- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:


Aug. 30

The Miami Herald on Florida’s primary:

Well, that was a surprise: Legislative candidate David Rivera, controversial and determined, is back in the game; and Roy Hardemon, often arrested, rarely convicted, topped a field of far more qualified opponents in another race for the State House.

Then this: Frederick Bryant - you have every right to ask, “Who?” - won about 22,000 votes in the race for Miami-Dade County mayor, siphoning off just enough to force incumbent Carlos Gimenez into a runoff with former School Board member Raquel Regalado. She worked mightily to unseat him; he worked mightily for an outright win. Neither happened, so they slog on to November.

They disagree on just about every issue except one: Both used the specter of Donald Trump to smear the other.

Then there was the expected: Though U.S. Rep Debbie Wasserman Schultz muscled out the first serious opponent she has faced in her career as an elected official, Tim Canova - well financed and well versed in many issues - rode the wave, at least for a while, of nationwide support for Bernie Sanders. It was a proxy war in the “Vermont senator vs. Hillary Clinton, revolutionary vs. the establishment” battle.

Make no mistake: Though he ultimately didn’t make the case for ousting Rep. Wasserman Schultz - who will face Republican challenger Joe Kaufman in November - Mr. Canova, a law professor, has an impressive command of the issues that matter - gun control, Israel’s security, protecting the environment, among them. He should take another stab at elected office.

For most incumbents, Primary Day was a breeze: Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, extremely popular and capable, rolled over earnest, but weak, competitors. She’ll face Democrat Scott Fuhrman in November; likewise, Rep. Frederica Wilson pretty much steamrolled over former football star Randall Hill, committed to public service, yes, but unable to tackle this pro.

And for the anointed, losing wasn’t an option, it seemed: Once Sen. Marco Rubio jumped into the race he said he would not enter - after Republican heavyweights said “Pretty please!” - only opponent Carlos Beruff was left standing, and not for very long. The senator will face the “chosen one” on the Democratic side: U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, for whom President Obama himself went to bat.

Rep. Murphy, ducked and dodged his way out of debating his main opponent, the accomplished Rep. Alan Grayson or even the lesser-known and dynamic Pam Keith, whom we recommended. That’s too bad. Rep. Murphy could have honed his debate skills before having a go at Sen. Rubio, who, after his grueling presidential campaign knows a thing or two about making a case.

But for all his might, Sen. Rubio is still squirrelly about his commitment to serving a full, six-year term - and that’s too bad. His constituents already know what it’s like to have an absentee senator. He would have the temerity to put them through that again?

For Miami-Dade Commission incumbents Dennis Moss and Xavier Suarez - plus former Commissioner Joe Martinez - it was smooth sailing back to County Hall. But for Mayor Gimenez, who wanted to join them there without a runoff, the wind wasn’t as brisk, or at his back.

Ms. Regalado ran a high-volume campaign that flogged the mayor, accusing him of failing to get traffic moving, conflicts of interest and spurning the Pets’ Trust. By consistently throwing a barrage of allegations against the wall, enough stuck to propel her into a runoff with Mr. Gimenez, whom the Editorial Board recommended this month. That, and the votes siphoned off by also-rans Mr. Bryant and Alfred Santamaria, who also received 22,000 votes.

However, the mayor’s surrogates threw some mud on his behalf, sending out fliers in which her face morphs into that of Donald Trump. Unseemly.

These candidates need to hit the reset button. Voters want to see more light on their vision of the county’s future. Enough of the heat.




Aug. 31

The Florida Times-Union on national parks:

One hundred years ago this week, President Woodrow Wilson created the National Park Service, setting in legislative stone the foundation for what is often called “America’s best idea.”

In the century that has followed, 412 areas scattered across the United States and its territories were designated as national parks, battlefields, monuments, military parks, historic parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas and scenic rivers and trails.

All are overseen by the park service.

These designations have set aside some 84 million acres that might otherwise have been lost to time and development. They’re a rich variety of wilderness enjoyed by 300 million people every year.

The words of John Muir, a 1800s naturalist, writer and founder of the Sierra Club, inspire conservationists for their enthusiastic and almost spiritual reverence for these parks and wild places. Sometimes referred to as the Father of the National Parks, Muir was eloquent in describing their necessity.

“Any fool can destroy trees,” Muir wrote in his 1901 book “Our National Parks.” Yet “through all the wonderful, eventful centuries … God has cared for these trees . but he cannot save them from fools - only Uncle Sam can do that.”

But today, the dangers to parks and the fools that inspire those dangers are more ubiquitous than ever.

The wilderness is threatened today by an exploding population, technology that has outpaced regulation and a government whose safeguards against destruction have often been too lax or too late.

Take, for example, Florida’s Everglades National Park. Great white and blue herons stalk here through almost prehistoric wet grasslands.

