A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:
Tampa Bay Times — 5 reforms for more competitive Florida elections
Florida Democrats still smarting from getting swept in last month’s statewide elections have a solution: Move the election. They suggest moving elections for governor and presumably three Cabinet seats to the same year as presidential elections would end their losing streak because voter turnout would be higher. That is not the answer, and there are better ways to improve the state’s political process and encourage more competitive elections.
Voter turnout is higher in presidential election years than in the midterm elections that include races for governor and Cabinet. Except for 1996, at least seven of every 10 voters have cast ballots in presidential elections in Florida for at least 60 years. Only half of the state’s registered voters cast ballots in last month’s election. But moving the elections for governor and Cabinet to presidential election years would lessen their visibility and make it more difficult for state candidates to raise money and have their voices heard.
Here are five better ways to create more competitive elections in Florida:
Recruit better candidates. The Democrats’ only competitive candidate for governor was Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor whose transformation was not accepted as genuine by enough voters. Two of the three Democratic candidates for Cabinet seats were not credible. George Sheldon, the Democratic candidate for attorney general, was well qualified but could not raise enough money for a television commercial.
Democrats also field too many weak, underfunded candidates for the Legislature who have little experience and lack a clear understanding of the issues. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, the only statewide elected Democrat, is co-chairing a task force of Democrats that will try to improve candidate recruiting. They have their work cut out for them.
Create an independent redistricting commission. Voters approved constitutional amendments in 2010 that required the Legislature to draw legislative and congressional districts without considering political parties or incumbents. That is progress. But the districts are still too skewed, and a circuit court judge found legislators violated the constitutional requirements and required two congressional districts to be redrawn. Documents released in that court case reveal that political consultants tied to Republican lawmakers were secretly trying to manipulate the process and circumvent the will of the voters.
The Bradenton Herald — Bradenton’s latest development idea seems straight out of either “Up” or “The Jetsons.”
Bradenton’s latest development idea seems straight out of either “Up,” a 2009 Pixar-Disney film about an explorer who tethered balloons to his home and floated into adventureland, or “The Jetsons,” the popular futuristic cartoon from two generations ago. The Jetson family lived far above land in a residence atop a lengthy spire.
Thursday’s Herald headline intrigued a lot of readers — “Officials: City’s future may be up in the air.”
Good grief, don’t city leaders have a solid plan for progress? Actually, that’s what this is about.
Instead of selling city land for high-rise office and residential buildings, the latest trend for municipalities interested in urban infill is the sale of “air rights” over existing public spaces.
Interesting. Imagine a building above the parking lot next to City Hall, not totally grounded but standing on pillars.
At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, City Clerk Carl Callahan called the concept “food for thought, but one thing we need to as a city, whether by policy or not, is to determine how to maximize” Bradenton’s space limitations.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Volusia leaders commit to cooperation
The new Volusia County elected officials’ roundtable has a logo, courtesy of the county. It has a meeting place, ditto. And as of its first meeting Dec. 1, it has a lot on its plate besides a tasty catered lunch.
The group — born from the ashes of the now-defunct Volusia Council of Governments, which most agree had outlived its usefulness — included elected representatives from almost every city in Volusia County. (Edgewater sent its city manager, but Mayor Michael Ignasiak says the city fully intends to participate.) The shared hope is that, by maintaining open lines of communication in a collegial atmosphere, local cities and county government can foster collaboration on the big issues that sprawl across city limits.
It’s a chance local officials can’t afford to miss. Division and inter-city strife can lead to muddled messaging and missed opportunities to secure state and federal help on local priorities. Already, Volusia County is at a significant disadvantage — as County Councilman Doug Daniels pungently noted, “Volusia County is the weak man of Central Florida.” He’s right. In addition to wages far below national and regional averages, the county wrestles with big problems like underfunded schools, fractured social services and — despite recent wins like a Trader Joe’s distribution hub and Speedway-area development — flagging economic development.
The group wasted little time, drawing up a list of five issues to focus on in the coming months and assembling committees for each area.
