- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:


Aug. 8

The Key West Citizen on the Zika virus:

Zika - even the name sounds a little scary. As many expected, mosquito-borne Zika infections are now at our doorstep in neighboring Miami. While the number of confirmed cases is relatively small, it is important to keep in mind that since the Zika virus is asymptomatic in 80 percent of its victims, the number of reported victims is most likely far below the actual number of those infected.

Luckily, Monroe County has what is considered by most to be the best mosquito control program in the United States.

Unfortunately, like a rogue wave, a series of situations and events has hit at the absolute most inopportune time and created a problem of epic scale.

Right as the Zika situation is reaching crisis levels, the district is facing the impending departure of its director, Michael Doyle. Along with having to find a replacement for Doyle, we are deep in an election cycle with three of the five board seats up for election.

Just Friday, the FDA approved testing the use of genetically modified male mosquitos and a referendum is scheduled for November. The controversy around GMOs is already pitting neighbor against neighbor, and that acrimony will only increase as the referendum nears.

In addition to the outbreak of the disease in Miami, the Olympic Games are currently underway in the country of Brazil, a literal hotbed for the Zika virus. Along with the Olympic Games comes the travel of tens of thousands of Americans to and from a country struggling to come to grips with this natural disaster.

To top it all off, the staff and the board have even more on their plates with a new multimillion dollar operations building, which came in dramatically over cost projections on the fast track. We also need to mention the corresponding 45 percent tax increase to pay for the building. The new building is necessary due to the expiration of the district’s basically no cost lease at their current location.

The City of Key West owns the building and wants the Mosquito Control District out so the building can be used for a yet-to-be-determined purpose, which may include a homeless facility or affordable housing,

With the impending Zika crisis as well as everything else on their plates, the timing of a major building project and the corresponding dramatic tax increase to pay for said project is unfortunate to say the least.

Many feel that it is a matter of when, not if, we get a confirmed case of mosquito-borne Zika in the Keys. When that happens there is a very real chance our tourist economy will take a hit and that hit could potentially be devastating.

Of all the municipalities in the Keys vulnerable to Zika, Key West is at the top of the list. It is by far the most urban island and also the most heavily vulnerable financially to a reduction in tourism.

Because of its vested interest in keeping the Zika virus at bay, we propose that the City of Key West immediately negotiate with the Florida Keys Mosquito

Control District to extend the lease on their current headquarters at or near what they are currently paying. To do otherwise is punitive to an agency that needs all of its resources at this crucial time.

Government projects are notorious for their delays and we would hate to see the current Mosquito Control headquarters sit empty for years while the city figures out what exactly it wants to do, then goes through the arduous process of planning and approvals. Look at most any of the recent projects, which are years behind schedule for an example.

Being able to remain in their current location will allow the mosquito district to delay construction of their new building and also give them time to spread the cost of the new building over a longer period, thus eliminating the need for the dramatic 45 percent tax increase currently on the table.

Bottom line, the City of Key West and the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District need to be partners in this war on Zika. Looking at it another way, both of these entities exist to serve the very same population of citizens and taxpayers and they need to act like it.




Aug. 6

The SunSentinel on Debbie Wasserman Schultz

We’ll stipulate that Debbie Wasserman Schultz can be prickly. And it was painful to watch people cheer her resignation two weeks ago as chair of the Democratic National Committee.

We also believe Tim Canova, Wasserman Schultz’s opponent in the Aug. 30 Democratic primary for U.S. House District 23, is a formidable candidate. Endorsed by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, Canova has raised more than $2.8 million in small donations for his campaign. More important, he is smart, articulate and well informed about the issues facing our region and our nation.

Nonetheless, the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board strongly encourages Democrats to re-elect Wasserman Schultz.

For 24 years, Wasserman Schultz has represented South Florida, first in the Florida Legislature, then in Congress. She knows the issues and can articulate them better than most. She’s a tenacious leader unafraid to ruffle feathers. She understands the levers of power and has built important relationships with people who matter. She’s a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee and has played a major role in shaping spending and the policies that guide it. Her colleagues say she’s one of the smartest and hardest working members of Congress.