For centuries, the Everglades were a pristine river of grass that covered most of South Florida. Today, they’re highlighted on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger.

Decades of nearly uninhibited dumping of pollutants from the sugar industry has degraded the water that flows through the park.

Tremendous housing growth has put pressure on all sides of the park and placed huge demands on the clean water that is available.

Non-native species, such as the Burmese python and Australian melaleuca tree, proliferate in the park, killing or pushing out native species.

But the Everglades isn’t the only national park under attack. Many other parks - Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Joshua Tree and Yosemite, to name just a few - are also being degraded by pollution and pressure.

The parks are also under attack from within.

The National Park Service needs, by some estimates, $12 billion to restore its infrastructure. Throughout the system, crumbling roads and facilities mar “America’s best idea.” It’s a backlog of maintenance work that’s often been delayed for decades due to Congress’ hesitancy to allocate money.

Despite their difficulties, 2016 promises to be an exceptional year for our parks with a record-setting projection of 330 million set to visit this centennial year. But even that banner attendance has a dark lining.

Most of those visitors will be in their 50s and 60s - millennials don’t seem to be drawn to the parks in the same way their parents were. That statistic makes service administrators blanch.

What will happen in 10 or 20 years when those older visitors cease coming? Will younger generations make up the gap, or is there going to be a gigantic dip in the service’s revenue stream with fewer visitors paying entrance fees?

These problems and others will test the nation’s resolve over the next century as we battle to keep “America’s best idea” alive.

One hundred years ago, the war was fought over whether a country should set aside developable land and exploitable resources, such as water and timber, to be used not as commodities but to be preserved as national sites.

Muir recognized that fight. “The battle we have fought, and are still fighting for the forests, is a part of the eternal conflict between right and wrong, and we cannot expect to see the end of it.”

Today, the fight still looms, but the battle lines are even more complex.

However what was worth fighting for 100 years ago is still worth fighting for today.

Be a part of this fight.

Support limits on pollutants. Petition for additional park funding. Introduce the parks to your children and grandchildren.

But also visit the parks yourself.

After all, they’re your parks and represent some of the best this country offers.




Aug. 31

SunSentinel on ex-felon voting rights:

While nearly three million Floridians voted in the state primary, 1.6 million citizens of voting age were locked out of the polls.

These disenfranchised Floridians have felony convictions in their backgrounds, and haven’t had their right to vote restored.

Other states bar felons from voting, but most automatically restore that right after they have paid their debt to society by completing their sentences.

Florida’s hard line toward former felons voting isn’t just anti-democratic. It disproportionately punishes black residents by disqualifying nearly one in four of them from casting ballots - prolonging a shameful legacy of policies concocted to disenfranchise African-Americans that began after the Civil War.

It also discourages ex-felons’ rehabilitation by excluding them from the most basic act of civic engagement. Darryl Paulson, a retired University of South Florida professor and fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, recently told the Miami Herald, “If conservatives want to end recidivism and reintegrate felons into society, the restoration of voting rights is essential.” The same logic has led the International Association of Chiefs of Police to support restoration of voting and other civil rights for felons once they complete their sentences.

Finally, the policy mocks the principles of liberty and minimal government regulation espoused by its defenders, the state’s Republican leaders. Instead of hindering ex-felons from voting because they might support Democrats, GOP leaders should be working harder to convince them that their interests - starting with a stronger state economy that creates more opportunities - would be best advanced by voting Republican.

Florida is one of just three states - Iowa and Kentucky are the others - that disenfranchises ex-felons unless their right to vote has been restored through a clemency process. Before that process can even begin in Florida, ex-felons must wait at least five years after completing a sentence, probation and parole, and making restitution. If they were convicted of a violent, sexual or drug-trafficking offense, they must wait seven years. Then, in a procedure heavy on forms and certified documents, they must petition and persuade the governor and the Florida Cabinet, who meet only four times a year as the state Clemency Board, to restore their right to vote.

The process was less onerous under former Gov. Charlie Crist. The Clemency Board automatically restored voting and other civil rights for nonviolent felons who had served their time. More than 155,000 regained their right to vote during Crist’s term.

But after he was elected, Gov. Rick Scott embraced a move from newly elected Attorney General Pam Bondi to impose the current process, with its years of delay and burdensome paperwork. As a result, only 2,200 felons have regained the right to vote since Scott took office in 2011. A waiting list has grown to more than 10,000.

A citizens’ group called the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition is now collecting signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would automatically restore voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences, including prison time, parole and probation. In a concession to political reality, the amendment wouldn’t restore the right to anyone convicted of murder or serious sex crimes.

A citizens’ effort to restore the right to vote to ex-felons is commendable. But Scott, Bondi and other Cabinet members - CFO Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam - really should be leading it.



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