The Florida Times-Union — Remember the lessons of Pearl Harbor
The sneak attack on the Pearl Harbor Naval Base on Dec. 7, 1941, woke up a nation.
The war started badly for freedom. America was not as prepared as it should have been, which is one of the lessons to be learned today. Never again should we be unprepared to combat international bullies.
The brave veterans who fought in World War II are dying out, but their children grew up in the 1950s in the afterglow of that war.
Children built models of planes and ships. TV documentaries and movies recounted the shattering events of World War II that saved the world from monstrous dictatorships.
At least once in a lifetime, every American should make a visit to the national park at Pearl Harbor, especially to take a boat ride to visit the sunken USS Arizona. The ship serves as not only a historic artifact but a tomb for many of hose who died in the attack.
As the National Park Service website notes, “The USS Arizona is the final resting place for many of the ship’s 1,177 crewmen who lost their lives on Dec. 7, 1941. The 184-foot-long memorial structure spans the mid-portion of the sunken battleship and consists of three main sections: the entry room; the assembly room, a central area designed for ceremonies and general observation; and the shrine room, where the names of those killed on the Arizona are engraved on the marble wall.”
Florida Today – Matt Reed: Brevard cops fight daily, but few deaths
There’s a fine line between the everyday brutality of arresting bad guys and the “police brutality” stirring protests in Missouri and New York.
That Brevard police officers and sheriff’s deputies so seldom cross it — compared to how frequently they could — is proof of good training if not the grace of patron St. Michael.
Almost every night, cops in places like Melbourne, Cocoa or Merritt Island chase down drug dealers, wrestle with violent drunks or fight with thieves desperate to avoid arrest. Your public servants use their fists, feet, batons, pepper spray and Tasers. Only rarely do they shoot.
“If you don’t respect law enforcement, then what else don’t you respect?” said Melbourne Police Commander Vince Pryce. “If you fight, we have no choice but to fight back. And those are fights we cannot lose.”
You’ll spot those who fight the police in our daily gallery of mugshots from the Brevard County Jail. I picked four days at random from November and quickly found three defendants — two white, one black — charged with resisting arrest with violence and battery on a police officer along with burglary, larceny and hit-and-run driving.
Nationwide, 49,851 police officers were assaulted last year while doing their jobs. Nearly one-third of them were injured, FBI data shows.
The Gainesville Sun – Hawthorne hardship
If local officials needed any more reason to provide renewed attention to Hawthorne, it came last week.
A Georgia-Pacific spokesman told The Sun last week that the company’s plywood mill in Hawthorne would stay shuttered. The company will attempt to sell the operation next year.
About 400 workers lost their jobs when the mill went idle in late 2011. The closure had a ripple effect in Hawthorne, causing businesses frequented by mill employees to also close their doors.
Hawthorne also faces problems in its schools. Last year, Hawthorne High School’s graduation rate dropped to an unacceptable 50 percent.
Recently, Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Owen Roberts held a community forum in Hawthorne. As The Sun reported, parents asked Roberts for more and broader vocational programs and the kind of magnet programs offered at every other county high school other than Hawthorne High.
The economic and educational problems in Hawthorne are intertwined. Attracting quality businesses there will require having an education pipeline in place to provide the kind of skilled workers valued in the modern economy.
The Lakeland Ledger — Their Major: ID Theft, Tax Fraud
Remember when students working their way through college would bus tables at Red Lobster or flip burgers at McDonald’s?
Those were simpler times, when any menial job was welcome. Now some kids are finding an easier — and far more lucrative — way to pay for school: 18 current and former students at Miami Dade College have been charged with participating in a stolen ID scam that netted them about $500,000 in fraudulent income-tax refunds.
The FBI says the money was deposited into the students’ Higher One accounts, which are used by honest kids for legitimate financial aid that helps pay their tuition. Agents said the accused students took a cut of the stolen IRS refunds in exchange for funneling them through their bank accounts. A true scumbag move, and a heavy crime.
