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Today on Context Florida: James Tracy, execution road trip, Jim King and brute force versus compromises

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Today on Context Florida:

According to Jac VerSteeg, James Tracy is creating an opening for Florida politicians who don’t like tenure and don’t like faculty unions. Because of Tracy’s case, tenure opponents could go on the attack and look good doing it. Tracy is the Florida Atlantic University communications professor who claims the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre is a hoax. Tracy got into a public feud with the parents of one of the children murdered at Sandy Hook. The parents allege that Tracy has harassed them by, among other things, demanding to see proof that their son ever really was alive. FAU has responded by firing Tracy, who also has claimed that the Boston Marathon bombing, the San Bernardino shootings and other attacks were hoaxes. But, VerSteeg says, firing tenured professors is not easy.

When Julie Solomon Bame suggested to Catherine Durkin Robinson months earlier that they drive to Starke for the execution of the man who murdered their friend and high school classmate, Stephanie Anne Collins in 1986, a few agreed to go to support the family. The morning of Jan. 7, 2016, Robinson and Julie, Sonja Brown Hudson, Chris Foster, Joey Larson, Elizabeth Ryan left Tampa and drove north to Gainesville. It was a warm day. The sun occasionally peeked from behind clouds, the mood light-hearted and peaceful. When they arrived in Starke, everything felt different. The weather quickly turned cold, bleak and gray. The mood was somber. Police officers and state troopers greeted them outside the prison. “Are you here because you’re for or against the death penalty?” one asked, with a thick southern accent. “Neither,” Joey said. “We’re here for the family.”

Bill Day’s latest:


After the late Jim King became Florida Senate President in 2002, Chris Hand recalls him doing something that today might seem radical: he elevated members of the other party. Just a few weeks earlier, Florida Republicans had reached a new zenith in political ascendancy. For the first time in modern history, not a single Democrat would serve in the governorship, Cabinet or legislative majority. Though Democrats had won the last two U.S. Senate elections and had battled to a virtual draw in the 2000 presidential contest, Republicans now fully controlled the state agenda. And then Jim King went and asked four Democrats to join his Senate leadership team. In announcing the appointments of Rod Smith, Walter “Skip” Campbell, Al Lawson and Steve Geller as committee chairs, King cited productivity.

Brute force is one way things get done in politics, says Lloyd Brown. If a party has an overwhelming majority in the legislative and executive branches, it can simply ram everything through. But the Founding Fathers deliberately made it difficult. Therefore, both left and right seek compromise, where possible. In the last session of the Florida Legislature, there was a considerable amount of agreement on one of the major issues: stronger protections for Florida’s springs and the northern Everglades, which was an important priority of Florida’s powerful environmental lobby. Yet the bill also included provisions favored by business interests. Rather than mandating new, strict water-use requirements statewide, it uses an existing successful model of industry farming practices — called best management practices — to improve water quality and reduce groundwater pollution. More important, the new water bill links water use to growth management.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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