same about Scott.
The brutal television ads run by both campaigns have contributed to the negative approval ratings and distrust.
The Miami Herald — Beyond the negative ads
Rick Scott and Charlie Crist deserve a D for their media campaigns in the race for governor: D for dismal, dispiriting, discouraging and downright disappointing. The campaign has been a downer.
Both candidates have spent tens of millions of dollars on negative ads. Thanks to the mutual smear job, the public is turned off. Negative ads are a common feature of campaigns, but nastiness shouldn’t dominate a race.
Both Mr. Scott and Mr. Crist have spent most of their resources disparaging each other, or arguing over silly matters, like the fan at Wednesday night’s debate. A brief review of their records may remind voters that the candidates have a positive side.
Gov. Scott came into office at a time when the economy was in the doldrums and immediately assumed a commendable eye-on-the-ball approach to the job. His focus on improving the business climate, lowering taxes and creating jobs has produced results.
Unemployment during his tenure has fallen from 11 percent to 6.3 percent, and the economy is picking up steam around the state. Lacking the level of federal stimulus money that Florida received when Mr. Crist was governor, he made tough decisions, like cutting the state workforce by nearly 10 percent.
The Orlando Sentinel — Our choice for governor: Crist
There’s no getting around it: The Republican and Democratic parties in Florida have nominated two flawed candidates for governor.
But in choosing between the two, incumbent Republican Rick Scott and Democratic challenger Charlie Crist, voters have the unusual advantage of being able to compare their terms in office.
If we shut out the cacophony of the campaign, and both candidates’ flip-flops, our comparison of their records leads us to an inescapable conclusion. We recommend Charlie Crist.
Though he ran as a conservative Republican in 2006, Crist governed as a moderate. He showed more interest in doing what was in the best interest of all Floridians than in placating his party base. Scott, by contrast, has too often let his hard-right ideology dictate his policies.
Crist was in charge when the Great Recession hit Florida and the rest of the world’s economy in 2008. Florida wound up losing 832,000 jobs. Since Scott took office, the state has regained more than 650,000 jobs.
The Ocala StarBanner — UF’s Fuchs era
As the University of Florida celebrates Homecoming today, its next president also is preparing for a homecoming of sorts.
Cornell University Provost Kent Fuchs graduated from high school in Florida and his wife, Linda, taught in the state early in her career.
During an interview this week for the UF presidency, Fuchs said that he applied to UF and Duke University but chose the latter as an undergraduate.
“If I had known I’d be here today I might have made a different choice … But that was in 1973 and (UF) was at a different place at that point,” he said.
Wednesday’s selection of Fuchs as UF president demonstrates the changes that have happened at the university over more than four decades. UF’s reputation has risen to the point that it is now seeking to be a top 10 public university, and officials believe Fuchs can help accomplish that goal.
Fuchs has the academic and administrative credentials to inspire confidence in the possibility. He has spent nearly six years as provost at Cornell, an Ivy League school ranked 15th as compared with 48th for UF in the overall U.S. News and World Report rankings of national universities.
The Pensacola News-Journal — ‘NO’ to Amendment 2
Regular readers of this opinion page know that we are not wholly opposed to a state expansion of medical marijuana. Throughout Florida’s 2014 legislative session, we advocated passage of the Charlotte’s Web bill that legalized a specific strain of medical marijuana that drastically reduces seizures in children with severe epilepsy. The bill was debated and sculpted in legislative committees. It earned the approval of the Florida House and Senate. And it was rightly signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.
The process was exploratory and deliberative. It was the right and proper way for a new marijuana law to be forged within our system of government. A sprawling, loosely-defined amendment to the Florida Constitution is not. That’s why we oppose voting for Amendment 2 on the Nov. 4 ballot.
This is not a moral or ideological issue. In fact, we would defy anyone to argue against the propriety of marijuana in our society that legally permits — and in some cases, subsidizes — chemical pharmaceuticals with powerful and potentially deadly side effects. A governmental moral high ground on drug-use is an illusion that went up in smoke long ago.
Sick Floridians who can get relief from marijuana deserve legal access to that medicine. But we believe that it is the Legislature’s duty to act on behalf of these citizens, just as they acted on Charlotte’s Web. If oppressive laws are causing citizens to suffer, then lawmakers should be petitioned to remove those laws — through the legislative process.