On the other hand, parents often complain that colleges aren’t preparing young people for the real world. You could argue that learning the nuances of identity theft, tax fraud and money laundering are excellent preparation for an entrepreneurial life in South Florida.
The Federal Trade Commission reports that Miami by far leads the nation in ID-theft complaints, with a jaw-dropping rate of about 340 victims per 100,000 residents. And, according to the U.S. Treasury inspector general for tax administration, the per-capita number of faked IRS returns based on ID theft is 46 times higher in the city of Miami than the national average.
In other words, a South Florida college student who uses stolen Social Security numbers is essentially acquiring a regional business skill. It’s like majoring in agriculture at the University of Nebraska.
The Miami Herald — Hopeful moment for our politics
Last month, Jean Monestime, the first Haitian American to serve on the Miami-Dade County Commission, was elected its chair. The installment ceremony was witnessed by every power player in the county, grassroots activists and numerous dignitaries, including the ambassador from Haiti.
It was a rare display of poise and grace on the dais. Commissioner Audrey Edmonson relinquished her own nomination to support Monestime’s leadership, and in doing so she created the first noncompetitive vote in memory for the chairmanship. The rest of the commissioners honored Monestime and lauded Edmonson.
This was a powerful and hopeful moment for politics in Miami-Dade. It was a particularly sweet moment for the black community, which is eager for and welcomes the opportunity to lead, serve and contribute to South Florida’s prosperity. With Monestime as chair, the black community has stepped into the bright lights of leadership under the storied microscope of local Miami politics. We held our breath and pinched ourselves about what we were witnessing at Government Center.
Later that night, when a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, failed to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, St. Louis went up in flames, and blacks were reminded, again, of enduring injustice. Thirty-five-years after the McDuffie verdict, the conditions that keep black communities smoldering are ever present.
The Orlando Sentinel — Ridesharers should follow rules
Orlando’s taxi services and their new rivals, Uber and Lyft, are headed for a showdwon Monday at City Hall, where council members will consider a new set of regulations that would apply to the ridesharing companies.
It’s easy to see why Uber and Lyft hate the restrictions. But it’s hard — too hard — to argue that they should keep operating in the city without being subject to any rules, as long as taxis remain heavily regulated.
The regulations on Monday’s agenda would require ridesharers to meet some taxi mandates, such as obtaining permits for drivers and vehicles. But unlike taxis, Uber and Lyft wouldn’t have to guarantee round-the-clock or handicapped-accessible service to every customer in every part of the city, or pick up passengers who don’t have smartphones to summon rides and credit cards to pay for them.
In return for getting a break on all these mandates, the ridesharers would have to charge a minimum fare 25 percent higher than the taxis’. That seems only fair, but it’s a deal breaker for them: Uber has urged its customers to register their opposition with city leaders.
But the mayor and council also should pay heed to a coalition supporting the regulations that includes social service agencies, health-care providers and businesses. Those groups rightly worry about all the city residents who wouldn’t be able to get rides if more stringent regulations on taxis drove them out of business.
Maintaining service for those residents, while making space for innovative transportation providers, should be the council’s goal.
The Ocala StarBanner — The lunacy of guns on campus
At some point, our country might finally realize that the solution to gun violence is not more guns.
The wake of the Florida State University shooting is apparently not that time.
A gunman opened fire Nov. 20 at Florida State’s library, shooting and wounding three people. Police officers shot and killed the gunman, 31-year-old Myron May, shortly after the incident.
Library employee Nathan Scott, who was shot in the leg, is part of a group called Students for Concealed Carry.
Last week, the group cited the shooting in calling for concealed weapons to be allowed on state university campuses.
The NRA’s Tallahassee lobbyist, Marion Hammer, told the Miami Herald that she hopes to have a “thoughtful, deliberative” conversation on the subject when the Legislature reconvenes.