Plus, if re-elected, Wasserman Schultz could have a powerful ally in the White House: President Hillary Clinton. After all, she co-chaired Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and now is the honorary chair of Clinton’s 50-state campaign.

In weighing her candidacy against a worthy opponent, our big question was whether Wasserman Schultz was too wounded to continue to be effective. Given her sudden departure from the DNC - after WikiLeaks published stolen staff emails that showed a certain contempt for the Sanders team - will colleagues still stand shoulder to shoulder with her? Could the boos that drowned out the cheers at the Florida delegation’s convention breakfast have lasting damage?

In her interview with the editorial board, Wasserman Schultz argued that her staff followed the rules by the book, that no favoritism was shown. Nonetheless, she acknowledged that she and others at the DNC “made mistakes.” She said that she and others “let frustration get to us” when Sanders used her as his “boogeywoman,” even after it became clear his campaign had lost to Clinton’s.

As she has done previously, she condemned the staff email that mused about Sanders’ religious beliefs.

The irony of the WikiLeaks misadventure is that the emails weren’t particularly scandalous.

In The New Yorker, pundit Jeffrey Toobin made this observation: “Do these emails strike anyone as appalling and outrageous? Not me. They strike me as … emails.” Most “contain normal office chatter, inflated into a genuine controversy by people who already had axes to grind.”

But what about the after-effects of the biggest rip in her resume? Can she be effective in rallying colleagues around her, particularly those from across the aisle?

Wasserman Schultz points out in her questionnaire that for eight years, she’s hosted the Congressional Women’s Softball Game, a bipartisan event that raises money for breast cancer advocacy and helps open lines of communication. And with Republican Rep. Dan Webster of Florida, she started a dinner group that asks invitees to bring a bipartisan date.

She also notes the support she’s received from local and national colleagues, whose campaigns she’s supported for years. Plus she’s been endorsed by the Congressional Black Caucus, the LGBT Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Still, we’d argue that another takeaway should be that elected lawmakers not become the leaders of national or state political parties. The jobs are simply too polarizing and too influential in the spending of party money.

We’d also point out that the DNC job took Wasserman Schultz away from her district quite a bit, though she notes that she’s held 70 local events since November.

But when we criticized U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio last November for his poor attendance record, we also noted that Wasserman Schultz last year had the second poorest attendance record of Florida’s 27 congressional members.

On the plus side, the DNC position did afford Wasserman Schultz, and our region, certain advantages. It helped her build friendships with many influence brokers, including U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who was mayor of Charlotte, N.C., when that city hosted the 2012 Democratic National Convention. She says that relationship helped Broward County land the $11.4 million grant for bicycle and pedestrian paths announced last week.

In addition, her seat on the appropriations committee has made Wasserman Schultz an influencer on funds and policy for beach renourishment, and helped the region secure funds for deepening the channel at Port Everglades, for building the new runway at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and for building the Wave streetcar planned for downtown Fort Lauderdale.

Though the loss of earmarks makes it tougher for members of Congress to point to specific funding awards, Wasserman Schultz makes her voice heard on many policy issues, including Everglades restoration, on protecting Social Security and Medicare, on health care reform, on clean water standards, and much more.

Wasserman Schultz also has proven herself willing to take tough, if unpopular, stands, as she did on the Iran Nuclear Deal, which has substantially restricted Iran’s nuclear ambitions. She is demonstrating a similar due diligence on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has more upsides than the “No TPP” chanters would have you believe.

In our view, Wasserman Schultz remains a potent political force.

But she’s going to have to defeat Canova, an economist and professor at Nova Southeastern’s law school. Canova, 56, is charming and persuasive about his progressive positions. In his Sun Sentinel questionnaire, he outlined a detailed agenda and defended it eloquently during his endorsement interview.