The Constitution is not the place to make decisions that we may want to alter in the years to come. A constitutional amendment is a large, lasting act of voters. Unlike basic legislation, once it is there, it is difficult to edit or adapt. In this case, there are many serious questions about aspects of Amendment 2. The last thing Florida needs is to be opened up to endless, taxpayer-funded legal battles because of poorly defined language in our Constitution.
The Palm Beach Post — Priorities, long-term planning make Crist best choice
For Florida voters, it’s unfortunate that the 2014 governor’s race has taken on such a negative — and at times, nasty — tone. Voters, understandably, are frustrated that the tens of millions being spent on ads attacking Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic challenger Charlie Crist is drowning out much of where they stand on issues.
Many of those issues facing the Sunshine State over the coming decades are crucial, as is the question of who is best choice to establish the priorities and tone of leadership needed to deal with those issues. Over the next four years, those priorities and that leadership must be clear that all Floridians matter.
The Panama City News-Herald — #fangate will blow over
For years a co-worker kept a small fan on his desk in case the air conditioning in our officer ever went out or the humidity won its sticky battle against human comfort. Florida is a hot place, usually even in the winter months, and many of us need help making it through.
So it was no surprise to us that Charlie Crist — the former Republican governor turned Independent who is now running as a Democrat against the incumbent Republican Governor Rick Scott — likes to have a vornado air circulator with him during any public appearance. The fan helps Crist stay sweat free but also seems to be useful for spinning his opponents into minor fits.
The Associated Press reported that in 2006 Republican primary for governor, and his opponent Tom Gallagher refused to start until he had one, too.
However, things really hit the fan Wednesday night when a national audience was treated to another one of those Florida moments that make the rest of the country point and laugh.
The Tallahassee Democrat – Constitutional amendments
Once you have filled in the bubbles on your ballot for everything from governor to Congress, don’t start patting yourself on the back. Before you consider you civic duty accomplished, you have three proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution to consider.
Amendments 1 and 2 were placed on the ballot through citizen initiatives, while Amendment 3 is an attempt by the Legislature to clear up a question on judicial appointments.
The Tallahassee Democrat Editorial Board recommends “yes” votes on the first two proposed amendments and a “no” vote on the third.
Amendment 1: Water and Land Conservation – Dedicates funds to acquire and restore Florida conservation and recreation lands.
Florida has a history of preserving the natural wonders that make our beautiful state unique. Through the Preservation 2000 program and its successor, Florida Forever, the state has set aside millions of acres for the enjoyment of its citizens as well as the protection of threatened and endangered species.
The Legislature in 2008 reauthorized Florida Forever — which is supported by documentary stamps from real-estate sales — for 10 years, at $300 million per year. But a recession intervened and funding was slashed. Then, even as the economy rebounded, funding remained low. This year, even boosted by the sale of some state lands, Florida Forever received only about $50 million.
The Tampa Tribune — A unique collaboration to keep the clean water flowing
Having clean water flow into our homes and businesses every day for a relatively minor cost is something we all take for granted.
But behind the scenes are thousands of government workers employing biology, chemistry, engineering and computer skills to make sure the water in Hillsborough County is safe for consumption.
The work is essential but not something young students think about turning into a career.
Changing that mindset is the focus of a new collaboration among the Hillsborough County school district and utility officials with the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County’s government. The idea is to educate students about the importance of water in Florida and the work that government utilities do to ensure this critical resource remains clean, available and affordable as the state continues to grow.
Helped by city and county officials, the school district is creating a curriculum for students that will offer certification in water treatment skills along with field trips and internships.
“It’s something no other school district has,” says Tampa City Council member Charlie Miranda, who is partnering with County Commissioner Sandra Murman, city of Tampa public works Administrator Brad Baird and county utilities Director George Cassady to drive the initiative.
Nearly 2,000 jobs are dedicated to bringing clean water into our homes in Tampa and the unincorporated parts of the county. But the workforce is aging, and few new graduates know to consider water treatment plants as a career choice. Baird and Cassady expect about 40 percent of their workforce to retire over the next five to 10 years.