“We’re not going to rush into it emotionally, like a lot of people do after a tragedy,” Hammer said. “But the reality is, there is a ban of guns on campus, and that did not stop an attacker. The law never stops the bad guy. It only stops the good guys from being able to protect themselves and others.”
Actually, in this case, a security barrier stopped the bad guy. May was blocked from entering the library by barriers that permit only students and staff inside, The Associated Press reported.
The good guys in this case were local police officers, who responded within two minutes and killed May before he could shoot anyone else.
The Pensacola News-Journal — Voting proposal sparked some debate
I proposed a state constitutional amendment in the interest of making clear what the voters actually think about candidates for public office. (I did just mean for state constitution.)
I also asked any to point out any flaws in the thinking. Douglas Morgan responded. (See, Noah B.? People do read my musings even if fewer agree with me than with thee.)
If I understand correctly, he fears candidates would be forever barred from running for any office if rejected one time for one given office and that no candidate would ever be elected if they could be rejected.
That would be bad, but the first part wasn’t proposed and if no candidate could overcome the opposition to a majority of the electorate, we’d definitely be hurting.
Surely there are good people out there somewhere.
For those who missed it, the proposed wording is:
“Each voter can vote for at most one candidate running for a given office. The voter can also vote on all others with Not This One or not vote one way or another which will be interpreted to mean that candidate is acceptable. The winner will be the candidate with the most votes in favor and lacking opposition of the majority. In case all receive a majority vote in opposition, a new election will be held with those excluded from consideration at that time.”
As you can see, it specifies that the reject is only rejected for that particular office at that particular time. He or she can run for some other office or for the same office for later election, just not the one at hand. They might be rejected for dogcatcher in 2016 but not for senator or even for dogcatcher in 2022 (depending on the length of term in question: two year, four year or six year).
This doesn’t require the voters to reject absolutely those not their favorites. Maybe anybody can catch dogs.
Say you favor Brown for dogcatcher, but Blue would do, as would Red or White. In that case you would vote for Brown, but not absolutely reject the other candidates. Maybe you want Brown but not Red. In that case a vote for Brown would be cast in her favor and one against Red. Even if a majority rejected Brown and Red as dogcatcher, Blue and White would still be viable. Whoever received the most favorable votes would catch dogs.
The Palm Beach Post — The case grows for police body cameras
Like dashboard cameras before them, police body cameras have been slowly making their way into the policing mainstream. Here in Palm Beach County, Boynton Beach’s police department has started experimenting with them, and next year West Palm Beach plans to do the same.
But the trickle of pilot programs could become a flood after President Barack Obama this week proposed that the federal government spend $75 million to help local police departments equip officers with as many as 50,000 cameras nationwide. Good. This push, which would still need Congress’ approval, can’t come soon enough.
Putting body cameras on police officers is a relatively new developing in law enforcement — too new to draw sweeping conclusions about its pros and cons. But the evidence so far is encouraging. One academic study of the use of body cameras on a police department in California showed a dramatic drop in the number of violent incidents and brutality complaints.
There has always been a strong case for incorporating body cameras into officers’ standard gear — both for the benefit of the public and the officers themselves. But those arguments have been amplified dramatically by events in Ferguson., Mo., following the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a white police officer.
Obama’s announcement came on the heels of a grand jury’s decision not to charge officer Darren Wilson with a crime. Wilson said he gunned down Brown, who was black, after Brown attacked him in his patrol car. But witnesses differed on what happened after Brown moved away from Wilson’s car.
The Panama City News-Herald — Be the ball at Bay Dunes
The Bay Dunes Golf Course got a temporary stay of execution this week unlike all those boys Judge Smalls — the villain in Caddyshack — sent to the gas chamber.
If you saw the movie you might recall his reasoning, “didn’t want to do it. I felt I owed it to them.”
And in the same way the Bay County Commission must have felt they owed it to the golfers who used the low-cost course (which was built on top of a landfill) to try and save it. Instead of closing it the commission agreed to keep the course open for two month and ask an advisory committee for recommendations on what to do next.