Canova, of Hollywood, is an unapologetic fan of Sanders and his policies. Taking a page from the Sanders playbook, he is not taking any campaign contributions from corporations.

Canova wants hefty federal spending on roads and bridges to boost employment, public financing of elections, more regulation of Wall Street, less draconian sentencing for drug offenses and more effective gun control. His list of reforms is extensive and he defends each position with the precision of a skilled litigator.

Though Italian by birth, Canova was raised by a Jewish stepfather on Long Island and he’s worked on a kibbutz in Israel. He understands the complexities of Middle East politics and culture, expertise that District 23’s many Jewish voters would appreciate.

Canova criticizes Wasserman Schultz for her attendance record and for being a career politician whose political positions “seem to follow from special interest contributions to her campaigns and political action committees.”

Either candidate will easily defeat the Republican challenger in November.

The bottom line is that on most of the issues, there’s not much difference between Wasserman Schultz and Canova. Both are liberal, smart and work hard.

But because of her political savvy, vast experience and command of the issues, Wasserman Schultz is the best choice.




Aug. 5

The Tampa Bay Times on write-in candidates

Thirty five candidates who stand no chance of winning state office wield immense power over Florida’s primary elections. They are the write-ins, sham candidates whose participation is allowed because of a legal loophole state legislators refuse to close. Their names don’t appear on the ballot, yet they are allowed, election after election, to close off races to single political parties, disenfranchising millions of voters and fostering cynicism. The best solution is for Florida to open its primaries, allowing voters of any party (or no party) to vote. Short of that, the write-in scam should be eliminated.

An amendment to Florida’s Constitution was supposed to settle this issue. Voters approved a 1998 amendment that says primaries in which only one political party fields candidates should be open to all voters. So if two Republicans file to run in a state House race but no Democrats enter, then all voters, regardless of party registration, would get to vote in the “universal” primary. It’s only fair that everyone should vote when the primary is, in effect, the general election.

But the notion of such widespread voter participation did not sit well in Tallahassee, where a legal loophole found daylight in the form of write-in candidacies. The courts, as recently as this year, have upheld the notion that write-in candidates are legitimate, so legislation clarifying the intent of the amendment is needed. Repeated efforts to pass such a bill have failed, and that is no accident. The two main political parties want to maintain control over elections, and keeping the pool of voters smaller serves that interest.

The toll is millions of disenfranchised voters. As Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau chief Steve Bousquet reported, write-in candidates in six state Senate races and 14 state House races have banished 1.6 million voters from the Aug. 30 primary. The damage trickles down to the local level, too. In Pinellas County, only Republicans will get to choose the next property appraiser after a write-in candidate jumped in that race.

When write-in candidates say why they’re running - and it’s rare that they do - the explanation is blatantly partisan. Christopher Schwantz, who closed the primary as a write-in for a Panhandle House seat, told the Times/Herald that “the system is set up that Republicans can elect Republicans and Democrats can elect Democrats. I don’t want someone playing both sides of the fence.” Someone should remind Schwantz that 64 percent of Florida voters wanted it that way when they passed the 1998 constitutional amendment.

More often, write-in candidates have nothing to say. They file their requisite paperwork and disappear into the shadows, ducking any accountability. If they aren’t partisan activists such as Schwantz, they’re recruited ringers such as James Bailey, who used to work for a Tallahassee firm that is managing eight legislative campaigns where write-ins have closed primaries. Bailey, who lives in Clearwater, filed for a House seat in Vero Beach, so now all registered Democrats there are blocked from having a say in choosing their next representative. Bailey, who isn’t talking, is following the typical write-in playbook.

The 35 write-in candidates in the Aug. 30 primary set a new record in Florida. Short of a change in statute or another constitutional amendment reaching the ballot, the powers that be in Tallahassee will continue to shamelessly exploit this loophole. And the outcome is always the same: Write-in candidates never win, and the voters always lose.



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