The golfers told the commissioners that the course is one of the only reasonably priced courses in the area and it stays busy with local golfers, tourists and snowbirds. However, it apparently was not popular enough for the lease holder to stay with it after the county called on him to fulfill his obligation to carry insurance and bonding.
And there are environmental rules to consider. The state requires maintaining the cover over the landfill.
“The cover appears to be OK. The methane monitoring system is not in good shape,” Assistant County Manager Dan Shaw said. “The buildings are supposed to have methane monitors in them. They don’t appear to be working, so there are issues with that.”
The Tallahassee Democrat – Tallahassee’s patriarch oaks foundation of new contest
The Leon County Great Tree Challenge, which started Wednesday, is a fine idea. The contest, whose winners will be announced at the end of January, seeks to create a registry of Tallahassee’s best trees. The idea is to officially recognize the importance Tallahassee residents place on our landscape.
The contest has three categories. In Superior Species, officials ask residents to submit the best examples of four native species trees: live oak, longleaf pine, magnolia and dogwood. A second category seeks to honor neighborhoods making efforts to preserve and protect trees.
The third category raised an eyebrow with me at first: Trees of historical significance.
The category statement asked: “Is your tree old enough to witness the landing of the first Europeans or the inauguration of the first Florida Governor?” The contest asked residents to nominate trees “with ties to local legends or stories that have been central to important moments in our county’s history.”
I submit precious few trees in Leon County played a role in historic events.
There is a legend the gnarled oak on Gaines Street near Cascades Park is the “hanging tree” because it was the site of a 1937 lynching – but it wasn’t. Though classified a lynching, two black men were taken from the adjacent jail, driven east of town and gunned down.
One supposes a small historic value could be assigned to the spreading oak in Cascades Park, near the railroad tracks. In the Great Depression, it harbored a hobo jungle, where transients took shelter before hopping a freight train.
There is also a large live oak on Charter Oak Drive near the Northwood Centre. The late historian Cliff Paisley contended the tree was near the original Tallahassee Talofa, which is the 18th century Indian “old town” that spawned Tallahassee’s name in the 19th century.
However, the oak on Charter Oak Drive is not old enough to have been around when Tallahassee Talofa existed. And therein was my second stumbling block with the Great Tree Challenge’s historical category: the lifespan of trees in this area.
Longleaf pines have been known to live for 400 years, though generally only in heavily forested areas. Our celebrated live oaks barely live 300 years. Magnolias and dogwoods rarely reach 100 years old.
The Tampa Tribune — Public partnerships for sports complex a worthy goal
Building and operating a large public sports complex can attract sports events that will boost the economy, but also can be a drain on taxpayers. The tournaments played on the fields don’t always generate enough revenue to pay for the maintenance, lighting and other expenses associated with the facilities.
With that in mind, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan is interested in exploring whether private companies might see value in partnering with the county as it moves forward with plans to develop a large amateur sports complex built somewhere in the county.
The idea was embraced this week by the full commission, which voted to have staff consider ways to develop an amateur sports complex with the potential for private partnerships.
Hagan says he’s not sure what form those partnerships might take, but he thinks there are companies out there that might see an opportunity to profit from being involved in a large complex catering to soccer, lacrosse, football and other sports. “This is breaking new ground here,” he says of the potential partnerships.
We think the idea is a smart way for the county to explore what could be a potential savings for taxpayers, provided the necessary protections are in place for the county.
As envisioned, the new complex would have 16 or more multipurpose fields that could host large tournaments. County officials say Hillsborough loses out to other counties with larger facilities when sports leagues look for places to host events.
The county has pledged $15 million toward the project but has yet to identify available land for the complex, which may cover as much as 100 acres when built out.
Hagan says the county should be open to any reasonable proposal, whether it involves an offer for land, or a plan to build or operate the complex in return for parking and concessions or other revenue streams. Sponsorships or marketing proposals might also be considered to offset operating costs.
Hagan says Tampa Electric Co. might agree to front the costs for installing lights, with payments to come from future revenues.